My own first use of the term Social Technology came about from discussions of a project of mine which I called Social Network Optimization. I think it was my brother Alan who advised me that this was at least a bad name for it, because “nobody wants to be optimized”.
That is only more or less true. Some people want something which is a bit like having their social environments optimized. Or improved, at least. I thought I had tools which people would like to use to gain some control over their place in the social network. Tools. I was repeatedly told that Social Network Optimization sounded a lot like ‘social engineering‘. That’s a particularly nasty expression, with fascist associations.
Instead of social engineering, what I had in mind was social technology. By technology, I meant a collection of tools and techniques. Social technology would just be a collection of tools and techniques which could be used by people for social purposes. Yes, it could be used by authoritarians of the left or right for evil social engineering, but I hoped that our society had gotten beyond that. If not, then I hoped new social technology could be used to take use beyond that — to take us forward until we were living in a truly civilized world, with liberty, peace and prosperity for all.
At the time, I used the very first search engines to look up ‘social technology’. What I found was a university department in Thailand which studied hi-tech wheelchairs and other things for the handicapped.
I should have been able to find the 1966 book, Social Technology, by Olaf Helmer, Bernice Brown, Theodore Gordon. This is something quite different from what I had been thinking about. It was about using social entities i.e. small groups of people, as part of decision making and estimation technology. Their research and the book based on it was fatally flawed. They ignored the severe problem of error covariance — their panels of experts often made the same mistakes because their tendencies to make errors had large overlaps. Ideally they should be uncorrelated, the statistical equivalence of error orthogonality. The same fatal mistake was found in other books.
For some years I thought this just a different use of the the term ‘social technology’, and perhaps it is, but the two versions have become interwoven in my mind, leading to a theory of the way society works and could work much better. Much more about that on other websites, which I will summarize elsewhere.
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