Social and Technical – Suzanna Brooks and Harrison Massey – Code is Law

Social and Technical – Suzanna Brooks and Harrison Massey – Code is Law

1 1


F13 Online Communities 9/30 class discussion slides

On Github Harrison-M / technology-society-presentation

Social and Technical

Suzanna Brooks and Harrison Massey

Let's talk Lessig


Code is Law

"Rough consensus and running code"


Four Puzzles



"Jake's Communities"

"Worms That Sniff"


Chicago/Net95 vs. Harvard

The internet is this way but it doesn't have to be.

Technological determinism

Socrates vs. Ann Landers

Social Constructionof Technology

"Moral decline"

Social Shaping of Technology


Donald Norman and door handles



Bowling Alone

Community group and organization membership dwindling over "last several decades"

"Kids today just aren't joiners"

50's and 60's: civic-minded public

“The fifties and sixties were hardly a ‘golden age,’ ...however, engagement in community affairs and the sense of shared identity and reciprocity had never been greater in modern America, so the prospects for broad-based civic mobilization to address our national failings seemed bright.”
“What happened next to civic and social life in American communities is the subject of this book.”

Social Capital


“…social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

“A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.”

"Generalized Reciprocity"

“I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road.”
“If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours.” – Yogi Berra
“A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. If we don’t have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished.”

Negative Effects ofSocial Capital

“It was social capital, for example, that enabled Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh’s network of friends, bound together by a norm of reciprocity, enabled him to do what he could not have done alone.”

Positive consequences need to be maximized

  • Mutual support
  • Cooperation
  • Trust
  • Institutional effectiveness

Negative consequences need to be minimized

  • Sectarianism
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Corruption

Bridging and Bonding


  • Inward-looking
  • Tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups

Examples of Bonding

  • Ethnic fraternal organizations
  • Church-based women's reading groups
  • Fashionable country clubs


  • Outward-looking
  • Encompasses people across diverse social cleavages

Examples of Bridging

  • Civil rights movements
  • Youth service groups
  • Ecumenical religious organizations

More About Bridging and Bonding

Granovetter's "strength of weak ties"

“Bonding social capital is good for ‘getting by,’ but bridging social capital is crucial for ‘getting ahead’.” – Xavier de Souza Briggs
“Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.”

Technology and Mass Media

“At the end of the [twentieth] century… the gradual merger of the massive telecommunications and entertainment industries had become the very foundation for a new economic era.”

Two Relevant Effects

“News and entertainment have become increasingly individualized… cable, satellite, video, and the internet provide an exploding array of individual choice.”
“Electronic technology allows us to consume this hand-tailored entertainment in private, even utterly alone.”

Started with radio,then television

“It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” – T.S. Eliot

Speed of diffusion

“Table 2 shows the speed at which a range of modern appliances diffused into American households during the twentieth century. Those that provided electronic entertainment…spread into homes at all levels in American society five to ten times more quickly than other devices that are now nearly as ubiquitous.” (p. 217)


“Virtually all non-experimental studies of the media find it hard to distinguish between ‘selection effects’ (people with a certain trait seek out a particular medium) and ‘media effects’ (people develop that trait by being exposed to that medium). We shall have to grapple with that analytic problem repeatedly in this chapter. Nevertheless, the evidence makes quite clear that newspaper reading and good citizenship go together.”


Putnam makes the assertion that TV might be the cause for the decline in newspaper reading and thus the similar decline in “most other measures of social capital and civic engagement.”

“One might imagine that the explanation for this trend is simple: TV. We’re now watching news, not reading it.”


“In fact, Americans who watch the news on television are more likely to read the daily newspaper than are other Americans, not less likely.”
“Even enthusiasts for internet news concede that ‘the internet is emerging as a supplement to—not a substitute for—other traditional news sources’.”


"The single most important consequence of the television revolution has been to bring us home."

Viewing habits

Habitual viewing

Selective viewing

Channel surfing

“On the one hand, I have as yet offered no evidence that the casual arrow runs from TV watching to civic disengagement rather than the reverse. On the other hand, this estimate presumes that the only effect of TV on civic engagement comes from the number of hours watched, rather than something about the character of the watching, the watcher, and the watched.”
“Correlation, however, does not prove causation. An alternative interpretation is this: People who are social isolates to begin with gravitate toward the tube as the line of leisurely least resistance. Without true experimental evidence—in which randomly selected individuals are exposed (or not exposed) to television over long periods of time— we cannot be sure that television itself is the cause of disengagement.”


“…the more time spent watching news, the more active one is in the community, whereas the more time spent watching soap operas, game shows, and talk shows, the less active one is in the community. In other words, even among people who spend the same number of hours watching TV, what they watch is closely correlated with how active they are in community life.”

Inconclusive conclusion

“The evidence is powerful and circumstantial, though because it does not derive from randomized experiments, it cannot be fully conclusive about the causal effects of television and other forms of electronic entertainment. Heavy users of these new forms of entertainment are certainly isolated, passive, and detached from their communities, but we cannot be entirely certain that they would be more sociable in the absence of television. At the very least, television and its electronic cousins are willing accomplices in the civic mystery we have been unraveling, and more likely than not, they are ringleaders.”

Beyond bowling together

Social Capital (again!)

“Social capital is a residual or side effect of social interactions, and an enabler of future interactions, as shown in Figure 1.” (p. 2)

Effects between social relations and technology

“Some communication services may be useful only to groups of people who have already developed strong social ties and who develop certain norms for how to use it. Other groups of people might find the same communication service a nuisance rather than a helpful tool. Conversely, some social practices might be productive only in the presence of particular communication and computational tools.”

Sociotechnical capital

“...productive combinations of social relations and information and communication technology. It is thus a special case, a subset of social capital, but an important one because technological advances have opened many new opportunities that have not been examined from the social capital perspective.”

The Civic Challenge (HCI)

“Rather than assessing blame, this essay explores how technology, when paired with certain social practices, might help to reverse declining social capital in the civic sector.”
“A second approach is to try to invent new forms of togetherness that may be more suited to current lifestyles. Perhaps, with the aid of technology, it is possible to go beyond bowling together, to form even more productive social relations even more conveniently.”

How Social Capital Works

Facilitates information routing Helps people to exchange other resources besides information Makes it easier for people to provide emotional support to each other Enables coordination of interdependent actions Helps people overcome dilemmas of collective action… such as free riding, tragedy of the commons, and social mobilization

The Anatomy of Social Capital

Communication paths Shared knowledge Shared values Shared sense of collective identity Obligations Roles and norms of behavior for people playing those roles Trust

Sociotechnical Capital Opportunities

Removing barriers to interaction

Expanding interaction networks

Restricting information flows

Managing dependencies

Maintaining history


Examples of New Sociotechnical Relations

Enhanced group self-awareness

Brief interactions

Maintaining ties while spending less time

Support for large groups

Introducer systems: just-in-time social ties

Resnick's Research Agenda

Measurement of sociotechnical capital Case studies of new sociotechnical relations Codification of the opportunity space and determining which features are productive
“If we do not succeed in generating new forms of sociotechnical capital from these on-line interactions, our society will decline in its ability to provide emotional support to its members, to overcome transaction costs that hinder resource exchange, and to overcome dilemmas of collective action. In the long run, our economy, our health, and our safety may all be at stake. The future needs us to succeed in identifying and promoting new forms of sociotechnical capital, in the workplace, in learning environments, and especially in civic life.”

"Are we up to the challenge?"