The social nature of technological artefacts
In the last part of this blog-post series I talked about the fussiness of some technical artefacts. With fussiness I meant that clearly formulated goals and use plans do not exist for these technical artefacts. Rather, these goals and use plans seem to surface after the artefact has already been in use for a while.
Let me add another layer to this ambivalence: the social layer. As we will see below, the social aspect of an artefact can actually revoke its function, which then makes us question the original definition of technical artefacts (see part II), i.e. that they have functions that realise goals and are described in use plans.
Technical systems with a pronounced social aspect are referred to as hybrid systems. An example of this is a transport-analysis system that uses voluntarily solicited smartphone acceleration data for the determination of road “bumpiness”. This system consists not only of the obvious technical artefacts (communication links, web servers, cell phones, etc.), but also of social facets such as solicitation mechanisms (public relations, reward systems, etc.). As you can see, this kind of technical system is not merely technical; it also has a strong social part and is thus a hybrid system.