1.6 From People to Communities

Even as HCI develops into a traditional academic discipline, computing has already moved on to add sociology to its list of paramours. Socio-technical systems use the social sciences in their design as HCI interfaces use psychology. STS is not part of HCI, nor is sociology part of psychology, because a society is more than the people in it; e.g. East and West Germany, with similar people, performed differently as communities, as do North and South Korea today. A society is not just a set of people. People who gather to view an event or customers shopping for bargains are an aggregate, not a community. They only become a community when they see themselves as one, i.e. the community level arises directly from personal level cognitions.

Social systems can have a physical base or a technical base, so a socio-physical system is people socializing by physical means. Face-to-face friendships cross seamlessly to Facebook because the social level persists across physical and electronic architecture bases. Whether electronically or physically mediated, a social system is always people interacting with people. Electronic communication may be “virtual” but the people involved are real.

Figure 1.6: The generations of computing disciplines

Online communities work through people, who work through software that works through hardware. While sociology studies the social level alone, socio-technical design studies how social, human, information and hardware levels interact. A sociologist can no more design socio-technologies than a psychologist can design human-computer interfaces. STS and HCI need computer-sociologists and computer-psychologists. The complexity of modern computing arises from its discipline promiscuity (Figure 1.6).