Chapter 3. Discussion Questions

 Research questions from the list below and give your answer, with reasons and examples. If you are reading this chapter as part of a class – either at a university or in a commercial course – work in pairs then report back to the class.

1)   Why can technologists not leave the social and ethical questions to non-technologists? Give examples of IT both helping and hurting humanity. What will decide, in the end, whether IT helps or hurts us overall?

2)   Compare central vs. distributed networks (Ethernet vs. Polling). Compare the advantages and disadvantages of centralizing vs. distributing control. Is central control ever better? Now consider social systems. Of the traditional socio-technical principles listed, which ones distribute work-place control? Compare the advantages and disadvantages of centralizing vs. distributing control in a social system. Compare governance by a dictator tyrant, a benevolent dictator and a democracy. Which type are most online communities? How might that change?

3)   Originally, socio-technical ideas applied social requirements to work-place management. How has it evolved today? Why is it important to apply social requirements to IT design? Give examples.

4)   Illustrate system designs that apply: mechanical requirements to hardware; informational requirements to hardware; informational requirements to software; personal requirements to hardware; personal requirements to software; personal requirements to people; community requirements to hardware; community requirements to software; community requirements to people; community requirements to communities. Give an example in each case. Why not just design software to hardware requirements?

5)   Is technology the sole basis of modern prosperity? If people suddenly stopped trusting each other, would wealth continue? Use the 2009 credit meltdown to illustrate your answer. Can technology solve social problems like mistrust? How can social problems be solved? How can technology help?

6)   Should an online system gather all the data it can during registration? Give two good reasons not to gather or store non-essential personal data. Evaluate three online registration examples.

7)   Spam demonstrates a socio-technical gap, between what people want and what technology does. How do users respond to it? In the “spam wars”, who wins? Who loses? Give three other examples of a socio-technical gap. Of the twenty most popular third-party software downloads, which relate to a socio-technical gap?

8)   What is a legitimate government? What is a legitimate interaction? How do people react to an illegitimate government or interaction? How are legitimacy requirements met in physical society? Why will this not work online? What will work?

9)   What is the problem with “social engineering”? How about “mental engineering” (brainwashing)? Why do these terms have negative connotations? Is education brainwashing? Why not? Explain the implications for STS design.

10)   For a well known STS, explain how it supports, or not, the eight proposed aspects of community performance, with screenshot examples. If it does not support an aspect, suggest why. How could it?

11)   Can we own something but still let others use it? Can a community be both free and ordered? Can people compete and cooperate at the same time? Give physical and online examples. How are such tensions resolved? How does democracy reconcile freedom and order? Give examples in politics, business and online.

12)   What is community openness for a nation? For an organization? For a club or group? Online? Why are organizations that promote people based on merit more open? Illustrate technology support for merit-based promotion in an online community.

13)   Is a person sending money to a personal friend online entitled to keep it private? What if the sender is a public servant? What if it is public money? Is a person receiving money from a personal friend online entitled to keep it private? What if the receiver is a public servant?

14)   What is communication? What is meaning? What is communication performance? How can media richness be classified? Is a message itself rich? Does video always convey more meaning than text? Can rich media deliver more communication performance? Give online and offline examples.

15)   What affects communication performance besides richness? How is it classified? Is it a message property? How does it communicate more? Give online/offline examples.

16)   If media richness and linkage both increase communication power, why not have both? Describe a physical world situation that does this? What is the main restriction? Can online media do this? What is, currently, the main contribution of computing to communication power? Give examples.

17)   What communication media type best suits these goals: telling everyone about your new product; relating to friends; getting group agreement? Give online and offline examples. For each goal, what media richness, linkage and anonymity do you recommend. You lead an agile programming team spread across the world: what communication technology would you use?

18)   State differences between the following media pairs: email and chat; instant messaging and texting; telephone and email; chat and face-to-face conversation; podcast and video; DVD and TV movie; wiki and bulletin board. Do another pair of your choice.

19)   How can a physical message convey content, state and position semantic streams? Give examples of communications that convey: content and state; content and position; state and position; and content, state and position. Give examples of people trying to add an ignored semantic stream to technical communication, e.g. people introducing sender state data into lean text media like email.

20)   Can a physical message generate many information streams? Can an information stream generate many semantic streams? Give examples. Does the same apply online? Use the way in which astronomical or earthquake data is shared online to illustrate your answer.

21)   You want to buy a new cell-phone and an expert web review suggests model A based on factors like cost and performance. Your friend recommends B, uses it every day, and finds it great. On an online customer feedback site, some people report problems with A and B, but most users of C like it. What are the pluses and minuses of each influence? Which advice would you probably follow? Ask three friends what they would do.

22)   What is the best linkage to send a message to many others online? What is the best linkage to make or keep friends online? What is the best linkage to keep up with community trends online? List the advantages and disadvantages of each style. How can technology support each of the above?

23)   Explain why reputation ratings, social bookmarks and tagging are all matrix communication. In each case, describe the senders, the message, and the receivers. What is the social goal of matrix communication? How exactly does technology support it?

24)   Give three online leaders searched by Google or followed on Twitter. Why do people follow leaders? How can leaders get people to follow them? How does technology help? If the people are already following a set of leaders, how can new leaders arise? If people are currently following a set of ideas, how can new ideas arise? Describe the innovation adoption model. Explain how it applies to “viral” videos?