Chapter 5. 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.   What is social synergy? How do communities encourage synergy? How do they prevent its destruction? How do trust and synergy relate? Give physical and electronic examples.

2.   Give five examples of defections in ordinary life. What happens to a community if everyone defects? Give five online examples of defections, and for two specify how technology lowers the defection rate.

3.   Would you prefer to be a middleclass citizen now or a lord three hundred years ago? Consider factors like diet, health, clothes, leisure, travel, etc. Where did the lord’s wealth mainly come from? Where does the power of your salary to buy many things come from today? How does the principle apply online?

4.   What is a social dilemma? Give three physical examples from your experience. Why cannot individuals solve them? How are they solved? Give three online social dilemmas. How can they be solved by socio-technical design.

5.   What happens if one suggests things in a group? Conversely, what happens if no-one in a group suggests anything? How can groups manage this dilemma? Answer the same questions for volunteering. Give examples in both cases from both offline and online.

6.   What percentage of online actors are lurkers who look but do not post? Go to a popular board you have not used before. What stops you contributing? Add something anyway. How could the board increase participation?

7.   Explain the statement: Personal ethics is community pragmatics. How does ethics affect performance in online systems?

8.   Analyze the case of a thief who steals a wallet and is not caught. List the thief gains and the victim losses to get the net community result. What if everyone in a community steals? Generalize to the online case where spam “steals” a few seconds of your time. How does this differ from an offline theft?

9.   Why is synergy important for larger communities and especially important for social-technical systems? How can technology help increase synergy? Report the current estimated sizes of popular social-technical systems. Clarify what is exchanged, who interacts, the synergy and the defections.

10.   Look at the objects you use every day. How many could you make? How many are even produced in your country? How hard would it be for you to make them? Compare the cost it would take you to make say a simple table with how much you pay for it. Relate this to social synergy.

11.   Discuss whether people are rational actors acting in natural self-interest. Give physical examples of common acts that are irrational, i.e. done knowing they will cause suffering, or knowing that they will not give any benefit. In general, when are people irrational? How does this affect social-technical design?

12.   Describe the volunteer dilemma. Is it that people will not volunteer or that they will? Look at the extreme case of people volunteering to go war. Why did many Japanese and those in other armies volunteer for kamikaze missions? Explain this in terms of Rule 2. How important is volunteering in online communities? How can technology support it?

13.   Describe how online babysitting exchange cooperatives work. Based on a game theory matrix, how would one act if one followed Rule 1? How about Rule 2? How do people actually act? How does the technology affect this?

14.   Social networks like Facebook are about friends but what is a friend? In anyone who helps you a friend? Define a friend in synergy terms. Does friendship imply trust? Is it a one-way or two-way thing? If you “friend” someone on Facebook, are they really a friend? Explain the difference referring to information and human levels.

15.   Consider how one person cheating causes others to cheat, e.g. in sports. Draw a diagram to show how social defections cumulate as each one reduces the probability that cooperation will give synergy benefits. How do social defenses alter these percentages? Use an online case to illustrate.

16.   What is social order? Explain its strengths and weaknesses, with examples. Is social order possible on the Internet? Discuss the success or not of attempts by countries like China and Iran to control the use of the Internet by their citizens. Mention proxy software designed to thwart that control.

17.   What is social hijack? Are all dictators social hijackers? Give physical examples of past communities ruled against their will that eventually rebelled. Can the same occur in online communities? How does STS design affect this?

18.   Can a social system exist if it is not a physical “thing”? If so, are new social designs like democracy social inventions? What then was invented? Make a list of the social inventions of physical society over the last two thousand years. How does social-technology add to that list?

19.   In the middle ages, whether in China, England or Russia, democracy was not only unthinkable but also impossible. Why? What changed in the last thousand years to make it possible? How is the same change factor allowing new social designs to develop on the Internet? (Hint: Consider social health)

20.   Describe some well-known peasant revolts of the past that were successfully put down. If the Arab Spring is the same, but based on modern social-technology, why is it harder to put down? Discuss how the information revolution changed how Arab states have been governed for centuries.

21.   Describe the communism vs. capitalism ideological battle that dominated the last century in Rule 1 and 2 terms. What is the result today, i.e. which social design won? Is China purely communist? Is America purely capitalist? How would you describe the successful social designs of this century?

22.   What exactly is democracy? Is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea democratic? Were the Greeks of Athens democratic? Is the USA democratic? Are there any online democracies? Is Wikipedia a democracy? Describe online systems that have at least some democratic features.

23.   The Enron collapse lost millions but the 2007–2012 credit meltdown lost billions. Explain how one was an ethical failure and the other a competence failure. What happened to the perpetrators in both cases? Can such things happen online? Describe what would happen to say Wikipedia if it became a. Corrupt or b. Incompetent. Can social-technology reduce the likelihood of such “crashes”?

24.   Do the various golden rules of history follow Rule 1 or Rule 2? How do these golden rules, which began thousands of years ago, affect the design of information technology today?

25.   What is social transparency? Is it making everything visible to all? How does it relate to privacy? How can social-technical systems support both transparency and privacy?

26.   If an ant in an ant colony serves the community, are ants ethically good? Are people forced to serve a community also good? Explain why without freedom no goodness can be. Relate to the issue of whether smart software should take over human choice or whether software should always leave the ethical choices to people.