Sociologists’ Guide to Technology

“Right after you’ve had a superb dinner out, you often want to recommend the restaurant to friends. But sometimes when you later reflect on your experience, you realize that the service was slow and the room stuffy, and your enthusiasm wanes.

That’s my situation in reviewing How Users Matter, a collection edited by sociologists Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch. I’m delighted by their central thesis: that technology analysts need to give more thought to how people use computers, telephones, cars, medicines and consumer appliances. Oudshoorn and Pinch powerfully and convincingly promote paying more attention to ‘how users consume, modify, domesticate, reconfigure, and resist technologies.’ The unifying notion of the ‘social construction of technology’ (SCOT) that they put forth is a powerful idea, one that should have a strong influence on academic researchers and professional developers. In this approach, users are viewed as a social group that helps shape technologies. Technologies in turn are observed to have different meanings for different social groups (for example, a device that’s safe for young people may be dangerous for the elderly). The SCOT approach provides an important counterweight to the technology–centered strategies that guide many managers, entrepreneurs and innovators.”

More here from Ben Shneiderman’s review of How Users Matter: The Co–Construction of Users and Technology edited by Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch, in American Scientist Online.