Copyright (c) 2012 Morgan D
Social constructivism is the opposite of technological determinism. The theory argues that the collective world and its rules are not natural objects. Human agents and their interactions create them. This is the dominant approach in current sociological thought on science and technology. The social construction of technology approach argues that technology is an entirely societal construct. Human interest, economic and political power creates technology and its effects, as opposed to it entering the social world as an exogenous change agent. Humans develop technologies and choose what to innovate. In the course of developing technologies, people either have or do not have adequate resources and institutional support to pursue their interests. The resultant technologies that are developed are a function of the technically feasible, not the result of some unavoidable technological path. Technology is a function of human choice, interest, ideas, institutions, power and resources (Herrera, 2006, p 31).
The authors’ view that technology is independent of human actions is flawed. To illustrate this, this paper easily refutes some of the authors’ claims by giving alternative explanations. For example, he states that Netscape gave people the browser to display information stored on websites. A different explanation could be that society needed such a browser. To this end, they created Netscape. The fact that there was a large investment of funds in fibre-optic telecommunications cable may be due to other reasons and not only because of the dot-com bubble. Investment in a global undersea fibre network was a way of reducing the cost of transmitting voice, data and images. The previous method of doing this via satellite was extremely expensive (Herbst, 1990, p 39). In addition, the fact that Boston, Bangalore and Beijing became next-door neighbours overnight was not accidental since it would occur with the building of the undersea cable. Furthermore, the author’s assertion that India’s benefit from the Netscape moment was unplanned is incorrect. For the country to profit, it had to take the initiative of its citizens and not the mere development of Netscape. According to the author, many things happen by accident. However, this is not the case as most of the events he described followed a logical pattern.
Friedman’s discussion of flatteners assumes that they arose because of developments in technology. However, many of these developments were because of different factors. For instance, outsourcing grew out of the need for organizations to minimize their costs (Barrar & Gervais, 2006, p 82). This is also true for other processes such as off shoring, in-sourcing and supply chaining. It would be incorrect to attribute the development of these processes solely to technology.
The sociotechnical systems approach recognizes that both technical and human needs are crucial in effective job design. The social part of this approach refers to the people and groups of people working in organizations. It also refers to how they organize and coordinate their work. The technical part refers to the materials, machines, tools and processes that people use to transform organizational inputs into outputs. Despite the fact that most principles of the sociotechnical systems theory are still valid, there is still room for expansion. This will enable the approach to capture the dynamic nature of today’s organizations, the chaotic environment and the shift from routine to non-routine jobs resulting from advances in technology (Daft, 2009, p 283).
The social system comprises all human elements that may influence work performance. These include individual and team behaviours, organizational culture, management practices, leadership style, level of communication openness and individual needs and desires. The technical system includes the production technology type, degree of interdependence and complexity of tasks. The sociotechnical systems approach aims to design the organization for joint optimization. This means that for the firm to reach top performance, they must design the needs of social and technical systems to fit one another. Focusing on the organization’s human factors while failing to incorporate technical systems considerations can lead to problems in performance. This is also the case when the organization changes technology to improve efficiency but does not address human needs. In other words, social and technical factors interact to create conditions that determine the success or failure of an organization. Optimizing only one of these aspects is detrimental to the performance of the firm. The sociotechnical systems approach tries to strike a balance between the wants and needs of workers and the organization’s production system requirements (Daft, 2009, p 284).
Even though the sociotechnical systems approach focuses on the organization, it is applicable to society as a whole. The same human elements that influence performance of work also influence how the society progresses. This approach can ensure that society reaps maximum benefit from technological development by matching the human needs with the society’s technical systems. This principle tries to ensure this by viewing people as resources that need appropriate skills, meaningful work and suitable rewards. This is of crucial importance with the increasing technological complexity that the world is experiencing today (Daft, 2009, p 285). Furthermore, the sociotechnical systems approach can reconcile the perspectives of technological determinism and the social construction of technology. These two theories are complete opposites of each other.
The article contains some aspects of the sociotechnical systems approach. The author’s conversation with Rajesh Rao illustrates this. Rajesh states that India saw that they had the infrastructure that shrank the world. They tried to put it to best use (Friedman, 2005) by matching the human elements in their country with the technical system. This made India a global outsourcing centre and a leader in terms of information technology innovation (United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2008).
This paper analyzes Friedman’s article ‘It’s a Flat World, After All’ using two principles, namely, the concept of technological determinism/social construction of technology and the sociotechnical systems approach. Largely, this paper disagrees with Friedman’s views. According to him, technology has flattened the world and introduced new players into the global economy. He is of the view that information technology has influenced society largely. The concept of technological determinism supports this view. This perspective holds that developments in technology take place independent of any human influence. However, the theory of the social construction of technology disputes this view. This perspective argues that human action influences technological developments. The sociotechnical systems approach argues that both technical and human needs are important in advancement of technology. In conclusion, the article by Friedman contains some truths but the thinking behind some of his assertions is flawed. One should not adopt a deterministic point of view to explain the impact of technology on society. A better perspective to explain this would be the concept of the social construction of technology or the sociotechnical systems approach.
Barrar, P., & Gervais, R. (2006). Global outsourcing strategies : an international reference on effective outsourcing relationships. Aldershot: Gower Publishing, Ltd.
Daft, R. L. (2009). Organization Theory and Design. Mason: Cengage Learning.
Friedman, T. (2005, April 3). It’s a Flat World, After All. Retrieved December 6, 2011, from
Herbst. (1990, September 17). Business nets go to sea. Network World , p. 39.
Herrera, G. L. (2006). Technology and international transformation: the railroad, the atom bomb, and the politics of technological change. Albany: State University Of New York Press.
Olsen, J.-K. B., Pedersen, S. A., & Hendricks, V. F. (2009). A companion to the philosophy of technology. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Rodriguez, F., & Wilson, E. J. (n.d). Are Poor Countries losing the Information Revolution? Baltimore: University of Maryland.
Tan, F. B. (2002). Advanced topics in global information management, Volume 1. Hershey: Idea Group Inc.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
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Introduction To Systems Theory