Digital Culture

Response to comment from 01/16

From Bill: “to say that computers are tools for the analysis of networks is completely ignoring the study of sociology, which developed the idea of a social network long before TCP/IP was invented.”

This is certainly correct. However, we should also keep in mind that computer networks allow for very different interactions between people than traditional sociology was used to (they are certainly catching up). Ubiquitous computing, as Howard Rheingold has written copiously about, changes everything about social networking.

I would also argue, from a philosophical point of view, that it is entirely possible that there are properties that will arise from ubiquitous computing and always on networks that we do not, as yet, have a grasp of, and that may be completely seperate from the study of the people USING the network. The network ITSELF maybe have emergent properties, and sociology is poorly placed in the academy to talk intelligently about communication theory outside of that done by people.

One reply on “Response to comment from 01/16”

You know, you could have told me that in Elmo’s….:)

First, let me say that as both a computer scientist and a sociologist (my second, softer discipline I studied while in college), that the statement made in your last paragraph is partially true. Right now, the sociological models we have are very poor at describing long-distance network-oriented communities. They’re still teaching most of the models that came out of the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s, which is something my professors and I had words about on more than one occasion.

However, mapping a sociological model takes time. It takes studies. Statistics. Generations of time can be put into a sociological model and it still might not be 100% accurate. This means that you really can’t say anything about the discipline of sociology to study networks because 95% of the sociology to describe such networked communities is in the future.

100 years from now, we may know that a networked community requires hot asian teens and male enlargement to function. Right now, we just consider that spam.

Back to the original point, computers as tools: the problem with the author’s assertion that computer scientists should use computers as tools to study the effects of networks shows that they really don’t know what computer scientists do for a living. Computer scientists are the ones that provide the building blocks for computer development, be it a new processor, a new programming language, or a new type of network protocol. Sometimes they don’t care how their creation is used and could care less about the study of it.

I’m pretty sure that Tim Berners-Lee isn’t leading the crusade against internet porn, despite being the chief inventors of the web browser and server.

It sounds like they want a sociologist with a heavy computer-knowledge background to study the effects of networks on society. Maybe this person employs some computer scientists to write tools for them, but those scientists, unless they have a proficiency in undertanding sociological data, aren’t going to interpret the results.

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