Sociocybernetics: The Internet of Things and its Impact on Social Memory

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Sociocybernetics: The Internet of Things and its Impact on Social Memory

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Sociocybernetics: The Internet of Things and its Impact on Social Memory

Robert James Djaelani

University Of Dundee



This is a paper that discusses how Design Ethnography has grown from a desire to blend
social sciences and design in order to creat
e a new integrated design process for our evolving
society. It is a contribution to my Masters study in Design Ethnography.









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Abstract

Science has proven that there is uncertainty in every part of life. This creates a reality where
potentially all kn
owledge has no value. “Social memory” is a tool which allows us to pass on
our culture in this uncertain Universe. A constantly increasing quantity of data from
technology is forcing
our

social memory to evolve and creating a knowledge society. As
social memor
y evolves it expands to accommodate a new sociocybernetic approach. Using a
variety of case studies from global businesses and current research
this

paper analyses the
impact of technology on social memory. Subsequently we see how the design process is
evol
ving with our culture and how design research uses social networks as access points to
the knowledge and wisdom contained within our social memory. The “Internet of Things” is
an interconnected network of smart objects

which enables us greater access to ou
r digitised
social memory
. Design Ethnography is an evolution of the design process that allows
designers to place the internet of things into our culture granting consumers access to the
wisdom contained within our ever expanding social memory.










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C
ulture
originated

from a point in time where our species
developed

ways of communicating
knowledge. Our ability to share our innovations gave us an advantage over those species
that

could not externalise their information to pass it on to other members of the spec
ies. Cultur
al

memory exists to both externalise our knowledge and allow us to pass it on. This concept is
progressed by Assmann (1995) who suggests that cultural memory exists, and must exist, to
prevent our species from dying. It seems that we are now prog
rammed to rely on culture for
our survival to such a great extent that it is part of our reality.


Anthropology, as a scholarly construct, allows us to understand culture. The process of data
gathering to understand cultures is carried out using ethnograph
y, a series of tools to map
human behaviour through the interpretation of events. Our species
has used

culture as a tool
to pass on knowledge through
a
s
aeculum

which
allowed

our society to grow
. We survive by
building systems, such as religion, relationships and culture to organise our r
eality. Geertz
(2000) summarised this need
for external systems
when he states that the human brain is
dependent on cultural resources for its survival.


Historically, we can see in
w
estern culture that there have been many attempts to create
objective systems of truth and
a
de
finite and objective reality. Plato's realism is an early
example of his beliefs described as

universal truths

. The
problem

is that even the most
scientific of endeavours are subjective. Einstein’s theory of relativity is
incorrect;

Newton's
second law of mo
tion is incorrect. Many of our fundamental truths are incorrect. These
theories are guesses at how the Universe works and they have been shown to not be true
throughout the Universe from the subatomic to a planetary scale.

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This uncertainty creates a dile
mma in modern thinking where potentially no knowledge has
any value. As a reaction to this lack of objective truth various disciplines have evolved to
tackle this complexity and uncertain
ty. Physics was forced to tackle this issue in 1927 with
the Heisenbe
rg uncertainty principle. Anthropologists began to tackle uncertainty in the
1970's and Geertz stands as one of the key proponents of
the value of interpretation within
social sciences. He stated, “Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse
than that,
the more deeply it goes the less complete it is”.

The Hawthorne effect also adds a leve
l of
complexit
y to anthropology
. Th
e
Hawthorne

effect
suggests that when
an object is the
subject
of
our
observ
ation

we, as the r
esearcher, h
a
ve an impact

on the
objects
behaviour
.



The field of
anthropology

and its primary research system, Ethnography, like any other
subject has

no objective truths. There is no definitive answer to any of the questions that exist
within
a complex subject. Scientific breakthroughs often come from studying exceptional
cases, anthropology focuses on these individuals within the context of society.


“It is not whether phenomena are empirically common that is critical...else why should
Becque
rel have been so interested in the peculiar behaviour of Uranium


but whether they
can be made to reveal the enduring natural processes that underlay them.” Geertz.



A current issue with ethnography is that the subjective nature of the field forces us to

accept
that the value of all research is potentially equal to that of individual assumptions. "The world
does not contain any information. It is as it is. Information about it is created in the organism
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through its interaction with the world. To speak ab
out storage of information outside the
human body is to fall into a semantic trap. Books or computers are part of the world. They
can yield information when they are looked upon. We move the problem of learning and of
cognition nicely into the blind spot o
f our intellectual vision if we confuse vehicles for
potential information with information itself. We do the same when we confuse data for
potential decision with decision itself." Illich, I. (1973).


The researcher in the field must find methods to add v
alue to their work so that an external
party has a reason to be interested in the
researcher’s

assumptions. In a quantitative field,
such as physics, your interpretation of the Universe can be, to an extent, proven by
experimentation. In qualitative fields,

such as anthropology, that deal with complexity it is
impossible to create a definitive study. Therefore an
ethnographer’s

work is to map as closely
as possible a structure which is fluid and constantly changing.


Our evolving culture and the complex syste
ms that surround us in everyday life are being
supplemented with new technology and smaller microprocessors. We have seen increasing
integration of technology into our life with the aim at simplifying the complexity of our lives.
Ephemeralization
is
a concept

developed by Fuller in 1938

which charts

an accelerating
increase in the efficiency of all material, energetic and informational processes
which
is

leading to a sociocybernetic system based on data and information. Transistor technology has
become ingrained in
to our culture in recent decades. With modern volumes of data storage
becoming larger and larger access becomes the defining issue of current technology. The
increased value and quantity of information drives the economy and has moved us from a
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modern soci
ety to a post
-
modern society. The different forms of society are documented in
table 1.


Forms of
Memory

Divination

Rhetoric

Culture

Procedural
memory

Era

Archaic

Antiquity

Modernity

Post
-
modernity

Function

Mysticism

Storage

Dissemination

Access

Media

of
distribution

Un
-
phonetic

Alphabetic
writing

Printing

Electronic
Media


Table 1: Paetau's (2004) history of social memory.


Our current society is a knowledge society, a society that functions on access to
knowledge.
With vast oceans of data we

begin to observe multiple layers of
structured
data. This layering
of data can be seen in the early 20
th

century moral philosophy which strongly influenced the
culture of the period. T.S. Eliot portrayed the
different layers of data

with
elegance
.


“Where is the Life we have lost i
n living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Eliot, T.S. (1934),
excerpt from
The Rock.



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In this layering of data there are four levels; data, information; knowledge; wisdom. They are
layere
d like bricks on a pyramid, which is known
as a “DIKW” pyramid
that

can be seen in
figure
1
. Data includes everything we record. Information is our data after it has been
organised. Knowledge is structuring the information to make

sense of it and wisdom is our
interpretations and insights gathered from knowledge.


Figure 1: A DIKW pyramid


Social Memory is the combined knowledge of a culture

recorded
. Social memory is
sometimes represented by the objects it memorialises or perhaps more sig
nifica
ntly what is
omitted from memory
. Social memory
be
gan

in stories passed on through spoken word

or
other basic communication
. This process has evolved with the evolution of technology. It
evolved with printing techniques and it evolved with extended transport networks which
expanded our social networks

last century
.


The most profound change in social memory in recent history has been with the invention of
new media such as photography, radio and television. Events such as the Apollo 11 landing
and the September 11, 2001 have been ingrain
ed into social memory partly because of
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television and its ability to
broadcast

and memorialise these events across the world. The
question “what were you doing when... happened?” has become a fundamental question in
social memory.


Social memory is now ev
olving to accommodate ephemeralization and culture is relying on
our

sociocybernetic approach to record this information. Slowly our data and culture is
becoming digitised and along with it our social memory. This trend is the defining point in
our generatio
n. This change drives products which grant us greater access to our knowledge
and these are becoming more and more influential in our society as the quantity of data we
consume increases.


Part of the problem and potentially a solution

to data management

is the “Internet of

Things”.
This phrase refers to
an

interconnected network of common products. This internet of things
includes any device which connects to another device to transfer data. The concept is that at
some time in the future everything that collects data is able

to share it in a way which
improves the efficiency of life (IBM, 2010). The fact that all this data is collected and stored
means that our social memory
could be

stored by the objects we interact with every day. The
internet of things can solve the problem of

data overload by making objects “smarter” so that
they can autonomously process data and act based on the data they receive, which reduces the
volume of data we need to process as individuals.


Web 2.0 is making life easier for rapid ethnographic methods
and quick data gathering. It is
often the role of the ethnographer in a large data collection process to distil the data. First we
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start with raw data collected from the group, this is categorised where it becomes
information. Finally it is studied where i
t becomes knowledge and

these

insights are collected
as wisdom.


The internet of things is growing in reach and soon every piece of technology could be
connected. How we interact with these objects depends on our culture. Ethnography will be
instrumental if we
are to connect all these objects into our culture
. IBM CEO, Sam Palmisano
(2010)

stated in a recent talk "Technology may be ready, your culture may not be”. This
statement identifies the reason why we are not living with the internet of things right now.
The technology exists for us to integrate all
our
objects into the internet of things but there
isn't a culture that wants the internet of things as it exists at present. Palmisano identifies that
there is a need for technology to change and
social
sciences

is
essential

in the quest for this
integration of the Internet of Things into our culture.


A culture's values are defined by its philosophy and at present our philosophy isn't compatible
with the internet of things. There is a gap in current business models f
or design ethnographers
to be employed to alter the internet of things to be compatible with our culture.
This concept
of the internet of things exists in business as an upstream concept, which means that the
concept is a philosophy or system. Upstream pro
jects create a trickle of products into
downstream concepts and finally into products if we consider the internet of things and its
application within IBM. This belief in the internet of things is enforced within IBM by
creating projects and methods of wor
king which promote the internet of things. Projects that
have bias towards the internet of things will produce objects which will, increasingly, fit into
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our culture
.
The designer ethnographer can
speed up this process of integration.
This gradual
change and trickling down of ideas is one way b
usiness has found to develop their upstrea
m
ideas into realised products.


If ideas come from upstream then
they

will appeal to customers who can relate to the
companies values. Innocent, is an example of a company that sells beliefs,
more than they sell

products. Innocent

ha
s

more focus on their beliefs than information on their bottles.


Web 2.0 has allowed business to easily and efficiently communicate in a more personal with
their customers. Web 2.0 has
allowed customers to easily and efficiently access i
nformation
about the more private affairs of businesses. We are often reminded in many current reports,
such as SACOM's recent report on Apple's external manufacturers, that business ethics may
appear different but with new media no company can hide bad et
hical practises from
consumers
that

are becoming increasingly informed. This knowledge that consumers are
given
has

a sign
ificant impact on
the
social memory

of our culture
.


Business' can exploit media to invest in new methods of gatherin
g data from the public. The
process of finding insights from the public domain is called “Crowd
-
sourcing”. Though the
crowd
-
sourcing process is not new the method of gathering data is original.


Nike, and its derived online customisation service NikeID, is

an

example of a major company
which has used its presence and market dominance to launch
and maintain
a form of crowd
-
sourcing project. Crowd
-
sourcing is a form of collaborative creation that allows users to
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create, share and vote on designs.

These

d
esigns can be individu
ally ordered and the most
popular designs are manufactured. In the NikeID model this form of
public relati
ons

allows
Nike to modify its image to become more accepted into the culture which has rejected its
unethical methods of manufacture.
The result is that

when us
ers engage with the creation of
their Nike shoes they become involved in the brand, they move from being a consumer to a
co
-
creator (Sanders, 2005)
or at least partici
pators
which

increase
s

their emo
tional attachment
to the brand
.
Social marketing manages to increase br
and presence in social memory and with
more people becoming involved in the co
-
creation process
the brand's identity is going to
improve in social memory.

2,286,014 people like
d

Nike on Facebook, October 2010
.


Sanders (2002) stated “Designers and social s
cientists will need to work together. Social
scientists bring frameworks for the understanding of user experience to the table, while
designers know how to synthesize and embody ideas and opportunities”.
I believe that design
and
social

science are becoming more

dependent as our interactions with the modern world
become more
complicated
.

Companies like Nike appreciate the value of culture
and its effect
on business. Innocent are a clear example of selling a philosophy rather than a product. IBM
states

that there is a need for a Design Ethnographer to find a place for the internet of things
in our society.


Design Ethnography is a field that

has developed to fill a gap in the design process. It merges
design and social science. Our society is transforming into a sociocybernetic system that aims
to grant consumers access to the wisdom contained within our ever expanding social memory.
The valu
e of the design ethnographer is that they can understand deeper more latent needs
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that are contained within our social memory rather than traditional research which tends to
explore the more explicit needs of stakeholders and these needs can be provided fo
r by the
internet of things.

Design ethnography is that synthesis between design
er

and

social scientist

that Sanders
believes

is

the future

for design.




















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References list

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