Meaning of Technology
Pinch and Bilker (1987) formed the basis of the social construction of technology. They argue that people design and give meaning to technologies, and decided which to adopt and which to reject. An example of this can be found with the smartphone, in a couple of key ways. First, the development of the smartphone itself. The initial concept evolved not from phones at all, but from the adoption of telephone technology for things like pagers, which then became the personal digital assistant. Companies like Palm and Blackberry were producing early smartphones in this format by adding telephones to existing devices that were designed to perform a number of digital functions. Connecting those devices to the world via telephone technology was an innovation. The later addition of Internet access was the next step in this evolution, and came about not longer after other mobile phones were starting to add features like cameras, text messaging and rudimentary browsers.
The social construction relies on three things: flexibility of interpretation, relevant social groups and technological frame (Yousefikhah, 2017), and the adoption of smartphones and later their applications forms a prime example of this theory in action.
The evolution of this technology was really market-driven. The cost of developing these products is high, and only justifiable if there is the opportunity for profit, which in turn means that people have to want them. Certainly, marketers are employed to generate demand but ultimately there has to be some people who find value in this functionality. Indeed, the smartphone is a good example of this because the value in this device, versus its PDA predecessors, was in the ability to network with others, in particular online combining the technology with another, more popular one. The ability to get online was a key driver of the adoption of smartphones.
But the device also shows how social constructs flow in technology. The developers of the operating systems have opened up those systems to developers. This was a matter of marketing the more functionality the devices had for people, the more they would be in demand. It was learning a lesson from the failures of Palm and Blackberry, which were mostly closed systems, though both tried to open up later on. But by opening up to developers to build applications, the smartphone surely proves evidence of the social construction of technology.
A lot of apps are built, but the ones that survive are the ones that have the most demand. People find functionality in particular apps, so they use them, and that creates revenue streams. Apps that gain little traction ultimately fall by the wayside. With low barriers to testing and trying different apps, people are the true drivers of this innovation. The technology exists now to serve the needs of consumers, and any inability to do that will be punished by the market.
Could this exist without market forces, i.e. money? It is possible taking money out of the equation might lead to fewer technological developments, but these developments would still rely on finding an audience, monetized or not. The audience determines the pathway of technological development this is a foundational tenet of the social construction of technology theory, and when one considers that market forces are simply a means of making social influence on technological development more efficient by bringing more resources into the sphere, it is clear that the social construction of technology theory holds true.
The modern smartphone is an area where there is mass market usage of some applications, but others have been developed for specific usage niches. There are relevant social groups, the right technological frame and sufficient flexibility for developers to create products that meet the needs of each of these relevant social groups in turn, showcasing the social construction of technology at work.
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