Some Potential Patterns in Need of Development:

Title:Three ideas for patterns.
PosterJohn Thomas
Date Posted:August 1, 2002

More Palatable Reasons

Example: An airline pilot puts on the "Seat Belt" sign in order to make the jobs of the flight attendants easier but says it is on for "safety" because that is a more palatable reason.

Esprit de Corps Via Shared Pain and Success

Example: Early adopters of new technologies like Palm Pilots or VR become "true believers."


Almost every tribe has initiations. These serve a dual purpose: 1) to use cognitive dissonance in order to make the group seem more attractive to the one initiated and 2) to enhance the group to trust the individual initiated (as to motivation, but often also as to competence.

Pros and Cons of Using Patterns

Dimensions and Considerations in Sociotechnical Systems

Title:Ways that Technology and Social Systems can Interact
Poster:John Thomas
Date Posted:July 1, 2002

How can Technology and Social Aspects Interact?

In many cases today, there is a push to build software that directly aids social interaction. This is happening in entertainment as well as business settings. A Socio-Technical Pattern Language would seem clearly relevant to the design of on-line chat rooms, project management software or MOOs. However, the ways in which technological issues and social issues can interact are many and various. These could include at least the following possibilities.

Technology can be designed to support existing practice (e.g., Lotus NOTES TeamRooms were created to aid teams in coordinating and communicating. Technology can be designed to change, modify, or destroy an existing practice (e.g., repair people used informal story exchanges in garages in the morning while awaiting dispatch; now, more efficient technology of calling the repairers directly has been put in place often without regard to the negative impact on knowledge sharing and social capital.) Technology can be designed to allow a system that would otherwise be too costly (e.g., Babble (Erickson & Kellogg, 2000) is a blended synchronous/asynchronous chat system that allows worldwide teams to communicate cheaply and effectively.) Technology can be designed for one purpose and adopted for a social purpose. (e.g., e-mail is now largely social but was originally designed for scientific and technical collaboration). Technology can be designed for one function and have unintended social consequences. (e.g., the microwave and the dishwasher were designed as labor-saving devices, certainly not as social applications; yet, their introduction has significant social impact.) Technology may impact individual minds and this in turn may impact social functions. (E.g., it has been suggested that playing video games may lead people to be impatience impatient with human beings; others have suggested that the fragmentary visual field presented by TV may help lead to an increased frequency of Attentional Deficit Disorder?).

TitleSome Examples of Non-Obvious Interactions between Technologies and Social Systems
Poster:John THomas
Date Posted:July 1, 2002

The Dishwasher: As a first example, consider the social impact of washing dishes the old-fashioned way versus using an automatic dishwasher. In the case of doing the dishes in the old-fashioned way, it is often the case that two people share the tasks, with one person washing and another drying. The nature of this task structure sets up an interesting coordinated rhythm (not unlike rowing, dancing, or marching in formation). Often the dishwashing is done by two family members, or two friends, and they are physically close together but separate from others. Indeed, by being shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face, the physical set-up is conducive to cooperation rather than competition. In addition, it may well be easier to say things that are slightly difficult or intimmate when not directly facing the other person. However, when having (only) a conversation, the gesture of looking completely away from the other person connotes dishonesty or a lack of openness. The task of dishwashing offers an excuse to converse while not looking at the other person. Furthermore, being engaged in a cooperative task with relatively delicate objects also sets up the expectation that the other person is unlikely to react with sudden anger. In fact, the symbolism of throwing dishes as a sign of extreme anger relates to this convention. When the dishes are done, the pair feels as though they have accomplished something together.

Consider the contrast with using an automatic dishwasher. Loading a dishwasher (at least as usually configured in a modern kitchen) is most efficiently performed by a single person. Trying to do it with two people is awkward. Unloading the dishwasher can be performed by two people, but it is not especially helpful and not a task conducive to conversation. Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder the pair is simply walking about the kitchen in asynchronous motion. It is not a shared activity requiring a hand-off or a coordinated rhythm. When the dishes are done, the feeling is that you have aided a machine in accomplishing something.

The Microwave: A cook makes dinner for family or friends. This process is generally preceded by some negotiation to determine likes, dislikes, and allergies. The activity itself may be singular or done in coordinated fashion with others depending on the geometry of the kitchen and the specific recipe(s). In either case, the entire group shares the smells and sounds of the food being prepared. The dinner is prepared synchronously for the group and generally they sit down together and converse and not inconsequentially, eat the same food.

Contrast this with the microwave case. Generally, people choose different things. They are prepared asynchonously (different dinners generally requiring different settings and timespans). People become variously engaged in some private activities such as watching television or doing e-mail. Now, people are eating different meals.

The Personal Computer: MiniturizationMiniaturization has certainly made computing more efficient and convenient and I love the laptop I'm using right now! In earlier days of computing, however, the large scale mainframe computers and large peripherals made it much easier for novices to watch more expert people deal with computers. Many actions were open and obvious. Many programs were flow-charted and code was printed out for inspection and debugging. Computers generally sat in labs where people gathered and overheard each other and could easily garner expert advice by asking someone nearby.

Today, most programmers sit in offices or cubicles with no-oneno one looking over their shoulders. The fingers using a trackpoint or hitting function keys on a small keyboard are hard to follow. Screens are less often shared. Seldom does one overhear potentially useful conversations. To get expert advice requires instituting an interruption into someone elses workflow. When you call on the phone or knock on someones door, you have no idea how busy they are.

There are ways to mitigate these isolating effects. Indeed, many have been proposed including porthole systems for group awareness, answer gardens for expert advice, and even radical co-location. The purpose of building computers smaller and cheaper was certainly not to isolate people socially, yet this has been somewhat of a byproduct.

Television: Television was initially hailed as a great step forward in education. And, indeed, it has usefulness in that regard. By far, however, it is used for entertainment and is not conducive to social interaction. If one attends earlier forms of entertainment such as a play or opera, there is some transportation involved in going to the play or opera; there are breaks where people converse; and there is transportation involved after the play or opera. There is balance between shared experience and the time and space to discuss that shared experience with others.

In watching television however, there is very little time between shows to discuss anything. There are no real breaks. There is a constant stream of visual and auditory information. Moreover, the complexity of the material in most shows is such that there is little to discuss in any case. More recently, the number of televisions in a household has grown so that people in a household may not even be watching the same programs.

Title:Some Proposed Dimensions of Social Interaction
Poster:John Thomas
Date Posted:July 1, 2002

In thinking about the relationship of technology and social factors, it may be useful to consider some of the following factors. While it may prove useful as a tool of thought to focus on assessing each factor, their impact is not additive. For example, in general, when people are involved in an activity whose primary purpose is bonding and whose general game-theoretic structure is cooperative (e.g., dancing), it is likely that the closer the physical contact, the greater the degree of bonding. On the other hand, when people are engaged in an activity whose general game-theoretic structure is competitive (e.g., sports), having a higher degree of physical interactivity (e.g., football and hockey) is more likely to lead to physical violence than sports activities with a smaller degree of physical interaction (e.g., tennis, crew, and golf).

These are some proposed questions to ask about social interaction. Consider the factor of rhythm, for instance. Is shared timing required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient or impossible to task? In general, the requirement for a shared rhythm, we hypothesize is conducive to bonding. This is found in rowing, dancing, heaving on a rope, or in conversation. So far, most electronic tasks, particularly over the Internet, introduce asynchrony.

Another questions is to ask whether negotiation is required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient or impossible to task with and without the technology. Is a substantial overlap in the gross stimulus field required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient or impossible? For instance, are people in the same physical space or seeing the same overall image such as a movie or television show. A similar question can be asked with respect to the fine stimulus overlap; e.g., do they see the same words on a screen, hear the same words? Is there anticipation around the shared event/usage? Is there special framing around the shared event/usage? Are their differentiated, interlocking roles around the shared event/usage? Is a specific physical positioning among participants required, helpful neutral, inconvenient or impossible to accomplishing the goals? Is shared control of the goals required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient or impossible? Is shared control of timing is required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient or impossible? If there are tokens or balls, is there a single one that all participants deal with, one for each team, or one for each player. How do they interact? Are they basically independent as in golf, monopoly. Do they interact only in specified ways as in croquet, checkers, or chess? Or is there only a single token whose control is in contention as in soccer, basketball, or football?. Is the space fixed for this type of interaction; is it a space of convenience, convention or flexibly arrangeable? Is physical contact required, helpful, neutral, inconvenient/unconventional or impossible? What about the fidelity and range of simuli? Consider the goals and motivations. Are there extrinsic rewards (monetary or recognition, e.g.) Are there intrinsic rewards (e.g., sensory, social, mastery, curiosity). Is conversation likely during the entire activity; during most of the activity (i.e., except for critical points); only during specified exceptional periods; or is conversation inconvenient, distracting or even impossible.

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