ITO1 of technology in changing the society. According



Information, Technology and

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Coursework Assignment







































Topic: Social Construction of


The Social Construction of
Technology is a framework created by Trevor Pinch and Weibe Bijker (1984). It
is a framework that stresses the importance of users, during the construction
of technology. This framework is often framed as a critique of technological
determinist theory that talks about the role of technology in changing the
society. According to Winner (1978), a few key technologies can be credited for
the movement or development within both organisations and societies. According to this theory,
societies are shaped by the upcoming technologies and they follow their own
pattern, when the necessary elements are available for that technology, then
the “innovation is inevitable” (Ogburn & Thomas 1922). The implication is
that the user, or society, does not have the control over how technology will
be created. “Technologies change, either because of scientific advance or
following a logic of

their own; and they then have
effects on society” (Mack


According to the social construction
of technology (Pinch, Bijker 1984), technologies are created to satisfy a given
problem that society itself has created at a given point of time. It argues
that the characteristics of a technology will be substantially influenced by
relevant social groups’ judgement and interpretation. The interpretation of a technology
by the various relevant social groups holds a greater impact on the outcome of
the upcoming technology when compared to the organization, or individual, who
have created the technology. This theory has four components that influence a
technological change.


The first component of this theory
are the “relevant social groups”, this group can be defined as “those groups
which share a similar meaning of the artifact”. (Mackenzie & Wajcman 1985).

Their meaning of the technological artifact will determine on how they will
interpret the technology. A key factor in deciding which social group are
relevant is whether they have any meaning attached to the artifact (Bijker
& Pinch 1984).


All relevant social groups
will interpret different meaning from the artefact. As a technology might be
trying to solve more than one problem of the society. Their different
interpretation of the artefact is a part of the next component of this theory,
“Interpretative Flexibility”. This can be regarded as the most important
component. One artefact will have a different meaning for each relevant group. Though
Bijker (1984) stresses
that by “interpretative flexibility” they do not just mean flexibility in the
interpretation of the technology, but the design of the technology is also
flexible. There is more than one design available for a technology.


As the technology gets older, a few
artifacts emerge that have minor problems and those become the fundamental
parts of that technology. This marks the beginning of the “closure and
stabilization” component. After all the conflicts regarding the artifacts are
resolved and there are no problems with the artifact, then the technology
stabilizes. Pincher and Bijker (1984) say that closure can be reached in two
ways; firstly, by using “rhetorical closure” where it is understood that no
problem exists and no further design changes are required. The other being
“closure by redefinition” where the users the problem is redefined in a manner
that they are not seen as problems to the relevant social group.




















Empirical Example: Kindle


Kindle is an electronic device
developed by Amazon to read books anywhere. The application of the device is
similar to that of an IPod or any other Mp3 player. Instead of downloading
songs, with Kindle you can download books on the device and then read it. It
was first released in the United States on November 2007 for $399. On the
current base model, users can download up to 1400 titles (which would include
books, newspapers, blogs, magazines and documents), using its 4gb memory and
can choose from over a million titles on Amazon’s website. One can download the
books using Wi-Fi or can use Amazon Whisperent. Amazon Whisperent is a 3g
service provided by Sprint and it comes built in with every Kindle device. This
feature allows all kindle users to download books anywhere they go, without the
need of Wi-Fi. This feature has given kindle considerable advantage over its
competitors as no other competitor’s offers these services.


Another big feature that attract its
users is due to a technology called Electronic ink. E- Ink technology generates
a “low power paperlike display used primarily in early e-book readers”. E-ink,
helps the Kindle produce paper like text and due to that it does not strain our
eyes as much as a normal screen would do. This technology also helps kindle
save battery, as it consumes less power than a LCD screen.


Kindle has a 6inch screen and is
extremely light to hold when compared with books. Users can also use bookmarks
and even highlight the text that they want to read for latter. Over the years,
Kindle has been regularly updating its models. They take regular feedback from
customers, and with that information they keep making changes. For example, the
first Kindle was launched with 250Mb data and over the years, the memory has
been increased to 4 GB on the base model. The 2011 model also took a major
change, as it was introduced with touch screen. The newest model, which was launched
in 2016 is called the Oasis. With Oasis, Amazon completely changed the design
of the Kindle, by making it slimmer, and by also attaching buttons to change
pages. It also comes with a case that has its own battery and the kindle starts
charging when it’s attached to the case. With Oasis, Amazon claim that they are
now measuring the battery life in months.


with Kindle in 2007, Amazon also launched the self-publication house, where
authors could upload, sell and publish their eBook for no charge. This has
attracted a lot of new authors to publish their book on their own without
taking the traditional publishing housing route. Big titles such as “The
Martian” and “The Fifty Shades of Grey” were published using this medium. (fortune)


In an announcement on July 2010,
Amazon who also sell physical books on their website that they were selling
more kindle books than physical ones. Kindle still has to grow further and still
needs to attract more consumers and in an interview with Guardian, Arthur van
Rest, Amazon’s director of product management for devices in the EU said: “Our
Kindle sales are up, people are reading more eBooks than ever before and we’re
investing more money in devices and the store. We are fully committed to the eBook
market.” The idea of Kindle can be seen as a push towards digital
transformation for books, that is similar to what we saw in the music industry.

(Gizmodo, 2010)















In this section, we will analyse the
theory of Social Construction of Technology using Amazon’s Kindle.  The key to our analysis would be to see, if
Kindle has been effected by the society or is it Kindle that has been the
influenced by the relevant group.


As mentioned before according to
SCOT, technology is created to solve problems that the society has created for
itself. The first task is to understand, which problems of the society are relevant
for Kindle. We must analyse, different social groups which are being affected
by Kindle and then draw upon the meaning they articulate from it. As mentioned
before, the important task when finding out the relevant social group for a
technology is that if they attach any meaning to the artifact. (Bijker &
Pinch 1984)


The first and obvious social group
would be the users or customers for Kindle. Users of Kindle were going to be
people who read books. Book readers find it hard to carry a lot of books
everywhere as they can be heavy. Users do not have . Kindle’s main aim was to
solve this problem of its potential users. To provide it’s users with books on
the go with a portable device that can download all books from anywhere. Their
solution being Kindle can also be linked with “virtualization” of a book.

According to Knights (2007), “electronic mediation” is a form of “virtualization”.

Kindle is seen as a medium to overcome the problem of conventional ways of
doing things by removing the physical constraints of buying things.


Other relevant social group that
were going to draw meaning from Kindle, would be all the authors of the books.

For a book to get published, an author would have to go a publishing house or a
publisher who would help the author publish books. The author would be paid an
upfront sum for the book. The publishing house would then do the marketing and
editing of the book. Once the book gets published, the author could expect
15-20% royalty from each sale. With the introduction of Kindle and its self-publishing
house the authors will be able to reach a wider audience with their books. They
will also be able to publish their books on their own and be freed from the
norms of publishing houses (Alserver, 2016).


The publishers were another relevant
social group who will draw meaning from the introduction of Kindle. Before the
introduction of Kindle, the publishing house had most of the control over this
industry. The royalties that they would give to the author was immensely less.

But with the digital transformation on the cusp of emerging, they were
interested in making that step towards going digital. Amazon would allow these
publishing houses to enter this digital transformation. The publishers will
then  be able to reach this new digital
audience by providing their content to Amazon. (Abbruzzese and Nelson, 2014)


After analyzing the relevant social
group, we reach the second component of the theory, the “interpretative
flexibility”. Aforementioned, in this component we will analyse the way each
social group will interpret the functionality of Kindle differently. We will
look at how Kindle tried to find solutions to the problems represented by these
relevant social group. The other important point in “interpretative
flexibility” is that the design is also flexible and will be changed to further
solve the problems. (Bijker & Pinch 1984)


Even before kindle came eBooks were
available on other platforms. A big problem with those E readers was the
availability of wide variety of books. For example Sony, had launched their E
reader in 2006, a year before Kindle was released. Sony’s E reader failed
because it did not pay enough attention in trying to solve the problems of its
relevant social groups. “It didn’t deal with the economic and legal challenges
e-books would pose for authors and publishers; it didn’t offer a compelling
enough digital rights management solution; and it didn’t know how to build a
good online store. Publishers didn’t sign on, and neither did readers” (Forbes,
2012). Its online store did not have a wide variety of books to attract its
readers and at the same time downloading those limited books was a harder task.

Users would have to download books on their PC and then connect their E reader
with the PC to transfer those books on to the device. This did not solve user’s
problem of having any book anywhere at any time (Forbes, 2008).  


And this is what Amazon did
differently, it tried to address the issues of its relevant social group by
changing the design of their technology whenever required. To tackle the
problem of providing its users with a book anywhere and anytime, Amazon’s CEO Jeff
Bezos wanted the Kindle to have free internet availability everywhere. He felt,
this would be the key for Kindle’s success. As the book readers with this
device will be able to download any book any time and that’s what they wanted.

This was missing in Sony’s E reader. Amazon made this possible by adding a phone
modem in the device, which would only work for downloads and not voice calls.

For the connection, they collaborated with the American Telecommunication
company Sprint (Cnet 2017).


Over the years, Amazon have been
working hard to replace books with kindle, by making it more user friendly. They
have been changing their design to further benefit the user. In 2014, Amazon
launched the kindle unlimited, where it allows its users the access of 1.4
million titles for $10 per month. The first Kindle did nnot allow the users to
view documents on PDF format. After reviewing the feedback of its consumers, in
2009 it introduced kindle DX on which users could view documents using PDF format
(trusted review). In 2010, the Kindle started coming with the option of WIFI connectivity
as well. The price was drastically reduced as well from Amazon
brought publishers into the digital age, and publishers were happy to provide
the content in return for a new revenue stream. $400 to $140. And finally, Kindle solved one of
the big problems for its users with Kindle Paperwhite in 2012. It introduced
black light in this version, this meant that the users could now use this in
the dark as well. (trusted reviews) This relevant group interpretation of Kindle
was a device that has all books available and can be used anywhere.  


Amazon’s self-publication house attracted
a lot of new authors to publish their books on their own. Nagar had worked in
the book industry for 20 years, after which he joined Amazon spoke with CNET
(2017) “It just grew the options for people who were telling stories and,
as a result, it grew the options for people who want to read stories,”.

This facility has helped in solving the problem of a relevant social group of
Kindle. Many authors have started taking this route to publish their book and according
to Amazon of four million titles released in 2016, 40% were self-published
(Fortune, 2016). The interpretation of this social group was a technology that
helped them reach wider audience and publish books without the need of
publishing houses.


The publishers having joined this
digital transformation with the help of Amazon have enjoyed their share of success.

The collaboration between Amazon and publishers had started out as mutually
beneficial for both as Amazon were allowing them generous margins. “Amazon
brought publishers into the digital age, and publishers were happy to provide
the content in return for a new revenue stream” (Mashable, 2014) But as Amazon
started to become more popular and people started switching from physical books
to EBooks, the dynamics between the two changed. According to Codex, Amazon has
a market share of more than two thirds in the United States book market. This
gives Amazon more leverage when discussing the prices of the books. Publishers
also were also not excited by Amazon’s self-publishing strategy. According to
their interpretation, the market now is flooded with low quality books because of
kindle. They believe that publishing house only publish books of authors who
provide top quality materials. For publishers, Kindle has turned out to be a
road block in their business. Their interpretation of kindle is different from
the other two and is a negative experience.


The different interpretation of
different relevant social groups in Kindle’s example is in alignment with the
Bijker’s (1984) “interpretative flexibility”. As mentioned before “interpretative
flexibility” stage does not go on forever and after a period of time the technology
stabilizes and reaches the stabilization stage. Kindle is the king on the EBook
industry and we have seen wide spread adoption of this technology from the society.

EBooks who once accounted for a very small proportion of the market now account
for similar sales to physical books. (mashable) This shows that Kindle is
slowly reaching the stabilization stage. Amazon used the rhetorical closure to
way of the above-mentioned claim by publishers regarding self-publishing
houses. Naggar who joined Amazon in 2009, said that “”Readers don’t care
who published it, so if it’s a good book, it’s going to sell,” Naggar
added. “The notion that allowing self-publishing somehow creates worse
books, I don’t buy it, because customers don’t buy bad books. Now more than ever.”
(Cnnet) At the same time we can agree that Kindle still hasn’t completely reached
the stabilization stage. There are still problems that are on-going which kindle
needs to address. The sales of EBooks hasn’t yet surpassed the sales of
physical books.


analysis shows that there is evidence which proves that the society helps in
constructing a technology. But there is criticism against this theory, which
argues the applicability of its working. As Picnh (1996) states “The particular way in which
society is conceptualized and linked to artefacts is via the notion of relevant
social groups.” But the argument  is, how
can one assume that the people in a relevant social group will equally participate
and  interpret the same meaning from the design
(Winner, 1993). “Some groups may not be groups at all but may be a diverse
collection of subgroups for whom some actor claims to speak” (Russell 1986).

When we look at the users of Kindle, they are diverse range of people. These
users might interpret different meanings from kindle. The interpretation of
Kindle Unlimited cann be seen differently among this relevant group. As some believe,
it gives them a wide variety of books to read from, whereas, some say it affects
one’s attention span. Two reasons can be seen for the shortening of attention
span. Firstly, due to the availability of unlimited material at will. Secondly,
Kindle being an electronic device, and electronic devices are used for other
purposes where we are used to doing different things.


the above-mentioned criticism, we can also look at how Kindle has affected the
society and is causing the major changes. There is a growing change in the business
model because of kindle in the book industry. Publishers are focussing more on
short stories to attract more readers of eBooks, who have small attention span.

We can also talk about how the technological change for the publishing houses
has been an unwanted change for them. With the bulk of the sale of books now
controlled by Amazon, the publishers are now uncomfortably reliant on Amazon.