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Some random thoughts on sociotechnology

Did you know that it was not Gutenberg who invented moveable type – known as 'printing' to most of us? Actually, it was the Chinese who first thought of it in 1040 CE using wood and later ceramic, and the Koreans improved it in 1324 by using metal type; Gutenberg developed it later, "around 1450" (thanks Wikipedia, oh fount of all knowledge).

Interestingly, with regards to sociotechnological analyses, although a Korean king developed a phonetic alphabet of 24 characters which would have made printing a lot easier (otherwise they had to use thousands of Chinese characters. But, "Adoption of the new alphabet was stifled by the inertia of Korea's cultural elite, who were '...appalled at the idea of losing Chinese, the badge of their elitism.'"; in addition, there was also a "Confucian prohibition on the commercialization of printing" which restricted the use of printing to the state.

These examples highlight the ways in which technologies never automatically drive social change, but interact with existing social practices and come up against entrenched social hierarchies and so on.

On a vaguely related other random thought, these news stories seem to be examples of what Adam Greenfield meant when talking about a shift from "wayfinding to wayshowing" (the first story is the most amusing)
Swedes miss Capri after GPS gaffe
Sat-nav dead end at crematorium
Sat nav misdirects football fans

As we are increasingly given means to guide us around geographical space – GPS for the moment mostly, the example he gave (in a talk at QUT) of apps that can guide you to the right exit in Tokyo subways, and in future one can imagine devices to lead you around malls to a shop, guided tours for tourists, etc. – he argues that our awareness of the environment may change. Instead of finding our way ('wayfinding'), by picking out landmarks and spotting random things on the way, we are more likely to move around by staring at our 'steering device' - being shown the way ('wayshowing'). It's an interesting point, and reminds me of something my sister brought up recently – how when travelling using a GPS you don't read a map anymore, and thus find out less about the landscape you're moving through.