Social-Technical Theory (social shaping of technology) – BIG WORDS!

Here is a nice diagram of social-technology systems and how it all fits together and let me break it down for you.

  • Technology equals any device;  keyboard, server, mouse, iPad, Smart Phone, Laptop etc
  • Information technology is the software and the device combined. So think of your iPhone and the IOS software that runs it. Essentially one can’t work without the other.
  • HCI – is the combination of the human and the information technology. Once you put people in there you have to bring in psychology, habits, physical limitations etc.
  • STS is the social technology System with the community (social) and the HCI combined, really the whole shebang!

social technology

Figure 1: Social technical system (Source: unknown 2013)

Pretty simple when you look at it that way right?

The theory basically recognizes that there is an interaction between people and technology in an organisation or social system. It is about finding the sweet spot that sits between what works and is good for human interaction with the system and the system itself. Essentially human behavior can have control over the social shaping of technology.


As the above image states its an evolution. Originally when computers were first developed there was no consideration regarding the person who was using it. Think about the first creation of  Apple Mac’s and what and iMac looks like now. Think of what we used the web for before Web 2.0, it was basically a ‘read-only’ web with no interaction. With static pages and more business ownership than a sharing community that it is now.

Figure 2: Macintosh 128k (Source: Apple.n.d.).


Figure 3: iMac Retina (Source: Apple 2016, May).

[1] Sociotechnical systems pertains to theory regarding the social aspects of people and society and technical aspects of organizational structure and processes. Here, technical does not necessarily imply material technology

Say for example we had 50 of those new iMac and they are all sitting in a building connected to one another via a network. Now depending on the social-technical systems in which they are used; a primary school; a govt evacuation area after a major disaster, a university campus; a new startup internet business or even a polling station. There are ethical issues  arising because of the social-technical systems and because of the ‘nature’ of use. Each stated group needs and requirements are slightly different, innately they all need similar things – reliability, security, privacy etc but in different degrees. The social-technical systems are designed based on the combination of technology and the social system needs.  [2] Based on its recognition of the interaction between people and technology in workplaces, socio-technical theory developed into an approach to complex organisational design that endeavoured to shape both the technical and social conditions of work.

And now for some light humor.

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Figure 4: Dog Humor (Source: Snow, Sarah. 2015).



[1] Socialtechnical Systems. (2015, November 12).  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociotechnical_system

[2] Buston, Russell. (2008, October 7). Social Technical Approach. Retrieved from https://russell.wiki.otago.ac.nz/index.php/SocioTechnical_Approach_-_STS

Image Sources

Social Technical System. (2013). [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/the-encyclopedia-of-human-computer-interaction-2nd-ed/socio-technical-system-design#copyrightNotice

Apple. (n.d.). Macintosh 128k. [Image]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_128K 

Apple.(2016, May). iMac Retina. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.macrumors.com/roundup/imac/

Snow, Sarah. (2015). Dog Humor. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/sarah-snow/2015-07-02/be-funny-amazing-power-humor-social-media-marketing