Syntegration Topic (Return to List of Topics)


Topic ICTs and Co-evolution in Society
Participants | Rebecca Herron | Chris Atkinson | Clive Holtham | Eve Mitleton-Kelly | Clas-Otto Wene |
Critics | Consuelo Davila | Pete Barnsley | German Bula | Bob Malcolm | John Mingers |

Meeting 1 Notes

Meeting 2 NotesMeeting 3 NotesOutcome Resolve

Co-ordinator = Clive Holtham

Date: 8 July Time: 17:15 to 18:15 Facilitators: Toni & Jennifer


  • Vendors, consultants and others are taking a technological deterministic view of ICT. The social shape of technology is often ignored.
  • Co-evolution means the reciprocal influence between the micro and macro elements of social, cultural and technical aspects. It is important to recognise the relations between them. Each element evolves within a context.
  • The current emphasis (of vendors, consultant and others) is on prices/costs/efficiency rather than on learning curves. However, on the long run, the cost doesn't matter at all.
  • ICT focus on niche markets initially and then roll out to general markets.
  • Demand in society will "pull" inevitably technology developments, but what kind of society and technology are we talking about? And what are we looking at as an output of these distinctions? What is lacking in our understanding of them today?
  • IT and Society cannot be separated. ICT is an example of a human artefact. 
  • The social, the cultural and the technical aspects are different manifestations of the same phenomenon in society.
  • Can "Co-evolution" be applied to technologies? Evolution is applied to species. Are technologies different "species"?
  • Notice that the identity of something is changed through the purpose(s) we ascribe to things. The railway development is a good example of the relationships between technology, society and culture. This development was not smooth. In Bristol, for instance, there is a clock with three hands representing three different time zones. The railway permitted a standardisation of time. It took decades to change attitudes towards measuring time. Then there is no automatic linkage between technology, society and culture in the sense that a change in one will automatically produce a change in the others.
  • There are properties that emerge in the interaction of people and machines. Markets, for instance, emerge from the interaction between people and machines.


  • It seems that the notion of "social selection" is coming through. Social evolution is manifested in this selection process. Economics is the main driver of this selection process.
  • "Artefacts", on the other hand, could be seen as the lenses of society's models/selection processes.
  • Contrary to what has been said before, there must be an automatic linkage between technology, society and culture. In fact, they cannot be separated.
  • On the contrary, I believe that because they exist only in language, they can indeed be separated.
  • Notice that technology does not exist independently of human beings.
  • We can see, however, that technology development and human change differ in speed. The speed of technology development is very fast, but what about the human mind, attitude and values, are they changing at the same speed?
  • At different levels of recursion (individual, family, community and the state) the influence of technology in human affairs is different. 
  • Technology enlarges the domain of human actions. The way humans do things. But technology also affects humans in unpredictable ways.
  • Could ICT's be described in terms of values like a society?
  • We need a conceptualisation beyond feedback mechanisms. Probably we need new concepts and tools to talk about complexity. Variety could be a more enlightening measure. Compensatory mechanisms also could be an alternative.


  • The way language is used to describe a technology is an emergent property of the interaction between that technological object and the people. At the micro level, the name is the property of the interaction (i.e., the name of the object).
  • Can we manage co-evolution? Or merely facilitate it? There are a lot of unexpected reactions produced by in the interactions between people and technology. Perhaps we can only manage this interaction at a lower, technical, recursive level. At a meta-level we will see the co-evolution of society and technology.
  • Notice that, on the other hand, market value binds technology development. But what about demand being created by technical innovation? The software industry is a good example here.
  • Notice also that the use of technology (according to a purpose ascribed to it) may significantly affect its demand/experience curve.
  • Inventions alone often go nowhere (at least at first). The people themselves are who, at the end, ascribe new purposes to them; this is where co-evolution occurs.
  • Unsatisfactory technologies usually result from arbitrary accidents (e.g. Government policies).
  • We can say that niche markets establish standards (i.e., "locks-in"). How can we avoid/be alert of these "locks-in"?
  • Locks-in are fed by positive feedback but throwing in something new can deflect the course. It is the whole eco-system that affects it. 
  • Going back to a recurrent question, how can we separate the cultural, the social and the technological elements? For instance, what is an information system? Does each element evolve in a particular context?


  • There is currently a difference among the members of the group: some of them do separate the cultural, the social and the technological elements. Others consider that this is impossible.
  • We think that a good methodological way to study co-evolution of ICT and Society is through the analysis of market values, niches and learning curves.
  • It could be useful to study feedback mechanisms between society and technology to approach this problem.