Cyborg Analysis and Technology Policy

I want to put together a series of posts about cyborg perspectives on industrial IT practices. This post introduces that series.

The "cyborg analysis," makes difficult to ignore that most problems with technology, even seemingly outright "technological problems" are better as understood as problems at the intersection of humans and technology. Ignoring either people or technology, leads to imperfect analysis. While, false divides between "problems with users," and "problems with technology" aren't helpful either, this might be a conceptually useful exercise.

I've been thinking that many of the seemingly technological problems of IT policy are really not technological problems at all, and are better thought of as "people problems." I'm thinking of "problems" like file permissions, access control, group and user management, desktop management, and data organization. Obviously, some problems, like workflow and tool optimization, are seen human problems while others are often targeted as technological problems.

I think of human solutions as those responses to technology issues that address misunderstanding by providing training and education to users. There's also a class of automations that make these human solutions easier to provide: for example, test harnesses of various sorts, code/text validation, and some template systems. Technological solutions, by contrast are those that, through the use of code, enforce best practices and business objectives: web filters, access management systems, and anything that are designed to "break" if business policy are not satisfied.

The divides between solutions are not natural or clear, just as problem domains in IT are rarely neatly or easily "silo'd." There is often a fine line between writing code to automate a process to make users' work easier and writing code to control users and save users from themselves.

This post, and the series that follows it, are thus to explore this tension, and what I suspect are under-realized opportunities for human-solutions. I would like to think that problem domains in the larger IT world, particularly with thorny issues that require lots of code, may be better addressed with more human-centric solutions. Current thoughts revolve around:

  • The practice and method of software design.
  • The development and use of software developed for "internal use," rather than as a software product.
  • Refraining the discussion about digital security to address it from a human angle rather than from a purely technological angle.

As always, I'd like to invite comments and discussion.

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