INTRODUCTION TO COMPUTING
Althoughcomputing and its application in human interactions is a relativelynew phenomenon, being less that half a century old, there are severalconceptualizations on how the technology and the society relates.There are many studies that are aimed at identifying the severalfactors and ways in which computing and related technologies play animportant role in the transformation of societies and organizations.However, the promise of technology in the modern societies andorganizations can not be underestimated or ignored. There aredifferent schools of thoughts that have developed over the years toexplain how social factors and the technology relate. One school ofthought suggested that technology is independent of externalinfluences and is only influenced by the pattern of usage and ownlogic. Thus school of thought emerged in the 1970s and is commonlyknown as technology determinism. Later, another school of thought hasemerged which argues that social factors does not only developtechnology, they also determine the role played by technology in thesociety and organizations. In the modern times, scholars areexploring both thoughts together in an attempt to advance theunderstanding the relationship between computing systems and humansociety and how they influence each others. The increased interest inthe role interplay between organizations and information technologyhas created the need for a better understanding of thecharacteristics and properties of the coexistence and support betweensocieties and technology (Arthur, 2014). The actor network theory incomputing considers all the entities in the relationship betweeninformation technology and the importance of this relationship inhuman societies and organizations.
Thereare numerous computer technologies that have huge influence in themanagement functions of business organizations, government agenciesand non profit organizations. The interactions and relationshipbetween computer based technologies and human societies in theapplication of computer based technologies are aimed at solving aparticular organizational problem. The development and success in theapplication of these technologies are based on their interaction thedifferent actors in the society. In a recent news article, theWashington post reported that was adopting a health informationtechnology contract worth over ten billon dollars. The contract whichwould last for about 18 years is a major health information systemadopted by the American government since the adoption of theHeathCare.gov. Over the years, there are various defects that havebeen identified in the HeathCare.gov system. For example many peoplewere unable to log into the system. However, the new system willprovide a new experience to the direct users. The new system is anupgrade of the HeathCare.gov system and is aimed at providingservices to millions of military personnel, both current and retired.The system is a typical example of the assemblage that characterizesthe relationship between human systems and technology in thedevelopment and application of technology. For example, throughinteraction between different actors, a new and more improvedtechnology has emerged. The actors in this case includes allindividuals directly or indirectly using or interacting with thesystem, the software as well as hardware supporting theHealthCare.org system. The Healthcare.org system itself is an actorin the assemblage (Nutt & Brittain, 2015). In another article byBusiness Wire, Kanes Foods, one of the largest food companies in theUnited Kingdom is reported to be in the process of adopting a new IFSApplication 9 to replace the legacy systems. The new system is one ofthe new enterprise resources planning that have been recentlydeveloped by IFS, a leading enterprise applications developingcompany. According to the article, the adoption of the new technologyis necessitated by rapid growth in the fresh food market. Updatingthe enterprise resource planning landscape into a more integrated andsystem has been inevitable. The need for a system that can supportthe entire supply system as opposed to a stand alone system has alsobeen influenced by changes in the technology environment (Rick,2015).
Actornetwork theory is very applicable in explaining the relationshipsbetween computer based technologies and human societies, especiallyin relation to organizations and management functions because itassumes that there are no differences between human entities and nonhuman entities. The theory argues that the non human actors in thedevelopment and emergence of technologies as well as their role inorganizations and human system are as significant as the humanactors. They play an important factor, although they can act underthe control of human actors. The fact that they are subject tocontrol by human actors does not imply that the non human actors areless important when compared to human actors. According to Mitev(2009), this would lead to techno determinism, which is contrary tothe rationale of the actor network theory. For example, in anorganization such as a hospital, a information system may be a systemthat is meant to preserve and protect the privacy of patientinformation. The actors in the system, both human and non human mayinclude doctors, patients, software engineers, system administrators,computers, personal computers, iPads, electronic records, governmentregulations and laws within the organization. All the actors interactwithin the system and each have an impact on the other. For example,the regulations will impact on the software or personal computers andiPads will affect doctor’s routine or quality of service.
Theactor network theory and its application in computing and informationsystem are based in the thought of Latour, Callon and Law in the late1970s and 1980s. The main premise of the actor network theory is thatthe human cognition may by dominant but not privileged. The theorydoes not look at the social forces or the technology aspects thatinfluence development and application of technologies in business andthe society in general, but looks at how both human and non humanfactors influence the development and adoption of technology. Theactors become part of a network where all are essential players, suchthat the absence of one actor is noticed by other actors (Mitev,2009).
Actornetwork theory views the interaction of different actors as anassemblage. For example, in personal computer used by a doctor withina health institution information system can be considered as anetwork of allied actors such that it can be considered to be oneactor. These actors may include the different hardware and softwarein the computer. This strongly assemblage of actors is referred to asa black box. None of these actors can be taken for granted or ignoredsince it absence will disable the assemblage. Similarly, the entiretechnology world is an assemblage of both human and nonhuman factorsacting together, a phenomenon referred to as irreduction in thetheory. Irreduction refers to a phenomenon where human and non humanfactors act together ontologically to ensure that a system isworking. In the assemblage, none of the entities can be reduced intoanother entity or dismissed. However, in order for the differentactors to work together in the assemblage, there must be anunderstanding between them. This is referred to a translation whereeach of the actors in the assemblage ensures that others are able tounderstand it by framing itself correctly in the system. a successfultranslation is supported by alliances between actors andreadjustments depending on the actors around them in order tostrengthen their influence (Venturini, 2010).
Theinteraction between nonhuman actors and human actors in thedevelopment and application of technology has huge impacts on theperformance of organizations. For example, in a business organizationthat uses an up to date enterprise resources planning systems, thereare different actors within the network. The most important nonhumanactor is the enterprise resources system. It is important to notethat the system is an assemblage of different nonhuman actors whichincludes software and hardware. There are also human system whichincludes the management, policy makers, direct users and theinformation technology experts. The management acts by mandating theimplementation of the system. The IT experts ensure the whole systemis working while the direct users ensure that the organization isable to access the maximum benefits from the system. The interactionbetween human and nonhuman actors in the system are essential in thedevelopment, adopting and successful use of the enterprise resourceplanning system. Thus, when one of the human or nonhuman actors isabsent, the whole system is crippled.
Nutt,A. & Brittain, A. (2015). Pentagongets ready to award big contract for electronic medical records,http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/pentagon-gets-ready-to-award-big-contract-for-electronic-medical-records/2015/07/27/a3121672-1e85-11e5-aeb9-a411a84c9d55_story.html
Rick,J. (2015). Leadingfood company, Kanes Foods, takes a fresh look at ERP with IFSApplications 9,http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150804006980/en/Leading-food-company-Kanes-Foods-takes-fresh#.VcsPHvDrhkg
Mitev,N. (2009). In and out of Actor-Network Theory: a necessary butinsufficient journey. InformationTechnology & People,22(1), 9-25.
Venturini,T. (2010). Diving in magma: how to explore controversies withactor-network theories. PublicUnderstanding of Science,19(3), 258-273.
Arthur,T. (2014). TechnologicalAdvancements and the Impact of Actor-Network Theory,ISBN 1466661275, IGI Global.