Some those who have worked with me will tell you about my love of viewing everything through a continuum lens. A forthcoming paper under the aegis of the 21st Century Power Partnership will clarify this for those who read the last few strategies proposed therein. My contributions focused on laying out a framework of analysis through the use of a continuum. For me, this approach makes sense on two levels: first, that a panoramic overview of the subject in question provides a clearer picture of the landscape being studied (systems theory sits on this very fundamental) and second, it provides identifying interrelations, interactions and interfaces between different components around your topic of interest.
In focusing on the study of socio-technical systems— to comprehend the behavioral and psychological value systems surrounding energy technologies and energy systems— I understood a number of dynamics of consumer interactions and nature of interfaces between society and technology, the social and technological realms. As fascinating as this subject of research is, it is just one part of the spectrum of stuff that interfaces with the “social”.
Imagine a straight line with the social science situated right smack in the center. This is the study of human societies, human communities, organization and evolution of embedded, organic and indigenous institutions, cultural roles and regulations, ethics and morality and so on.
Extending the line to the far right, we articulate the science of technology or technological sciences. Science of and about technologies as manifestation of human ingenuity; product and process innovation, invention of devices that do good and those that do harm, study of yield optimization and optimal organization like efficiency, lean technologies, reuse and obsolescence etc.,
Extending the line to the left, is the opposite of technology (in some sense), nature or environment. Here, we articulate environmental sciences. The study of nature, organisms, natural processes at a macroscale and associated phenomena.
I apologize for this really bad diagram. But MS paint always does come in handy.
As shown in the diagram, the arrows give further meaning to placing the three distinct sciences on a continuum. Ecology, the study of natural systems (which includes man as a specific organism, albeit having more power over other species) and the processes that govern the behavior, function, and organization of ecosystems— general and specific.
Socio-ecological systems, are particular ecosystems where the study of human and environmental interactions, reciprocity, mutualism and evolution is covered. Social ecology entails an enhanced focus on man and his agency to impact and get impacted by the environment.
Finally, Socio-technological systems, encompass the study of reciprocal influences of society on technology, behavioral and psychological aspects of specific products and processes, impact of collective social ingenuity, innovation and the organic spread of influence of products, ideas and processes across the human society across space and time.
Ok, great! Now what ?
Now, the insights that can be drawn from this are based upon the ability to admit the perfection in natural creation (MAN) and the imperfection in human creation (TECHNOLOGY).
- A number of technological offerings you and I enjoy today are created for human benefit, which takes away the recognition of human embeddedness in a natural, and still largely mysterious and vulnerable system, despite its resilience.
- The impact of human technological choices has created a domino effect that is increasingly impacting the social and natural systems, tipping the balance of robustness for one against the others.
- The centrality of MAN is important to recognize his role and influence on what he brings into being (technology) and the factors for his own being (nature).
There can be more insights that one can drawn. What is critical is the need for humans to recognize that, as one of the many forms of organisms that nature has originated, we will be the inheritors of the world we create. It will be most unfortunate, sad and ironic if we were outdone by our own self-centered decisions.