Computers and Society Glossary

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ACM - Association for Computing Machinery, an organization for computer professionals

Adaptive Capacity - the ability of a system to deal with change by modifying its structure and function

Affective Leader - Someone who provides symbolic and emotional solidarity and guidance to a group

AI - See Artificial Intelligence

Algorithm - a mathematical formula specifying the solution to a problem; a set of instructions for solving a problem using a computer program

Alienation - Marx's theory that workers in capitalist society are separated from ownership and control over their work, the commodities they produce, one another, and their own creative capabilities

Analog Computer - a computer that processes continuous signals rather than binary data

Analysis - the interpretation of systematic observations of natural or social phenomena

Analytical Engine - Charles Babbage's 1832 design for the first modern digital computer

Anomie - Durkheim's concept of when people have no norms to govern their behavior, indicating a failure of social solidarity and control

ANSI - The American National Standards Institute, a non-governmental organization that manages U. S. voluntary standards

Artificial intelligence - computer systems capable of making decisions and solving problems based on rules that do not guarantee a solution and that can be modified through experience

Asynchronous - occurring at different times

Automation - replacing human labor with machines

Authority - legitimate exercise of power

Backstage - a space not under surveillance by authorities or audience

Bandwidth - the volume of electronic traffic than can be transmitted over a connection; like the width of a road or the diameter of a pipe

Bug - an error caused by a hardware or software malfunction; originally, an actual insect in a computer

Bureaucracy - a formal organization characterized by hierarchical authority, formal written rules, and limitations on the power of officials

Charisma - the personal quality in a leader who attracts and inspires followers and establishes new norms and beliefs

Civic Inattention - when people recognize one another's presence but tend to leave one another alone except for negotiating spatial arrangements. This produces fairly poor privacy .

Character Set - the way elements (letters, symbols, and other characters) of a language are represented in machine code. See font

Class - see social class

Coercive Power - power based on force or the threat of force

Commodity - product made for profit (rather than for social reasons) using rationally organized wage labor

Common Carrier - a communications or transportation medium (such as telephone, interstate buses or telegraph that was organized as a regulated monopoly and required to carry messages and freight for everyone

Communications Decency Act - Unsuccessful late 1990's attempt to define U. S. national standards of morality in communication

Community - a group with a common territory, shared interests, communications, and a sense of belonging to one another

Community Interface - an electronic network that connects members of a community to each other; a computer based communication system that supports a geographically dispersed community; see virtual community

Community Standards of Decency - behavior defined as tolerable by a community

Compatibility - The ability of two systems to be joined by a common interface, permitting the exchange of information or parts; see interchangeable parts

Compulsive Programmer - a person who is obsessed with the process of programming a computer and motivated by a desire to master the machine; see hacker.

Computer - a general-purpose tool for communication and control as well as computation.

Computer Crime - the illegal use of a computer to acquire information, money, or other resources.

Computer Literacy - knowing the technique for using a computer

Computer Mediated Communication - interaction between people exchanging information through a computer instead of face-to-face

Computer Model - a model implemented as a computer program

Computer Phobia - the irrational fear of using a computer; often misused to describe people reluctant to use computers for other reasons

Conflict Theory - any theory that views the exercise of economic or coercive power as the major cause of social change

Contract - a legally binding agreement between two parties (persons or organizations)

Copyright - legal protection for the expression of an idea; ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted

Corporate Crime - crime committed by companies for profit

Corporate Culture - the shared norms and values of a particular company

Creative Commons - non-profit organization offering alternatives to traditional copyrights that preserve some rights and allow a wider range of uses

Crime - an offense that requires punishment under criminal law

Culture - is the entire way of life that people share. It includes of beliefs, customs, language, behaviors, technology, social structures, symbols, material objects and meanings.

Cultural Imperialism - the imposition of a foreign culture on people through the use of coercive or economic power.

Cultural Values - see values

Culture - the entire way of life shared by a people, including information, material objects, and behaviors.

Cybernetic Impact - the way the informational content of culture affects the physical world.

Cybernetics - the study of communication and control in biological organisms and machines.

Data - specific numerical or other symbolic representations of facts.

Database - a collection of data organized so that items can be stored into it or retrieved from it.

Data Structures - the relationships among data elements; the information available from a set of data.

Decision Making Method - a way (in small groups this is usually informal, unanimous agreement) of selecting one possible solution to their problem

Declining Middle - theoretical argument that more jobs are being created at the top and at the bottom of the stratification system, resulting in a shrinking middle class.

Democracy - a political system in which government officials are chosen by and responsible to the people they represent

Democratic - equal opportunity for all persons affected by a decision to have their interests fairly represented in the decision making process. If two foxes and a chicken vote on what to have for dinner, the situation is not usually very democratic.

Demonstration Effect - in the diffusion model of technological change, the assumption that those seeing a successful demonstration of new technology will consider adopting it.

Deskilling - reducing the level of intelligence, creativity, and skill required to perform a task.

Devaluation of Mental Labor - theoretical argument that the kinds of mental work computers can do will decline as a source of status, income, and satisfaction.

Diffusion Model of Technological Change - the theory that technology spreads from innovators to adopters.

Digital Dilemma the contradiction between intellectual property rights and public domain knowledge

Digital Divide - the gap between those who have high-speed access to online information and those who don't

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Division of Labor - the structural differentiation of work into specialized jobs

Downward Social Mobility - falling in social status in the course of one's life.

Dramaturgy - Erving Goffman"s theory of social interaction and presentation of self

DRM - Digital Rights Management

Economic Power - power based on control over material resources

Efficiency - producing the maximum amount of one quantity using a fixed amount of another.

Elective Affinity - Weber's term for two interrelated variables for which we cannot specify which is the cause and which is the effect.

Electronic Cottage - the concept that social life and work will be reintegrated in the home.

Electronic Sweatshop - an electronic cottage with low-wage piecework.

Electronic Trail - the record of computer transactions that takes the place of paper records used by auditors and accountants.

Empathy - is the state of feeling the presence of another person. It is an emotional feeling, often based on nonverbal information in social interaction. Computer mediated communication (and other forms of interaction at a distance) have been found to reduce this feeling, although members of virtual communities report the emergence of empathy among themselves. Social theorists suggest that the way we learn empathy as children by taking the role of the other. In other words, by learning to imagine how others feel and act.

Empirical Generalizations - general statements about the world arrived at by inductive reasoning from systematic observations.

Entrainment - a process in which interacting people adopt the same pattern in their movements

Entropy -a measure of the degree of disorder in a system; its central characteristic is to increase; systems using information and energy inputs can counteract this tendency.

Epistemology - is the study of knowledge ("how do we know")

Ergonomics - the study of the human/technology interface; human factors research.

Error Message - the message a computer displays when something went wrong. These are frequently incomprehensible and often blame the computer user.

Ethical - characteristic of norms, rules, and behaviors based on moral values and designed to avoid harm to others.

Expert System - an artificial intelligence designed to function as a human expert for some specific kind of problem solving.

EULA - End User Licensing Agreement

External Costs - the cost of producing something that is paid by society rather than by the producer.

Fair Use - permitted copying of protected intellectual property with no permission required for education, news, research and parody

Fairly Poor Privacy - the privacy given to individuals and groups by social norms for ignoring one other in public places. The sort of privacy you have at a table in a pizza parlor.

Feedback -information about the outcome of an action used to modify that action.

Five-bit Code - the code used in terminals for the deaf; each character is represented by a sequence of five 1's and 0's.

Font - the way character sets are displayed or printed

Formal - characterized by written rules and procedures

Free Standards Group - a non-governmental organization with the goal of promoting linux by developing standards for it

Frontstage - space that is under surveillance by authorities or audience

Function - what a system, machine, or part of social structure does; for example: One function of elementary school is to teach children to sit uncomfortably all day doing boring things they are told to do by authorities.

Functionalism - a paradigm for society that emphasizes its systems characteristics and focuses on stability and normative social controls

Gatekeeper - the role responsible for controlling access to space, information, or other resources

Gender - is a pair of social roles (masculine and feminine) based on the expectations society has for different behaviors by men and women. Every culture has gender roles, but the norms are different in different societies. Gender roles in the U.S. have been changing.

Global Factory - a production process with parts scattered around the world but centrally controlled

Hacker - originally, a highly skilled person who is fascinated by the process of computer programming and motivated by the belief that system resources ought by to available to anyone who can find clever ways to acquire, use and redistribute them; see compulsive programmer and computer crime.

Heuristic - a problem-solving method that uses trial and error and cannot guarantee a solution; see algorithm

Higher-level Information - relationships among items of information forming more abstract concepts. see also meta information

Human Capital - the concept that employee knowledge and skill is a valuable resource for organizations and societies

Hypotheses - well-specified predictive statements about the world, arrived at by deduction from theory and tested with systematic empirical observations

ICANN - Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers international non-governmental organization that manages address space (IPs), domain names, and the root server system for the internet

Ideal Type - Weber's concept that the general features of a social process or structure can be used as a model when analyzing variation in real cases; for example, the ideal type corporation is rationally organized for the purposes of making a profit, so actual companies can be compared in terms of their organizational effectiveness and profitability

Identity - negotiated characteristics which make a person recognizable by others as a unique individual

Ideology - paradigms, social facts, or other concepts that explain and justify relationships of status, property, and power; believed to be true with no scientific testing of their validity

IEEE - Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

IETF - Internet Engineering Task Force, an international non-governmental organization that deals with the technical details of internet architecture and operation

Inclusive - groups characterized by equal opportunity for all persons affected by a decision to participate as members of the group making the decision

Industry - a work role classified according to the product or service supplied by the employer

Informal - characterized by the absence of written rules and procedures

Information - relationships among facts; a useful selection and organization of data. Information is used in social interaction. The exercise of power requires information. We cannot influence people unless we can communicate with them. Social information deals with meaning. Information exchange in society is a part of culture.

Information Society - Daniel Bell's term describing society after the computer revolution

Instrumental Leader - someone who organizes and motivates a group to carry out tasks

Intellectual Labor - see mental labor

Intellectual Property - ownership of the expression of an idea (by copyright) or an idea embedded in an industrial process (by patent). Ideas themselves cannot be owned.

Interactive - having a conversation-like interface

Interchangeable parts - data, software, or hardware produced by one computer system that can be used by another; in manufacturing, standard components

Interface - the shared boundary between two systems

Internalization - during socialization, the process of making the norms, values, and roles that we have learned into part of our own personalities

Interest Aggregation - in small group decision making, the process of reducing a solution space by rejecting solutions that do not satisfy individual members and identifying compromise solutions that satisfy conflicting interests

Interest Articulation - in small group decision making, the process of building a solution space by soliciting ideas from and identifying interests of members

ISO - International Standards Organization

Java - a machine independent programming language; an island in Indonesia; coffee

Knowledge - an evaluation and understanding of information in terms of human purposes

Knowledge Elite - Daniel Bell's term for an elite whose status is based on their knowledge

Knowledge Engineering - the construction of software and data bases

Labor Force - all of the people in a society who engage in paid economic activity

Laws - are based on the coercive power of the state. (The state means the whole structure of government.) If somebody doesn't follow laws there are penalties. Laws can also change, but very slowly. Laws in democratic societies are made by legislators, interpreted by judges, and enforced by law enforcement bureaucracies.

Legitimate - believed to be legal or right

Leisure - activity with a minimum of social or economic restraint; activity done for its own sake; freely chosen activity without time constraints

Liability Insurance - insurance against the possibility that a product or service will cause harm to clients, customers, or the community

Life Chances - Weber's term for an individual's class position based on property, wealth, and occupational opportunities

License - a legal document giving official permission to do or use something, such as driving a car or using a software product

Luddite - member of an early industrial revolution protest movement that destroyed the machinery putting laborers out of work; a term now applied to someone who opposes industrial automation

Macro - large scale

Macroergonomics - also called social factors, the study of the society/technology interface. The study of the consequences of technology for social relationships, processes, and institutions.

Macro Theory - theory about large-scale social institutions and processes, often stressing economic or coercive power as sources of change

Manual Labor - working with one's hands

Means of Production - raw materials, capital, and technology needed in order to produce goods

Mechanical Solidarity - the social bonding among members of pre-industrial society, where all share the same activities

Media -- the physical means for expressing and transmitting information; for example, paper, broadcasting, film, or oil paint on canvas

Members - persons defined by themselves and others as belonging to the small group and committed to participating in reaching a decision or accomplishing a task (in the case of work groups) or establishing a shared identity (in the case of social groups). Groups can be both.

Mental Labor - working with one's mind

Meta Information - information about information

Micro - small scale; a microcomputer; one millionth

Microergonomics - the small-scale, immediate effects of the human/technology interface

Micro Theory - theory about small group interactions, structures, and processes, often stressing normative power as a mechanism of change

MPAA - Motion Picture Association of America

Multifactor Productivity - a measure of productivity combining output per worker and output per unit of capital

Multinational Corporation - a corporation with branches in many countries; see global factory

Myth - a symbolic explanation of the universe in the form of a story

Network - a system consisting of one or more computers and interconnected terminals and input/output devices

NIST - National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. governmental standards organization

Norm - Norms are the unwritten (and often unconscious) rules governing expected behavior in a specific social interaction. New norms emerge out of social interactions in new environments. In normative social control, people use nonverbal gestures, visual symbols, and emotionally negative and positive words to influence one another. They may also discuss one another's actions to work out new ways to behave.

Normative Power - power based on control over symbolic and emotional rewards, and the possession of prestige, influence, or charisma

Occupation - a work role classified according to the task that the person performs

Oceanic Self - concept of self as being part of or having power over the whole universe

Ontology - the philosophical study of what is real

Operationalize - to specify how we will go about measuring and systematically observing phenomena

Organic solidarity - the social bonding among members of industrial society, where each is dependent on the specialized roles of others

Organization - a group of individuals or roles joined together to pursue a common goal in a formally structured way

Paradigm - a general model of the way the world works; differs from a theory in that it is less well formulated and is often thought not to require testing; differs from ideology in that it is not used to justify existing political and economic arrangements

Particularistic Social Relationship - one in which people are treated differently depending on their sex, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics given at birth

Patent - legal protection for hardware and industrial processes

Pattern Recognition - the inductive process by which a computer discovers a common characteristic in the observed cases

Physical Self - self-concept based on biological experience

Piecework - getting paid by the number of products made rather than by the hour or month

Piracy - illegal copying of computer software or hardware

Pluralism - the widespread distribution of political power among competing interest groups

Political Power - power bases on control over legitimate use of coercive power, as by police, military and courts

Political Socialization - learning the process of group decision-making and the role of citizen

Politics - the process by which human groups arrive at collective decisions and go about implementing them v

Power - From the individual's perspective power is both the ability to affect the physical environment and the ability to make other people do what you want them to do, even against their will. The three forms of power are: normative, economic, and coercive

Predictive Models - models that predict what will actually happen

Privacy - There are several forms:

  1. privacy of individuals within the communities to which they belong (in the sense of being tolerated and allowed to do what you want to; not the same as being isolated from your community) . See civic inattention.
  2. privacy of individuals from institutions and organizations (freedom from official surveillance)
  3. privacy from strangers and the imagined dangers of strangers (concern for this can go to extremes of paranoia, xenophobia, ethnocentrism and intergroup conflict)
  4. privacy of organizations from each other (an issue in government regulation of the economy and in economic competition; within organizations this can lead to bureaucratic inefficiency)

Productivity - output per worker per hour or output per dollar spent on the production process

Product Liability Law - the area of civil law establishing penalties for those whose products do harm

Program - a logically organized set of instructions in a computer language designed so that the computer will perform the desired result; to write a program

Program Trading - buying and selling stocks using expert systems

Property - a social relationship defining people's rights to use, control, and dispose of objects.

Public Domain - shared property belonging to everyone in a society, for example a park or village pasture

Rationalization - the process of making something logically organized for the purpose of accomplishing a goal according to universalistic rules

Real Wages - a measure of wages over time that controls for inflation

Record Matching - combining information about individuals from several different data bases to produce a more comprehensive record of their characteristics and activities

Reflexive User - a person who develops habits of computer use without losing the ability to think about what it means

Reification - treating an abstract concept or social relationship as if it were an object

Relational Database - a database structured so that he user does not have to keep track of how data is stored and can retrieve relationships among data

Relationship - the connection between components in a system; repeated social interaction between two individuals

Repression - Freud's theory of the social subjugation of immediate gratification for the sake of socially useful goals

Response Time - the time it takes a computer or a person to respond to a message

Revolutionary Change - change which the existing structure and function of a system are replaced

RIAA- Recording Industry Association of America

Rituals - group activities in which people act out symbolic meanings

Role - a pattern of expected behavior, associated with some position in society is called social role. This position is an abstract position and can be filled out by a lot of people (mother, son, etc.). Roles usually come in pairs.

Role Conflict - being in two different roles at the same time causes role conflict if the expected behaviors for the current situation are different for the two roles (for example, if your friend and your employer make different demands)

Routinization - making something regular, repetitive, and routine

Sacred - inspiring reverence

Scientific Knowledge - is based on empirical results. It is believed to be true if it is falsifiable, but we haven't been able to show it is false.

Scientific Management - the application of scientific principles to the subject of the division of labor in order to make a profit; see Taylorism

Second Generation - computers built with transistors

Secular - part of the ordinary world; not religious

Self-actualization - behaving in ways that contribute to self-esteem; the ability to act in ways that reinforce one's self-concept

Self-esteem - a feeling of satisfaction or pride

Sex - male or female reproductive anatomy and biological activity (as opposed to gender, which refers to men and women's social roles)

Sex Role Socialization - the process of learning masculine and feminine gender roles

Sex Role Stereotype - a rigid mental concept that men and women always behave in ideally masculine and feminine ways

Sexual Division of Labor - assigning occupational roles according to sex

Shrinkwrap License - a contract that takes effect when the purchaser opens the package

Signal -the information bearing part of a transmission

Small Group - 3 to 12 people with a common sense of identity, membership criteria, patterns of regular social interaction, and some form (usually normative) of social control.

Social Capital - norms and social networks that enable collective action.

Social Class - set of individuals in the same economic situation; according to Marx, having the same relation to the means of production; according to Weber, sharing similar dimensions of wealth, prestige and political power; according to Durkheim, those with the same position in the division of labor;

Social Construction of Reality - The social processes by which members of a group or society agree what exists and is true.

Social Control - The use of power in groups and societies to regulate the behavior and ideas of members and to define who is a member.

Social Fact - a cultural belief or other phenomenon in a person's social environment, used to explain social causes of behavior

Social Institutions - fairly durable arrangements of interrelated social roles

Social Integration - a type of structural change in which new relationships are created among roles, linking them more closely to each other

Social Interaction - a situation in which two or more people communicate and modify each other's behavior; the basic process in a social system that establishes social relationships

Social Interface - interface through which humans communicate with one another

Social Mobility - the process by which people rise or fall from the status they receive at birth

Social Network - an interrelated set of individuals who communicate regularly with one another. Theoretically, there is a single global social network in which no two people are more than six interactions away from one another.

Social Roles - see role

Social Self - self-concept defined in terms of roles and relationships

Social Value - shared cultural concepts of what is desirable, good, or obligatory

Social Structure - relatively stable patterns of social interaction; the relationships, roles, group, and institutions of society

Socialization - the process that teaches people their roles, norms, values, and statuses, producing a new generation of social components

Sociological Imagination - C. Wright Mills' term for the ability to see social issues instead of personal troubles and to be able to see the intersection of biography and history.

Sociotechnical - refers to the interaction between social and technological issues in an organization

Software - the information part of computer systems, especially computer programs

Solution Space - set of all possible decisions considered by the small group

Stakeholder - an individual, group, or organization with an interest (usually economic) in the outcome of some event

Standard - a model or specification that something can be designed to conform to or against which it can be tested

State - in society, territorially based institution with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force; of a system, one particular arrangement of components, with each component in a well-defined condition, out of all the possible ways they could be arranged

Strong Ties - repeated social interactions with significant others.

Status - the rank of an individual or a social role in society; one's evaluation by others

Stratification - the institution based on inheritance of unequally distributed property, power, and status

Structural Change - when new roles are being added to the social system, when existing roles are being redefined, or when the relationships among roles are changing

Structural Differentiation - a type of structural change in which two or more new specialized roles are replacing a single old one

Structure - the relationships among components in a system; see data structures and social structure

Symbols - meaningful representations of objects or abstract concepts

Synchronous - occurring at the same time

System - a model of specific components connected by well-defined relationships, having a boundary in input/output characteristics

Taylorism - Frederick Taylor's concept that the manual labor is only a component in the production process

Technical Support - an occupational role providing technical information and assistance to clients

Technique - a method for performing a task; does not necessarily require any understanding of what is being accomplished

Telecommuter - a person who hoes to work via computer network without leaving home

Terminal - a device, usually with keyboard input and video display output, connected to a remote computer

Theories - logically interconnected statements about the world that describe, explain, and predict the occurrence of physical and social phenomena

Thomas Theorem - what is believed to be real has real consequences

Tool - an object or agent through which human activity is directed toward some goal

Tort - a civil wrong requiring compensation for damages according to civil law

Trademark - a registered image or name associated with a product

Trade Secret - information protected by law so long as it is not disclosed

Tragedy of the Common - the abuse of collective resources by individuals acting in their own self-interest; it can be solved either by privatizing the common or by establishing social regulation of common property

UCITA - Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act

Unicode - a code for representing all the world's languages

Uniform Commercial Code - draft legislation to create a common set of U. S. state laws governing economic transactions. It must be adopted individually by each of the 50 state legislatures.

Universalistic Social Relationship - one in which the same norms apply to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, or other characteristics acquired at birth

Upward Social Mobility - rising in social status in the course of one's life

User - the person who uses a computer system

User Friendly - an interface that is east to understand and use; by implication, one that meets the needs of the human user. Often designed as if the user were an idiot.

Validity - the degree to which data correspond to the reality they represent

Value - socially, shared cultural concepts of what is desirable, good, or obligatory; in general, a measure of something's worth

Virtual Space - timespace interaction among distant but connected entities; social or workspace shared by geographically dispersed people

W3C - World Wide Web Consortium, non-governmental organization that develops web standards

Weak Ties - repeated social interactions with casual acquaintances.

WIPO - World Intellectual Property Organization, dedicated to promoting the protection of intellectual property

World-system - economically and politically integrated social system spanning the globe

Work - activity constrained by the economic power of employers and the worker's sense of obligation to meet social expectations; activity directed toward a goal rather than done for its own sake; necessary but undesirable activity

"work for hire" - a phrase in an employment contract which means that the employer owns any intellectual property that the employee produces

Work to the Rule - Doing only the tasks that are written in one's job description

Workspace - geographically scattered work organized and integrated by computer technology

Y2K- the year 2000, when many computer systems developed errors in processing dates