TECHNOLOGY AS AN OBSERVING SYSTEM: A 2ND ORDER CYBERNETICS APPROACH
Keywords:second-order cybernetics, information technology, Niklas Luhmann
The role of technology in modern society is becoming fundamental to society itself as the boundary between technological utilization and technological interference narrows. Technology penetrates the core of an ever-increasing number of application domains. It exerts considerable influence over institutions, often in subtle ways that cannot be fully understood, and the effects of which, cannot be easily demarcated. Also, the ever-expanding ecosystem of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) results in an emergent complexity with unpredictable consequences. Over the past decades this has created a tension that has led to a heated debate concerning the relationship between the technical and the social. Some theorists subsume the technical into the social, others proclaim its domination, others its autonomy, while yet others suggest that it is a derivative of the social. Starting with Luhmann’s remark that technology determines what we observe and what we do not observe, this paper takes the approach that infers there are multiple benefits by looking into how Systems Theory can provide a coherent theoretical platform upon which these interactions can be further explored. It provides a theoretical treatise that examines the conditions through which the systemic nature of technology can be inspected. Also, the paper raises a series of questions that probe the nature of technological interference in other ‘function-systems’ of society (such as the economy, science, politics, etc). To achieve this goal, a 2nd order cybernetics approach is employed (mostly influenced by the works of Niklas Luhmann), in order to both investigate and delineate the impact of technology as system. Toward that end, a variety of influences of Information Systems (IS) are used as examples, opening the door to a complexity that emerges out of the interaction of technology with its socio-economic and political context. The paper describes technology as an observing system within the context of 2nd order cybernetics, and looks into what could be the different possibilities for a binary code for that system. Finally, the paper presents a framework that synthesizes relevant systems theoretical concepts in the context of the systemic character of technology.