Eric Beinhocker, author of The Origin of Wealth, makes a distinction between physical technologies and social technologies. Physical technologies deal with everything from stone tablets to an iPad. Social technologies deal with things like laws to an economic market.
The distinction is a useful one, but one question kept pestering me. Where does information technology play into the two? Does it fit within physical technology or social technology? A large majority of IT work pertains to physical technology, whether one is installing software on a computer or working with servers. At the same time, IT work can help keep social technologies running. Like what exactly? A company’s financial structure? (pay roll, accounting) What about helping clients keep up with public policy? (GDPR for instance) That could be another.
So is information technology both physical and social technologies? An “all of the above” sort of answer? Maybe. However, I want to key in on something Beinhocker mentions in The Origin of Wealth with regards to the mutual relationship between physical and social technologies:
“Physical technologies and social technologies coevolve. Physical technology innovations make new social technologies possible, like fossil fuel technologies made mass production possible, smartphones make the sharing economy possible. And vice versa, social technologies make new physical technologies possible – Steve Jobs couldn’t have made the smartphone without a global supply chain.”
There is coevolution going on. Both act upon the other in continual growth. So if that is the case, what if information technology is not physical technology? What if information technology is not social technology either?
What if information technology was in fact the area in-between physical and social technology, where the two interact with each other in the constant act of coevolution? Could that truly be information technology?