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The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT)

In response to my fifty years of magic blog, one reader felt that it missed a key point about SCOT.

I thought they were firstly referring to Scottish folks, of whom I am very fond even though they wear skirts (that’s for all our FSClub Edinburgh friends ;-)).

I then thought it might be to do with the classic SCOTSMAN sales qualification acronym … familiar?

  • Solution: • Is there a solution you can supply and support? • Can it be matched within your companies’ current portfolio?
  • Competition: • Are you aware of who you are competing against?
  • Originality: • Can you offer something ‘original’ or unique to this potential sale?
  • Timescale: • Are you aware of their timescale? • Is their timescale reasonable? • Does it fall within you own ‘sales cycle’ criteria?
  • Size: • Is the potential order value worth the effort? • Is your company large enough to handle it? • Is the potential client of a size that you would normally deal with?
  • Money: • Is there a budget allocated? • How much is it? Is it approved? • It is reasonable; can you provide a decent solution for that amount?
  • Authority: • Are you speaking to the right person? • Do they have the authority to make the decision? • Do you know who else is involved?
  • Need: • Are you aware of all their needs? • Can you match them?

They then informed me that the SCOT they were talking about is the Social Construction Of Technology, which proposes that technology does not determine human action, but that human action shapes technology. The key underlying principle is that the ways a technology is used cannot be understood without understanding how that technology is embedded in its social context.

Now I’m not an expert on this area, but would put this into my own view of the world that was fundamentally shaped by a visionary called Doctor An Wang.

An Wang founded Wang computers, and continually strove to lead technology through a vision based upon intuitiveness.

If a technology is intuitive in use, then it will succeed.

By intuitive: is it intuitive to program? No, so computers should have simple interfaces to make them easy to use.

Is it intuitive to talk? Yes, so computers should have the ability to translate and transform speech to text and text to speech.

Is it intuitive to communicate visually? Yes, so technology should enable visual communications.

Is it intuitive to type? No, so computers should be able to be used through touch, sight and the senses.

The list goes on, and underpinned many of the visionary developments of Wang Laboratories.

Wang were not the only organisation striving to create intuitive technologies and the best example today is Apple.

Apple create intuitive technologies, based upon tried and tested technologies that were already out there.

In fact, technology today – thanks to mass storage, cheap chips, unlimited bandwidth and easy interfaces – has become pervasively intuitive.

If you need a manual to work something, then don’t bother launching it.

It should be something you can just pick up and operate … intuitively.

Then the social context comes in, and the best example of SCOT for me was the way in which text messaging took off.

Text messaging was created originally for mobile telephone engineers to communicate with each other.

It wasn’t meant to be a consumer service.

But it became one because, under the SCOT principles, text messages allow the socialisation of a conversation outside the ears or eyes of everyone else.

Now, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report that text messages have “tripled over the past three years to reach a staggering 6.1 trillion in 2010. In other words, close to 200 000 text messages are sent every second.”

[Note: some are estimating that 90 billion of these messages will be mobile banking related by 2015]


Because it’s a great way for kids to talk without mum and dad knowing … or maybe it’s the other way around …

And texting has created a whole new language of communications that is now pervasive and ubiquitous (lol rotfl wtf).

So here’s a social technology where human action shaped its usage and was totally unforeseen by the creators.

This is also why intuitive technologies need to be launched at the right time.

For example, I recently blogged about the iPad’s predecessor.

Built twenty years ago, it looks like an iPad, has a touchscreen, has apps … but the technology was far too basic to make it worthwhile.

It bombed.

In fact, hundreds of other technologies have bombed, with the one that keeps coming around and around the block being videocalls…

Video communications has been predicted for so long that many of us dont’ believe it will happen.

But it will.

It’s just a matter of timing.

And why will it happen?

Because the technology feels right and intuitive, but the social context has not yet been worked out.

Video calls whilst walking down the street?


Video calls whilst in the office?


Video calls whilst in the bath?

No … or only between lovers maybe.

Video calls with family worldwide?

Of course … through Skype.


Yes, video calls are now here, active and here to stay, thanks to Skype.

And isn’t it wonderful what you can do with this new technology …


The real point here however is that most of today’s technologies have succeeded as they improve human communications.

Text, email, telephone, television, the internet, mobile … you name it and it’s all about enabling people to connect more easily in business, in relationships, in life.

That’s what SCOT focused upon, and that’s why it’s important for anyone predicting the future.

Oh yes, and one final note … kids are the most likely testing ground for such developments as they are far more ready to accept and use new technologies such as Skype video on the iPhone (as demonstrated above) … parents and others are usually far too busy to work out whether they need it or how it works and therefore rely on their children to show them.

More on this later I’m sure … meanwhile, gotta go as someone just Skyped me a dance move.


About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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  • And I thought SCOT stood for Skinners’ Caustic and Obsequious Theories. Learn something new everyday, I guess.

  • Chris Skinner

    Thanks for the comment Ron, and nice to know that you can use words of more than two syllables 😉