Socio-technical trustworthiness

Technology lends itself to a rather glamorous image – at least when it works. There is nothing better than a shiny new gadget, as every gadget-selling ‘technology’ magazine gladly admits. That’s possibly why we always fall into the trap of gadget-sellers (at least I do) and into the trap of proliferating those gadgets (oh yes).

There is, however, the lesser glamorous part of technology: development, operation, customer service. The ‘social’ part of the ‘socio-technical’. People, in short. People who make the technology as shiny as it is, people who eventually make it trustworthy – or not. Behind every great box there is a great person – or a hundred of them.

If we are to consider trustworthiness of the technology, we must not forget that the technological gadget is just a proxy for a company (or companies) that designed, programmed, delivered and service it. This is as true for high-grade supercomputers as it is true for low-cost MP3 players. Which means that trustworthiness must be always considered as the end-to-end property: people and technology, organisation and gadgets, operators and devices. There is no just a ‘trustworthy device’. There is no just a ‘trustworthy technology’.

It is not greatly surprising to find out that organisations make technology that is as good as they are. Posh companies chose technology full of glitter and of no substance. No-frills companies choose cheap manufacturers. The device itself can tell a lot about the prevailing spirit of the company that has brought the device onto the market. Consequently, companies that exercise trustworthiness tend to produce systems that implement trustworthiness – they are trustworthy: both companies and systems.

It is probably more important to end up with the trustworthy company than with the trustworthy product. If the product does not fully satisfy us, it can be replaced, exchanged or returned. If the company disappoints us, it may be much harder to walk away. That’s why it is popular to use the technology to ascertain whether the company behind is trustworthy or not. To decipher technology as messages that are sent by the company to us.

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