I’m writing this blog from the remarkably grand Churchill Room in the Department for Media, Culture and Sport where the first session of the British Sociological Association’s President Event Digital Futures is due to start, co-organised with the
Open Innovations Team in government. I’ll be doing my best to live blog throughout the day, updating a post for each session as I go along. I’ll be doing this in real time so please excuse any typos or mistakes which I’ll handle more thoroughly after the day has finished. As BSA President Susan Halford is explaining in her introduction, the event is intended to pool the expertise of (digital) sociologists and bring this into dialogue with officials. It’s important to have these conversations because digitalisation is a much more open process than conversations about it tend to assume:
There is nothing inevitable about digital society and there is nothing inevitable about digital future. Technologies on their own do nothing. The combination of people and technology changes worlds.
The event is co-chaired by Phil Howard (Oxford Internet Institute) and David De Roure (Turing Institute) who each explained their sense of sociology’s importance. Howard described sociology as among the most agile disciplines, well suited to working with new domains of data which didn’t exist only a decade ago. He describes sociology as being at the leading edge of crafting new forms of data and well suited to produce action-orientated research. He reflected on the rewards and risks of sending out research without peer-review, filtered through internal review but with the advantage of getting findings out to policy makers and others at speed. De Roure stressed how computer science is insufficient for building contemporary systems, involving a combination of computers and people. These ‘social machines’ require an understanding of the social. Hopefully the day will go some way to showing what this looks like in practice.