The First Social Technology Wasn't Facebook


Most people associate Facebook with the creation or invention of social technology.   But the first social technology existed long before Facebook arrived onto the scene.

W. Brian Arthur in his book The Nature of Technology defines a technology as "a collection of phenomena captured and put to use."  Moreover, the phrase "social technology" was first used in the early 1900's which means the first social technology must be at least a century old. It is in fact, much older than that.   

The first social technology changed the world.  There was a time when we instinctively gathered around this first social technology, it was the central spot of communication for many communities and homes—this technology brought us together and kept us together.   We started to manage this technology and it created social structure and hierarchy.   However, much like Facebook and Twitter this technology proved difficult to control.  It had the potential for productive use and for destructive use.  It still does today.  

Social Technology Is Intrinsic To Who We Are

This technology itself was a communication vehicle.  We used it to send messages and to communicate with others over distance.   

Over time, as we started to learn how to control this technology it started to be regulated and derivative uses emerged.   We took what the technology had to offer and started to embed and integrate it more deeply into our daily lives.  The tools and techniques that Facebook taught us about are similarly starting to fragment, to embed themselves into automobiles, pictures, household appliances, industrial processes and machines, retail, healthcare, etc.        

Today's social technology isn't just a novel online gathering place where teenagers come together to communicate.  The latest user data in fact shows that they aren't gathering at the communal spot of Facebook like they used to.       

But that's to be expected, if you are student of social technology history that is.  And who isn't, we all are, you've just been looking at the issue of social from the wrong perspective.  Social technology has always been about how we use these tools to connect, communicate, collaborate and create and shape our communities.  These are the phenomena that social technologies "capture and put to use."

The Great Disruptor

Social technology has changed the world before, and it is doing it again.  These tools drive productivity enhancements and innovation as we integrate them more deeply into our lives.  They drive social change and create upheaval as they disrupt the status-quo.  

Today's social technology has enabled collective action at a scale and pace never before possible. They are eliminating engagement costs, and literally making us smarter.  

But we love these tools, they tap into some of our core natural instincts and as consumers we've voted with our wallets.  We can't get enough of the various components that make up today's social technology—the internet, the cloud, iPhones, tablets, software that connects us in new ways—all the component parts of today's social technology.        

The First Social Technology Was… 

The first social technology is still in use today, and it's all around us.  We couldn't get through our day without interacting with it.   The lightbulb is a perfect example of how we've learned to control this technology.   The first social technology of fire is now abstracted into the background of our lives, but we can't live without it.   The same will happen with today's social technology, it always does.  

Today's social technology is here to stay, like the first social technology of fire, it's just not about Facebook anymore, it never really was.

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