Social Technology through Diagrams

This page discusses Social Technology as the expression has been used by the author for a long time. It uses diagrams to as an aid to understanding the goals and methods described here.


To understand the goals of Social Technology, it is useful to consider thesevery simplified diagrams.

This is a diagram of a section of social structure which we may use to represent the current situation.   In it the lettered boxes represet individuals and the arrows represent connections between them. For our purposes here, these arrows may represent various kinds of friendships, sexual or non-sexual, or other kinds of social relationships, such as those of the workplace. Thin arrows represent minimal levels of relationship, such as casual friends, while thicker arrows represent stronger relationships, such as intimate ones. Arrows leading off the edge of the diagram represent links to other people, that is to say, links within a larger section of social structure.

For example, the individuals labelled Q and K on the righthand side of the diagram have a fairly strong link between them, but only weaker links to other people, outside in the larger section of society not shown here. The three individuals labelled C, N, and H have no links outside of this diagram, which we may interpret to mean that their interations with the rest of the world are insignificant. Within this small group of people, N and C have a stronger relationship than N. Of the three, C and H have no significant relationship except as mediated by N. This might be, for example, N, his wife C and his friend H, where this wife and friend never come communicate directly.

We may notice some individuals who are very well linked up with others, while there is one person, L, who is entirely by herself, without any friends or significant relationships.

This diagram does seem to represent the social connections which may exist in our society today. It is not a satisfactory one, not at all. One goal of Social Technology is to remedy this situation. A key insight is that an enormous improvement is possible by simply changing the connections, having people gently replace their existing friends with new ones, and probably acquire new relationships as well. To see the possible extent of such changes, look at the diagram below, in which all of the connections shown here have been replaced by new ones, and more added. Note that in this second diagram all of the arrows are thicker than any in this first one.

We should note right away that in this diagram the person labelled L, above, who had no significant relationships at all is now connected to K, G and M. What's more, these are very strong connections, better than anyone had in the diagram above. We may assume that person L had never met or never had the opportunity to form relationships with any of these three people. By introducing them and giving them some means to get to know one another so they could build relationships, L is no longer isolated, while her new friends also benefit from their relationships with her. L may now have a husband and two close friends, or perhaps a husband, a best friend and a mentor.

In such a well linked section of social structure as represented here it is unlikely that the people shown on the edge of the graph, A, B, C and others would be the only people with links to the outside world. Surely L, M and N have too, so this diagram is probably omiting lines which cross one another. As shown here it is what graph theorists would call a planar graph. The previous diagram might indeed be a planar graph, but the one shown here is probably not as good a representation of any such well-linked section of society. A three dimensional diagram with more links shown would probably be a better one, but this should have illustrated just how much of a change can be made by just relinking people.

For more information about how people may be linked and what kind of links may be made, please see the diagrams below.

What the Arrows Represent

It would be a mistake to think of these thick dark lines as any kind ofrestraint. They are not meant to indicate anything tying a person up in aweb of rigid connection. Instead they should be thought of in terms of bandwidth,or the ability to communicate.
This diagram shows one interpretation of the thin and thicker lines. Friendship, communication and cooperation between friends are not exactly like the communications links between computers. Social Networking is no exactly like computer networking. But there is a strong analogy to be made. The thick dark lines are not like iron bars forcing people to work together, they are more like the fast communications links which make it easy for people using computers to work together.

Looking at the links between people as if they were simply communications channels is not entirely satisfactory. Friendship of any kind is not just communication, and should at least include cooperation. And some sort of activity could be going on in the social network, even if none of the nodes are initiating any. We might describe this by saying that network has an energy of its own and that waves of activity pass over the net even when individuals are relatively passive. To indicate this, a different analogy may be useful.

Another way to look at the connections between people is as springs.

All four boxes should be thought of as connected through springs into an endless array of boxes with springs between them. There are several advantages to this interpretation. For one thing, an array of weights suspended between springs can store energy as vibrations. These connections need not be passive, as with the communication channels waiting to be used, they can instead be active. Moreover, actions are passed on throughout the network. If one item is moved, the others will move slightly as well, a large displacement of one item resulting in smaller displacements of neighbouring items and even smaller displacements of their neighbours, endlessly.

This model also captures the notion that an excess of feeling, an emotional reaction too strong for one person to handle, can be drained away or moderated by sympathetic interactions with others.

Relationship Sequences

The connection changes between the first and second diagram at the beginning of this page should be examined in more detail. It can be helpful to look at sequences or chains of individuals. Below we have sequences of six people. The individual friendships and the communication they involve can be taken as implying communication between the beginning and end of a sequence. Such communication is important in tying society together, but can be very poor, depending on how well the individuals with their friends. One might consider the sequences below as if they were part of the familiar experiment often demonstrated in schools, where one person whispers a sentence into the ear on the next person, who then repeats it to the next, and so on.

This experiment is, by the way, one of the very few things from the social sciences shown to schoolkids who might otherwise know science only from demonstrations or simple experiments from physics, chemistry or biology. The result is inevitably that the last person in the sequence gets at best a very garbled version of what was said to the first. But how much the transmission of information along a sequence of individuals causes distortion depends on how well the individuals communicate.
The first chain of individuals includes weak links, as shown by the thin lines.
All links are stronger here. Alan, Candy and Edward remain, but the others have been replaced.
More realistically, if Alan ceases to be best friends with Bruce and forms a strong friendship with Bill, this will affect all of his social relationships, so that none of the other people in the topmost sequence are present in this one.
It should be noted that any of the above chains can easily be made into loops by the addition of other individuals. This 8-person loop is exactly what is used for the lowest level classes in the ficticious Social Technology School described in the author's online book Technological Fantasies. See books. .

Derived Relationships or Communications Channels

In the diagram above we drew only a sequence of relationships, as if noneof the individuals knew any of the others except those they were immediatelyconnected with. Let us assume that is true. But there are derived relationships,as shown here.

In the first line of the above diagram Candy was connected to Alan only throughher husband, Bruce, Alan's friend. Similarly, Candy was connected to Edwardonly through her own friend, Donna, who was Edward's wife. But despite theirlack of direct connections, Candy's life would most likely have been stronglyaffected by both Alan and Edward.

The diagram to the left shows possible connections between Alan, Candy and Edward -- actually it shows two versions of these derived relationships.

The first sequence shows a possible strength for some relationships as derived from the top sequence above, where Candy is married to Bruce and has Donna for a best friend. Those are weak relationship, as illustrated by the thin lines in that top sequence.

If Candy divorces Bruce and marries Bill, while replacing Donna with Dorothy as a best friend, those much stronger direct relationships lead to much stronger derived relationships, as in the second sequence at the left.

It does make sense to describe these relationships as derived ones, or to refer to the amount of communication and cooperation between these indirect relationships, but this must not be taken as assuming human relationships are transitive. Candy will almost certainly be affected by what Alan does, regardless of which person they share, but that doesn't mean Candy would actually like Alan in person. Whoever is Alan's friend or Candy's husband affects only the derived relationship or communications channel between Alan and Candy, who may not have even met.

Above we considered the sequence of individuals Alan, Bruce and Candy, notingthat there is a derived relationship or communications channel between Alanand Candy. One impediment to a more direct relationship between them mightbe a language barrier. Alan and Candy might speak different languages. WithoutBruce or Bill to translate for them, Alan and Candy may not be able tocommunicate at all.

This illustrates a hoped for communications channel between two people, one who speaks Swedish and one who speaks Russian. If each is unilingual, speaking only one language, their ability to communicate may be very low. If together in person, they may be able to communicate somewhat by gestures, but over a telephone line we would expect no significant communication at all.
If we interpose one or even two translators, a high level of communication may now be achieved. Even in the case shown here, where two translators are used, good communications should be possible. That remains true even though the Finnish language is entirely unrelated to the Swedish and Russian languages.

Above we have used arrows of various widths to indicate the amount of friendshipor the ability to communicate or to cooperate, which may be aspects of thesame thing, compatibility. But people may actually be incompatible, not justlacking friendship but being actively hostile to one another. Instead oftrying to communicate and cooperate they may interfere destructively withone another.
One way to illustrate compatibility and incompatibility are using arrows that now only differ in thickness but also in colour, where red indicates incompatibility. Just as the thin black arrow indicates less compatibility or less friendship than the thicker black arrow, so the thin red arrow indicates less incompatibility or hostility than the thicker red arrow.

The diagrams below illustrates how one may set up an incompatibile relationshipwith another person by making a wrong choice. Let us suppose that of thethree individuals involved, Yvonne and Zelda have a good friendship, as indeedthey do in both diagrams. Now let us consider Xena being added to the group,as perhaps a third employee may be added to a small office which previouslyhad only two people in it. This new person, Xena, may have to work with both,but may be able to make a choice, to be friends with Yvonne or to be friendswith Zelda. How well will her choice succeed?
This illustrates what might happen if Xena makes the wrong choice and tries to become friendly with Zelda. Xena and Zelda are shown here as being incompatible by means of the red arrow. They will not get along and may be actively hostile or disruptive.
By simply rearranging the connections, everything could be improved. If Xena makes the right decision and tries to be friendly with Yvonne, she may indeed get herself a good friend, as shown by the black arrow. Now all three people have one good friend. Using Yvonne as an intermediary, Xena and Zelda may even be able to work productively together.

But how bad or good would these relationships be? How bad a relationshipmight Xena be setting up with Zelda if she did make the wrong choice? Howgood a relationship would she be setting up if she chose the friendship ofYvonne?

The diagrams do not answer these quesions, but a consideration of probabilitiescan. In the case considered here Xena has only two choices, Yvonne or Zelda.From a pool of two candidates, the chances of either relationship being verygood or very bad is small. But suppose that Xena is instead added to a collectionof 10 or 100 people, and can therefor attempt to set up a relationship witha person chosen from among 10 or 100. Xena may then be foolish enough tomake the worst relationship out of 10 or 100. She may be wise enough to makethe best relationship out of 10 or 100. In either case she is more likelyto make better or worse social connections than if her choices had beenrestricted to just Yvonne or Zelda. Indeed, the worst choice out of 100 wouldprobably be worse than the worst choice out of 10, while the best choiceout of 100 would probably be better than the best choice out of 10 candidates.

From this probabilistic argument we can conclude that the level of compatibilityor incompatibility possible depends on the size of the pool of candidates.

This gives us a way of describing how compatible or incompatible two peopleare. Two people may be as compatible as if the they were the best choicefrom a pool of 10 candidates. If more compatible than that, we may, for example,say they are as compatible as if the best choices from a pool of 100 candidates.The larger the effective pool size, the more compatible, or the moreincompatible. This is illustrated in the table below, which gives a levelnumber as a compatibility rating, based on pool size.



Incompatibility Level

Pool Size -- number of candidates

Compatibility Level

Pool Size -- number of candidates

Level 0 no choice -- only 1 candidate Level 0 no choice -- only 1 candidate

Bad Choices

Good Choices

moderately bad

moderately good

Level -1 worst of 10 candidates Level 1 best of 10 candidates
Level -2 a worse choice, worst of 100 candidates Level 2 a better choice, best of 100 candidates
Level -3 worst of 1,000 Level 3 best of 1,000 candidates
Level -4 10,000 Level 4 10,000 candidates
Level -5 100,000 Level 5 100,000
Level -6 bad luck, worst of a million Level 6 good luck, best of a million
Level -7 10 million Level 7 10 millon
Level -8 100 million Level 8 100 million
Level -9 worst in 1,000,000,000 Level 9 best in 1,000,000,000 candidates
Level -10 more than the population of the world Level 10 more than the population of the world
Level -11 possible for extremely unlucky person Level 11 possible for extremely lucky person

very bad

very good

This table should serve to explain the terminology used in all of the author's books, available to read or download from the books page described below.


Development of a Social Technology

It is not hard to define the problem and to decide how it should not be solved. It is harder to provide a real solution. Both will be attempted here.
This is a simplified view of the problem.
We must definitely make sure we do not turn this into a travelling salesman problem, which is easy to state but hard to solve -- an NP-complete problem which would be entirely intractable for large numbers of people.
It is possible to turn this into a bipartite matching problem, or more correctly three bipartite matching problems. These are solvable, but still difficult to solve for large numbers of people.

To actually solve the key problem of social technology, as described at the top of this page, we should look again at that first diagram, then look at a related one, in which queries between adjacent people have been added.
The arrows labelled with a question mark are to be interpreted as queries and replies, information flow for a specific purpose. To make sense of this it is best to assume that each of the boxes represents not just a person but a person with a computer and connection to the Internet. The queries are not intended to initiate interpersonal relationships, instead they are to initiate a flow of information which will permit the larger problem to be solved by the resulting network of computers addressing the overall matching problem. This is a connectionist approach, an attempt to use distributed processing. The difficulties of the algorithms discussed above are to be overcome by making use of the fact that each person added to the problem also provides one human brain and one computer towards solving the problem. The formerly isolated person called L is not now attempting to establishing a relationship with her neighbours, D, P, J and Q. Instead she is making use of the derived relationships or derived communications channels to find and establish relationships with the most compatible people in this section of the social network.

In the solution given in the second diagram, L is connected to G, K and M. None of these would be people queried directly. She uses her queries to D, P, J and Q as a means of finding the right people for her, and should eventually connect up with G, K and M, because these are indeed part of a network of connected people which includes both the people she asks and the people she should find.

This could be done without computer help, and would have to be in poor regions where people do not have computers and Internet connections. But without computers this would require a set of elaborate protocols or an etiquette so that people can mediate for others without unpleasant and unwanted emotional involvement.

A clear example of how this might work is to look at L's query to Q. Q does not know any of the people compatible with L, but will be querying M. If Q passes on L's query to M, then L and M might get together, forming a very strong relationship.

This would be best done with the aid of computers. L would enter a lot of data about herself into her computer, which would process it into a detailed descriptor. Her computer would then send this to others, who would then pass it on. L may be completely isolated, as shown in that first diagram, and may have nobody to send her descriptor too. In that case, some service, preferably a free service would provide possible links. It would process her desciptor, compare it to information on file, then pass her descriptor on for her to some small number of people, some possible matches and some people who might be able to intermediate on her behalf.

The use of a service to make initial links is similar to the use of the old village matchmaker to suggest matches between people, but it is more than that. It includes suggesting people who would be reliable intermediators, people who are not matches themselves but could give good advice. The problem with the traditional village matchmaker is that she would be likely to develop a proprietary interest in giving advice, wanting to serve that role entirely herself,not recommending others who might also give advice.

The networking scheme being suggested here is much more connectionistic than one involving a central service or public matchmaker. It is somewhat like a person wandering into the village and asking anyone he meets who might help him become an ordinary village person, integrated into the social structure of the village. Given some suggestions, he would then go to those people and ask the same question. By this means he should eventually come in contact with the right people for him. This is an approach or algorithm that scales up well. Instead of a small village, a person could enter New York City and start asking the same questions, over and over again.

While this low-tech approach should work well enough, something making good use of computers would be better. That will require the development of good software for the purpose. The author has been studying this problem for many years and found nothing suitable, yet. I have written some software myself, but what I have done is just a bare beginning. What I can say is how the analysis, design and implementation of this software should proceed, and I have worked through some of the difficulties. That work is described elsewhere, and will be further described as time goes on.