Computer Implementations Sociologists


David C. Plummer (DCP@QUABBIN.SCRC.Symbolics.COM)
Wed, 23 Jul 86 11:58 EDT


I'm wondering if there are any social scientists that study why various
aspects of computers exist the way they do. My current questions relate
to languages and network protocols. Other topics include computer
architectures, operating systems and I'm sure several others.

Languages is an older field. I'm not really interested in a simple
history of FORTRAN or BASIC or COBOL or ADA or CommonLisp. I'm more
interested in the overall motivations, goals and constraints placed upon
the designers, how well the result met the goals, what problems the
language didn't solve, how the goals were found to be faulty, how the
goals change over time (e.g., as memory and disk gets cheaper), etc.
This goes all the way from conception, implementation, revision,
widespread usage, evolution, etc.

Networks are a newer field, but certainly has had its share of good and
bad ideas. Again, I'm not interested in a simply history of the
ARPAnet, LANs, etc. I'm interested in such things as the constraints
under which designers use numeric encoding instead of symbolic values.
Is it host language support? Is it to reduce byte count for 1970 packet
charges that haven't evaporated in this the information age? Is it just
historical inertia? Has anybody studied the "Not made here" syndrome?
What is the cause of it? Is it simple arrogance, or do original
designers plan things too specifically that can be generalized? If so,
do they realize what they are doing, or does one learn to be more
general as one gets older and wiser? How do protocols become imposed on
people? What is the effect of the imposition?

Has anybody studied possible hypocrisy among designers? For example, if
a standard is to be imposed, what if it is known to be unsuitable for
some organization? How many things are done because of underying, and
possibly not realized, job security desires?

Those are the types of questions/debates I'm interested in seeing
outsider study results. I'm sure we all have opinions on some of the
above. I do. Doing some soul searching to learn why one has opinions
can sometimes be very enlightening. Any leads on professionals or
publications that address these?

Replies to me only, please. I'll redistribute replies to interested
individuals. I'd be interested in actively discussing this, but I don't
have time in the short term.



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