I received an interesting comment from America Jones about my most recent reflections on the social world; and, given the level of substance in the comment, I decided that it would be better to address his points in a new post, rather than a "comment on the comment."
The first point is basically a be-careful-what-you-wish-for argument: If enterprise software eventually does get around to addressing the dynamics of the social world, it is just as likely to be used for ill as for good. Jones supports this position with a link to the recent Wired article on the current state of the art of FBI surveillance:
The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.
DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.
Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.
This article also includes a link to a post by John Borland to the Wired Threat Level blog; and I was pleased to see that the comments to this post included a reminder of Thomas Hobbes "panopticon" concept.
I think America Jones has a point. It is hard enough to monitor a panopticon-like view of an overwhelming volume of data for a state that deserves more focused attention. Monitoring all those data for "process features" is problematic unto an extreme. Think of what an air traffic controller has to do and then bump it up by three or four (at least) orders of magnitude. If a theory of the social world were to lead to a technology that made that volume of data more manageable, then that technology would probably germinate a seed that would ultimately grow up into Big Brother. So, if we really do want to expand our knowledge of the social world, we shall have to be even more careful about were our investigations lead than were those researchers who contributed to the Manhattan Project!
America Jones also expresses concern that an increased understanding of the social world may raise "the potential of making an economic commodity out of knowledge." This is a problem that has concerned me since the earliest days of the knowledge management fad, and I sometime wonder if it was not just as well that the fad brought about more confusion than enlightenment over the nature of knowledge and its role in the workplace. Unfortunately, America Jones also falls victim to that classic confusion that results from philosophy students misreading Plato's "Theaetetus:" the assumption that knowledge is "justified true belief," even though Plato has Socrates tear this definition to shreds. Nevertheless, his point that "knowledge about knowledge" may be as dangerous as better analytic tools for "process features" is well taken; and I would apply the same cautionary remark to those who wish to seriously investigate it!