The Rotunda at The University of Virginia

Lentis: The Social Interface of Technology is a guidebook to the realm where technological phenomena and social phenomena intersect. If we think of technology and society as circular domains that overlap, the common domain they share is a lens in shape. Hence the short title of the book, Lentis, which is Latin for "of [or about] the lens." If the title (with its association with lenses) also suggests means of viewing, of examining, of magnifying, and of discovering, so much the better. The lens-shaped realm is called the "social interface of technology."

The chief authors of Lentis are students at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science: "STS [Science, Technology and Society] and Engineering Practice." As a wikibook, Lentis will accept contributions from authors and editors all over the world, but the student authors will take particular responsibility to produce a complete, well documented, well written and useful book. Until December 16, 2013, would-be contributors who are not students in the class are asked to edit sparingly—but are also invited to comment freely on discussion pages, where their suggestions and advice will be welcomed and appreciated.

Lentis is intended to serve a general purpose and a specific purpose. The general purpose is to present to interested readers worldwide illuminating cases with practical lessons for those who navigate the dangerous channels of the social interface of technology. The book begins with the premise that success in technological and social endeavors often depends upon the skillful negotiation of sociotechnical factors, where technological techniques alone, or social techniques alone, are insufficient. A second premise is that case studies offer generalizable lessons that can guide people who work where technology and society overlap. They are, in effect, "true fables" that offer "morals" of practical value in diverse endeavors.

More specifically, Lentis is a book written by and for engineers. Here the premise is that engineers by definition are problem solvers whose work ultimately serves non-engineers, and who must therefore inevitably venture into the social interface of technology, where these non-engineers dwell. Too often, engineers have had to leave this territory to managers, policy makers, clients and others who lack the technical expertise for success in this zone. If engineers can develop the social expertise they need at the social interface of technology, they can lead there.

If "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," then those who recover the past can best lead us out of it. The history of technology has no shortage of cases of technological innovations that succeeded until they met the social interface, where social phenomena interact with technological phenomena in surprising ways. This book will be a success if it helps engineers anticipate these effects.

Most of the chapters in Lentis are examinations of cases. The authors will attempt to derive practical lessons from these cases; the most valuable lessons will be generalizable. If a lesson is generalizable, it is applicable in cases and situations that may be far removed in time, space or engineering field. A case from American transportation engineering in the 1990s, for example, may have lessons useful to biomedical engineers in 2014. The authors have endeavored to find such lessons in the cases they investigated. Because social theories are also useful navigational aids in the social interface of technology, some chapters examine such theories. The authors have sought not only to explain such theories, but to show how they can be of practical value.

Table of ContentsEdit

Food and Energy

Environmental Values and Technology

Health and Medicine

Mobility and Land Use

Computers and the Internet

Portable Electronics

Entertainment and Media

Security, Freedom, Privacy

Sociotechnical Theories and Movements

Last modified on 11 December 2013, at 00:20