9/8/2023 Eric Meyer

Eric T. Meyer, Dean and the Mary R. Boyvey Chair and Louis T. Yule Regents Professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin

Title: Blockchain as a Computerization Movement and Blockchain Technologies as Socio-Technical Interaction Networks

Date: September 8, 2023

Time: 1:30pm

Room: Luddy Auditorium 1106


Blockchain, and particularly its incarnation as bitcoin, as a concept had its inception in 2008 when the pseudonymous ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ published the original bitcoin white paper (Nakamoto, 2008), although the underlying technologies had been under development for decades. However, outside of specialist circles, widespread public attention only increased a few years later, particularly since 2016. While there are various uses for and applications of blockchain in finance, health, art, and other sectors, the two that have seen the most public attention are bitcoin (and other blockchain-based coins) and (since 2021) NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

One of the strengths of the social informatics approach is that it can help understand emerging technologies while they are still emergent. This talk will discuss a chapter in progress that will explore the emergence of selected blockchain technologies as socio-technical constructs and specifically as part of a broader blockchain computerization movement (Elliott & Kraemer, 2008; Hara & Rosenbaum, 2008; Kling & Iacono, 1994). Like other computerization movements, the rhetoric around blockchain has involved extensive public discourse to build a technological action frame supporting collective action and encouraging widespread uptake (Iacono & Kling, 2001). Using the typology of Hara and Rosenbaum (2008), blockchain could be considered an external, market-driven, narrow (with aspirations to wide), bundled, positive (although this is contested) computerization movement. This talk and subsequent chapter will unpack the details of how this computerization movement has developed and evolved at a macro level, and will also explain in a more detailed micro-level how selected specific blockchain technologies can be understood within the broader computerization movement as specific socio-technical interaction networks (STINs). A specific example will be drawn from our team’s creation of a blockchain-based medical identity tool, Medilinker. The STIN framework helps to understand how core interactors and groups used communication forums to respond to incentives and mobilize resource flows in support of blockchain technology (Kling et al., 2003; Meyer, 2006, 2014).

Bio: Eric T. Meyer is Dean and the Mary R. Boyvey Chair and Louis T. Yule Regents Professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, which he joined in 2018. His research looks at the changing nature of knowledge creation in science, medicine, social science, arts, and humanities as technology is embedded in everyday practices, as described in his 2015 book with co-author Ralph Schroeder “Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and Humanities.” His research has included both qualitative and quantitative work with blockchain developers, marine biologists, genetics researchers, physicists, digital humanities scholars, social scientists using big data, medical doctors, theatre artists, librarians, and organizations involved in computational approaches to research. Dr. Meyer was previously the Professor of Social Informatics at the University of Oxford and Director of Graduate Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute from 2007-2018.