The Sociology of Software

Software is profoundly changing everyday life. Enterprises that embrace this shift will prosper.

Sociologists are finding that technology is creating subtle but significant changes in the way we live our lives. Specifically, many of our everyday habits and activities are increasingly defined by software-driven devices. With digital tech transforming the way we live our personal lives, it’s only logical that software will transform the way we do business. The successful enterprises will be the ones that embrace this software-driven cultural shift.

Smartphone Sociology

A fascinating Longreads article called “A Sociology of the Smartphone” recently explored the impact that smartphones have had (and will continue to have) on everyday life, culture and psychology. The article provides many interesting observations and examples, one of the most illustrative of which describes an ethnographic research study carried out circa 2005 by Keio University and Intel Corporation’s People & Practices group.

The goal of this research was to determine whether there were patterns in what people carried in their pockets or purses across a variety of geographic regions and ethnic backgrounds.

Now, 2005 may not seem all that long ago but remember that, at the time, smartphones were in their infancy—Nokia still dominated the cell phone market and the iPhone was two years into the future.

The study showed that what people carried around was remarkably similar across demographics: money; keys; identity cards; transit passes; snacks; pictures; mementos of loved ones or religious icons. And—of course—mobile phones. All of which still sounds perfectly normal until you stop to consider how different the results would be if the same study were conducted today.

Software Every Day

Pictures would almost certainly fall right off the list. Money, transit passes and even keys would be rather less common. These days, many people don’t even carry a wallet. Why bother, when essential items like ID and credit cards can be slipped right into a smartphone case? And of course, many of these items are increasingly being replaced by apps.

The point is that smartphones are already impacting every aspect of our daily lives, even down to what we carry with us when we leave the house. The Longreads article doesn’t specifically discuss the role that software plays—but clearly these technological, sociological and behavioral changes wouldn’t be possible without the applications, operating systems and other software necessary to make a smartphone smart.

App Economy Culture

The implications for the business world should also be clear. Smartphones and the software that powers them are changing the fabric of our life and will continue to do so in ways yet to be seen. If your business is not already adapting to the increased importance of software, you are at risk of falling behind. The businesses that succeed in this emerging app economy will be those that have mastered the art of delivering high-quality software, faster and at lower cost.

This will require the adoption of new technological paradigms but it will also require a major shift in outlook. Specifically, businesses in every industry will be forced to view themselves first and foremost as software companies—regardless of the goods or services they sell—and adopt the principles of a modern software factory. DevOps practices and agile methodologies will both be critical to enabling this transformation.

As software continues to cause sociological changes, the successful enterprises will be those that embrace this change within their own organizations.

By Brendan Hayes | 19 Jul 2017

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