Invitation to Socio-Informatics

The Appeal of Socio-Informatics

At the inception of the Society for Socio-Informatics (SSI), its first president, Professor Mamoru Ito, in collaboration with Professor Toru Nishigaki, compiled “An Introduction to Social Informatics” (2015, Minerva Shobo), in which he defined the academic field of “Social Informatics” as follows (the text has been edited by Kimura based on Professor Ito’s original work. Please take note of this).

Social Informatics can be described as a promising “developing discipline” occupying a field within the broader academic area of Informatics. Informatics aims to construct a general theory of information by elucidating the mechanisms of information phenomena at various levels: genetic information fundamental to biological phenomena, intra-organismic information composed of the brain and nervous systems responsible for perception, memory, and judgment, social information forming social systems, and the field specializing in mechanical information processing. Among these, Social Informatics focuses on elucidating the entirety of information phenomena within society, both historically (diachronically) and theoretically as well as empirically, to envision a better society from the perspective of information (Ito, 2015: 13-14, restructured by Kimura).

As seen in this definition, “Social Informatics” is positioned as a field within “Informatics,” which studies all phenomena from the perspective of “information.” Researchers interested in information phenomena within society gather beyond the boundaries of arts and sciences to engage in academic activities. From the 20th century to the 2020s, information technology, through the cumulative development of digital, network, mobile, and AI technologies, has brought significant transformations to our living spaces. Various academic fields such as Communication Studies, Media Studies, Social Data Science, Computational Social Science, Artificial Intelligence Research, and Science and Technology Studies have emerged to grasp these changes, each recognizing the academic significance of core concepts like communication, media, data science, computing, AI, and technology.

In this context, “Social Informatics” is an academic field that centers on the concept of “information,” investigating the relationship between society and information (a relationship where both entities mutually define and include each other) while questioning the meaning of information itself. The author believes that recognizing the multilayered relationship between explanandum (the phenomenon to be explained) and explanans (the concept explaining the phenomenon) is crucial in academic discussions (e.g., see the author’s “Hybrid Ethnography,” 2018, Shinyo-sha, pp. 105-106). In other words, “society” and “information” are used as concepts to explain certain phenomena while also being concepts that require further explanation, interpretation, and understanding.

Moreover, while IT (information technology) narrowly refers to digital technology, “information” is considered to reside in all phenomena, and as seen in Professor Ito’s definition, “Informatics” is an academic field encompassing a wide range of areas from biological phenomena to computing, society, and humans. Therefore, the author believes that the “view of the fish” is important for “Social Informatics” (also refer to Chapter 9 of the aforementioned book). Analogous to the ocean where surface movements change rapidly while deeper currents flow more gently, the speed of change in academic research targets varies. In social informatics, at the surface, phenomena like millisecond-level financial transactions and the “Bals phenomenon,” where hundreds of thousands of tweets concentrate in a second, arise. As the depth increases, the time axis of research targets differs, from semi-annual or annual releases of smartphones and LLMs, to the rise and fall of internet services over several years, to the changes in local communities, corporate and government organizations, and generational shifts such as digital natives, social natives, smartphone natives, and AI natives over several years to decades.

Furthermore, when considering financial transactions, it is necessary to understand phenomena such as virtual currencies, blockchain, and financial engineering, which are dynamic near the surface, as well as to contextualize and examine long-standing practices and institutions like loans, promissory notes, bonds, money, exchanges, and futures trading that have accumulated in human society since ancient times.

The author strongly feels that Social Informatics, with “society” and “information” as its core concepts, is an academic field where research activities are conducted at various depths, reflecting diverse perspectives. Particularly, while information technology often draws attention to surface movements and changes due to its innovativeness and variability, the field of social informatics conducts multifaceted and complex research, exploring human and social activities across diverse time axes and depths through the medium of information, from cutting-edge trends to historical changes and evolutionary discussions. This multilayered and complex academic interest centered on “society” and “information” is the great appeal of “Social Informatics” to the author, and he hopes that many will take an interest in it.