The fork as a socially-influenced technology

I’m a regular user of the Day One journaling app, and now that I’ve been using it for over a year, one of my favorite features has become the “on this day” filter, which lets you see what you wrote one, two, or more years ago on a particular date. A year ago today, I was driving from Michigan to Kentucky to spend Memorial Day weekend with family. During a stop for lunch along the way, I noticed something that my very-young daughter was doing that struck me as a great example of social influences on technology. I’ve copied a section of my journal entry here for your benefit:

As [my daughter] was finishing her food (some of which we had packed, some of which came from our sandwiches), I noticed her pick up a piece of strawberry from her tray, place it on her fork, and then put the fork in her mouth. This was an interesting reminder that technology use isn’t just driven by its design (i.e., features, affordances, and constraints)—it’s also driven by social factors. If the fork (or her tray?) was designed in such a way that picking up the strawberry was too difficult, the most efficient thing to do would have been to pick up the strawberry and put it straight into her mouth. And yet, she chose to stick it on the fork first.

Why? I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess it’s because she knows that that’s how we eat in the Greenhalgh home—we use forks. [She] loves using a fork, probably because she sees us using forks to eat, and she wants to do what we’re doing. So, she took the less-efficient route because it was the more socially-acceptable route.

Recognizing the social aspects of technologies is something that’s become increasingly important for me over the past few years, and I can’t think of a cuter example for helping explain this to students as I try to work this perspective into my teaching.