Lifetimes of Involvement With SSIT

By on October 11th, 2022 in Human Impacts, Magazine Articles, President's Message, Social Implications of Technology, SSIT 50th Anniversary

This Anniversary Year provides a reason to reflect on the fact that many members have been involved with the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT) throughout their full professional careers. This may span just a few eventful years, as is the case with our current student activities chair whose university and early professional experience has been dominated by pandemic conditions. Or it may span many eventful decades, as is the case with the current secretary of our governing board, who first joined IEEE in 1958, long before SSIT existed, and is still an active and valued volunteer today.

Many SSIT members have been involved throughout their full professional careers.

Interesting factoids emerge from mining SSIT’s membership data on the duration of involvement.

  • The average SSIT member joined IEEE in the year 2000, the median member joined in 2004, and the modal member joined in 2021. So, our largest cohort is our newest—good news for the revitalization of our membership!
  • The average male member joined IEEE in 1995, whereas the average female member joined in 2010. The earliest date any current member joined IEEE is 1945, but no current female members joined until 1965. This likely reflects the participation of females in the engineering workforce during that period. Starting in 2010, the number of males and females among our current membership who joined SSIT each year became more similar, achieving an average female proportion of 38% during the past decade.
  • There is great regional variation in the length of membership. The average Western Hemisphere member (IEEE Regions 1–7 and 9) joined in 1996, whereas the average European/Middle East/African member (Region 8) joined in 2004 and the average Asian member (Region 10) joined in 2010.

The average SSIT member joined IEEE in the year 2000, the median member joined in 2004, and the modal member joined in 2021.

A graphical look at the SSIT membership (Figure 1) by year joining IEEE and Region shows our remarkable diversity in the form of a distinctive, sloping surface. Our longest-serving members are predominantly US-based and males, but our largest new cohorts are Asian and, although not shown, often students and females.

The visible distinctions by region, gender, and length of IEEE involvement have profound implications for what we do. The deep bench of experienced members is a valuable resource for this volunteer-led organization. The large groups of newer members are equally valuable for ensuring SSIT’s continued viability. The fact that these two groups are demographically dissimilar is a challenge that our organization is addressing.

In terms of governance, SSIT has done well in recent years to improve the regional and gender representativeness of its governing board. Five of the nine elected members at large are females in 2022, although most of the appointed positions remain in male hands. Four of the nine are based outside the United States (Regions 1–6). Our publication editors and conference organizers have increasingly come from the newer, more female, non-U.S. cohorts.

We have accelerated our student and young professional activities, especially in Asia.

In terms of programming and content, we have accelerated our student and young professional activities, especially in Asia (Region 10). There is much work to do in other regions to encourage student and young professional membership. More than one-third of our conferences take place outside the United States (Regions 1–6), and with an increasing number of virtual events, the reach has become global. More than two-thirds of the authors in our publications are now based outside the United States, a remarkable change from a decade ago. Our social media presence is expanding as we implement an explicit strategy to engage using newer media formats.

An important new area of activity is standards development, which provides an important route for connecting with the world of practice. SSIT brings a unique perspective that highlights ethically aligned standards development, and we are literally writing the guidebook on this topic.

There is so much more we can do, in educational activities, new media, cross-society initiatives, and humanitarian activities. These await attention from volunteers.

This quick tour of SSIT’s membership demographics shows that many people become long-term members and contribute over decades to our community and its focus on the social implications of technology. Our challenges in governance and programming are to make good use of and show gratitude for these members’ long-term commitments while encouraging the enthusiastic participation of new members in our many activities. We need lots of short apprenticeships and mentoring relationships to transfer knowledge from more to less experienced volunteers, and we need to avoid capture of leadership positions by an old guard. By consciously working to resolve these demographic tensions, we can help ensure that our next 50 years are even more impactful than the first 50.

Author Information

Clinton J. Andrews is the President of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology. He is a professor and the Associate Dean for Research with the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.