Anthropologist studies "cultural subversion" of technology

Dr. Genevieve Bell, keynoting an Australian computing conference, discusses her anthropological research on behalf of chip maker Intel. She describes her job as bringing "stories of the world back to the company" and, laughing along with one suggestion, to tell American technology experts that the "world's users of technology aren't all American."

Bell's work has embraced the classic anthropologist's gusto for getting in amongst it with the locals, in the process opening up minds back at Intel HQ with pioneering research on how technology is being converted, and at times subverted, into other cultures and ways of life worldwide.

'I have a group of about 15 other researchers who work with me, and one of the things we're trying to do is not just look at a brief moment when a human being interacts with a piece of technology – because sure that's interesting but in some ways it's not interesting unless you know the bigger picture ... we go to a range of different countries around the world, we spend time living off and with people in their homes participating in their daily activities.'

A little later...

'Part of what we're seeing with the mobile phone, and I think it's an interesting signal device this way - it's gotten closer and closer to our bodies. We hold them in our hands, we wear them around our necks and in pockets and handbags. It's a really personal object, and it's taken on a lot more of the aspects of our lives. It tracks in some places your heart and your pulse rate, in others your ovulation cycle, it's reminding you when to pray, it maybe brings you the stock reports or the cricket scores, it's taken on many of the attributes of things we care about across all of our lives, not just in this very narrow band.'

Video of Dr. Bell's talk is also available online at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, linked above.

Hat tip: Putting People First.

Related, Nicholas Nova mentions at pasta and vinegar a paper co-authored by Dr. Bell that calls on the university community to quit discussing ubiquitous computing in terms of tomorrow and have a look around today. I haven't read it but is sounds like an academic kick in the pants.


Wikipedia: anthropology, ubicomp