Digital Anthropology: the key to future tech developments

By Steve Mollman






(CNN) -- Professor Michael Wesch should be flattered. A cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, over the past few years he's received a hundred-plus requests from people around the world eager to enroll in the school's graduate program for "digital ethnography," a subject that he's known for. One problem: no such program exists.

Wesch teaches anthropology to undergrads and heads up a working group on digital ethnography. The demand for his non-existent grad program is perhaps indicative, though, of a rising interest in the subject -- and in the skill.

As trained observers of how people in a society live, ethnographers can help companies figure out what people need and then work with designers to meet those needs with new (or more often tweaked) products and services. In a world in which ever more people are using technology products on a daily basis, such skills are increasingly in demand.

For ethnographers, anthropologists, and other social scientists, the upshot can be intriguing work around the globe.

Take Olga Morawczynski, a 20-something University of Edinburgh doctorate student who recently spent over a year in Kenya, where she studied the use of M-Pesa, a system for transferring money by cell phones.

Her research, which shows how M-Pesa is affecting family relationships and other aspects of daily life, was funded by a joint scholarship from the university and Microsoft Research.

The latter has also offered her an internship in Bangalore that will begin in a few months. If she enjoys the work and being in India, notes Morawczynski, "then an offer for something more permanent would be great." But otherwise she'll likely have plenty more opportunities from which to choose.

"Microsoft and many other companies realize that since it is, after all, people who use technology, it's critical for the company to understand how people adapt to technology," notes Kentaro Toyama, who leads the Technology for Emerging Markets research group at Microsoft Research India.

That helps explain why, as Wesch notes, digital ethnography is increasingly being integrated into other majors at universities.

Via: CNN http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/22/digital.anthropology/

3 comentarios:

wallismg dijo...
Este comentario ha sido eliminado por el autor.
wallismg dijo...

Hi! The first MA in Digital Anthropology has started this year at University College London, under the initiative of Daniel Miller.
Take a look at:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/digital-anthropology/about.htm
Here is also a discussion on why having such kind of degrees might be important, far beyond from what you have already pointed out:
http://blogs.nyu.edu/projects/materialworld/2009/10/coming_of_age_in_digital_anthr.html
I believe there shouldn't be such a thing as a bachelors degree in digital anthropology. Just imagine a world in which people study "digital media" from the start, instead of "media studies"... What would this bring about? What would be missing in a world of hyper-specialization, if even now we have to constantly face narrow mindedness and entrenched knowledge?

Wallis Motta
PHD Candidate in Anthropology at UCL

Pablo Sánchez Kohn dijo...

Great news, Wally! Thanks for sharing!