I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blogs as Nodes of Exchange

I had a great conversation today with Austin Henderson, who (despite the out of date online bio) is our Director of Research Strategy (and otherwise has a fairly illustrious career in HCI).

Austin is leading a small group to tackle our internal communications issues...both how can teams work better together, and how can others have a view into what is going on in other teams. I just joined this group, which has been meeting for a few weeks and consists mostly of engineers. So far Austin has set up some distribution lists, so people can email groups more easily, and they are looking into knowledge managment/collaboration tools (we do have Intraspect, which I, and many others hate, looking toward Sharepoint). And we have a wiki which can be the "anvil" for forging documents.

Today, Austin asked us if anything was missing, and I mentioned that there wasn't a conversation space. I and brought up the blog my team in the US has been using to collaborate with Explore Research which is working with us in India. He is not yet a blog user, so we talked a bit on why the India blog was different than email, and it forced me to think about the way the tools are used and how it feels. I know I posted things to the blog that I wouldn’t have bothered to email.

Anyway some of what emerged: You are “in the blog.” The fact that it is a place makes it different from email conceptually. Also, we talked about pull vs. push. For instance, while I thought the PostSecret blog I talked about in my previous post would be of interest to others in my division, I didn't email it to all 70 people because I didn’t want to spam them…I blogged it her and emailed the link to some folks I thought would be particularly interested.

I initially called the blog a “conversation space” but Austin noted that only one person creates the initial article, then it is commented on. He said the blog was instead was an “exchange space” since it is “a place where you come together to exchange articles.” IM, on the other hand, allows both parties to creating the “article.” I think IM is closer to a true (though perhaps abbreviated) conversation, while it is a Wiki that allows the users to negotiate content.

Anyway, there are lots of blog postings out there about blogs as conversations, blog as exchange put a new slant on it for me. As an anthropologist, my thoughts now turn to gifting...

Mail as Entertainment?

I was excited to learn about PostSecret, for so many reasons. It is a very basic blog on which postcard confessions are posted weekly. People must send their confessions on a 4x6 postcard, so some effort and thought is required to confess.

The public art aspect of the postcards themselves is great, and oooh...the anthropological study that one could do from these collections (since I am an archaeologist by training, artifacts have great appeal).

I have to admit it really attracted my attention because it combines mail with with a website. I do work for a company that is all about mail (believe it or not mail volumes are going up in this digital age, at least in the US, though not 1st class mail). So in my group at Pitney Bowes we do sometimes talk about what would make mail more entertaining, more exciting...to me this qualifies.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Class and Consumerism

The New York Times has been running a very interesting series on class in America. Yesterday's installment, When the Jones Wear Jeans, talked about the fact that it is no longer easy to tell who is wealthy and who is poor by the things people buy. Credit has made expensive goods accessible to those who cannot afford them, and global advertising has made those items desieable. In the past, people competed with "Jones" in their own neighborhood...in other words, their own social and economic class. Now "luxury" is within sight of all (if not within budget). Likewise the rich may dress down, but distinguish themselves in the services they can afford and buy...frequent manicures, facelifts, nannies, exclusive vacations.

Interestingly, yesterday's Times also had an article (in a completely different section) about how American teenagers want (or need, to the teens) more and more expensive techie gear--iPods, DVD players, fancy cell phones. Since the teens themselves do not work, they pester their parent for the stuff, and often get it. So we are apparently breeding this level of consumerism in people with no incomes whatsoever...some parents did say no, or made the kids choose between items. But the overall picture makes it look gloomy on kids learning value and tradeoffs and affordability. Sometimes Kurt and I feel like we have less stuff (not that we are lacking) than some of our peers...but at the same time we pay off our credit cards every month.

With my interest in developing emerging markets, I do occassionally worry that we are working on breeding the same type of consumerism in other countries, where it isn't affordable. (I can take a bit of a moral high ground since my company is primarily B2B, not B2C, but still...). I'd like to think we are creating and marketing things people really do need, which will eventually help them economically. Hopefully we won't create a world full of people running on overextended credit just so they can buy fancy American goods.

Friday, May 27, 2005

More new perspectives for innovation

Recently posted at NextBillion.net, a post on the BRINQ Workshop:

"BRINQ is a venture based on a single powerful belief: The world's 4+ billion poor represent a huge untapped source of innovation! Among these billions are geniuses, innovators and entrepreneurs waiting to be discovered, local equivalents of Einstein, Edison, and Ford. Their strong and varied cultural perspectives mean a different way of looking at the world, a different way of solving problems, and a different type of innovation. When it comes to innovation, different is a must! Plus you'd be hard pressed to find a more entrepreneurial bunch with stronger incentives to succeed.

BRINQ seeks to sow and gather the innovations of the world’s "poor", focusing less on the traditional invention of technology and more on the innovation of utility, the novel and unexpected ways in which people use technology. Our primary focus is on innovation in toys and play (we ask the toy industry, Where are all the children?), but we also emphasize systems to enable and propagate all types of innovation."


The group is about to go to Kenya for a pilot to figure out how multinationals can collaborate with the poor to create new business opportunities. There are some cool ideas and thought on their blog...most recently innovating around business cards.

Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference

The call for submissions for the 1st Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) has just gone out. Here is the info:

Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC)
November 14-15, 2005
Microsoft Corporation Conference Center
Redmond, WA

Introducing the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC). This conference aims to bring together people who are actively thinking about the theoretical and methodological development of ethnography in industry practice. We want to draw participants who are both working in industry, as well as those who consult or collaborate with industry. We are aiming to create a collaborative venue where those practicing their ethnographic training in the corporate setting can benefit from mutual support and sharing information.

The theme for this year's conference looks at understanding "sociality" from an ethnographic perspective as applied to industry. The collective nature of humans is often over looked in much of the research by industry. Ethnographic understandings, however, frequently point to the importance of the collective nature of people. We will be seeking papers that address methods, theory and innovative practices around the theme of sociality, as well as workshops of interest to the community. Call for paper abstracts is open until is June 17, 2005 and the call for posters is open until September 1, 2005.

Registration
This conference will be limited to 200 people and participation will be on a first come, first serve basis beyond the accepted papers. The registration link can be reached via the website http://www.epic2005.com, or can be reached directly through https://secure.aaanet.org/epic/. Special thanks to AAA for sponsoring registration.

Conference Fees:
General - $100
NAPA members - $75 (National Association of Practicing Anthropology)
Students - $50

Further information can be found at:
http://www.epic2005.com

Sincerely,
ken anderson & Tracey Lovejoy (co-organizers)
ken.anderson@Intel.com & traceylo@microsoft.com
Advisory Council: Jeanette Blomberg, Alexandra Mack, Rick Robinson, Nina Wakeford, Christina Wasson
This year's conference is jointly sponsored by: Intel & Microsoft

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Student brain trusts

Thinking about BrainReactions, which I talked about in my last post, made a connection in my mind to the Roosevelt Institute, which is advertising itself as "the nation's first student think tank." The group started at Stanford but apparently now has branches at several other American universities and is trying to get affiliates in other countries.

Their argument about the value they bring seems to be that students an underutilized resource, even though they spend their time, well, thinking. I'll be interested to see what kind of impact they have on policy thinking. Undergraduates often don't have enough knowledge of the "real world" (at least I didn't), but they do have the time and freedom to just think, and may not be as constrained by experience of what does and doesn't work.

Now I am wondering if I think I know more now than I did when I was an undergraduate, or if I thought I knew then...certainly the future depends on engaging the next generation though.

Killer innovations

I just go this link from Anand Chhatpar, who was a co-op in the Concept Studio for a couple of summers while he was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin. Anand wrote: "The VP and CTO of HP, Phil McKinney, is an innovation guru and runs an insightful Podcast called Killer Innovations that you may want to check out: http://www.killerinnovations.com." His most recent podcast includes reflections on the Role of Scifi in innovation, with a focus on Philip K. Dick.

Of course Anand also sent the link to advertise himself--his compay BrainReactions was the subject of a recent podcast. BrainReactions brings together students to brainstorm on behalf of clients, bring in points of view that perhaps we oldsters (I'm not that old)! don't have. Although we work in interdisciplinary teams, and also include our customers in product development, I think it is interesting to think about being innovative in how we bring in new perspectives that force us to shift our paradigms.

By the way, am I the only one without an iPod yet?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Anthropology and Counterinsurgency

My colleague Jill Lawrence sent me this link to an article about Anthropology and Counterinsurgency. Her comment was "Long, but interesting. Kinda scathing. Somewhat true, but definately misleading. Partially informed, partially uninformed. Raises a lot of interesting issues."

Indeed it does. The starting point is the fact that anthropological knowledge could have made a great deal of difference in how the US government has handled the occupation and counterinsurgency in Iraq. It also goes through a history of 20th century anthropologists who have aided government intelligence, but notes (and chastises) the profession for being ethically opposed to helping covert operations, and being too caught up in postmodernism to see the importance and relevance of such contributions. The article briefly notes the fact that most in the US government and military have a somewhat derogatory view of the field. (Whew. Keep in mind that is my one paragraph summary of a 14 page article).

Where to begin? I was intrigued from the beginning because I have had many conversations with colleagues about the cultural missteps that have been made in Iraq. And yet, at the same time, I am not personally inclined to work for the Department of Defense. Yes, a better cultural understanding might help soldiers deal with these situations better...but in my view a better cultural understanding might avoid these messes in the first place and I have the impression that is a message the government is not yet willing to hear.

I also know (having experienced it while I was on the board of the American Anthropological Association) that post-modernism did take over a big branch of cultural anthropology in the 1990's. In fact, many mainstream anthropologists (especially archaeologists and biological anthropologists left the AAA because the journal was edited by postmodernists for a few years. And I know that the majority of American anthropologists are in academia (or desperately trying to find a job there), despite the growing number of practitioners.

I don't necessarily dispute what is presented in this article, but I guess I am not sure what to say to it either. I would rather see my government treating other cultures appropriately (by not bombing them, maybe?). But I would not want to feel like a contributor to the war or other activities I am opposed to, and, perhaps more importantly, I am not sure they would truly listen to, and act on, the anthropological point of view.

So, what is our role in influencing government? It has taken many years for us to have an accepted role in influencing business...maybe the issue is to start lobbying from the outside, becoming more mainstream in our voice so we are listened to?

Freakonomics

Yet another book on my list to read is Freakonomics. I did see Levitt on the Daily Show a couple of weeks ago, and he seems to take an almost anthropological view of economics (well that is not so suprising, they are both social sciences, and economics is pretty important to they study of humans...actually when I wrote my dissertation I was suprised to suddenly find I had written about economics).

Anyway, he looks at everyday life and explains why conventional wisdom is often wrong, at least when viewed statistically. He also has a pretty interesting blog (which can be nicely read in small chunks, not as intimidating as that pile of books).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Office culture and the limits of applied anthropology

I just read an interesting article from the Financial Times titled Office Culture. It is one of the many articles that seem to come out each year noting that, gee, anthropologists don't just do their fieldwork in the jungle anymore. Coming from a British publication, it is a bit more introspective on the ethics of applied work than I find American publications tend to be.

There is actually lots of interesting info (too much to talk about) but I was disturbed by the comment of one of the consultants they interviewed. He noted, "What we try to do is describe what is happening, but we don't present solutions. We let the company decide that."

Perhaps it is because I work in design and innovation, but I believe that part of the value we can bring as anthropologists IS in offering solutions, not just observations. What is observation without interpretation, and isn't a solution a form of interpretation?

A few years ago, when I was entering the applied world, I did a bunch of informational interviews. One lead at a design firm was very polite to me, but noted that they were not interested in hiring anthropologists anymore because based on their experience, the anthropologists did not know what to "do" with their observations.

So, if we are going to practice applied anthropology, in my view, we should really apply it...Anyway, I recommend the article!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

People Inspired Innovation

The fourth People Inspired Innovation Conference will be held in Essex September 21-23. From the website: "PII provides a forum to discuss the design of better products and services through understanding the needs of people. In addition, it looks at how the knowledge gained from understanding people should provide a basis for informing public and corporate strategy." I will be giving a presentation on how we work with the business units to innovate solutions that work for the customers and Pitney Bowes.

The conference is hosted by Chimera, a research group that spun off from BT a few years ago. They are now associated with the University of Essex, and the combined academic/consulting research they do gives them an interesting perspective.

I went to PII 3 a couple of years ago, and it was a great experience--one of those few conferences where every talk was worth listening to. Even if you can't attend the conference, I recommend checking the website from time to time as it is updated with the abstracts and presentations. Most of the PII 3 presentations are available online as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Exploration and discovery (and interpretation?)

As an anthropologist, I like to think I am an expert (or at least experienced) in exploring the world and being open to discovering all it has to offer and seeing the different angles. Isn't that what we are trained to do?

But watching Julian (who is 8 months old today) makes me think we are in fact trained out of exploration. He has been crawling for about 2 weeks, and it is interesting to watch him disover the world that has suddenly opened up to him. Everything is fascinating--some things more than others of course--but it is all an opportunity to look, touch, taste, and do it all again. This morning he kept coming back to the same block, picking it up and turning it around, each time there was something new for him. At what point do we start to assume we "know" the basics of the world around us?

I think what my training and experience really give me is a perspective. Presumably I do notice "more," or at least different things in the field than my non-anthropologist coworkers. But I hope the value I bring is in my interpretation of those observations--be it holistic or comparitive or theory based or whatever catch phrase I wish to apply to it. And of course my experience and knowledge of the world and workpractice figure into those interpretations, and provide additional value.

But wouldn't it be nice to still be able to find a whole universe to explore in a simple block?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Conversations

Dina's post on conversational blogging got me thinking about online conversations in general. My first thought was of the etiquette of conversations in general...or in fact the etiquette of being conversational. The anthrodesign listserve recently received a post that was a link and not much else...the poster was quickly chastised for not providing context. What was needed was both a reason to follow the link, and a basis to have a continuing conversation about it.

But another interesting thing to me is the fluid nature of conversations. Just as in a face to face conversation, where all of a sudden you may stop and say "how did we get on this topic" because an interesting trail of connections has been followed, I see the same thing happening on line. Message boards where the initial post sparks side conversations or new trails and connections.

Speaking of talking and conversations, there is Conversation Cafe, which organizes hosted conversations at coffee shops in the US (unfortunately none in my area). Of course maybe there is a comment on our life in the US that we need someone to organize a conversation...?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Thoughts on community (Part Three-Innovation)

I haven't gotten too far into this yet, but at work we have been talking about communities of innovation. Obviously there is Open Source, and a relatively long history of that. Eric von Hippel of MIT has written extensively about lead users and the fact that innovation stems from where it is needed economically. I've downloaded his most recent book Democratizing Innovation, but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

He begins by stating, "Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfect) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others."

Interesting thesis. Especially interesting for those of us who work in user centered innovation, on the belief that by gaining a deep insight into the user experience we (the manufacturers) can create superior solutions. Actually, I think there is room for both. The users can develop exactly what they want, but I would like to continue to believe that our ethnographic insights can lead us to develop what the users didn't realize they wanted or needed.

Eradicating Poverty Through Profit

The World Resources Institute sponsored a conference on Eradicating Poverty Through Profit last December. I was unable to attend, but a couple of my coworkers did and found it extremely stimulating. The conference operated on the underlying philosophy that large companies do have a role to play in development, by providing products and services to "bottom of the pyramid" markets. While there is interesting ethics involved in profiting from the poor, I think that they also have an interesting approach, in that large companies are going to be much more interested in profit than charity. They have just set up a website to continue the conversation at www.nextbillion.net.

A caveat--I did try to sign up for a password for login access and haven't received it yet. However, there is a lot of information available on the regular site, and there is an RSS feed.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

New Social Tapestries Website

I just got an email that Social Tapestries has a new website. Social Tapestries is a research program which focuses on "the potential benefits and costs of local knowledge mapping and sharing." The program is run by Proboscis, which is headed by Giles Lane. I met Giles a couple of years ago at the People Inspired Innovation conference in Essex, where he gave an interesting talk on the Urban Tapestries project--lots of interesting stuff on how people experience cities communally (London in particular) and some neat methods that they use. Lots of cool stuff on both websites. Check out the Diffusion ebook generator.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Thoughts on community (Part Two-Virtual)

Now that I am blogging that now involves me in a particular realm of cyber-community. I can't help thinking how many communities there are, and wondering what makes a community a community.

Being a new mom, I sometimes read a working moms bulletin board. I find it interesting to see what other women are worried about, and occasionally post to answer a question, but I personally do not feel connected to a "community" there. In fact one of the things that is interesting to me is the fact that there is so much diversity--women who want to be working, women who have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet but would rather be home, women in unstable relationships and those happily married. Despite these differences, it is clear from the posts that many of the women do feel it is community and the board is a place of safe refuge--a home even, as per my last post.

But I wonder is it one community of "working moms" or in fact many communities with overlapping memberships? And in fact is this the reality of any "community" made up of more than a handful of people?

Thoughts on community (Part One-Home)

As a new blogger and anthropologist, thinking about community is kind of hard to avoid. While my academic and professional research has often revolved around various forms of community, my personal communities have generally revolved around people I know face to face.

Kurt and I still miss Arizona, I think because we felt part of a community (or really, several communities) there. Now, of course, many of those people who were part of our world have also moved away, though many are still there...and all in touch through email and cyberspace (is this a virtual community of the modern version of pen pals? More on cyberspace in the next post).

Although Boston is one of my favorite places (I went to university there), we never really felt "at home" during the two years we lived there. While we had friends, we didn't feel we had a community there.

With as much as I love the activity and dynamism of cities, I never imagined living in suburban Connecticut, let alone feeling settled and comfortable...yet I do. I work with great people, enjoy my friends, and have wonderful neighbors who we actually talk to. But maybe it would not have felt like home 10 years ago when I was at a different stage in my life--the community might not have been right. Is home where the community is?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Flat World

One of the next books on my list is Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century. Friedman is a columnist with the New York Times who spent a lot of time last year in Bangalore. I read his columns while he was there, and some excerpts from the book. His overall thesis seems to be that since there are intelligent, skilled people throughout the world, and broadband has made global interconnectedness real, the skills needed to do almost any work can be found anywhere, and employed from anywhere.

There is a message for those of us in the US about education and skill training, but I also think there are some exciting possibilities. Rather than worry about how jobs might go overseas, I like thinking about how we work collaboratively with colleagues around the world. For the last year, I have been working on a project with Dina Mehta of Explore Research and Consultancy in India. The flatness of the world has enabled my company to conduct a long term research project in another country, combining Explore's cultural knowledge and our knowledge of our business (and a bit of outsider view into Indian culture and workpractice doesn't hurt either).

Dress for Success

My coworker Erica, who has an MBA, just lent me her copy of Dress for Success. It's not necessarily a book I would have picked up on my own, I think I probably mentally placed it in a class with Color Me Beautiful or other such beauty advice. However, Erica's selling point to me was that Molloy did a lot of surveys and observations of the interactions (read success) women had depending on what they were wearing--very anthropological. I started reading it last night, and I think I will enjoy looking at it through that perspective. Of course that also makes me wonder how well his particular principals of dress apply in other countries and other cultures.

It is also interesting to me how often my colleagues who are not social scientists are the ones who remind me to look at my own world through the anthropological lens. When my son was born, an engineer I work with noted what a great experience it would be for me as an anthropologist to be able to watch him develop and how it would give me insight that perhaps he didn't have when his own children were small. It's funny how despite the fact that my vocation is observation and insight, it is easy to forget to sometimes take that outsider's view of my own life.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Background

Well I really won't start at the very beginning. I am currently happily ensconced as a Workplace Anthropologist at Pitney Bowes in the Advanced Concepts and Technology division in Shelton, Connecticut.


I have a PhD in anthropology from Arizona State University. Through graduate school, I worked at the Archaeological Research Institute in Tempe, Arizona. They also host ArchNet, a very cool compendium site for archaeology.

Some other places I've worked:

Strategic Intelligence Group of Fort Worth,Texas (my hometown).
InContext Enterprises of Concord, Massachusetts (yes, I have moved around...addresses have also included Philadelphia and York, England, and that does not include times I've spent in the field).

Some stuff I wrote while at InContext:

What's an archaeologist doing at a design firm?

Innovation or Market Research?

Using Video in Paper Prototypes: Reaping the benefits of paper prototyping when the product includes multimedia

I have been actively involved in the American Anthropological Association for many years, and am currently on the board of the National Association of Practicing Anthropologists (NAPA).

Storytelling

A couple of years ago I organized a conference session on storytelling as a means to communicate anthropological findings in non-academic environments. Storytelling is central to anthropology as a discipline—not only do we all study some aspect of human story, the stories of the cultures we study are key to our understanding of them. Stories become mechanisms for collaboration and change, as well as carriers of history. But we don’t always stop to think about the stories we tell, even though anthropologists regularly use storytelling as a communication device. In order to be relevant in settings dominated by non-anthropologists, we must not only pass on the data we have gathered, but convey its importance and convince decision makers in business, design, development, public policy, environment, and a myriad of other fields. Constructing these stories involves editing and carefully choosing what to relay to our audience. Delivering the stories involves performance on many scales and with the help of tools. Stories are told in meetings, in the media, and in the world at large, though our voices, books, and slideshows and video. Stories are transformed as they move through different groups, audiences, and media. They expose the ways in which narrative influences our view of history and can change the future, and reflect on the impact of story on both what it means to be an anthropologist and how anthropology is seen by the outside world.

The session had some great participants, and I do have intentions of putting together an edited volume...once time allows...if you have an interest let me know...

Pilgrimage

In a past life, not so long ago, I wrote a dissertation about pilgrimage to Vijayangara, a 14th-16th century south Indian capital.The Vijaynagara Research Project website shows what an amazing place it is. Complexity and Economy in Pilgrimage Centers of the Vijayanagara Period is a paper I gave at the International Conference on Pilgrimage and Complexity, which included many very interesting talks. If you are really interested, you can find my book, Spiritual Journey, Imperial City, and I will be writing an entry on Architecture and Landscape in India for the 2nd edition of the Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures.

Xena the Wonder Dog


Xena Warrior Princess Wilderness Puppy is an 8 year old lab mix. She enjoys hiking, chasing squirrels, and occasionally wreaking havoc and destruction on our house. We have yet to install the Xena-cam to see how she does it, but she can open cabinets (hence child locks) and also the door (fortunately only if it is unlocked).

The Boys


Need I say more?

Welcome

Welcome to my blog...I expect it will be a reflection of my interests, which include anthropology, design, innovation, workpractice, and the consumer experience. As a practicing anthropologist, I take a special interest in research methods and ways of collaborating, though what attracts my attention falls into a very broad spectrum.

I've put more about me and my various past histories in the links.

Disclaimer

By the way, my musings here are my opinions and random (or not so random) thoughts. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, including my employers.