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I had a great conversation today with Austin Henderson, who (despite the out of date online bio) is our Director of Research Strategy (and otherwise has a fairly illustrious career in HCI).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

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.

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 themse…

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 chi…

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 indu…

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 ge…

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 paradigm…

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…

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).

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…

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 i…

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-an…

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 t…

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 …

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.

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.

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…

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…

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 p…

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 wou…

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 multimediaI have been actively involved in the Ameri…

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 adiscipline—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 th…

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.