Friday, 24 June 2011

Fieldwork. In a field.

I won't inflict a picture of a horse in a field on you, dear reader, but I will inflict my picture of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture of a horse. Which is slightly more interesting because it means I can cite it as an example Bolter and Grusin's notion of remediation in practice (in 'Remediation: Understanding New Media').

What seems to be going on here, kind of, is the logic of immediacy and the logic of hypermediacy, all at once. The former uses digital applications to remove the sense of the media and reach ‘an immediate (and
hence authentic) emotional response’ (p53), while the latter’s use of digital hypermedia ‘seek the real by multiplying mediation’ (p53).

Those other pictures/films have already made it into the ether. The first aims to give the viewer a first hand encounter with the subject: http://bit.ly/jERHNw whilst the rest are more 'knowing' in showing how the first was produced: http://bit.ly/j3Xz5C (although the second could have made it more straightfoward for me to squeeze a theoretical point out of this experience by displaying the first video as it appeared on the MyFarm website).

Lecture over. Enjoy the horsie...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Friending our four legged friends

What does a pregnant shire horse called Queenie have in common with a German hamster called Hans? Both are Internet webcam stars, in Hans' case for 10 years although the excuse to explain his different appearance roughly every two years (that he "changed his coat overnight") doesn't wash with me any more. Queenie is a main draw over at MyFarm, an experiment in open source farming run by the National Trust. As I write she is expected to give birth and has a live webcam in her stable to catch the moment.


As Hans' case shows, webcams trained on everyday scenes aren't new: the first was set up in the early nineties to monitor the goings on around a kettle in a Cambridge lab. Our motivations to tune in probably haven't changed much either, judging from the analysis in this New York Times article from 2000.

In a 2003 paper  anthropologist Daniel Miller observed how the web can harness the power of narrative much like soap opera. However, it can also make this narrative about 'real' people living simultaneous lives and thereby more compelling, much like reality TV. In a final development he saw the Internet's potential for interactive involvement by the user, elaborated in in his 2011 book 'Tales from Facebook' (p 73). He stressed how co-presence is established, reciprocity is possible and thereby relationships are formed, superseding the capacities of earlier media.

I am not sure he had inanimate objects and animals in mind as subjects but if reality TV could encompass the natural world with shows like 'Big Cat Diary', then why not take it to the next level online and start friending our four legged friends?

I'm off to check in on Queenie...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Suchman: anthropology as square peg to business' round hole?

UCL hosted eminent (commercial) anthropologist and definitively NOT the inventor of the green photocopier button Lucy Suchman on Monday. Having tired of working at Xerox a while ago and now back in academia she turned her experience into a paper due to go to the ARA later this year. The thrust was that there is a poor fit between what anthropology/ethnography can offer and what a commercial ‘centre of innovation research’ expects in terms of deliverables.

Not me, guv
Her biggest gripe was with different understandings of innovation i.e. as discontinuous, transformative, centralisable and down to the efforts of a heroic designer vs. the reality of innovation as a gradualist, reproductive, contingent, distributed and collaborative process.

Check out ex Intel anthropologist Simon Roberts' blog, Ideas Bazaar, for another take on 'Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter', incidentally-on-purpose the title of an instructive book by Melissa Cefkin which looks at the pluses as well as minuses.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

iPhones = unreasonable behaviour?

http://tinyurl.com/2v97j6b. Sensibly, tech isn't made deterministically responsible for poor marital relations but it’s acknowledged that mediated communication may also be used to avoid facing relational problems (see Fortunati 1998 - Telecomunicando in Europa – for a discussion).

Absorption in mediated communication, which fosters a state of so-called 'absent presence' (see Gergen 2002 in 'Perpetual contact. Mobile communication, private talk, public performance') could equally refer to burying your head in a newspaper of course….


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

ehealth as oxymoron

http://gu.com/p/2jy3d/tw - technology induced mind change a top threat for humanity. Hyperbole perhaps, in comparing the threat to that posed by climate change, but Susan Greenfield is doing what she does best and getting her research agenda noticed. In doing so she raises questions for public policy and health promotion about the use of digital channels.

If her concerns turn out to be well founded then the emphasis of public policy on personal responsibility for health, achieved in part through the use of ICTs to gather information, may even contribute to the problem if as she postulates: ‘using internet search engines to find facts… [affects] people's ability to learn’.

There are more specific examples of health services deploying novel strategies to reach audiences over digital channels, such as NHS Direct’s presence on Habbo Hotel. I’m not saying that such a presence encourages social networking (another area of concern for neuroscientists) per se: After all health promotion is about reaching audiences wherever they are. However if Greenfield and others are right, the possibility of damaging “mind change” would have to be borne in mind when public policy and health promotion initiatives concern digital channels or they risk unintentionally contributing to the fall of humanity...

Courtesy of 'fearmyrobotbrain' blog

P.S. Leaving "hard science" aside, Susan Greenfield will no doubt be relieved to know that social scientists have been investigating the broader social and cultural implications of digital technology for a while now even if our conclusions are more equivocal than she might like. 

One of my favourite of many examples is Danah Boyd's PhD on teen sociality. It deploys structural analysis to look at how the networked public in general, or the particular 'participation architectures' of sites such as Facebook, structure peer relations. I.e. how technology may replicate, reinforce, or alter the practices of peer relations. In a very unapocalyptic fashion she finds that teens primarily use social network sites in ways that reinforce and replicate unmediated social dynamics.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

We are all cyborgs now: A pill that reminds you about your next dose

http://ind.pn/dmlV5K. Is this ‘Endocolonisation’ in action? Paul Virilio would not be a fan.



His concept describes how the human body is increasingly becoming a site of technology which implies: “an emptying out, a deterritorialisation, conducted in conjunction with a technoscientific reterritorialisation which disrupts and fractalises human and social totalities, which Virilio insists should remain whole,” - see http://tinyurl.com/32k7gak - here endocolonisation is adopted as a concept by a ‘cyborg anthropology’ scholar.

Medicine formed one of the first areas of study for cyborg anthropology, which considered subjects such as reproductive technology and genetics. More recently issues such as privacy, identity and connectivity have come to the fore in connection with other technologies that blur the boundaries between machine and human. Endocolonisation by microchips links this more recent work to medicine once again.

This presentation by Amber Case is a good summary of the kinds of issues cyborg anthropologists are considering now:

Monday, 30 August 2010

The NHS Direct helpline is dead. Long live NHS 111!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11120853. A shame - NHSD provided a reason to think about Freidson’s "lay referral system" again, this time in connection with ICTs (Freidson 1988).


No, you’re not.

Freidson made the point that we need to think about the temporal trajectory of sickness. This meant considering seriously what happens before we opt for a consultation with a medical expert. He noted decisions about whether to access professional healthcare are conventionally first made in our immediate kin/community context, looking at both social relationships and cultural themes as factors.

If ICTs, now a “mundane reality” (Nettleton 2005) for many in seeking out health-related information and advice, have impacted that context then the lay referral system and its two components (the extent to which lay culture is congruent with professional health culture and the cohesiveness and extension of the lay referral structure) may have to be amended.

For example, has the effect of more information availability through dominant providers such as NHS Direct aligned lay health culture more closely with the knowledge base underpinning professional health culture (an especially relevant question for those identified by Freidson as not sharing in that culture, namely the 'lower classes')? Secondly, with the option of finding condition-specific social networks online, those identified as relying on a loose and truncated lay referral structure to help make decisions (identified by Freidson as the 'middle classes'), may find such structures extended, if not more cohesive.

Ultimately, how will digital ICTs interact with other factors, such as the Government's aim to encourage more healthcare to take place in home settings, to change the proportion of referrals to professional medics, if at all?