13 April 2007

The revolution will be televised and then switched off

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Genevieve Bell, Intel’s senior anthropologist, started blogging and the first post immediately describes an intriguing research project on secondary homes.

“We care about how people live, how people want to live, about what matters to them; we strive to understand how technologies are used, understood, and imagined in homes around the world; and finally we seek to foster and develop technologies that provide a seamless fit with — and enhance — cultural, social, spiritual values and practices. (And yes, this is real work, and yes, it is an accepted way of thinking about technology, technology development and innovation. And yes, it is surprising to see this at Intel).

As my team and I are part of Intel’s Digital Home Group, we focus our energies on the ‘home’ in all its many forms and permutations. It is against this backdrop that I have been thinking about and studying ‘domestic satellites’ – homes away from home, or perhaps more precisely places of homefulness away from one’s primary residence. Think of these as dorm rooms, hotel rooms, hospital rooms, elder care facilities, vacation homes, even recreational vehicles, caravans, tents and perhaps your car or cubicle. All the places where we attempt to recreate some version of ‘home’, however incomplete or perhaps deliberately skewed.

I would argue (riffing on classic critical standpoint theory, and Harding’s notion of strong objectivity) that these sites, these domestic satellites, can tell us a whole lot about the nature of the home, precisely because they are a version, not the original rendering, of it. We might learn more about what people value, what they care about, and what frustrates them by seeing how they create home-like experiences away from home. Such domestic extensions also seemed likely to yield interesting technology opportunities in and of themselves – devices that would need to withstand long period of dormancy followed by sudden bursts of activities, or those that were energy conscious or aware, or those that have small format factors, high levels of portability and failsafe reliability and security.”

Although the project is not yet formally analysed, one interesting result is that “in listening to people talk about their second homes, the things they do there, and the things they do not, it is hard not to hear this almost lament, a kind of nostalgia, or longing for a time when technology didn’t feel quite so overwhelming.” People often use them as a place to escape from technology.

So Bell asks, “what should a multinational company that produces technology and technology visions do with such an insight?”

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(via Steve Portigal)

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