18 September 2010

Values in technology design and use: ethnography’s contribution

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Tricia Wang
A couple of months ago former Nokia ethnographer Tricia Wang gave a talk at the Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, CA, and she just posted the slideshow and the abstract on her blog.

“My talk today is about how I came into my research at Nokia wanting to answer the question: how can ethnographers contribute to the product design process of a mobile device? Ethnographically grounded research for technology use is a method that aims to reveal users’ values, beliefs, and ideas. Nokia was one of the first mobile companies to concertedly hire ethnographers as part of its design process, In the mid to late nineties, Nokia changed the mobile industry forever by creating affordable, user friendly phones. More than a decade later, the hardware mobile phone market is nearing saturation. With Nokia transitioning from a company that produces hardware to software, how can ethnographically driven research provide strategic insights for this shift?”

Poking around on Tricia’s site, I discovered some more inspiring and excellently written treasures to savour:

The Great Internet Freedom Bluff of Digital Imperialism: thoughts on cyber diplomacy, cargo cult digital activism… and Haystack
The Haystack Affair, like the recent Google-China Saga is just another technology that has been caught in the digital geo-politics of neo-informationalism. Neo-informationalism is the belief that information should function like currency in free-market capitalism—borderless, free from regulation, and mobile. The logic of this rests on an ethical framework that is tied to what Morgan Ames calls “information determinism,” the belief that free and open access to information can create real social change. […] Neo-informationalist policies, such as the new “internet freedom” foreign policy to ensure free and flowing information, compliment neoliberal practices in corporate welfare to keep markets free and open to the US and all of our allies who benefit from our work. But it’s not free for all when it’s just free for some.

Check also these related posts:

  • Evgeny Morozov: Were Haystack’s Iranian testers at risk?
    Haystack is the Internet’s equivalent of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It is the epitome of everything that is wrong with Washington’s push to promote Internet Freedom without thinking through the consequences and risks involved; thus, the more we learn about the Haystack Affair while it’s still fresh in everyone’s memory, the better.
  • Sami Ben Gharbia: The Internet Freedom fallacy and Arab digital activism
    This article focuses on grassroots digital activism in the Arab world and the risks of what seems to be an inevitable collusion with U.S foreign policy and interests. It sums up the most important elements of the conversation I have been having for the last 2 years with many actors involved in defending online free speech and the use of technology for social and political change. While the main focus is Arab digital activism, I have made sure to include similar concerns raised by activists and online free speech advocates from other parts of the world, such as China, Thailand, and Iran.

Three useful perspectives on technology, design, and social change (and countering the ICT4D hype)
As someone who researches the social side of technology, I am constantly trying to find new ways to talk to technologists that technology itself does not create social change, rather it’s how technology is socially embedded in a variety of institutions and cultural contexts. […] Three resources have been very useful to me lately.

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