***Full disclosure: I received my invite as part of a partnership with Klout. You can read about it here
CEWeek is the consumer electronics mid-year event. Vendors, brands and innovators come from all over to show off their sexy new products. Some products are not yet on the market, while others have just found their ways on store shelves. Media and industry analysts get first dibs at being able to demo these products, make recommendations, and share the latest tech with their audiences. For the brands and companies there, this is an awesome opportunity to generate buzz about their product, get a lot of publicity, and build important relationships.
My background is in culture and media, I worked for one of the biggest tech companies in the world for years, and I am a freelance digital media producer. I used to follow this world a bit more closely than I do now that I spend much of my time researching, working a slightly different job and participating more in activism.
With that being said, I find it weird that I would need to qualify my participation in an event that is about tools that designed, in large part, for humans.
Yet, during the event, my tech advisor was repeatedly asked by vendors, “what are you doing here?”
Well, that’s why I started this blog, right? Anthropology needs better PR. We are regularly explaining the usefulness and methodology of anthropological methods. However, many companies and businesses have caught on. Companies like Intel, have hired “engineering ethnographers,” an important role that helps their product development team assess which types of environments that a product would be optimized for. This type of report would nt just consider room use, but human behavior within a given cultural and social dynamic. It examines the viability of use of a product in a given area and environment.
Anthropologists are the ultimate influencers, depending on how we choose to use our tools.
A book by Christian Madsbjerg, “The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems,” discusses why the human sciences are becoming more popular in business, and changes the game in traditional business strategy. Could it be that businesses are realizing that global markets mean global consumers? Could it be that anthropologists have helped to illuminate the fact that the same technology may be utilized in different ways depending on the cultural context? Could it be that businesses are seeing the value of diverse relationships? I hope so.
But WHY would an anthropologist attend CEWeek?!
Let’s challenge the traditional view of an anthropologist. If I was on the Island of Narnia (*not an actual thing), studying the fawn people (*also not real), I would spend a huge amount of time studying their tools. Tools can tell me a lot about the resources available, types of activities involved, how the faw people engineer their lives and interact with their environment daily. We create tools enhance our environments and increase the level of ease in which we do the things that we have to do often.
I’m on the Island of New York, studying people, in general. CEWeek is full of tools! Not only am I interested in how we use these tools, but I’m invested in how these tools progress our society, or even if it does! I analyze costs, ease of use, and imagine opportunity. But to take it a step further, I am a person living in the world in which these tools are said to be needed. I want to know how I will be affected too. Is it worth beign an early adopter? Is this a technology that I can bring back to my office? Is this a new innovation that will change how we understand our bodies? Does this encourage community behavior? Will this item open up possibilities for children? Could this robot be the an important tool for parents of children with autism? And if it is, how do we get them this device?
I don’t just see cool gadgets. I’m interested in how they interface with our daily existence. This is a valuable perspective that can be lost if the extent of the reporting is “here’s what’s new and what it costs”.
I was highly impressed with a wearable technology for dogs from the company Voyce. I’m going to do a whole write up on it before the week is done. But when I began to provide a basic assessment of the tech to friends and followers on my social media platform, the need and the ‘why’ outweighed the costs. It wasn’t just about having cool stuff for Fido. There was an added value for pet owners who have dogs that are aging or suffer from conditions that are oft times sudden and unexplainable. When your pet is a member of the family, as many pets are, it can be costly and exhausting to go to the vet just because you fear a heart issue versus just panting.
Animal domestication is an important part of human advancement. And now there is tech that helps be better at communicating with pets and our domesticated animals. As our environment changes, our ideologies surrounding the human- animal relationship is also evolving. This pet biometric scanner may be a step in the direction towards some scifi, next level, having-conversations-with-our-guinea- pigs tech! Our maybe it is another indicator of the changing ideologies and relationship structures between humans and dogs.
My new tech advisor will be posting a great piece on the cool stuff we saw during CEWeek. I’ll be providing a couple more in depth posts about some tech that I think deserves contextual analysis. However, I just thought I should address this.
How do you think about anthropology? Are you an anthro professional or grad student that finds yourself justifying your existence? How do you deal with it? I seriously want to know. I felt a bit offended and challenged when people asked me this. I felt like they were saying, “you don’t belong here”. Yes, my blog is about science and culture, so naturally I cover tech stuff, but should that have even mattered? Thoughts?