[Reprinted on the Jiber blog]
A couple weeks ago, I gave a presentation for an anthropology course called Anthropology and Digital Media at the University of British Columbia. It let me bring back all these thoughts I have about my university degree in anthropology, and how I’ve seen its value over the years. I figure it can be best distilled, for me personally, as 1) the process of examining a situation from a blend of science and culture, and crafting words to understand it holistically, and 2) the understanding of how innate and cultural human behaviours determine our reaction to new products.
Here’s the presentation I threw together (slides and bullets and all that mighty scary stuff) and a few thoughts. It’s called “How to make people happy with tech (get rid of the tech)”:
My shtick seems to have become “mobile + anthropology” which has spanned my higher education and career to date. I’ve been part of building products for mobile since back in the days when they were fully controlled by mobile carriers, and working with carriers was the best (and only) way to have an impact there. Mobile was, and still is, the future. And I’ve always approached product development from the perspective of human drivers of behaviour.
What is the Internet? It’s about people. Or, more specifically, about connecting people. Danny Hills’ TED Talk puts this in perspective:
Danny Hillis has a book. It’s a directory of everyone in the world who had an internet address in 1982, including the names, addresses and telephone numbers. And it was a very thin phonebook. That was the community. It was a tight community where everyone knew and trusted each other.
Hillis has been a fixture of the tech world (see his TED Talk from 1984 on DNA and its uses). He registered the third domain name in existence: think.com. But he only registered that one, thinking it wouldn’t be nice to take more than he needed…
The drivers of human behaviour can be analyzed by things like genetics, community, and culture, and these are exactly the holistic pillars of the study of anthropology. To make people happy with your tech development, you need to consider all of these things, these “primary” and “secondary” drivers: food and sex firstly, and then narcissism, design and skeuomorphism, intuition, sharing, and magic, etc.
But then… PUT THE TECH AWAY. “Use the Internet to get off the Internet,” someone once said. Let the tech enhance your life and experiences, and then put it away and live your life fuller and maybe more engrossed. Tech, and its rapid changing and superphones and always-on-connectivity, can cause anxiety (Martin Scrocese), awkwardness (never let me see you taking a glorious photo on an iPad), and separation from reality (thinking about that Strava KOM instead of enjoying the scenery and the joy of suffering).
Technology has also often been a compromise or a stop-gap. Still photography originated because we obviously didn’t have the means during the days of the daguerreotype etc to capture moving images and sound. Now as we figure out how to capture, publish, and consumer it more digestible ways (YouTube to Socialcam to Vine), will photography last? Cars, roads, and the combustion engine — will those magnificent and ubiquitous technological innovations disappear soon?
Will “pull knowledge” — actively seeking answers to your questions — be more and more replaced by contextual push information, so that what you want (based on your schedule, your location, and your interests) will be tailored to you at that very moment? Check out Google Now, Foursquare, and Tempo.
Now that the processing power in our pocket is about what you had on your desktop ten years ago, will the desktop become a relic of the stop-gapped past? And then, what’s next after mobile devices in our pocket? Well, just have a look at Google Glass, with all its scrutiny about privacy and privilege and dorkiness, yet it still pushes relevant information to your peripheral vision, and then it gets out of the way.
Well, that’s what we’re building with Jiber — helping you make the most meaningful connection with people you’re meeting in the real world. The vision is social interactions to create a collaborative (and fun) connection between people, and we’ve only just begun.
Tech is entering every market, and community is entering every tech. These are just more guidelines to approaching tech from an anthropological perspective.
My last thought was some inspiration to the anthropology students (in the classroom and out in the world). From the days of building early-Internet websites in college, I’ve always enjoyed building things for people. At the same time, programming (on a scale of intuitive language computation to complex systems I personally still don’t understand) will become a unavoidable part of the workload of the future, so I urged all these great students and critical thinkers to jump into learning to code. Don’t fear that it’s onerous. Check out:
And at least one has already signed up.