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Values in technology design and use: ethnography’s contribution As a sociologist, I’ve been trained to ask macro questions about underlying social conditions. As an ethnographer, I’ve been trained to ask more grounded questions about the everyday lives of people and how they experience underlying social conditions. While incredibly illuminating for society, sociological findings do not readily appear relevant for industry and people outside of academia. My talk today is about how I came into the research internship at Nokia wanting to answer the question: how can ethnographers contribute to the product design process of a mobile device? Ethnographically grounded research on 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. I discovered while working here that more specifically, I wanted to find out how could ethnography be part of the Nokia’s transition from a company that produces hardware to software.
I discuss how working at Nokia these past three months have initiated a critical shift in my research practices from being an ethnographer in the clouds to an ethnographer on the ground. I provide two examples of how I’ve reframed my research in terms of how values influence technology design and use: China and Mexico. First, I share my analysis on how my research on Mexican migration and migrants’ use of technologies in Mexico and in the US had led me to believe that Nokia already has an American market with a strong brand connection but unfulfilled technology needs. Second, I provide examples for how I will conduct fieldwork in China around four central themes: gaming and leisure, value clashes, social connections, and communication needs. I will be interviewing Chinese entreprenuers of failed copy-cat social networking technologies and conducting one year of ethnography on how Chinese rural-urban migrants use mobiles and internet cafes. I also review the following projects I worked on while at Nokia that have helped me re-envision and re-frame how my ethnographically minded research can contribute to technology use: 1.) Inventive Leisure Practices: I worked with Jofish Kaye to interview local hackers to better understand how they form communities around their practice. We see leisurely hacking communities as critical, yet understudied sites of innovation. 2.) Farmville: Liz Bales, Jofish Kaye, and I did some preliminary surveying to gain insight the popularity of this Facebook game. Liz and I were most interested in understanding how Farmville supported less-meangingful social ties. 3.) The Dream House: this is a project that Janet Go, Liz Bales, and I initiated as a collaboration between 19 Entertainment, Simon Cowell’s company and Nokia Research Labs. The If I Can Dream House is the first “post-reality entertainment” production. As the show is only available online through a 24/7, 60+ camera live stream and weekly Hulu releases, we wanted to better understand how audiences connect with this new form and content of interactive media and how we could use these insights to rethink mobiles device as the primary interactive device.
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