How can businesses profit from social media? How does social media challenge what is regarded as “value” in the business world? Anthropologist Lene Pettersen discusses these and other questions in her paper “The impact of social media for business“.
Lene Pettersen, one of the few web2.0-anthropologists in Scandinavia, sent me this article that she previously has published on Slideshare
‘Value’ in a strong economic sense is challenged by social media as a door opener for influence that the organizations should take seriously. (…) The market is a part of individual and collective projects where emotions and identities are expressed, and can therefore not be defined by monetary values alone (Olsen 2003). (…)
The virtual market isn’t a huge collection of passive consumers; it is represented by networks of people having meaningful dialogues and interaction with both each other and the businesses as such, and represents new ways of market power. (…) By mapping different social media applications that are used for interaction we will receive great insight of benefits from different social media tools, technology as such and give important knowledge of how social media can be used by companies and organizations for innovation.
For businesses to be successfull they have to establish a good reputation. She quotes anthropologist Tian Sørhaug who states that “we no longer can divide production from consumption, because it is difficult to separate the person and the product. In these online times we all are dependent on our reputation.”
Pettersen draws our attention to a kind of “honor culture” among bloggers and compares it to the Kula exchange:
In social media we can recognize how highly respected bloggers receive respect from others. In parallel to honor cultures, where public reputation is more important than one’s self esteem, bloggers achieve huge respect within their community (Pettersen 2009). Anette Weiner showed in her studies of the Trobriand people how transaction of the kula (a type of shell) with people’s kula network didn’t have a solely economic value, but that knowledge, high status, and even sorcery help kula players claim success and circulate their fame (Weiner 1988:156).
>> download the paper (pdf)
How do people in Britain use the internet? How do they behave online? The new Digital Anthropology Report. The Six Tribes of Homo Digitalis gives some answers.
The British communication company Talk Talk sent researchers from the University of Kent into the homes of people around the UK to ask them questions about their attitudes towards digital technology and to watch them use it. They also commissioned anthropology professor David Zeitlyn to analyse the findings.
They found that “homo digitalis” consists of Six Tribes with very different attitudes, usage patterns and modes of behaviour. Some of these tribes have embraced technology and put it at the centre of their lives. For other tribes, “the internet” is a rather frightening jungle.
The E-ager Beavers are the largest tribe by quite a distance, with 29% of the UK adult population. They use the internet heavily, but they are more passive users. They lack the confidence or the drive to get involved with uploading their own content or producing their own blogs.
The Timid Technophobes are the second largest group (23%). They have only limited internet skills and will only use it when they really need to. They still prefer to use pen and paper and prefer to send and receive letters. They don’t read blogs and are not interested in facebook either.
The tribe of the Digital Extroverts (9%) consists of people who are “always-on". They are active bloggers, use twitter, flickr etc. “Regularly updating their online profile is as much a part of their daily routine as eating.” The ability to interconnect and share data is a prerequisite.
According to Zeitlyn, your willingness to embrace technology and integrate it into your life will dictate your success in life far more than your social class will. As class structures change quickly, he writes in his analysis, the extent to which people use social networking and promote themselves online will become more important in determining their careers than what school or university they went to.
>> read the whole report (nice presentation with quiz and videos!)
After 30 months ethnographic fieldwork on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites, danah boyd has finally completed her PhD-thesis and put it online. Although she is no anthropologist, she seems to have worked like an anthropologist. Her thesis is relevant reading for anybody who is interested in the anthropology of childhood - especially in children’s relations to adults.
For children spend so much time on Facebook or MySpace ("networked publics") partly because they are marginalized in their society by adults, she explains in the concluding chapter:
One of the most notable shifts I observed in the structural conditions of today’s teens, compared to those of earlier decades, involves their limited opportunities for unregulated, unstructured social interaction.
When asked, teens consistently reported that they would prefer to socialize in physical spaces without constant parental oversight. Given that this is not an option for many of them and that many have more access to networked publics than to unmediated public spaces, social network sites are often an accepted alternative.
Their desire to connect with others is too frequently ignored or disregarded, creating a context in which many must become creative in making space for maintaining connections outside the control of adults. (…) Through the use of technology, teens are able to socialize with others from inside the boundaries of their homes. This presents new freedoms for teens, but it also provokes new fears among adults.
The teen years are marked by an interest in building new connections and socializing broadly. Online-activites are extensions of offline-activites. Teens’ engagement with social network sites reveals a continuation of earlier practices inflected in new ways, she writes.
My findings show that teens are drawn to social media collectively and that individuals choose to participate because their friends do. The appeal is not the technology itself—nor any particular technology— but the presence of friends and peers.
boyd draws many interesting parallels and comparisons:
Baudelaire’s Parisian flâneur enters the public to see and be seen. Teenagers approach publics in a similar vain. Like the flâneur, teens use fashion to convey information about their identities.
Teens have long struggled to find a place for themselves; they have consistently formed counterpublics within broader structures. Yet when they do, adults typically demonize them, the identity markers they use, and the publics they co-opt. The demonization of MySpace is akin to the demonization of malls and parking lots that took place when I was growing up.
The inability to access publics is an explicit reminder of teens’ marginalized position within society according to danah boyd:
When well-intentioned parents limit access to publics out of fear of potential dangers, they fail to provide their children with the tools to transition into adult society. This may have other unexpected consequences, including isolating teens from political life and curbing their civic engagement. I believe that the practice of maximum control and restrictions infantilizes teenagers, making them more dependent on or resentful of adults and adult society.
In learning how to make sense of publics that are different from those with which their parents are comfortable, teenagers reveal valuable techniques for interpreting and reworking publics. Their experiences provide valuable insight for understanding how publics are transformed by structural forces.
The key is for adults, and society more broadly, to engage with these issues and help guide teens in making healthy decisions that allow them to leverage social media in positive ways as part of their everyday lives.
Her thesis reminded me of Mari Rysst’s thesis on the (presumed) “sexualisation of childhood” and the notion of the “pure childhood".
I’ve only read the last chapter of boyd’s thesis.
By the way: As a famous blogger, danah boyd’s blog post on her thesis has received more than 40 comments within two days. Furthermore, there a numerous blog posts about her thesis already.
How does everyday life change when electricity becomes available to people in a village in Zanzibar, East Africa, for the first time? Anthropologist Tanja Winther answers this question in her new book The Impact of Electricity. Development, Desires and Dilemmas.
The book is based on her doctoral dissertation and was also published in Swahili. “I think it would be a good thing if phd-budgets in general included the important step of making results accessible to the people under study", she says in an email-interview with me.
“Electricity is a social phenomenon, and I hope that many anthropologists will join this fascinating field", she adds.
Here is the interview:
So what has changed after the introduction of electricity?
What was most striking to me was the tremendous effect electricity has had on people’s time management. With electric light the day in theory has 24 hours instead of 12. People must make new choices as to what to do when. In consequence, time is speeding up and practices change: Women cook only two meals each day and not three as they used to (they now serve leftovers for the third meal). This is also linked to their wish to watch television in the evening and their opportunity to earn money during daytime.
Relations change in the process; the man has ‘entered the home’ in a new way. In the evenings, men and women now sit together in the same room, together with neighbours and the extended family. The electric light provide transparency and purity and the television programme is in focus. The paradox, although a phenomenon also observed in many other places, is that the spouses new opportunity to spend more time together actually provides less time for marital (?) intimacy. Sexual patterns change due to electricity. Because of this and also electricity’s high cost and rapid normalisation, there are signs that the birth rate is on the decrease. This was exemplified when men complained to me that due to the need for electricity, it is becoming too expensive to have more than one wife, or even get married at all.
People’s relationship to spirits also change; electric light is said to make space safer. Elderly, Swahili-speaking people would therefore refer to the new technology as ’security light’.
Health wise, electrified water pumps and improvements in the health services (ex light at night time at the local clinic when a woman is in labour) has had a direct positive effect in development terms.
The arrival of water taps in the village implies that girls do not have to spend long hours fetching water from wells. Instead they are sent to school to the same extent as boys. Children, also girls, attend night classes before important exams and sleep in the school building. This surprised me, because parents in this Muslim context pay considerable attention to controlling girls’ whereabouts. I guess they have faith in the teachers looking properly after their children. But this also speaks of the tremendous importance people put on education in rural Zanzibar these days.
What are your thoughts about these changes?
When I started this study I was determined not to expect that electricity would bring ‘development’ to the countryside in Zanzibar. Overall, however, I am convinced that people’s new access to electricity has been a change to the better. Electricity is so fundamental when it comes to people’s access to information, to public services and to making the hard life in this region less physically demanding.
The notion of development in Swahili (maendeleo) is all about getting new ideas and new things that make you move forward. Following a grounded, entitlement-based approach to development one may even conclude that it should be a human right to have access to electricity. What they use electricity for must of course be left to the people in question to decide.
There are also problems, however, one challenge in Zanzibar being linked to the unequal structures that were also at work before electricity was introduced. In particular, I would highlight women’s lack of rights to inheritance and the fact that the divorce rate is high and easily obtained by men. Most women in rural Zanzibar do not own houses. They do not become electricity customers nor owners of appliances. Yet, they contribute substantially to financing the family’s high cost of electricity. This constitutes a problem the day their husbands want a divorce, when they are left with extremely little material wealth. Electricity may in this way have made women even more dependent on men than before.
In everyday life, there is also a concern among some people that electricity’s high costs may negatively affect the family’s food security. Perhaps the reduction in cooked meals implies that people eat less than before? (this has not been investigated from a detailed, nutritional point of view). At the same time, the alternative, to buy expensive kerosene for lighting and batteries for the radio, is also a financially risky business. In 1991, it would take a family 9 years to pay back their investment in electricity for light and radio as compared to the use of kerosene and batteries. (Thus after 9 years it would become cheaper to use electricity than the alternative fuels). In 2005, due to a rise in the kerosene price, the pay back time had been reduced to 4 years.
Information Project: People from Uroa (working for the Information Project) explaining the use and dangers of electricity during a public meeting in Uzi Village, 2005.
It seems that people sleep less than before. Those without electricity at home sometimes complain that their neighbours are tired after having watched television until midnight and therefore quarrel more than before. Many parents are concerned that children, especially boys who are freer to stay out late at night, are too tired to learn properly at school.
But in the larger picture, such effects are considered as details. The coming of tourists, however, is seen as a greater challenge. The foreigners are often considered to have an improper conduct that could affect new generations in unfortunate ways (alcohol, drugs, clothing etc). If tourism provided people with jobs, this would have balanced the picture, but so far, rural Zanzibaris mostly experience the negative side of this growing business. Still, people are strikingly warm and welcoming towards foreigners. Knowing the social and moral cost of the tourists’ presence in the neighbourhood, this attitude surprised me again and again.
What are the implications of your findings?
I hope to have demonstrated that asking and realising the question of “how” is just as important as “what” (e.g., electricity). My main case, electrification in Uroa village, was atypical in the sense that they were not included in project plans but ended up with the highest number of electricity customers and the only village in Zanzibar with street lights.
I try to show that the success of Uroa was not random, but a direct result of their own initiative and contribution in the process, including the use of magic remedies. People in the village are very proud of what they achieved. They demonstrated in practice what participation is about. Such involvement is possible despite the “heavy” and apparently predetermined nature of infrastructure projects.
On another level, the study revealed that ordinary customers have not been properly informed about how the accounting system works. As a result, the think they are being cheated by the utility and their own morality regarding illegal use becomes affected.
In response to these findings, Norad (The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) agreed to finance an information project in Zanzibar where we put emphasis on electricity’s possibilities but also difficulties. Two teams (both genders, people from town and people from villages experienced with electricity) travelled around the islands for two months and held fabulous speeches:
- Do you think the ocean is dangerous? (Yes)
- We still go out fishing, don’t we? (Yes)
- It is the same with electricity. You just have to know how to deal with the danger…
I have received feedback from management in the World Bank’s evaluation group that the study is interesting also from their point of view. If the experiences from Uroa can be useful to people working and living elsewhere, nothing would be better.
In anthropology, I think there is a need for more studies on electricity and energy. Economists and engineers have had a claim to this field for a long time and there is renewed focus on energy these days.
This was exciting to study, I suppose? You’ve been there during the first years with electricity?
Yes, I arrived in Uroa village in 1991, one year after village electrification. When I came back for the main fieldwork in 2000, they had 10 years of experience with the new technology; more appliances, more households connected. I had expected to find many women cooking food with electricity (what people in 1991 said they expected would be the case). But very few did.
I thus learned the old lesson that people do not necessarily do what they say they want to do. There are many reasons why, but it is interesting to try to understand such discrepancies. I have also returned to Zanzibar in later years as a consultant. People’s use of electricity, as any practices, change in a fascinatingly rapid manner.
What was it like turning the doctoral dissertation into a book? A long process?
It took about one year to get the process started and then 1 1/2 years in production, so yes, it was a long process. Berghahn’s external reader had some very useful comments on an overall level that I have tried to respond to. Otherwise, I felt quite on my own in the process - the luxury of having a splendid supervisor (Aud Talle in my case), was gone. But when writing the thesis I had kept in mind Unni Wikan’s advice to think about the thesis as a book. To a great extent, I could keep to the same structure.
Why did you translate the book into Swahili?
The idea was initiated by one of my friends in Uroa during fieldwork. He does not speak or read English. He told me enthusiastically that he was thrilled about the thought of knowing that other people in East Africa would read the story from Uroa - and learn about electrification. Thus he was concerned about sharing the material with other groups.
I was just as concerned about making this man (and his co-villagers) have access to their own story. The Norwegian Embassy later kindly agreed to finance the translation of a shorter version of the material and have a book produced in 500 copies. This would perhaps not have been the case had I chosen another, less ‘relevant’ topic in their eyes.
But I think it would be a good thing if phd-budgets in general included the important step of making results accessible to the people under study. The book was recently distributed to 35 households in Uroa and schools across Zanzibar.
By the way, I remember Pat Caplan, the main opponent during the defence of the thesis, asking me what reactions I would expect from people in Uroa if they had access to the written material. I said that they would be likely to be proud and agree with most parts, but also surprised and perhaps even disturbed regarding other parts. In particular, the critical analysis of women’s position and the social exclusion of people in opposition to the government, could produce some reactions. I did not leave these aspects out in the published book, which is entitled Umeme: Faida na Athari Zake. Uzoefu Kutoka Kijiji cha Uroa. (Electricity: Its benefits and challenges. Experiences from Uroa Village). So far, I have not heard any reactions from the village, but of course, I am quite exited.
What are doing right now?
I am with the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo, who have hosted me since I first came in 1999 as an engineer wanting to learn and do anthropology. As member and secretary for a reference group of a trust fund in the World Bank (TFESSD), I discover that the Bank has come quite far in analytical work that integrate work on social development, gender and infrastructure.
The link between gender equality and energy continue to be one of my main interests, and I also currently work on a little piece called Why do poor people steal electricity?
Electricity is a social phenomenon, and I hope that many anthropologists will join this fascinating field. I think we are both needed and appreciated.
Thanks for the interview!
I found three texts online by Tanja Winther:
Tanja Winther: Information Project. Zanzibar Rural Electrification Project, Phase IV. Project Report (pdf)
For readers in Norway: Her book will be presented in Klubben, University Library, Blindern, University of Oslo, Tuesday 9.12. from 16-17 o’clock.
Many adults worry that children are wasting time online, texting, or playing video games. In the first in-depth ethnographic study of its kind, researchers of the Digital Youth Project found that the digital world is creating new opportunities for youth to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills, and experiment with new forms of self-expression.
According to the report, youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration. Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, the researchers question what it would mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally.
The report was presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco and is availbable online, as anthropologist Mizuko Ito, who lead the research, announced on her blog.
The major findings:
Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests.
They can be always “on,” in constant contact with their friends through private communications like instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in public ways through social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook. With these “friendship-driven” practices, youth are almost always associating with people they already know in their offline lives. The majority of youth use new media to “hang out” and extend existing friendships in these ways.
Youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.
In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity, youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior. By exploring new interests, tinkering, and “messing around” with new forms of media, they acquire various forms of technical and media literacy. By its immediacy and breadth of information, the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning.
New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.
“This was a large ethnographic project by far the most challenging and rewarding research project I’ve undertaken so far", Mizuko Ito writes. She is particularly proud of the shared report, which was “a genuinely collaborative effort, co-authored by 15 of us on the team, and including contributions from many others":
We took a step that is unusual with ethnographic work, of trying to engage in joint analysis rather than simply putting together an edited collection of case studies. We spent the past year reading each others interviews and fieldnotes, and developing categories that cut across the different case studies. Each chapter of the book incorporates material from multiple case studies, and is an effort to describe the diversity in youth practice at it emerged from a range of different youth populations and practices.
Banks is the founder of kiwanja, an organisation, that helps non-profit organisations to make better use of information and communications technology in their work - of course with an anthropological perspective. “Anthropology is interestingly the area which raises the most eyebrows among delegates at conferences", he writes on his website.
As our ever-expanding digital world slowly reaches some of the poorest and marginalized members of society, opportunities to deliver financial aid to them electronically becomes less myth and more reality.
Mobile phone users in a growing number of developing countries can already pay for goods and services wirelessly through their mobile phones, and there are few technical challenges in allowing someone in the U.K., for example, to make a direct donation to a user in Kenya by way of airtime credit to their phone.
Just as the Internet redefined the way we shop, the mobile phone will likely end up doing the same for international aid.
There’s a lot to explore on Kiwanja’s website and elsewhere on the web . Some weeks ago he wrote the article Anthropology’s Technology-driven Renaissance (PC World), Africa’s grassroots mobile revolution – a traveller’s perspective (Vodafone Retriever). And his projects were presented by the BBC (Mobile development rings true), Global Voices (Zimbabwe: Using New Technologies to Fight for Democracy) and Mongabay.com (Cell phones, text-messaging revolutionalize conservation approaches - An interview with IT conservation expert Ken Banks)
Some of you might remember an related article in the New York Times by ethnographer Jan Chipchase Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.
(Image courtesy of www.kiwanja.net)
Natasha Dow Schüll has been on fieldwork in Las Vegas among gamblers and the designers of the slot machines. Her book Machine Life: Control and Compulsion in Las Vegas will be published by Princeton University Press in early 2009.
Her research, she writes has been “focused on a dramatic turn that has taken place in recent decades from social forms of gambling played at tables to asocial forms played alone at video terminals". The machines are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology:
Without the presence of social elements such as other players or a live dealer, they are able to exit the world and enter a state where everything fades away. (…) Players enter what’s known as the “machine zone,” where even winning stops mattering; in fact, it can be unwelcome because it interrupts the flow of play. Such players only stop when their credits are consumed.
What revenue slot machines do generate comes not from entertaining but exploiting people. Should the government, whose role is to protect its citizens, become a partner in this ethically dubious enterprise?
To Salon.com she says that the industry has successfully defined the terms of gambling addiction: It’s telling that we speak about problem gamblers, but not problem machines, problem environments, or problem business practices.
The anthropologist has put three papers on her Las Vegas research online (pdf):
Some years ago, the researchers observed how people talked on the phone while watching the same TV show. Now Motorola-anthropologist Crysta Metcalf and her team are designing a Social TV, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The researchers designed a prototype and recruited friends of friends for the first phase of testing. “It looked like a PC attached to a television with a big microphone on a coffee table,” Metcalf says.
There are several publications by her and her team online, among others Ambient social tv: drawing people into a shared experience. There is also a pdf of a presentation at a conference by the Society of Applied Anthropology Investigating the Sharing Practices of Family & Friends to Inform Communication Technology Innovations