Baroque, creolization, cannibalism and technology adoption
"Mobile technology appropriation in a distant mirror: baroque infiltration, creolization and cannibalism" by Bar, Pisani and Weber is one of these mysterious academic paper that I enjoy running across. It basically investigate appropriation of mobile phones in Latin America, and how this technology is embedded within people social, economic, and political practices. Relying on the classic literature about appropriation (for example S-shaped curves and Roger's theories), they show how technology evolution progress through successive phases of adoption, appropriation, and reconfiguration. By analogy with the historical process of cultural appropriation in Latin America, they draw a parallel between these steps and the 3 following modes: “baroque”, “creolization” and “cannibalism”:
"Baroque layering: The most basic way in which users can appropriate a technology is for them to use the personalization features that are provided to them with that intent in mind. As technical objects, mobile phones come with many such affordances. These include for example the ability to change the ringtone, screen wallpaper, upload one’s phonebook, set up short-cuts for most-often called numbers, download games, and upload one’s music, photo, or video collection. (...) Creolization represents a deeper transformation, a more profound form of appropriation. It refers to practices where the user recombines or reprograms elements of the technology. In this appropriation mode, by contrast with baroque layering, users are more deeply involved in changing the technology. They now explore ways to adapt the technology beyond the options that have been designed by the phone makers and service providers. (...) Cannibalism: This third form of appropriation is the most extreme in the sense that it corresponds to practices where the user chooses to engage in direct conflict with the suppliers of the technology (or at least with the power relation as embodied in the technology.) Cannibalism includes modifications of the device that place the user in direct opposition with the providers’ business model, destruction of the device."
Why do I blog this? following theories of technology adoption for a while (especially for a course I give about innovation and foresight in a design school), I read a lot about s-shape curves, 3-steps theories and found this one quite intriguing. Also because after going 3 times to latin america for one year, I noticed how it could be an interesting field of observation. This paper is interestingly anchored in both relevant theoretical and empirical points that I may reuse in the course as well as in my research. The part about designing for appropriation is also relevant as it points out the role of taking into account these 3 phases in creating meaningful products and services.