Understanding communities through ethnography (Tricia Wang)
My primary output is analysis of how new technology users are living at the intersection of macro processes. Examples of questions that I ask are: What does the future of the internet look like? What happens when the next 300 million migrants with digital tools are able to get online? How will the state, the world, and technological infrastructures accommodate such a massive change in scale? How do we design and market to this group?
I hang out with people and spend a lot of time trying to see the world through their eyes. I make long and deep observations of how everyday life is achieved and negotiated. I then interpret my observations and contextualize my analysis in relation to past, current and future socioeconomic, technological and cultural developments.
By answering these questions I am able to provide context and explanations for why people engage or don’t engage with certain technologies, to explain how this all interfaces with historical and present day life, and how designers, engineers, and organizers can meet the daily needs of both low-income/marginalized users and the burgeoning middle class.
People want to know how new users engage with their devices, how they access information, and why their tech behaviors are so different from Western consumers and contexts. Companies and entrepreneurs really want to understand what’s going on. They want to know why the Chinese don’t use Google Apps or why paid music services haven’t taken off there. They enter these communities with lots of market data about their interests but without a deep understanding of their context.
There was (and still is) this expectation that every region’s historical arch would just all of sudden parallel the history of the internet as used in the West. But it doesn’t work like that. The internet was (and still is) introduced in different ways in each country.
Why do I blog this? Following her work for some time, I find interesting the way she described her approach (ethnography contextualized with broader perspectives) and how she applies it to cultural differences in technology usage.