Procrustes: Still Wrong

For Technology, No Small World After All

OVER the last two years, Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist employed by Intel Research, has visited 100 households in 19 cities in seven countries in Asia and the Pacific to study how people use technology. Twenty gigabytes of digital photos later – along with 206,000 air miles, 19 field notebooks, two camera batteries, five umbrellas, three hats, two doses of antimalarial drugs and one pair of her favorite sandals – she has come back with some provocative questions about technology, culture and design.

[M]any of Dr. Bell’s findings also raise deep questions about the meaning of technology in an interconnected world.

[…] “We thought, there’s a group of people just like us all over the world who will buy the technology and have it fill the same values in their lives,” Dr. Bell said. “I was fairly certain that wasn’t going to be the case. I’m an anthropologist. Culture matters.”

[…] Such insights challenged Intel’s vision of a world of “smart homes” and a chip-driven lifestyle, Dr. Bell said, which assumes that users are secular. In those visions, there’s no point at which residents stop to pray, visit a church, or have a moment of internal reflection. All this prompted her to ask David Tanenhaus, Intel’s vice president of research: “What if our vision of ubiquitous computing is so secular, so profoundly embedded in a set of Western discourses, that we’ve created a vision of the world that shuts out a percentage of people in a way we can’t really even begin to articulate?”