Younghee Jung is an anthropologist with Nokia, based in Tokyo, focusing on exploratory design reserch -- they go out studying people closely (the kind of work Stefana Broadbent, who spoke at LIFT last year, does). This being Nokia, the key concern is cell phones and mobile devices: 3.1 billion people use them today (every second earthling).
As part of their research, they ran a community design competition called "Nokia Open Studio" in three neighborhoods in Mumbai (Dharavi), Rio (Jacarezinho) and Accra (Buduburam). They asked participants to design the cell phone they would like. Not surprising, most of the suggestions reflected local concerns and conditions. The woman who won in Mumbai wanted a device that she could just point to the sky to get the weather forecast (the community is heavily influenced by weather pattern); in Rio, the winner suggested a phone that measures air pollution and ozone concentrations; in Accra, a waterproof phone capable of hosting 4 SIM cards, one per operator (using multiple SIM cards is common in Africa, to profit from specific rates). Other requirements from entries in Mumbai: a built-in loudspeaker to make announcements at fairs and religious fairs; an unbrekable and waterproof phone. In Rio: a young mother asked for device to monitor kids and family members; a young man wanted an all-in-one entertainment center (picture below). In Accra: phones working with solar energy; offering long-term memory (family picture etc); showing a caller's location (to prevent people from lying); and that translate languages.
Next up is Geneviève Bell, well-known Intel anthropologist. Running notes: Last year I was locked out my Flickr account and other online services, because I had lied about my birthday (which services use to let you retrieve your password) and couldn't remember what I had said. Now, that's not unique: UK surveys reveal that 45% of mobile phone owners say they have lied in text messages about where they were; Cornell researchers found that 100% of US online daters usually lie about either their height or weight; James Katz say we are "entering an arms race of digital deception".
What does this tell us about the online state of affairs? Technology changes faster than people do. Culturally, telling lies is generally considered bad: legal systems are constructed as versions of the truth; most major religions have clear prescriptions and rules about lying. Keeping secrets is more ambiguous: keeping them is often good, sharing them is a way to demonstrate trust, and some info is kept secret by law.
But there is a gap between cultural ideals and daily practices. We tell lies all the time. According to US, European and Australian psychologists, we tell between 6 and 200 lies a day (40% to conceal misbehaviour, 14% to keep one's own social world from ticking over; and 9% to increase popularity). Men tell 20% more lies than women. Men lie about cars, jobs, spare time and marital status. Women lie about weight, age, marital status and shopping.
New communication tech and the Internet manifest themselves inside this complicated space, where there are already tensions between cultural norms and practices. Online lies about location, context, intent, identity (appearance -- as in the picture above --, demography, status, standing) are all possible, sometimes even required (kids lying in order to gain access to Myspace, which has an age barrier to entry at 14). Provocative question: are ICTs and applications and services succeeding in part because they facilitate our lying ways? Or because lies/secrets are necessary to keep us "safe"? Israeli researchers found that online deception appears to be an enjoyable activity, without any guilt, fear or shame. As for secrets, there are many sites dedicated to sharing them, making confabulations into art; social networks seem sometimes to be celebrating deception; in the wireless world, think of cellphone tracking tech, use of video and camera phones, lie-detection algorithms on text messages and e-mails (the bigger the lie, the more words you use) and alibi services that create fake backstories for you.
This tension between cultural ideals and cultural practices is significant. ICT and Internet land firmly in the middle of this territory.
Paul Dourish, a researcher from University of California Irvine, closed the session discussing the implication of similar anthropological studies for design.