Saturday, March 20, 2004

This and that, anthropology and technology

Content to be back at home after an excellent class last night. Joey's students are great and we had fun. I also got to meet some very cool people that I am looking forward to seeing again soon.

Current reading:
Where computers go to die

Simon (?) at Ideas Bazaar on Clay Shirky's relationships:

Anthropologists understand that kinship operates at three levels: terminology, rules and practice, and the inter-relationship between the three of these. This means at the categorical, jural and practical level: how are people related, what terminology is used to describe their relatedness, what behaviour is 'meant' to obtain between them (joking / avoidance?), and what behaviour does obtain in practice. Shirky seems to confuse the existence of a terminology with static relationships and fixed behaviours obtaining between people in this relationship. Anthropologists understand that a dynamic interplay exists across these 3 levels ... A detailed kinship terminology of the social universe that are social networking sites would be helpful in moving people beyond the 'number' of links, to the quality of these links and behaviours and relationships that exist between them.

Hear, hear! See also Socio-technical Kin.

Technoanimism & Ubicomp. Unlike Howard, I don't like the phrase technoanimism; it reminds me of the ill-named modern primitives. He also points to Mike Kuniavsky's essay on ubicomp and animism, which I think is interesting, but a bit off:

It's already difficult to predict how technological objects will behave when their functionality is hidden in black boxes and radio waves. Once these technologies are widely distributed in everyday objects, the environment they create will become too difficult for us to explain in purely functional ways. When we don't have a good functional model to explain how things work, we anthropomorphize them. And when enough things around us recognize us, remember us, and react to our presence I suspect we'll start to anthropomorphize all objects.

First, why would we want to explain our interaction with technology in purely functional ways? Second, do people really practice animism only when they lack functional models for interpretation? That seems to suggest that animist understandings are somehow disfunctional or (yikes) primitive. And third, does not anthropomorphism require the transposition of human qualities onto an inanimate object? My understanding is that animism does not start from the premise that objects are inanimate. And anyway, all this relies on some weird distinctions between us and our technologies that I don't think exist in practice - but that's something else for another time.

Current listening:
The Buggles and Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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