Friday, October 24, 2008

Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist at Intel, spoke on campus this afternoon. While I was initially reluctant to brave the elements, I am so glad I decided to attend. Bell's talk was one of the best I've heard since I arrived more than 3 years ago. While not the speech Bell gave today, this clip does give you an idea of what her presentations are like.

In her talk -
"The next internet revolution is already happening!" - Bell used an ethnographic lens to examine what the Internet might look like in 10-20 years from now. She began by noting that the internet is not just about technology: it a social product; it is ideas; it is a set of forces. In other words, the internet comes with cultural baggage wrapped around it. And now, the internet, according to Bell, is fragmenting into a series of technologies.

Bell outlined six different signs that the next internet revolution is currently underway. First, the internet is not just in laptops and desktop computers. Its is "feral" and on the move. It is in mobile devices such as cell phones. It is also in televisions, game consoles, etc. Bell argues that this move to a feral internet changes people's behavior. For example, people don't surf on an iPhone; instead they locate very targeted information. Further, Bell pointed out that not all individuals use the internet in real time. They may drive 150k to access it at McDonald's. They may tell a relative what to say in a message, and the relative goes to an internet cafe to compose and send the message. This relative then prints any received messages to read to the relative the next a.m.

Second on Bell's list is the end of the "anglosphere"; there are more languages appearing on the internet, and Bell contends that this trend will increase. Also, Bell suggests that a lot of information is hidden in plain sight. It is no longer about what is being said that's important; rather what is not said. Thus, Bell argues that language on the web is not just a translation problem.

Next on the list is infrastructure and the range of upload and download speeds. This will look different in different cultures. Bell believes that internet behavior and the way people participate online will change depending on these speeds. Moreover, the costs associated with participation is likely to increase not decrease, and in Bell's mind, the concept of a free and open internet is unrealistic.

Fourth is regulation of the internet. Many countries are connecting good citizenship with technology use. Korea's U-Society is one example. Bell says that this is a new frontier for government activity and agendas; each one is different from the other.

Number five on Bell's list was related to porn, trolls, and social regulations. According to Bell, everyone lies on the internet, and she points to the Cornell study on online data as one piece of evidence to support this claim. She continues by noting that crafting ourselves online is an art.

And finally, the sixth item are socio-technical concerns. Bell refers to the internet as a form of aggressive self-presentation. We worry about what other people think about us, which impacts what we post online. Also, Bell notes that what we worry about has moved away from discussions about privacy, trust, and security. "Creepy" as in your Mom is in the house with you all the time creepy is the latest term used rather than privacy violations. Today, we worry about authenticity, ownership of information, digital literacy (e.g., Is the internet making us stupid? Is the internet destroying our language? Is the internet making us homogeneous?), and the identity of "Big Brother."

So, what does Bell foresee in the future? She believes that there will not be a single web - there will be no single use and no single trajectory. Bell mentioned that a really interesting group of people to study are the non-internet users and ex-internet users. Why do they choose not to have the internet? Another area for future examination are the ways in which people are beginning to resist technology. Some of Bell's interviewees remarked that they intentionally book vacations to areas where they cannot get a signal to connect to the internet. Maybe that's why I like being out on the XC - no internet, no phones, no computers, just me and Mother Nature.

1 comment:

uxarchitecture said...

Thanks for sharing this thoughtful analysis. I love the notion of a "feral" internet as a description of system with emergent behaviours driven by evolving patterns of use and innovation.