October 2004

This survey corroborates a finding from some research we did this summer: that the secondary functions of even basic mobile phones are becoming more and more important. In particular we found that people seem aware of remembering telephone numbers much less than they used to, instead relying on their phone's address book.

Another finding that doesn't show up in this survey is the importance of the cell phone for keeping track of time. More than half of the people we talked to said their mobile phone is the authoritative source of time in their everyday lives.

Cellphone Uses
[Source: Jupiter Research/Ipsos-Insight Consumer Survey]
(Apologies – I can't find a direct link to the survey)

via And Far Away…


I want to debunk a common preconception that ethnography is a qualitative method. Not true! Ethnography is a multi-methods approach. While it's true that the primary method in ethnography is participant-observation, which is largely qualitative, I think the best uses of ethnography are where quant. and qual. are used collaboratively. Surveys questions should be informed by qualitative observations and interviews. Surveys can also be used to 'check' theories as they emerge through qualitative analysis.


I have begun to think that statistics are more mis-used than properly used. I don't just mean election polls. A discussion today of the meaning of reliability and validity reminded me of an important point: findings can be both reliable and valid, but meangingless. Social scientists sometimes have a habit of hiding behind the technical jargon of statistics: sample sizes and methods, error, confidence intervals, etc. But when you break down their arguments, they too often draw causal relationships using data which are meaningless in the context of the study. Be on the lookout!

Today Genevieve Bell came to SIMS and gave a facsinating talk titled 'Does Jesus do SMS? Religion, Technology, and Ubiquitous Computing.' I would gladly have listened to a talk on any of a dozen topics she covered in today, but one in particular caught my attention.

I have been thinking about the ways that certain values are inscribed in technology, and the ways that those values tend to funnel and constrain uses. In particular I've been wondering if this value barrier – which I think of as a problem of 'culturally appropriate computing' – could be at play in the continuing inaccessability of many technologies to some marginalized and disadvantaged people.

Genevieve was the first I've heard describe this problem. She mentioned that certain uses of technology – namely entertainment and efficiency – are seen as 'good' or more appropriate uses. This valuing of the uses of technology necessarily finds its way to design, I think, and therefore becomes a self-sustaining cycle. In the specific context of today's talk, Genevieve mentioned that there are 128 million Americans who use ICTs for religious purposes, from receiving daily SMS affirmations from the Vatican to perusing the bible via PDA. She also made the point that relgious values, in particular Christian values, are entrenched in many aspects of American life.

So my question is, how did it come about that the 'good' uses of technology did not come to encompass religion or spirituality, which is such a widespread and pervasive aspect of American life? I suspect that Genevieve answered this question in a way by discussing the unique status that religion holds both in the United States and abroad. Talking about religion is nearly always sensitive, and religion wraps up important issues of the public/private divide.

I think coming to understand the ways that some values become inscribed in technology while others do not, despite their being seen as equally important, is essential to overturning the domainant (and sometimes oppressive) paradigm of those values. The starting point for this work, as I'm sure Genevieve, a fellow anthropologist, would agree, has got to be ethnography. In any case, there's more thinking to be done.

Newsom threatens to picket hotels / Mayor applies pressure to force cooling-off period

The mayor is throwing his weight into the dispute, so we very well could have a resolution in the near future. This article from the SF Chronicle also discusses the AAA's decision to move, and mentions that losing the convention would cost the city's businesses over $3 million in lost revenue.


Well, it looks like the deal is sealed. The hotel operators have 'respectfully declined' Mayor Newsom's request for a cooling off period. Check out the story here.

Also in the Chronicle of Higher Education today.

And an online petition disagreeing with the AAA Executive Board's action, so far signed by nearly 600 AAA Members.

Marshall Sahlins, one of the most old school of the old school anthropologists, has taken to publishing the pamphlets of yore with the new twist of providing some of them on the web via his publishing company, Prickly Paradigm Press. Only the older ones are freely available on the web, but you can order any of them online. Take a look at the catalog. Interesting and available in PDF are:

Marshall Sahlins, Waiting for Foucault, Still

Bruno Latour, War of the Worlds: What About Peace?

Thomas Frank, New Consensus for Old: Cultural Studies from Left to Right

My opinion of the handling of this situation is going downhill FAST. Here is the latest update (via e-mail from AAA Office):

San Francisco Mayor Newsom has asked for a 90-day cooling off period between UNITE/HERE Local 2 and the multi-employer group of 14 hotels (including the San Francisco Hilton). A written response from both sides has been requested by the mayor by 4 pm PST Tuesday, October 26th.

Reportedly, UNITE/HERE LOCAL 2 has agreed to the 90-day cooling off period.

Please hold off on doing anything until you receive further communications from the AAA. Specifically, "holding off" means — DO NOT CANCEL EXISTING AIRLINE AND HOTEL RESERVATIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO, OR MAKE NEW AIRLINE RESERVATIONS TO ATLANTA.

Liz Brumfiel, AAA President, and Bill Davis, Executive Director

Lately I've been thinking about the ways that I (we) live inside of various bounded communities that can limit my(our) perspective. Here are just a few:

Democratic Bubble

A few weeks back, I was walking home in Berkeley when I was approached by two women who identified themselves as graduate students in the School of Journalism. Our exchange went something like this:
Them: Hello, we're looking for people who intend to vote for George W. Bush in November. Are you one such person?
Me: No. Sorry.
Them: Damn.
Me: Have you found one yet?
Them: Nope.
Me: How many people have you asked?
Them: 9,220,313 (slightly exaggerated)

I think It's dangerous to live in an environment where your ideas are never challenged, regardless of how convinced you are they're right. It might be right to say that most Americans don't talk about politics very often, but even those that do usually talk about it with people who they know support their point of view. It's part of relationship and community maintenance. Disagreement or debate is too often seen as divisive. While I understand why it is, I think Democrats especially should strive to rise above it. I often get so wrapped up in my disgust at George W. and his ideology that I forget to consider the questions on their merits.

Blog Bubble

It's a reality check to remember that blogs, for all their assets, are a new medium, and exhibit all the characteristics of one. The blogosphere still seems to lack that essential connection to the zeitgeist that can make more traditional media so integral to many people's daily lives. Newspapers as a genre, for instance, can operate on two basic assumptions that don't hold true yet in the blogosphere:
1. that important events will be covered, and
2. if something is reported we ought to consider it important.

Case in point: Jon Stewart on Crossfire. Here is an event that spread like wildfire through the blogosphere. I personally saw it linked and/or discussed on more than half of the blogs I read. But in an informal poll of friends of mine who don't read or write blogs, few had heard about the event, and almost none knew anything significant about it.

I can already hear the bloggers arguing that this isn't the purpose of a blog – that it doesn't share enough qualities with traditional media such as newspapers and TV, so we can't compare the them. And I take the point. But I don't mean to argue that the two types are comparable, only that they are too often perceived to be comparable. I just have to remind myself not to live in the blogosphere, and not to confuse it with something it's not.

American Bubble

I was outraged, recently, to read about some Americans' responses to the Guardian's letter writing campaign to voters in Clark County, Ohio. It's not that I think the campaign is a good idea – that kind of direct action is a little extreme in my opinion. It's more that I am disgusted by the number of people who said things along the lines of “We're Americans. This is our election. Those Brits should stay out of it.” I think it's indicative of the too popular misconception that America lives in a bubble of its own legitimacy and power. Our president is as guilty of this as anyone, constantly scoffing at Kerry's suggestion that we should be able to pass a 'global test.' Admitting to ourselves that we are part of a global community, and that as the world's lone superpower we have perhaps more of a duty than anyone else to act cooperatively and not unilaterally, does not mean that we have to give up the right to make decisions in our own interests.

Well, according to an e-mail I just got from the AAA, the annual meeting that was scheduled for Nov. 17-21 at the San Francisco Hilton has been moved to the Atlanta Hilton on Dec. 15th-19th owing to the labor lockout that's going on in SF right now. On the one hand, I respect anthropologists (especially) not wanting to cross picket lines, but at the same time, this pretty well ruins the meeting, I think. I certainly can't go – not only because it's in Atlanta but because it's at a terrible time of year for school and travel.

The e-mail is worth a read. It's an interesting insight into the (academic) anthropological community:

In a teleconference held on October 21, 2004, the AAA Executive Board voted to move the 2004 Annual Meeting from the San Francisco Hilton on November 17-21 to the Atlanta Hilton, December 15-19, 2004, a change in both venue and date.

Many of you are already aware that the San Francisco Hilton Hotel and thirteen other hotels in San Francisco are in a labor contract standoff with Local 2 of UNITE/HERE, the union representing cooks, dishwashers, bellmen, servers, room cleaners and switchboard operators. Union members struck the hotels several weeks ago and were subsequently locked out. Picket lines are posted at the entrances to the Hilton, and it appears likely that contract negotiations between the union and the multi-employer group representing the 14 hotels will not be settled by November 17, the time originally scheduled for the AAA's Annual Meeting.

Two factors weighed heavily in the Board's subsequent decision. The first factor was the wishes of the AAA membership. Fifty-six percent of those responding to the poll favored moving the meeting to San Jose or canceling the meeting entirely as their first choice. Only 44% favored holding the meeting in the San Francisco Hilton as a first choice. Moreover, a great many respondents, including some who voted to keep the convention at the Hilton, indicated that they would find it impossible to cross picket lines and that they hoped that the AAA would not meet in a hotel that was locking out unionized employees.

The second factor was the financial position of the AAA. While we could not be sure that the San Francisco Hilton would recover the full amount, breaking the contract with the San Francisco Hilton would expose the Association to potential damages in excess of $1.2 million plus legal fees. Losses of that magnitude would have meant a reduction in program and services for AAA members, and/or the need for a special assessment or voluntary contributions from AAA members…

The sad irony is that the Atlanta Hilton is a non-union hotel. The unionization of the Atlanta Hilton will be a battle for another day. But even the San Jose option would have meant signing a contract with the local Hilton. A committee appointed by the Executive Board last spring is developing a policy to favor living wage municipalities and unionized hotels in choosing future meeting venues. We will also seek a strike cancellation clause in future contracts with meeting hotels.

The New York Times today published a nice commentary on Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire.

Their point, which I have to admit I agree with, is that it is refreshing to see an incident of true debate and dissention on talk television – a bit of rebellion that can't be confused with insanity. I never thought of it this way, and I think it's a great point. Mostly I just thought that Stewart could have made his point more clearly, but I can see now that part of his strategy was pointedly not to engage in their style.

Also, the Times quoted what I thought was the funniest part of Stewart's appearance:

When Mr. Carlson took the offense, charging that Mr. Stewart had no right to complain since he had asked Senator John Kerry softball questions on "The Daily Show," Mr. Stewart looked genuinely appalled. "I didn't realize – and maybe this explains quite a bit – that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity." When Mr. Carlson continued to argue, Mr. Stewart shut him down hard. "You are on CNN," he said. "The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls."

Jon Stewart's appearance on CNN's Crossfire has been widely reported in the blogosphere.

(from Aaron Swartz via Joe)

One of the most incredible sights of this political season:

    BitTorrent download
    Transcript, but your really have to watch it

Jon Stewart goes on Crossfire, one of our vapid political “debate” shows and asks them, plainly, to stop hurting America, to leave the side of the politicians and the corporations and start working for the people.

The two Crossfire hosts can't believe their ears and team up to go after Stewart, but he manages to come out on top while the hosts are exposed as vapid and amoral actors playing parts.

It's an amazing sight. It's as if the little man behind the curtain is revealed right before your eyes.

How long can it be before they manage to get rid of Stewart? He is clearly the most serious threat to Politics As Usual we've had in a long time.

While I give credit to Jon for sticking to his guns, I don't see why everyone is praising him so much. I thought he sounded confused and didn't make many important points. In fact, it seemed a little like he was on drugs. I know he's an intelligent and articulate guy, so I can only guess it was part of his plan, but I just think he missed a golden opportunity to take it to an egotistical ideolog. Al Franken would never have let that happen!

Bill O'Reilly also recently came on The Daily Show, and I think Jon missed another golden opportunity to ask some serious questions. I was frustrated watching the clip, because when you think about it, both O'Reilly's and Stewart's shows are interview shows, but O'Reilly uses his interviews to do most of the talking, and then he came on The Daily Show, and again, Stewart let him do most of the talking!

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