July 2005

The Pew Internet & American Life project has put out the latest report in its Family, Friends, & Community series: Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation. (Abstract Here)

I haven't read the report yet, but it looks like the findings are drawn from a combination of survey and focus group data. Unlike many reports of this type, Pew is doing its best to be transparents about its findings by sharing some of the research tools and raw data. Check out, for example, to the questionnaire used in the project which includes detailed stats for each question.

Media Week reports that one in five online users is also listening to the radio. But:

  1. The article quotes the CEO of the Radio Advertising Board as saying that multiple media use isn't present with media. So, apparently, no one is watching TV while they use the internet, and there are no kids out there who play video games with the TV on either. Heaven forbid we should read with anything on in the background either!
  2. So I looked, but I couldn't find any more detailed information about the study or its methods. That's probably by design. But I'd guess it was a simple telephone survey. The problem is that 'using,' 'listening,' and 'watching' are not binary activities. Looking at it that way captures a tiny percentage of behavior. In reality people divide their attention along a constantly shifting continuum.
  3. These findings do a terrible job of accounting for actual practice. For example, how many folks habitually leave the radio on at work? In that situation the radio can become a sort of background noise rather than an active media. People can use the radio to help soften a harsh or formal work environment, to provide some sense of privacy by masking other noise, or to personalize their space. In each of these situations radio listening becomes important, but not in the way that advertisers think.

(via cityofsound)

You must check out this neat little tool from Bud: Giving Lip.

Feed the app. a picture (say, your dog), go through a few simple steps, and make your dog talk with a variety of fun voices. Email the message to your friends. God it's fun.

(This is a follow-up to another post about the 2000 Guenoc Cab. Synopsis: It Rocks!)

I went back to Trader Joes to get some more bottles of my favorite $9 wine, but was sad to see that the 2000 vintage is all gone, at least from my local store. I checked with an employee and he confirmed that they're now selling only the 2002 vintage. Hoping, but suspecting that it couldn't be as good as the 2000, I bought a few bottles.

It turns out the 2002 is still a very good $9 wine. It has a lot of the same complexity and fruit of the earlier vintage: obviously the winemaker is going for consistency and has done a good job. The 2002 has more of an earthy tang than the 2000 – I wanted to say that it tasted like bramble, but then I realized I don't know what bramble tastes like. It's also more tannic and I was wishing I had let it breathe for an hour before dinner.

Anyway, if you happen by a Trader Joe's, do give the 2002 Guenoc California Cabernet a shot. It's still an incredible value.

Ozma over at Savage Minds has posted a fantastic take on Jard Diamond's irritatingly popular book Guns, Germs, and Steel. If you're wondering, the book has been thrust recently back into the spotlight because of a multi-part PBS special.

Ozma basically nails most of the scholarly reasons to question GG&S. I don't need to cover that here. I think the popular fascination with the GG&S story is much more interesting. The book feeds into that popular yearning for grand explanations, even when the explanation doesn't quite hold together. Like most creation myths, Diamond's argument is part fact, part fiction, and part leap of faith.

The really curious part is that the popular conception seems to have worked its way back into academia as well. For lots of folks GG&S has become a defining text in cultural anthropology – one of those books that folks who aren't in the discipline expect you to have read if you are, and your colleagues talk about as a way to open up the sticky paths of common knowledge (and name dropping). As I moved away from communities of anthropologists and started working with groups of sociologists, economists, computer scientists (etc., etc…) last year I ran into far more people who said 'Oh, have you read Diamond's book? Isn't it awesome!' As more and more said it, though, I started to wonder how many had actually read it, and how many just knew they ought to say they had. Hell, I (like Ozma) haven't even been able to get all the way through it despite trying several times. (There's some discussion of this phenomenon in the comments for the above linked post.)

Ultimately I think Jared Diamond is a bit like Gilderoy Lockhart (for all you Harry Potter fans): we're all so wrapped up with his charm and celebrity that it doesn't quite seem appropriate to start questioning his substance.

Jono has an interesting post about 'Wicked Problems':

The problems then change towards being, potentially, more and more difficult to 'solve'. Reasons for this include having less, imperfect, ambiguous information, and limited resources. You have to make decisions and 'design' in spite of these. In the later cases the process of understanding becomes more critical than the 'solving' itself. In the later cases different skills are required.

In short, it tends to be that problems get more difficult and complex the more contact they have with people.

I recently tasted what I think is the best Pinot Noir from Oregon out there:

St. Innocent 2003 Temperance Hill Vinyard Pinot Noir

We bought this wine while visiting my brother-in-law in Eugene. He took us up to a Memorial Day event at this small winery and we were blown away. I think St. Innocent is one of, if not the best Oregon Pinot producers. It's small compared to many Oregon producers, and not widely distributed, but you can find it on the internet, at some specialty wine stores, and order it direct from the winery.

Some Notes:

This wine is bright and floral right away, with two intertwined layers – first the bright fruits like currant, red cherry, and blackberry that are common in Pinot, but then this distinct undertone of earthy, nutty flavors and even a bit of green peppercorn. It was perfect with grilled quail and I think would go very well with chicken or pork as well. 95.

At $22 this is such a bargain for a fantastic wine. And I have a feeling it will continue to get better for a few years to come.

I've been fascinated by the recent story about women and DVRs that has been circulating the blogosphere. While we have become used to seeing a male bias in a variety of technologies, perhaps most famously video games, there are fewer where the bias is obviously towards female use. This is such an interesting comment on the balance of power (for lack of a less dramatic phrase) in the use of more traditional media. I for one tend to think that established media will not become marginalized in favor of new media, as some have said, if only because people might want some respite from media saturation in an interactive environment. As the two continue to co-exist and blend, I think we ought to question (not assume) that there is anything fundamentally different about 'new media.'

I was just reading the Markle Foundation's report on Children and Interactive Media, which begins to discuss the differing use and perception trends between 'traditional' media and 'new media.' They discuss media and sociality with regards to adults because there's only a tiny amount of research on kids, media, and sociality:

Interestingly, non-interactive media (television, videos, movies) were generally social activities, while interactive media (computer and video games, chat rooms, Web sites) were generally solitary activities (Roberts et al., 1999). Clearly, information about the social context of younger children's media use experiences is needed.

I wonder whether to believe that there is truly a divide between non-interactive and interactive media. Would a growing correlation between gender and media use indicate this?

A story about the use of ethnography in marketing on last Monday's edition of Marketplace on NPR sparked some interesting discussion. (NPR has had a few other stories about ethnography in the past year – see this or this.) The story, in a nutshell, is this: marketers and advertisers are catching on to the value of ethnography for understanding people (read: consumers). Ethnographers are everywhere these days, from Google to NASA to Madison Avenue. The NPR story even quotes David Grzelak, Director of Ethnography at TenUnited, an ad agency. I share the NPR reporter's incredulity (and excitement) that such a post exists.

So what about it? Should anthropologists be worried? On the one hand the popularization of ethnography has led to increased attention and opportunities for anthropologists. On the other hand, the popular definition of ethnography is the bastard stepchild of what ethnography really is – totally divorced from theory, history, or anthropological perspective. Anyone who observes and records has become an ethnographer. In fact, anyone who does any qualitative work at all seems to call themselves an ethnographer these days.

If you're one who understands and believes in the value of ethnography done right, then this new phenomenon might be rather painful. I see ethnography being put to all sorts of uses that don't seem quite right from a number of standpoints, not all of which I'm on-board with.

Theoretical: Ethnography is best when it exists within the framework of theory, history, and perspective that anthropology provides. Data gathering is the easy part – it's the ethnographic analysis that really requires skills and knowledge. Without theory, ethnography can be ungrounded and comparatively useless.

Practical: The draw seems to be to use ethnography for finding out anything and everything these days, regardless of whether it's the right method for the job. I like to say that ethnography is useful for finding out a lot about a little (as opposed to a little about a lot, e.g. surveys). It's not that ethnography can't be used to inform generalizations and broader knowledge, it's that the process involves the aggregation of individual ethnographic case studies. I worry that there's no realization of the limits of ethnography out there, and that the popular uses are too generalized, without the caveats and boundaries that are the mark of good research. (See my previous rant – I mean post on limitations.)

Ethical: Anthropologists, at least classically, have often had leanings towards advocacy for marginalized groups, for better or for worse. Ethnography was developed within that framework. Now that ethnography is being employed to increase profits rather than understanding or quality of life, I can see how ethical issues would arise for some folks.

I think these are all important concerns, and I share them to varying degrees. Practical concerns, quite a lot. Theoretical concerns, somewhat. Ethical concerns, hardly.

The real issue for me is the dilution of the value of the method – that people don't see the point in hiring a trained anthropologist when they can hire fresh faced English and Political Science majors to go do all the ethnography they need. If ethnography was all that anthropologists had to offer, we'd certainly all be out of a job, at least in the applied world. My former advisor and friend, Felicity Northcott, put it to me this way about 6 years ago: "Anthropologists no longer have the luxury of a monopoly on ethnography." We have to face the fact that the method is diffusing, and work harder to make the case for anthropologists in a sea of ethnographers. This is the real challenge: making the pitch. This is why you need an anthropologist. This is what an anthropologist can do for you that a hack ethnographer can't. And I think, because this post is too long already, I'll just say that I've made the case in the sections above. We have theory, we have history, we know the limitations of our field, and more importantly, we have the ethnographic perspective. The real value in ethnography, after all, isn't just in collecting the data but in knowing what to make of it.

I've digitized a few more videos made by the kids over at BAYCAT. (See my previous post on Summer Fieldwork.) These videos are really incredible: they show both an amazing talent at film-making and an obvious interest and investment in their community.

Bayview Is…:

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