Category Archives: Anthropology and Technology

On my own

After having worked at Socialsquare for almost two years, I’ve resigned, ending my contract at the end of March. It was not a decision that I took lightly, since it was my first full time job since graduating, and it’s a bunch of talented, inspiring colleagues who’ve taught me so much.

I’ve learned a lot about working as a consultant, the process and pitfalls of designing social software, being part of a team and coordinating and solving huge and complex tasks together and producing deliverables that make sense and solve problems within the clients’ organisation.

And for that I’m very grateful.

But all things considered, I felt the need to move on. I felt a need to focus on ethnographic research rather than social business consultancy – and a need to focus on other non-work-related projects as well (more about those in later blog posts). And so, I found that the best way for me to do this is to try my hand at working on my own.

So, I’m starting my own one-man enterprise under my own name, and I’ve updated this website to reflect that. The main change is in the “About” text which now reads:

I??m an independent consultant and researcher working at the intersection between people and technology. I help organisations understand the everyday lives, practices, motivations, worries and needs of their users and stakeholders.

As an anthropologist, I meet people on their own terms, using ethnographic methods to gather empathic insights on how new products, experiences, spaces and services can have a positive impact and create value in existing social and cultural contexts.

I deliver such anthropological insights in a lucid and actionable manner that can be used to qualify decisions or develop people-centred design solutions, often in direct collaboration with other disciplines.

To me, this is the core product that I as an anthropologist can offer organisations: A better understanding of the relationships of which the organisation is part, and in which it wants to take part – whether through a new product, service, space or experience.

It’s kinda grand and kinda broad, I know. But at the moment, I’m trying to open up my expertise from the digital context in which I have been immersed for years and use ethnographic methods to engage in other contexts as well. Contexts where the social relations, interactions, tools and designs aren’t necessarily digital. If you’re curious to hear more, get in touch.

Reflections on anthropology in the design process

A couple of weeks ago, I went to ?rhus to attend one of the rare meetings of the Danish Design Anthropology network (kindly arranged by Johanne Mose Entwistle and Rikke Aarhus). The over-arching theme for the day was assessing ethnographic methods for user engagement in the design process. On the day, no less than five speakers shared their experiences and thought. The sum of these presentations offer a good deal of insight into the state of mind within Danish design anthropology, I think.

Mette Kjærsgaard, ?rhus Universitet
Mette was among the founders of the Danish Design Anthropology network in 2001, and like many others, she comes from a background in the Scandinavian Participatory Design tradition. Participatory Design focuses on the involvement of the user as an active co-designer, and so Mette told the story of a participatory design project she did on designing interactive playgrounds.

In the project, they engaged children as co-designers to help design and practice play, developing new playground designs. This was based on an idea that the children would act as creative designers in their own right, and that all they would have to do was observe and note the new games and play practices invented by the children, and base their designs around that.

But rather than creating new games, the children played designers creating new games. The fun part was designing the games, not actually playing. In fact, this project made visible the anthropologists’ and designers’ own assumptions about the playground. It made explicit their own notions of play and of how play comes about.

Mette’s main point was that both participatory design and design anthropology is all about perspective, and making apparent the assumptions inherent within these perspectives. Whether it is the designer’s perspective, the childrens’ perspective, the engineer’s perspective.
Design anthropology explores these changes of perspectives and helps us understand how, why and when these assumptions break down, redefining the problem and – hopefully – the solutions.

Rikke Aarhus, ?rhus Universitet

The title of Rikke’s talk was “Designing With/Designing For”, and highlighted the challenges in engaging elderly users as co-designers. Rikke’s project is a project funded through the Danish government’s user-driven innovation pool, and focuses on alleviating chronic dizzyness among elderly through improved home training.

The user-driven innovation projects funded by the Danish government require, among other things, direct user involvement (the “user-driven” part, which Rikke led) as well as the development of a technological solution (the “innovation” part, which was led by a group of engineers). But developing a technological solution to the problem given proved to contain a lot of challenges, as the elderly were often too old, too ill, too unaccustomed to new technology, and too unwilling to redefine the setting of their home in any way.

In fact, many of the elderly preferred to not even focus on the illness in their homes, even though that was the main focus of the project, and thus it proved difficult to “design with” the users.

To me, the main point of Rikke’s talk was that you don’t know beforehand how user involvement will turn out, and using design anthropology merely as a way to validate and inspire a given solution will often result in bad solutions. Instead, design anthropology requires some amount of freedom to redefine the problem as well as the solution in order to be helpful.

Mikkel Ask, 3PART
Mikkel was the only non-anthropologist of the five speakers, and his perspective as head of design research at ?rhus-based design firm 3PART was also somewhat different. His main point was that design anthropology cannot be separated from the rest of the design process. It is the process as a whole – from observation to analysis to design – that provides value in the end.

Thus, Mikkel focused on how to ensure that the initial ethnographic observations and data would form the base upon which the whole process would be built. He gave an example of how they sought to integrate ethnography closer in the design process:

In one project to design new packaging for a specific kind of medicine, they recruited doctors and patients intimately familiar with the given disease for focus group interviews. At the focus group, they presented a wide range of colours and shapes and asked the participants to pick the shapes and colours they considered to match their understanding of the disease and the medicine.

They found that the doctors picked bright colours and positive shapes as they perceived medicine to be a positive thing, the way to health and treatment, while the patients typically picked darker colours and more negative shapes, as they associated the medicine with suffering and illness. In this way, they not only learned a lot about how the stakeholders perceived the product, but also received immediate and concrete feedback on how to proceed with their designs.

Mikkel described his fascination with design research deliverables, as these are key to create empathy and understanding of the design context within the client organisation. He gave an example of how they used “image ethnograhies” – series of 10-15 photos taken following interviews to illustrate the context and setting, making it real and tangible.

Mark Asboe, SPIRE, SDU
Mark is currently finishing his PhD on working as a design anthropologist within a medium-sized company called Focon (which mainly produces digital information displays for trains). With around 100 employees, Focon would typically be considered too small to have a full time anthropologist in their employ, but Mark sought to explore the possibilities for working as what he called “house anthropologist” in such a company.

Mark involved himself in all parts of the business, seeking to not only understand the end users of the product (typically train passengers with whom Focon had little direct contact), but also the internal workings of the company itself and the “value network” of suppliers, contractors and investors around the company.

He came to perform what he calls “real time anthropology”, providing frequent, critical perspectives and analyses of company processes, helping to build a coherent company narrative from past to future. In a way, he became the company historian, and grew intimately familiar with the workings of the organisation.

Mark argued that understanding the organisation, its structure and needs is a vital design anthropological task. It is through this understanding that the anthropologist can help improve the innovation processes of the organisation.

Mark’s argument led me to an interesting line of thought: The strength of traditional anthropology has always been in the long term relationship, reflection and insight in a certain group or organisation. So, based on that, it makes good sense for the anthropologist to be closely associated with an organisation for an extended period of time, providing an account of the long term development of the organisation, supporting its processes and challenging its assumptions.

I see the anthropologist in this role as something of a trickster figure, continuously challenging and offering new perspectives, representing the elusive users and providing an internal narrative and rites of passage. The anthropologist as an organisational shaman, to some extent!

Jesper Christiansen og Nina Holm Vohnsen, Mindlab

Jesper and Nina are both PhD students working at the Danish government’s own innovation unit, Mind Lab, researching how user-driven innovation can develop and improve the public sector services in various ways. Almost every time user-driven innovation is discussed, anthropology is mentioned as a way to uncover the needs of the users – conscious and unconscious needs alike. But whose needs are we talking about anyway?

Jesper and Nina did well to challenge this notion of user needs. They argued that in the public sector discourse, anthropological analysis of user needs is considered to be much like the doctor’s diagnosis of a patient’s ailments. Both are analyses based on the notion that there is a problem – a need – that can be identified and resolved.

But working in a public sector setting, Nina and Jesper found it relevant to consider whose needs were the real focus of this analysis? Who is defining and prioritising these needs and with what purpose?

Nina described a fairly typical case in Danish public sector practice of how a man suffering from work-related stress was interviewed by clerk at the local unemployment office. The man, who had worked as a chef, clearly described his needs as:
a) I need peace and quiet to avoid making my stress situation worse
b) I need help getting in touch with a psychiatrist to help me deal with my stress. I’m on a six-month waiting list.

The clerk couldn’t directly help the man with neither of these issues. She had no authority to let him be, and she had no way of getting the health authorities to help him get a psychiatrist sooner. Instead, what she could do was to enroll him in a retraining programme to help find a less stressy job. So that’s what she did.

But in doing she was fulfilling the system’s needs of resolving the case, rather than fulfilling the man’s own needs. Indeed, by enrolling the man in a retraining programme, the clerk was actively setting aside the man’s needs of being given peace and quiet to recover from the stress.

Jesper and Nina pointed out that cases such as this is a very common occurence in the public sector, and raises the bigger question of whose needs we’re really talking about when we are discussing user-driven innovation.


All in all, it was a very worthwhile afternoon in ?rhus, and it is interesting to see how similar many of the challenges we face as design anthropologists. It seems like a central part of our practice is understanding the organisation within we are working before we can even begin to help them in any meaningful way.

In this way, it is important that we as anthropologists dare take this trickster role upon ourselves, challenging assumptions and perspectives within organisations as a way to promote innovation and new ways of looking at old problems.

A Primer for a sustainable future

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how we need to reinvent something like The Whole Earth Catalog.

The Whole Earth Catalog is an ancient thing. Initiated by Stewart Brand in 1968 as a response to the communard movement that followed the summer of love. During the autumn and winter of 1967/1968, more than 30.000 hippies sought to make true on the idealistic promises of the 1960s counter culture, and moved back-to-the-land and into communes throughout the US southwest.

The first Whole Earth Catalog was a 64-page catalog that provided “access to tools” with which to build the new and better world envisioned by the communards. In addition to providing information on how to order material goods (mostly books), the Catalog, and to an even greater extent, the Whole Earth Supplement that subscribers would receive in-between new versions of the catalog, provided a forum where the communards could share information and reach out to one another. As Stewart Brand explains:

If [the commune dwellers] were going to go back to basics, they needed to know where the basics were. And I didn’t either. But I set a thing in motion a thing by which by purveying the stuff, and being a node of a network of people purveying it to each other… I would get to learn whatever the network was learning.

The Catalog and the supplement became looking glasses through which to peer down and see a reflection of an emerging world and, at the same time, spot doorways through which newcomers could enter that world.

Inspired by his own experiences of environmental biology and the works of Buckminster Fuller, Brand sought to develop this fledgling network into what he hoped would become a self-sustaining system. As he put it,

What you’re trying to do is nourish and design an organism which can learn and stay alive while it’s learning. Once that process has its stride, don’t tinker with it, let it work for you.

Indeed, the Whole Earth Catalog inspired a whole generation of communards, free-thinkers, activists and dreamers to think of computers, cybernetics, ecology, Buckminster Fuller, geodesic domes, and lots more.
One of the key design principles of this information eco-system was juxtaposition. Brand juxtaposed radically different topics in order to help the reader to win new perspectives. As he put it,

How you get energy is, you take polarities and slap them next to one another. If you get into Cybernetics and your head is just a minute ago full of organic gardening and ecology, then cybernetics starts to come alive for you in a different way.

Little wonder that the Whole Earth Catalog inspired long-haired computer programmers as they imagined how a computer would handle and juxtapose information. As Alan Kay (the man who first envisioned the laptop computer) said, “We thought of the Whole Earth Catalog as a print version of what the Internet was going to be.”

And that is what the Internet – and especially the World Wide Web – has become. It is the ultimate information eco-system – the ultimate juxtaposition of human knowledge. Everything is just a click a way. But that also means that it is too big to know. With Google, you can find anything that you know to seek, but you rarely come across that which you did not expect to find. You tend skim along, never focusing, never allowing the energy of the juxtapositions to hit home.

I find myself lacking the carefully curated, annotated and juxtaposed mix of inspiration, ideas, and tools that the Whole Earth Catalog offered. Tools gathered with a specific purpose and audience in mind. Just like the Whole Earth Catalog was a primer for the hippies, the communards, and the computer geeks, we need a primer for young people today.

Such a primer should provide tools and inspire conversations and everyday action towards the sustainable, open, free and shared future we know we need to build.

If you know of something like that that already exists, or if you want to help make one, get in touch.

(PS: All of the quotes above are taken from Fred Turner’s excellent book “From Counter Culture to Cyberculture and the related panel discussion at Stanford University)

Open Source Villages

Today, I came across a presentation called “How to Build a Post-Scarcity Village Using Existing Technology“, which introduces a project called Open Source Ecology.

The people behind the project argue that we already have the technological foundations needed to ensure a sustainable and pleasant standard of living, and that with some effort, these technology can be made available at the cost of “scrap metal + labor”. They’re currently experimenting with easy-to-make prototypes of what they consider to be the technology necessary to bootstrap such a village. The goal is to make a “Global Village Construction Set” with open sourced blueprints, documentation, permaculture designs and descriptions that will enable a small determined group anywhere in the world to build such sustainable communities of their own.

As an example of what such a future of resilient communities might look like, they point to a piece of speculative fiction called The Unplugged. In this future, the unplugged are a group of people who voluntarily leave society and the main economy behind. They build on the idea that if we save up enough money, we can all live off that wealth for the rest of our lives (This is the classic capitalist dream of “getting off at the top”, cashing out and living like you want to for the rest of your life).

Unplugging inverts this notion to some extent by offering the opportunity “buy out at the bottom” and build an independent life-support infrastructure and financial architecture – a society within society at the cost of just three months of wages to get started. Of course, then you’ll have to learn how to live such an unplugged life, and work everyday to ensure your own survival – but you’ll be living sustainably and independently.

I find the whole notion of Open Source Ecology to be fascinating, but it seems to me that the people involved in the projects are more interested in the technical and agricultural aspects of building a sustainable village than in the social aspects. In their presentation, they appear to be aware of this themselves as they’ve sketched out a sort ofsocial contract for their experimental village. Though its rough and unfinished nature is apparent in statements such as “can people simply get along?”

I expect they’ll discover that the hard part about building a replicable sustainable village won’t be the technology part but the getting along part.

Visualising computer memory

Green letters flowing

Did you ever see the Matrix and wonder just how all of those green characters of weird computer code flowing across the screen corresponded to what was represented on the screen inside the matrix?

Well, today I came across a tool on the BERG blog, which shows this correlation very well with real computer code:

ICU64 is a real-time debugger for Commodore 64 emulators. On the right is an emulator program emulating a virtual C64 machine. This virtual machine is running an old C64 game. On the left is ICU64 displaying the memory registers of the virtual C64 machine.

Tom Armitage on the aforementioned BERG blog does well to describe what’s going on:

To begin with, you can see the registers being filled and decompressed to in real time; then, you can see the ripple as all the registers empty and are refilled. And then, as the game in question loads, you can see registers being read directly corresponding to sprite animation. What from a distance appears to be green and yellow dots can be zoomed right into ?? the individual values of each register being made clear. It??s a long video, but the first minute or two makes the part I liked clear: a useful (and surprisingly beautiful) visualisation of computer memory. It helps that the computer in question has a memory small enough that it can reasonably be displayed on a modern screen.

Seeing how the individual memory registers of the C64 as it runs the game, you can get an idea of how the individual bytes all play a part in presenting the game. And as the video progresses, you get an understanding of how you can change individual bytes and thus change the game – in realtime. This is pretty much what Neo does in the Matrix films: He hacks the code of the Matrix on the fly to give himself superhuman powers such as the ability to fly or fight, thereby breaking the programmed laws of the game.

It is a beautiful visualisation of the relationship between the physical computer (the registers on the disk) and the information we see displayed on our screen.

The musketeer rule

Just trawled my way through a ridiculously long slide deck by David Gillespie called “Digital Strangelove – or how I learned to stop worrying and love the internet“.

It has a lot of good points, and describes among other things:

  • How it doesn’t make sense to talk of digital anymore. It is a qualifier that is losing meaning as our physical and digital lives melt together.
  • How all media technology has always been enabling new forms of human expression – and how the Internet has enabled everybody to express themselves in all sorts of new ways. And we don’t know where we might end up.
  • How it doesn’t make sense to talk of social media, since with the internet, all media are social. We might just as well talk of the internet.
  • How the internet is changing the way we perceive media. On the internet, we have to design for the users’ intent and ability to express themselves rather than count upon their passive attention.
  • But the point that stuck with me occured around slide number 190 (!) was the “musketeer rule”, which sort of sums it all up:

    Your intent is framed by the way you deliver value.

    I call this The Three Musketeers rule.

    All for One or One for All

    All For One is 20th century value creation. It is driven by self-interest & excelled in the silos.

    One For All is how businesses thrive today. When they create value for themselves, they create value for an eco-system.

    It is called the ??Good Enough Revolution?, and it is not a conversation about features.

    It is a conversation about benefits.

    Good stuff!

The myth of perfection

One of the bloggers I read regularly is the American journalist Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis provides insight into the changing media landscape, and has written a book called “What Would Google Do”, which uses Google as a case in point of these changes.

One of the most interesting aspects of this is what Jarvis calls the “the end of the myth of perfection.” His point being that we need to get used to thinking products in a web-minded manner: Always in beta, releasing early to learn and collaborate and improve:

This is of course very similar to the open source mindset I’ve studied in my fieldwork, but I find Jarvis says it well. And not only that, he only also makes it clear that this is not just relevant for software developers, but for almost every walk of life. We have to let go of the notion that we’ll ever achieve perfection, and instead focus on how to provide the best circumstances for continual improvement. The new world order is a permanent state of acceptable errors and continuous improvement.

Presenting my thesis (again)

A couple of weeks ago, I presented part of my thesis at the Danish open source conference Open Source Days.

In the process of preparing the presentation, I returned to thesis and delved into the material in a way that I haven’t done since I wrote it. It was interesting to see how my own ideas have developed in the light of what I have learned and worked with since finishing two years ago. So I’ve continued working on the presentation even after the conference, annotating and adding to it, and making a more visual, more updated and – hopefully – more easily approachable version of my thesis than just the raw PDF of the whole thing that I’ve showed so far:

Oh, and if you read it – please let me know what you think can be improved. One big part is probably killing some more darlings, so tell me which parts didn’t work for you.

Roles for the 21st century artist

Recently, I’ve been fascinated with Douglas Rushkoff, and I came across this presentation, in which he does well to sum up some of the main themes of his work. His style is earnest and passionate, and though some of his arguments are very generalized for easy consumption, he does have some very good points:

Talking to a crowd of DIY artists, Rushkoff focuses on how art is changing in the 21st century. He argues that the classic male sexuality curve of narrative with which we’re so familiar (tension, climax, release), and which can be in just about any Hollywood film or thirty second tv advertisement, won’t be the only narrative in town.

Rushkoff argues that the new interactivity and active participation that the Internet and the computer offers us, will lead to new forms of narrative. And he ends his presentation highlighting 3 new roles for the artist to take on to explore these other forms of narrative:

1) Call and response
Open up your narrative for audience participation. The audience is still uncertain of their own abilities, and they don’t yet want complete freedom. Offer them some freedom to participate, but continue to lead the narrative – like classic oral storytelling or protestant preaching. Eventually, they will supply the best ideas for leading the narrative forward.

2) Make tools
Create the tools and means for the audience to tell their own story. Here, the artist’s role is more like the role of the Dungeon Master of old D&D games: He may have absolute power, but he is continually bending the rules and shaping the scenery to create those story moments where the audience, the players can interact and create their own story.
That story is not a matter of reaching the climax and going to sleep. The point of the game is to keep playing the game. To keep the game interesting. The art – the process of playing, of creating the story – is a goal unto itself.

3) Play spaces
This is the hardest part: Creating free spaces where the members of the former audience all participate on equal terms, creating play, art and magic together. Temporary Autonomous Zones without leaders, where everybody is an artist. I wonder whether story club be an example of this?

Lucy Suchman on framing technology

This is a sort-of rough edit of my live-blogging notes for Lucy Suchman’s talk today at the IT University of Copenhagen. The talk was entitled “Human-machine reconfigurations – expanding frames and accountable cuts”

Lucy Suchman is an antropologist by training, and has worked at the legendary Xerox PARC research facility for many years. Suchman is here to talk about framing, and how we think about the way we frame technology. She presents a photo of a computer screen and an engineer’s hand pointing to something on the screen. This is an example of framing the human-machine interaction. Here, it’s just the hand – the body part interacting with the machine. This frame cuts out a lot of context in order to focus on the specific interactions.

What Suchman wants to draw our attention to, is the way that we make these frames in how we relate and think of technology and our interaction with technology, particularly in relation to research on technology: Where are we to make the cut between human and machine in a given research frame? How do we make those frames? How might we expand those frames? How can we take responsibility for the cuts we make?

She points to the cover illustration of her latest book “Human-Machine Reconfigurations” (2007). The illustration shows a “Device for washing hands” where the framing of the device blurs the boundaries between human and machine – which parts belong to whom?

Suchman says that this illustration is a good way to illustrate the word “reconfiguration”, which she finds to be a vital part of using technology. She cites Donna Haraway’s notion of technologies as ‘materialized figurations’ (from her book, “Modest Witness”). That is: Technologies take part of our activities and practices and materialize them. Configuring a tool to fit with a certain activity or practice.

Designing, then, is most of all a question of reconfiguring the relationship between human and machine, between practice and the materialized figuration of that practice. For instance, between the practice of drilling a hole and the specific drill matching the practice of drilling and containing certain assumptions as to how drilling works.

In all of this, the question Suchman focuses on is “how are persons and things configured and reconfigured in relation to one another? And how might they be figured together differently?”

She uses the example that when roboticists are designing human-like machines, they are expressing their notions of what it means to be human – of human practices – in their design. Suchman wants to show a series of examples of such reconfigurations that she’s worked with while at Xerox.

She shows an age-old magazine ad from back when people still believed in “the paperless office”:

“Why do this…” (picture of paper napkin with the proverbial good idea scribbled on it)
“… When you can do this?” (picture of two persons sitting with a laptop between them at a lunch table)

The ad suggests that people would always prefer the laptop since it offers much more technological power. But rather than assuming the complete displacement of paper technology by digital technology, Suchman and her research associates focused on how to compare the particular affordances of these two media, focusing on the interoperabilities and incompatibilities between the two media. This proved to be a much more challenging and fruitful approach, partly because the relationship between paper and digital media was the central focus of the work at Xerox – it is the “Document company”, after all.

They learned that it is vital to focus on the social arrangements within which design takes place. If you want to change the way things are designed, you have to change the context, offering designers the opportunity to engage in meaningful relations with the potential users.

Suchman presents another example where the Xerox researchers were examining customer complaints in relation to a new xerox copier. The machine proved notoriously difficult to use, and they tried to map the issues people had with these photocopiers by hanging out by the photocopier, talking to users trying to make duplex copies.

But the problems regarding the machine proved too tricky to study “in the wild”, so they ‘captured’ the machine and brought it back into the lab at PARC to test it. So they got their colleagues to try out the new copier, filming their efforts on video. They filmed a memorable sequence of two famous computer scientists failing to get the machine to do duplex copies: “They theorized, and tried their best. Spending an hour and half making prints, filling the room with paper but unable to make a single two-sided print.”

This immense difficulty of using the device stood in stark contrast to Xerox’s own advertising, which remarked “all you have to do is push the green button.” Thus, “the marketing campaign tried to obscure that any learning was required to use the more advanced functions of the machine.”

In the end, Suchman did a careful mapping of user rationale against actual use against the design rationale of the copier to discover how differently the technology had been framed by the designers compared to the users.

Then, Suchman shows a short bit of video from a study of the work flows at ground operations centre at an airport (the place where they handle communication and coordination of aircraft once they’re on the ground).

They did a careful examination of which sources of information the ground controllers consult in order to gather the information necessary to coordinate planes: Video screens, flight tables, radio contact, talking to one another in the control room, and so on.

What they found was that this sort of utilizing different information sources is unremarkable everyday stuff to the controllers. This led to a new understanding of what an information system is:

– multiple, partial information sources
– assembled into a working system through the skilled practices of their use

Their conclusion was that it is only by having the professional knowledge to use a number of partial information sources in conjunction that these information sources became useful. In this way, the information system is a configuration of both information sources and the skilled practices of the controllers. As Suchman’s colleague, the eminent interaction analyst Charles Goodwin, noted in his later work on the study (“Professional Vision” (1994)):

practices … used by members of a profession [that] shape events in the domains subject to their professional scrutiny. The shaping process creates the objects of knowledge that become the insignia of profession’s craft.

A third story from Xerox. Suchman did participant observation at a big law firm in Palo Alto in order to explore how the lawyers used and stored paper records. She set up a video camera pointing at a lawyer’s file cabinet, and asked him to “please record what you do when you use your file cabinet.”

She shows a short video clip with the lawyer going through his file cabinet to find a specific kind of Non-Disclosure-Agreement for one of his colleagues.

Suchman found that the lawyer acted as a librarian, helping the other lawyer find and give context to the specific document that he wouldn’t have had, had he found it on his own in the company online document repository. They also studied the way that lawyers and temporary filing workers worked to code comparable documents.

She was surprised to find that the lawyers considered their coding to be better because it required ‘subjective’ interpretation and professional judgement. They considered the temporary workers’ coding to be poor because of they sought to be ‘objective’ and thus without the necessary interpretation.

In studying how both groups coded the documents, they found that all jobs contain elements of routine work and knowledge work, and it is impossible to simply separate the routine work from the knowledge work. Instead, it is a much more delicate process to find out how to best apply automation in relation to these elements.

As she ends her lecture, Suchman quotes Bruno Latour’s famous passage from Pandora’s Hope on the “gun in the hand”:

You are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you.

(Latour, Pandora??s Hope, page 179)

In short: We get different entities when we put technology and people together. She ends by quoting the feminist physicist Karen Barad (in her book “Meeting the universe halfway” (2007)):

Agency is not an attribute but the ongoing reconfigurings of the world.

– which obviously matches the points that she’s been making very well.

Q: What are the big challenges in your work today?
A: Still very interested in Artificial Intelligence, including the reconfiguration of military technology such as pilot-less aircraft and their interfaces. The military and entertainment complexes are growing together in this space.

Also: Remotely controlled robots for use in surveillance, sentry duty and so on. which poses the interesting AI-question: How do you determine whether a given person is a friendly or a un-friendly?
We won’t see the full-blown autonomous robot soldier anytime soon, but the remote controlled robots will certainly be possible and big part of the near-future.

Also: Wants to write about her time at XEROX Parc and what she’s learned about what innovation is based on her experiences there: What constitutes an innovation? She posits that it is all about the framing…