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Revisiting Ethnographic Study in the era of ubiquitous computing. Neo-Ethnography. Outline. Introduction to Ethnography Limitations of Traditional Ethnographic Model Ubiquitous Computing and Ethnographic Study Changing Socio-cultural Factors in Research

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Ethnographic Study in the era of

ubiquitous computing



  • Introduction to Ethnography

  • Limitations of Traditional Ethnographic Model

  • Ubiquitous Computing and Ethnographic Study

  • Changing Socio-cultural Factors in Research

  • Solution: Neo-ethnographic Research Methods

  • Useful Tools

  • Discussion

What is ethnography ethnos folk people and grapho to write
What is Ethnography?ethnos = folk/people and grapho= to write

Ethnographies are “‘seen but unnoticed’ feature of everyday life.”

“Ethnography is the most mundane of things we all do as ordinary members of society, situated as we are in the various settings in which we live in our daily lives.”

When we go to class and ask our peers “what’s happening today?”,

We are doing an ethnography.

  • When we sit down for dinner and ask our

  • family or friends about their day,

  • We are doing an ethnography.

  • When we go to the hardware store and seek out just the right materials for a senior design project,

  • We are doing an ethnography.

Ethnographies permeate every aspect of our ordinary lives in the most passing and unremarkable of ways.

We are doing ethnography today?”,

We are doing ethnography

  • Ethnography is….. today?”,

  • - Significant in understanding situated action.

  • - A gloss on heterogeneous practices and ways of thinking and that help to situate a work in its proper context.

  • - A ubiquitous feature of everyday life.

The continued diversification of today?”,

computing in everyday life, and the emergence of ubiquitous computing in particular,

raises new challenges for ethnography.

Limitations today?”,

“Ubiquitous computing

distributes interaction across a burgeoning array of different applications and devices, some online, some mobile, each exploiting different mechanisms of interaction.

If ethnographers are to develop coherent understandings of interaction in changing circumstances of design

it is necessary that they reconcile

the various ‘pieces in the game’as it were.

Limitations today?”,

This requires ethnographers to supplement traditional resources external to the digital setting of interaction, such as audio and video recordings of action and talk, with resources internal to the digital setting, such as the text messages and audio filesgenerated by users in their interactions together

Research questions
Research Questions today?”,

  • Why traditional ethnographic methods of research need to be updated?

  • What kinds of ethnographic models are relevant for performing research in the domain of ubiquitous computing [Ubicomp]?

  • How new/digitized ethnographic approach could help in understanding the diverse contexts of use of Smartphone users and enriching their experience of wireless communications?

  • What role does changing cultural and social factors play in this regard?

  • The label updated?ubiquitous computingencompasses technological devices that embody behavior-changing attributes.

  • Mark Weiser, who coined the term ubiquitous technology, categorized it in three segments: Tabs (Smartphone), Pads (laptop), and Boards (smart)

  • Ubiquitous technologies are also called persuasive technology where a technology is designed to influence users' behavior/attitudes through social sway and persuasion.

Media cup
Media Cup updated?

  • It is an ordinary coffee cup augmented with sensing, processing and communication capabilities (integrated in the cup's bottom).

  • It collects and communicates general context information in a given environment.

  • It is an example how to equip everyday objects with computing and communication capabilities.

When using a media cup your
When using a Media Cup your…… updated?

  • Smart Doorplate can detect the situation and show a "Meeting" warning when appropriate.

  • Watch can beep, when the coffee was too hot.

  • Coffee machine can automatically brew new coffee when empty.

Due to its behavior-changing attribute, ubiquitous computing technology is also called “Persuasive Technology.”

Persuasive technologies could take on many technology is also called

forms, for example, from “mobile phones to 'smart' toothbrushes” (Fogg 2009) and it could be a regular thing, and where, “technology may not even be visible to the user and will increasingly become more divergent, “invisible,” and will better

integrate/plug into our everyday lives” (Fogg).

Stanford persuasive technology lab http captology stanford edu
Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab technology is also called

Http www youtube com watch v rw5kyiq4m4i
http:// technology is also called

The Future of Mobile Devices as Persuasion Platforms with BJ Fogg

As technology is also called ubiquitous computing is gaining prominence in the form of Smartphone, laptops, and surface computers, the traditional ethnographic model of research is losing its foothold.

Ethnography is often, “misconstrued technology is also called as simply a method of field datacollection, ethnography is rather a form of analytic reportage, with the ethnographer acting as a translator or cultural broker between the group or culture under study and the reader” [Paul Dourish].

With ubiquitous computing, it is important to understand that there is nothing called global design.

The very idea of designing an interface should begin with first understanding users’ context of use, which is constantly changing. It is imperative to realize that the “social shaping of technology”

that Paul Dourish refers to as Social Computing.

Cultural factors are that there is nothing called always changing, triggered by trend-settingspaces of social media. Therefore, cultural factors are not just about users’ cultural backgrounds but also encompass trends that are affecting users’ interactive behaviors with the system.The Internet is creating new cultural spaces, which influence users’ expectations and requirements of a system. Therefore, socio-cultural variables need specialconsideration.

Interface design is rhetorical
Interface design is rhetorical that there is nothing called

Solution that there is nothing called

In that there is nothing called the domain of ubiquitous computing, a user is

“distributing interaction across a burgeoning array of small, mobile devices and online environments which exploit invisible sensing systems,” creating complex situations requiring ethnographers to consolidate and in some instances,

reconcile conflicting interactions”

Though there is no unified term for this new approach, it is usually referred to as Digital Ethnography that draws upon on the use of various digital artifacts to identify user requirements, distributed interactions, and the overall goal in a diverging social and cultural contexts. --Supporting Ethnographic Studies of Ubiquitous Computing in the Wild, Andy Crabtree

Digital Ethnography usually referred to as

Digital usually referred to as ethnography,

information about the user could be

derived from different sources - cell phones, webcams, global positioning equipment, digital cameras, the Internet, and a growing number of other technologies where

digital communication could be viewed as a

“platform for rethinking ethnographic principles, methodologies, and analysis.”

- Digital ethnography: The Next Wave in Understanding the Consumer Experience

Davis L. Masten and Tim M.P. Plowman

Digital Ethnography (Digital Ethno) usually referred to as

“While traditional ethnographers physically immerse themselves

in distinct places and their cultures, digital ethnographers

capitalize on wired and wireless technologies to extend classic ethnographic methods, like participant observation beyond geographic, as well as temporal, boundaries.

This method is ideally suited in documenting the fluidity

and flexibility already distinguishing contemporary cultures and communities.

Digital Ethnography could enable a “ usually referred to as broader understanding of factors such as culture, geography, and life-stage differences” particularly in the context of ubiquitous technology where contexts of use are not always explicit rather embedded in changing social and cultural trends triggered by the social media, Web 2.0, and prosthetic Smartphone devices invisibly and ubiquitously blending into users’ daily lives.

Online Ethnography usually referred to as

Online Ethnography/ Virtual Ethnography usually referred to as Netnography

  • Borrowed from online research approaches, it helps in studying communities and cultures created through computer-mediated social interaction.

  • Highlights the importance of engaging in transforming social and cultural contexts for qualitative social research, particularly in the domain of Web 2.0.

  • Considers the Internet as an open context for social interactions where “practices, meanings and identities are intermingled” where “Internet is conceptualized as both culture and context for social interaction.”

  • Focuses on sociocultural contexts of the Internet or of cyberspace, however, it helps in dealing with questions, such as, how to “use heterogeneous data (text, audiovisual data, etc.) in user analysis, or how to combine research in front of the screen and in the virtual field.”

Case study the design of social application for motorola phones
Case Study: The design of social application for Motorola Phones

Research Focus: How to use context to aid mobile communication and enhance existing social interaction? How does context affect user activity and location information disclosure?

Research Methods: Phone calls and video chats with participants for a week in different times of the day.

Findings: Where able to record variants of real life contexts of different mobile applications depending on the time of the day.

“Environmental Cues create social presence”

Tools Phones

  • MacroMedia, NVivo, Shockwave, PhotoShop, Media Maker, iMovie, and CoolEdit, could lend to the process of digital data gathering.

  • Screen cast

  • Online Survey

  • Twitter posts

  • Blog sites

  • Video Blogs

  • Skype

Traditional vs digital neo ethnographic study

Traditional PhonesVs Digital/Neo-ethnographic Study?

References Phones









  • Dourish,  Paul.  Where  the  action  is:  the  foundation  of  embodied  interaction.  MIT.   2004.    




  • Fogg, B.J. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. MIT. 2003.