Friday, November 27, 2009

State of the Industry conference - Genevieve Bell presentation

Second presentation from from the State of the Industry conference at the University of NSW, hosted by the Cultural Research Network is from Genevieve Bell, who heads the first social science oriented reserach team at Intel, the User Experience group in the Intel Home Group. She was also identified as one of the 50 Most Creative People by Fast Company in 2009, as well as an Adelaide Thinker in Residence for the South Australian government.

Genevieve Bell

  • PhD in anthropology at Stanford University after a very diverse and eclectic childhood and upbringing - has struggled to "fit" with either the university or the industry environment;
  • Was going to take up an academic post, but was in Palo Alto in 1998 and was offered a job (again, in interesting circumstances) at Intel;
(Hope this is podcast, as its a great talk, in ways that can't quite be captured in a blog).

  • Challenge between the very predictable path of academic tenure track employment and jobs that are not defined at Intel;
  • She was hired out of the "irrational exuberance" at Intel in 1998, and being "the only woman who didn't cry" at the day-long interview;
  • Job was to be in charge of "women" and "Rest of the World";
  • Working with people from maths, sciences and IT backgrounds from an arts/humanities background requires disrupting dominant logics within Intel (e.g. everyone wants to be American), but they often relapse (graphic of three generations of white people watching TV together);
  • How to mobilise stories about the "messiness of everyday life" to talk back to dominant understandings within Intel - this generates sharp debates, and forces a willingness to stand up for what you know in the face or arguments and scepticism;
Research Questions
  1. There is no single trajectory through which technologies are adopted or no single pathway for the Internet - the "feral Internet", which is a very Australian interpretative concept (Internet as undomesticated, like feral animals in the Australian desert);
  2. How technologists imagine technologies as being perceived? How to unpack underlying notions of the body, space etc., but privacy is becoming less of a core concern than what can be called reputation - telling other people about every aspect of your identity. Contrast between "messiness' of identities and desire for seamless personas among technology developers - image, authenticity, reputation more than trust, risk;
  3. Concerns for policing behaviour: what it is devices want and what people need? Devices that work better when "always connected" versus desire of people for discrete moments of engagement/non-engagement;
  4. How people talk about their lives as technologically engaged citizens? What are the "overheads" of everyday life in a technological age, and how do people struggle to deal with them? Don't map easily onto existing sociological categories (age, gender etc.) or life stages.;
  5. Contributing theory in unexpected places. All kinds of people can do good fieldwork, but the caapcity to make sense of it requires exposure to a rich array of theoretical resources. Sometimes theory is taught to Intel engineers e.g Adrienne Rich on "compulsory heterosexuality" and why engineers should know about this. What seems to be "internal tools in the academy" can be used outside of the academy e.g. Foucault on bodies and power.
There are a lot of people doing work of this nature in various areas of high-tech industry, who are using the intellectual tools learned in the humanities academy for other purposes.

Implications
  1. Increasingly complex trajectories for cultural researchers, and thinking about how people with PhDs may move in and out of industry, academy etc. Also how to see work done outside of the academy as rigorous, engaged etc. There are a lot of lacunae in the higher education sector about this, especially in the US academy. Australia can avoid this. They recruit people who do not come out of the Intel industry template model, but you need to know how to talk with them without thinking you have to sacrifice your theoretical training - not "dumbing down" training, but expanding horizons and career possibilities;
  2. Finding the questions and asking them, and new jobs to be created. Development of a National Broadband Network in Australia will require cultural knowledge that Australia is not good at developing, as well as engineering knowledge which it is good at - how to you concretise the "digital economy" into everyday life? How to get beyond "putting the 'e' in front of everything" to the more complex questions of socio-technical questiosn of citizenship, identity, inclusion etc. The critique from within the academy is important, but so too is the scope to insert ourselves and our own positions into the government agencies, consultancies, companies etc. that are actively engaged in these decisions?
  3. How can Australian cultural reserachers be global drivers of theory and analysis of the changing socio-cultural environment? Australia can be an incubator of new ideas, that can then be "talked back" to the rest of the world.

52 comments:

mseyfang said...

Would love a link to a podcast of this talk. Is there one?

(if so pls tweet it out to the #soi09 tag)

Ta

Erevan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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