Modern Technology and Ethnography

It seems like every day that the next big thing is being revealed, and all this new technology has a lot to offer a discipline as diverse in its research methods as Anthropology. Rachelle Annechino shares her opinion on these tools in her blog entry, “Bring Some Colored Markers”.

The smartphone has started to revolutionize fieldwork by replacing many of the traditional materials- why bother carrying around a camera, a tape recorder, and a pad of paper when you can get all of those things in the palm of your hand? However, smartphones are not ubiquitous throughout the world- if one is researching a poorer or more rural community, the smartphone morphs into something that can build walls between the ethnographer and the culture they are trying to document. Possession of the gadget marks one as an outsider, and people may be uncomfortable with that, making them less willing to open up.

Uncomfortableness is one of the main reasons Annechino dismisses another modern ethnography tool, the Livescribe pen, a type of smartpen.  The internal mic in this product is disrupted by the noises of it writing, making the recording less helpful upon playback. The company has a solution to this problem, which comes in the form of a ‘headset’ – a device resembling earbuds that the person being recorded wears over their shoulders. However, Annechino believes that this seemingly innocuous headset could make an interviewee more tense, thus decreasing the amount of information the subject is willing to disclose.

As much as the world of technology has to offer, she ends noting that anthropologists shouldn’t be too quick to go paperless. In many instances, traditional materials like pen and paper are the most convenient things to use. She also expresses a desire to try and draw with her subjects. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and making art is a remarkable way to express emotions that one might not even know how to put into sentences.



One thought on “Modern Technology and Ethnography

  1. The capacity that technology has to educate people around the globe is immense. Technologies such as the livescribe pen are already changing the world around us and we don’t even know it. It will only be after a few generations we can see what technology truly does to the human species.

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