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Thursday
Feb062014

Talking to Strangers: Chinese Youth and Social Media — My PhD dissertation 

And after seven years of research, I present to you my PhD dissertation:

INSERT VIDEO.

Here's a link to the abstract and to the pdf.

Needless to say, this has been a work of blood, sweat, tears, and love. I have a long list of people to thank for toiling beside me and for supporting me along the way. Without them, this project would not have been possible.

From the start of the writing process, I knew that I would want to share the finished product online. Thus, I have done everything I could to create a dissertation that is accessible to the public. I have deliberately chosen not to follow the traditional publishing route of turning my work into an academic book or a series of academic articles. Publishing my work online has made me super excited because it allows more people to actually read the paper and, hopefully, to build on top of my learnings. At the same time, the attention to my work has made me super anxious because of fears that people may not connect with my research or find it uninteresting.

But here I am, eager to share my dissertation with both excitement and anxiety. And at some point, after you have downloaded and read this pdf, I ask that you share your thoughts. I really do appreciate any and all feedback because it will help me with the next stage of this project. This dissertation will eventually take form as a mainstream non-academic book, which is why I have always called it the first draft of a book, which is tentatively titled, “Tales from the Chinese Internet.

So please share your criticisms, questions, confusions, and ideas. Please let me know what parts resonate with you the most and what parts you didn’t connect with. Don’t be afraid to be frank and direct with your critique. I thank you ahead of time for doing this. And I promise you, your feedback will find its way into the book.

I will be giving a talk that summarizes entire research in China at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on Tuesday, Febuary 18 12:30pm EST. RSVP if you can come, otherwise it will be livestreamed and archived for the whole world to see.

A letter of gratitude

I started this dissertation on September 21, 2006, and finished it on October 22, 2013. For seven years, I moved through the world with a single-minded focus on my research. For each of the 2,224 days, I woke up thinking about my fieldwork. For each of the 3,706,960 minutes, my participants seeped into my bones and my dreams. For 223,603,200 seconds, I breathed this project until it became my skin.   

I want to acknowledge all of those who have flowed into my life in such profound ways. This ritual of gratitude marks the shedding of one phase of my life and the beginning of a new one. While I didn’t keep an exact count of all the support I received, I do want to recognize as many as I can because, as with any complex project, a dissertation is the fruition of many people, not just a single writer.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb052014

Transcript of my talk, "The Conceit of Oracles: How we ended of up in a world where quantitative data is more valued than qualitative data"

In September 2013, I delivered the opening keynote to the EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis In Industry Conference) 2013, a conference for people who care deeply about making organizations more human-centered. EPIC is a truly an interdisciplinary gathering, bringing together people who work in marketing, strategy, design, research, and academia.

 The conference was so amazing that Ethnography Matters has dedicated this month’s theme to the best presentations, workshops, and discussions from EPIC attendees.

While I speak regularly at conferences, this was my first time talking at an event for ethnographers. I was a bit scared to speak at EPIC (I don’t know why, since ethnographers are more empathetic than most!). In the end I had a wonderful experience and it was so refreshing to be around people who understand the nature of my work.

At this conference, I did not have to worry about the audience making assumptions about ethnographers. I was relieved that attendees didn’t assume that I don’t do strategy and only sit around watch people all day. And when I said I was an ethnographer, no one gave me a blank face and tried to escape the conversation. And I never heard anyone condescendingly ask: “So does that mean you’re not an engineer or designer?”

Something that made me really excited about my keynote was when I realized that I would be in the same exact building, The Royal Institution, where scientist Michael Faraday had demonstrated electricity to the public for the first time at the infamous Christmas Lecture in 1856. So there I was,157 years later, standing in the same exact place and in the same pose as Faraday.

What made this moment even more special was that it just so happened that a portion of my talk was also about electricity! I talked about the connection between the invention of devices to measure electricity and the invention of computers. (For example, the first commercial computer, the Ferantti Mark 1 was created at Ferranti Unlimited, an electricity company in Manchester.)

When I shared this historical link in my talk, I had to pause and ask people to photograph me in front of the podium, in the same position and pose as Faraday. I think at the time, I said something like,

“who would’ve thought that 157 years later, some Chinese-American chic would be standing in the same spot talking about electricity? Can someone please take a picture?”

In the top photo Tricia Wang is in the same exact body position in the same theatre as Michael Faraday in the bottom photo.

Thank you to fellow ethnographer, Julian Cayla, who took this photo of me juxtaposed above Michael Faraday. In this magical moment of historical, technological, spatial, and intellectual serendipity–standing in the same pose as Faraday with my arms left arm pointing upwardsI felt like I had entered into a magical wormhole of ethnographic delirium that erased over a century of separation between these two moments in time. 

You can read/download the unedited notes for all 5 parts of my 45 minute talk. I also have created a research blog on tumblr for this talk that tracked all my sources and thought processes. 

Here is the summary and some excerpts from my presentation below that will hopefully entice you to read my talk in its entirety. 

Technology is playing an increasingly large role in decision-making processes. But are we really making more informed decisions? How do we even know we are asking the right questions? And what are we missing in our measurement-driven world?

This talk seeks to answer these questions by looking at methods of prediction from the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece to the use of electricity during the Scientific Revolution and the invention of computers in the Age of Information. These historical events provide a lens for understanding how we ended up in a “data-driven” society: a world where computers are mostly valued as predictive machines; quantitative output is seen as “truth”; and the qualitative cultural context is seen as inferior to quantitative data. The danger in predictions, forecasting, and measurements that over-rely on quantitative data is that a misleading representation of actual human experiences can result. This is a terrible mistake and one that is committed frequently within organizations.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan262014

New Talk, "The Elastic Self: Understanding Identity in Social Media"

I returned in 2013 to one of my favorite places on earth, Malmö, Sweden, to give a talk on youth and social media (my love letter on why Malmö is the best place in Scandanavia) at my favorite conference in the world, The Conference at Media Evolution. This year, I wanted to focus on the broader global implications of social media on youth identity which was very differnet from my talk last year on social media crowd-sourcing initiatives in China and designing for trust.

I discussed my theory of the Elastic Self and why it is important to have anonymous social spaces for people to interact as strangers.

The Elastic Self  is the feeling that one’s identity is malleable and involves the trying on of different identities that are beyond the realm of what would be considered normal displays of one’s prescribed self. The Elastic Self flourishes in semi-anonymous interactions with unknown people--essentially, strangers. 

In my talk, I proposed that we start talking about social media with greater nuance. While most of the media talks about social media platforms such as twitter, facebook, and tumblr as if they are lumped into 1 homogenous set of apps, it's much more usful to talk about social media as platforms that falls in more formal or informal modes of interaction.

When using Tumblr or Reddit, people are interacting in the informal mode because they can connect with strangers while keeping ones’ identity anonymous. As such, sociality veers towards the exploratory, performative, and even fantastical because people tend to socialize with people they do not know. Consequently, we see a wider spectrum of identitie emerge on social media sites dominant in the informal mode. In the presence of strangers, individuals feel more liberated to try on different identities without the pressure of committing to just one.

The formal way of interacting online can be exemplified with Facebook and Google+, where people often talk to people that they already know. Formal social media sites also have features that often make it impossible to be anonymous, such as a real-name policy. As a result, social media sites dominant in the formal mode tend to produce prescriptive, singular, and discrete identities. 

My research shows that youth are more willing to share risky information and stigmatized emotions in social media platforms dominant in the informal mode because they feel that anonymity removes the risks that may come with personal expression.

When we realize that not all social media sites are the same, that certain sites are more conducive for particular displays of identity, and that displays of identity are very fluid--then we can begin to better understand the behavior on these sites with greater nuance.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct042012

New Talk "Designing for Trust: How China's Free Lunch avoided The Curse of Kelvin" and Notes from Media Evolution's The Conference

Designing for Trust: How China's Free Lunch avoided The Curse of Kelvin by prioritizing the users's needs over the system's needs
Free Lunch is a non-profit in China that uses a crowd-sourced reporting and monitoring system to gain donor's trust. The system is filled with inefficiencies and redundancies, but it's very good at getting people to donate and participate. How did it accomplish this? Instead of designing for efficiency, Free Lunch was designing for trust. In a historical parallel, the measurement of electricity consumption in the 19th century reveals that accuracy in measurement was compromised to gain consumers' trust in devices. Both Free Lunch and and electricity measurement reveal that making products/services more usable may require us to prioritize the user's need. Several design principals should be considered when designing for trust. 

 

When I agreed to particpate in Media Evolution’s, The Conference, in Malmö, Sweden, I was still fresh out of my fieldwork in China. One of the biggest issues ethnographers encounter after spending years and years in the field is that they become myopic. They begin to think that their fieldsite is super special and that they are witnessing a phenomenon that has never happened in human history. 

I think my fieldsites are awesome - I love all the places I research. But the important thing when doing global fieldwork is to find the connections between places.  So I wanted to give a talk that would help me step into another place - a historical space. 

In psychology, it is said that we repeat the same trauma until we understand why we do it. I think history works the same way. We repeat the same processes until we understand why. One of these processes is our obsession for efficiency. I was led to a really amazing book by G.J.N. Gooday, The Morals of Measurement: Accuracy, Irony, and Trust in Late Victorian Electrical Practice. After reading it, I started to dig into the history of electricity and saw all these parallels with what I was witnessing in China - that what users need are systems that they can trust, not necessarily the most efficient systems. 

Principles to consider when designing for trust

During the last half of my talk, I discuss several core principals that need to be considered during the design process. These prcinciples are most relevant for those of us who create participatory and social media oriented platforms because these communities collapse and or unable to form without trust:

  1. Lower the threshold for your users to establish trust. Make it easy for them to judge the veracity of information sources.
  2. Conduct a thorough ethnographic study on how users conceive of information & trust. Because conceptions about what information is varies depending on cultural and social contexts and understanding this affects the design process. 
  3. Ask what user-centered values you want to bring into the service and product design such as transparency or familiarity. 
  4. Treat these values as healthy constraints for innovation,   not against innovation
  5. But at the same be clear about what values are being comprised. Understand that some design compromises are only appropriate for certain contexts. Compromises in efficiency may make sense for one group of users but not another. 
  6. Design minimally enough so that you can watch what user centered values emerge out of the interaction.
  7. Avoid the Curse of Kelvin - just because something isn't quantifiable doesn't mean that it is value-less (

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct042012

Fast Company feature: a slideshow and interview about my research

Every ethnographer needs a break from their fieldsite. When I came back to the US in July, I didn't want to think about China. I just wanted to sleep, play with my doggy, and eat fresh food. But when Fast Company reached out to do a profile on me for their Generation Flux series, I couldn't say no!

I had a great time chatting Adam Bluestein on skype. 

I was really happy with the interview and the slideshow that created with pictures from my fieldsite. Their sister site, Fast Co.Exist, re-ran the story with even more pictures!

Check out the interviews with other Generation Fluxers. And do look at the original Febuary issue of Fast Company that featured the original fluxers - especially the interviews with my friends, Baratunde and Danah Boyd!

 


Thursday
Aug022012

Lift Talk Notes - Dancing with Handcuffs: The Changing Geography of Trust in China

When I moved to China to do a year of continuous fieldwork, I didn't want to leave the country to give any talks. But when I got an invite from Lift Conference to speak, I didn't want to turn it down. I have been a fan of Lift Conferences for a long time and it was an honor to be invited. So I skipped out to Geneva for a week to speak at LIFT12

 
I was very excited to have LIFT be the first place I share my analysis. I chose to talk about the changing geography of trust as people and institutions are re-negotiating power in the age of online sociality in China. An excerpt of my talk from LIFT:
In her talk at Lift 12, she focuses on a story you may have heard of, concerning a student who ended up making international headlines for throwing shoes at the architect of China's internet censorship infrastructure and then become the hero for information freedom worldwide. Tricia tells us what happened to the student and how the outcomes were dependent on a variety of factors that tells us a lot about how we socialize and build trust online."

I was really happy with how the talk went. (some notes from Stephanie Booth's live-blogg of my talk) There are so many other things I wanted to include so I want to elaborate on them here. But before I continue, there were many other speakers who had amazing talks that definitely are worth checking out.  I've listed my favorites at the bottom of this post!  

AHA MOMENT WITH CLAY SHIRKY in CHINA

I've been thinking about how communities form online for a long time. One of the best writers on this topic is Clay Shirky. When I read Here Comes Everybody, Clay summarized piles and piles of scholarly research all into a few pages without any academic jargon.  (Side note: the talent of conciseness and accessibility is sorely under-appreciated and under-developed in academia, and I would even go as far to say discouraged.)
 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jul222012

Article in Wired UK: 'Building transparency in China, one lunch at a time'

After speaking at LIFT 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland, I got to spend some time with co-speaker, David Rowan, who is the editor of Wired UK. David has spent a lot of time researching how the internet is changing Africa. He gave a talk about at LIFT 2012 and wrote an article about it. 

After hanging out with Daivd, he asked me to write a piece for Wired's July issue.

It was hard to chose a topic becuase I witnessed so much in my fieldsite. I ended up writing about Free Lunch, a program that I've been researching for the last year. 

Here's the article! Building transparency in China, one lunch at a time

I've spent a lot of time with Deng Fei, the creator of Free Lunch. We traveled to participating schools in the country side and to his home. It'll take more than just one article to share what I saw, but this is a start! 

I want to thank my amazing research assisstant, Reginald Zhu. Without Reginald, I woudln't have known about Free Lunch. Reginald is also the one who tracked down Deng Fei when he gave a talk at Wuhan University. He was incredibley resourceful and resorted to spy tactics to track Deng Fei down!

Reginald has been at my side for several of our fieldwork trips out to the villages and to Free Lunch's office. Free Lunch was so impressed with Reginald that they invited him to be an intern during his summer break. 

My other research assistants, Iris Ruan, Pheona Chen, Allemande Niu, and Shayla Qiu, also provided invaluable support. 

 


Sunday
Mar252012

Op-Ed with An Xiao Mina in Wired's Threat Level: Real-Name Registration Threatens the Lively World of China’s Microblogs

 

As researchers of the Chinese inter-webs, An Xiao Mina and I always get lots of questions about what happens on Weibo. People think that the only thing that happens on Weibo is censorship or resistance. In reality, it's somewhere in the middle. So we wanted to write an article that would capture what really is happening on Weibo. It's in English and Chinese below. Enjoy! 

Real Name Registration Threatens the Lively World of China's Microblogs - Wired - 4.2012 [中文: 实名制威胁中国微博的活跃世界]

Tuesday
Feb212012

Dumplings for Sale: published in That's Shanghai & a note on what the censors didn't allow

I contributed the lead story in That's Shanghai's February issue, Dumplings for Sale. I was really pleased with how the piece turned out. They even included a section about my research, where I explain how Dumplings for Sale seems to be far from a case study of tech use, acually fits into my larger research project on trust and the internet in China.

Though, one thing that's missing from the story is an entire paragraph that I wrote on the relationship between the chengguan and the street vendors. The State Council Information Office censored this paragraph: 

"Officially know as City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau (城市管理行政执法局), it is not really clear what the chengguan are supposed to do. But what they are known for doing is making migrants' live miserable in cities across China. There are many stories of chengguan beating vendors, smashing their products or food, and taking bribes. It is also common to hear about chengguan killing street vendors. A recent incident in Guizhou led to a riot when a chengguan killed a disabled migrant. Stories of chengguan exploitation of power are so pervasive that appeasing them with bribes becomes the key to a street vendor's success. Giving bribes is a matter of life or death. But for migrants who do not have enough money to bribe, they have to constantly be on the run. Constant running means that a street vendor cannot establish a business in the long term. So for a street vendor like this family I am with, finding a place to set up a cart in a chengguan-free site is a matter of survival and success.  A stable place to sell food would give them a stable income to expand their business or go into another line of work."

I am grateful that the censors only cut out that section, they were quite flexible on the other stuff I wrote. Another lesson learned about China, it's important to learn how to write between the lines; keeping it ambiguous is sometimes the best strategy. 

Here is the entire issue of That's Shanghai if you want to read the pdf version and the other articles in the issue. [download magazine]. 

That's Shanghai is really developing a wonderful voice.  I am impressed with the editors for featuring human-interest stories that touch the edges of society. Thanks to editor, Leslie Jones, for all your guidance! And I must also thanks Dominic Tan for referring me to Leslie during her visit to IDEO! It's a small world. 

And for the Chinese readers, Kate Jing, a wonderful blogger who writes in Chinese and English translated the first part of the aritlce! Thanks Jing!   [饺子:分享中文版PDF 版;Chinese translation of article by Kate JingPDF

Friday
Sep302011

Presented paper that I co-wrote with Barrry Brown at Mobile HCI 2011

I got to spend a wonderful few days in Stockholm, Sweden for Mobile HCI 2011. I presented a paper that Barry Brown and I co-wrote about our research in mobile use in Mexico, Ethnography of the telephone: Changing uses of communication technology in village life. Here is the pdf and the abstract of our paper:

While mobile HCI has encompassed a range of devices and systems, telephone calls on cellphones remain the most prevalent contemporary form of mobile technology use. In this paper we document ethnographic work studying a remote Mexican village’s use of cellphones alongside conventional phones, satellite phones and the Internet. While few homes in the village we studied have running water, many children have iPods and the Internet cafe in the closest town is heavily used to access YouTube, Wikipedia, and MSN messenger. Alongside cost, the Internet fits into the communication patterns and daily routines in a way that cellphones do not. We document the variety of communication strategies that balance cost, availability and complexity. Instead of finding that new technologies replace old, we find that different technologies co-exist, with fixed phones co-existing with instant message, cellphones and shared community phones. The paper concludes by discussing how we can study mobile technology and design for settings defined by cost and infrastructure availability.

This paper is a shorter version of a paper that we presented at the International Communication Association (ICA) [pdf] in Chicago. I learned a lot through re-writing this paper with Barry (who publishes papers in his sleep).

For me, the new version was difficult to write because we had to cut so many details out from our original ICA paper, but it gave us an opportunity to tell a different story about our data. While we had to leave out a lot of data, it allowed us to highlight our data in different ways. I personally don't like writing academic papers, but if there is anyone I would do it with again, it would be Barry.

This was my first time at Mobile HCI, so it was super fun to meet new faces and see old friends. But best of all, I got to spend time with Barry, who is now moving from UC San Diego to Mobile Life in Stockholm to start a new research group. Sadness for me, but wonderful news for his colleagues in Sweden.

Monday
Aug292011

Speaking at Mobile Life in Stockholm, Sweden.

I had a great day speaking at Mobile Life VINN Excellence Center in Sweden.

The Mobile Life research centre at Stockholm University with SICS and Interactive Institute as strategically important research partners, is located in Kista outside Stockholm, Sweden. The Centre started in 2007 and has funding until 2017. After three years, the Mobile Life Centre has grown to be about 50 researchers, exploring experiential, leisure and playful mobile and ubiquitous interactions.

The research is interdisciplinary, involving researchers from computer science, interaction design, sociology, psychology but also game designers, artists, dancers, and fashion experts. The Centre’s competitive edge lies in making serious research on what we might normally portray as “unserious” activities in collaboration with our industry partners Ericsson, Nokia, Microsoft Research, TeliaSonera, Company P and Bambuser.

It was lovely to take a break from doing fieldwork in China. I got to talk about design in China with non-elite users and hear a bit about what the researchers were doing. 

I hope I get to visist again as my dear advisor, Barry Brown, is now joining the center and starting a new research group.

Thanks to Oskar Juhlin and Barry Brown for organizing the talk!

Saturday
Aug272011

"Technology for Migrant Workers" Interview in Agenda Magazine

 I had a lovely time chatting with Abby McBride from Agenda Magazine.

Here's the article: Tracking Technology Among China's Non-Elite [pdf download].

I shared my thoughts on what Digital Urbanism 2.0 will look like when 3G smartphone use will be more pervasive and affordable. We also talked about the kinds of inequalities migrants face, what kind of dreams they have, and how they make do tough situations.

By the end of the interview, I admitted that the Chinese internet is absolutely overwhelming. There are so many new products, ideas, and practices emerging everyday that it's impossible to keep up. Luckily I have a great team of research assistants. If you're curious about what my research assistants are reading, check out our open tumblr blog. And for the latest info from my fieldwork, my reseach blog is Bytes of China.

The best part about chatting with Agenda Magazine was receiving the actual magazine and learning about all the other people who were interviewed and doing amazing work and creating really cool stuff.

What struck me in all of these interviews were each of their undestanding of the "social."

*Thanks Jennifer Thome and Abby McBride! :)

Thursday
Jun302011

The Atlantic covers my research on Weibo Instant Photo Phenomenon

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, wrote about how Weibo users are using it as a dating site based off of my research on Weibos' Instant Photo Singles Rescue Phenomenon

Madrigal makes a great point about this phenomenon:

...one excellent thing about the development of the Chinese Internet is that Americans get to look across the Pacific at something technically like our own tubes, but distinct along many vectors. Let it serve as a reminder that these systems are both contingent (i.e. stuff just happens) and influenced by the culture in which they're implanted.

I am in love with Madrigal's writing. I have a few favorite writers (e.g. Paul Ford, Anil Dash, James Gleick, Adam Gopnik, Tom Standage) who blend technology, everyday life, and big social issues into a warm blanket, and Madrigal is one of them. I just bought his newly released book Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. I can't wait to dig into it. Another one of my favorite oldie Madrigal piece is his sensitive and insightful reply to Zadi Smith's claim that facebook was making us less social, Literary Writers and Social Media: A Response to Zadie Smith. I subscribe to his RSS feed and put in folder, "FAVE WRITERS."

Thursday
May262011

An Xiao Mina's Article About my Research on Chinese Migrants living in Internet Cafes (Huffington Post)

Design strategist, new media artist, and digital community builder Anxiao Mina interviewed me for her latest article in Huffington Post on internet cafes in China, The 21st Century Saloon: A Peek Inside China's Wangba, or Internet Cafes. I really like the way Anxiao narrates our interview - she captured the essence of our trans-Atlantic conversation! (I have written more details about this talk in my post-SXSW notes here.) Here is the interview below, or you can read it on Huffungton Post. Thanks Anxiao!

It's 5 in the morning on a Monday, and California native Tricia Wang is waking up in a second-tier city in central China. An ethnographer and researcher in how disadvantaged groups like migrant and low-income communities use technology, she immerses herself in her research environment.

Today's office is a smoky wangba (网吧: Internet cafe), where she was lucky enough to snag a couch to crash on. Many of the patrons around her are sleeping upright, or sideways, at their desks. All around her are computers, computers, computers, and hundreds of individuals, almost all of them migrants from different parts of rural China.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May242011

My new blog about my research in China: Bytes of China! 

I’ve just moved to China to fieldwork on how non-elite users, youth, and migrants are using cellphones and the internet. I’ve decided to keep a separate blog of all my ethnographic observations so that it doesn’t get mixed in with my general observations about culture and technology on Cultural Bytes.

I will still blog on Cultural Bytes, but just not as often as most of my brain for the next year will be focused on just China. If I have Bytes of China posts that are specifically about culture and technology, I will repost them to Cultural Bytes.

See you on Bytes of China! Here is the RSS feed.

More about Bytes of China and the themes that I will be writing about.

Friday
Mar252011

Fun interview about Chinese migrants and internet cafes with Benjamen Walker's radio show, Too Much Information

I love the way my interview turned out on Benjamen Walker's Too Much Information. We met in Austin, Texas at SXSW and he ended up super fun to work with.

Benjamen has traveled to China several times and the converstaions we had was so refreshing. He didn't ask the same old questions that reporters usually go with.

We had a lovely conversation about the topics I had brought up in my SXSW presentation on Chinese migrants. Here's the episode below, Too Much Internet.  My interview is the last one starting at 38:45 (easier to select time code with the soundcloud file).

And check out the amazing line up of people he has on his show from Paul Ford to Analee Newitz!

Click to read more ...

Monday
Mar212011

Slides/Notes for my SXSW talk on my research in China & some reflections about SXSW 

Had great feedback from my sxsw panel #300MM! It's over!

En route to China, I stopped in Austin to give a talk at my first time at SXSW Interactive. What did I overhear the most at SXSW? 

Web 3.0 is here!  The reign of the virtual! Networked Sensors take over the world! This is all so new! Singularity man! Social media for good! The age of social media has dawned! Get online or perish! Gaming for good! Game to change the world!

These statements reflect the general level of techno-utopianism that I find at conferences on anything related to the internet. There usually is little room for critical analysis or social historicizing.

As Roy Christopher points out, we live in an age of information abundance but at times it seems like our abilities to historically contextualize current events is scarce. He's right and this particulary true for the SXSW audience who is so focused on the "new" that the "old" seems irrelevant. I have lots of qualms with technological uptopianism, but I think what's make it worse is historical amnesia. Many of the talks seem to think that the technology itself - or this year the focus was on social media or games themselves will solve our reality and make us "better."  An example of this is Simon Mainwaring's We First: How Social Media can Remake Capitalism and Build a Better World and Jane McDonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better.  The ideas promoted in these books aren't necessarily wrong, but I find the analysis in these books resting more on future talk than on grounded research.

So for my first SXSW, I decided to give a talk that would not only illustrate my analysis and research on internet users in China, but also provide historical context for what we're seeing in China.  I explored the idea of telling a story that would be an old one - a story that would historicize the internet so that we could see how human emotions can create powerful reactions that repeat itself in differnet mediums, processes, and outcomes. I did this by paralleling the contemporary panic around rural-urban migrants in Chinese internet cafes to the 20th century panic around Italian and Irish immigrant in American saloons.  

Click to read more ...

Monday
Mar212011

Moving to China to do research! Will be blogging my year on BytesofChina.com!

moving to china! I'm happy and sad...Good day world! it’s finally happening! I’m moving to China to do my research! wooohoo!

So I’m moving to China to do my research, and then coming back to write something that I hope to buddha doesn’t kill my soul to write creative non-fiction. (here’s some more details about my research). I have a post on my personal blog about all the things and people that I will miss so dearly.

So in addition to doing my research, I’ll be posting daily observations on Bytes of China. I’m making a committment to post a little thought every other day. One, this let’s friends know that I’m alive, and second when I’m writing up my fieldnotes every month I would love to see over time what observations I chose to make public. While I plan to keep 99% of notes just for my eyes, there’s something very lovely about posting a short blog post that will be immediately read. It keeps me connected to the real world - otherwise I would get lost in my thoughts and forget that I have a responsbility to carry out when I return from the field - a responsibilty to translate what I see into greater understanding.

New RSS Feeds!

And for people who use RSS readers - I’ve combined all my blogs into ONE feed (using yahoo pipes). I created one feed just for research blogs and another feed for all blogs. You can find all the rss feeds at the bottom of my website.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Feb172011

Speaking about the next 300 million Chinese internet users at SXSW in Austin, Texas on Future 15 Panel

(reposted from CulturalByt.es)

Just bought my tickets to Austin, Texas for SXSW - who else will be there? This will be my first SXSW! I get to play with the amazingly smart and playful Glenda Bautista, who invited me to join the Futures 15 line up.  Future 15’s are a SXSW curated panel of short talks on specific topics. Last year Baratunde was on the same panel and I heard that he killed it with his talk: How to be Black. This year, Glenda is moderating the panel again and giving her own talk on how to actually put together a kick ass panel that is diverse. Not as easy as it sounds so she’ll be breaking it down!

I’ll be on the Diversity and Social Justice panel on Saturday, starting at 3:30pm. My talk will be about the future of the internets from the perspective of 300 million Chinese migrants and the possibilities for social change. 

Sleeping at Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users #300MM

Saturday, March 12th, 4pm

In China, over 300 million migrants reside in cities; these communities represent some of the most marginalized and poorest groups that are now actively incorporating new communication tools into their lives. These migrants are also the fastest adopters of digital tools and the quickest growing population of digital users. What do these coinciding cultural-technical processes mean for the people undergoing these shifts? Based on my fieldwork in China over the past three years, I focus on three areas that I think will point to the future of social change and innovation in China: gaming, entertainment, and consumption.

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Wednesday
Dec012010

Spoke at “Creating Community Environments” at ITP, NYU

(resposted from CulturalByte.es)

I was a guest speaker at the wonderful Kristen Taylor’s seminar, Creating Community Environments, at New York University’s ITP program

I talked about my upcoming move to China to conduct one year of fieldwork. Here’s a short in-progress description of my research project and a link to my presentation. 

I also elaborated on the importance of understanding social ties as culturally embedded. Kristen had aleady assigned a piece that I wrote a few months ago as class reading, Privacy and The Anonymous user in China: Importance of understanding multiple cultural orientations towards guanxi/social connections. So we had a short discussion on why the meaning of a social ties are different China. 

I really enjoyed talking to a class of students from such diverse backgrounds. As I was leaving, Kristen started a discussion on potatoes as objects with agency based on their class assignment of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. Yes, that is how cool this class is - you too should consider going through a life transition, move to NYC,  and enroll at ITP just to take Kristen’s next course in the Fall of 2011. And companies - pay attention to these students if you want to hire people who really understand communities from a holistic point of view.

Kristen Taylor's course at NYU's ITP

 

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