Monday, December 20, 2004

Anthro Tech

Another example of anthropologists alive and well in "the real world," courtesy of the British magazine New Scientist.

Anthropologists' insights are not just for the future: they have already contributed to making existing technologies easier to use. Perhaps the most familiar example is the big green Copy button on photocopiers. Anthropologist Lucy Suchman famously suggested it when working at Xerox in the 1980s, after seeing how frustrated people became with the complexity of the machines of the day.

Now based at Lancaster University, UK, Suchman says major technology companies often consult anthropologists, although their influence often goes unnoticed.

Travis Breaux, an anthropologist and computer scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, expects this kind of input to become more common. "As technology becomes more pervasive, the role of the anthropologist in its development will continue to grow," he predicts.

"Ethnographic methods are being applied to friend-finding networks such as Friendster, multi-player online role-playing games such as Everquest and online dating systems," Breaux says. And these networks and games, he says, are returning the compliment by proving useful to social scientists in their academic research. "Future technologies will in turn be affected by our studies of the way people behave on these networks."

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