Update on my research: manuscript on poker ethics & chapter on Korean cybernationalism

A few recent fruits of my academic tree.

'Game of threat and money: Notes on the ethical discussion concerning state-run online poker service in Finland.' Proposed to be published in Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 2 (2). (Under review, please do not quote.)

Abstract: Finland’s Slot Machine Association (RAY) is a state-run gambling organization that will launch an online poker service for Finns in 2010. This article describes and analyzes the ethical discussion provoked by an article in Helsingin Sanomat (the leading national newspaper) on the issue, and considers the various moral viewpoints taken of RAY as an online poker service provider, as well as discussing online poker as a wider contemporary phenomenon.

Please feel free to comment on the manuscript here or by email!

'Dokdo Island Dispute: Korean Reconstruction of History and National Identity in User-Created Content Media.' In Digital Memories: Exploring Critical Issues, edited by Anna Maj & Daniel Riha, published by Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2009, pp. 179-187.

Abstract: Japanese colonization of Korea (1910–1945) had an immense impact on Korean society and culture, and on a symbolical level, on what being Korean means today. The traumas of colonialism are still being widely discussed in Korea and there are certain key discursive nodes stemming from the colonial history that present Korea‟s concerns of contemporary Japan-Korea relations.

One of the discursive nodes is Dokdo (which the Japanese call Takeshima), a small and remote rocky island between the two countries in the East Sea (which the Japanese call the Sea of Japan. Both Japan and Korea lay claim to Dokdo, and both claim a long historical and geographical connection with the islets. In addition to traditional media, both have harnessed the cyberspace to support their cause. As both countries seek support from the international audience, the amount of Dokdo-related websites and online news in English is relatively high. Thus, the issue has turned from a small border dispute to a rhetorical fight between two nationalisms that use historical evidence to buttress their claims. The purpose of this paper is to examine how Koreans represent Dokdo, a disputed island in the sea between South Korea and Japan, to an international audience in user-created content media such as YouTube and Facebook. Moreover, the paper analyzes the ways the dispute is further used to reconstruct the history of South Korea and strengthen the national identity of Koreans. Theoretically, the paper refers to Anthony P. Cohen‟s analysis of the symbolism in community making as well as Benedict Anderson‟s thoughts on nations as imagined communities.

More information about the conference on which the book is based in my earlier post here.


Should Anthropologists Be Embedded with Troops in War?

"Anthropologists have traditionally had a pretty wonkish reputation, earnestly taking field notes while interviewing a tribal chief or lecturing in some college classroom about the intricacies of indigenous clan-systems. If the Pentagon has its way, though, more anthropologists will exchange their tweed for military fatigues and leave the halls of academe for the front lines. For the past two years, the U.S. military has embedded anthropologists and other social scientists with American troops in order to improve the Army's cultural IQ. But last week the American Anthropological Association (AAA) released a report coming out strongly against the program, saying that in both concept and application, it 'can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.'"

Read the rest of the TIME article here.

(Via @janchip from Twitter.)


Mobile technology, gender and development in Africa, India and Bangladesh

As requested, here is a more detailed description of our forthcoming project I wrote about earlier. It is edited from the main research plan of the project.

Name of project: Mobile technology, gender and development in Africa, India and Bangladesh
Organizing institution: Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä.
Period: 2010-2013
Project Leader: Laura Stark, Professor of Ethnology

Background and significance of the research

One problem shared by the poor in all developing countries is lack of affordable access to relevant information and knowledge services. There is widespread consensus that information and communication technologies (ICTs) present the best solution to this problem, with mobile phones showing particular promise. Mobile phones are more affordable than computers, require less infrastructure, do not require the user to have much technological knowledge or even to be able to read and write, and are easy to carry from place to place. They lend themselves to flexible usage (text, voice and two-way communication), do not require special training, and the costs of connectivity are relatively low. Due to the low cost of labour, mobile phones in developing countries are much cheaper and easier to repair than computers. 3G “smart phones” are presently too expensive for the vast majority of buyers, but phones which avail GPRS and edge technology are already providing affordable access to the Internet in developing countries. Building 3G networks in developing countries will hugely improve the developmental potential of mobile technology.

Currently, services such as G-cash in the Philippines and M-Pesa in Kenya are providing mobile-based financial solutions for persons who may not otherwise have access to a bank. Mobile communications in Africa also offer access to information regarding where demand is highest for agricultural produce or fish, and enable small business owners to better communicate with their customers. By using mobile phones, people are spending less time and money on travel, and they can summon help and financial aid from relatives in times of crisis. Mobile phones are also facilitating the spread of rural health care and services. Ownership of mobile phones practically tripled in developing countries between 2002 and 2006. Secondary markets for used mobile devices, and practices such as phone renting and battery charging services make mobile phones within reach of even the poorest of the poor. Establishing mobile masts is a relatively inexpensive way of serving large and remote rural areas, and it is estimated that by 2010, 90% of the world will be covered by mobile networks (Bhavnani et. al. 2008).

Yet the introduction of new technologies does not itself automatically lead to economic growth and increased well-being. Privatization of teleservices has created the institutional problem of how states, service providers and NGOs can co-operate to provide developmental applications in affordable ways. In Africa, for instance, customer care is inadequate, interconnection charges are high, and operators collude due to lack of government regulations. Persons might own several phones but use them seldom or in a limited manner, rarely taking full advantage of services offered by the mobile platform. Many useful mobile applications have not been implemented on a large scale, and many crucial development issues such as illiteracy and women’s health have been neglected. In both Africa and India, there is also a strong need for services and software in local languages and dialects. Non-literacy is another barrier when text messaging or even punching in numbers to make a phone call.

To maximize the potential benefits of mobile technology solutions, closer attention must be paid to poverty’s dynamics, causes, and consequences. Poverty does not result merely from lack of connectedness to the information society, it is also a result of market restrictions, repressive governments, social injustice, and human exploitation. One of the most serious and far-reaching barriers to the eradication of poverty is gender inequality. Increased gender inequalities, even in the short-run, are having long-term consequences for economic growth and human development (Costa & Silva 2008, 9). Thus it is not surprising that one of the key target objectives of the Millenium Development Goals is the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment (UN General Assembly 2000).

Yet gender inequality has been rarely addressed in mobile solutions for development. The Grameen Village Phone project is one of the few mobile development projects to give special attention to women. Mobile-based services and systems can be a partial solution to poverty alleviation – but whose poverty? Men and women are often poor for different reasons, and what helps men may further jeopardize the well-being of women and girls (Whitehead 2003, 8). In Africa, for instance, women have long been active participants in the traditional economy. Will women remain economically active in the new mobile-powered world, or will men take more control? Will mobiles ultimately narrow or widen the gender opportunity gap? If Internet for the next billion will be different because it will be supported by mobile phones, will women and girls have access to it, and will it benefit their lives? It is now up to the research community to ensure that the Millenium Development Goals involving new ICTs do not conflict with development goals of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Gender inequality is not only a socio-economic issue but also a cultural one. Attempting to solve it by creating laws and regulations can have little effect when their enforcement is undermined by customs and norms. Such symbolic fields as kinship obligations, honor and shame systems, and costly dowries and ceremonies represent dominant practices and enduring meaning structures which cannot be ignored by the villagers, nor can they be overlooked by stakeholders. This is why it is so important that anthropologists trained in cultural analysis carry out basic empirical research before policies are developed. At the same time, symbolic systems should be seen not merely as constraints but also as sources of agency and new interpretations which motivate the quest for change and development. Taking into consideration the fact that people are not passive “users” of technology but are agents who adapt mobile phone technologies to their own needs, we ask: how does mobile phone use affect gender relations in low income countries? How do gender relations, in turn, affect mobile phone use?

Our project is led by Professor of Ethnology Laura Stark, and includes four anthropologists. Project members will carry out research in India and Bangladesh, as well as 5 countries in Africa: 2 in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania), 2 in West Africa (Cameroon, Ghana), and South Africa. Two of these are Finland’s long-term partners for development (Kenya and Tanzania), and one is a short-term cooperation partner (South Africa). We have chosen these countries because they are among the fastest growing telemarkets in the developing world, and all these states are actively designing ICT policies and encouraging the participation of NGOs and other stakeholders in designing and providing teleservices.

Research areas of the project members overlap with each other in order for findings to be mutually useful not just across the project team, but also to their many NGO cooperation partners. Our first area of concern is women’s health. Crentsil and Tenhunen will examine how NGOs manage and disseminate successful mobile-for-health programs in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa by focusing on which important women's health issues have so far been neglected in mobile application design. Tenhunen will also focus on how mobile development applications can be implemented on a large scale. Crentsil and Tawah will focus on the use of mobile phones in information dissemination and retrieval for HIV/AIDS education, for instance through the grassroots practice of ‘beeping’ a health advice center (hanging up before the call is answered to save money), after which the health worker calls the caller back. Our second area of concern is the costs versus the benefits of mobile usage among the poor, which has been recently debated in mobile development circles. M-banking, for instance, has been hailed as the mobile application which will benefit people in developing countries the most, but research shows that most persons in Sub-Saharan Africa are too poor to save money and do not have earnings easily transferred through banking. Studies have also shown that some people go hungry so they can pay for mobile usage, others must walk 3-7 kilometers 2-3 times per week in order to recharge their mobile batteries and 79% of persons surveyed in rural Tanzania did not agree that mobile phone use reduced poverty (see Diga 2007; Mpogole, Usanga & Tedre 2008). Despite this, people still purchase mobiles, and so consensus on how we should measure “benefits” is changing. Jouhki, Stark and Tawah will examine the economic issues surrounding mobile phone use among rural inhabitants in India (Tamil Nadu), Tanzania (Iringa district), and Cameroon (Bamenda). Their focus will be on the economic and social impact upon women and girls of m-banking, remittances, and costs of money, time and energy.

Professor Laura Stark (Ethnology, U. of Jyväskylä). How the Tanzanian poor define “well-being”: economic costs vs. social benefits of mobile phone use. Stark will visit the I4D research group at Tumaini University in Tanzania, which has already done cost-benefit studies of mobile phone use, to explore the hypothesis that local people may define “benefits” in non-economic terms: the poor use the social networks maintained through telephony to generate financial flows such as remittances or help during a crisis, and denser and more dynamic social networks mean greater security. Stark will theorize the relationship between social networks and time and energy commitment to technology use in order to better design mobile solutions which bring greatest benefits from the perspective of the poor themselves.

Ph.D. Perpetual Crentsil (Anthropology, U. of Helsinki). Mobile telephony and healthcare delivery for women in rural Ghana and South Africa. Crentsil will focus on mobile solutions for improving the healthcare delivery system in Africa and map out mobile technology’s impact health care services provided to women and children among the rural and urban poor. Crentsil’s research will address following questions: how are mobile phones being used to improve reproductive health, the delivery of health information and care services provided to rural women? How are they supporting large-scale management of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and how does this affect women? How can mobile phone applications be put to new uses for improving women’s health? Crentsil will return to her previous fieldwork site in Ghana to work with the Grameen Foundation, which is using mobile applications to assist community health workers for neonatal and maternal health. After that, she will travel to South Africa to examine the role of mobile phones in HIV/AIDS education by focusing on the activities of Cell-Life, an NGO based in Cape Town which uses mobile technologies as a mass information channel. Crentsil’s interest in this study stems from her extensive research on HIV/AIDS and health systems in Africa, which resulted in her doctoral dissertation Death, Ancestors, and HIV/AIDS among the Akan of Ghana. Her findings will be disseminated to NGOs through other project members in Cameroon, Tanzania, India and Bangladesh.

Adjunct Prof., Ph.D. Jukka Jouhki (Ethnology, U. of Jyväskylä). The Meaning of "Nagarpesi": Diffusion, Gendered Use and Cultural Values of Mobile Technology in Rural Tamil Nadu, South India. Jouhki returns to the fieldsite of his dissertation research to focus on how the diffusion of mobile technology is changing the economic and sociocultural dynamics of rural Indian society, particularly with regard to gender and caste in the Villapuram district of Tamil Nadu. He examines economic costs and incentives to mobile use such as remittances, asking: do women and men perceive costs and benefits differently? What mobile applications and practices could increase the benefit to women? He also looks at caste-specific use and grassroots cost-benefit analysis among the very poor. How do untouchables use mobile technology? Where do remittances to them come from and could their flow be made easier? Would mobile banking make a difference? Tamil Nadu is an affluent state of India which has long relied on private enterprise for economic growth and has one of the most active ICT policies in India. As such, it provides an interesting comparison case with Tenhunen’s prior research on rural West Bengal which has been ruled by the Communist party since 1977 and has successfully pioneered a land reform which has led to rapid growth in agricultural growth.

(MA) Sanna Tawah (Ethnology, U. of Jyväskylä). The Market in my Hands: Mobile Phones for Social and Financial Connectivity among “Buyamsellam” women in rural Cameroon. Female small-scale entrepreneurs (“buyamsellam” women) in Bamenda, Cameroon, use mobile phones on a daily basis. They also have savings that they would need to bank, but no formal banking possibilities. Mobile banking has been launched in Cameroon, but is not widely used. Tawah will visit Tanzania to observe the use of the more popular M-Pesa (a mobile banking program for the poor launched in Tanzania in 2007) to compare applications and practices. She will also study technical phone support systems for farmers in Yaounde, Cameroon accessed through free mobile ‘beeping’ to see if the same concept could be applied to AIDS and health education in Bamenda, and to Crentsil’s field sites in Ghana and South Africa.

Adjunct Prof., Ph.D. Sirpa Tenhunen (Anthropology, U. of Helsinki). Social construction of gender sensitive mobile applications. Tenhunen uses her prior fieldwork data on the appropriation of mobile phones from rural India and Kenya to map out neglected development issues that could be tackled with mobile technology. In this project, she will work with NGOs to study potential mobile applications which could benefit women’s health. She will first conduct fieldwork among the applications developers in Nairobi, which has emerged as the hub of mobile application development in Eastern Africa. Tenhunen will collect data in order to examine which issues have been covered and whether development applications address women’s issues. To provide an understanding of the institutional prerequisites for implementing mobile applications on a large scale, she will also carry out a case study on Grameen Phone in Bangladesh, which has been able to successfully offer phone services which empower women. She will finally travel to India to co-operate closely with Dr. Devi Shetty’s Asia Heart Foundation and Narayana Hrudalaya (Bangalore, India) to develop concrete mobile applications for improving rural women’s health. She aims to answer the question of how businesses, state and NGOs can co-operate to successfully produce affordable services. What development issues do designers emphasize and how do they assess the gender impact of their applications? What cooperation is needed in order for NGOs to proceed from pilot cases to putting applications into practice on a large scale? Her findings will be disseminated to the other projects’ NGOs through local workshops.


Research objectives. Worldwide, numerous mobile technology-based development projects have appeared in recent years, and the proliferation of conferences, websites, and project reports on mobile development reflect the rapid growth of interest in this area. Yet despite the enthusiasm surrounding this new field, very little long term, in-depth empirical research has yet been carried out, and mobile technology’s impact on development remains severely understudied by Finnish researchers and NGOs. As anthropologists trained in the ethnographic method, we are in a unique position to contribute significantly to the growing international knowledge in this dynamic field with innovation potential for stakeholders. One of our main objectives is for project members to utilize each others’ research and pass this knowledge on to their contact NGOs for future mobile applications.

In terms of theory, our objective is to challenge the paradigms of development theory as well as the “social shaping of technology” approach. In terms of practice, all projects will contribute to developing both gender-sensitive mobile technology applications and “best practices” guidelines. Our researchers start from a careful ethnographic study of mobile phone use in their research locations, and then proceed to developing suggestions for developmental mobile applications in co-operation with NGOs and other stakeholders. We also identify positive and effective grass-roots solutions for empowering women and girls which have already proven successful, and could be applied to other contexts.

Hypotheses. Following the Social Shaping of Technology (SSA) and Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) approaches, we reject views of technological determinism and see the impact of a particular technology as deriving not from the design itself but from the struggles and negotiations among interested parties (Pinch & Bijker 1984; Bijker & Pinch 1987; Williams & Edge 1996). Social constructionist approaches view technologies as broad-based systems comprising not merely physical artefacts, devices and infrastructures, but also social and cultural patterns of behaviour, regulatory laws and policies, education and know-how. Seeing technology as a social construct means recognizing that technologies embody gender differences (Litho 2005). Despite the strengths of the social construction of technology theory, it has recently come under reassessment (Hyysalo 2006 and Mackay & Gillespie 1992). The overall theoretical aim of the project is to develop the SCOT theory to further understand how the social shaping of technology is intertwined with culture while leaving space for a technological imagination not completely dictated by it.

We also view issues of gender and development from a holistic anthropological perspective. Researchers have recently focused on three broad areas which are helping us to better understand how gender inequality is tied to poverty. First, it has been recognized that what happens inside the household is crucial. In the 1970s and 1980s, poverty reduction strategies that targeted male household heads erroneously assumed that benefits would ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the household. In the late 1980s, it was recognized that male heads of household tended to distribute resources in ways which disadvantaged women and girls, and even when women generated income outside the home, they did not always retain control over those resources (Kennedy & Cogill 1987).

Second, overwhelming cross-cultural evidence suggests that women in many less developed countries are expected to invest in their families rather than in their own well-being, while men are freer to invest only in themselves. This has been called the feminisation of responsibility and/or obligation (Chant 2006, 2008). Women have primary responsibility for the unpaid care of the family and dependent children, while men withhold earnings or appropriate those of wives to fund fundamentally self-oriented pursuits (Chant 2008, 27). Poor men’s desertion of families is another strategy for escaping the responsibilities of contributing to household consumption (Sen 2008, 7). Poorer working women have coped by sacrificing the education of their daughters who are expected to help their mothers care for the family (Kabeer 2008, 5). Thus poverty is not just about a lack of basic needs, but of opportunities and choices.

Third, it has been recognized that the most disadvantaged population group in developing countries are girls. They bear a heavy burden of work at home, receive less education than boys, are channelled into low paying jobs, vulnerable to exploitation and violence, and are pressured to marry young, sometimes even before the age of 15. M-banking through a private savings accounts accessible through SMS would be one way to improve young women’s access to and control over their own earnings. Girls giving birth in adolescence are at greater risk of mortality, and girls are also at greater risk of infection from HIV and AIDS than boys and young men. As girls enter and move through adolescence, they become increasingly socially isolated, and this isolation only increases after they marry (Mathur, Greene & Malhotra 2003). Social isolation carries not only risks of remaining uneducated and illiterate, but also of rape and HIV infection. Health education could be set up through text messaging to mobile phones to reach girls who are socially isolated. The well-being of girls is important not only from a human rights’ standpoint, but also because girls grow up to be mothers, and therefore play a key role in the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Although material poverty has received the most attention in development research since the 1970s, gender inequality is not just a matter of income and nutritional intake. A more promising approach acknowledges the multi-dimensional nature of gender disadvantage: lack of access to education, marriage customs and age at marriage, violence against women, norms regarding work and responsibility, inheritance and property rights, equal access to housing, control over resources such as land and water, distribution and consumption of resources within the household, and the socio-economic impact of health problems and HIV/AIDS. We seek to contribute to development theory by looking at how all these factors impact each other, and how rapidly disseminating mobile technologies are implicated.

It is only through holistic gender analysis that mobile technologies can fulfil their enormous potential for improving the lives of women and girls in low income countries. Sirpa Tenhunen has already shown how mobile technology has produced benefits for women in rural India. Just a decade ago, women could be facing food scarcity, or be mistreated in their husband’s house for years before the news reached their parents. Now, phones are helping women in rural India to keep in touch with relatives, and since natal families continue to be the major source of help for married women, girls pay attention to whether there is a mobile phone in the house or neighborhood of a potential suitor (Tenhunen 2008, 531)

Mobile phones also carry great promise for alleviating health-related problems, since poverty is both a cause and consequence of illness. Poverty means less access to health services, and women in particular have less access than men. Health services utilizing mobile technologies could help women receive the assistance they need. Illness, in turn, leads to poverty when people are forced to sell their assets in order to get treatment. The possibility of obtaining affordable health care and guidance through mobile services before the illness gets worse could save huge numbers of people from poverty.

Justification for how the proposed research ties in with this call and its objectives. The proposed project is directly connected to the themes of the call: we examine the current impact and future potential of mobile phone technologies in low income countries for the eradication of extreme poverty and the increasing of economic, social and cultural interaction through more accessible communication. We analyze the gender implications of mobile development solutions in order to ensure their promotion of equality and human rights.


In Britain the wifi owners are punished for users' sins

The ethics of digital communication are still incredibly strange at times, or what do you think about this case reported by ZDNet UK a few days ago?

Pub 'fined £8k' for Wi-Fi copyright infringement
David Meyer ZDNet UK
Published: 27 Nov 2009 18:03 GMT

A pub owner has been fined £8,000 because someone unlawfully downloaded copyrighted material over their open Wi-Fi hotspot, according to the managing director of hotspot provider The Cloud.
Graham Cove told ZDNet UK on Friday he believes the case to be the first of its kind in the UK. However, he would not identify the pub concerned, because its owner — a pubco that is a client of The Cloud's — had not yet given their permission for the case to be publicised.
Read the rest of the article here.

The ZDNet article via Tietokone (in Finnish).
Pic from
Rolling Prairie Library System "Teaching Internet Ethics to Teens" seminar notice page .


Information about our next project on mobile technology, gender and development

The Academy of Finland has decided to fund our next four-year ICTD oriented research project lead by prof. Laura Stark and concentrating on mobile technology in developing countries of South Asia and Africa. As anthropologists and ethnologists are involved in the project culturally interesting issues such as power and gender will be emphasized along with interrelated areas like economic development and health.

I personally will start working on my part of the project in a year or so and focus on mobile technology in rural Tamil Nadu, South India. The area is familiar to me through my PhD research.

Read more about the project in the University of Jyväskylä news bulletin (in Finnish) here.


Three Videos Every Digi-Anthropologist Should Enjoy Watching

Amber Case is a consultant and a PhD student of "cyborg anthropology". In this video from Gnomedex 9, a "Tech Conference of Inspiration and Influence" in Seattle earlier this fall, she talks about prosthetic culture.

In the next one Pranav Mistry from MIT Media Lab presents many tools like his SixthSense device that he has designed to bridge the physical and the digital worlds more "naturally". The video is from TED Talks which has lots of other interesting videos

In the third video Gentry Underwood, a social software designer and strategist for IDEO, talks about the challenges of the awkward Web 2.0 design and the emerging world of social interaction design. The video is from the Web 2.0 Expo in New York earlier this year.


The Anthropology of Homo Digitalis and His Tribes

University of Kent and TalkTalk the British telecommunications provider joined forces to conduct what Prof. David Zeitlyn (Kent U.) calls "the first digital anthropology report". According to him the researchers aimed "to go beyond traditional research methods and get a true understanding of how technology fits into people’s lives, by looking at people’s attitudes and behaviours to technology and communications more generally." The purpose of the report, according to Charles Dunstone the CEO of TalkTalk, was to "find out what homo digitalis really looks like." To do this researchers were sent into people's homes around the UK to interview people about and observe them using digital technology. "An anthropology expert" analyzed the findings and found homo digitalis divided into six tribes according to their patterns of usage and modes of behavior.

Prof. Zeitlyn describes how the project found out that "homo digitalis actually existed in a range of guises, as if in different stages of evolution. We found six distinct 'clusters' of consumers, which we called our Six Tribes." Although ethnographic method was first applied, it served as a foundation for the main method, a quantitative survey completed by ca. 2000 consumers. Below you can read more about the six user groups.

1. Digital extroverts (9 %). They are using converged devices such as BlackBerries or iPhones and they demand ubiquitous, fast connections. The take the internet for granted and update their online profiles as a daily routine. Most of them are under 34, male and earn more than the national average. See the video of a tribesman below.

2. Timid technophobes (23 %). Their phones are not that smart and they are not that affected my technology. They have limited internet skills which are used only when really needed. They prefer pen and paper over email and like to meet people face-to-face rather than on the internet. They don't trust digital information as its flooding the cyberspace. Tweeting or blogging is for people who have too much time, the think. They are mostly over 55, male and earn less than average. (Read here about Doris the technophobe.)

3. Social secretaries (13 %). They are usually women in their mid 40s, earning around the average. They are busy with work, family and social life which leaves them little time for latest gadgets - unless they are quite easy to use and have social applications. Click below for video.

4. First lifers (12 %). They are mostly male and have average income, but that's the only valid generalization, and this tribes seems to be the most difficult to define. They use even less email than the technophobes. They like to live outdoors and would "rather surf than surf the internet." They are neither for or against internet and mobile tech, they just happen to use it if it's useful. For example, they might like the music, video and online gaming on the net but don't care about how it all works or where the information comes. (A first lifer James talks about his digital world here.)

5. E-ager beavers (29 %). They are by far the largest tribe. They use new media quite heavily although they are not so important for their social life or work. They have average income and perhaps the main things separating them from Digital extroverts are that they are more likely to download than upload, have less confidence about or drive for the new technology to get involved more deeply. (Read also about Andy describing his beaverish ways).

6. Web boomers (8 %). They want the information about health, hobbies, history and news from the comfort of their home. Library has been replaced by the internet as their main source of information and entertainment. They are mostly male, over 55 and have average income. The are a bit conservative in using their trusted internet sites and have a lot of free time which they want to spend efficiently. They browse the internet to read reviews on products before purchasing them but they still prefer landline over online in keeping in touch with friends. A web boomer video here:

The report also attempted to estimate how human-technology relations will evolve in the next two decades and predicted, among other things, that a digital elite will emerge and people's success in life will be more determined by their "willingness to embrace technology" than by their social class. On the other hand, it wouldn't matter that much because technology would be quite ubiquitous, embedded and thus not easily avoided. However, the report predicted that there will be a major motivation change among those who are not using the internet. Today, most of the "digitally excluded" are not using digital networks because of their low income, poor skills or lack of equipment. However, in the future the group of "digital refuseniks" or digital Luddites will emerge and take a moral stance against the internet. They could use new technologies but rebel against their pervasiveness and worry about a control society.

Which tribe are you? Take the quiz and find out!
Read the full report: Digital Anthropology Report 2009: The Six Tribes of Homo Digitalis. Watch also the video introduction to the report by TalkTalk. Read also: Keith Hart's and Lorenz's post about the report here and here.

Thanks for the hint about the report: the tweeting Daniel O'Maley.
Video clips provided by TalkTalk.


The Great Finnish Beer Floating Tradition and the Digital Crime that Enabled it

Can I allow people to plan illegal actions in my blog? Could I be accused of organizing the action? Is the site owner responsible for whatever people plan or say within website? These are few of the many ethical questions of digital age. Here's one example.

There is a curious unofficial festival every summer in Vantaa, Finland. In Finnish it is called Kaljakellunta - "Beer Floating" It is about people drinking beer while floating down the river on various kinds of crafts such as rafts, small boats, inner tube tires and even sofas. As a YouTube user described it, it is "funny and idiotic at the same time."

According to Wikipedia the tradition was started by a dozed young Finns in 1997, and since then the number of floating Finns has doubled every year since. In 2000, a special Internet site was established for the Float but in 2005 the original innovators withdraw from organizing the event because of the littering problem caused by too many beer-drinkers on the river.

In 2007 almost 400 floaters took part in the festivities and although no accidents have ever occurred the authorities have been concerned about the security as well as the amount of littering. For the 2008 event over 1200 Facebook users had registered as participants to Beer Floating although there were rumors about the event being cancelled. The authorities had asked the Internet site to be closed before the event and suggested that people stay away from the festivities. This didn't stop committed beer-drinkers from floating down the river once more.

Last summer the festival was arranged again, without the designated Internet site. This was enough for the authorities. According to Helsingin Sanomat the Vantaa District Court is about decide on whether or not the website owners could be held responsible for breaking the law concerning public meetings. They have not informed the police about the event, which would not get permission from police anyway.

The prosecutor sees that the two men who used to operate the Internet site on which Beer Floating was discussed and planned should be charged. According to the accused no-one had ever actually organized the Beer Floating but participants had found their way to the event through informal channels and many different Internet forums including theirs.

This ethical problem seems to have something in common with the Pirate Bay case (see my earlier post). Should the domain owner be held responsible of actions or discussion that might lead to unlawful action outside of the site? If, for example, two commentors of my blog would discuss where and when to steal a bike or go shop-lifting, should I be held responsible? Maybe not but what if my blog was built for that particular purpose - to have people plan their illegal actions?

Whatever the "right" answer is, it is surely floating on the intersection of the always fluid mainstream and cross-currents that define our values. Perhaps right and wrong, lawfulness, responsibility and moral become even more contested and negotiated when they are faced with the new digital world where the norms of the analogue are not always directly applicable. I don't envy the law-makers.

Pics from article titled Kaljakellunta also known as Beer Floating.
See also Demonstration for the Beer Floating in Facebook (in Finnish) and Beer Floating clip in YouTube (and another one by Luomu Vision).


Virginity through technology

In Helsingin Sanomat today, a Finnish author/columnist Riku Korhonen discussed news about Egyptian lawmakers wanting to ban a recent biotechnological innovation, the fake hymens made by a Chinese company Gigimo. New York Post (5 October 2009) describes the product:
The Artificial Virginity Hymen kit, distributed by the Chinese company Gigimo, costs about $30. It is intended to help newly married women fool their husbands into believing they are virgins - culturally important in a conservative Middle East where sex before marriage is considered by many to be illicit. The product leaks a blood-like substance when inserted and broken.
Riku Korhonen is not sure what to think of this "innocence manufactured in Far East." He sees the bodies of the women relying on the product as a battle ground where Western sexual liberalism and traditional religious moral code collide with the production lines of the ascending East Asia. In the product, Korhonen thinks, the animal instincts of humans are combined with a technocratic ability to solve problems.

The fake hymen is a great example of a technological innovation with a high load of cultural meaning. How much the product is improving women's rights is another thing. Perhaps it is good that women in male-hegemonic cultures are now more able to have premarital sex and quietly rebel against the traditional moral system. On the other hand, perhaps using the product is in a Foucauldian way reinforcing male domination as women are accepting the men's rules of sexuality by circumventing them.

Then again, to set the phenomenon in a larger context, there is nothing new under the sun. People around the world have been and are using all sorts of technologies from small things like going to the gym, using make-up and shaving to more radical operations like cosmetic surgery to make themselves more desirable to the opposite (or same) sex. What's a bag of protein in that complex web of sexual culture?

Picture source: Artificial Virginity Hymen sold by Gigimo.


Participation Culture, Creativity, and Social Change

I happened to come across the 10-minute YouTube version of the inaugural lecture of David Gauntlett, Professor of Media and Communications at the School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster and the author of Media, Gender and Identity (among other things). Professors of the world, more stuff like this please!

For more information about Prof. Gauntlett's work, see e.g. Wikipedia. Also check out his complete list of publications.


Anthropological Explanation for the Financial Crisis

The "Innovation Guru" of BusinessWeek, Bruce Nussbaum discusses the cultural side of the financial crisis. His idea is that the conceptual leap from "gambling" to "gaming" in describing the phenomenon of risking money was essential. Check out the video (3 min 34 sec) here!


South Korea: Towards a Ubiquitous Mediascape

Last week I finished a manuscript to appear in Turo Uskali's (ed.) forthcoming volume titled Media Futures. The text is sort of summarizing piece of my Korean Media Culture research project (2006-2009) funded by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation. If you're interested enough to read the manuscript please feel free to comment!


The Anthropology of Online Poker: A Research Plan

Last week I posted about my future project concerning the culture of online poker, and promised to tell more about my plans. So, here is a summary of my research plan.

I'm interested in four themes of online poker culture, and the hegemonic discourses within it. The themes are 1. the players, 2. the advertising, 3. the counterforces and, finally (not really a theme) 4. a holistic ethnography.

1. The players of online poker
In studying the players I am interested in to what extent the players feel unity with other members of the online poker community and how they uphold this unity. Moreover, I am interested on how the players negotiate their playing to fit their personal historical narrative. I assume the players form a subculture that has to be adapted to each one's personal microculture. On the other hand, the players have to negotiate the status and the position of the game in the wider system of cultural meaning. How exactly this happens is something I'm going to find out.

To study the players I will interview 10 to 20 Finnish poker players, pros and amateurs. In addition to interviews about the meaning of online poker, I will practice participant observation which, in this limited sense, will mean observing players at their gaming interface and asking them to explain the flow of the game and the significances they see in the process.

2. Online poker advertising
The online poker ads seem to appeal to masculinity, sexuality, excitement and the promise of luxury. My purpose is to analyze the hegemonic discourse in advertising and reconstruct the image of an authentic poker-player in that discourse. For this I will go through various poker sites and magazines.

3. Counterforces of online poker
Online poker has evoked a lot of resistance in the media. Especially the well-being of young players is often worried after. It seems like it is characteristic to the resistance to represent players as in jeopardy and constantly on the verge of personal devastation. Thus, I want to analyze the discussion about online poker and find out about the rhetoric and the discursive means the opponents of online poker use to strengthen their arguments.

4. Holistic ethnography of online poker.
Finally, I will attempt a holistic ethnography which means a descriptive account of different infra- and superstructural elements of online poker culture/society. For this I will draw on the results of the previous three themes as well as the popular and academic literature and websites on the subject. Briefly put, I will try to write a straight and informative general description of online poker culture.

If you have anything to comment or suggest
feel absolutely free to post a comment or email me!

Pic sources: Bronislaw Malinowski here, poker table here.


The Anthropology of Online Poker: A Polemical Prelude

Nothing can substitute the experience of the game, the psychological eye for the game and the ability to manipulate the opponents. Instead of hesitating and contemplating whether or not to dare, it is extremely important to just jump straight into the game.

"This is how you start playing online poker", From,
(transl. from Finnish by JJ)

Online poker is a game for the young men living in the world dedicated to experience. As a cultural phenomenon it is an interesting mix of cyberspace, hard work, economics and nomadic culture. It is against and for protestant ethics. It is a Darwinist trip. It is about the Baudrillardian hyperreal and the everyday personal Realpolitik. It is a game that is work and pleasure, where men battle over glory.
The folklore of online poker has its geniuses, foxes and plain losers. Big players move big money for a living and luxury. Small players play to smuggle a little excitement in to the Everyday. The advertisement draws on and renews the heroics and the discourse of Man of the Game, not ignoring sex appeal. To play bravely in a dynamic and exciting environment keeps one's masculinity alive.

On the borderline of poker culture there is the counter-discourse using moral panic to limit the reckless of the cyberspace, to tame the characters shifting around the liminal spaces of welfare state, going against traditional values of work, responsibility and family.

From these polemical grounds I will start my next research project next fall, studying online poker culture with the tools of anthropology and funded by the Finnish Foundation for Gaming Research. I will write more about my research plan a bit later.

Pic above is an ad of Full Tilt Poker at Poker Magazines news site, the pic below is from Full Tilt Poker site.


Notes on ICTD2009 conference

The 3-day conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2009) at Carnegie Mellon University, Doha, Qatar was an intensive package full of, well, information and communication.

As I've written before, ICTD is a new and vast field in the making and it seems like the only thing its scholars, practitioners and observers agree on is that it is a field that focuses on the relationship between technology and the communities of developing countries.

In Doha, scholars of economics, sociology, anthropology as well as engineers, NGO representatives and civil servants all defined their work as ICTD. Not surprisingly, the definition, purpose, visions and rules of ICTD became a common topic in Doha. "What is ICTD?" was a hard question to answer, particularly when someone else asked you "What is development?"

The lovely organized chaos within the field just makes the whole constellation more interesting. The fact is that whatever the definition of ICTD is, it doesn't stop people from doing important research, grass root work and policy planning. The dangerous thing for many, it seems, is businesses using ICTD as a label to improve their sales. For many, that's just fine too. If people benefit, there's no beef.

But what does "benefit" mean? That's actually a question that was asked many times. How to evaluate ICTD's impact? What is good ICTD? The basic challenge of ICTD seems to be to come up with a good ICTD innovation. And, further, to measure the success of an innovation. Finally, if there is a successful innovation, how to make it work somewhere else.

For a Finnish-language conference report (8 p.) of ICTD2009, click here.


Yasukuni, Japan and Korea: A Paper

Tomorrow I will join the Asian Political Thought seminar organized by Prof. Pekka Korhonen of Political Science at University of Jyväskylä. I will present a short paper about an exceedingly interesting phenomenon loaded with symbolism and nationalism. It's the Yasukuni Shrine issue and I will discuss how it is presented in Korean online media. Here's an excerpt for a prelude:
Korea was occupied for 35 years by the Japanese Empire, from1910-45. It is a history that still defines what it means to be Korean. On August 15th of 2006, the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited Yasukuni Jinja, a shrine in Tokyo dedicated to the souls of soldiers who had given their lives for the Emperor. The year marked the 61st anniversary of Japan’s surrender and Korea’s liberation in World War II, and Koizumi was the first prime minister in twenty years to visit Yasukuni on that particular day. The visit sparked strong reactions in Korean media and, created a related stir Korea’s political sphere. Indeed, Koizumi’s move prompted the South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun to postpone his visits to Japan for a year.

In the Korean media sphere, Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit re-animated the figure of Japan as it existed during World War II. For Koreans, what may have been a small step for the Japanese Prime Minister, was seen as a trampling over of the Korean nation, and signified Japanese disregard to Korea’s past suffering. In this paper I briefly present and discuss some of the Korean reactions to the Yasukuni Shrine issue in 2006. I consider how Korean online media represented the case to its foreign, English-speaking audiences and through that process, constructed and renewed a Korean national identity.

Read the whole paper here. For a longer version in Finnish, see this link. All comments are welcome!


22 Why Questions about the Web

Ever wonder why you can do certain things on the Internet but not something else? Or, why the web is like it is although it could be different/better - or could it?

Alexander van Elsas is a new media blogger and the CEO of Glubble, an online activity center for families. In his blog post, Alexander has asked 22 questions about the web under six different categories, which are:

1) Networks and destinations
2) Personality and identity
3) Data
4) Privacy
5) Business models
6) Behavior.

Some of Alexander's questions are rhetorical, some very easy to answer and some have no meaningful answer. Nevertheless the questions per se seem to tell us a lot about the web as a new way of being and about people's attitudes towards it.

My favorite questions on the list of 22:

5. Why am I forced to be fragmented across the web, instead of having one presence that can connect anywhere?
7. What is or defines my online identity? Am I my profile, my interactions, my data?
11. Can data lead to demand, or does it only take care of supply?
20. Why would we want to have thousands of friends and interact everywhere?
22. Why do we spend more and more time online while real life passes by so quickly?

See the rest of the questions here. (One commenter even had his staff answer the questions. Check them out!)

Pic of Alexander van Elsas from his blog.


Prelude to ICTD2009 Conference - Defining the Discipline

A group of researchers and I are planning a project on the use of mobile communication technology in several developing countries - my site being Tamil Nadu, India, where I used to do ethnography for my PhD dissertation.

Our project could be defined as belonging to the field of ICTD or Information and Communication Technologies and Development. As one might guess, it is a broad field concerning developing countries and the use of new technologies in them. To get to know more about the field, I will be attending ICTD2009 next week in Doha, Qatar.

There's another abbreviation, ICT4D, that has more or less the same kind of meaning than ICTD but perhaps with a slightly different orientation. In his blog post ICT4D, ICTD, or what? Chris Coward discusses the definition of the discipline.

Chris says ICT4D usually connotes "the application of (primarily digital) ICT to interventions that have an explicit developmental goal such as health, education, government transparency" etc. and it has a tendency to ignore conventional development goals or research about all kinds of non-developmental uses of ICT in the developing world context.

For example, according to Chris his colleague's paper about depictions of computers in Indian cinema proposed for ICTD2009 was critiqued for not fitting in the discipline. To Chris this is regrettable as,

"it is incredibly relevant to understand how the computer has become a symbol of aspiration within a society, how that symbol has changed over time, is the computer used for good or ill, what effect this has on people’s views of technology’s promise or pitfalls, and so on."
Chris goes on to compare ICT4D with ICTD which has a broader scope not excluding more research on how ICT is used in developing countries. ICTD doesn't necessarily have to have a developmental goal.

In defining the discipline that focuses on ICT in developing countries there is also the problem of defining "development" and, as Chris says, the need to discuss the meaning of lumping "countries into developing or developed buckets". Also, there's the big question of whether ICTD is a field at all, and if so, what should it be eventually called. Chris says he will take these issues up in an ICTD Curriculum Workshop at Doha. I'm sure there will be at least one interesting discussion at ICTD2009!

Pic sources: Indian monk with cell phone from W3C; ICTD2009 logo from the conference website; book cover of ICT4D: Information and Communication Technology for Development from Cambridge catalogue.


Could a Robot Replace an Anthropologist?

LiveScience (2 April 2009) reported about Adam the Robot Scientist of Abersystwythin University succeeding in creating and confirming a scientific hypothesis without human intervention. Adam predicted that in baker's yeast there are certain genes for specific enzymes encouraging biochemical reactions. The robot then ran experiments in its laboratory to test the hypothesis and analyzed the results.

Although hypothesis-producing robots are an "age-old" invention (since 2004), Adam is special because it can handle independent and automatized laboratory work. According to the computer scientist Ross King, in the future robots will become more widely applied as assistants in the routines and less-interesting tasks of laboratory scientists.

Now when do we anthropologists get our hypothesis-producing robots?! I would love to co-write an article with iMalinowski or Android Appadurai. Or, to get back on Earth, if a cyborg anthropologist is a tall order, it would definitely be interesting to use a robot in the field of, say, urban ethnography.

I can easily imagine an interactive robot such as the ones wondering around Incheon Airport, South Korea (see pic left) programmed to do participant-observation and interview people in a public space. Obviously, serious scrutiny of the method would be required but if low-cost and discreet robots were to be produced in the future, I'd see no problem in hiring a few. It would be fun too!

However, if robot-ethnographers are yet to take over, there is fortunately a lot of mixing between anthropologists and robots going on already. Many anthropologists such as Jennifer Robertson (Univ. of Michigan) and Kathleen Richardson (Univ. of Cambridge) are studying the human-robot interaction with fascinating results. It's definitely one of the major fields of anthropology's future!

So, if for now I can't enjoy the help of an ethnographer-robot I can at least study the emerging field of humans mingling with robots.

Read the LiveScience article on Adam here. See also the Mbnet article on the same in Finnish. Pic sources: Robot at Incheon Airport by Jukka Jouhki; Robertson with Asimo from (article orig. from The Daily Texan).


Paleo-Future or the Futures of the Past

Microsoft Office Labs has produced a montage video about what information technology will be like in 2019. In my opinion it's a neat and inspiring video but like any vision of the future, it has little to do with what the world will actually be like. The future just sort of shies away from most predictions, and the visions end up telling more about the contemporary world than the future.

Reading the the comments discussing the MOL video at iStartedsomething I myself started to rekindle my long lost idea of doing research on the past futures. Or the futures of the past. Then I came across Tim R. Mortiss' blog with some links to websites and blogs discussing the theme.

Paleo-Future is a blog that takes "a look into the future that never was". Paleo-future as a concept means a historical look at the visions of the future. The blog has plenty of interesting material on its subject. Here's a few pictures (click for hyperlink to original post) of how the future was imagined in the past.

"Going to the Opera in the Year 2000" (1882) - Of course on the all too non-existent flying cars!

"Everyman's Folding Auto" (1939) - Not yet, but we do have the folding bike though.

"Game Parlor in the Future" (1982) - Pretty perceptive story actually!

"Tomorrow's Kitchen" (1943) - No pots and pans anymore!

"The Future of the Helicopter" (1955) - Handy, eh?

Other interesting posts in the blog include: Postcards Show the Year 2000 (circa 1900), Collier's Illustrated Future of 2001 (1901) and Movies to be Produced in Every Home (1925). Check them out!

You can also browse through Daily Motion for paleofuturistic video clips. See, for example, The Electronic home (late 1980s) commercial with "computer-television" controlled with a joystick and "computerized yellow pages". The video is produced by a telephone company and they predict that information services through the "computer-television" will be as natural as driving a car in the future. Not bad, eh?

Or check out Magic Highway, a clip where an American vision of traveling by motorcar is presented in 1958. In The Future is Now (1955) electronic photography, video telephone and electronic music synthesizer are visioned.

And where's my jetpack already?! See the Jetpack Dreams trailer of a book by Mac Montandon (see also the Pale-Future post about it).

"How would you feel if those futurescapes of fifty years ago materialized today?" asks William Gibson. Read his essay at

Pic sources as sited by Paleo-Future blog: Lithograph by Albert Robida in La vie électrique; The November 26, 1939 issue of San Antonio Light; a 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine; the April 30, 1955 issue of Pacific Stars and Stripes (Tokyo, Japan). More about Microsoft Office Lab's future visions here.