3.11.09

The Anthropology of Homo Digitalis and His Tribes


EXAMINING TYPES OF DIGITAL USER CULTURES
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.

THE SIX TRIBES
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:



A PREDICTION: DIGITAL REFUSENIKS
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.

2 comments:

  1. Although this was not the first digital anthropology report, it gained enough traction in the online and social community that it s
    was able to appear new and useful. A few years ago, Sadie Plant, an ethnographer hired by Motorolla, came to similar conclusions in her report on mobile telephony called, 'On the Mobile'. This report is also free and online, but not as heavily advertised. It also spread outward to situated knowledge groups that were not as networked. By networked, I mean that the Six Tribes of Homo Digitalis is a piece of social currency for social networkers, while Sadie's report was probably traded in slower, more concentrated way to more specific knowledge groups. Have you read it?

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  2. Hello! Thanks for the comment. Yes, they exaggerated about being the first of its kind. And yes, I know Plant's study. I've discussed her work in my conference paper titled "A Modern Fetish: The Value of the Mobile Phone in South Korean Youth Culture". If you're interested in reading it, copy/paste this link:

    http://jyu.academia.edu/documents/0047/9240/mobile_fetish.pdf

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