The term cyborg anthropology was first described in a paper from 1995. They viewed cyborg anthropology as bringing cultural anthropology of science and technology into conversion with established activities in science and technology studies plus feminist studies of science, technology and medicine. By calling attention more generally to the cultural production of human distinctiveness by examining ethnographically thee boundaries between humans and machines along with and what constitutes the boundaries between them. This post will aim to give an overview of the area and its usefulness in studying human-computer interactions. Though this means all devices not just traditional computers so smartphones, tablets, IoT devices etc. In short cyborg anthropology aims to combine grounded research on human-technology interactions with an openness to speculation and imagination.
Use & Purpose
Like all anthropologists, a cyborg anthropologist will watch or study people (living or dead) but their fieldwork involves observing how people participate in digital networks and project their personalities, communicate, work, play and even form values on their digital devices, services and networks they interact with and use on a regular basis.
The number of areas that cyborg anthropology can be applied to are numerous in number so only a partial list of them will be given as examples:
- Privacy, personal data and social networks - how people perceive and their willingness or tolerance to share their data.
- Examine how different generation uses social networks e.g. teens vs adults.
- Use of smart devices and wearables in people life - smartwatches, smartphones, home devices etc.
- Cybersecurity - human factors why do people keep falling for phishing emails.
Information from the research could highlight ways to better design devices, services and networks. Or influence ways to improve data protection and privacy policies and their enforcement. Also, how to move away from the human being the weakest link in cybersecurity to the potentially the key strong link.
Thee related discipline of Ethnography
Depending on your route through academy and research either you study ethnography as its own separate discipline or it can be a subset of anthropology itself through usually social or cultural anthropology. Digital Ethnography describes the process and methodology of doing ethnographic research in a digital space. The digital field site is sometimes comprised of text, video or images, and may contain social relations and behaviour patterns strewn across many nations, cities or intellectual geographies. The field site may be composed around a singular belief, such as a brand following, or can be a network of dozens or even thousands of different belief patterns, social customs and actions. Large networks such as Facebook and Twitter have their own subgroups and sets of cultures that gravitate towards each other. Like a traditional anthropologist, the main concern of a digital ethnographer is locating the field site and learning the language of the natives. The difference is that the anthropologist may be able to access the field site without physical travel. In many cases, the fieldsite may be a mental construct created by a group of geographically distributed nodes on an information network.
Hopefully, this post provides some useful ideas and information for further reading. Understanding human-technology interactions is vital. Especially, in our current era of fakes news, disinformation campaigns and harmful conspiracy theories. Being better able to understand the environment they exist in and thrive will allow us to develop ways to minimise or maybe eliminate their impact on society.