I am working with a fantastic group of scholars preparing a session for the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco in November. I thought I would share with you the latest draft of my abstract and gather some feedback, comments, and ideas. Here it is:
Throughout the world, people are increasingly uploading detailed information about their lives onto the web via tweets, tags, blogs, vlogs, photos, and videos. Even more is uploaded unintentionally, as much of what we do now leaves a digital trail. The transformation of physical objects into digital ones through the use of RFID tags and 2D barcodes promises to exponentially increase the amount of digital debris our movements leave behind. Meanwhile, emerging web standards such as XML, RSS, RDF, and GeoRSS are enabling this information to become both the form and content of a massive interactive database of the mundane: a nearly ubiquitous always-on, context-aware, semantic, social, and mobile network of information, people, and things. While such proclamations of radical change are now commonplace, the actual production of anthropological knowledge remains relatively unchanged. What happens to the way we do anthropology when we fully accept the implications of living digitally? In this presentation, I will suggest that the digital mediascape has created an untapped potential for a form of digital archeology, unearthing and sorting the masses of digital information being produced to see cultural patterns previously unrecognized. As an illustration, a digital “dig” of San Francisco will attempt to account for all of the digital data currently being produced in the city. Using Google Maps mashups and other data visualizations such as those produced by the Exploratorium’s Invisible Dynamics project, this presentation will explore the provocative notion that we may be able to create a new genre for ethnographic description and interpretation by writing small programs and APIs to organize, aggregate and represent cultural information.