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Keeping technology relevant

01 Feb 2007

At first it may seem one of the oddest jobs in the industry. After all, what on earth does anthropology have in common with technology? However Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist in Intel’s people and practices research division, is working to keep technology real. “A large part of my job is to be the informed sceptic and ask the engineers who they think they’re designing for,” she says. Bell spends her time looking at what people care about, how they live and how relevant technology is in their lives. She then translates that to keeping Intel’s business group focused on what’s important. “There’s been a naivety that the home is an extension of the office which just isn’t true. At home you don’t have an IT repair guy hiding in the broom closet. If anything I think the home raises the bar on the level of robustness required of technology.” One of the biggest challenges, says Bell, is the way home technology has to work straight out of the box.   “If it took ten minutes for your fridge to start up in the morning do you think anyone would have one? There’s such a gold standard of service with devices like toasters and vacuum cleaners that people expect technology to work in the same instant way.” Bell notes that as women and men spend their time differently in the home their technology requirements differ.“Women still bear the bulk of household responsibilities so they have fragments of time which reflects on how they use technology. For example it’s younger women that have driven wireless uptake as it can be used anywhere around the house during those spare time fragments.” It’s these trends that Bell says suddenly snap a technology into focus. For instance, the increase in high speed data connectivity has seen the subtle transformation of the computer in the home, says Bell. “I’m now starting to see all things moving to storage. Technologists fantasise about consumption but the reality is in the way people use it. These days so much of our lives is digital content and I wonder what that will do to our memories in the future.” With the potential for so much digital content Bell predicts consumers will increasingly demand technology to store and access what they want to.When it comes generational usage of technology Bell believes there is a definite gap at play. “It’s not so much dependent on generation though, rather life stage. People with young children have more in common regardless of age and that’s what drives technology patterns. What interests me is what will happen when the millennium generation hit the long-term relationship and child rearing stage. Will they still live their lives simultaneously in the digital and physical worlds?”

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