When we name a technology, we give it a label that comes to represent functions as well as forms -- as assumption that technological artifacts have consistent meaning across social contexts. But while form may ostensibly remain stable, functions vary widely across context -- in turn giving rise to different usage patterns. This talk begins with an examination of what are essentially fictional definitions (what is "the Internet," "an Internet user," a "mobile phone") and discusses how the same collection of circuits and memory can occupy varying cultural meanings across contexts, particularly in resource-constrained environments. These differences have significant implications for design, and the talk then continues with a series of case studies of how technology design addresses (or ignores) differences in function and cultural meaning.
Beth Kolko is a fellow at the Berkman Center and Associate Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. Her background bridges humanities and engineering, and her research over the years has focused on issues of identity, community, and technology use. Her current work focuses on technology adoption and adaptation in diverse communities. Currently, she leads the NSF Central Asian Information and Communications Technology Project, a longitudinal study of the effect of Information Communication Technology (ICT) on society, and she is a member of the Gates Foundation/IDRC Global Impact Study. She also leads the Design for Digital Inclusion research group which studies technology design and use in resource-constrained environments.
Last updated June 18, 2009