Friday, June 8, 2012

The Skype thing

Years ago when my twins were three years old and we had just moved to Belgium, Skype became a very regular feature in our lives. We received up to three calls a day; from my mum, my sister or other friends and family. Skyping on a laptop meant we could show people our house, move around and share the conversation with the twins who would take the laptop and have 'private' chats with my mum.

Today, 6 years after our move and a few months after becoming permanent, Skype has become a window into my sister and brother in law's house which we keep on, sometimes, all evening. We chat, we eat, we do our own thing and Skype remains on. The kids will show their aunt their drawings and school work. I will even engage in a separate conversation with my brother in law on the same screen while my wife talks to my sister. And it feels completely natural.

I recall one time when my brother in law was talking to the twins and we let them walk off with the laptop, and my brother in law. Around 30 minutes had passed before I heard his cries of help.

"Someone come and get me! I don't want to watch Ben 10!!!"

The boys had pointed the screen and camera of the laptop towards the TV and were enjoying a 'shared' moment of TV with their uncle.The twins were loving it and all my brother in law could see was Ben 10.

This same brother in law sent me this link yesterday. It is art, but art which will, I am sure, inspire mainstream reality.

And as for shared moments, they are not really about sharing. They are about being in the same place. You can sit at the breakfast table enjoying you own individual newspapers without any discussion and still be enjoying a fantastic shared occasion.


Little girls and tea

I am a proud father of three kids. Twin boys who are 8 years old and tri-lingual (English, French and Dutch) and a little three year old girl who has turned each and every one of our house rules upside down. A Persian/Punjabi princess in the making? I hope not.

Hold the above paragraph while I start a new thread with this question: Do you know the difference between ritual and routine? Here is one explanation. And here is another that I wrote about some time ago. And you really need to understand the difference if you are a researcher. Everything we do is either ritualised or routine. And ritualised consumption or the ability to stimulate a ceremony around consumption is a very powerful thing. Think Haagen Dazs ice cream and an episode of Friends. Think Mars bar melted in the microwave before being eaten, slowly and indulgently, with a spoon. These are rituals where the ceremony created around consumption is more important than whatever is being consumed. And a brand will get bonus points, or brand stickiness, if they trigger the discovery of a ritual without giving explicit instruction. It won't be a discovery if instructions are given on the pack. And melting Mars bars is such a discovery. And discoveries are powerful because people take ownership of, share and make them part of their existence.

Now back to my three year old. Her name is Lila and she is the most beautiful girl in the world. This afternoon I was watching her closely. Closely because she had decided she wanted a cup of Iranian tea for the very first time after watching us drinking. My wife made some extremely weak tea for her. Next she wanted some sugar cubes. I was about to drop two in her cup when she shreiked for me to stop.

"I do it!"

Ok, you do it. Then she wanted a spoon. She didn't want me to stir her tea. She wanted to stir her own tea. And she stirred very carefully until all of the sugar had dissolved. I then made before taking a sip so it would cool. She waited patiently until I gave her the nod. She took a sip before exhaling a satisfied and very Indian sounding Aaaaaaahhh!

I looked at my wife and smiled. I had just witnessed the birth of a ritual. Lila's very own ritual. It was around stirring the tea... herself and waiting for it to cool before taking that first sip. There I had it. The start of Lila's first obvious ritual around a food or drink. Amazing. I tried to film it, but the moment had passed. I now wonder how this ritual will evolve. Will it remain the same? Will other foods become part of it? Will it disappear?

I will report back to you.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why no one gives a damn about anthropology (by Ashkuf)

Granted, the title’s controversial and overstated. But it got your attention, right? That’s called “contrarian marketing.” Humor me. You’ll see where I’m coming from. For full disclosure’s sake, you should know that I that started in religious anthropology, before moving into business anthropology, facilitating my own marketing committee, and guest-writing for AAA's marketing staff.

So, how did I learn that “nobody gives a damn” about anthropology?

2009. Gainesville, FL. Dove World Outreach Ministries, an aggressive evangelical church, had gotten vandalized after causing larger-than-usual uproar in UF’s Turlington Plaza. Concerned about escalating violence, UF hosted a meeting to discuss countermeasures. As an anthropologist with years of experience among Turlington’s evangelicals, I came to speak as an expert opinion. I delivered a well-thought-out presentation, only to get dismissed as such: “You’re an anthropologist? Don’t you study bugs or something?” The following year, Dove World hosted International Burn a Koran Day, which incited deadly riots.

“Nobody gives a damn” about anthropology, because nobody knows what it is. 

To varying degrees, other anthropologists understand this challenge. I’ve read similar woes in journals like American Anthropologist, and on blogs like Savage Minds. When Gov. Rick Scott criticized anthropology schools, USF responded with a presentation titled “This is Anthropology,” inescapably suggesting that people don’t already know what anthropology is. However, from a marketer’s perspective, a title like “This is Anthropology” only earns the attention of people who’re already interested in anthropology. Despite its thousands of views, Google reveals that “This is Anthropology’s” most relevant backlinks come from other anthropology websites. Essentially, it’s a presentation made by anthropologists, popular among other anthropologists.

So what can be done? For starters, anthropology needs mainstream interest, so we should market toward non-anthropologists. I’ve already conducted some market research, and deigned a tactic that motivates professors of *other subjects to teach students about anthropology. Access my research, "FOR ANYBODY TO CARE ABOUT ANTHROPOLOGY, THEY’LL NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT IS!" for free via

--- Ashkuff | | Bored with reading about others'
adventures? Burning to venture out yourself? Let this applied
anthropologist remind you how.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Consistency and auto ethnography

Years ago - was it 2004? - we had an online platform called 'Immersion Tank'. There was no mobile component. Respondents had to film their own events and send them in. We then had to transfer their tapes from NTSC to PAL because 90% of our projects were US based (which cost a fortune) before editing out the sections we wanted to upload to the client's viewing area.

I recall one project being all about male grooming products. One of our entries was from a wife taking numerous shots of her husband choosing a razor and shaving cream/gel from the POS. Each photo was beautifully taken and even more beautifully annotated. Another entry was from a man buying products for himself in CVS. It was terrible quality video which shook all over the place. He didn't care. He was doing the basic minimum, he believed, to get paid.

A couple of things occurred to me/us. First of all, pictures were much easier and more enjoyable to look at than video. You could actually study them at length and to great depths without getting the kind of head ache you would get trying to do the same with a sequence of video. I found this extremely disappointing given that Immersion Tank's USP was video.

The second challenge was that quality of filming ranged from semi-pro to 'I don't even care if the lens hasn't focussed yet'...

In the end we had to kill Immersion Tank because we were spending even more time and money than our usual ethnographic research converting taps and editing them.

These days, our EthOS platform has allowed us to improve consistency in the quality of entries enormously. And the way we have achieved this is using 'benchmark' films to give respondents an idea of what we are expecting. In addition, we have have made a film giving useful tips on how to use a smartphone to capture different media effectively. You can watch it here or above.

Before I sign off, you might be interested in this observation about video vs. photo.