Always on, always good?


Here is a very interesting pointer from putting people firstThe role of ethnographic research in driving technology innovation – Lessons from Inside Asia. The piece is about the Inside Asia project team from Intel which has spent over two years in seven different Asian countries, including India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Korea, and Australia (Australia? inside Asia? never mind).

The article then continues with a focus on such uniquely Asian issues such as the emphasis on community, the sharing of technology, the difficulty of accessing electrical power in rural regions, the technological infrastructural delivery in cities (to buildings, rather than to apartments), the religious and spiritual resistance to the Western concept of being ‘always on’, and Asia’s fairly large internet cafés with up to 50 PC’s.

Intel has already started work on translating these ethnography insights into innovation ideas and has two products on roll for the Chinese market : the China Home Learning PC and the iCafé platform. Read more about it here.

In all this, I am particularly intrigued by this dimension :the religious and spiritual resistance to the Western concept of being ‘always on’.

Some thoughts on this. First is of course, a curiosity about what kind of religious and spiritual resistance could people have to the idea of being ‘always on’ – practical objection yes, but spiritual?

And then the question that begs to be asked: is it really possible for any person using technology in today’s world to choose to be not always on? Rajesh Jain says in Say hello to an always-on world – Imagine a world where access to networks is the norm and not the exception, where information is available and notified in real time, where people are reachable independent of their location, and where objects can talk to other objects – I imagine and it is a horrifying thought.

*begin rant* I stopped using skype because of all the cranks who assumed I was “always on” for an entertaining chat with strangers. And the loss was entirely mine – the convenience of skype that came with a price. Till recently, when I tentatively signed into skype again and found a huge change for the better. I log into gmail and find that people whom I have exchanged emails with once in my lifetime are part of my chat contacts. My husband’s bluetooth phone is always on the prowl for other bluetooth appliances around him – again, perfect strangers popping up in your path, wanting to be part of your life. And do not even get me started on mobile phones and text messaging. *end rant*

The point of that long rant is that I do not see “always on” as a choice – it is part of the deal of being connected, accesible and updated. Always on is literally that – always, and “partially always on” is indeed the oxymoron it sounds like.

I came across this excellent post on always on people on freegofireo – In a long-forgotten, recent past we were told technology would give people “more time” and allow us all to “do what we love” rather than having to “love what we do”. In this piece, there is this bit about gadgets in Japan and conversation-avoidance. *digression* does anyone else feel that we now choose to be always on more for strangers out there in the virtual / wave world rather than the physical / emotional world around us?

And not everyone, (even in Asia, I am sure) is averse to the idea of being always on. One of the key target groups for technology innovation – youth – live in such a world. Presence, now and here is vital in their lives; I have met teenagers who tell me that they exchange over a hundred text messages every day with friends. Here is a post from the social software weblog on how even email is becoming passe and too formal for the young – Email Uncool, IM Rulz. These youths, roughly 18, 19 and 20 years old, are third-generation Internet users and to them, email is akin to getting dressed up for a job interview, an uncomfortable formality to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

And this is not just about youth; technology itself is moving towards being always on. In that case, how does a company like Intel reconcile technology innovation with this insight from field, about resistance to being always on. It would be interesting to see if there is a way that this need can be addressed through innovation.

Read about this in detail on the Intel website – Inside Asia – it is very interesting to read about how research insights are converted into innovation practices. And yes, I did get a partial answer to spirituality and always-on-ness…


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3 Responses to “Always on, always good?”

  1. Speaking of the religious and spiritual differences between east and west, are you familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “mythos”? Very insightful stuff.

    And for those who really are afraid of the always-on world, you’re not alone:

  2. 2 raju


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  1. 1 A Time To Reflect » Blog Archive » Mind your mobile manners

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