Ethnography is one of the most useful tools in my toolbox. It is woven into design by pioneers and mentors like Robert Textor and Lucy Suchman. Portland has its own leader in the field, Australian Genevieve Bell. She has a talk tonight: Women, Data, and the Internet of Things. It has been a focus; her ideas of how it applies to domestic family life are explored in her book Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing.
The Internet of Things is an en vogue term for objects of all kinds to sense their surroundings or interact using a connection to the Internet to reach their "brain" in a data center. The Nest thermostat is an example. It uses computers in Google data centers to decide how to use energy efficiently while keeping the temperature comfortable. Exercise sensors like the Nike Fuel Band or the Jawbone Fit Bit would be other examples. The best design gives the devices a natural interface, like your phone or increasingly voice, and hides the complexity of the where, what and how of the "brain". Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke conceptualized it: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Or another way of saying it is "it just works."
Videos of her talks are readily available on the Internet. Tonight she speaks to the Think and Drink audience in a series sponsored by Oregon Humanities.
Tickets online albertarosetheatre.com, phone (503) 764-4131, or in person at the Alberta Rose Theater box office.
At Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta Doors 6PM talk 7 $10