The anthropological study that mainly focuses on the existing relationship between the digital-era technology and humans is referred to as digital anthropology. Due to the newness of the study, the field has various names and emphases, including digital ethnography, techno-anthropology, virtual anthropology, and cyber anthropology. While anthropology is mainly the study of people and what they do, digital technology focuses on the consequences of digital technology for specified population, research on a specified digital technology, utilization of the technology in an anthropological methodology.
Digital ethnography refers to ethnographic market research carried out in an online space. The researcher access online space as they strive to study the participants while still in their natural setting. The online setting is majorly composed of image, videos, or text as well as social behaviours and interactions. Social media platforms are used when studying behaviours and interaction patterns of specified subgroup and cultures. One key difference between digital ethnography and ethnographic market research is the fact that the traditional ethnographer travelled to specified locations to collect the data contrary to digital ethnography where the researcher uses the internet to access the required information.
Digital anthropology evolved from the studies of material culture that mainly focused on the way things make people as opposed to the way people make things. It is by socializing and studying various world cultures that humans understand themselves better. The consumer culture in association with material products played a significant role in the expansion and diversification of culture, a factor that has found its diversity and dynamism through digital forms. Although the existence of digital world is through online approaches, the field is relevant. Its material side is through memes, digital photography, computers, platforms, and digital money.
The digital is a design of excess concrete forms and processes and not an abstraction. The processes then become subjects of cultural differentiation when encountered through the context of their consequences and usage for some specified population. For instance, social media study indicate that, the Brazilian internet mainly focuses on gender relations and political memes, while Chinese internet through the creation instant messaging services focuses on hierarchies of users and avatars (Miller 3). In some regions constant internet debates are evident, concerning the compatibility of digital forms with Islam while others focuseon ways that internet can be utilized in the mobilization of feminist protest.
Binary coding has enhanced recent forms of sharing through the utilization of “Open Source,” which is the collective advancement of code itself. Its effectiveness has been evidenced where some regions has used it as a model of political ideals (Miller 3). For instance, the Five Star populist movement of Italy, which used internet to support direct democracy, soon became the largest political party in 2018 elections. Most forms of control and surveillance that were initial unimaginable have been realized through digital tools.
When viewed through anthropological eye, the prominence of internet was both contradictoryand diverse. Therefore, digital anthropology examines the growth of culture in form and scale with the inclusion of new perspective in regards to who people are becoming, as well as, what ought to be regarded as traditional or modern. Anthropologists perceive the digital in a contextual approach. For instance, if biometrics in China is viewed as a efficient citizen control or a provider of a perfect access to welfare benefits in India, it is about the political choices for both countries. In this case, the biometric is representative of increased capacity of huge data that have been sourced from the citizens then exploited in various ways.
The Daily Digital Life
Digital anthropology is responsible of observing and accounting for the underlying consequences resulting from the digital developments in peoples’ lives around the world. The key element of anthropology is the holistic traditional ethnography where the study strives to understand how people relate to things happening in their life. It is worth noting that no one lives online; therefore, to understand people’s participation in digital technologies, it is also important to focus on non-digital lives of people.
Studies indicate that most families who migrate abroad from Philippines communicate with their families through Facebook. The population of migrant works who are now-global utilize the new media to maintain a feeling of Filipino sociality which plays an important role in mitigating the physical separation through the creation of an integrated online sphere (McKay). Most mothers are migrants while their children are still in the Philippines. Letter writing has been replaced by the internet a factor that has drastically transformed the communication between the children and their mothers. In addition, the interaction has become constant than it was before the digital era. According to Madianou and Miller digital technologies has enhanced transnational motherhood (par). During the era of letter writing as the main form of communication, letters would delay a factor that affected the emotional wellbeing of both the mothers and the children.
Disadvantages of Digital Anthropology
Although digital technologies have positively influenced people lives, social media has its limitations, regardingthe way it impactspeoples’ lives. Studies indicate that in Grano southeast of Italy, a the use of social media is relatively low (Nicolescu 2). In this region, the community has largely rejected social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, while they use Facebook on special cases only. The people in Grano have enhanced a one-to-one communication, which has reducedthe use of social media in the region. People meet at the flourishing public sphere situated around town squares for physical interaction. Wang indicate that in China, the migrant’s interaction with social media has superseded the one-to-one interaction (2). The young workers do not utilize the social media as a communication medium with their families back home, but rather use the platforms to engage other people in the modern urban China. Some of the mainly used social media platforms in China are WeChat and QQ. Although social media is the easiest platform of finding and making friends, its anonymity is also the breeding ground for predators and cyber bullies.
Advantages of using Digital Technologies
One of the most positive feature of the technology is uniting the families,which have been fragmented by global migration a factor that has enhanced transnational motherhood. In Eastern Turkey, the Kurdish people have used digital technologies in the reconstruction of their traditional lineage after families were dispersed by decades of conflicts (Costa 27). The technology has enhanced anthropology research and encouraged anthropologist to use the digital platforms to share their research findings. Digital technologies has also played a significant role in outlining way through which the anthropologists can study the digital communities. The cyber space as a field has helped in observation, analysis, and interpretation of the social cultures that exist in those interactive spaces. Digital anthropology has also helped in the transformation of politics as was the case of Italy populist’s movement.
The Rrole of Digital Anthropology in Global Citizenship Essential
In a world of 6000 languages and a population of over seven billion people, the global citizenship essential will enable people to appreciate the global context. It will also help in exchanging values and perspectives, work with different communities and act across boundaries and cultures. Digital technologies have helped people to understand things in a global context through the use of internet and the cyber space. Digital anthropology is a link between online (the virtual) and offline or physical (the actual). The researchers can now access information from any part of the world and use it in making informed conclusions about issues affecting the world
The internet through the use of interactive spaces has enhanced the exchange of values and perspectives. As evidenced with the populist movement of Italy, the social media played an important role in shaping the politics of Italy as was evidence in 2018 elections. In this case, people from different backgrounds collaborated through social media and shared their perspectives, regardingr democracy, which saw a big change in the country’s political landscape. Through digital anthropology people can appreciate diversity and interact with diverse cultures even in their workplaces.
Digital anthropology has enhanced the study and development of human cultures and societies. The study has emphasized on the underlying consequences of digital technology in anthropological methodology, specified population, and research on particular digital technology. The use of digital technologies have createdcultural differentiation, regardingthe context of usage applied and the population using it. The differentiation aspect is evident in both Brazil and China where the two countries use the same internet but focus on entirely varying debates. The digital anthropology has enhanced the exchange of values and perspectives to the extent of shaping the political path of a country.
An anthropologist should use digital anthropology to account for the consequences that result from numerous digital developments on peoples’ lives. For instance, it has negatively affected the one-to-one communication as evidenced by the industrial rural migrant workers in China On the other hand, it has enhanced transnational motherhood and promoted the digital technology as a key tool of anthropological research. The research conducted through digital technologies is more precise since the target population is not aware of data collection process, which can enhance validity and reliability of a research.
Costa, E. Social Media in Southeast Turkey. London: University College Press, 2016.
Madianou, M and D Miller. Migration and New Media: Trasnational families and Polymedia. Routledge, 2012.
Mckay, D. An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks. Indiana University Press, 2016.
Miller, Daniel. “Digital Anthropology.” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology (2018).
Nicolescu, R. Social Media in Southern Italy. London: University College Press, 2016.
Wang, Xinyuan. Social Media in Industrial China. UCL Press, 2016.