Research Projects

Research in the lab is spread across several major projects:

Mobile Times

Plastic time is a framework that explains how technologies fit into our lives
Mobile Times is a global study of time use'what do you do with it, how do you think about it, and how it evolves with the forces of globalization and social change. Our first set of studies revealed that the issue of managing one's own personal time zones'the set of social obligations, relationships, and activities that create the rhythms of one's day'was increasingly complex and fragmented, though this occurs differently in different parts of the world. Based on this, the study turned to mixing qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how personal time zones affected technology use. By doing this we discovered a new aspect of time "plastic time" that is cause to rethink our assumptions about busy lifestyles.

How do social scientists put together pieces of the puzzle?
In multi-sited, multi-method research, each field site and method provides an important piece of the puzzle, enabling social scientists to ask broad, fundamental questions. Here our central problem was, which aspects of time use matter most to technology use?

  • Being busy was not the root cause of dissatisfaction with time use
  • Conflicts arise not when people have more to do, but increasingly diverse things to switch between, creating the need to "shift gears" frequently:
    1. Working for a meeting-driven multinational in Latin America, and then switching to a long leisurely coffee with friends
    2. Attending simultaneous banquets in China, so that all friends and business partners are happy
  • With globalization, we expect the amount of gear shifting to increase
Busy? Rushed?
Your time shrinking, yet somehow, you happen to know the latest post on your favorite website? Our research shows that you are experiencing 'plastic time'. The experience of 'plastic time' frames modern life'it is an experience that is highly interruptible, shrinking and expanding around immediate concerns, and interleaving through multiple activities. By tracking 169 laptops and MIDs, (in connection with Intel's Mobility Group's Strategic Planning), interviewing people, and working with national time use datasets, we have studied the long term social transformations that have created this way of life. Most social science of time use focuses on the "time crunch" the set of work and life balances that people attempt to achieve as the demands of work and family grow greater. However, by tracing computer usage, we have been able to develop an alternative point of view. When we showed printouts of people's computer usage, their accounts of their time use became very different. These accounts showed that even the busiest of us still manage to surf the internet. There are many aspects of our day, such as computer usage, that fly under the radar, can be done not just in a rushed manner but at the right time, and be bent and stretched in such a way as to enable people to interleave the multiple activities going on in their lives, in both relaxed and high-pressure moments. This bending and stretching we are calling "plastic time," and is a key way that people engage with the constraints and opportunities of modern life. These social conditions mean that people use technologies to create more distractions for themselves, not less. Distracted computing takes place in front of the television, in the kitchen and on the go, where people engage in totally unrelated content at varying levels of attention. The introduction of MIDs is set to expand the range of physical spaces, and content, from which people can distract themselves.

Technology Metabolism Index

Economics alone does not explain technology adoption
Intel and University of Washington have jointly developed a new way of measuring technology adoption. Traditional measurements, such as IBM/World Bank’s E-Readiness rankings, compare adoption across all countries regardless of wealth, and therefore rankings like these can only tell us what we already know: that wealth enables technology adoption. This is insufficient now that new markets that do not necessarily have the same economic weight as the United States or Japan are becoming important adopters and producers of new information technologies.

In response, we developed the Technology Metabolism Index, which is a calibrated measure of technology adoption that controls for national income. This means that for the first time we can identify which countries have adopted technologies at a rate over and above what might be expected at any given level of economic capacity. This puts us in a position to understand what social and political phenomenon supports high adoption rates by allowing us to make better cross-country comparisons.


How and Why Are "Consumers" Produced?
The research seeks to understand the processes which create, transform, and maintain consumer identities beyond purchasing power and retail marketing. With the changing economic landscape for businesses, increasing heterogeneity in early adopters of technology and a growing diversity of actors involved in establishing new markets, the twentieth-century model of consumers as climbing a ladder towards a single vision of technological progress no longer holds. The research will engage with the processes which are producing new, diverse, and competing models of consumers. This entails mapping the interactions among government, business, and the consumers themselves that shape cultures of consumption and technology adoption (in particular policies, business strategies and consumption practices/aspirations). The research is intended to support Intel as it builds new ecosystems and partnerships.

Post-Alphabet Kids

New, exploratory work on kids and teens focuses on the ways in which technology and media figure centrally in the everyday lives of today's kids and teens. Drawn from qualitative work in Portland, Oregon and Chicago, Illinois, this research represents an initial review of how which technology and media are embedded in everyday creativity, gaming and social relationships. s digital production tools become less expensive and more widely available at home and school, kids and teens are increasingly using them to create digital media to express their thoughts, interests, and identities. Games, movies, social profiles, comics, graphics, art, photographic images, and interactive presentations are some of the many new media objects American youth are producing for themselves, their friends, and their school projects.

Making: Everyday Digital Production
As a result of increased digital making, media literacy has become fundamental to who today's kids and teens are and what they do. Although media literacy used to be gated by access to technology, now, literacy is defined increasingly as an individual's ability to use a broad range of media tools interchangeably to produce a substantive media object. Growing media literacy is enabling kids and teens to express themselves in a variety of new creative and socially constructive ways. Using mobile phones, digital cameras, video cameras, virtual worlds, graphic applications, and even powerpoint, kids and teens are experimenting with and expressing different identities in ways that are at once more private (veiled in online anonymity) and more public (posted online where millions can see) than ever before. The everyday nature of making amongst kids and teens is marked not just by the emphasis on craft, but on the communal nature of it, suggesting the need for technical innovation to support kids doing things for and with each other.

Gaming: A New Way of Being
Games are everywhere and they are an everyday activity for many kids and teens. Games are no longer for a particular gender or age'they are popular with boys and girls, kids and teens alike. Games, and in particular digital games, are readily available through multiple channels across most hardware/software platforms. Although children still enjoy a variety of single-player and handheld games, video games are increasingly collaborative and communal. Whether they are playing together in the same room, or collaborating over the Internet, kids enjoy playing games with and against their friends. To that end, games have become another important communication medium. Although most kids report preferring to meet in the real world whenever possible, meeting in the virtual world to play a game is a suitable alternative. And, in the cases where no friends are available, kids will find new friends online. Though these nascent friendships rarely last longer than the duration of a single play session, they are nonetheless valuable partners, making games more fun and interactive for kids who would rather not play alone.

Console game systems are reaching new audiences through successful interfaces introduced by the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, and Guitar Hero/Rock Band series. In addition to rule-based games including MMOGs and networked multi-player console games, kids and teens are also using a variety of media to engage in social play. Facebook applications, MySpace's profile and image comments, and Club Penguin enable kids and teens to be playful with their friends.

Mobile Experiences

Designing Mobile Experiences
We are using design as a tool to transform our thinking about the future of mobile experiences and design new frameworks for interacting with personal devices. Mobile computing is obviously not just desktop computing while moving, and to design for a truly mobile world we must take into account a constantly shifting set of environments and intentions. In PaPR we are using our understanding of everyday life to inspire design concepts that allow us to plot a course towards new ideas.

Context Sensitive
How do you design technology that takes advantage of a data and context rich world, but which isn't trying to constantly interrupt you with new information? We are exploring concepts that are sensitive to your context and adapt their interfaces to your environment and attention level.

We are creating concepts that naturally weave themselves in to the fabric of our lives. To be truly part of our everyday experience mobile technology has to be useful all the time. Not something that is brought out just for a special "wow" occasion, but something which is constantly at hand: we want to design delight into everyday experiences.

Personal Digital Money

Paper or Plastic?
Advances in ICTs extend and amplify the circuits of global finance changing the lived experience of money from face-to-face physical transfers to computer-mediated representations, encounters, and transductions. Access to money is moving from using static objects like coins, bills, or paper certificates interacting with human agents, to using electronic media like credit or debit cards to interact with ATMs, PCs, and mobile phones. Digitalization of money accelerates its pluralization, even as it depends on legal and technical standards of inter-operability and enforceability. Quasi-moneys and para-currencies operate alongside bank-based electronic moneys and telecommunications-based currencies that may have only a tenuous link to legal tender. These multiple currencies commingle in people's wallets, restructuring people's experience of money as well as their everyday practices of budgeting and accounting.

Personal Digital Money investigates the motivations and implications of these transformations in terms of personal value and meaning. We're studying convenience, security, and rational economic choice, along with social, cultural, and aesthetic matters such as self-expression, ethical action, and autonomy. We sought insights via fieldwork in diverse sites of monetary innovation, studying wage-earners (and remitters) in Nairobi, loyalty point collectors in Tokyo, virtual currency spenders in Chengdu. Findings from these case studies inform the current project which leverages design methods and perspectives to understand the opportunities and challenges for future Intel platforms.

Digital Landscapes

Computing at the human-nature interface
Global warming, the spectre of worldwide food, water, and energy shortages, and an emergent green economy have all contributed to the reawakening of global environmental consciousness. Questions about how people relate to the natural environment -- as stewards, consumers, or devotees -- have become central concerns for individuals and institutions around the world. We see important opportunities for new technologies and services that foster understanding, encourage sustainable practices, and promote deeper connections between people and the natural world. This multi-year initiative spans several research projects.

Watershed Management
How can digital technology support efficient water use and monitoring by industry, government, and residents? How can electronic communications promote collaboration and collective decision making around shared natural resources?

The farmer PC
Can computers facilitate new forms of smart, sustainable agriculture? We are particularly interested farming practices on the margins of the agricultural industry, including smallholder high-variety farmers, and urban agriculturists.