Sunday, April 27, 2008

too little too late

"What a great country this is. We're all having hard financial times so the government just says 'Here's $600 for you.'"

And Bush says it will help to offset rising gas and food prices.

I mean, if I was in deep now, this $600 would be like a spritz of Dolce and Gabbana. $600 would be just perfect for someone that just needed help with one month's rent to finish paying off Christmas bills. The people that it would make that kind of a difference to are a) ahead of the game already and b) a minority. For a lot of people $600 won't knock a single digit off their debt, that is, if that's where they choose to put it.

Not to say I wouldn't take it as happily as the next guy. I am not eligible anyway so I can rant. I would still rant even if I was, because I don't need it, and if I really did need it, it certainly would not offset my need. Better that they keep it. Buy out the health insurance companies. Heal the war veterans. Fix public transit. Subsidize gas prices if you want it to help so much.

For those of us who don't need it, the money will go into savings. For those of us who do, it is hardly worth putting toward our debts. It becomes play money, not ready to be spent rationally, which, if it was, would be going toward public interest. Maybe, as I was told, that is the point.

Monday, April 21, 2008

the whole world is watching

Today's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania may decide the nomination, and more, we hope, the election.

I shamefully confess that I did not register Democrat in time, so I will not be able to vote in this primary. But I have been surveying and cheering every time someone says they will vote for Obama, for whom I have heard a lot of support. Some people have straight-up told me they don't vote, which is disappointing. Others are in my same boat - didn't register in time. Regardless, I am cheering on the elections to favor Obama.

During my last trip to Morocco it was fascinating to hear about coverage on the primary races. Everyone knows that this is a real shot at changing the dark course of the past 8 years, and that the next President of the United States will have an impact on people all over the world. Now that my home state, and more especially, the Philadelphia suburbs, can make or break the campaign, I feel like the world spotlight is shining on us. I hope so much that we follow up.

"Soon," a friend of mine told me, "the nightmare will be over."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Kula ringtones

An article in the NYT this past week describes the life of the Jan Chipchase, an anthropologist working for Nokia who researches how a cell phone can be most useful to people in growing cities of the "developing" world.

Corporate jobs are a swelling pool of opportunity for anthropologists, who can provide valuable insight on untapped markets. These opportunities lead us to question whether or not we are compromising those values that originally brought [most of] us to the field. To some the corporate job is the selling of self and culture for profit. In the harm-reduction camp, the insight that anthropology provides can help companies approach these markets in ways that can suit both parties more appropriately.

The end of the applied anthropologist, which [I think] ought to be defined primarily by an understanding of a culture, is compromised by that uncompromisable end of the corporation's, which is profit, whose only interest in culture is that which is relevant to it. There is no going back to the boss here to say "I think these people are just fine without cell phones." And true, that would be a tough pitch to make anyway because what quality of life could not benefit from the immediate access to information given by the cell phone? In case you had any doubts, allow them to rub the softest spot in the debate on the graces of technology, which is health and medicine. The article lists some convincing examples, although in a country where maybe 10 people might exist without a cell phone, I still can't text message any doctor for medical advice.

Not long after comes the Wishmaster mechanism, which in this case, couldn't be more blatant. Researchers ask inhabitants of a city in Ghana to sketch their dream phone which, as the author realizes, reveals dreams themselves. Dreams that a mobile phone corporation would love to sell back. In the meantime, nightmares ravage the Democratic Republic of the Congo where rebel groups, committing some of the most gruesome acts on the planet, are funded by the mining of coltan, a mineral used to build computer chips such as those used in cell phones.

On one side we have the corporate machine, which has left the anthropologist with not a single way of life to study that has been untouched by its hegemony. On the other we have anthropology, which [we hope] champions an understanding of other cultures for more than just how they can increase profits. The best hope for these corporate anthropology departments is that they will advise companies on more sensitive approaches to those cultures that they will penetrate anyway, one way or another. I don't think there is much getting around that these cultures stand to lose as much as they stand to gain, if at least the sight of its own sacrifice. I wonder if the corporate ethnographer can relate.