The anthropological study that mainly focuses on the existing relationship between the digital-era technology and humans is regarded as digital anthropology. Since the field is new, it assumes several names and emphases, including digital ethnography, techno-anthropology, virtual anthropology, and cyber anthropology. While anthropology is mainly the study of people and their conducts, digital anthropology focuses on the consequences of digital technology for a particular population, research on a specified technology, and utilization of the technology in an anthropological methodology.
Digital ethnography refers to ethnographic market research conducted in an online space. The researchers access the interactive 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 (Miller par 6). One key difference between digital ethnography and ethnographic market research is that traditional ethnographer travelled to specified locations to collect the required data contrary to digital ethnography where the researcher uses the internet to access the required information.
The digital anthropology is based on the studies of culture. For instance, the focus is more on what influences the behavior of individuals as opposed to what people can influence. It is by socialising 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 (Miller par 7). Although the existence of the digital world is through online approaches, the field is relevant.
The digital approach involves the utilization of processes. For example, a study done on social media shows that political memes and genders are among the major concerns of the Brazilian internet. However, after the development of messaging services, the Chinese internet put emphasis on users and their classes (Miller par 8). In some regions, constant internet debates are evident, concerning the compatibility of digital forms with Islam while others focus on ways the internet can be utilised in the mobilisation of feminist protest. Digital technology offers diverse options to different users. Although both countries are using the internet, their scope of usage varies according to the settings.
Binary coding has enhanced recent forms of information sharing through the utilisation of “Open Source,” which is the collective advancement of the code itself. Its effectiveness has been evidenced where some regions have used it as a model of political ideals (Miller par 8). For instance, Italy’s election was a clear manifestation of how powerful the internet can become. The movement gained support through the platform and initiated democratic changes, which saw populist movement, Five Stars to become the most influential political party. In addition, social media has enabled the use of digital tools that were hard to adopt in earlier decades. The internet brings people together from different backgrounds to discuss issues of national and global interest. For instance, the case of presidential elections in Italy has revealed how powerful digital technology can become if used constructively.
When viewed through the anthropological eye, the prominence of the internet was both contradictory and 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 aspect in a contextual approach. In China, biometric technology can be regarded as effective control of population while in India, the same aspect can be used to access welfare benefits. Notably, in both countries, the platform can be used for political purposes (Miller par 9). In this case, the biometric is representative of the 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 for 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 ethnographic approach where the study strives to understand how people relate to things happening in their lives (Miller par 3). It is worth noting that no one exists in online setup; therefore, to understand people’s participation in digital technologies, it is important to focus on peoples’ non-digital aspects.
Studies indicate that most families who migrate from the Philippines communicate with their families through Facebook. The population of migrant workers who are now global population utilise the new media to maintain a feeling of Filipino socialization, which plays an important role in mitigating the physical separation through the creation of an integrated online sphere (McKay). The process of letter writing is cumbersome compared to Internet-based communication. Hence, immigrant mothers communicate with their children through social media. In addition, the interaction has become constant than it was before the digital era. According to Madianou and Miller, digital technologies have enhanced transnational motherhood (par 1). During the era of letter writing as the main form of communication, letters would delay, hence affecting the emotional wellbeing of both the mothers and the children.
Disadvantages of Digital Anthropology
Although digital technologies have positively influenced peoples’ lives, social media has its limitations, regarding the way it influences the lives of the peoples. Studies indicate that in Grano southeast of Italy, 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. However, they use Facebook in special cases. The people in Grano have enhanced one-to-one communication, which has reduced the use of social media in the region. People meet at the public sphere situated around town squares for physical interaction. Wang indicates that in China, the migrant’s interaction with social media has superseded the one-to-one interaction (2). The young workers do not utilise social media as a communication tool with their families back home, but rather use the platforms to engage other people in modern urban China. Some of the mainly used social media platforms in China are WeChat and QQ. Although social media is the easiest platform for finding and making friends, its anonymity is also the breeding ground for predators and cyber bullies. The internet has also affected social circles where physical interaction has reduced, making people anti-social. For instance, individuals seek all solutions to their problems on the internet without any physical debates.
Advantages of using Digital Technologies
One of the most positive features of the technology is uniting the families, which have been fragmented by global migration, a factor that has enhanced transnational motherhood. According to Costa, Turkish utilized digital technologies to trace their history after years of separation (27). In fact, the process was initiated after people had dispersed following decades conflicts. The technology has enhanced anthropology research and encouraged anthropologist to use digital platforms to share their research findings. Digital technologies have also played a significant role in outlining ways through which the anthropologists can study the digital communities. The cyberspace 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. Researchers do not have to travel to the actual location to conduct research. Hence, the process has been enhanced because various studies can be conducted since all data required is accessible online.
The Role of Digital Anthropology in Global Citizenship Essential
In a world of 6000 languages and a population of over seven billion people, global citizenship essential will enable people to appreciate the global context of populations. 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 issues in a global context through the use of the internet and the cyberspace. Digital anthropology is a link between online (the virtual) and offline or physical (the actual). Researchers can now access information from any part of the world and use it in making informed inferences about issues affecting the world
The internet through the use of interactive spaces has enhanced the exchange of values and perspectives. As seen through the populist movement, social media played an important role in shaping the politics of Italy in the 2018 elections. In this case, people from different backgrounds collaborated through social media and shared their perspectives, regarding democracy, which saw a big change in the country’s political landscape. Through digital anthropology, communities can appreciate diversity and interact with diverse cultures even in their workplaces.
As it is palpable from the analysis, digital anthropology has enhanced the study and development of human cultures and societies. The study focuses on the underlying consequences of digital technology in anthropological methodology, specified population, and research on particular digital technology. The use of digital technologies has created cultural differentiation, regarding the 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 in peoples’ lives. For instance, the approach has negatively affected one-to-one communication as evidenced by the industrial and rural migrant workers in China. On the other hand, it has enhanced transnational motherhood and promoted digital technology as a key tool of anthropological research. Hence, the research conducted through digital technologies is more precise since the target population is not aware of the data collection process, which can enhance the validity and reliability of research.
Costa, Elisabetta. Social Media in Southeast Turkey. University College Press, 2016.
Madianou, Mirca and Miller Daniel. Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. Routledge, 2012.
Mckay, Dierdre. An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks. Indiana University Press, 2016.
Miller, Daniel. “Digital Anthropology.” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology. London: University College Press, 2018.
Nicolescu, Razvan. Social Media in Southern Italy. University College Press, 2016.
Wang, Xinyuan. Social Media in Industrial China. University College Press, 2016.