Old books sometimes give us surprisingly timely insights into current research questions. A question that is important to digital media research is to think about all the changes brought along by digital technologies bringing changes all around us. I read an old text written by Bronislaw Malinowski in 1945 that touches on some relevant subjects. Here are some of the excerpts:
[C]ulture change is a permanent factor of human civilization, it goes on everywhere and at all times. It may be induced by factors and forces spontaneously arising within the community, or it may take place through the contact of different cultures…
The anthropologist is becoming increasingly aware that the study of culture change must become one of his main tasks in field work and theory. The figment of the “uncontaminated” Native has to be dropped from research in field and study…
The very essence of history is that it has a future as well as a past. If anthropology has been very often an escape into the exotic, history has often remained the shelter for those who prefer their past dead and buried to tradition alive and active.
The above statements contain several parallels with the rise of interest in cultural studies and cultural diffusion and fusion in Human Computer Interaction.
For those who might be interested in performing “commercial ethnography” instead of “academic ethnography,” here might be something to rethink this dichotomy:
[T]here is still a strong but erroneous opinion in some circles that practical anthropology is fundamentally different from theoretical or academic anthropology. The truth is science begins with applications… as soon as the theory is true, it is also “applied” in the sense it is experimentally confirmed.
The likely truth is that theories sometimes get forgotten, until they become useful again.