Instagram Ethnographer

Technology is providing us tools and those tools are making us think and act like never before, sharing a story of Instagram Ethnographer.

Instagram is a tool of the trade for 32-year-old Tricia Wang, a sociologist and consultant working in China and documenting the effect of the wildfire-like spread of new social-media platforms like Weibo and Renren.

Tricia Wang may hold the record for most Instagram photos taken on Chinese trains. A sociologist, ethnographer, and corporate consultant who studies global technology use among migrants, low-income people, youth, and others on society’s fringes, Wang has worked for the past several years in China. Since 2005, she’s crisscrossed the country–often riding the rails–observing the impact of digital technology on the lives of rural workers migrating into the cities, and more recently, documenting the wildfire spread of new social-media platforms like Weibo and Renren. Recharging at her home base in Brooklyn after a year away, we spoke to Wang about her field of digital ethnography, the benefits of working outside of big institutions, and what U.S. tech entrepreneurs can learn from their peers in China.

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“Oh this sucks, this Internet cafe has no couches…it’s going to be a long uncomfortable night. How I wish I had the talent to sleep upright and in a smokey room.” TRICIA WANG

“This gamer has stayed at the cafe for 24 hours. There is a small noodle shop inside the internet cafe and food is delivered to the gamer so that s/he doesn’t even have to take a break.” TRICIA WAN

“I spent a day doing ethnography with a cellphone vendor. His main clients are students. He tell me that he uses an iPad to seduce them into buying android phones. He showed me several website where consumers can download free android apps. Selling a mobile in China requires that you display the expertise of finding “free download.” The culture of “free download” is incredibly pervasive that moving consumers to paid content will not only require massive value change to paying for apps, but economic changes in consumer’s household spending income.” TRICIA WANG

“No matter how economically poor people are, they always (most of the time) own a TV. Other electronic items that this family owns: electronics; fan, fridge, and mobiles. There is a common saying that 50 years ago, when you married someone you had to own a watch, bed, and bicycle. Now you need to own a house, car, and television.”  TRICIA WANG

“I have been working for several days at a construction site selling dumplings as a street vendor. Across from our carts are second-hand mobile vendors. I’ve been watching and listening to migrants talk about which cellphone they want to buy. The most important change? They don’t want shanzai phones, they want smartphones. Even if they can’t afford it, they touch it, hold it, and stare at it. The desiring of smartphones has begun. Nokia will lose the battle if they don’t radically change their hardware and business model.” TRICIA WANG


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