MAS.966 | Spring 2003 | Graduate

Digital Anthropology


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Summary Description

Digital Anthropology

Digital Anthropology is a Spring 2003 applied social science and media arts seminar surveying the blossoming arena of digital-artifact enabled experimental sociology/anthropology. We will emphasize both (a) Technology Testbeds – systematically deploying research lab prototypes and corporate pre-production products in a sample human organizational population and carefully observing the social consequences, and (b) Sociometrics – using digital artifacts to better observe and measure the complex social reality of interesting human systems.

Technology Testbeds

Technology Testbeds result when multiple labs at MIT and a variety of corporate sponsors showcase their advanced prototypes and pre-production models – at MIT Sloan, MIT-generally, in our surrounding Kendall community, and even at sponsor homesites – while we closely track their social impact, observe real usage patterns over time, and systematically assess future market potential.


Sociometrics are the data and corresponding statistical analysis of social phenomena. Such metrics result from the systematic deployment of – and observation via – minimally intrusive digital artifacts which capture relevant and complex social interaction data over time.

The Zauri Initiative

Registered students in the seminar will receive a Zaurus mobile Linux® PDA for the duration of the semester. This will be our common platform for application development and trial experiments.

Expected Student Deliverables

All students are expected to:

  1. participate in the exploratory phase of the Reality Mining project,
  2. form teams to build novel experimental tools/artifacts and/or applications,
  3. run at least one rigorous experiment, and
  4. write a summary project report.

We hope this class effort will be the basis for future research and/or publications.


9 (2-4-3)

Target Student Population

We expect between 10 and 20 MAS, EE, and Sloan students. Registration will be limited by hardware and resource availability.

Interwoven Themes

Woven throughout the semester are a series of critical strategic themes and threads, including, broadly:

  • Predictive Microcosms
  • Fast Iteration
  • Experimental Sociology
  • Comparative Market Research
  • Cross-Campus Connections


We will review live and historical research projects – from within and beyond MIT – all in the emerging Digital Anthropology arena:

  1. Historical Cases of Success and Failure
    • Project Athena
    • Project Canard
    • MemeTags and ThinkingTags
  2. Current Live Cases
    • Shortcuts
    • PDA SNA
    • Reality Mining
    • Project Oxygen
    • Paperless Classroom
    • MasterCard RF Payments
    • Spotme
  3. Speculative and Emerging Cases
    • Project Mercury
    • MyTags

Potential Speakers (Yet to Be Confirmed)

Pascal Chesnais – Project Canard and MessageMachines
Sherry Turkle – STS, Technology and Self
Keith Hampton – DUSP, Cyber Sociology
Dan Ariely – Sloan, Experimental Design
Jim Hines – Sloan Organizational Evolution
Wanda Orlikowski – Sloan, Groupware
Jonathon Cummings – Sloan, Social Network Analysis
Larry Prusak – IBM, Complexity and soc net in org
Thomas Davenport – Accenture KM
Albert Barbasi – Notre Dame, Prof of physics; “Linked”
Robert Axelrod – Agent-based Simulation
Duncan Watts – Colloquium speaker
Karen Stephenson – Netform, Corporate Anthopologist
Rick Boravoy / Fred Martin – Spot Designs, digital nametags
Mikhak, Paradiso, Selker, Resnik, Bender, Donath, et. al.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2003
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples