UX PRO’S Unmoderated with Dan Podjed. The anthropologist who is dedicated to developing humane and environmentally friendly services, products, and solutions. He is a Research Fellow at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Research Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Ljubljana.
He was curious enough to join an unmoderated test and answer 12 questions about his research on Covid-19 impact on humans and the challenges of anthropologists nowadays. Dan also explains his opinion on data privacy protection and suggests a few books for you to read on this topic.
This is the very close version of the automatic transcript of the unmoderated session created at Sharewell. If you prefer to watch the video, click here.
UX PRO's Unmoderated with Dan Podjed session transcript:
Task #1 Hello Dan, and welcome to UX PRO’s Unmoderated! How are you feeling today?
Hi, people! Thank you for inviting me to the UX PRO’s Unmoderated. How am I feeling today? Well, great! In front of a camera of my computer and this has become our lifestyle. So our lives have become some kind of Truman’s show. We spent most of our time in front of camera in front of screens, and I guess this will be also one of the topics of today’s discussion.
Thanks for inviting me to the show!
Task #2 According to your LinkedIn profile, Dan, you were a radio presenter & journalist. What happened? Why did you choose to turn to anthropology?
If I had to summarise my career in one sentence, I guess it would be the one from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a famous TV show from the seventies. The famous sentence was “..and now for something completely different!”, and this summarises quite well, my career. So in primary school or secondary school, I didn’t even imagine that I would ever become an anthropologist. Actually, I wanted to be a biologist, maybe a computer scientist; uh, later, I became interested in astrology, also in astronomy, and in some completely different fields of science and para science.
Later I somehow got involved with radio and got a job there. For four years, I became a radio presenter, which was a nice start of a career, and I really enjoyed working there. To be honest, it was actually one of the best times of my life. I was able to run a show on my own- to direct it, to invite whomever I wanted to the show. From the best musicians in Slovenia, and Guinness record holders to some interesting people that I was able to meet personally.
And then I realized that I should finish doing anthropology, and therefore I went back to the university to finish my degree, and I finished it. And then it happened again! And now for something completely different. So my career went in a completely different direction. I quit working for radio, started working for a newspaper at that time, and then got a job at the university. I started working in an international project focused on biodiversity monitoring in European Union. So It was really something, uh, that it was something completely opposite to what I was doing before, but also something very interesting.
So at that time, I started watching the bird watchers anthropologically. So the bird watchers were observing birds, and I was observing them.
And one of the results of that work was a book titled Observing the Observers. So in a sense, it was voyeurism, par excellence. And since that since that time I got really hooked to anthropology. I was really addicted to it. And now I’m in an apartment in anthropological work for almost 25 years or so.
So this is how this interesting shift happened. Okay, let’s move on.
Task #3 What is the biggest challenge for anthropologists nowadays?
Well, one of the biggest challenges, in my opinion, for anthropology is to work with others. In the past, in the 20th century, uh, in the time of Bronislaw Malinowski, who did his research on the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific, Anthropologie was somehow a lonely job. Often, an anthropologist was a one-man band who went somewhere far away abroad, stayed there on a remote island or somewhere in a tropical jungle for with the locals for a year, two years, or even more. And then she or he came back, wrote the book, wrote some articles about the whole experience, and this is how anthropology was done.
And I think the biggest challenge is now to make a shift for something which is quicker, which is interdisciplinary, which is more applied. So anthropologists have to make this move from the descriptive science where we describe what is going on in the world to something more prescriptive. So to explain to engineers, for example, what kind of technologies should they develop to make the world a better place?
And for me, the biggest challenge is establishing ties with other fields of science, with engineers with natural scientists, with biologists, with psychologists, sociologists with the governmental sector with NGOs. Because
I think anthropology belongs in all those places because, after all, every solution that is designed in this world will be used at the end of the day by people.
And this is why all organizations, from the industry to NGOs to the governmental sector, actually need anthropologists. Just one problem. They don’t know that yet often.
Task #4 What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about your profession?
There are several ridiculous things. One of them is nicely described in an article written by Jeremy McClancy “The literary image of anthropologists”. He presents there an interesting question, which was a part of BBC radio show. They asked listeners the following question: What is an anthropologist like? And so then people called to the radio show and answered, and, uh, the answers were really funny. And at the same time, it’s shocking how often I hear them. That anthropologists are quite picky and argumentative. Somebody else said the anthropologists are bearded, long-haired men, and so on.
And I often, when I present myself as an anthropologist, I often hear similar stereotypes about what we do. People still imagine anthropologists to be those people with helmets with cocky trousers with socks, and sandals, doing their field research somewhere abroad, far away on a remote island. Well, honestly, this is what we do. This is what we are, of course, but there are so many more faces of anthropology nowadays beyond that stereotypical image. And anthropologists are definitely not only bearded, long-haired men. I mean, women, men, they’re all and can be anthropologists. And I think we should just get rid of the stereotypical image from the past and establish a new image that fits better, perhaps in interdisciplinary teams. In the industry, in the u.x. research, and in other fields of science of, industry development of business, and so on.
Task #5 You’ve mentioned before that Facebook would be more social if anthropologists were invited to the party. How can anthropology better technology?
Yeah, I agree.
And this is what I often say. So I don’t think Facebook is actually a social network. We call it The Social Network. Honestly, it makes us often A social. It makes us less social because we try to keep ties with so many people. We’re trying to establish so many weak ties.
We tend to forget, forget about the ties that are really important or relations that are really important in our everyday life. The relations with our friends, with our relatives, with our co-workers, and so on. And I think that we should make in the heavily in sense of some kind of shift from the quantity to the new quality of relations.
And this is what anthropologists do. This is what we study. We know, for example, that there is a cognitive limit, we have some limited capacity of how many connections can we hold in our heads. Physical anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, says that we have some kind of physical limitations of our neocortex that defines how many people can we keep in our heads in our brains.
For example, some primates, like gorillas who have smaller, less developed new cortex can make groups that are relatively small in comparison to the groups of bonobos and chimpanzees, while humans have the largest neocortex and can therefore live in communities up to 150 people. This is what Denver says: this is how we used to live in the past.
Nowadays, we live in communities that have gone out of those proportions significantly! We have on Facebook, hundreds or even thousands of “friends”. I have on Facebook, I think 2500 “friends”. They’re actually not my friends. I mean, you cannot have 2500 actual friends. I’m connected to over 6000 people on LinkedIn, for example, a couple of 1000 on Twitter, and this went out of all proportions. So this is just insane how many connections we make. And this is why we have to make this shift from quantity to the new quality.
Because we can live a better life if we take care of the strong ties in our lives, and this is something very anthropological. And this is why I believe if anthropologists were involved in the original team of Facebook next to Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Sovereign, or whoever was involved at that time in the early two thousand when Facebook started to grow. Maybe Facebook would be a different platform, a more humane platform. A platform that would enable us to live it more often and to get connected to people around us. And I really hope in the future anthropologists will be involved in the development of humane technologies for the future.
Task #6 TikTok has taken over the U.S. market and is fast-growing in Europe too. What are your thoughts on why it is so popular?
Well, because the young one adapted it really quickly. Um, Facebook is now a network for elderly people. The fastest-growing generation on Facebook is 60 plus. And because older people like me are on Facebook or on Twitter, the young ones try to find new ways and new platforms to interact with others. And this is why they migrated first to Instagram and are migrating now to TikTok. And as far as I know, Tiktok has become extremely popular not only in Asia (where it comes from and in the U.S.) but also in Europe and is one of the most downloaded app for smartphones. And if you’re not on TikTok and if you’re up to, let’s say 25 years old, you do not exist.
And this is another problem of social networks- you have to be on them to be able to interact with others. This is pure pressure. Because everybody else is using it and knows about it, you have to be on them. I’m also on TikTok. I’ve made, I think, just three videos just to test how it works. And I can say, honestly, it’s quite a tricky job. So for one minute of video, it took me an hour of hard work to make it look quite good. And this is why I don’t think that the influencers who appeared on TIKTOK and Instagram are just people who are famous or who are well known. This is actually a hard job. You have to add every video, take time to find the best background, and find the best light and theme to speak about.
It it is also a rabbit hole, so it’s very difficult to get out of it. I don’t know if I will stick with it. But I had to test it because I’m really interested in working of social media. And I’d like to try on my own to do some kind of auto ethnography about those kinds of solutions.
So this is why I’m still on TikTok and have a profile there.
Task #7 Covid-19 has brought a lot of change in society, and you’ve studied this one. Tell us more about the research and what you have discovered?
First, about some facts about our lifestyle, it has really significantly changed in the last two years. So there are a couple of trends I think we really have to follow if we want to understand the human of the covid age homo confidences, which is on the rise. So many of the habits that we got during the pandemic will stick with us in the future. First of them, the first big trend is “life between the four walls”. So indoor life. Even in the end of the 20th century, people used to spend approximately 93% of their time indoors.
For example, 68% of the time at your home, then yeah, 5 to 6% I think, in cars and only 7 to 8% of the time outdoors. And according to the statistics from Google and as you know, Google knows you better than you know yourself. We spent even more time at home indoors in 2020 2021 even 2022. So the time of covid. This is the first trend- indoor life.
The second big trend is life in front of screens. We spent ( I’m speaking about adults, not the young ones. We often point fingers at the young ones). We are the problematic generation in that sense. So, uh, the adults spent in the covid time and even in pre covid time, 8 to 9 hours per day in front of screens. Screen means a television screen, computer screen, or smartphone screen. I think 2018 was the year when a smartphone became the most important screen in adults’ life. Because we spent (already in 2018, in the pre covid) more than four hours per day in front of a smartphone. We even touched it! On average by typing messages by sliding up and down we touch the screen 2617 times per day! So you don’t touch ( I suppose) anybody else that many times, except of the screen of your phone.
What happened in the covid age? We started to watch and spent time in front of screens even more than in the past!
According to the statistics from the US and the UK, we (again speaking about the adults) we spent on average 13 hours per day in front of screens! So if we sleep, let’s say eight hours per day, and then we spent 13 hours per day in front of screens. It leaves us only three unplugged hours! I think that really demarcates our time.
The screen has become a more important reality. So the digital reality on the screen has become somehow more important than the physical reality outdoors.
So when we speak about virtual, what is virtual and what is real? I think what is going on-screen now is more real than something that is going on outdoors. And we also started to communicate with people in this way, which has become somehow more normal to us.
And during my research on that topic, I also spoke to one person, a young woman from Poland. It was research on how isolation and life in front of screens change your perception of the society of life of the world. So I talked to her and she told me something really interesting. That woman got stuck somehow in her parent’s apartment in the Polish city. So she moved and got stuck there. Her job is interesting, she’s a U.X. designer and researcher. She was more or less isolated for half a year. I mean, she was able, she was not a prisoner of her home. But food was brought to her in a contactless way. She didn’t have any friends in the city. She didn’t know with whom to communicate. And she communicated with people only via screens. And when somebody visited her (after half a year or so) via Couchsurfing platform, she was afraid of that person. Not because the person was dangerous.
But she somehow couldn’t focus and see the face of the person properly. She was used to communicating with other people from an approximately 40-centimeter distance.
So this is the distance from your eyes to the camera and to the screen of your computer. Somehow this kind of communication has become normalized and has become a part of us. And me, too. I mean, I teach at the university, and I was observing these changes that happened in the community of students. They were unable to interact with one another and one. Another thing that happened was that they started to switch off their cameras. In the end it was like a graveyard of their names on Zoom. Just a black boxes with white names written on them. Quite a horrible experience.
And at the end of the semester, it was usually just me on the screen. I’m watching myself and talking to myself. This is a very bizarre experience. Very egocentric experience in a way. Preaching to myself. Speaking to the mirror discussing something with myself.
And this is also the first time in human history when we were able to watch ourselves while we speak to others. This is also anthropologically interesting because what people tend to do is observe them next time. So when people talk to someone on a teleconference system (zoom, Skype teams, whatever). They start to turn around their heads because they want to appear better to others. This is the first time in human history that we were able to watch ourselves while we’re talking to others. Again, this is a very bizarre, egocentric, and narcissistic experience. I think this is something very important that we should observe an important trend that could even be enhanced, emphasized in the future.
Task #8 Another hot topic today is our privacy and data protection. Some people think we should own that data, and some say that it will never happen. Which one are you?
Well, I think of course we should own the data because this is the gold and oil of the 21st century. But I’m worried also that it will never happen because the behemoths of the Internet, like Google, Amazon, Meta and others will not allow us to own the data and to establish again our privacy. Her privacy is a concept that existed bulb, not for the whole of human history. Let’s say we have had privacy for the last 400 years, and the privacy was also a cornerstone of democracy. So a right to be private and the right to own your own private space. And now we got rid of it for what? In exchange for likes, followers, friends on Facebook, and other immaterial goods. And this is really what worries me. I think the first thing which we should do is to be aware of how much our privacy is worth.
So every time you tap on the screen of your smartphone, you give away some data. Whenever you take your smartphone with you somewhere. This is actually a tracking device. You can be tapped at time, and not be aware of that.
We even pay for our smartphones. We pay a monthly fee and we pay the third time for the data that was already taken away from us. So what I really think is we should turn around this business model or social-economic model of digital federalism and start protecting our data technologically.
This is possible by technologies like Blockchain, for example, which could enable you to be the owner of the data which was taken away. And in this sense, you could say I want to be invisible, and you can be invisible. You don’t share the data at that time. You could also call back your digital doubles. You don’t have to work for the company anymore this month or you could get paid for what you do. So this shouldn’t be serfdom. Instead of that you’re paying for having a smartphone that you’re getting paid. I don’t know €300 or dollars per month for being available for giving away your data. You can always keep the option for not doing that for not sharing your data with others.
I think this will be something very difficult to accept by certain companies whose business model actually is collecting all the data. The only option I see is to establish some kind of alternative companies to those who currently collect the data. I think the European Union could do a step further here to establish itself as the third position between the two giants of the AI industry and of the surveillance capitalism and autocracy. So one is, of course, the US another one is China, and I think there is also the third model to the future the third way to the future Digital democracy. I think European Union should defend this model and keep building on the so called GDPR, the directive of the European Union for data protection, and I think it’s a good start of something new where everybody can:
- Own the data;
- Share the data when he or she wants;
- And have also the possibility to be unplugged;
- Be erased if necessary, to be deleted from the system.
I think this should be the fundament of the digital democracy of the future.
Task #9 What blogs, research, or interviews would you suggest to look up for new specialists?
Instead of blogs research and interviews, I recommend some books that I really suggest to look up for new specialists. I was particularly fascinated by two books written by Kaifu Lee, who is an expert in A.I. and I think he was also Google’s director for China. The first book that he wrote was “AI Superpowers”, and it presents something that I talked about earlier. So this bi-polar world and the fight between China and the U.S. systems which collide and are completely different. I hope I will not reveal too much. But what it carefully says is that China will win the battle. Why?
Because of Silicon Valley in the U.S. for example, is built on the concept of innovativeness, making something new. Somebody from the Silicon Valley companies start-up would be ashamed to copy something from your neighbor or competitor. In China, the situation is completely different. First, they copy. They copy whatever they find on the market in Chinese market / in the U.S. market and try to improve it.
Second thing is there business model is built just on expansion. It’s not so much about being innovative. It’s about taking over the local market, then the national market. Then the global market, and that’s it. In long run, of course, this model works better. So this is an interesting book about AI.
Another interesting book of Kaifu Lee, co-written by another author. Title “AI 2041”.
They try to predict how the world of future technologies of emerging technologies would look like in the next 20 years. And what I really like is that Kaifu Lee first presents the first part of the chapter, which is like this popular science explanation about technologies like augmented reality or artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles or deep fakes. And the other author makes a story about it. So it’s a combination of fiction and science. really like this science fiction approach. How to bring together stories and how to bring together facts or how rightfully imagines the future. So this is one thing that I suggest the audience of this show to find.
The work of Shoshana Zuboff with the title “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” and “Privacy is power. Why and how you should take back control of your data?” written by Carissa Véliz.
Both books give you a good overview of what’s going on concurrently in the world. In the data-based world and who owns the data. Why, we should fight for our data. And why aren’t there any global movements for the protection of data? I mean, our privacy is now as endangered as our climate, and we have all those global movements led by Greta Thunberg, for example, to protect the environment to protect the climate. And we don’t have any movement for protecting data. Nothing big, nothing groundbreaking. I really think we need something like this in the future if we don’t want to go completely in the direction of digital feudalism, digital totalitarianism, digital authoritarianism or whatever is there on the horizon. If we want to keep on track of digital democracy.
Task #10 What tools do you use in your daily job?
Well, computer, of course. But what is interesting is that I have started lately to buy apps to stay unplugged. So I’m paying more at the moment to be unplugged from the computer that I’m paying to be plucked to the computer. For example, I use on my computer a program called Cold Turkey. It helps you writer. So your screen is blank, you can only type. There is no Facebook, no LinkedIn, no Twitter, no Internet, just a blank screen. And you have the possibility only to type. And this is how I write books, articles, whatever. Otherwise, I cannot focus anymore because of all those distractions coming to me because of push notifications.
And what I think is we really need to focus. We really need to put more attention to technologies.
There will be a (as far as I know) by 2030 from 25 to 100 billion smart devices on this planet. They will keep sending cargos, push notifications. It’s just insane! I think we should just get rid of it!
There is this is APP is called Minimalist Phone, which makes the screen more boring and black without any icons. Because I consider, like, candy, we just need to you just want to pick them and eat them or digest them whatever. And I don’t want that. So I’ll keep blocking myself with different apps to be able to use the smartphone less. And another app is called Block side. Yeah, and I paid for it again, paid for it to be able to be to have a more stupid phone or less smartphone. In Chrome, I use plug in called news feed. When I go to Facebook I don’t see this never-ending feed of information. There is just the basic information. I can look up so I can look up you or whoever to see what you’re doing instead of the feet, which is just an endless stream of random information. I just have a message of a day,. What is the problem with the feed?It is some kind of whirlpool or a world of information, which sucks you in.
For example, I observe people as anthropologist. Observe people who go to the toilet and don’t come out. Not because they didn’t fall in the toilet. They actually fell in the feed of Facebook! Even though it’s called “book”, it’s not a “book”. It’s an never-ending book of information, and this is again something we get cooked to.
This is why I’m using all those tools to be able to actually work. I’m using more and more tools to be unplugged, to be able to write, think, read, and also communicate with people.
Task #11 The previous guest Eliza has prepared a question for you. Click on the link below to hear it.
Maybe it’s not exactly a user interview. I was researching and I still am researching this topic of isolation in my stay-home individual research projects.
I met some really interesting people and one of them got in touch with me. A person, a man from Tunisia who was arrested in Libya approximately a decade ago. He then got in solitary confinement so in a cell, and he didn’t know why he was there, what he was doing there, or why he was arrested.
What he found out later is that it’s one of the those prisons where where you get only more or less one way ticket to get in and more or less nobody gets out.And what that man told me was somehow horrible and also explains a lot what happens to humans to people in isolation.
He didn’t know anything anymore about the time outside. He was only able to hear sounds from the nearby mosque and therefore he was able to construct or reconstruct. What’s the time? What’s the day? Is it morning or is it evening?
He didn’t have any interaction with the outside world and at that time he started to talk a lot to himself and started to discuss things from the past and this was the way for him to survive. And I rather think he started to talk to spiders and flies in this solitary confinement in the cell. So this was a bit shocking to me. Fascinating how people find a way to survive in the most difficult place in the most difficult time.
Another example from that research is from a dance artist from Serbia, who was patient covid patient zero in Serbia. Nobody else had covid at that time, except he got it somehow and he didn’t know and for a very long time they didn’t know he has covid. And he has a very, uh, week, uh, immune system. So he had to be again isolated. First, he was isolated at home. Then he was isolated for a couple of months. Then he was isolated in a hospital in a room with six beds. It was only him in the room, and when he got home, got ill again, and had to go back to the hospital. And then he was put in this glass cell that you see in horror movies with zombies and so on. You know, when they isolate patients in glass cells and there were other people in other glass cells dying next to him, he was able to watch them.
And in total, he was in one year, almost half of the year or more in solitary confinement, isolated from other people. He was able to watch them, of course. Communicate with them by phone and through the glass, but was unable to touch them.
And when he got out, he said something very interesting to me. He said, “Dan, now I’m a next-level human. I observed myself as if I were playing a computer game. I’m guiding somebody, you know, a character I’m watching myself from outside. I am directing myself on the way.”
This was a shocking experience. But in a way, this is also a prototype of homo confidences. Human of the covid age, which is on the rise, being more isolated, spends more time in front of screens and this is why I’m saying we have to get unplugged.
We have to have a possibility to switch off from the devices, get out, interact with other people because it’s a humane thing to do you know, this is what we do in front of in front of screens. What I’m doing now watching the camera in front of me on the top of a computer, this is an inhumane way of interaction.
And do we really want more of this? I don’t think so.
UX PROs Unmoderated in brief:
These are unmoderated test sessions with UX professionals that are magically turned into the weird talk show. The unmoderated test includes questions that reveal our guest’s struggles, findings, learnings, and dreams. You’ll see on which topics their eyes sparkle. The guest also goes through one website our followers have sent in and provide feedback with some suggestions.
Wanna be the first to receive a link to the next episode?