Sitting in a home office filled with stuffed animals, South Korean internet celebrity BJ MBRO alternates between taking bites of barbeque chicken and rice. He’s good humored, and he emphasizes his approval of the food by giving thumbs-up, widening his eyes, and speaking in an upbeat, rhythmic manner as if he were a parent trying to persuade a stubborn young picky eater to try the food.
For me, Veterans Day produces contrasting and sometimes painful emotions. Yet for others, this day to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces may be cathartic and welcomed. In the following paragraphs I share some of my personal experience as a woman who was enlisted in the military from 2001 to 2009 and reflect on some of the challenges I face as a researcher doing work with a population that I am a part of.
I could not have imagined when I entered the PhD program in anthropology at the University of California, Davis in 1973 that I would spend my career working as an anthropologist in Silicon Valley. I have always liked technology and did well in math and science, but to work alongside physicists, chemists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers for the better part of 40 years—really!
In the summer of 2016, during preliminary fieldwork in California, I met with virtual reality (VR) innovators in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I wanted to find out what was happening with this technology in Silicon Valley versus the place Angelenos were beginning to call Silicon Beach. Others were also flowing between these locations.
In May 2018, I spoke with Tom, an elderly man who has lived in the same house near Franklin Square in Santa Clara since the age of five. Now in his eighties and with limited mobility from a surgery targeting a brain tumor, he spends his days on the couch with a view of the park he played in as a child through his front window.
In March 2014, Business Insider published the article, “Here’s Why Companies Are Desperate to Hire Anthropologists.” Referring to the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Intel, author Drake Baer describes how corporations want to hire anthropologists to enhance their marketing strategies and product designs.
Silicon Valley is a geographic region, shorthand for all things tech, the global hub of the technology industry, and a synonym for places transforming through impositions of technocapitalism. In California, a confluence of Cold War defense spending, venture capital, support from Stanford University, and white flight from urban cores to the pastoral suburbs led to the establishment of a regional technology hub.
You can spot the extremes on the street in Silicon Valley. You can find monumental architecture and tour “the mothership,” a gigantic circular edifice that is the home to the Apple headquarters. You might spot a few autonomous vehicles, piloted by a host of competing companies, especially Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Roxana Wales, recently retired, is a respected corporate ethnographer and research scientist. She was one of the first anthropologists to begin working on corporate ethnographic projects and she has many great stories to tell. This is her prized “anthropological moment,” about being invited to join a NASA team attempting to send a robot to Mars to search for signs and evidence of the existence of past water.
The Middle East is yet again witnessing a very significant wave of protests. After protests in January and July this year, Iran endured yet another week of uprisings in many of its major cities, including the capital Tehran, in August. Tens of thousands took to the streets. The response of the government has been serious: heavy police intervention, mass detentions, and the death toll of around 25 people—including law enforcement, as of January 4, 2018.