Tricia Wang

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Academic Papers

Published in peer reviewed journals

Ethnography of the telephone: Changing uses of communication technology in village life; Mobile HCI  2011 (co-authored with Barry Brown) [pdf]

While mobile HCI has encompassed a range of devices and systems, telephone calls on cellphones remain the most prevalent contemporary form of mobile technology use. In this paper we document ethnographic work studying a remote Mexican village’s use of cellphones alongside conventional phones, satellite phones and the Internet. While few homes in the village we studied have running water, many children have iPods and the Internet cafe in the closest town is heavily used to access YouTube, Wikipedia, and MSN messenger. Alongside cost, the Internet fits into the communication patterns and daily routines in a way that cellphones do not. We document the variety of communication strategies that balance cost, availability and complexity. Instead of finding that new technologies replace old, we find that different technologies co-exist, with fixed phones co-existing with instant message, cellphones and shared community phones. The paper concludes by discussing how we can study mobile technology and design for settings defined by cost and infrastructure availability.

Global Discourses of Information: Questioning the Free Information Regime, UBICOMP 2010 (co-authored with Morgan Ames)

In three transnational case studies of ICT use, we unpack common social constructions of free information in the West: the market commoditization of information, the socially viral nature of information, the ethical role of information, and the physical (dis)embodiment of information. We connect these constructions under the ideology of “neo-informationalism” and explore sites of tension that this paradigm creates in global technosocial contexts. Finally, we discuss implications of this stance for ubiquitous computing and call for a reorientation on the contextualized, local, and sometimes messy present instead of an idealized global future.

Inventive Leisure Practices: Understanding hacking communities as sites of sharing and innovation (co-authored with Jofish Kaye) (2011)

Hacking, tinkering, DIY, and crafts are increasingly popular forms of leisure that have also become growing sites of study in HCI.In this work we take a wide view of the similarities and differences between these practices. We explore a broad spectrum of such activities, which we collectively describe as inventive leisure practices (ILP). We ask how members of various hacking communities make sense of their practice and involvement, and discuss 8 themes we found in common in hackers’ practices. We conclude by proposing a working definition for ILPs.


“I didn’t bring my mobile”: changing technology use in a Mexican village (2009)

The cellphone has been a prevalent motif of recent research on technology and development. Yet, the cellphone is only one new technology amongst many that are influencing and affecting the life of new technology users in emerging regions. In this paper we outline our recent work in Mexico studying how some youth are supplementing their use of cellphones and moving onto internet communication methods such as instant messaging and websites such as YouTube and Wikipedia. We present early results from studying a Oaxacan village in the mountains of the Mixtec Baja. Despite the relative geographic and economic isolation of this village, technology is heavily used by the youth of the village, funded in part by migrant remittances from north of the border. While few homes have running water, some children have iPods and the internet cafe in the closest town is heavily used to access YouTube, Wikipedia, and MSN messenger. We document the ways in which the internet has come to be used to communicate both within the village and across Mexico. Even though there is no internet in the village, young users who spend time at the nearest town have found a way to incorporate internet cafes into their daily lives. Alongside cost, the internet fits into the communication patterns and daily routines in a way that cellphones do not. We show the various ways communication strategies have developed around an ecosystem of technology tools. Instead of the more common story of cellphones replacing the PC, we are finding that new users are finding ways to incorporate instant messenger into their communication practices in ways that replace or reduce their cellphone use. In conclusion we discuss the relevance of these results for the future lives of these new youth users.

A Marxian Analysis of World of Warcraft: Virtual Gaming Economies Reproducing Capitalistic Structures (2007)

A new economy is emerging: the economy of virtual game worlds. The gaming points of virtual worlds are traded against millions of dollars in earth currency and some trading is higher then real world currencies, such as the Japanese yen.  However virtual this world may seem, I argue that its structures are grounded in reality and are not completely new forms of labor relations.  Virtual gaming economies embody and reproduce real patterns of capitalist structures of labor, including alienated labor, commodity fetishism and a modern concept of labor theory of value.

The Iron Cage of Play: A Weberian Approach to Understanding the Virtual Economy of World of Warcraft

Traditionally, Weber’s theory of rationalism is utilized to analyze historical processes in society, such as bureaucracy, economy and religion.  However, no author to date has extended Weber’s theory of rationalization to virtual economies.  I will show how Weber’s theory of rationalism is a useful sociological framework to understand that the actions and beliefs of the two different types of players in WoW are tied to their offline economic values.  I propose to analyze massive multi-player online role-playing games  (MMORPG), specifically World of Warcraft (WoW), in the context of modern capitalism.  By examining the gaming ethics and behaviors of players in WoW, I argue that players bring their offline economic rationale into the game.  Beliefs about what constitute work and acceptable economic behavior in an offline world are carried into the online gaming world.  As a result, we can see two types of opposing real-world behaviors that are rooted in an offline capitalistic tradition transferred into the game world: individual hard work and a capitalistic rationale of efficiency.

A Contemporary Modification to Emile Durkheim’s Epistemology (2007)

By privileging practice over idea, a Durkheimian perspective fails to account for how the abstract realm of conceptual ideas, symbols and beliefs can become sacrilized and thereby effect subsequent action.  Bellah’s theory of symbolic realism faithfully extends Durkheim’s theory to explain how symbols can evolve out of practice to become powerful determinants of action.  By avoiding the pitfall of privileging practice over ideas, symbolic realism allows for a flexible account of cultural historical variation in Durkheim’s theory of practice.

Parental Status and Cell Phone Ownership and Usage: A Systematic Analysis (My one and only attempt at doing a fully quantitative analysis, I won't be doing it again...ever!) (2007)

Recent studies reveal  that the income inequity found for the traditional digital divide for computers and internet access and usage, is actually less extreme with cell phones.  It suggests that factors of social connectedness have increased the value proposition of investing in a cell phone among the economically poor.  Using data from a national survey of cell phone usage, this paper examines whether or not parental status (as a proxy for social connectedness) increases the probability of cell phone ownership among low-income respondents and also increases the probability of being an advanced cell phone user over a conventional cell phone user.  The results of the study show that parental status is not a good predictor of  owning a cell phone, or predicting type of usage, and that income and age are still the strongest predictors of ownership and usage.  This paper then explores how the insignificant results may be due to  mis-sampling of low-income respondents.  A further examination of how material inequality relates to digital poverty and social connectedness is strongly urged for cell phones.