Near Field Communication - Four Potential Fields in Modern Taiwan Society's Fieldwork

Near Field Communication - Four Potential Fields in Modern Taiwan Society's Fieldwork
Jung-Hua Liu

This paper aims to explore four unfamiliar fields in Taiwanese anthropology studies. I appropriate “Near Field Communication” in electronic engineering to describe those fields as closing to our daily life. In the past years, Taiwan anthropologists focused on aboriginal tribes or rural areas, and the major methodologies are participant observation and qualification approach. Researchers seldom adopted new techniques to deal with the issues in urban life, network/internet technology, and large-scale social trends. These topics are closed to our ordinary life and are too complicated to analyze in traditional ways. The first field is exploring what are the ideal types of jobs that Taiwanese are looking for and this will introduce Edwin Weinstein’s psychiatric and anthropological studies in the Virgin Islands (1962). He studied the cultural aspects of delusion and pointed out that what jobs people preferred are based on cultural background. The job preferences of residents in Virgin Islands in his psychiatric description are similar to contemporary Taiwan societies and could provide us alternative to understand the work market in Taiwan in anthropology way. Urban Wi-Fi landscapes, the second one, is my PhD project. I walked in five cities and collected Wi-Fi information to visualize them and compare the characteristics of different cities. The goal of that project was to investigate how the same technology works in various cultural/social situations. The third is the fieldwork in IT (information technology) companies. There are lots of IT companies in Taiwan but we have few studies about their operation and workflow rather than the right of labors. By understanding their business models, we will know the contemporary Taiwan labor condition more. In the end, I will introduce the application of ‘big data’ in anthropology.

This paper was inspired by an education project of a mobile device company, B Corp. (pseudo name) in 2012. The chairman of the company claim the company will donate tablets to high schools to develop digital learning. In that project, B Corp. also provided free Android app for users. I was employed as an Android app developer and participate in the communication between schools and companies. It was more complicated than the one-way donation. The attitude of teachers in schools impressed me so much. They asked the company providing more devices for their families and avoided doing extra work for that project. The behavior gave me a huge shock and stimulated me to begin this study.

In Taiwan, many people are looking for the job of government servants and teachers. Overabundant teacher candidates competed few openings in schools every year and it caused a special phenomenon - “wandering teachers.” Qualification exams of government servants attract many people who are unemployed for years to prepare the exams. The two types of jobs almost guarantee the long-life work and better welfare than other private companies. The benefit from the jobs is more important than what job seekers were interested in. These phenomena are similar to Edwin Weinstein’s psychiatric studies about the attitude for occupations in the Virgin Islands. Weinstein pointed out that teachers in the Virgin Islands cared about the benefit rather than the special status of teaching works. The position of teacher became a better job in salary, so teachers construct their identities via the bonus they can obtain from their status. At the same time, there were delusions occurring when they connected them to schools then they thought they are schools beyond the part of schools as some teachers in B Corp. project.

Besides the psychiatric analysis of the attitude of teachers, there are still three aspects worth of mentioning in this paper. The first is Wi-Fi infrastructure, because donated devices only can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. It reminded us that Wi-Fi is gradually becoming invisible but ubiquitous landscapes in our daily life. More and more Wi-Fi-equipped and Wi-Fi-only devices appear and they contribute to more integrated Wi-Fi surroundings. My PhD project was visualizing Wi-Fi networks and I will introduce it how the studies of house societies in anthropology help us to realize the interaction between Wi-Fi and human society.

The second is the fieldwork in IT (information technology) companies. This type of fieldwork is more difficult for anthropologists to do, because there is technical and professional barrier. I was employed as an android app developer in this project, so I want to introduce the work life of R&D in IT and explore the advanced studies in the future.

The final one is “Big Data” that means huge amount of diverse data set was analyzed in non-traditional database way. B Corp. project adopted this approach to analyze the feedback for this project from teachers and students. More and more humanities also applied “Big Data” for research. I also will introduce them in this paper.

In summary, it was a valuable case, because the project was interwoven by information technology, economics, education, labor, attitude and behavior. As “Near Field Communication” in electronic field, the project was a field close to our daily life and electronic/personal communication penetrate into it. Every contact produced data transferring among people and devices.

The donation or purchase of mobile devices for schools are popular for Taiwanese school. Teachers can adopt digital teaching tool to reduce their working time. For example, teachers write an exam via web tool and students answer questions online. Teachers don’t need to calculate the scores because the exam system completes the tasks automatically. Database system also provide teachers convenient ways to track students’ performance. After the blossom of tablets, more and more teachers want to apply them in teaching and shape a complex of mobile learning system as below:

a. Hardware
Digital learning is advocated by governments and industries in Taiwan and more mobile devices are adopted by schools including elementary and high schools. Devices maybe bought by schools or donated by manufacturers.
b. Software
Schools may hire engineers to develop their apps for teaching. Donators may also pre-install apps that may be bought or developed by themselves.
c. Material
Besides software in devices, electronic version of textbooks may be provided by students.
d. Infrastructure
Most mobile devices are only Wi-Fi-equipped and the bandwidth of schools and Wi-Fi access points may not have the capability for transferring data at the same time. Schools may ask manufacturers to setup the infrastructures.
e. Support
Besides apps in devices, technical support and administration website were asked by schools or provided by the donators.

In that project, B Corp. provided free devices based on Android OS to every student and teacher in grade one of chosen schools for educational use. Students’ parents can choose to agree or reject the collaboration. Actually, few parents rejected it and their reason includes they preferred iOS platform and don’t want to guarantee their children can take care of their devices.

Besides devices, B Corp. also developed a closed education platform app for this project. In other words, participants can’t access other android apps download from Google Play Store or other sources. Some teachers resisted the restriction on their devices, and B Corp. designed a teacher mode in the devices for teachers’ devices.

B Corp. also developed and bought education apps for the devices. Textbook from main publisher were also available and students can download them from one app in devices. At the same time, B Corp. setup a website for teachers to upload their material and manage students’ data.

Because some teachers complained their schools’ network infrastructure can’t afford to transfer data for the devices, B Corp. also set up network environments for schools.

Delusion and Attitude
Besides the devices, the acceptance of new technology of teachers also affects whether the mobile learning system succeed or not. Unlike traditional textbooks and teaching material, mobile learning system get involved continuous maintenance of devices, networks and material. In 1997, anthropologists Marjo de Theije and Lenie Brouwer practiced an ICT ((Information and Communication Technology)) pilot project for their courses in Vrije University Amsterdam. They created a course website and used email and discussion group instead of writing papers. The main problems in their projects are:
1. Insufficient technical infrastructure
2. Lack of knowledge on the use of computer programs, e-mail and the Internet by both students and faculty staff.
3. Lack of technical assistance. The educational and technical professionals were only hired by the time we were almost concluding the pilot project.
Those problems still exists in mobile learning system and the problems affects teachers’ attitude to adopt ICT in their courses.

In B Corp. project, the attitude of teachers involved in other three meanings. One is teachers were asked to prepare and share their teaching material for the devices with others from schools. Some teachers refuse this project, because they don’t want to do extra work. The second is one school asked the company pay 2,000,000 NTD to school for installing Wi-Fi access points in around 15 classrooms. The other is some teachers asked whether the company can provide devices for personal uses and for their families or not. When they know the devices only for teaching use and not gift, they also don’t want to participate in this project. The project almost failed for the above reasons. Finally, the principals made the final decision to collaborate with the company and the company installed Wi-Fi facilities instead of paying money to schools.

The attitude of teachers could be understood via psychiatric analysis, as Edwin Weinstein described the attitude for occupation of native Virgin Islanders in the following:

Recently, it was proposed that a number of the numerous holidays during the school year be eliminated so that teachers might leave early enough in the summer to enroll for advanced training. Though officially initiated, the proposal was indignantly rejected by the teachers, because they were more concerned with having the same holidays as other government workers than with their special status as teachers. (p64)

In Weinstein’s study, native Virgin Islanders tended to choose jobs with “overt prestige value” and the government servants is one of them. The “overt prestige value” could help to build personal relationship that constructs their identity. As native Virgin Islanders didn’t consider teachers as special status, the above teachers considered they should obtain the benefit as much as possible; the private devices and expensive budge for Wi-Fi facilities present they “worked well only if a good personal relationship had been built up” (Weinstein 1962, 64). Devices and money are the basis of the relationship that is private and not public. They consider they are individual worker with special identity, teacher, rather than workers in schools. Those teachers had delusion of they dominate the projects and they can decide whether the schools accept the donation or not.

Weinstein applied the concept of “delusion” to investigate psychotic patients in Virgin Islanders and I extend his study to imply the imagined relationship to help individuals to connect themselves to others.

1. psychiatric and anthropological studies
a. Psychiatric analysis in Tao, 蔡友月
b. 疾病與文化 : 台灣民間醫療人類學硏究論集 張珣

In “Cultural aspects of delusion : a psychiatric study of the Virgin Islands”, Edwin Weinstein interview the patiens in psychic hospital to describe how natives conceive their work and family via their delusion. with

2. Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi infrastructure is important for this project, because mobile devices can only connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi signal.

3. Companies
To complete this project, B Corp. mobilized logistics, network engineers ,project managers (PM), quality assurance engineers (QA), app engineers, hardware engineers, and factory staff.
Biao Xiang studies IT industry in India and he pointed out India provided project-based technical labor for Western countries. India IT workers were exploited by branded companies to cost down. The workers were not employed by companies but consultancies (body shop) and consultancies manage them to complete projects from other countries.

Drawing on in-depth field research in southern India and in Australia, and folding an ethnography into a political economy examination, Xiang Biao offers a richly detailed analysis of the India-based global labor management practice known as "body shopping." In this practice, a group of consultants--body shops--in different countries works together to recruit IT workers. Body shops then farm out workers to clients as project-based labor; and upon a project's completion they either place the workers with a different client or "bench" them to await the next placement. Thus, labor is managed globally to serve volatile capital movement.
Underpinning this practice are unequal socioeconomic relations on multiple levels. While wealth in the New Economy is created in an increasingly abstract manner, everyday realities--stock markets in New York, benched IT workers in Sydney, dowries in Hyderabad, and women and children in Indian villages--sustain this flexibility.

4. Big data
Big data means collections of data sets that are too large to be processed by traditional database. This project built a platform for students and teacher discussed on line via devices.

On behalf of ten research funders representing Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, we invite you to apply for Round Three of the Digging into Data Challenge.

Now going into the third round of the competition, the Digging into Data Challenge has funded a wide variety of projects that explore how computationally intensive research methods can be used to ask new questions about and gain new insights into our world. To encourage innovative research from across the globe, Digging into Data is sponsored by ten international research funding organizations that are working together to focus the attention of the social sciences, humanities, library, archival, information, computer, mathematical, and statistical science communities on large-scale data analysis and its potential applications.

The Digging into Data Challenge aims to address how "big data" changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences. Now that we have massive databases of materials available for research in the humanities and the social sciences--ranging from digitized books, newspapers, and music to information generated by Internet-based activities and mobile communications, administrative data from public agencies, and customer databases from private sector organizations-—what new, computationally-based research methods might we apply? As the world becomes increasingly digital, new techniques will be needed to search, analyze, and understand these materials. Digging into Data challenges the research community to help create the new research infrastructure for 21st-century scholarship.