CHI Fellowship Introduction: Brian Geyer
Hey everyone my name is Brian Geyer and I am a doctoral student in the Anthropology Department here at Michigan State. Though not formally a Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow, I have joined the team this year to develop my technological skills and become a more robust candidate for employment once I complete my Ph.D.
Upon completion of my B.A.s in Music and Anthropology at Washington State University, I briefly entered the workforce as a clerk in my area’s court system. My first encounter with digital archives would prove to be eye-opening. The software packages we used to create, access, and update official court documents were cumbersome, awkward, and generally unfriendly to the average user. From that experience I have carried with me the importance of a well-thought-out interface with regards to archival software. As I’ve gone forward through life, other events far more specifically relevant to my career as an anthropologist have further informed my thoughts on web-based archival technology.
Shortly after leaving my clerk job I entered the Peace Corps to serve for two years in Kenya. As a volunteer, I was stunned by the lack of availability for internet access in the rural community with which I worked, even one as supposedly technologically developed as Kenya. Despite fantastic cellular infrastructure that provided theoretical internet access to remote families that lived far from village centers and even the roads that serviced those centers, and despite the widespread and growing use of mobile phones, the great majority of rural Kenyans did not access the internet on even a limited, but regular, basis. I’ve come to realize that the majority of the internet has been programmed in such a way that it makes it difficult for anyone who doesn’t have a computer with a large bandwidth connection (that is relatively cheap) to gain and maintain access with the internet. Even those with computers and an adequate source of electricity find it difficult to afford the amount of data (both the bandwidth size and the total usage amount) necessary to interface with the internet on a regular basis.
Now that I am working on my doctorate, I have been thinking even more about my future career as an anthropologist. What I’ve come to realize is that, regardless of where my career path takes me, I will be engaged in some form of applied anthropological work with rural communities. Given that most of these communities with which I have conversed have expressed nothing but eagerness to engage with the internet – such as to develop their businesses, maintain contact with those that live far away, or own and direct their own online communal narrative and cultural heritage – I know it will be important to have the necessary skills to tackle their specific issues related to internet access. One way of addressing this issue is through development of web-based platforms for information storage and access via mobile devices, given their popularity in these communities. By improving my own skills in these areas, and by keeping in mind the importance of a well-thought-out user interface, I will certainly be more adaptive to the changing needs of these communities and thus a better applied anthropologist because of it.