Tag Archives: longitudinal studies

Technology Unfolds Over Time

Ghana Internet Cafe pic by Rachel Strohm CC BY ND 2.0

Many ethnographers stick to one place or region throughout their careers. Perhaps the memory of the trials and travails of entering the field in the first place, of early incomprehension and discomforts, the exhaustion of language learning, makes them shudder to imagine starting that all over again. Social ties to the field can be maintained in new ways (such as through Facebook). For example. Over time these relationships become deeper, richer. It becomes easier to ask more sensitive and private questions. One develops a growing capacity for insight into a culture, for the non-public side of society, for a better understanding of social performances vs. personal idiosyncrasies, the cleavage points beyond a society’s well-ordered face.

After 7 years of traveling to Ghana, I’ve started to see this sense of time and of change emerge in my own work as well. In part experiencing this more private side of life, but also observing firsthand the changes made sharper and more apparent by my absences. The Internet café scene in Ghana is not what it was when I started fieldwork in 2004. It was around 2008 that I started to see reports from the news media and people in Ghana about ‘sakawa’ a vernacular term that referred to Internet fraud. This was a term only whispered about during my fieldwork but had emerged around 2008 as part of a very public moral debate and was incorporated into the narratives of Ghana’s popular culture – in music and local video-films.

To formalize this sense of passing time I re-interviewed 12 individuals from my 2004 fieldwork. I believe this makes my study the very first longitudinal examination of the Internet in Africa. I was especially interested in whether, with time, the Internet yielded benefits to this group, delivered on their initial enthusiasm and conviction in the way the Internet worked (which in 2004 was bolstered by astonishing second-hand stories/rumors of big gains but very little successful direct experience among users).Read More… Technology Unfolds Over Time