handsets make sense in a society where few people can
afford a home with electricity. They also make sense in
a society where many families are separated by migrant
labor practices. The cellular telephone also provides a
means by which potential employees can be contacted
with offers of work—not easy when you don’t have a
front door or post box. By conducting ethnographic user
observational studies (such as contextual inquiry) it is
possible to gain good insight into the types of problems
these users experience in dealing with technology and
start to understand ways in which these devices can be
used more creatively—in his article Gabe White outlines
some example applications, such as provision of health
sion and the purpose of your research when the person
you are interviewing may never have been to school and
has no concept of data collection? In short, HCI does not
currently offer a set of rigorous techniques for conducting user-centered research in the developing world.
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In this forum, our goal, therefore, is to work toward
how we can best conduct effective and ethical HCI
research within a developing-world context. We will
present case studies, field reports, and reflections on
how HCI practice might need to change and how individual researchers have overcome the obstacles they
faced when conducting this type of work. To date, our
field has helped the first billion ICT users; now it is time
to start thinking about the next five billion.
Less straightforward, however, are the issues that
dictate how one can convert these observations into
solutions. Participatory design and paper prototypes are
of dubious value when working with users who have no
prior exposure to technology. Furthermore, the ethics of
explaining a user’s role in such a process rapidly become
complicated—how do you begin to explain your profes-
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gary is currently
employed as an associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Cape
Town in South Africa. He was born in Ireland, studied in Scotland, and had his first job in London.
Although his background is in computer science,
moving to South Africa has forced him to reconsider his views
about technology in general and HCI in particular.
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