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Have we unleashed a monster?

A full-page story in yesterday’s Financial Times (March 1, page 9) waxes lyrical about ‘reality tv for the boardroom’ – and goes on to describe the use of video footage to ‘reduce the growing distance between the corporate elite and consumers’. Executives in multinational companies, understates the FT, ‘often find themselves doing business in places they know little about’ (but) ‘corporate reality tv enables highly paid executives to cross the class divide and get a glimpse into the lives of regular people – that is, their consumers’. In one example cited, Singapore-based Ogilvy RedCard videos ‘the secret lives of consumers’ – for example, by following young Japanese women into bathrooms at discos, where they are seen to reapply makeup a lot. ‘Video research has struck a particular chord with executives at pharma companies’ the story concludes; ‘they are intrigued with witnessing suffering’.The thought of corporate leaders ‘crossing the class divide’ by watching videos of sick people in distant lands is not a pleasant one – but do we share some responsibiity for this grotesque outcome? At Doors events over recent years, we’ve showcased what designers call ‘video ethnography’ as a promising but uncontroversial tool for interaction designers. Indeed, we’re running a workshop on the subject in Delhi as part of Doors 8. The FT story is a wake-up call: video ethnography is not a neutral activity: we must be much more critical about the way it’s used, and by whom.

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