Meteors, Culture and Natural Selection

You are probably aware of the meteor falling in Russia this week. You probably also watched lots of high-definition videos of the fire-ball tearing the sky.

As me you probably thought “how did they manage to get all this footage?”. In summary,  because of violent roads, corrupted police and skeptic justice system, dash-cameras are a must have in Russia.

A compilation of outstanding Russian dash-camera videos.

As we sometimes forget technology are tools serving people. People inhabit certain contexts that are important for what they choose or avoid to use. These contexts are made of different factors, but the global/local cultures are crucial to understand why certain innovations arise, are adopted and kept, or vanish away. Therefore, the right innovation needs the right context to flourish.

Just like living creatures in nature, new products/services are trying to survive following rules that resemble natural selection. If in Darwin’s theory the environment plays a major role – with predators, mating rituals and food scarcity – at the innovation field the socio-cultural context is the “environment” determining who thrives an who vanishes. In this particular case the Russian historical, social, cultural, juridical and economical context are setting a stage where small digital cameras fit perfectly.

The good thing about it is that using tools from social sciences (such as ethnography) we can study these socio-cultural contexts using findings to design products/services to fit in these scenarios. Is as if species could plan beforehand how they should be to have better chances of success in a certain environment. True intelligent design.


Now that we had this deep impact on the culture of visual documentation, maybe the habit of 24/7 footage arise in other countries, both to better deal with lawsuits, or just to be ready in case pure awesomeness knocks at your door.

UPDATE: Why is it not happening in Brazil? 

With the famous corrupt police and technology adoption Brazil should be doing the same thing as Russia. Right? Maybe not.

I guess this phenomenon is not happening in Brazil because of the cultural context. Bribing is usually carried by the person committing the infraction, being the least interested on document it.

Talking about traffic fee for example. Usually the owner of the car is the one trying to get out of the situation. The driver would be the one using the famous “jeitinho Brasileiro” (Brazilian workarounds) to bribe the police officer avoiding a more severe fee.

As far as I know Brazilian corruption have a subtle, almost friendly spirit. A police officer will never openly ask a driver for money, instead what happens is a favor exchange. Starting with a small double-sense chit-chat to feel if the other side would prefer an “alternative solution”. This bribe is called “o dinheirinho da cerveja” or just “pra cervejinha“, which means just a change for a couple of beers (of course many times it is way more than that).

Roberto DaMatta is one of the most respected Brazilian anthropologists and wrote a lot about this behavior.

Extreme Documentation on Ethnography


Big Data was one of the hottest topics in 2012, and probably will keep trending for sometime.

Maybe what make people so exited about it is the numerical proof of things we sometimes “feel” happening, but have a hard time explaining how we came to this conclusion.

At this post Andy Polaine talks about “Self ethnography and the quantified life”, referring to the vast range of products and apps helping people to have an Excel view of their own existence. He also links Gary Wolf’s talk “The Quantified Self” discussing how easy is to document our daily lives and how it have being changing the way people behave.

This week I came across this TED talk from the MIT researcher Deb Roy shows how he used powerful cameras, microphones and data servers to turn his house into a laboratory (Big Brother style). He fully documented in audio and video the whole process of how his newborn learned to speak. Amazing!

But where does it lead us? Are we close to a time where qualitative and quantitative data collection can turn our world in a high-tech version of Kitchen Stories?


It can be frightening depending on your techno-phobia levels, but can kids who were born with their Facebook profiles care much about having their live documented 24/7? I guess they gonna love it!

Furthermore, I dare to say that somewhere out there someone is already trying this kind of extreme approach with a business/innovation focus.