The Virtual Society? - research begins

Leeds University will, next month, launch a study into how humans interact with the technology in their homes. 'A Virtual Ethnography' will be part of a much larger research program, The Virtual Society?

Leeds University will, next month, launch a study into how humans interact with the technology in their homes. 'A Virtual Ethnography' will be part of a much larger research program, The Virtual Society?, led by Brunel University.

Miniature video cameras installed in homes in London, East Anglia and Yorkshire, will record the behaviour patterns of sixteen families over a three year period beginning April. The cameras, which can be switched off for privacy, will scan at least five rooms per house from within everyday objects like toys, plant pots etc. using wide angle lenses.

It is hoped the miniature cameras will be forgotten by the families so they can interact naturally with their surroundings and the technology. Steve Woolgar, director of The Virtual Society? programme told ZDNet News it is important the families feel comfortable in the presence of the cameras. "We don't want them to even think about being filmed," he says.

Woolgar's team began The Virtual Society programme last October, "the Leed's University research is one of 22 projects within the programme," he says. "We want to see how people interact with PCs, videos, TVs. We're particularly interested to see if people are doing less as the internet becomes more poular." The research will examine the familiar claim that computers, coupled with Internet access, make people lazy as shopping or banking over the Internet leave the realms of science fiction.

One of the most interesting studies will be into how the social hierarchy of a home is affected by technology, says Woolgar. "We want to see who, for example, holds the remote control for the TV. We also want to see who gets to surf the Internet or play with the modem."

Traditionally parents are seen as the head individuals in a house but with the age of computing upon us, Woolgar says the "age demographics" will be extremely interesting, with the children hotly tipped to take control of anything that beeps.

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