Savage Interview: Going Corporate with IBM Anthropologist Melissa Cefkin

In my first batch of Savage interviews I am focusing on anthropologists like Simon Sinek working in or with corporations (Barry Dornfeld and Grant McCracken, you out there and willing to talk?). I recently had the pleasure of talking with Melissa Cefkin, IBM anthropologist and editor of the recently published “Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations.”

We talked about what exactly she does, anthropology’s resistance to the corporate encounter, management and new media firms, pre-Internet bust corporate engagement with anthropology, and how students can go corporate. To warm up your mind to these ideas here is a supplemental question and answer you won’t hear on the audio. Here is the interview.

Fish: In many new media firms people are working 50-70 hours a week. One of the reasons I am investigating new media firms is because so much of human social energy is spent building corporations, services, and products. To miss how corporations influence socialization–usually because of anthropologist’s apprehension of multinational corporations–is to severely limit ones anthropological study. Do you agree?

Cefkin: Completely.  People may spend 4 or 6 or 10 years in school, but then they carry on to work for another 30 or 40! Clearly a central domain, clearly a significant site for anthropological work.  But the rub, I suppose, is in the “study” versus “do something in it/be a part of it”.  As we grapple with in our volume (“Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations“), its not just that we are there, but we are there actively.

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is how to ‘perform criticality’, if you like, in ways that aren’t signaled only through a dissenting and oppositional voice (which is, it seems to me, a dominant anthropological trope and one I fall back comfortably myself). Because frankly much of what passes as intended engaged/critical dialogue is not heard.  Several months ago I was asked by some young anthropologists about the impact of some recent anthropological works (which I’ll not name, but were in the areas of global markets, corporations, new media, software and the like) on corporations or corporate actors. And I’ll admit that I was taken aback at what seemed to be a belief that such works are actually read by the powers that be in the corporate world.  Of course there are exceptions, and I recognize that there are subtle chains of influence beyond the book itself through which such ideas and viewpoints can move, but more often then not, if those kinds of ideas get any airing at all its because there are already anthropologists within those domains who would direct their counter-parts to them.

I am not meaning to be disparaging of those works in any way at all (nor of those eager scholars who believe in the power of ideas!).  But the thousands of middle managers I meet aren’t reading this stuff, most CEO’s and their advisors aren’t reading this stuff.  Speaking about and being heard are two different things. We know this. Those pursuing a public anthropology know this. Despite how difficult and imperfect it is, for now I’d rather have a seat at the table at the point that there is a chance to reframe the questions being asked and assumptions getting made than to wait until things are done and then oppose them — even though that stance is in many ways, in my view, an easier stance. Putting myself into such contexts and trying to work from within is by no means always successful.  But you know what? In some small ways in its own contexts, it often is.

I am a cultural anthropologist and media studies scholar currently teaching and researching in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University, UK. I investigate media technologies, digital finance, and network activism. @mediacultures

25 thoughts on “Savage Interview: Going Corporate with IBM Anthropologist Melissa Cefkin

  1. Despite how difficult and imperfect it is, for now I’d rather have a seat at the table at the point that there is a chance to reframe the questions being asked and assumptions getting made than to wait until things are done and then oppose them — even though that stance is in many ways, in my view, an easier stance. Putting myself into such contexts and trying to work from within is by no means always successful. But you know what? In some small ways in its own contexts, it often is.

    This should be framed and prominently displayed on every anthropology department bulletin board. (And, yes, on Websites, too.)

  2. Again, the problem with people like McCracken is that they don’t see their preferred culture as a product or function of social relations/systems but as generative in the sense that a supposedly independent intellectualism is the producer of “ideas.” That claim of independence is problematic enough but McCracken has quite literally gone native in the culture of capitalism. That’s less of a problem morally than intellectually: he celebrates a telos rather than studying it and celebrating it he can’t see clearly how it functions.

    As I keep pointing out McCracken celebrates advertising for its advertising function when we don’t read or look at 700 year old ads for the Universal Church for any of the reasons he allows. Even claiming the independence of a generative intellectualism he is simply wrong in his description.

    Corporations are no more or less deserving of study than high school students, street gangs or the military, but even if you think that HTS is the proper model in a crisis (and I don’t) it’s certainly not a model in the lack of one.

  3. And while I’m at it this ties directly into discussion of culture, capitalism and “content” in the previous post. Content is what advertising copywriters are concerned with, all we have in retrospect is form. Art historians study form. As do anthropologists[?]

    “But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject.”

    It’s amusing that it took a fantasy author to make this point, noted in a comment here: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/03/mashed-up.php/comment-page-1#comment-1789646
    The link’s to my response. Scroll up to comment #2. Fantasy and SF writers are notorious in their misunderstanding of culture, but she’s Kroeber’s daughter so maybe that explains it.

    I’m flashbacking that I posted this the last time. If so my apologies.

  4. Seth,

    Just so I know how much weight to give your argument; how much experience do you have working in a consulting role as a social scientist for a corporation of any kind? And, do you have an experience working with or for mid to top-level executives in a corporation not in a social science role? If not, then do you have data about any unforeseen consequences either negative or positive from any of the practicing anthropologists mentioned in your critique or in this thread? Not in general terms, but actual data?

    Also, you’ve mentioned advertising a few times, so I would like to know how you feel that the makers of goods and services let people know about their goods and services, without any form of advertising? This is not a trick question. You are making an essentialist argument, therefore I’ve framed the question in a similar way.

  5. All, the poor sound quality is my error by being on a speaker phone. Apologies for that.

    John, thanks for the shout out “Being at the table” really is the rub, no? Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

    Seth, can’t speak a word on behalf of Grant McCracken nor advertising, neither of which show up in the conversation here (nor my work) at all. Maybe if Adam actually does speak with him, you’ll have a chance to engage this conversation on that thread. Ditto your HTS throw-away (though I suppose you are trying to suggest this kind of work, without any reflection on what is actually performed and how – what I believe Rick is pushing towards as well, shares in an ‘embed’ model of dubious ethics.)

  6. Melissa, you are welcome. “Being at the table” really is the rub. I am reminded of a conversation some years back on Anthro-L. My friends there were ranting about Bill Clinton having appointed a blue-ribbon commission on race, which included no anthropologists. Since I was, at the time, heavily involved in Democratic Party politics, I was moved to ask, “How many votes and how much money do anthropologists represent?” Oddly enough, among people who claim to understand human behavior, there seemed to be little or no understanding of the basic political calculations that made including an anthropologist an idea on a par with including the mayor of a small town in Idaho or Mississippi, coupled with a magical belief that fine ideas and self-righteous indignation should, in themselves, be sufficient to win a place at that particular table.

  7. Somehow the distinction between working to help people and working to sell them something for a profit seems to elude you. It gets fuzzier if you consider that the military see their function as helping (at least in the long run) but that just gets down to judgement and cases. Everyone has to make their own decisions. Cefkin’s IBM webpage linked above is down today but her bio says she worked on user experience projects with one company, and it still seems pretty obvious that what we’re discussing vis-a-vis anthropology is more or less the sort of discussion one might have about industrial psychology. But psychology is more associated with the sciences than the humanities at this point so it’s less of an issue. Or maybe it was one many years ago and got forgotten. Look up Natasha Dow Schull and her research on gambling “experience design.” It’s literally design for addiction. The goal: to find the weak points of entry into the psyche and expand them. Needless to say she’s opposed to expansion of gambling facilities. She’s an anthropologist interested in helping people. The psychologists employed by the gaming industry are not. As I said we all have to make a choice.

    Rick you beggar so many questions in those two paragraphs I don’t know where to begin, except to say that I’m not an academic, and for better and worse most of my relations with top-level executives are social. We all negotiate relations in the world. But the modern academy seems to have adopted the ideological optimism of consumer society. There’s more distance irony and skepticism in evidence on cable than academic discourse. Which is why I keep returning to the distinction between the “design” model of MIT and tha the observational model of The Wire.

    And Rick I’m not claiming to be holier than anyone. I have money in the game and right now a lot of it is dirty- fully legal but dirty. I’m in business. I do my share of spinning, even with myself as the only audience. I live at the very least a double life.

  8. “Somehow the distinction between working to help people and working to sell them something for a profit seems to elude you.”

    I still don’t know anything about this MIT school of thought you are referring to. But, I’m not sure that there’s any distinction between informing people about something in a way that is culturally relevant and credible, and the act of informing people about a product. It is rare outside the pharmaceutical industry that industry marketers aren’t simply segmenting populations with specific needs and making stuff for them.

    If a group of people is large enough, can purchase something, will purchase something, can be reached, and isn’t already over served in an area then someone is going to make something for them. Anthropologists are fully involved in almost all the stages of marketing, from learning about the various sub-groups in a population, what they want, how they are currently being served, their unmet needs and wants, how they currently get what they get, how they use things, how things should best be designed to be intuitive to various market segments, their shopping patterns, their feelings about customer service, etc… Out of all that you seem to feel that letting them know about products is somehow an Orwellian plot to push things on an unsuspecting public.

    If you’ve already done all that other stuff, why wouldn’t you want to let them know about what you’ve made for them. If you have a business that relies on customers, then how do you let them know about it? If a company has not done any of the step leading up to advertising and simply relied on dishonest advertising tactics to sell a good or service, then they are not going to get repeat business and they won’t be in the market very long.

    You seem to be equating advertising with propaganda. In a way it is, but propaganda is just a word. It was discolored during WWII by the Nazis and Soviets, but all it is, is informing people about an idea. Propaganda can be deceitful, but there’s nothing inherently deceitful about it. If you are making that argument, then that is a logical fallacy of association. If that is your argument, and it might not be, then there is a very good explanation about this here:

    http://atheism.about.com/od/criticalthinking/a/propaganda.htm

  9. Also, if the goal was to simply trick people, as in the practice of “anchoring” (setting the price of one thing too high to make the price of something else seem reasonable), then you wouldn’t hire an anthropologist. You’d probably want a social psychologist, who seem to have cornered that market. An anthropologist isn’t going to teach you how to universally trick human being, but give you valuable insight into the reality of a segment of humans.

    For example, I recently submitted a report in the hope of getting a grant for urban development work (currently waiting with too much time on my hands). The client noticed that low-income people in the municipality weren’t taking advantage of opportunities for ecologically friendly development services. I was tasked with how to get information to this population in a relevant and credible way. I was able to find the reasons why information campaigns currently used don’t work, why the audience doesn’t respond when the information does get to them, etc… At the end of the day the goal was to try to develop an environmental consciousness among people; a cognitive relationship between behavior and effects to local ecology. I recommended using the natural social networks to spread info. and I recommended tying sustainability programs to current felt needs. That is, if a sustainability program is tied to helping people connect to public and private services to help them with things like a broken side walk, poor lighting, a crumbing home, etc… then it would find greater success.

    There is zero trickery involved in any of that. It’s simply about more effectively meeting peoples’ needs and producing a byproduct of meeting the environment’s needs, which also meets peoples’ needs. If don’t right, then it’s a win-win whether its a needed government service or a new product.

    I recently bought my first high tech touch screen phone and it works very intuitively and has met many needs I didn’t even realize I had. I mean it’s reading my mind, and that’s because there are people out there insuring that it is reading my mind. Thank god for them.

  10. Content is what advertising copywriters are concerned with, all we have in retrospect is form.

    Having worked as a copywriter for nearly three decades, I can say with complete confidence that this statement is the verbal equivalent of fecal matter from the rear ends of male cattle. Like good poets, good copywriters put a lot of time and effort into finding the right words and composing them in a way that will make the copy sing. Even newspaper ads have to compete with editorial content as well as other ads for the reader’s attention. A thirty-second TV commercial allows the copywriter only twenty seconds to convey the message effectively. Those who produce highway billboards can assume no more than fleeting glances as cars zoom by. Attention to form as well as content is, therefore, obsessive.

    A case in point, from a presentation on my current research.

    For example, in this project I take advantage of data collected for other purposes that allow me to identify precisely the people with whom a copywriter named Maki Jun worked on winning ads in 2001 and situate them on a map of relationships that tie the top of an industry together. But I don’t want to leave Maki as nothing more than a labeled node in a network analysis diagram. I want people to know that, like me, he grew up beside the sea and played the trombone in a high school band. They should also know that he has recently published a book suggesting that advertising copy, with its business suit removed, is a new form in a long tradition of one-line poetry that includes haiku, tanka, and senryu, all traditional forms of poetry for which Japanese literature is justly renowned. He is a man addicted, as I am, to wordplay and a genuine master of the art. Maki’s latest book is prefaced with the line kotoba no happa wa, itsuka ki ni naru mori ni naru (the leaves on words sometimes become a forest), which pivots on his substitution of the Chinese character for “tree” for the usual character for “breath” in the phrase ki ni naru, turning “notice and are concerned about” into “become trees, become a forest” (a more literal way to translate the way the line ends). The whole thing is set off because the ba in kotoba (word) is written with the Chinese character for “leaf.” So it might have been rendered “The leaves in “spoken-leaves” (words) sometimes become trees, become forests.” 

  11. I think a good definition of art is a text, in the broadest sense of the term, where the various subtexts seem as crafted or even more crafted than the simple material; the implications so varied and yet so articulated that they seem like the result of decisions. That’s the argument for the notion of what’s now called the intentional fallacy and it’s proven in the fact of how and why we still examine the art of the past even though we don’t share any of the ideologies that it was made to illustrate. When illustrative function is gone what’s left is manifestation, and not of what we call ideas but of the conflicts between them.

    At some point that became explicitly the goal of what was no longer the art of flattery -for princes and patrons- but an independent art of description, as it had perhaps been earlier or was still elsewhere in pre-commercial economies. But as Panofsky said, if commercial art can end up as a whore, independent “noncommercial” art in a commercial economy can end up an old maid. Which is why all I’m talking about is one form or another of commercial art.

    John McCreery, you’re describing examples of advertising, an art of flattery, that has in your opinion has produced an actual art. But it is not so because of its function but on top of it. Read my comments on McCracken. Or begin here. It’s funnier. More vulgar than Maki but not unrelated.
    McCrcken sees advertising function as art, and ‘content’ manipulation as art. If official portraits made to glorify kings can be art there’s no reason modern advertising can’t be also, but the intent to glorify, or sell, is not the measure of success.

    The paradox of anthropology applies to studying salesmen too. You’ve never understand sales unless you do it for a living. But if you get caught up in it, you won’t either.

  12. Seth, I did not say that advertising is art. I explicitly rejected as nonsense your claim that all that copywriters care about is content.

    People who create ads care a great deal about form. Many aspire to produce work that is, in formal terms, as good or better than most of what passes as art. Hours are spent in production meetings niggling over details.

    Perhaps the most striking evidence against the absurdity of the claim I am rejecting is the amount of effort devoted, over and over again, to reminding advertising creatives that what they are doing is not art, not a form of personal expression that may, at its best, be regarded as art. To succeed as advertising the work must add value to the product or client advertised. Industry folklore is filled with stories of campaigns that won creative awards but were then canceled by the client whose sales were not meeting their targets.

  13. “Creatives” I hate that term.
    Do you know how much time goes into every jingle you hear? Every new sneaker design? Ads are made to be disposable. I sat on the beach with an oscar-winning production designer watching him draw out plans for a 4 million dollar 30 second spot; scratching out patterns on the sand with a stick. It’s a day job and they all make their money that way. And I don’t even like his movies much: the things he’d prefer to be doing. By your logic the fact that you work really hard and you’re a loyal servant of the king makes you a great artist. Both are irrelevant.

    “But I don’t want to leave Maki as nothing more than a labeled node in a network analysis diagram.

    And that’s why you want to celebrate “creatives” because otherwise your life is flat. In an academic culture where subjectivity is seen as secondary, apart and merely personal, what’s left that’s human deserves unconditional love. But subjectivity is constitutive, it’s part and partial of consciousness, and the petty seductions you celebrate as poetry are just your way to rationalize your sense of the true superiority of reason; until Doktor Immanuel Rath gets floored by Lola. Rath is not the poet, his tragedy is the subject of a poem.

    The people who shoot ads are in LA, and they laugh at the intellectuals on Madison Ave who come up with the ideas. They’re the stagehands who know what’s going to happen from the moment Rath walks into the theater. They understand how culture works, and what people are. The intellectuals don’t. But I’d like to say that’s because the intellectuals are not what they claim, but only schoolmen, and an intellectual is something more.
    An intellectual is someone who understands the distinction between Rath and von Sternberg

  14. “Seth, I did not say that advertising is art. I explicitly rejected as nonsense your claim that all that copywriters care about is content.”

    I agreed as much as copywriters are craftsmen. But I don’t pay that much attention to scriptwriters either. Maybe there’s a literary craft in Japanese advertising that functions as the equivalent to the visual and theatrical craft in western advertising. That would be a very interesting topic. It would also involve close reading and connoisseurship rather than labeled nodes and network analyses. I’m curious.

    This is all still contra the MIT model of intellectual economic vanguardism and intellectual “designers” and designed intellectualism. You seem pulled in both directions.

  15. This is all still contra the MIT model of intellectual economic vanguardism and intellectual “designers” and designed intellectualism.

    I understand that you have this particular bee in your bonnet. But, take it from this copywriter, phrases like “intellectual economic vanguardism” don’t communicate anything but self-righteous anger. I gather that you don’t like Grant McCracken or Henry Jenkins, but I don’t understand why, except, perhaps, that you feel indignant that they are traitors to the (in my mind wholly imaginary) purity of art. You sound like a classic snob shocked, yes, I say, shocked! by something you take to be vulgar, failing to communicate in a manner that my steel magnolia southern female relatives would call throwing a tizzie-fit.

    It would also involve close reading and connoisseurship rather than labeled nodes and network analyses.

    It involves both. In this respect I am a faithful student of Victor Turner, who insisted that cultural analysis (the close reading and connoisseurship, you mention) be grounded in solid understanding of social structure and process (here the nodes and network analysis but also prior understanding of the institutional structure of an industry as well as trends revealed by statistics related to GDP and ad spend, the latter broken down by media and client industries).

    Even this is, of course, produces only partial understanding of what is going on. But without the social structure and process stuff the close readers and connoisseurs are like theater-goers who have never been back stage.

  16. Purity of art has nothing to do with it.
    McCracken has no interest in form. His interest is content. Rather than a justice on the Supreme Court who believes in the doctrine of original intent vis-a-vis the Constitution (a doctrine that’s not taken very seriously by serious thinkers) he’s an author who believes in it regarding his own writing. And strangely at that point the doctrine is accepted. In other words we can’t know the past but the futrure will know us. When a well known philosophy professor says History is Bunk (scroll down) no one bats an eye, because to him we are the future.

    We communicate in form, in media. Content does not transfer. You may imagine that human communication consists of things like me telling you “one plus one equals two” but it doesn’t. Outside very limited areas it consists of things like someone saying “Trust me.” What’s communicated in that? Trust? No. Trustworthyness? No. And on and on. McCracken is Dr. Immanuel Rath as techno futurist. The 20th century saw enough of those criminal buffoons. I called him a Stalinist for a reason. The illustration of ideas does not communicate those ideas to anyone who does not share them.

    We communicate in art, in all the rhetoric we use above and around the words we use when we say: “Trust me.” Use your “labeled nodes and network analyses” but you’re the one who’s ignoring structure not me. You and Dr. Alex Rosenberg, and Dr. McCracken and Dr. Rath. The last of them at least realized his mistake. But you can ignore him if you want. After all, he’s only a fictional character in the movies.

  17. It appears to me that, when it comes to the substance of argument, the pot is calling the kettle black. There is nothing here but unsupported assertion.

  18. I understand that you’re defensive about the way you’ve chosen to live your life, and that you don’t pay attention to the details of criticism. Graphing is easy, interpretation is hard.

    I have the same arguments with defenders of late Picasso. Describing in their own words how good the work is they describe nothing more than their own tastes. I respond by describing it in the context of the culture of 1955-72 with all else that happened and reply that late Picasso seems unimportant. Doing the same for the work of 1904-1920 the result is different. We’ll see how it plays out.

    You would call all this unsupported assertion. By comparison your only substantive assertion is that people you know care about their work, and the “form” of their work. I accept that. But still that says no more than that some people care about the form of late Picasso. And nothing is learned about the work your friends enjoy, or late Picasso.

  19. Seth, you are so wrong. I am not at all defensive about how I have led my life. On the contrary, I have been so blessed that it’s hard to describe how my life has gone without appearing insufferably arrogant. I have been married for forty years to my best friend. Our daughter has been an amazing success, Annapolis ’98, Navy helicopter pilot, currently preparing to take over the world at the Kennedy School at Harvard. We have two wonderful grandchildren, who appear likely to be as extraordinary as their mother. Growing up in the 1950s and going to college and graduate school in the 1960s, I was able to do a B.A. in Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Anthropology without going into debt. The major setbacks in my life, not getting tenure (I was young and tactless) and having to leave Japan’s second largest ad agency after thirteen years in which I had become rather attached to the place both opened new doors. Thanks to my best friend, about half of our current business is producing the English for major art museum exhibitions, which means that I have learned a lot more than I never expected to about Hokusai, Gutai (the Japanese version of Informel or American abstract expressionism), and the ceramics produced by Dame Lucie Rie, for example. (If you check out our website, you will find lots, and lots, and lots of exhibition catalogues.) Along the way, I have had the opportunity to spend a year and a half as a Daoist healer’s apprentice, travel extensively, and, thanks to the daughter, spend a week on an aircraft carrier and attempt to climb Kilimanjaro (my knees gave out at 14,000 feet). Last week I purchased a small but exquisite painting by a young Nihonga artist with whom I have the pleasure of singing in a chorus whose members include a former prime minister of Japan and the current International Chairman of the Red Cross-Red Crescent. Plus, thanks to the Internet I get to interact with all sorts of interesting people from all over the world. If my life is “flat,” I’d like to know what thick is.

    It is, you know, good anthropological practice to spend some time getting to know the people you write about before writing sweeping generalizations that may, as in your case, turn out to be both misinformed and highly offensive as well.

  20. You had me up until “aircraft carrier.” Being stuck on one of these would be my version of naval hell.

  21. It was pretty much fun. When Pacific fleet carriers return from deployment, they stop in Hawaii and a third of the crew get off and are flown to the mainland. The remaining crew can then invite friends or family members (not spouses or children, who have to be in port to wave them in) to take a “Tiger cruise,” five days on the water in the same accommodations with the same mess hall privileges as those who invite them. In my case, this produced an interesting SNAFU. Since my daughter extended the invitation, I was initially assigned to a female junior officer space that normally houses six women. I was, however, quickly reassigned to an equivalent space near the bow, which is provided for visitors to the ship from other components of the battle group. I was prepared for early morning reveille. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the time around 4:00 a.m., when the catapults were tested and my head seemed to be located just where the hook was hitting the end of the track.

    Mainly, however, I had a chance to wander around the ship and get to hear my daughter, who was then her helicopter squadron’s PR officer, explain the squadron’s mission (primarily antisubmarine warfare) and the care and firing of Hellfire missiles. There were similar presentations available in every section of the ship, so there was plenty to see and do. The second day out, an air show was put on that made me realize how much news cameras obsessed with jet fighters taking off or landing miss of what goes on. First off are the helicopters, which stand by in case one of the other aircraft goes in the drink. Then come the AWACS (long-range radar surveillance) and midair refueling tankers. Only when all these are up do they finally launch the fighters. When the aircraft land, it is in the reverse order, fighters, then tankers and AWACS and, when everyone else is safe on board, the helicopters.

    You are right, though, that a tour on a carrier is no picnic. The notion that being in the Navy means a lot of healthy outdoor activity is, at least in the case of carriers, an illusion. Most of the five thousand crew on board spend the deployment in grey metal corridors with florescent lighting. Since the smallest bit of debrie can destroy a jet engine, access to the flight deck is strictly forbidden to anyone without a mission there. The most frequent chance to get outdoors is joining the several hundred who line up and comb the flight deck every morning to make sure that it is immaculate before the aircraft start their engines.

    It’s a strange world with lots to learn about, anthropologically speaking very interesting, indeed.

  22. Yeah, I know. I was in the navy stationed in Japan. That’s how I paid for my education. It’s also why I thank god I wasn’t attached to an aircraft carrier. I was on a cruiser, which is the perfect size. Not too big, not too small. We cruised independently, but we pulled into Korea once with a carrier and there were sailors everywhere. You couldn’t get away from them! All the prices in town inflated, which doesn’t happen when only a few hundred sailors come into town.

    Something more anthropological though. You mentioned the way sailors live in a gray, florescent lit world. I imagine that would be more true on a carrier, than a small boy with only a couple of decks below the waterline, but it’s still mostly true. In design anth. there’s the notion of giving objects like computers, copy machines, phone, etc… their own kind of agency. We interact with them, and in a way they interact with us, each of us coming to the situation with a set of preset functions and limiting biases and abilities. I found that a lot of people have trouble with this kind of abstraction, but I think it comes naturally to many sailors. In the navy the machine is primary, and the human component is merely an organic cog in the machine. Sailors work in unison to serve the function of the machine (ship). The machine isn’t designed to work around people, the people are trained to work within the machine. Its a very real kind of cybernetic meshing that hasn’t been explored in any detail. This is why I think the navy has a unique culture in the military branches; a couple of thousand years of culture adapted to serving objects over other people.

    I remember during our training cycles, they would have marines play an enemy force that would attack our ship in port, and we would have to defend it and get it underway. A lot of sailors were always killed, but as long as there was at least 30% of the crew, or so, left to get the ship to sea, then we were considered successful and would pass. The people were secondary to the mission and the mission was the ship.

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