Digital Rituals in Performance

A large majority of HCI case studies focus on WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) participants. In this case study, I discuss a case study of an older woman named Chitra (pseudonym) from the city of Kahani (pseudonym) in India that contributes a counter-narrative that has been marginalised in HCI studies- a non-western participant living under what she describes as a hegemonic state. There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from studying diverse socio-cultural contexts of digital technology use as is apparent from the understandings of ritual that evolved from Chitra’s case study. Misinformation, Fake News and Viral Videos are increasingly impacting the way that digital technology is consumed, perceived and used in India and Chitra’s case study shed insight into how superstitious environments can fuel superstitious relationships with digital technology.

Sketching is a good way to maintain the anonymity of participants while still capturing ethnographic data visually. I stitched together scenes and scenarios based on descriptions of events such as Chitra’s experience of using an ATM machine. Rich descriptions from interviews have been used to construct images of events, devices, interactions, places and people in the participant’s life.


Factishes and Rituals as forms of control in the IoT

Fetishes are objects that people believe to possess magical or talismanic properties. According to Bruno Latour, Charles de Brosses popularised the term "fetishism" in 1760 by connecting it to "fatum," which is the source of the French noun "fée," "fairy," and the adjective form in the noun phrase "object fée," "fairy thing." Latour describes the encounter between European colonialists and indigenous people as taking place between two groups of people who are "wrapped with amulets" and mocking one another. Latour creates the neologism "factish" by fusing the words fact and fetish to denote “the robust certainty that allows practice to pass into action without the practitioner ever believing in the difference between construction and reality”

The case study of Chitra revealed the prevalence of factitious and superstitious behaviours that arise in response to worries brought on by her pervasive digital environment. The digital rituals that we found in Chitra's daily life included covering the ATM PIN even when no one was looking, going to the phone repair shop as a source of trust and assurance, stretching as a ritual to transition to a state of comfort, creating a ritualistic altar space for her devices, and her perception of passwords and login screens as digital border control rituals that limit her access to digital services in facti. Digital rituals are employed by Chitra to deal with her feelings of distrust, insecurity, monitoring, and isolation.

The new findings indicate opportunities to examine developing digital rituals and factish objects, especially in non-western socio-cultural and political contexts, in order to design for the "felt-life" features of IoT trust such as trust and privacy.

Privacy Dialects - Beyond WEIRD ( White, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) Contexts

This research presents a novel case study of a nonwestern perspective of ubiquitous technology in an oppressive political context.The experience of Chitra from Kahani in India offers a counternarrative that has been underrepresented in HCI research. Chitra is a non-western participant who lives in what she perceives as an oppressive state. The understandings of ritual that resulted from Chitra's case study demonstrate the abundance of information that can be discovered by researching various socio-cultural settings of the usage of digital technology. In India, the consumption, perception, and usage of digital technology are being increasingly impacted by the socio-cultural and political context including issues such as Misinformation, fake news, and viral videos . Chitra's case study provided insight into how alternative socio-cultural contexts might interplay with alternative understandings of digital technology. In Chitra’s context, for example, the factish environment of fake news and misinformation in Kahani fosters factish connections with digital technology. The social environment of mistrust in Kahani, riddled with crime and surveillance, encourages a reliance on ritualistic and factish actions to control anxiety in a political, social and digital environment that is perceived as being too untrustworthy, unsure and complex to control.

The results of this research contributed to a paper that can be accessed here

Primlani, N., Blythe, M. and Marshall, J., 2022, October. Digital Rituals in Performance: Transitions to Internet of Things Trust and Security. In Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (pp. 1-11).