infrastructure

Making Change within Complex Systems: Alexandra Mack, a Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by ELIZABETH KAZIUNAS, University of Michigan What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond. Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her career. She reflected on how early ethnographic field work studying ancient urban landscapes as a PhD student helped shape her research sensibilities and worldview. In transitioning from academia to industry, this deeply social way of seeing the world continues to influence her work at Pitney Bowes, both for addressing immediate client needs and in developing strategic...

Translating Infrastructure to Technology

by ALEXANDRA MACK (Pitney Bowes) I spend a lot of time thinking about mail. Actually, I don’t just think about it—I interview and observe people sending things, and it is actually more interesting than watching people lick stamps. As an ethnographer, I look at the overall context of the work and business processes connected to what is sent, as well as the perspectives and values of the various actors involved. These include decision makers who buy postage meters, inserters, or software solutions but may not ever use them, product users, and the people who actually care about what is sent and received. To do something as seemingly mundane as sending documents to a client, for example, a lawyer gives instructions to her assistant, who prints the documents, organizes them and addresses the envelope, then passes to a mail room with instructions on how to send to the end recipient. And this is just a relatively common scenario; more complex interactions and processes of documentation are often involved. On the day-to-day level...

Ethnographies of Future Infrastructures

by LAURA FORLANO, IIT Institute of Design Article 4 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives On April 1, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a $317 million federally funded initiative in textile innovation and manufacturing—a national consortium of public and private organizations to be led by MIT. It’s only the most recent project of the Obama administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a major effort to re-invigorate the American economy. This ambitious initiative to build manufacturing infrastructure nationwide plans an initial network of 45 Manufacturing Innovation Institutes over 10 years. Led by non-profit organizations, the institutes partner universities, businesses and government agencies with the aim of bridging the gap between basic and applied research in key manufacturing areas such as additive manufacturing (eg, 3D printing), digital manufacturing, lightweight metals, semiconductors, advanced composites, flexible hybrid electronics and integrated photonics. The...