AAA Conference 2016


This year I had the chance to go to the AAA conference. For those that are not anthropologists, this is the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference. Not the car club.

I never got to attend the meeting when I was a grad student. There was the money thing, and being able to afford the hotel stay and the plane ticket. But there was also a time thing, since I was working full time, doing fieldwork and volunteering at hospitals. I just didn’t see how I could squeeze it in with that kind of a schedule. I wouldn’t have gone this year if it wasn’t for the fact that I was on a panel. And that happened mostly because of my mentor. But nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience.

For one, I got to meet a bunch of anthropologists that I had only spoken to online. That felt super cool and also a little weird. Everyone looks a little different in person than a skype call or a profile picture can suggest. But it was also like having instant friends that you can have intellectual conversations with while chugging free beer and snacks. Drinking with a bunch of anthropologists is a totally different experience. Only with these types of people can the subject turn from race, to hacking, to indigenous people, to podcasting, to burning man in 5 mins flat.

While I was there, I also got to meet a bunch of new people. It was refreshing. I am so used to being in a room where no one knows what anthropology is, except for bones, stones, and Indiana Jones. So to be surrounded by anthropologists was a brand new experience. It made me remember why I became one in the first place, because anthropologists are some of the coolest and most interesting people that you can hope to meet.

Attending the conference put to bed that nagging notion that one day I might want to have a PhD. Being at the AAA’s and meeting some PhD grads and candidates made me realize that I am just not that theoretical. For me the concerns of a PhD student are way to stifling. Apparently, my brand of anthropology is actually a bit radical. I don’t think that I am suited to be an academic because I want to be in the mud with the people and doing something about it.

But surprisingly, I found that I am not the only one. There were several groups that I met that were trying to do something that I am into, which is make anthropology more public and bring the web right along with it. I also met some anthropologists that worked at Intel and talked to them about their job and the work they do. It was nice to find out how anthropologist were used in such a technical company.

So even at the anthropology conference, I came away wanting to be a better developer and do more in software.

I would say that it is more than that. After this year, and this conference, it was clear to me what I am passionate about. And that is using technology to empower those that need some lifting up. That is sort of what anthropology does by proxy. Yes we study people and bones and genes and stuff. But most anthropologists will tell you that they are very protective of their research because they want to ensure that those who are the subjects are also protected. As it goes, the people who tend to be researched are those populations that may be misunderstood, vulnerable or simply not given the time of day.

But I am not just and anthropologist anymore. In addition to be a researcher and a data collector and analyzer, I am also a creator. I now know that I want to take my creative skills and use them to build platforms and tools for these same people and organizations and groups.

I wasn’t expecting to get all of that from a conference, but inspiration comes from the most interesting places. Plus, it didn’t hurt that there was an open bar and plenty of parties with wine to help me think it through.
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