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There is an old Far Side comic strip, which depicts members of an exotic tribe wearing stereotypical grass skirts, nose bones and all. As two men approach their hut, the members of the tribe are seen frantically running around. „Anthropologists! Anthropologists!” they shout, as they desperately try to hide away their TV, VCR, and telephone as if to maintain the performative purity of anthropological subjects untainted by modernity (see Fabian 1983). This comic strip was published in 1984. Since then, the ubiquity of the internet has arguably ingurgitated what may have remained of human activity unmediated by communication technologies – if such a thing ever existed in the first place (see Stiegler 1998; Durham-Peters 1999). Indeed, if we were to update this scenario to the contemporary time of “deep mediatization” (Hepp et al 2017; Hepp and Couldry 2017), what would perhaps be hidden away from the prying eyes of anthropologists would not be analog television sets but powerful smartphones connected to cloud servers where sophisticated algorithms track every aspect of online behaviour to provide detailed insights into what it means to be human at a scale never before imaginable.

About the author

Matti Pohjonen
Matti Pohjonen works at the intersection of digital anthropology, philosophy and data science. He is currently a Lecturer in Global Digital Media at the SOAS, University of London. For the past 15 years, he has focused on developing comparative research approaches for understanding global digital cultures and media. This has included, among other things, work on international news flows and blogging in India, mobile technology in Africa, critical-comparative perspectives to social media and conflict, online extremism and hate speech, as well as exploring and developing new methods in “big data” analysis and artificial intelligence for digital media research. He has finished his MA and PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where he was also a Senior Teaching Fellow (2006-2009) an AHRC-funded Post-Doctorate Research Fellow (2013). He also worked as a Researcher for the Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCLMP), at the University of Oxford, on two landmark projects mapping online debates, hate speech and political conflict in Ethiopia (2013-2016). He has also been a Research Fellow (2015-2016) for the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, a European academic network focused on researching the prevalence, contours, functions, and impacts of violent online political extremism and responses to it, and a Visiting Research Fellow (2017) at the Centre for Media and Communication (ZeMKI), at the University of Bremen. On the more applied side of research, he also worked as a Senior Researcher (2016-2017) for Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF), a not-for-profit research organisation launched out of University of Cambridge dedicated to developing innovative research methods for the hard-to-reach populations in Africa.