Two questions, two answers

by Andreas Sudmann

How could/did one ‘attune’ to shifting research circumstances in light of the pandemic?

Currently, I’m doing a media ethnographic study at TwentyBN, a company specialized in deep learning and computer vision technology. Recently, the startup has built an AI-driven iOS app for the fitness market called FITNESS ALLY. My focus is to take a closer at the media, practices and infrastructures that play a constitutive role in generating and shaping this AI product as well as its underlying technology. To what degree was it necessary for me to attune to pandemic related circumstances? The answer may sound somewhat surprising: Actually, not very much. Almost from the beginning, the company maintained two offices, one in Berlin, the second one in Toronto, therefore a considerable part of the coordination and work processes already took place remotely before the lockdown.

How did the pandemic change your research ‘site’ (physical or otherwise), and what unexpected and productive openings did this bring about?

Since my current research project also involves a lot of travelling, the impact of the pandemic on my work was nevertheless significant, like all events that would have required personal presence were stopped. Furthermore, the pandemic obviously entails an epistemological problem since the field you observe is inevitably different from what it would normally be, even if in the case of TwentyBN, the impact of the pandemic on processes of cooperation and coordination has been less substantial than for other companies. Fortunately, I started my participant observation earlier than I had originally planned. At the same time, I have been lucky to kind of benefit from the outbreak of the pandemic, because from that moment on practically every meeting in the company happened remotely which made it way easier for me to observe, record and evaluate the day-to-day work of the company. In light of the current crisis, it is also evident that video conferencing software like Zoom is both a tool and an object of my research. An inevitable effect of the pandemic as a crisis and disruption is certainly that the operations and infrastructural conditions of the work processes are at least temporarily more visible, which is why they are also examined more critically with regard to possible adjustments and changes.

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