The next time Tony Salvador visits the Cañari people in the Andes mountain region, he won't be officially representing his employer, Intel Corp. Instead, he'll be filling an honored role as "godparent of the cross" for a house currently under construction. In the tradition of the Cañari, an indigenous people of Peru, when a house is completed, a cross is raised and an honored friend is chosen as the godparent. From then on the godparent has a permanent place in that household.
Salvador treasures this and the many other relationships he has made traveling the world as an ethnographer for Intel's People and Practices Group in Hillsboro, Ore. The group's goal was to learn how computers are being used by typical people in different cultures. Some of what they learned, Salvador and coauthor John Sherry share with us in "Taking the Internet to the People."
Salvador's job at Intel wasn't always so exotic. He was hired in 1993 fresh out of a Ph.D. program in experimental psychology to work on the human-factors end of a videoconferencing project. Then, in 1995, Intel released its new Pentium processor for the PC. Noticing that Pentium computers were racking up unexpectedly big sales in the market for home computers, Intel executives reasoned that the company should develop more products for the home.
Knowing little about the home market, Salvador and several other members of the human-factors group designed a study to determine how families with young children were using home computers. Instead of conducting a simple survey, they went into 10 selected homes and made lengthy, open-ended observations. When they released the study results to the rest of the company, which had been unaware of its existence, the impact far exceeded their expectations, triggering new product ideas within the company and enabling the team members to rewrite their official job descriptions. They formed the People and Practices Group to study societies and homes all over the world, and Salvador began his travels. In the past 10 years, he has visited more than two dozen countries, logging some 500 000 airline miles--and has no intention of slowing down.