Ethnographers sip from a fire hose. If they have done their job, if they have set up the interview and engaged the respondent, said respondent talking several hundred words a minute.
The answer is not a tape recording. The only way to access a tape recording is to go back through it in real time. If we have 30 hours of interviews, we have to commit at least 30 hours to listening to them.
The answer is not a transcription. This is 30 hours of listening plus what might will be another 30 hours winding back and forth to get the transcript just right.
The answer is the notes we take at the moment of the interview, and these are necessarily a rough record, often a collection of key words, not to much a perfect topographical map of the interview as a treasure map.
Enter the Smart pen from Livescribe. The Smart pen allows us to take notes even as we capture a taped version of what is said, and then to interpolate between them as need be. The Smart pen gives us both the topographical map and the treasure map.
Here’s what they say on the Livescribe website:
“Paper Replay,” … allows total recall from lectures, meetings or conversations by simply tapping on your notes. When used to take notes during a discussion or lecture, the smartpen records the conversation and digitizes the handwriting, automatically synchronizing the ink and audio. By later tapping the ink, the user can replay the conversation from the exact moment the note was written. Notes and audio can also be uploaded to a PC where they can be replayed, saved, searched or sent.
It remains to be seen how well this technology works. I think the Smart pen doesn’t hit the market for a few months yet. But I have one on order. Looks promising!
Speaking of ethnography, the new book by Denny and Sunderland is now out (Denny, Rita and Patricia L. Sunderland. 2007. Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research.) and you can buy a copy here.
More more on the Smart pen, see the Livescribe website here.