What I’ve been reading lately: the not-so-weekly digest (#3)

Presenting another installment of a collection of most-highly-recommended articles and websites that shaped my thinking throughout the past few weeks on the topics that most excite me right now: design, research, business, technology, food, personal growth, and culture [change] and society. (Note: I decided to try out a new format for the digest that includes a brief summary of each link, rather than just the article/post title as with previous digests. Readers, which format do you prefer and why?)


The Rockstar Anthropologist writes about the many uses of IKEA bags, starting with the discovery in Sweden of IKEA bags filled with human remains and ending with fashion and composting.

In its monthly newsletter, the MailChimp UX team shares its experiences with the “unpredictable journey” of going from idea to product.

Scott Hurff talks about the death of small smartphone screens and the dawn of big ones thanks to Apple’s new iPhones (oh, and how to design apps so people can use them.)

In order to create a top-notch UX Design portfolio, Timothy Jaeger recommends that you start with a business challenge and follow with how you solved it.


Speaking to academics transitioning to corporate research roles, Llewyn Paine talks about how to casually communicate research findings effectively in organizational settings without sacrificing rigor and transparency.

IDEO employs a nifty way to collect visual data in research – disposable cameras with a checklist of instructions on the back.

This post from authors over at Somatosphere makes the case for the role anthropologists can play in understanding and helping with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Being the research methods geek that I am, I really enjoyed this thought-provoking piece from Erika Hall on why focus groups are worthless, followed by this excellent response from Emma Boulton on why focus groups are not worthless. I greatly appreciate this open discussion of methods and think both of them are onto something important.


Over at Entrepreneur, Daniel Patrick Forrester concludes that culture, not strategy, is the most important thing to pay attention to if you want to run a successful business.

Anthropologist Grant McCracken used ethnographic research to explore the changing nature of television spoilers in society for Netflix (he’s also the one who first did research on the phenomenon of binge watching, also for a project for Netflix, which clearly makes the case for ethnographic research and the value of anthropologists in business.)


Jan Chipchase’s ethnographic research on the design of mobile internet connectivity solutions for emerging Asian markets shows that connectivity is not binary, the network is never neutral (i.e., it’s complicated.)

When Omri Ben-Shahar updated his iPhone, he printed out the entire Apple terms of service agreement – it was so long he hung it from the roof of the University of Chicago Library. Here, Shahar talks about why people sign TOS agreements without taking time to read them.


The U.S. does things differently from many other nations on earth. Here’s an article on why we chill our eggs and most of the rest of the world doesn’t (hint, it has to do with culture affecting notions of food safety and cleanliness!)

Linguist Dan Jurafsky wrote a book about the language of food, including his analysis of large food-related data sets through natural language processing.

This post from the New York Public Library has the story on some of the most well-known American-Chinese food staples, including Chop Suey, General Tso’s Chicken and the Chinese take-out box.

Personal Growth

Jenny Ambrose reflects on what it means to be an encourager, the smallest effort you can make to truly impact the lives of others (and your own.)

Your comfort zone is not where the magic happens – here’s why it’s important to get out of your comfort zone in order to grow. It’s one of the hardest yet most rewarding things you can do for yourself.

Culture [Change] & Society

Not surprisingly, there are people in Oregon who a do live action role play version of the classic Millennial computer game Oregon Trail.

Rachel Shadoan wrote a heartfelt personal account of her own racism, encouraging others to “interrogate our discomfort” with racism and white privilege toward the goal of social progress.

Chris Higgins provides an explanation of urinals and urinal culture, from advertising and design to bathroom social interaction and urinal cakes.

A group of anthropologists studying social media and culture did a cross-cultural comparison of the social meaning of selfies and found (gasp!) that they don’t mean the same thing everywhere.

Speaking of selfies, Yahoo tech writer Alyssa Bereznak contemplates whether the world has reached “peak selfie” because of a growing trend in mislabeling group photos as such.

Other Posts of Interest that Don’t Quite Fit into the Above Categories but that I Can’t Not Share

Anil Dash shares 15 lessons learned from 15 years of blogging. Wow, that’s a long time in internet years!

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