Tricia Wang is a tech ethnographer who is known for her unique blend of tech expertise and ethnographic research. Through her work, she has been advocating for a more human-centered approach to technology and data. Her experiences in documentary filmmaking and social justice work, as well as her research on the Chinese Internet culture and the emergence of mobile phones and social media, have informed her perspective and approach to technology.
Tricia Wang’s background
Tricia Wang started her career in documentary filmmaking and social justice work. She then transitioned to the tech industry, focusing on adoption among marginalized communities, particularly in the US, China, and South America.
As a sociologist, Tricia conducted her doctoral research on the Chinese Internet culture and the emergence of mobile phones and social media. She spent more than 20 years researching the social evolution of the Chinese Internet, including living with migrants and working with internet policy-makers. Her style of hyper-immersive ethnography has given her a unique perspective on what is happening on the ground, which she believes is critical for organizations to understand if they want to form lifelong relationship with their consumers as people.
Tricia’s experiences in social justice and tech industries have informed her belief that technology must serve humanity and that it is not enough to provide technology. She has observed that technology availability does not automatically translate to tech accessibility, which does not necessarily lead to economic and social prosperity.
Through her work, Tricia has popularized the term “thick data.”
Thick data and the importance of the social layer
Tricia Wang uses the term “thick data” to describe the qualitative, harder-to-measure information about consumers that big data often misses. While big data relies on machine learning to decipher and analyze given data sets, thick data gathers ethnographic data that reveals the emotions and contexts of consumers.
Thick data complements big data by providing context and insights into the “why” behind consumer habits. It reveals the depth of meaning and stories behind customers’ experiences and preferences. The social layer in technology use is essential in gathering thick data. This layer speaks to the importance of the social and human capital programs to teach people how to translate their technical skills into the job market.
Tricia Wang has shared several examples of the importance of the social layer in technology use. In China, people repurpose social media sites to escape the repressive powers of society, while in Mexico, immigrant communities redesign cellphones to fit their needs of living in precarious cross-border conditions. In India, women gain power through their cellphone ownership in families. All of these stories speak to the importance of the social layer where emergent human behavior happens outside of market or organizational forces.
Human-centered approach to technology and data
Tricia Wang’s experiences working in non-profit and private sectors have shown that technological solutionism is not the answer to everything. She has witnessed organizations over-relying on quantitative data and ignoring the emotional and social information that thick data provides.
Investing in socialware is essential to achieving success in the technology industry. It is not enough to provide technology; organizations must also build social and human capital programs that teach people how to use and translate their technical skills into the job market.
Tricia Wang advocates for a more human-centered approach to data and technology. It is essential to build empathy and better understand customer needs to provide context to big data. Companies must balance the quantitative data provided by big data with the qualitative data provided by thick data. This balance can help organizations make informed decisions and inspire sensitivity toward customer needs.
Tricia Wang in the Media
Tricia Wang is a sought-after speaker who engages with various audiences, from C-Suite executives to data scientists and designers. Her talks cover a range of topics, including the hopes and pitfalls of technology, the significance of leading and managing multiple perspectives, avoiding the financial pitfalls of data-driven decision-making, the correlation between business growth and customer growth, and insights into China and the internet. Wang’s keynotes focus on building a human-centered approach to technology and data, where she speaks to the importance of investing in socialware, not just hardware and software. She also advocates for a more empathetic understanding of customer needs, inspired by thick data, which Wang defines as qualitative ethnographic data that complements big data. Her past talks, including her TEDxCambridge, Lift, and MoMA keynotes, have resonated with audiences across sectors and disciplines.
Tricia Wang is a tech ethnographer who advocates for a human-centered approach to technology and data. Through her work in social justice and the tech industry, she has observed that technology must serve humanity and not just be provided as a solution. Wang has popularized the term “thick data” to describe the qualitative, harder-to-measure information about consumers that big data often misses, emphasizing the importance of the social layer in gathering ethnographic data.