You can use tallying to collect data and discover behavioral patterns, even if you’re short on time and don’t speak the native language.
Well, I had a blast in San Francisco. I flew up to participate in American Anthropological Association’s 111th annual conference. My trip went a little something like: flying, volunteering, beer w/the Savage Minds crew, party with USCMVA, dancing in Grand Ballroom #4, getting recognized from m’blog, and Chinatown!
O, Chinatown. Two sides of the same city can be entirely different worlds, and Chinatown’s a great example. Although it’s a part of the greater San Francisco area, Chinatown boasts a demographic, culture, and freakin’ police force all its own.
I only had a few hours to see Chinatown, and wanted to glimpse something beyond its tourism industry. However, touristy gift shops pretty much littered the main drag, Grant Avenue (right.) It didn’t take long before I strayed off Grant, and took a few aimless turns along the way. Eventually, I found myself strolling through alleys, observing fewer gift shops, and more mundane stuff: laundromats, print shops, hair stylists, etc.
Then I met the greatest stereotype in all of Chinatown: a fortune cookie factory (below.)
On one hand, hooray distinctly Chinese-American junk food! My inner toddler rampaged with joy. On the other hand, I remembered the factory from a tourism guide I’d read, and despaired at remaining trapped in the tourism district. I stepped inside, and halted. Factory workers and equipment occupied the overwhelming majority of the building, leaving barely enough standing room for two tourists at once. A far cry from Grant Ave.’s pandering.
I hypothesized. Perhaps this factory is like the citrus juicers back home in Florida? Granted, they offer tours of the facility, but tourism isn’t their business. If you’re touring a Floridian citrus juicer, you’re probably not in a tourist trap; you’re probably in a serious food processing facility.
I burned for an excuse to use some tallying methods I’d just learned in Mike Youngblood‘s AAA workshop, "Rapid Research in Public Settings." So, I broke out a pen and pad, found a spot on the ground covered with slightly less pigeon poo than elsewhere, and sat down to collect mad bunches of data.
I reasoned that, if this place was less tourism industry, and more food industry, I’d expect to see significantly more passersby than tourists. I’d also expect to overhear significantly more Chinese conversations than not-Chinese. So I tallied that data: passersby vs. tourists, and Chinese vs. not-Chinese conversations. Obviously, this paradigm has its flaws, but all rapid research does. Think of it as taking a data "snapshot." Informative, even if incomplete.
So there I sat.
Watching, listening, and tallying.
After fifteen minutes, the data became overwhelming.
I overheard lots of Chinese, and almost no other languages.
I observed lots of passersby, but almost nobody stopped to tour the factory.
Does this suggest that the factory and I sat beyond Chinatown’s tourism industry? If not, what does it suggest to you? Have you ever visited San Francisco’s Chinatown, or maybe a Chinatown elsewhere? Heck, just for giggles, what’s your favorite fortune you ever pulled from a fortune cookie? Of course, any other thoughts are welcome, too. I put a lot of thought into these posts, and I sure do love it when people leave comments. Even short, stupid ones. So be awesome, and click here to say something. No registration nor email required. Yay, free speech!