Jun 22, 2012

Anthropology of Television

Television's Secret Sauce

AppleTV, Google TV, Netflix, Ikea Uppleva... So why isn’t TV disrupted already? Where is TV going?

Longer term trends in human behavior can show us where TV is headed. Technology shapes Culture but Culture determines which technologies thrive; and culture changes more slowly than technology. An earlier post looked at television's job to be done. This post looks at the Anthropology of Television.

The history of television use can be described in terms of four dimensions. These dimensions define the value space of television and we predict they will continue to drive its future evolution:
  • Availability of Content, 
  • Convenience of Control, 
  • Sensorial Immersion, and 
  • Social Engagement.


...anything, anytime

Description Consumer expectations Trends
The availability of content in terms of:
  • Extent (What)
  • Location (Where)
  • Time (When)
  • Cost (How Much)
  • Limitless choice
  • Always accessible
  • Immediate gratification
  • All media
  • Low cost
  • Rental / Subscription access
  • Time and place shifting
  • Granularity of content
  • Move to online digital media storage
  • Apps provide new narrow yet deep access to specialized content.
  • User generated content gets integrated with commercial content. 


…as easy as breathing

Description Expectations Trends
  • The ease of getting the right content for any situation.
  • A satisfying sense of control
  • No thought needed
  • Navigation by recognition (not planned intention or forethought)
  • Automatic, flexible content management
  • Curated choices and recommendations.
  • Metadata enables content discovery
  • Control from 2nd Screen.
  • Integrated ecosystems of products


... sweeps me away

Description Expectations Trends
  • The extent, degree, and quality of sensory stimulation
  • Sensual escapism
  • Enjoyment and beauty
  • Authentic and credible content rendering
  • Fluid and natural control
  • Increasing visual and motion quality rendering.
  • More senses, more fully stimulated
  • Psychology-based compression and reproduction technologies
  • Integration of navigation controls with content
  • Apps providing synchronised extensions to content on screen.


…how I express myself; how I find myself

Description Expectations Trends
  • The social and cultural aspects of our relationship to media; shared viewing enhances the experience.

  • Social currency – know what my peers are talking about.
  • Discover content “gems” that suit me personally.
  • Expression of my identity through my choices
  • Pleasure and reassurance of being part of a group
  • Strong links to pop culture and fashion
  • Social curation
  • Check-ins
  • Playlist sharing
  • Real-time sharing
  • Tagging
  • Live!

...Just add spice

The secret sauce for successful Television's innovation:

  • Availability of Content, 
  • Convenience of Control, 
  • Sensorial Immersion, and 
  • Social Engagement.
Here is a .pdf A3 format, suitable for printing.


This post is an update of a project for Philips Design based on my own independent research and close collaboration with Darrell Chung. Graphic design in this update, as well as the original project was done by Darrell Chung.

A slide from the original project is below. Credit for the project should go to Philips Design; I own the mistakes.

Thanks to Philips for permission to update and reuse these materials, and to our colleagues at Philips Design who contributed, including: Arjen Benders, Greg Foster, Michael Held, Kim Sung Woo, Low Cheaw Hwei, Low KoWee, Paul Neervoort, Aidan Rutherford, Sajid Saiyed, Celia Wong, Rod White, Yeo Pei Pei. (Anyone I overlooked please let me know).

Thanks for reading to the end. Please comment. Please tweet.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

May 18, 2012

What do Interactive TV, Family Fun, and Military Intelligence have in common?

...they're oxymorons.

There is a thread within interactive TV literature and commentary, holding that new technologies will cause the TV viewing experience to evolve from "lean back" to "lean forward", as TV melds with digital social and interactive technologies. For example, Swedlow writes that “television is now becoming an on-demand, participatory, non-linear, infotainment, advertising targeted, broadband, two-way communications platform” [1]. Lu writes: “As viewers become accustomed to the “lean forward” (active) model of viewing instead of the traditional “lean back” (passive) model, as well as to the habit of processing more information simultaneously (e.g., using computers or mobile devices while watching television), they are beginning to gain and demand more control over their viewing experiences than ever before ." [2,  see also 3]. These views seem to reflect a predisposition to the new technologies, and perhaps a lack of appreciation for the evolved sophistication of traditional TV.

1968 Advertisement for Western Electric Picturephone 
Traditional television allows viewers to be passively engaged. They can sing along with a performer or talk back to a presenter. They can be surprised while retaining control. They can have new experiences without being threatened. They can be taken out of their own lives …while leaning back. The current state of the medium, reflecting more than 50 years of evolution driven by consumer demand, should  be taken as an indicator that “lean-back” is an essential part of what audiences seek in the TV experience [see 4, 5, 6].

To succeed, new social and interactive forms of TV must allow users to participate while doing absolutely nothing. It's a contradiction, but so are Jumbo Shrimp, and they work out just fine.

Enthusiastic readers can find the full argument in an academic-style article I published on Television's Job-To-Be-Done.


1.         Swedlow, T., Interactive enhanced television: A historical and critical perspective, in White paper, Intel Enhanced Television Workshop. 2000, American Film Institute.

2.         Lu, K.Y., Interaction Design Principles for Interactive Television, in School of Literature, Communication, & Culture. 2005, Georgia Institute of Technology. p. 219.

3.         Johnson, B., Vint Cerf, aka the godfather of the net, predicts the end of TV as we know it, in The Guardian. 2007: London.

4.         Lee, B. and R.S. Lee, How and why people watch TV: implications for the future of interactive television. Journal of Advertising Research, 1995(6): p. 9.

5.         Livaditi, J., et al. Needs and Gratifications for Interactive TV Applications: Implications for Designers. 2003.

6.         Van den Broeck, W., J. Pierson, and C. Pauwels, Does interactive television imply new uses? A Flemish case study, in EuroiTV’04. Proceedings of the Second European Conference on Interactive TV. 2004: Brighton, UK.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

May 10, 2012

Television's Job-to-be-Done

image source: Konninklijk Philips Electronics N.V.


Clayton Christensen [1] proposes businesses are best understood by looking at the way they help people address their jobs-to-be-done. One of the topics at Asymconf 2012 was the job-to-be-done of the entertainment industry. This post reviews “Uses and Gratifications” research into the specific case of why people use television. I’ll discuss other streams of research in future posts.


New technology doesn’t necessarily change television’s job-to-be-done. Television has always been social. Viewing was most often a family activity until recently, and watching with friends is still very normal. Traditional television is already interactive: Viewers can change channels (and also respond to programs in non-technical ways, such as by singing along). Since its introduction, the medium of TV has evolved into a multi-channel platform allowing viewers to switch between themed channels – some of which replay programs several times in a day – to view what they want when they want it, within the limits of the broadcast schedule. The type of interaction associated with more recent IP-based TV delivery technologies is in many cases an extension or expansion of interactions that are already present with traditional television.

Uses and Gratifications studies

Mass Communication theories of media ‘uses and gratifications’ aim to explain why do people use media, and what do they use them for? [2-4]. I’ll refer to uses and gratifications as “jobs to be done”. They are answers to the question “what do we hire television to do”?

The image below provides an overview of jobs-to-be-done identified in seven frequently cited uses and gratifications studies. The gratifications are clustered in 4 categories (explained below), identified by McQuail, Blumler, et. al.’s [5] typology of human-person interactions: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance [discussed in 2].

What we hire television to do


Surveillance jobs reflect use of media by individuals to learn about the world around them, and keep current with events that might affect them. It includes audience uses for Information, Guidance and Advice, and Learning and Education. Television Weather or Stock Market reports do these jobs, as do News, Educational, and Documentary programs generally. The job of Surveillance is described as viewers “finding out about events around them and the world in general so as to be aware of their surrounding environment, seeking advice for decision making as well out of curiosity or general interest, and finally learning in order to educate themselves, or to feel secure by acquiring knowledge” [2].

Personal identity

Personal Identity jobs reflect use of media by individuals to situate and orient themselves in relation to the broader culture. These include audience uses of media for Identity Formation and Confirmation, Value Reinforcement, Lifestyle Expression, Social Learning, Security, and Cultural Satisfaction. An example is when a viewer changes their hairstyle because they admired the hairstyle of character in a TV program; or changes their opinion to align with that of a person they admired or identified with on TV. Personal Identity is summarized as, “reinforcement of personal values, i.e. justification of behaviour” [2].  Television can shape an individual’s presentation of themself and their perceptions of cultural values and norms, and they may use TV characters and personalities as positive or negative role models.


The main job to be done of television is Diversion, which encompasses Entertainment, Escape, Relaxation, Emotional Release, Arousal, Sexual Arousal, Passing Time, and Habit. The category includes, for example, the relief from boredom and constraints of daily routines derived from chat shows, music, comedy, and other forms of light entertainment, as well as the excitement and arousal generated by action and adventure programs, quizzes, sports and competitive games, and even the ‘horse-race’ appeal of following an election campaign [3, 6].

There are a number of jobs-to-be-done that seem not entirely to fit within the classification of Diversion. Regulative refers to uses of television to punctuate time, or to establish a schedule; for example, to establish mealtime, bedtime, homework periods, etc. Environmental refers to using the television to establish an ambience of sociality, including, for example, to provide background sound, or to make the house seem less empty [7]. Habit and Routine refer to watching television out of habit, rather than to fulfil a need for habits or routines [8-10]. Although these uses (Regulative, Environmental, Habit and Routine) are related to Passing Time and Filling Time, which are more clearly related to Diversion, they are placed as outliers in relation to the cluster because they indicate another dimension of audience relationship to media – orientation to media and activity – which I will discuss in a later post.

Personal relationships

Personal Relationship jobs-to-be-done include audience uses of media for Affiliation or Avoidance, Companionship, Social Interaction, Communication Facilitation, Competence/Dominance, and Social Utility. This includes using television to gain a “sense of belonging”.
“This ‘sense of belonging’ can be broken into two categories: Firstly, viewers are able to place themselves in a specific social and economical context, either by comparison with different groups or by identification with their own. Secondly, viewers are able to discuss with other viewers what they watched on television, and thus be able to place themselves in a community of viewers and to interact socially with others.” [2].
Lee and Lee refer to the pleasure in talking about a shared television experience with others as “social grease” [10]. There is also a body of literature [e.g., 11, 12] showing audience members can develop a parasocial relationship with media characters when she or he is, or feels, addressed by a media character or persona.


This post summarizes Uses and Gratifications research investigating why people watch television. The jobs-to-be-done of television are summarised in the table below:

Overview of Television's Jobs-to-be-Done from Uses and Gratifications research

 Type of Television Use Jobs-to-be-done
Diversion entertainment, relaxation, and relief of boredom.
Surveillance learn about the world, and keep current with events that might affect the viewer.
Identity Situate and express the individual within the broader culture.
Relationships Affiliation with or avoidance of other individuals, (parasocial) companionship, communication facilitation.


1.         Christensen, C.M. and M.E. Raynor, The innovator's solution : creating and sustaining successful growth. 2003, Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. x, 304 p.

2.         Livaditi, J., et al. Needs and Gratifications for Interactive TV Applications: Implications for Designers. 2003.

3.         McQuail, D., McQuail's mass communication theory. 5th ed. 2005, London: SAGE Publications. viii, 616 p.

4.         Katz, E., J.G. Blumler, and M. Gurevitch, Utilization of Mass Communication by the Individual, in The Uses of mass communications : current perspectives on gratifications research, J.G. Blumler and E. Katz, Editors. 1974, Sage Publications: Beverly Hills. p. 318 p.

5.         McQuail, D., J.G. Blumler, and J.R. Brown, The Television Audience: A Revised Perspective, in Sociology of Mass Communications, D. McQuail, Editor. 1972, Penguin Books: Harmondsworth.

6.         Blumler, J.G., The Role of Theory in Uses and Gratifications Studies. Communication Research, 1979. 6(1): p. 9-36.

7.         Lull, J., The Social Uses of Television. Human Communication Research, 1980. 6(3): p. 197-209.

8.         Rubin, A.M., Television Uses and Gratifications: The Interactions of Viewing Patterns and Motivations. Journal of Broadcasting, 1983. 27(1): p. 37.

9.         Greenberg, B.S., British Children and Televised Violence. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 1974. 38(4): p. 531-547.

10.       Lee, B. and R.S. Lee, How and why people watch TV: implications for the future of interactive television. Journal of Advertising Research, 1995(6): p. 9.

11.       Rubin, A.M., E.M. Perse, and R.A. Powell, Loneliness, Parasocial Interaction, and Local Television News Viewing. Human Communication Research, 1985. 12(2): p. 155-180.

12.       Giles, D.C., Parasocial Interaction: A Review of the Literature and a Model for Future Research. Media Psychology, 2002. 4(3): p. 279-305.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Apr 24, 2012

Head in the Cloud: How Big Data Misses the Point.

Meta Data

My argument here will be that "Big Data" leads us to overlook important realities. Although crunchy numbers are an important part of any information diet, Big Data approaches can lead to deficiencies in other essential sources of information. By "Big Data" I mean consumer experience and marketing insight approaches based on data mining and statistical algorithms.

Taken out of Context

When I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a long time ago, it was pretty much common knowledge that Asian people couldn't drive. If a car turned without signaling, someone would surely remark, "probably a Chinese driver".

There was something about being Chinese and poor driving. Later, I lived in Singapore, and when I went to the swimming pool, I was surprised to find that Chinese people swam the way they drived. At the pools I was used to swimming at, in Australia and Canada and New York, people swam in lanes. The lanes were marked by ropes and people swam up one side, down the other. It's a good system. There are fast lanes, and slow lanes, and a lot of people can swim laps in a pool without bumping into one another.
In Singapore, the swimming pool looked to me like chaos. Everyone swimming in every direction. And this was adult swim time, all adults, mostly with speedos, caps and goggles, people were stretching on the deck. We were all there to exercise, not a splash in the bath. It was very difficult to swim from one end of the pool to another without bumping into anyone. The only lane rope in the pool was extended across the width of the pool at the end, marking off the end of the pool for old people doing water exercises. Helpfully, I explained the benefits of ropes and lanes to the pool staff, but to no effect. They didn't seem to feel the need.  It wasn't just the swimming pool. It was the sidewalks, the markets, the traffic. It all seemed so chaotic! Was this truly the stuff of an ancient civilization?

 And then, I had kind of revelation. As part of a research project I was involved in, involving interactive television and isolated Australian Desert Indigenous communities, I learned about differences between "high" and "low" context cultures. High context cultures assume everyone shares a high level of common understanding, so that much of communication can be left unsaid. Low context cultures assume little shared understanding, so communication must be self-contained and explicit.

 Asian cultures tend to be high context, Western Cultures tend to be low context. For example, in England, we might say "would you like some tea now?" but in Japan, it's more likely someone would simply lift the teapot meaningfully. In high context cultures, the meaning of a symbol or a gesture is more dependent on circumstances, relationships with other things. For example, while words in western cultures tend to have relatively fixed meanings or sounds, the meanings and sounds of characters in Asian cultures depend much more on the surrounding characters.

 This insight into differences in sensitivity to context in different cultures explained a few things for me. For example, Tai Chi. What was the point of a stork pose? When I looked a bit deeper, I could see differences in traditional Asian and Western sports in terms of High and Low context cultures. Tai Chi is about perfection in relation to the context of an ideal movement and form. Western sports are about absolute, context-independent objectives: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

We talk about Western sports in terms of records and statistics. Western sports lend themselves more readily to numbers. Numbers are the ultimate low-context communication. A three is a three is a three in any circumstance, at any time. When we can express things in terms of numbers, we have boiled away all context. Numbers are difficult to misunderstand. This is the great virtue of numbers.

 Large corporations tend to develop low context cultures. Multi-national organisations need to communicate in ways that will be understood consistently by different groups in different regions with different responsibilities and circumstances. Large corporations also need to be understood by financial markets, which understand only numbers. In large corporations, numbers talk, and they speak in algorithms. Large corporations have a natural tendency to reduce life to formulas. Corporate culture is a little autistic like that.
European Member of Parliament Francisco Sosa Wagner (non-aligned, Spain)
Humor is high context. To appreciate the funniest situations, you have to "be there". It often doesn't translate well. Like irony and love (…and coffee), it is an essential element of life. This is one explanation why the European Parliament has failed to excite the public. Translations boil out the humour and passion, leaving only the low context information. This is why there is so little humour and so many numbers in corporate communications.

And now I see how serious and silly I must have seemed in the Singapore Toa Payoh swimming pool. I was focussed on lap counts and times, while everyone around me was pursuing other aspects of swimming fitness less focussed on statistics, ways of swimming that allowed for navigating around fellow swimmers. They don't need lanes because being aware of what's going on around them is all part of the experience. It was quite uneducated of me to swim so aggressively. Just where in the pool did I imagine I was going in such a hurry?

 I'm riding on a busy expressway with another expat. He signals to turn, but no one opens seems to slow to let him in. Finally, out of frustration, he steers the car into a very tight opening. He's probably cursing the ignorant expats. Only a Westerner would put so much faith on such a simplistic and one-dimensional – low context – device as a turn indicator. Traffic – and much else – flows not so much because all drivers adhere to a common set of rules, as because every driver is responsive to the behaviour of the vehicles around them. An intention to turn is as likely to be signalled through a gradual drift into the next lane, as an explicit signal, but usually a combination of circumstances will lead other drivers to anticipate the move. Good taxi drivers are able to weave through by being very responsive to circumstances. The thing about low context approaches is they are so self-contained that they can make you oblivious to context.

Blinded by Science

We can think of Technology in terms of creating low-context solutions; i.e., solutions that do a job consistently and predictably, independent of external circumstances. For example, a hammer is designed to lead even an inexperienced carpenter to drive the nail efficiently; a map will show you the way regardless of you whether you have visited a place before; A mathematical formula will lead you to a logical conclusion regardless of how well you know the particular subject matter.

 But the thing about low context approaches is they are so self-contained, so independent of circumstances,  that they can make us oblivious to context. As Mark Twain said, to the man with a hammer, everything is a nail. Technology fosters a kind of blindness.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb illustrated this type of blindness in his book "Black Swan" with an example of a disciplined Wall Street "rocket scientist" actuary and a street wise trader predicting the outcome of a coin toss. The problem put before them is:
 "Assume that a coin is fair, i.e., has an equal probability of coming up heads or tails when flipped. I flip it ninety-nine times and get heads each time. What are the odds of my getting tails on the next throw? Actuary: "One-half, of course, since you are assuming 50 per cent odds for each and independence between draws" Street Trader: "1 percent. You are either full of crap or a pure sucker to buy that "50 puhcent" business. That coins got to be loaded. It can't be a fair game." (Taleb 2007 p. 124)
And where would we be without GPS? They padded the lampposts along Brick Lane in London, to prevent injury to people walking into them as they looked at their phones. I couldn't find any indication that this was a joke. And this is also funny.)  And there are regular stories of people driving their cars into rivers because their Satellite Navigation system didn't mark the ferry crossing.

 We think about maps as giving us the big picture, but it helps to remember that in actuality, maps are just little pictures. Big data is like a map; it gives a useful distilled view of the world, but it hides important realities. Big Data approaches make one way of looking at things much more available -- easier -- than others; and the particular lens that Big Data gives us is numbers, which are by nature distilled of context.

Further, Big Data is by nature mostly about looking at things that have already happened, or at best, tracking what is happening in real time. Taken too far, it can be like looking at your feet while you walk. It's easy to walk into a lampost. This is how Big Data misses the point. Over-confidence in data-based insights led Walmart to lose 1.85 bn dollars. In 2008 Walmart changed the customer experience of its stores based on customer survey data, reducing clutter and visible stock. This was wrong. The available data, in persuasive, corporate-friendly, numeric form, led Walmart to neglect the information it did not have: behavioural insight.

 The philosopher Martin Heidegger's essay "The Question Concerning Technology" is a detailed analysis of this tendency of technology to conceal at the same time as it reveals. By making certain paths very easy and available, other less available paths become hidden to us. When we travel at high speed down an expressway, we do not see the smaller footpaths, ways that may in fact lead to better places.

Your Brain on Data

Humans are by nature very susceptible to being misled by Big Data-type approaches. You may have heard the claim that we only use 10% of our brain. Not true. What is true, however, is that we are consciously aware of 5% of our brain's activity.
Think about the last time you drove home from work. You weren't paying attention to the steering wheel, or the turn indicator, or the brake pedal. You were probably thinking of something entirely other than driving. Dinner, perhaps. When you arrived home, you might not have been able to recall whether a particular traffic light was red, or which lane you drove across the bridge. And yet you were safe. This is because the 95% of our brain activity that is outside of our conscious awareness was busy keeping us safe.

 To use an example from Ian McGilchrist's book "The Master and His Emissary"  a bird uses the attentive 5% of its brain to locate and pick out a seed of grain from among gravel, while the unfocussed 95% of its brain stays alert for cats. 5% of brain activity deals with attentive, focussed, and methodical processes. This is the brain we use for symbol manipulation, including logic, math, and language. It deals with focus, goals, and conscious, ordered thought. The rest of the brain deals more holistically with sensory input. It is circumspect and largely silent. Its activities are not directly accessible to conscious thought.

 To use a cultural metaphor, the 5% is low context, the 95% is high context. Vision is a useful metaphor and a direct example of the relationship of these different functions of the brain. Foveal vision is the sharp central vision necessary in humans for reading, watching, driving, and any activity where visual detail is of primary importance. And yet the size of the foveal field is roughly the size of your thumbnail held at arm's length. The rest of vision is circumspect, providing context.

 But just because this (larger) part of our brain is circumspect, unfocussed, and largely silent, does not make it less important. Because, although we use the focussed part of our brain to solve problems, the circumspect part of our brain tells us what problems to solve. It's the circumspect part that switches our attention from seed to cat. Big Data approaches speak to the focussed, methodical 5% of our brains. But if we rely only on focussed, algorithmic, approaches, it's likely we will get taken by surprise ...and possibly eaten.

Big Data v. Big Picture

I'm arguing that there are low and high context ways of approaching the world, and that Big Data is a low context approach. Low context approaches are self-contained, focussed, algorithmic and explicit; High Context approaches are circumstantial, circumspect, contingent, and implicit. The table below compares the two approaches.
Low Context High Context
Big Data Big Picture
Rational Reasonable
Intellect Senses
Technical Practical
Corporate Entrepreneurial
Sound Methodology Credible Champion
Invention Innovation
New Patents New Behaviors
Evidence Belief
Corporate cultures tend to be low context, because cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary communication needs to be self-contained, and finally, reduced to numbers. Money is the ultimate low context technology. Low Context approaches are essential for detailed work, but can be oblivious to important realities. Big Data does not give us the Big Picture.

Really Big Data

The implication is that High Context approaches can identify opportunities that Big Data approaches would miss. So, what does a high context approach look like? How can we see the Big Picture? Firstly, we need a lot more data. Beyond the low-context quantifiable/intellectual inputs of Big Data, we need to draw upon all our senses to make sense of reality.
  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Balance
  • Morality
  • Timing
  • Humor
  • Beauty
  • Justice
  • ...
…and really, would you want to take a step  without consulting these senses?

 Your brain is the only processor capable of collecting, processing and synthesizing, this vast and diverse amount of information. Like other neural networks, it's a black box, which means that it's inner workings are opaque to us; but it is a highly efficient and reliable data mining engine, still unsurpassed in finding patterns in complex data.
So you want to get out of the office. In order to expose these senses to the complex environments where they can collect relevant information, you want to visit your customers in the wild, in the actual environments where your customers live and work. That's the main thing. Go to where your customers are.

That's 95% of the approach: go there and observe and absorb and let the intuitive brain do its work. But, of course, the focussed, analytical 5% of your brain will still need something to keep it occupied, and you will need a low-context way to explain your findings back at the office, so here are some explicit things you may want to look for in your customer's natural habitat.

Look for human traces. Scan the environment for improvisations, modifications, signs of people making use of objects in unexpected ways. Jane Fulton Suri of IDEO calls these Thoughtless Acts. English Sculptor Richard Wentworth has created a photo series of examples of these improvisations called Making Do and Getting By.  I like to imagine this is how the creators of Pinterest were inspired, by noticing that people collected photos – and pinned them on boards.

 Look for repeated behaviors, habits and rituals. This is what the inventors of NEST, a thermostat that learns and automates the regular adjustments you make to room temperature, noticed. See also Kevin Henry's essay comparing and analysing the approaches of Fulton Suri and Wentworth, Parallel Universes.

 Go into your customer's natural habitat and observe. Take notes and photos and videos so you can communicate back at the office. You will know you are done when you feel that you empathize with your customer.
em·pa·thy/ˈempəTHē/ noun:  The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 
But don't be too rigorous! You must be relaxed and open. Stress releases the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream, which inhibits learning and creativity. Your brain will work best when you are enjoying yourself.

Concluding Low Context Takeaway

Here is the takeaway:
  1. Big Data can lead us to miss the big picture. Crunchy numbers are an essential part of a healthy information diet, but Big Data approaches have been shown to diminish the appetite for other essential sources of information.
  2. Go outside and Play! Get out of the office and into actual customer environments, and do it in a way you enjoy, so your focussed analytical methodology doesn't interfere with your brain's proper work.
  3. Money is the ultimate low-context technology. Don't do it for money. Look at the bigger picture:  Do it for love. You'll get better returns.

Table of Context

Here are the main books that have informed these thoughts:

Here is the presentation I used at the UX conference in Prague. The text is below. Thanks for inviting me.

And here's a wonderful RSA version of Iain McGilchrist's talk on the divided brain:

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.