EOL 7 Technology  Review

3. Evaluation: capabilities and limitations for ethnomusicological field research

As documented elsewhere (Greene 2001), the Psion 5mx functions quite well as a verbal note-taking tool. And its sound recording capabilities are limited but functional. But, even with the shortcut keys noted in Section 2 of this review, I find the process of entering sound files to be a bit cumbersome when trying to integrate sound files with typed notes in fieldwork situations. There are just enough steps involved in either method described above, that the inevitable distractions from the field setting can lead to a stray keystroke or screen tap, which can quickly derail the process, and require time for recovery.

A second limitation of the handheld computer for multimedia field jotting is its memory. If sound files are stored at maximum compression, such that sixty seconds of sound is stored in 250 kilobytes of memory, then the internal memory of the computer (16 megabytes minus the space required by the operating system and software) can allow a total of no more than forty-eight minutes of sound to be recorded on the whole unit (if it is used to store nothing else). A twenty-megabyte memory expansion card, if installed, can make possible an additional eighty minutes of sound recording. It is therefore possible to integrate numerous short sound bites or a few extended recordings with one's notes, but recordings must be made sparingly.

Although it is not always as easy as one might like, the ability to integrate sound files with field jottings offers an exciting opportunity more deeply to capture ethnomusicological field experiences. Other technologies, such as digital cameras that can now be connected to handheld computers running Palm operating systems (Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, Sony Clié), are paving the way for multimedia field jottings in which photographs can be more tightly integrated with text. The technology to take multimedia field notes is certainly here, albeit in a limited form. In upcoming years it is quite likely that handheld computers will be common and increasingly useful tools for ethnomusicologists to document and synthesize the sights, sounds, and texts of the ethnomusicological field encounter.

Paul D. Greene



Bernard, H. Russell. 2001. Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland (USA)

Greene, Paul. 2001. "Handheld Computers as Tools for Writing and Managing Field Data," Field Methods 13(2):181-197 (formerly Cultural Anthropology Methods).

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