Genevieve Bell, Intel’s in-house cultural anthropologist, was this year’s commencement speaker. She studies the various ways in which people use technology—including what they love about it, what frustrates them, what they wish it would do—and processes and shares that information with the designers and engineers at Intel in hopes of creating products that can integrate more seamlessly into our lives. “I think our biggest challenge as technologists is sometimes we forget about people and all of their dimensions. We forget about families and art and love and beauty and poetry, and all that stuff,” Bell says. Her top tip for keeping all of that in mind when working in the technology field? “Read more poetry.”
Here are some other fun facts about the speaker at Caltech’s 121st annual commencement ceremony:
She knows how to get water from frogs.
Bell’s mother was an anthropologist who worked with aboriginal Australians, so Bell spent quite a bit of time in their settlements. Some of their survival techniques have stuck with her in part because they highlight the fact that different people think about and experience the world in different ways. “For me, there was something extraordinary as a kid to be immersed in that radically different worldview than the one I was accustomed to,” says Bell. “It set me on a path of thinking about and paying attention to the ways in which people see the world differently.”
She has an “embarrassingly large” personal collection of more than 5,000 books.
A lifelong avid reader, Bell’s prized possession as a child was her library card, and she read every book in her high school library, alphabetically by author.
Her favorite question to ask herself and colleagues at the end of the day is, “What surprised you today?”
“There’s something in the gift of still being surprised that’s about being curious and allowing that there are things that you don’t know,” she says. “I don’t want to ever become fixed in place or static.”
Photo of Genevieve Bell by J.R. Mankoff