Contemporary values and perceptions shape the views and interpretations of the anthropological world, thus creating a dynamic field of study that changes as our society does. Because of this, contemporary anthropological theory evolves with time, adapting and changing with the people who influence it. While "traditional" methods of research still remain relevant to the field, new technology and advanced forms of research are trailblazing the way for various new forms of anthropological work. Gone are the days of anthropologists being simply portrayed as on-site diggers, excavating for clues of cultures thousands of years gone, wearing a myriad of ill-fitting khaki garments, neck deep in dirt and sand. While this stereotypical archaeologist image may still linger in our culture's mind when the word "anthropologist" is brought up, the evolving nature of the field makes it a multi-faceted one that encompasses different aspects of contemporary and traditional theory.
One aspect of anthropological research has remained true however, and it is that its purpose is to uncover and analyze human nature and data through the observation and study of a set of people. Typically this is done through ethnographic research. Ethnographies are studies performed by anthropologists by which they immerse themselves in a different culture than their own in order to gain a better understanding of it. After the data collection, a written study is usually compiled about the information gathered. Ethnographic research is often the quintessential anthropological research methodology, and many times is done in a foreign culture than the ethnographer's own. This is where it is up to the anthropologist to employ his or her own cultural knowledge in order to immerse themselves completely among the people he or she is studying. While this method has been around for ages, it does have a few flaws that are caused by, or lead to cultural bias.
An example of this conventional type of ethnography was performed by Tom Boellstorff in Indonesia when he studied the lives of gay/lesbian/transgender individuals, and their role in Indonesian society. In his study, Boellstorff spent years among those he was studying, becoming an added appendage to their society and even taking part in Indonesian culture and routine. Boellstorff explains in his video lecture "The Second Body: Coming of Age in Second Life" that his studies in Indonesia lead him to want to study new aspects and cultures using traditional methods in unconventional ways. This lead him to discover Second Life, a virtual reality world in which users create a user, or avatar, of representing themselves and take part in activities within the virtual world. He sought out to "replicate 'traditional' anthropological methods, and see if they would work" in a virtual reality. While this methodology sounds a little absurd at first, mostly due to the fact that there is a very distinct line between "virtual" and "physical" reality as Boellstorff would categorize it. People would assume that having a virtual representation of yourself online would permit you to act any way you please, given the sense of anonymity and the difference in behavior that may come with it. Most people would not act the same they would in their "physical lives" as they would in their virtual one. Boellstorff disagrees with this notion, explaining that Second Life is indeed a real one, and the quality of life does not change when it is lived through a computer screen. He argues that people in virtual worlds are indeed human, therefore also deserve to be studied and observed like any other culture. Boellstorff also explains that virtual worlds like Second Life are no less real than the telephone conversations you have, where you are not in direct contact with the person you are speaking with, but your voice represents you and your actions. The interactions between the members of Second Life with each other are just another facet of human nature that is relevant to contemporary anthropology. This study that he is conducting is one of many that are being conducted observing the cultural phenomena of how technology is altering the way anthropological studies are being performed. Where it was only possible to conduct interviews and studies face to face with others, technology is making it possible to study people from across the world, and still get an accurate representation of whom they are. Boellstorff depicted the many parallels that could be drawn between his Indonesian case study and the Second Life study where he held focus groups for both--one in person and one in the virtual world. Both helped gather plenty of information and were conducted similarly, however in the Second Life focus group, those participating were literally from all over the world. This change in methodology is quite progressive and may contribute greatly to the world in anthropology,