By Laura Haapio-Kirk, on 15 August 2018
Author: Pauline Garvey
Fairly frequently the Irish media focuses on the ‘downsizing dilemma’ for retirees (O’Rourke 2017), but what receives less attention is the downsizing that comes with marital breakdown. As I conduct research the frequency with which I meet men and women who are separated or divorced is striking. This observation is backed up by recent census data that reveals that separation is currently a significant aspect of life for many Irish families. The Central Statistics Office figures show a significant increase in the percentages of people who separate in the forty-plus age groups (CSO, 2016). The rate of separation peaks at age 48.
This trend in mid-life is significant because, otherwise, marital breakdown is decreasing in the general population. In fact, there was a decrease of 11,115 separated or divorced persons aged under 50 between 2011 and 2016. By contrast there was a substantial increase of 29,224 persons over the age of 50 between 2011-2016. Not only is there an age factor but there is also a gendered dimension in how people report their marital status. Lunn et al. (2009) found that more women than men report themselves to be separated. The conclusion they drew was that men who are separated are more likely to identify themselves as ‘single’ rather than ‘separated’. Also a higher rate of re-marriage by men goes some way to explaining the disparity in figures between the rate of female separation and the rate of male separation, but it also raises questions about how Irish women self-identify following separation (see Hyland 2013).
What we learn from this is that marriage separation is particularly significant for people in their 40s and 50s, that a larger proportion of women do not re-marry and think of themselves as separated rather than single. This alteration in domestic circumstances may be experienced with a mix of emotions but the people I have spoken to are keenly aware of the importance of being accessible to others as they age. This has been discussed with me as either an issue regarding physical (‘what if I fall getting out of the bath?’) or emotional wellbeing (‘my daughter knows when I’m watching Love Island and she’ll text me “he’s a wally” …so I don’t feel alone’). One woman told me of a series of health problems she encountered around the time she was due to retire. As a result of what she calls a ‘bad reaction to life’, she suffered from acute depression and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 6 months. On her release and return home she described the effect of having automatic text messages sent to her from the hospital as part of her treatment. The text messages that she received were automatic daily messages: ‘they sent me texts every day or every second day saying ‘how are you doing?’, ‘hope everything is ok?’. So although the messages were not personalised, she describes them as ‘sending some positivity, it was superb to think that someone knew you weren’t well and could send a text to say you weren’t alone’. The key issue for her is that regular text messages inquiring about her health represented ‘a life line, some contact from the outside world to say we care about you and hope you are getting on alright’.
As my research continues it is clear that while no life experience can be viewed in isolation, the geographies of age, the places that one experiences midlife, can matter a great deal. My respondents are not just well or unwell, they experience age, health, illness or wellbeing in specific places, whether that is in the privacy of their homes, public spaces or doctors’ clinics. Similarly in contrast to being single, this research causes me to consider the ways in which ‘being separated’ is relational? Should we think of separation as a geographical term, suggesting a lingering connection to place as well as to person?
Central Statistics Office, Ireland (2016), available online at https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp4hf/cp4hf/ms/
Hyland, L. (2013) Doing’ separation in contemporary Ireland: the experiences of women who separate in midlife, D.Soc.Sc Thesis, University College Cork, available online at https://cora.ucc.ie/bitstream/handle/10468/1179/HylandL_DSocSc2013.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y
Lunn, P., Fahey, T. and Hannan, C. (2009) Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland, 1986-2006, Dublin: ESRI and UCD.
O’Rourke, F. (16/09/2017) The downsizing dilemma? Getting rid of the family furniture, The Irish Times, available online at www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/the-downsizing-dilemma-getting-rid-of-the-family-furniture-1.3214649
By Alfonso Otaegui, on 12 August 2018
As I mentioned in my previous post, a first step in my ethnography of the experience of ageing and the use of smartphones involved volunteering at a cultural center in the working-class neighborhood where I am living in Santiago de Chile. For a couple of months, I have been a teacher’s assistant in two workshops on the usage of smartphones aimed at elderly people. In these workshops lasting for four weeks, enthusiastic grey-haired students learn the basics of smartphones settings (unblocking the phone, connecting to Wi-Fi, turning on and off the GPS, flight mode and the like), how to use the Camera app, Whatsapp and Google Maps.
In addition, for a couple of weeks, I have been giving a complementary workshop by myself, for those who have already finished the main workshop. This complementary workshop focuses on repetition and exercising: students have the opportunity to practice in more extended periods of time what they have learnt in the first workshop, and to go step-by-step over and over again. This complementary workshop has given me the opportunity to be in more frequent contact with the students, and to become more familiar with their struggles and their success in mastering this nowadays pervasive new device. Many of the difficulties I noticed have been also spotted by my colleague Marilia Pereira in her field site in Brazil.
One of the most common feelings expressed by the students at the beginning is frustration: the phone doesn’t do what the teacher has just shown, the screen goes off all of a sudden, or cryptic warnings pop up, among other things. In my short experience so far, the most common —yet invisible— difficulty lies in the touch interface. Many elderly students find it difficult to distinguish between a ‘tap’ and a ‘long press’, and they tend to do a ‘long press’ when a ‘tap’ is required. I believe it is related to the lack of self-confidence when using the smartphone: they press the button long enough to be sure they are pressing it (as with a door bell). The problem though, is that the long press is a different input and therefore produces a result other than the expected one. Another difficulty lies in hitting the exact right spot on the screen, as, again, a slight miss has a different outcome (e.g. on Android’s Whatsapp’s chats menu, hitting the contact picture will show you that picture, hitting just a little to the right will open the chat), contributing to the general feeling of frustration.
Another common experience is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the vast array of menus, gestures, and different ways to do the same things on the smartphone. Having shared many classes with these elderly students, I started to grasp the experience from their point of view. Considering the difficulties of the touch UI, the diversity of Android iterations, manufacturer’s software skins, etc., I can see how complex and overwhelming this experience might be. All the functions of the phone seem chaotic to me now: there is no clear logical hierarchy in the arrangement of apps and functions. Most of the students do not recognize the difference between the home screens and the app drawer (the majority have Android devices), especially when the wallpaper in the app drawer is the same as on the home screens (but, adding to the confusion, this does not happen with every phone). One old man did this to access the camera: instead of tapping the camera icon on the home screen, he would tap the app drawer icon, and then the camera icon inside the app drawer. Furthermore, as the teacher of the main workshop pointed out, they expect to learn the ‘one way’ to do something on the phone, while multiple ways are possible (and sometimes these are needed, when one of the ways does not work).
In these situations of frustration, they tend to blame themselves (“I don’t understand technology” or “my head is not good for this”) as they judge themselves unable of learning the intricacies of this device, which seem evident for their grandchildren (who don’t have the time nor the patience to teach them). Having experienced this frustration myself when trying to teach a simple procedure to a new student whose specific smartphone model I have never used, I wish they would allow themselves to blame the phone now and then (I certainly do). Sometimes the interface is not as intuitive as it should be, sometimes too many shortcuts stay in the way and sometimes there is no visual cue on where to tap (the flat design of previous years has made this worse). However, I must say that they blame the phone sometimes, but in the most radical way: ‘this phone does not work’ (therefore, it must be changed). This has happened when they had accidentally left the phone in flight mode or silent mode, and they were unable to either receive phone calls or hear them, respectively. It is as if they could see the problem only in themselves or in the hardware (the phone as a device), while the software (and UI design) remains a blind spot. The interface is there, yet it goes unnoticed.
All in all, this is just the beginning of a long path for these new old beginners. It will be interesting to see if, as the workshop progresses, these engaged learners build up more self-confidence and make their way through the garden of forking paths of mobile UI.
By Daniel Miller, on 3 August 2018
For a project concerned with health and mid-life, menopause is an obvious target. What specifically does an anthropological perspective add, first to understanding menopause and second to envisaging a positive digital intervention? One key anthropological component, which is the comparative perspective, will have to wait until the team completes its research, but from my Irish fieldsite there are many possible insights. The challenge is firstly that no two women have the same experience. Menopause can start in your 30s or 50s. It can be almost symptom-free or have dramatic effects, some of which may never end.
The anthropologist will focus on the way medical issues are inextricable from the social context. The effect can be on close relationships. As a pharmacist told me, “Sometimes they come and say ‘I’m ready to kill my husband I think I’m going crazy’ very reassured when you say it could be the menopause”. Or women report that vaginal dryness makes it too painful to have sex. Women have told me that their mothers never mentioned menopause to them, or that they do or do not feel they can discuss the topic with their sister or close friends. Mostly they report that menopause is a topic that can only be broached through jokes. The impact might also be on wider relationships, such as to one’s work: “You might say to your colleague `could you just take over for a moment’ and then not explain why you would disappear, because you had a flush and you needed to remove yourself”.
Then there is the relation to wider medical authorities. Concerns about HRT or addictive sleeping pills may mean they prefer to consult complementary medicine rather than doctors. Knowledge seems to be a complete lottery, where some are well aware of the potential effects on bone density while others have never had anyone suggest this is something they might look into. Listening to women, within an ethnography, also alerts one to the considerable differences in perspective. One woman will give a feminist perspective about the need to rethink menopause as a celebration of a natural process, rather than merely a medical problem. While another, who is undergoing IVF and is desperate to have children, sees nothing to celebrate.
For us, the ASSA team, it is important that this same alertness to the social and wider context should manifest itself as the anthropological contribution towards delivering that will be of genuine benefit. One of the lessons from this research is that we need to see smartphone apps less as autonomous interventions and more as potential hubs. Different women will respond to different levels of information. There are those who are turned off by text and just want visuals, contrasted to those who want to read the medical journals. In my research so far, women have split equally between those who would prefer a discussion forum based on complete anonymity, to those who would only want to discuss these issues with people they can identity and feel some sort of relation to. In making relevant information more accessible all these factors need to be taken into account, but first and foremost comes listening to what a broad range of women say.
By Shireen Walton, on 30 July 2018
Author: Charlotte Hawkins
Our health depends on how we conduct ourselves, what we eat, what we drink. …Alcohol has compromised a lot of health in Uganda today.
(Elder in Kampala fieldsite, Godown)
A nationwide study by the World Health Organisation in 2016 found 10% of Uganda’s adult population have problems related to alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption can be a contributory factor to diseases such as cancer, mental illness and diabetes, as well as accidents, domestic violence, and other detrimental effects on family life. The drinking habits of some people in my chosen fieldsite, a low-income area in Kampala, are both a cause and consequence of socioeconomic problems in the home and beyond.
Drinking for leisure has long been ethnographically recorded as part of everyday life in Kampala (Southall and Gutkind, 1957: 22; Wallman, S and Bantebya, G 1996: 83). Today, gathering points are centred around bars serving home brews, waragi, ‘war gin’, or ajono, millet beer, and branded beers, whisky and gin. Groups of men, and a few women, sit around a large shared pot with long drinking straws. It is a chance to laugh, relax, tell stories and bond; what one community leader termed a “narrative exchange of ideas”. The home brews also offer an opportunity for women to make an income; small factories like those photographed below can be found across the country.
Public drunkenness, “morning to sunset”, is the subject of censure. An elder in Godown thinks that drinking alcohol should be criminalised before 6pm, as it is in neighbouring Kenya. However, he also recognises that people resort to drinking out of frustration and boredom, with a lack of employment opportunities or “what to do”. As another pointed out, “you know if there’s no employment, people tend to start drinking, drinking without proper feeding”. The local councillor, whose job is to resolve disputes in Godown, finds that “over drinking” is the main cause of conflict, husbands beating wives who have lost patience with their spending. As the women’s leader in Godown explained, they are often left to provide for their families alone:
Their husbands drink. They don’t even help them. They just take. Now their place they call it ‘jobless corner’. Even those who are working, who work at night, they come very early in the morning to go and join them. So the little money they make from work, they spend it on drinking.
In some families, alcohol is bought at the expense of children’s education, further perpetuating the inaccessibility of employment. Laura Haapio-Kirk’s recent ASSA blog post examined the paradoxical relationship between overworking, stress and health in Japan. In Uganda, it is the absence of formal work opportunities which perpetuates a cycle damaging to personal, familial and communal health.
- Southall, A and Gutkind, P (1957) Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and its suburbs, East African Studies. East African Institute of Social Research, Kampala, Uganda.
- Wallman, S., Bantebya-Kyomuhendo, G., 1996. Kampala women getting by: wellbeing in the time of AIDS, Eastern African studies. James Currey ; Fountain Publishers ; Ohio University Press, London : Kampala : Athens.
By Shireen Walton, on 19 July 2018
Author: Maya de Vries
My field site last month was a bit sleepy as it was Ramadan. This holiday continues over a whole month during which Muslims fast throughout the day, break the fast after sunset, and continue eating throughout the night. In Jerusalem, during these days, school and work places usually finish early and people who fast prefer to stay home, especially when Ramadan takes place in the summer and the heat forces people to stay indoors. During Ramadan, the elderly club at Dar al Hawa was closed and there were no activities at all. However, its WhatsApp group, “The group of the elderly club members,” was open 24/7.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, as part of my ethnography, I conduct a participatory observation at the elderly club at Dar al-Hawa Community Center. Recently, they agreed to add me to their WhatsApp group, which was established in October 2015. The admin of the group is also the coordinator of the elderly club. Besides the admin, there are 30 members in the WhatsApp group, although 50 members participate in the weekly meetings and activities at Dar al Hawa. That means that people do not receive information through the WhatsApp group. Instead, the coordinator phones them about the regular activities of the club, such as sport lessons, field trips, and so on. However, some information they miss since they are not part of the WhatsApp group; that is the informal messages, which are usually composed of images of flowers combined with a “good morning” or “good evening” blessing or other quotes from the Qur’an calling to pray to the Prophet Muhammad.
They also do not receive the various videos containing information about bad foods, such as snacks, that cause cancer, a disease that bothers everyone at the club.
When asking their club’s coordinator if she thinks it matters that some members of the group miss such information, she said it is not a big deal. I agree with her that it is not such a big problem, as long as they get the formal information and keep on coming to the club every Sunday and Thursday. However, I do think it can affect to some extent the sociability of the members who do not carry a smartphones and cannot use WhatsApp. Those images of daily greetings have a positive impact, based on my short experience in the WhatsApp group. Just reading the blessings and seeing the joyful image attached—usually of red and pink flowers—have a positive impact, even if it is just a minor one.
Nevertheless, an image is just an image, and it is fair enough to say that looking at it will not solve major problems of elderly such as loneliness, difficulties in walking, or reaching high shelves at home.
Overcoming such problems is not easy, and one of guest lectures at the elderly club dealt exactly with such issues. The lecturer was a representative from the non-profit organization called Mini Active. This important organization run by women only has a project for elderly people in which an authorized instructor for the golden age meets with elderly people, including the elderly club in Dar al Hawa, and brings all sort of objects for keeping the home environment safe. There was complete silence during almost the entire lecture, indicating that it was an important topic. I sat quietly as well during the lecture and took photos of the various objects.
At the end of the lecture, they all approached the table where the objects were exhibited and asked the instructor many questions. There was a big fuss and noise around the table, and it seems many of them asked if they could buy some of the objects, but they were not for sale. The instructor explained where they could buy them, but not all of them heard her, meaning they missed this important information. Furthermore, it means that probably they will have to go with someone from their family because many of them do not drive or need assistance when leaving the village of Dar al Hawa. I felt an urge to do something for those who did not hear her or would not remember how things look like when they go to buy them. Therefore, I took photos of each object and sent them immediately to their WhatsApp group. While sending it, I knew that there were club members who would not receive these important photos. Furthermore, other important information was missing, such as the locations of the shops and their phone numbers. Therefore, I prepared a file with all the photos of the objects and the names and details of the nearby shops where they can buy them. I sent the file in the WhatsApp group, but more importantly I printed 30 copies and handed it personally to each one of the club’s members who were present in the last meeting.
Why is it important to blog about this? I find this experience significant to the ASSA project that aims to understand how digitation assists seniors. It is a great example of how elderly people experience life today. They are in between the fast pace of smartphones and the digitization of life, but not all the time, and certainly not all them are, as happened at the Dar al Hawa elderly club.
So, let’s imagine a scenario of a person going to buy one of the objects he was told about in the elderly club’s lecture. But, he cannot remember its name and he mistakenly forgot his phone at home so he does not have the image with him. The information paper handed out at the meeting was left in his bag, folded inside his wallet acting as a safety net, un-digitized. Now he can quietly buy what he needs. Therefore, it seems to me that when thinking of life improvements for older people, it should always be on both tracks, with digital and non-digital features. In a way, it is like a double feature screening, of the same movie from two different copies: analog and digital.
By Xin Yuan Wang, on 13 July 2018
Author: Xinyuan Wang
In field work, in order to get to know people in the way people feel comfortable or familiar with, ethnographers always take many different roles. Three years ago, in my PhD field work I used to help in a mobile phone shop in order to get first-hand information of the local mobile phone market. This time, in order to know the personal history of the older generation who live in an old-style residential compound in the city center of Shanghai, I took the role of exhibition curator of the community exhibition.
It was in an interview with the officials of the living compound early this year, I first heard the news that the local ‘street office’ (jie dao) is thinking of holding an exhibition about the residents in the compound. One month later I started to interview households, compile the oral history of residents as volunteer curator. The curation of the exhibition is a perfect opportunity to justify myself to enter into many households in this residential compound – the majority of them are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, some of them have been living here for more than 70 years.
In-depth interviews usually took 3-4 hours, with the longest one being 7 hours – the old gentleman in his 80s was so generous to tell me his whole life with abundant old photos in that interview. After the interview, I became friends with my interviewees and all of them were willing to talk to me again and urged me to visit them more. The older generation who went through the fall of the Qing dynasty (the oldest cohort in their 90s), the chaos of the warlord era, the Sino-Japan war, civil war, the Cultural revolution, the economic reform has kept their mouths shut for ages. Now, finally, they feel the need to tell their stories, which, in many respects, has been full of suffering and trauma, as otherwise they would take these experiences with them to the grave. And they know I am an unbiased listener.
The exhibition was launched on 19th May 2018. It was very well received: in the past one month, the exhibition was reported by the local TV and newspapers. People shared articles about the exhibition among neighbors, friends and families via social media. Many representatives from various parts of the Shanghai government and the party visited, including the deputy Communist Party Secretary of Shanghai, Mr. Yin and his colleagues.
The most delightful aspect was that some residents have come to the exhibition hall to meet old friends – finally they feel this exhibition hall has become a space they can connect to. As the preface of the exhibition says: The exhibition hall is not only the place to display, but also the space where the oral history project of this living compound is carried out. Residents are welcomed to use the exhibition hall as a communal living room where old neighbors and new friends can sit down and chat.
The exhibition will last for a few months. There will be regular updates with more stories. Now I am working on the updates of the exhibition as more residents have come forward to share their family stories.
The ‘downloaders’ of Yaoundé: the digital economy transforms informal jobs in Cameroon – by Patrick Awondo
By Shireen Walton, on 9 July 2018
Author: Patrick Awondo
Among the material elements that mark the smartphone economy in Yaoundé, there are shops and sales counters that resale low-cost phones, predominantly from Asia. There are also houses and buildings in the same stlye and colours of the operators of local phone companies ; yellow for South African MTN, Orange for French Orange, red for Korean Nextel, and blue for Cameroonian Camtel. There are also more discreet kiosks. Sometimes these are mobile, but mostly they are sedentary. They often contain simple tables, where a laptop is installed and speakers are held by a young man between the age of 20-30 . At these kiosks, you find working persons known as ‘downloaders’, whose job it is to assist with people with their digital queries and technical needs for a fee.
‘Downloaders’: old jobs, shifting technologies
Once called ‘engravers’, downloaders are not a new body of tradesmen in Yaoundé. They appeared in the urban landscape with the invention of the compact disk (CD) in the 90s. At that time, young working men here established the act of burning CDs for people (actually a large majority of the urban population), who had no computers to copy music and other films and data via digital media. they They also recorded music onto cassette tapes. The CD gave way to downloading and streaming, and uses of USB sticks, and eventually smartphones. Downloading has since become a central business in Cameroon in the informal labour economy.
Among the changes that have taken place around this business is the increased presence of downloaders themselves, due in part to the needs and technical dynamics of the smartphone itself – which is very widespread among the population. While in the 1990s/early 2000s, only a few main intersections of Yaoundé housed kiosks, today the number of downloaders and kiosks much higher. They are numerous and present in the commercial center of the city – particularly to be seen at Kennedy Avenue (see image), which is the iconic street of computer and digital life in Yaoundé.
In this avenue, named after the American president John Kennedy, computer hardware stores and small start-up offices are present, existing alongside the informal facilities of downloaders and other resellers of smartphones.
The price of downloading a song to a smartphone is 50XAF (0.067GBP), and 100XAF (0.13GPB) for a video. Depending on the traffic volume and density in the street or junction, downloaders earn between XAF 3000 (GBP 4.3) and XAF 7000 (£ 9.41) per day for workdays starting at 9am, often ending around 8pm. The majority of downloads are to smartphones according to our informants, but also to laptops and USB sticks. Some customers ask that they be sent downloads to their email inboxes so that they can then save them on to the media of their choice. Informants described how teenage and young women are as inclined to download music and video clips as the young men (16-25). People over the age of 30 are also customers of the downloaders, but for this age group, their needs seems to be less about mastery of the features of the smartphone than issues such as how to increase download speed.
A 21-year-old female student in Yaoundé explained in an interview how she had mastered the use of her smartphone, but her budget for “Internet credit” did not have enough download speed to access the kind of cultural goods (music and videos) she wished to obtain. A 30-year-old man described how he found downloading times far too long. Owning an iPhone, he was indignant at the control and security procedures installed within the device, especially because he had to go through itunes, which according to him is “too expensive”. There are, therefore, a variety of explanations concerning the use of downloaders here – something I am continuing to explore in the Cameroonian capital.
In the city of Yaoundé, the activity of downloaders is part of the informal work economy, which constitutes 85% of employment activity in Cameroon. The young men who are the bearers of this activity are often in precarious socio-economic conditions; they are either students, or children from poorer classes who have been out of school early and many are living away from home. In most cases, they are between 20 and 30 years old and have computer skills acquired on the job. In a few rare exceptions, they have been trained in technical fields related to electronics. In these specific cases, their activity can be combined with those who repair mobile phones for a living.
Present on intersections crowded with passers-by, downloaders occupy space outside buildings, and/or on popular sidewalks. In the former instance, they pay rent to the owner of the building or house whereupon they settle. In the latter case, downaloders must come to an arrangement with the municipal services and state patrols in charge of public order on the streets. Sometimes, a young person who does not have the opportunity to buy equipment or set up an appropriate workstation (including the computer, sound amplifier, speakers etc.) is hired by an owner of such appliances, who in effect becomes his employer. In this case, the trading transaction, between the boss and his employee, is built on the basis of mutual trust. After consulting on the daily or weekly income, the owner of the appliances requires his agent to provide a photocopy of his national identity card, said one 39 years old, who was introduced to me by one downloader as his boss.
As an informal presence occupying the street, downloaders’s status within the urban / labour community appears ambivalent, sometimes falling within, and sometimes outside of official protocols. Since the 2000s, public life has become increasingly disciplinary. Assisted by policemen, agents of the municipal brigade carry out daily observations of the streets, and where they deem necessary, do not hesitate to use violence against young people occupying parts of urban space and engaging in a variety of commercial activities (Ottou, Forthcoming).
To escape the harassment of policemen (called awara meaning those who take your thing by force), downloaders, like other young people follow a kind of survival strategy in urban space, mobilizing two modes of action: in one way they run when and where they can, in other respect, they pay their taxes and comply when and where they are asked to.
By Laura Haapio-Kirk, on 4 July 2018
“Because of my job it is not easy to feel I’m living a healthy life. If you have a stressful life or stressful job it is a cause of ill-health. Work gives you stress but you need work to be healthy.”
This quote is from Tomoko san, a teacher who is near the age of retirement but is not considering retiring any time soon. She works six days per week and lives alone, her adult daughter living in another city. We met in the botanical garden and, after feeding turtles, we chatted overlooking a small lake and ate rice crackers that she had brought. We talked about health and in particular its relationship to stress which has surfaced as the most commonly cited source of ill-health in my conversations with people so far. She works hard and acknowledges that work stress, particularly social stress from colleagues and parents of students, causes ill-health. But at the same time she recognises that routine and purposeful work keeps her healthy. Her quote above is interesting because it captures this idea of work as both the main cause and prevention of ill-health, expressed in different ways by all of my informants. The routine and stimulation provided by work, especially of interacting with younger colleagues, has been cited as a way that people feel like they might retain their youth and stay healthy.
Diminished mental health, widely recognised by my informants under the umbrella term “stress”, does not appear to be as much of a priority to address as bodily health and fitness. Work and social relations are simply accepted as stressful because of a deference to hierarchical structures within social life. Colleagues often may not leave work until after their boss and then, if they are required to go drinking together, they also cannot leave the bar until their boss wants to. If a boss is insensitive to the exhaustion of their colleagues, this is known as power hara or power harassment. This kind of intense pressure from social bonds is often accepted as a source of stress and ill-health which people can do little about. As one informant told me with a sense of resignation “we (Japanese) have a lot of stress in daily life”. Unsurprisingly the mindfulness trend seen in Europe is also popular in Japan. However one of my informants said that mindfulness is just trendy and that people don’t really practice such activities in their daily lives. Japanese cultural activities such as tea ceremony and flower arranging (ikebana) are also supposed to be a form of paying attention and mindfulness, but as someone told me “ordinary people want to learn (such things) because it’s cool. For us, the mind is not so important, lifestyle is much more important. Mental health is not visible, whereas your body is, so people easily forget to take care of their mental health. How we look is very important.” One woman in her 40s confirmed these sentiments when she told me that the invisibility of mental health means that people often ignore warning signs and then reach burn-out stage. This is what happened to her while working as a designer, a job which often required 14-hour days. She subsequently quit the profession entirely and is now working as an administrator for a medium-sized company, where she feels less pressure to work excessively and therefore her health has returned.
Another person I have been getting to know is Hiroshi san, a 66-year-old nurse who also works 6 days per week. He tried retirement for 3 months but found that he wasn’t writing the novel he had planned to write, and instead felt anxious that others were doing more than him and being more productive, so he returned to work. For him, his peers are rivals who he feels in direct competition with, and retirement means dropping out of the race. Other people have told me that they don’t want to retire because it’s not healthy, they will just end up watching tv all day long, which they feel will shorten their lives. Work and “ikigai”, or purpose in life, are so bound up with health in Japan, yet in every conversation I’ve had people cite work as their main cause of stress and stress as their main cause of ill-health. This is a paradox I wish to further explore in the coming months.
Author: Laura Haapio-Kirk
Note: all names used are pseudonyms.
By Shireen Walton, on 28 June 2018
Authors: Daniel Miller and Shireen Walton
Once Facebook had become established, there developed a general consensus as to its primary social consequence: it allegedly led to rampant narcissistic individualism – people preening themselves in public, and to the decline of community and ‘proper’ sociality. The dominant motifs, much used in advertising at the time, would be of a woman posting herself painting her toenails a bright colour, or a teenager posing for a selfie. As such, Facebook was castigated by older people as something which encouraged this self-centred orientation by the young. Yet by the time the Why We Post project developed in 2012, the evidence was that the primary orientation of this social media was indeed social. The young posed with their arms around their Best Friend Forever and Facebook had become central to mother and toddler groups and the reintegration of families separated by migration and diaspora.
We work in very different field contexts; Danny within a comfortable small Irish town, and Shireen in an inner-city, multiethnic neighbourhood of Milan. Yet in both cases, the people we speak to say that the main reason they use Facebook is to keep up with the community; to share in another opportunity for being together (this time online), and to find out about events and gatherings taking place in the area. In the Irish case this might be a charity walk such as `Darkness into Light’, to raise money for the prevention of suicide, or the events associated with a weekend celebrating traditional music, or to facilitate community development in a new housing estate. In Milan, this could be to arrange and advertise a mass convening in public space one Saturday afternoon, standing side by side holding hands to form a 4km long catena umana (‘human chain’) – an act of celebrating the unity present in their community, and to contest the negative perception of the neighbourhood as a ghetto. Facebook, in both of these contexts, is the main site for local community news, community history, community photography and so forth. In the Irish site, this is especially important for local sports – of which there are a great many in this small town. For example one informant from Buan goes on Facebook several times a day. They look at two Buan sites concerned with swimming, two closed groups; one called Buan Talk and the other Buan buy/sell/swap, a Buan kayaking group, the fortnightly Buan News site, and the site of one of Buan’s cafes. In the Milan site, community Facebook group(s) are where the neighbourhood keeps together in a range of interesting ways, including where people express willingness to offer their time or a helping hand to one another. One informant in the Milan site found it remarkable, for instance, how if someone gets sick or needs help with something and posts this to the group, there will be an average of 20-30 responses each time from people willing to help them – from buying some basic groceries to picking up medicines, and so on.
Such community uses are not new, but they may have become increasingly important while more individualistic uses have declined., This may reflect the way in which Snapchat has become more important for young people, while WhatsApp has taken on the primary role of linking families together in everyday communication. By contrast, Facebook with its combination of visuals, texts, unfolding events in sequences, complemented by basic information such as contact details, is now ideal for advertising the latest play, or explaining to people how to get their T-shirts to support a charitable walk. Another factor, noted by Danny in 2012 is the way Facebook is gradually migrating from younger to older people in its usage. While there is a cross-generational feel to these community Facebook groups, the people that create, use, and invest time in them are increasingly in their 40s and upwards.
In both fieldsites, creating community includes establishing what is appropriate usage. For example, politics is largely avoided since it would be divisive. In the Milan site, this is especially important given the negative views other people have of this area – here, Facebook groups project an alternative, positive image of the neighbourhood. People using Facebook in these ways create a nurturing space for their community; a kind of digital green allotment space (echoing the importance of physical community allotments in both the Milan site and in Buan), where community togetherness offers some respite from the wider noise of Facebook, and the wider web at large, and where above all, the existing altruism we both find present in our fieldsites can plant itself/be planted, collectively self-nurture, and grow.
You will still find selfies on Facebook, and plenty of interaction within families, but in our two fieldsites, what is striking is the degree to which Facebook has taken on a role which is pretty much the exact opposite of its assumed consequence – which was the development of narcissistic individualism. Today, for many people in our fieldsites, Facebook is where the offline development of community spirit is enhanced by its cultivation within a digital online space.
By Shireen Walton, on 25 June 2018
Author: Marilia Duque, São Paulo.
Since March this year, I’ve been working as a volunteer in one of the WhatsApp courses provided by a Catholic Parish in my field site in São Paulo. Once a week, I meet around 10 students from 67 to 84 years old who are deeply committed to improving their WhatsApp knowledge and usage. Most of them report that their children don’t have the patience or the time to help them with their smartphones. They understand that their children work hard and have many other commitments in their adult lives. They don’t want to be a burden to their families. So they opt for a regular course. As one of my students Mrs. O. (71) puts it “considering all of that, do you think I would bother them?”
We started our classes as a very heterogeneous group with people who had never used WhatsApp before and people who already pay bills, buy stuff and book flights using their smartphones. After conducting interviews with some of them, I would say the group could be classified in two key categories: the ones who are afraid of “being overcharged”, “erasing some important information” or “pushing the wrong button” and ruining the device itself and the ones who are disposed to take more risks, using trial and error as method, without any concern about spoiling the device. According to the survey Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults (Pew Research Center, 2016), lack of confidence is one of the main barriers that can “hinder some old Americans from going online and using new technologies”. One third of seniors feel little or not at all confident when using electronic devices (including smartphones) and because of that feeling three-quarters of them say they need help to set up and start using a new device.
One of my students, Mr. M. (72), said this fear of making mistakes is the key difference between old and young people. If youngsters say something wrong, they laugh at themselves, because they are allowed to make mistakes. However people are not so tolerant with older adults. Because of that, he said, many of his friends feel so embarrassed when they fail that they became too scared to even try. But what could be achieved if all this fear is gone? According to the same Pew Research Center study, once the seniors go online, they engage “at high levels with digital devices and content”. Among older adults who own a smartphone, for example, 76% uses the Internet several times a day or more.
In my WhatsApp course, as the group became more comfortable in making mistakes, I might say they learn more and faster. They now know almost everything about WhatsApp main features: how to create a group, how to share a picture, a video, a contact or a location, how to manage WhatsApp downloads to save data, how to use WhatsApp web. They also learned some tricks a regular WhatsApp user might ignore. For example, each student now has his/her own contact in his/her WhatsApp, so they can send notes (voice and text) to themselves to remind them what to report to a doctor, what to buy at the supermarket and so on. It is great but not enough. They want to go further, so now we just decided to move forward with other apps.
After all, my challenge now is to cater to so many different interests and needs related to smartphones. As my colleague, Alfonso Otaegui, who is also volunteering in smartphone courses in Chile, said in his previous post here, old people have different expectations of smartphone usage. As a teacher, this might help me make more effort to show empathy in class. As an ethnographer, this represents a great opportunity to understand how their particular needs and curiosity about pictures, books, music, travel, languages, cooking and shopping apps reflect the very particular way each of them experience age and how smartphones can help them to get what they want.
 If we consider the POnline2017 Survey from Acessa SP, an initiative for digital inclusion in São Paulo that provides free access to internet and many free courses to help users to improve their digital skills, over 70% of respondents learned to use the internet by themselves or attending to courses and just 4% could count on their relatives’ help.