X Close

ASSA

Home

Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing

Menu

Downsizing, Rightsizing, Upsizing — by Daniel Miller

By Xinyuan Wang, on 24 June 2019

A while back, Pauline Garvey and myself decided to write a chapter for our book about downsizing. This means that we rather assumed that downsizing would be an evident phenomenon for the age group we are studying, mainly people in their sixties and seventies. Certainly, in Ireland there is pressure on older people; hints from the media and the state that moving to a smaller home would help free up large family homes for families with children and perhaps release equity for their own children who are finding it hard to buy their own homes.

I found that most of my informants resent such pressure, feeling that they have worked hard for and deserve their homes. Their children may be living abroad and when visiting, my informants want to host them in their own homes.  Anyway, there are no hotels in Cuan. These people often want to move from the older estates they currently live in, where houses are typically expensive to maintain. But the evidence, confirmed from interviews with estate agents, is that they are not downsizing. Rather they aspire to move to new build houses, but with at least three bedrooms. When visiting such houses I found that they use this opportunity to express their desire to be modern and youthful. Far from squeezing possessions accumulated over decades into small retirement flats, they give these away and embrace modern furnishings and styles for their bright new houses.

Similarly, while they may be getting rid of their many accumulated possessions in the process. They may use this realign themselves with modern sensibility, viewing these actions as evidence that they have embraced the modern ‘green’ environmentalist perspective. So both in moving home and in divesting themselves of possessions, it seems that, far from preparing for ageing, they are seeking ways to become more youthful and more attached to contemporary mores.

Other evidence suggests that there is only limited transfers of equity down the generations to enable younger people to buy their own homes.  It seems more common for them to suggest that their children’s families can come back and stay in these reasonably spacious homes, while they are saving money to purchase their own. Most commonly, these children really want to be able to buy a home within Cuan itself, and this is expensive.

Actual downsizing is important in relation to frailty at whatever age this arrives. Alongside the need for specialist aids, downstairs bedrooms and toilets and, when required, a move to specialist sheltered accommodation or a nursing home. But, consistent with our earlier findings, this is about physical need. Otherwise, it seems to matter little whether people are in their eighties or fifties, they no longer consider themselves as old people who have to shrink their worlds, rather they remain concerned to find strategies for updating their world and remaining contemporary.

I thought this was quite an original, even radical finding; but perhaps we have not gone far enough. A 2016 report by the UK’s NHBC Foundation called Moving insights from the over-55s based on a survey of 1,500 households who have moved home, suggests that nearly a third have actually upsized, that the most popular homes are four bedrooms and that 46% have put more money into their new homes, rather than released equity. Unfortunately, the survey is not broken down by age. It is not then surprising that terms such as rightsizing are coming to displace downsizing. What that report doesn’t do, which we hope our project will do, is delve into the deeper context that may explain why this is happening.

 

New and Old Friends — by Charlotte Hawkins

By Xinyuan Wang, on 9 June 2019

Many people in the Kampala field site who use Facebook like to use it to search, add and chat with new friends. They sometimes attribute it to ‘friendliness’, enjoying making contact with new people and chatting to them. A few also see it as an opportunity to network and learn from others.

Nakito is 48 and owns a salon with her son. They also share a smartphone as they don’t have money to buy their own, with each taking ownership on alternate weeks; they even change the password so the other can’t access it without their permission on their week. She uses Facebook to look up friends, add them and send messages. Mostly they are other women who live in Uganda. She would never meet with them but just chats to pass the time.

Nakito with her grandson, her son working in the background

Opoka is 48 years old and has had a smartphone for 5 years. He uses Facebook to talk to old friends and look for new ones. “When a new face appears we’re eager to talk to them”.  He especially likes finding international people, learning from them, sending photos and sometimes exchanging phone numbers.

Amigo also accepts or sends requests on Facebook, “creating friends worldwide…you see their photos, you like some and want to make friends…maybe they can take you to a higher level.” Like Nakito, he wouldn’t meet them in person, and generally loses contact eventually, “like one in Spain, we used to chat a lot, but my phone got stolen so we lost contact”.

Frank is only 33 and also sometimes likes to find new friends on Facebook by sending requests or receiving them. They are ‘outside Uganda and all over the world’. He said, “I like chatting to new people and meeting friends. I like people and being friends”.

Namubiru is a 45 year old market vendor. She has old friends she connects to on Facebook, but also is sometimes looking for new friends. Her kids even look for new friends for her. Usually they are ‘from here’, women or families. She’s never seen them in person, it’s ‘just to make friends’, like families sometimes can’t come ‘live’ in person so they connect on the phone. Her kids can call them and they chat, just asking them how they are; they always want to find out how her elderly mother is.

‘Checking on people’ is probably the most common use of mobile phones more generally. In a survey on phone use conducted with 50 respondents last year, we asked people who their previous 3 phone calls were with, the purpose and duration; 34 of 150 (23%) phone calls were for the purpose of ‘checking on friends and relatives’, or them ‘checking on me’; “they wanted to know how I am”, “he wanted to know how home is”. They were generally brief phone calls, less than 2 minutes. Exchanging greetings through the phone acknowledges connections and reiterates the importance of such relational ‘presence’, even if at a distance.

Smartphone and the ‘sense of ritual’ in daily life — by Xinyuan Wang

By Xinyuan Wang, on 31 May 2019

Mr. Shou taking photos for elderly residents (photo by Xinyuan Wang)

I have not been photographed by a proper camera for ages! It feels so special…nowadays most people only take photos by mobile phone.

79-year-old Mengyun claimed with a big smile after posing for the portrait photographing. Mengyun is one of my neighbors who joined an oral historical project which I co-operate with the local residential compound in Shanghai. As part of the project, I invited Mr. Shou, a professional photographer, to take portrait photos for a few families.

Mr. Shou taking photos for elderly residents (photo by Xinyuan Wang)

Mr. Shou is an experienced photographer who has done a lot of work especially among the elderly. He sees this none-profit photography project as something he has to do with great respect:

Many people passed away without a proper photograph. Every person deserves a proper portrait photo in his or her life. What I want to do is not just take photos, but keep the great memory of the person. I take it with great respect and people can also feel the sense of ritual. Life needs sense of ritual, don’t you think so?”

Mr. Shou always mentioned the phrase ‘sense of ritual’ (yi shi gan) to highlight the significance of the photography session. After seeing how the three-generational family finally arranged a photo slot which can suit every member’s schedule after four-day back-and-forth coordination on the family WeChat group; how the bedridden lady struggled to get up and put on lipstick for the photo-taking, which she had not applied since she was ill; how people moved the heavy furniture around several times to find a best backdrop for the family group photo, I have to admit Mr. Shou is right in many ways – probably the mere fact that this photo is not taken by a smartphone but a ‘proper camera’, as Mengyun put it, has given people the sense of the ritual, so that they are more willing to make an effort to make it better.

Mr. Shou taking photos for elderly residents (photo by Xinyuan Wang)

The cost of photography was definitely one of the main reasons that photo-taking was such as special thing in the past old days. As Guancheng, 70s, recalls: “About forty years ago when I grew interested in photography, it was such a luxury hobby. I remember clearly at the farm camp[1] (nong chang) my monthly salary was about 22 rmb, and at that time a roll of film cost almost 10 rmb, plus the cost of developing the film etc. the cost of taking 30 ish photos was about half of my monthly salary!

On top of it, 50 years ago a camera was so expensive to the degree that almost no individual or household could afford one. People had to borrow cameras from the work unit (dan wei) or rent cameras from camera shops. Given the opportunity of having a photo taken was so rare, the process of arranging photo-taking was also an important part of the ritual.

In many cases, people can remember in great detail about things which were not captured by the photo – such as who took the photo, and in what situations they had the chance to get a photo taken. However sometimes people couldn’t even remember other persons on the photo. The mere fact that the invisible things could get memorized while the visible things could get lost of a photograph seems to lead to an understanding that the very event of photo-taking can be as important as the photograph itself, if not more important.

It seems that the rise the smartphone has killed the ‘sense of ritual’ of daily life as taking photos by smartphones nowadays has become such a mundane activity. However, along with the decline of one kind of ritual, the proliferation of smartphone has created new ‘rituals’ in daily life.

‘New rituals’ being taking photos of the food before a meal – you have to take photos first otherwise you are not fully appreciating the food and the hospitality.

“I don’t think she likes the meal tonight as she didn’t even take any photo of the dishes.” Ms. Huang (58) said showing evident disappointment, after an important dinner to which she treated her son and his fiancée.

‘New rituals’ – i.e.  the taking of many photos and selecting a small portion of them to post on WeChat – the social life of photographs online has become a significance aspect of photo-taking as well as the way people perceive their daily life.

Alice, 35, described her mother’s ‘ritual’ of taking and posting photos: “When she visits somewhere, she really doesn’t have a lot to do, excepting taking loads of photos, and after the visit, she spends a lot of time polishing these photos, adding filters, and after that she carefully selects nine of them[2] to post on her WeChat, editing the text meticulously and then she checks her smartphone almost every two second to see who has liked her photos and what kind of comments she received. And then, the next day you can overhear her WeChat video call with her close friends, complaining who has not liked her posts for a long time.”

Actually, what Alice observed about her mother’s photo-taking ritual is not rare among people of all ages I know in Shanghai. Given the ‘cost’ of taking a photo as well as taking a short video is nothing in the age of smartphone, the ‘willing’ of taking a photo or video speaks directly to people’s attitude and evaluation of things – ‘Is it worthwhile being recorded?’ or ‘Is it worthwhile being posted on my WeChat?’

In the field work, I have observed various situations where people created new rituals out of the daily use of smartphone. The discussion of the relationship between smartphone use and ‘sense of ritual’ will continue in my further study.

[1] Where he was sent to receive re-education from peasants in 1960s.

[2] on WeChat, one post only allows nine images

The shades of menopause In Yaoundé —by Patrick Awondo

By Xinyuan Wang, on 24 May 2019

Photo by Swathi Sridharan

Among the remaining taboos of Cameroonian society are some gender and sexuality issues. Menopause is one of them. You hardly find anything in public discourse on this issue. There is no forum dedicated to menopause nor research groups or reports.

Social science researchers, especially anthropologists, have tried to understand menopause in Cameroon. Their view on the issue is binary and culturalist. Apart from Mbarga’s work comparing menopause in Cameroon and Switzerland[1], most of the studies are anachronistic and globally fail on giving a clear understanding of this issue in the contemporary context.

Research by the French anthropologist Jeanne-Francoise Vincent[2] on Beti women in the central region of Cameroon in the 1970s suggests that menopause signifies the end of sexual submission for women in this patriarchal society. The beti culture constructs menopause as the beginning of a period of “initiative and development”. Thus, menopause marks “the beginning of a new period in which women can also exercise their power and their ability to become equal to men” (2003 131). This transformation of the status of the person must be accepted by the husband. ” The arrival of menopause is for women therefore a way to lead their own life.

This change is evident in language which names “the menopausal woman in a rewarding way and designates her as” an important woman, an accomplished woman “nya mininga” (2003 134)). Being menopausal is, according to Vincent, a condition for positions of power, such as becoming a woman leader in the secret societies of the village. This role makes the woman who endorses her an eminent person with strong responsibilities and real power.

On the symbolic side described by ethnologists, menopause implies, on the one hand, a lifting of multiple prohibitions, for example acts and words in public spaces, and, on the other hand, an opening of possibilities among others, access to certain foods, acquiring new roles in the community such as therapist, midwife, leader of rituals etc. These symbolic benefits are still often reported in rural areas, but are not so visible in the city, where a heterogeneous population coexists with great cultural diversity.

In everyday life, however, the women interviewed in Yaoundé point out different experiences for which the reported facts do not overlap with the realities described by some anthropologists. One explanation is obviously the gap between the traditional and rural spaces in which some research has been conducted and the city where traditional values are diluted in more a globalized, westernized and at the same time individualistic environment.

There remains the experience that is often individual in the face of menopause. The women we interviewed had 3 types of interlocutors that illustrate urban social reconfigurations. The first interlocutor for educated women is their gynaecologist. He is the first to answer questions about physiological changes and disruptions. For all that, women point out that they get mixed and unsatisfactory answers. As some research points out, the current discourse on menopause is highly medicalised and ambivalent.

A second type of interlocutor is constituted by friends or professional networks. Finally a third source of information is the internet for those who have access to it. However, knowledge of the menopause and its symptoms remains very low among women interviewed in Yaoundé. This seems to be the case in the rest of Africa. An Ivorian study conducted on 278 women in 2017[3] showed that the symptoms and risks of menopause are unknown by 73.68% of women. However, a test carried out for this purpose shows that the level of knowledge of menopause is related of the level of schooling. This also seems true in Yaoundé where educated women seem to have a better knowledge of menopause in general and are able to search on google for medical information.

Another important point is the use of medicinal plants to treat or prevent symptoms. A majority of women interviewed in Yaoundé used plants purchased from herbalists and other traditional healers. They are either in the form of a concentrated liquid, in powder or simply as fresh or dried barks. Depending on the quality and intensity of the symptoms, some women go to the hospital to see a general practitioner. These women are often discouraged by healthcare professionals who explain that menopause can not be truly treated.

It is known that modern medicine offers menopausal hormone treatments (HRT) to cope with discomfort with the advantage of eliminating many symptoms, the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporotic fractures. However, concerns regarding possible harmful side effects of HRT has impacted on its uptake by women.  Hormone Replacement Therapy is not accessible and available in many African countries, particularly Cameroon.

Today, women are turning more and more to other medicines and plants. This poses a problem in the context where the marketing of medicinal plants remains poorly controlled, despite the willingness of public health services to better regulate the practice of traditional medicine through recognition of the function and quasi-union organization created for these actors.

Reference

[1]Josiane Mbarga, « Regards de Suissesses et de Camerounaises citadines sur la ménopause : dépasser les dichotomies binaires », Anthropologie & Santé [En ligne], 8 | 2014, mis en ligne le 31 mai 2014, consulté le 21 mai 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/anthropologiesante/1396

[2] VINCENT J.-F., 1976. Traditions et transition : Entretiens avec les femmes beti du Sud-Cameroun. Paris, ORSTOM Berger-Levrault ; VINCENT J.-F., 2003. « La ménopause, chemin de la liberté selon les femmes beti du Sud-Cameroun », Journal des africanistes, 73(2) : 121-136.

[3] See Kouamé A, Koffi Y., Piba S.,  et al, 2018, « Niveau de connaissance de la ménopause et habitudes alimentaires et médicinales des femmes en Côte-D’Ivoire », European Scientific Journal, Vol 14 Ju 2018,

Smartphones,’addictions’ and connections in Italy

By Shireen Walton, on 14 May 2019

Photo (CC BY) Shireen Walton

Last week during one of the women’s group activities at the Multicultural Centre I have been regularly attending in Milan I was asked if I could take a photo for one of the Italian women, Maria, in her early 70s, who volunteers at the Centre three days per week. Maria had just been found on Facebook by an old school friend and wanted to instantly send her a nice photo of herself ‘here and now’ on Facebook messenger to acknowledge and build the connection. Maria spent some minutes deciding where to pose, and how to fix her appearance, to the extent that it cut short in an abrupt manner the end of the meeting. Maria’s desire to connect across time/space there and then was so strong that the barries between the smartphone’s buzzing social universes and the physical social setting of the Centre had crossed over, with mixed responses by others present.

Centro Multiculturale, Milan. Photo (CC BY) Shireen Walton

Such examples of smartphone ‘intrusions’ into a social scene are not uncommon, and go hand in hand with a range of attitudes and judgements – that are often expressed and shared, ironically in smartphone-circulated memes, cartoons and photos. During my time in Italy a range of popular mantras reflect the alleged intrusion that digital connectivity feel poses to life: ‘we are all addicted!’ ‘just look at people on the metro – all face down, scrolling away, ignoring everyone and everything around them’, ‘at a party, no-one speaks to each other anymore, it’s crazy!’ and so on..

As an anthropologist, I find the worries and anxieties that some people have about smartphones – their over-reliance, seeming addiction or just about their general usage, part of the curiosity in exploring what the smartphone is, and how people describe it in relation to their everyday practices.  Peeling back the layers of these discourses, one sees the spectrum of practices that smartphones are implicated in in individuals’ lives, from connection with family, friends and community, to tools for navigating bureaucracy, citizenship, and health. All the while, the digital infrastructures that form and shape the basis for these interactions and practices (wifi, roaming data, connection speed…) form a part of people’s contextual and sited experience with their smartphone in daily life.

The notion of the ‘switched-on-self’, the boundaries between digital and non-digital lives has been a more general theme in my research and participant observation in my fieldwork with Italians and migrant groups in Milan. The correlation between being on/off in the person’s mind/body recalls and in some sense plays into wider global social trends like the flourishing of mindfulness and yoga that are posited by many people I speak with here as opportunities for peace – ‘places’ and practices to go to and do to ourselves and our bodies to ‘switch off’ from our busy, including constantly connected, digital lives.

Outdoor yoga in the park in the Milan fieldsite; moments for digital detoxing. Photo (CC BY) Shireen Walton

Throughout my research I have noticed how the issues of technology addiction and connection have been defined along age lines. At AUSER, a nation-wide NGO association for active ageing in Italy with a headquarters in my fieldsite, and Milan-based organisation Grey Panthers that is concerned with ageing and technology, what I have deduced is that while facilitating digital connectedness is a core policy concern aimed at older people (senior/anziani) [1], while policies and initiatives being designed to tackle digital addiction have been identified an issue prominent amongst the young (giovani) [2]. The ASSA project’s interest in middle-age has helped nuance these discourses about young and older populations by looking at how people live their lives with smartphones – including between ‘old’ and ‘young’ categories of age.

To take some examples. Alberto is 60, by policy standards he is neither old nor young. He still works full-time as a history school teacher at the local public school, and is an active volunteer in local community events. Reflecting upon his relationship with his smartphone Alberto describes how he does not consider himself particularly technologically savvy, nor up-to-date with regards to apps. However, from the moment he wakes up (first his alarm, followed by checking WhatsApp, Facebook and then email notifications from bed) he is attaccato (‘attached’) to his phone. He says he is mindful of his pupils’ usage, particularly in the classroom, but confesses to regularly checking his phone during school hours himself. He is in touch with his daughter in her 20s who is searching for work, as well as with the left-wing community organisations he co-runs with friends, monitoring Facebook pages dedicated to spreading awareness of local history and resistance to Fascism, particularly in light of the current policies of the present Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right anti-migrant stance. Alberto’s smartphone is a reflection of his social universe, and this visibly engagements and investments with this smartphone.

Photo (CC BY Shireen Walton)

Meanwhile Davide, 64, is retired, on a state pension. He volunteers running one of the community allotments in the neighbourhood several days a week. Davide uses his smartphone regularly. It is central to the way he runs the allotments, communicates with the community, and maintains his social life as a single, retired, socially-active man in his mid-60s. Davide also does not consider himself a tech-savvy person. Speaking about apps and app usage he, like many other people I find, explains: “I don’t have any apps really… I rarely use any…” We then discover together, by observation with the phone, that he does have a number of apps, and in fact uses a number of these frequently – many of the social media apps, an app for his gym, an app for the weather, apps that identify what certain plants are… He is not ‘addicted’, but he is reliant, reasonably heavily, on his phone.

Milan neighbourhood community allotment. Photo (CC BY) Shireen Walton

Smartphone practices for some like Alberto and Davide are involved in reflecting and shaping individual lives, social identities and wider offline practices. However, digital infrastructure and connecting to the Internet also plays a significant part in explaining smartphone reliance, and people’s conceptualisation of their phone. In some cases, loss of Internet connection (due to low reception or running out of credit) can be annoying, humiliating, and harmful.

Adla from Tanzana is in her mid 30s, and has a 1-year old daughter. She has been in Milan for a year and a half. Her daughter was born in the city, but has been told by authorities that her daughter is not yet old enough to attend nursery. Adla explains how she does not feel entitled to take part in certain social / support groups since her daughter is too young to go to school and she is uncomfortable attending the mothers groups in here area that are a big source of community life here but which are dominated by Arabic-speaking Egyptian women, which makes Adla feel like the ‘wrong kind of foreigner’ with the ‘wrong kind of languages’, being Tanzanian, speaking Swahili and some English, but limited Italian. Adla relies on her smartphone to navigate the geography of the city, including finding relevant administrative offices, using Google Translate to communicate in basic Italian, and maintain connection with her family – her sister in Sweden, her husband is working in another country in Africa, and the rest of her family are back in Tanzania. Adla does not have Wi-Fi in the one-bedroom apartment where she lives, so uses data roaming through her basic monthly social services allowance to access her familiar social universe. This connection to her smartphone as a physical thing holds intense meaning for her and her ability to navigate her way through each day. Even when the data has run out and it is not connected it is of comfort to Adla in the absence of physical, familiar, offline social life. Unlike Alberto or Davide, whose smartphones reflect their wider activity and presence in the neighbourhood, Adla’s smartphone life takes on heightened significance where her offline life is marred by insecurity and limited physical participation.

In a final example, an Egyptian family in the neighbourhood have been applying for a visa to visit their immediate family in the US who they have not seen for several years. The couple, in their mid-40s, work full-time in Milan as a baker and cleaner respectively, and their teenage children attend local public schools. Every year they apply for entry to the US via a lengthy application system. The family do not have WiFi at home and have limited data roaming on their phones. Upon receiving a letter in the post saying that they need to check the status of their visa application on the US state department website within a specific time period, the couple try to do this in the hours when they are not working, and due to their long working hours that leaves little time to stay for long periods of time in Internet cafes. The site keeps crashing and needs refreshing, and entering the application details in English, a language neither of them speak, is time-consuming. They repeat the process over and over again on their basic smartphones, at times in public free WiFi zones in the city, or at home with their limited data, to no avail. Upon learning about their experience with this process I become involved – the couple ask me to assist with internet access and English translation. Eventually, we discover that their application has been refused, to the couple’s stoic acceptance. It is but a small anecdote in this family’s larger experience of social stress, living on the margins of society in Milan as a close-knit ‘stranieri’ (foreign) family making do in their current set-up, where smartphones, Internet connections, are all part and parcel of broader lived realities; practices, experiences and desires.

In sum, the relationship between the smartphone, and what is often viewed as addiction or social rudeness – particularly amongst youth – are important themes to nuance further, along broader demographic lines. Understanding how and how much different people, of different ages and socio-cultural backgrounds, use and shape their lives around in a given context in relation to smartphones may well point to technological addiction, ill-health, and too much screen time, but it also highlights how central the phone is as a thing itself – for many, an object of attachment, including and beyond its switched on capacity for digital connection. A wide range of factors stemming from broader social contexts thus situate the smartphone holistically as an object of everyday life.

Notes and references:

[1] Auser’s mission statement is aimed at ‘promoting the active ageing of the elderly and enhancing their role in society’, which includes technological education and encouraged usage for wellbeing and for a positive impact on lifestyle. In the University of the Third Age for over 60s that Auser runs through a network of volunteers, ‘technological awareness’, as well as lectures on the dangers of data and privacy issues form a part of a broader curriculum on a wide variety of topics from horticulturalism to cooking to tourism and so on.

[2] De Pasquale, C., Sciacca, F., Hichy, Z. (2017). ‘Italian Validation of Smartphone Addiction Scale Short Version for Adolescent and Young Adults’ in Psychology 08(10): 1513-1518.

 

 

Older adults in Chile as digital immigrants: facing the ‘digital transformation’ towards a paperless world

By Alfonso Manuel Otaegui, on 22 April 2019

Photo by Alfonso Otaegui

Nowadays many bureaucratical procedures can be done online. In just a couple of years, however, online will be the nearly only option in Chile. This paperless trend represents a challenge for older adults, as it pushes them to access the internet for everyday tasks that were simpler for them on paper, such as paying the bills or getting information on free activities for seniors.

Older adults constitute a significant component of the Chilean population, as the aging process of this South American country has continued. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the percentage of people aged over 65 years or more grew from 6,6% in 1992 to 11,4% in 2017 (2.003.256 people). If we extend the age range to 60 years or more, the figures get even more significant. According to the National Service for Older Adults (SENAMA), 16,2% of Chile’s population is 60 years old or older (roughly around 2.800.000 people) (‘Censo 2017 reveló que (…)’ 2017).

The Chilean Senate has recently approved the bill of  “Transformación Digital en el Estado” (“Digital Transformation in the State”). This law aims at modernizing the functioning of the State. “We are in 2018 and we still handle most of our bureaucratical procedures on paper”, said President Sebastian Piñera in the letter accompanying the law proposal (‘Mensaje de S.E. el Presidente de la República (…)’ 2018: 2). The president encourages the use of electronic resources based on two main arguments: saving time and sparing paper. One of the main points of the bill is that most State bureaucratical procedures will have to be done in electronic form. This bill takes into account the fact that some people lack access to the required technology, and it gives to those people the chance of doing bureaucratical procedures on paper. However, this possibility is strictly exceptional. While the electronic form is the rule, the paper is an exception that will have to be requested and duly justified (ibid. 7).

So, how does this government initiative affect older adults? This 16% of the population needs to access the internet to become part of this ‘Digital Transformation.’ According to the Chilean Sub-secretary of Communications, 84,8% of the access to the internet in 2018 was done through mobile devices (93,4% of these devices were smartphones) (‘Conexiones 4G se disparan 35% en 2018 (…)’ 2019). This situation implies that older adults will need to master the smartphone to keep up with the proposed changes in the administration.

Learning to use a smartphone implies a challenge for older adults, at least on two fronts. Firstly, it implies an adaptation to a new type of user interface (UI). Mobile devices’ UIs are radically different from the electromechanical UIs found in the older technologies more familiar to older adults. While in older technologies’ UIs most –if not all– of the system functionality is accessible at once through buttons and switches, mobile devices’ UIs imply navigating several screens and contextual menus that display only a fraction of the whole system at a time (Docampo et al. 2001).

Secondly, this learning process requires proper guidance. In the smartphone workshops I volunteer, I often ask my students about the main obstacles they encounter in their learning experience. By far, the factor they complain the most about is that their younger family members lack the patience to teach them. “My daughter bought this phone for me –says a 63 years old lady– and taught me [how to use it] on the first day. After that, if I ask something, she says ‘I already taught you’!”. “When you ask them how to do something –explains a 67 years old man–, they do it very fast on your phone, ‘pa, pa, pa, it’s done!’, but they don’t show you how to do it”. Elderly students require self-paced learning, as they experience greater anxiety and frustration while learning to use new technology (Fisk et al. 2009).

If the Chilean government wants to include this important sector of the population in this ‘Digital Transformation,’ then it should develop public policies to address the unique learning needs of older people properly. In all fairness, there are several state-run cultural centers and public libraries in Santiago that offer free lessons for older adults –as the ones where I’ve been teaching. They have two constraints, unfortunately. On the one hand, there is a very limited number of places: in some cases, students are allowed to attend a workshop only once, as they have to leave the place to new students. These workshops usually last one month (with one or two classes a week), which is not enough for students of this age, who need various exercises over more extended periods (Fisk et al. 2009). On the other hand, the teacher-to-student ratio is not as high as it should be. The diversity of UIs across the whole spectrum of Android phones requires personalized teaching, as any procedure explained in front of the entire class has to be repeated with each student, to apply minor –yet fundamental– tweaks to each case.

Chile is pushing forward the paperless trend. A well planned public policy of digital alphabetization for older adults with specialized teachers would be then of the utmost importance to help the older ‘digital immigrants’ (Leung et al. 2012) to join the trend.

 

References

Censo 2017 reveló que más del 16% de la población chilena es adulto mayor. (2017, December 27). Retrieved from http://www.senama.gob.cl/noticias/censo-2017-revelo-que-mas-del-16-de-la-poblacion-chilena-es-adulto-mayor

Conexiones 4G se disparan 35% en 2018 y abre expectativas de cara al despliegue de 5G. (2019, April 10). Retrieved from https://www.subtel.gob.cl/conexiones-4g-se-disparan-35-en-2018-y-abre-expectativas-de-cara-al-despliegue-de-5g/

Docampo Rama, M., De Ridder, H., and B. Ouma , H. 2001. Technology generation and age in using layered user interfaces. Gerontechnol. 1, 1, 25–40.

Fisk, A. D., Rogers, W. A., Charness, N., Czaja , S. J., and Sharit, J. 2009. Designing for Older Adults: Principles and Creative Human Factors Approaches2nd Ed. CRC Press.

Institituto Nacional de Estadísticas Chile. 2018. Síntesis resultados Censo 2017. Santiago: Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas Junio / 2018.

Leung, R., Tang, Ch., Haddad, Sh., McGrenere, J., Graf, P., and V. Ingriany. 2012. How Older Adults Learn to Use Mobile Devices: Survey and Field Investigations.ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing, Vol. 4, No. 3, Article 11.

Mensaje de S.E. el Presidente de la República con el que se inicia un proyecto de ley sobre trasnformación digital del sector público (2018, June 25). Retrieved from https://digital.gob.cl/doc/Proyecto-de-Ley-Transformacion-Digital.pdf

 

The impact of physical work in old age — by Charlotte Hawkins

By Xinyuan Wang, on 16 April 2019

In Uganda, 70% of the workforce is employed in the ‘informal sector’ [UBOS, 2014], mostly self-employed in unregistered business. This is reflected in Godown, the Kampala fieldsite, where the majority of interviewees run their own small business, such as hawking fruits, market vending, driving bodas (motorbike taxis) and brewing waragi. Many of these jobs require physical labour.

The deterioration of physical health, accelerated by physically demanding work, can mean that old age presents a significant challenge to people who rely on their bodies for their income. This is the case for Achola’s husband, who throughout our recent interview, was busy bending to serve food to frequent lunchtime customers. It turned out he had chronic back pain. A visit to the hospital the day before had confirmed that ‘his spine is splitting’, a slipped disk. He’s not responded to other treatments and can’t afford a brace, so they’ve recommended surgery, but he’s nervous to weaken himself; he needs to work for his wife and grandchildren, and elderly relatives in the village. He was even planning to take the 10 hour bus to visit them the following day, ‘I have to go and farm, it’s the month’.

65 year old Palma also has back problems after 30 years of ‘moving with bananas’, carrying a basket to sell in town. She has to continue working to support her 3 orphaned grandchildren. ‘It was her parents to take care of them and her’, but now she has to do it alone. She struggles to pay their school fees, and in return, they cook, wash and clean for her. Sometimes she falls sick, and the family must rely on her neighbours to bring them food. Whilst she feels that her work has kept her active and healthy, she’s now tired, so hopes she can get a market stall so she can sit in one place.

Both stories here emphasise the reliance on family support in old age and the burden this places on individuals, especially when it breaks down. The head of physiotherapy at the local government hospital is all too familiar with such stories. He feels that informal workers contribute significantly to the Ugandan economy but are neglected by public services. He hopes for further investment in prevention and promotion to alleviate the impact of physical work on people’s bodies over time, seeking health protection for informal workers and advising them on how they can better protect themselves.

As part of the ASSA project, we plan to make a short film on the impact of physical work on older people’s health in Godown, that he can use to support further research, advocacy and community sensitisation to this end.

Grand-parenting as the reconciliation of kinship — by Daniel Miller

By Xinyuan Wang, on 10 April 2019

Kinship studies have been the bedrock of social anthropology for more than a century. But the main emphasis has been on issues of classification, the structuring of society, and the norms of relationships. Kinship will play a major role in our publications, but my hope is that the emphasis will be more on the experience of kinship. Grandparenting is a good example of this. Precisely because it comes late in life, grandparenting is so much more than simply the relationship to the grandchild. It is often a coming to terms with and sometimes a resolution of the entire experience of kinship up to that time. To understand why the people I study take a particular attitude or degree of involvement with grandparenting usually means understanding their past relationship to their own parents and to their children.

(Photo by Stacie Andrea)

For example, a man who feels he was neglected as part of a very large traditional family, and then in turn neglected the parenting of his own children, because he was in full time work, may see being a grandfather as his first opportunity to explore kinship as inter-generational love and care in depth. While a woman who had most of the burden of parenting and feels she discharged her responsibilities and has experienced that intensity of love and care, may be quite happy to keep her role as grandmother to a minimum, using this period to find the balance between personal autonomy and kinship obligations that has eluded her through a lifespan that up to now has fluctuated between too much kinship and too little kinship (such as the period of the empty nest).

When this works well grandparenting is both joyful and profound because it is experienced as the final reconciliation of so many tensions within past kinship, now at last reaching a balance in which kinship becomes pure enjoyment. But the key to this is not so much the relationship one chooses to have with one’s grandchildren but the transformation this brings about in the relationship to one’s own children. Because as a result of grandparenting, people often find that their own children, who for the period when they were teenagers or in their twenties, may have been barely in touch, are now, to at least a small degree, dependent again upon their parents. But often unlike the period when they were young, and most unlikely at the time they were teenagers, they may both acknowledge and appreciate that dependence and what their parents did for them. Welcoming their parents as the grandparents of their children demonstrates that they finally trust and respect the parenting that they themselves received. I have also been struck by how grandparents contrast this situation with the trauma and neglect they felt at being raised in traditional large families which seem to have resulted in many tensions with siblings and their own parents, and which now they are coming to terms with.

Often things do not work out quite so smoothly, a daughter wants her mother to mind both her grandchildren so she can go back to work. But the grandmother refuses because she wants to remain their grandmother not an ersatz mother. A child with very bad memories of being parented may want to keep the grandparent away from their own children. Grandparents feel they have been replaced by smartphone screens as their grandchildren are present in their carem but not interested in the stories and toys that the grandparents have been aching to share one more time. On balance though, at least for the people in Cuan I have been studying, grandparenting often appears to be this profound coming to terms with the entire history of kinship experienced up to that time.

My point is that studying grandparenting in depth has helped me towards an alternative anthropology of kinship itself, one that is perhaps more holistic and based on kinship as cumulative experience, a rather different perspective to the traditions of kinship studies I was taught as a student.

“Double edge sword”:bureaucracy among non-digital natives of Dar al-Hawa — by Maya de Vries

By Xinyuan Wang, on 4 April 2019

Three months ago, the world celebrated International Senior Citizen’s Day. On that day, the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel published data showing that, for the first time, at the end of 2017, the population of senior citizens (65+ years old) in Israel passed one million people : 566,000 women and 452,000 men. 42% of the senior citizens are above 75 years old. In addition, 87.2% were Jewish senior citizens (65+) whereas 74.5% were Arab senior citizens.[1] Of these 12% of the Arab senior citizens and 31% of the Jewish senior citizens live on their own.

A key problem for this age can be poverty. In Israel, the basic monthly pension monthly of around 2,000 shekels[2] is very low, considering the high cost of living in Israel[3]. 25% of Israeli senior citizens are considered poor[4]. On November 28th the Israeli Parliament narrowly failed to pass a law to double this to equal the minimum monthly wage of 4000 shekels.

The population of my field site of Dar al-Hawa in Jerusalem, have specific problems. Although they rarely live alone, Israel is an expensive place to live as the monthly expenses of gas, electricity, housing and food, medications are high. But to apply for an increase in welfare stipends means encountering a complex bureaucracy, which then becomes a major part of one’s life, especially when digitization has made it even more inaccessible.

In the past few months, I found these issues has come to define my role as a participant observer ethnographer. My job has been to translate language and help with the issue of digitalization. People need help in reading, writing and sending letters to all kinds of official authorities – among them The National Insurance Institute of Israel (Bituach Leumi). The key problem is that although Arabic is the second ‘official’ language in Israel, many official websites and forms (both offline and online) do not exist in Arabic at all, or they exist in part. There may be some explanation in Arabic, but you still have to fill the form in Hebrew. In a survey among Arab senior citizens only 53% estimate that they speak “very good”, Hebrew 49% but   15% do not know how to read or write in Hebrew. Therefore, part of “participating observation” is teaching my Informants Hebrew.

Teaching Hebrew 

Knowledge of Hebrew is particularly poor among those who have lived on the Jordanian side of the pre-1967 border, and for women who are less likely to have worked within Israel.

Hadeel (71) lived on the Israeli side of Dar al-Hawa and holds Israeli citizenship, and Samah (73) lived on the Jordanian side of Dar al-Hawa until 1967 and holds permanent residency status, but both asked for my assistance with Israeli bureaucracy. Hadeel and Samah are good friends.

On my first visit at Hadeel’s home, she asked me to call to The National Insurance Institute of Israel, asking them to add money to her monthly stipend. We called them together and were informed that Hadeel needs to submit her request online. Since Hadeel has neither smartphone, computer or internet, we used my smartphone to apply online.

Hadeel’s phone (photo by Maya)

After we applied, Hadeel received, “for the first time” she told me, an official letter from the National Social Services, written in Hebrew, outlining her entitlement to home assistance, but this must be renewed after three months.

Samah’s is a widow for more than 10 years. All her life she paid her taxes, but recently she received a letter in Hebrew from the National Social Services saying they suspect that she is no longer living within Israeli territory. Samah brought me this letter and asked me to translate it. When reading it, I realized how severe this problem could be, since if she failed to convince the authorities that she resides in Israel, she will lose both her monthly stipend and access to health-care services. Samah has had to turn to a lawyer for advice and support. For these citizens there are three interconnected problems that dominate my fieldwork. Their lack of Hebrew, their lack of knowledge about digital communication, and above all their constant fear that they will lose their rights. All of these reveal the basic inequalities of living within this field site of Dar al-Hawa.

Hadeel and Samah sharing breakfast in a fieldtrip to the city of Aka (photo by Maya)

 

 

Reference:

[1] http://brookdale.jdc.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/MJB_Facts_and_Figures_on_the_Arab_Population_in_Israel_2018-Hebrew.pdf

[2]See here an update table of pension rates: https://www.btl.gov.il/English%20Homepage/Benefits/Old%20Age%20Insurance/Pages/Pensionrates.aspx

[3] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_result.jsp?country=Israel

[4] https://m.knesset.gov.il/News/PressReleases/Pages/press28.11.18va.aspx (in Hebrew)

Zumba Class: local and global fitness in Yaoundé — by Patrick Awondo

By Xinyuan Wang, on 26 March 2019

It is 4pm on a Thursday afternoon, rush hour for taxi drivers in Yaounde, capital of Cameroon. Along a busy central street of the city, a loudspeaker perched on the roof of a pickup announces the opening of a “new fitness club”. His slogan, “Zumba keep fit in joy!” The Zumba club is advertised in a large city hotel in the heart of the administrative and commercial district.

Another day, another setting, at a junction near a popular downtown area is another professional announcer, this time aboard a mini van with speakers on the hood, informing pedestrians  of the opening of the « sports club- the Kun dojo ». The leaflet distributed by one of the advertisers emphasizes that there are other activities also: “Zen Arts”, “Massages Kun”, gymnastics, all in an “air-conditioned” space where there is also a “health snack” “.

These two scenes have become commonplace in the city of Yaoundé. In almost the entire city and regardless of the socio-economic environment (upscale, medium, poor), there are fitness clubs, or just “sports clubs” with varying levels of equipment, but with always with the same ambition of bringing fitness to people of every condition – with only condition: the ability to pay for fitness.

Fitness and Zumba in Yaoundé

In past years, Ludo-sports practices in Yaoundé were marked by two major characteristics. On the one hand, their popular, participative and socializing dimension, on the other hand, their outdoor exercise. At the turn of the 2000s there was, in order of popularity, football in groups still called “two-zero”; basket ball named “candy”, a “sports walk” also practiced in groups and a race. If this logic is more or less the same, we are witnessing the rise of sports-leisure in the gym club and especially fitness.

Initially called “gym club” and located in only upscale neighborhoods or in the center city near some luxury hotels, “gym” has now mutated into fitness clubs. What is the difference between these two?When you go to the gym in Yaounde, the rooms are large spaces where machines are arranged to support activities.

In the fitness club, spaces are more liberated. There are fewer machines or almost none at all. In clubs where zumba is practiced, the machines are practically non-existent.

Another change, while coaches for sports clubs and gyms used to be male, today we are witnessing a feminization of this coaching scene, as we can see on the Zumba club announcement poster with coach Yolande. This feminization marks a trend that emphasizes local ownership of fashionable practices at the global level. In the Bastos district, one of the city’s most exclusive places to live, yoga clubs that did not exist until very recently have been created and are open to a mixed clientele. In addition to expatriates living in this cosmopolitan area, people from the middle class in Yaounde also attend.

Another trend, Asian massages are more and more evident. These are both related to the global circulation of fitness and its variations such as Zumba, but also the ever-increasing presence of Chinese people, Indo-Pakistani or Indian. From this point of view, sport-fitness and massage or Zen sport practices constitute a paradigm of the globalization of sport. As in Western countries, these practices reflect a bourgeois ethos which is expressed by the fact that these practices are found first in exclusive areas before migrating gradually to the less affluent areas. The cost to join varies from 20 000XAF (30 euros) to 40 000XAF  (60 euros) per week according to the place and district where it is situated. A Zumba club situated in an international well-known hotel will not have the same cost as that situated in a lower income area.

The interviews we had in Yaoundé show that motivations to join a club vary from leisure, pleasure to networking. Some informants -mostly women -in those fitness clubs come to « keep fit » while others come to have fun and pleasure. Most of the informants say that maintaining health is the primary source of motivation. People say they “have to move”their bodies. This expression is itself related to the presence of French and Western media. The slogan “eat-move” often publicised by some French media strongly resonates.

The motivation linked to the idea of ​​”moving” comes from the public health discourse largely taken up by members of fitness groups. The link between sport and health is once again part of a globalization of sport practices. Strongly promoted by the World Health Organization, relayed by public media and very present on the internet and now on WhatsApp and other blogs followed by thousands of people, sport for health is constantly reiterated in the global circulation of practices and speeches.

Ludo-sporting practices also have sociological and strategic motivations such as affiliation needs. Contrary to what might appear these personal activities that do not necessarily involve a team are also capitalized on by some people to create a network of social ties in specific areas. It is obvious that one does not meet the same people in Mvog-Ada a deprived district than in Bastos the district of expatriates, diplomatic representations and international NGOs. The audiences participating in the yoga sessions at the Hilton hotel a central location are not the same as at the sports clubs of the University of Yaounde.

The new Ludo-sports practices are thus like other sporting activities: the places of regulation of the social experiments and quests of oneself in the double meaning of personal sports itinerary and of need of affirmation within specious social classes. Zumba and fitness also play a social performative role in certain circumstances. Practicing Zumba is adhering to the latest practice that is fashionable at the global level. A 42-year-old informant working in a bank in Yaounde said she liked trying out the latest trends in sports. As many Yaoundéens practitioners try to be open to new things and participate in the world.

Fitness, internet 

A quick search by the search engine Google allows us to see the locations of some gym clubs in Yaoundé. This deserves some comment. Firstly regarding their density. Those who appear on the search are not the only ones. Then, far from being a phenomenon of higher class and upscale neighborhoods, we see draw a map covering the entire city.

This presence on the internet is accompanied by a very strong publicization of some of these clubs. Most of them hold facebook pages on which are regularly posted numerous videos and photographs of participants in the activities. The idea is then to stage a crowd of fitness fans and other activities offered in the clubs. In all cases, the publicity measures taken by the fitness club highlights the strength of the circulation of Ludo-sporting practices and their appropriation at the local level.