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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Archive for the 'Ireland' Category

What is Virtual Reality in reality?

Daniel Miller24 February 2021

The problem with any discussion of Virtual Reality is precisely that it is so hard to take the discussion back to reality, by which I mean to return it to a sober scholarly discussion of what it is, rather than slipping into speculative opinions about what we would like to imagine it will be and then fooling ourselves into thinking that has already become the case. That is one of the reasons I made the film that you can watch here. In truth, I don’t think Virtual Reality is at all important with respect to the ethnography of everyday life. For myself, I decided that lockdown was the appropriate time to buy a device that had also come down in price. My main use involves an app called Wander which is effectively a 3D version of Google Street View.  My most memorable use of this was journeying around various places in Botswana in order to help one of my PhD students decide on a potential fieldsite.

But what I find very appealing is the fact that the idea for doing this came directly from my ethnography in Ireland, where I was greatly impressed by the gentleman you will now meet in this short film. The point was that his usage was not based on some hype, or vision of the future. Rather, it confirmed something I have been observing now for decades. In general, most new technologies are initially used to compensate for things we already wanted to do but were previously unable to accomplish. That has been the case for almost every iteration of the internet. Liam knew that, at his age, there are places he will probably never get to visit as a tourist and other places he would never have been able to visit anyway.

That led to his very real use of Virtual Reality:

A film about the Irish Men’s Shed

paulinegarvey5 February 2021

The men’s shed movement started off in Australia in the late 1990s as a response to issues of older retired men who felt a lack of suitable activities and places for socialising with other men. In 2011, the Irish Men’s Shed Association was established and there are now over 900 men’s sheds active in Ireland. Given our interest in ageing and retirement, these became one of our fieldsite locations, and you can find a discussion of their role alongside other activities in our forthcoming monograph Ageing With Smartphones in Ireland: When Life Becomes Craft by Pauline Garvey and Daniel Miller, which will be published by UCL Press on May 6th 2021 as an open-access monograph.

For reasons of anonymity, we decided not to film either of the men’s sheds in our respective fieldsites. Instead, I teamed up with David Prendergast and Daniel Balteanu of Maynooth University, and we made a film about the men’s shed in the university town where we work. It’s a three-minute introduction to their many activities, which may illustrate why this movement has become so successful.