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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


An older adult and the smartphone: starting over at the age of 80

Alfonso Otaegui7 June 2021

It meant starting from zero, you know? Valeria found it challenging to adopt the smartphone, which her family imposed on her to reach her anytime. Above all, she struggled with feeling like a newbie once again after having been a professional for many decades.

As in many other countries, older adults in Chile find themselves at the intersection of two global trends: the ageing of the population and the digitalisation of services. To many older adults, it feels like the smartphone has been imposed upon them by digital government policies, the COVID-19 crisis, their own family and so on. Soon enough, mastering this ubiquitous device will be necessary for everyday life as a citizen.

Valeria recounts in this film how she learnt to use the smartphone at the age of 80. In a way, she is also telling us something about her experience of ageing. Our recently published book, The Global Smartphone, Beyond a youth technology, devotes a whole chapter to the relationship between ageing and smartphones, in which this film is embedded. The Spanish translation will be available in November this year.


Older adults facing the smartphone: two taps away from frustration, and two taps away from empowerment

Alfonso Otaegui12 March 2021

Note: you can also read this blog post in Spanish here. 

The global comparative research project ASSA analyses the relationship between ageing, health, and smartphones. How can we study the relationship between older adults and new technologies, such as the ubiquitous smartphone? In my case, I volunteered at cultural centres in Santiago, Chile, for over a year, teaching older adults how to approach this brave new device. As usual with ethnography, I had to unlearn my own experience (with the smartphone) in order to see it from the perspective of the research participants, older adults aged between 60 and 80.


This short film portrays my experience teaching older adults to use the smartphone in cultural centres for over a year. This rewarding experience allowed me to acknowledge the multi-layered complexity and challenges of digital literacy for older adults. 


Our upcoming book, The Global Smartphone, Beyond a youth technology, devotes a whole chapter to the relationship between ageing and smartphones. The English version will be out in May this year, while the Spanish one will be available later in the year.