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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Forget me not – portrait photography in the smartphone age

Xin Yuan Wang16 April 2021

One of my previous blog posts talked about photography as a hobby among older people in China, where the protagonist Mr. Shou brought up the question of the ‘sense of ritual’ in the digital age. In the newly released short video in this blog, I invite you to listen to the same Mr. Shou and what he thinks of his photography, a hobby he has managed to develop as a professional occupation after retirement.

‘Photographic memory’ has long been the subject of anthropological inquiry. In our project’s forthcoming comparative book, The Global Smartphone: beyond a youth technology, we argue that nowadays, smartphone photography is the opposite of traditional photography, whose aim, historically, has been to restore memories. Smartphone photography, on the other hand, is more about taking the opportunity anywhere, anytime to ‘put a frame’ upon anything that people notice in their daily life.

In a way, it is through smartphone photography people experience life. In the short film above, Mr. Shou’s case provides a different angle to this story, enabling us to appreciate the co-existence of both smartphone photography and ‘pre-smartphone’ photography in people’s lives. For example, in Mr. Shou’s case, his professional portrait photography would not reach many people without the successful WeChat blog he runs. Therefore, it is important to observe that ‘smartphone photography’ and ‘pre-smartphone photography’ do not necessarily rival each other, as both of them have found a niche in today’s exuberantly visual world.

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.