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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Illustrating ASSA’s findings with comics – part 5

Georgiana Murariu12 October 2021

By Georgiana Murariu and Laura Haapio-Kirk

In this blog post, we present the fifth comic in our ASSA comics series, set in rural Ireland.

The comic below highlights the concept of ‘perpetual opportunism’, which is one of the discoveries of our project, showing how smartphones can facilitate a profound reorientation to the world around us. It is so simple to take a picture, send a message or look something up, that having a more opportunistic approach to the possibilities that surround us, seems to follow naturally. This can, however, also create the feeling that one is ‘always on’, and always available to the opportunism of others.

Set in a small Irish town in Daniel Miller’s field site, this comic features an older woman who wants to enjoy some phone-free time on her walk – however, she quickly realises that having her smartphone with her ensures she is able to plan for future activities such going to a concert. In chapter 5 (see page 105) of the Global Smartphone book, the ASSA team discuss the notion of changes to the practice of photography as a result of smartphone ownership – photographing an event poster falls under the category of ‘functional photography’, which we might recognise as routinely taking photos of things such as flyers and notice boards for the purpose of recording and retaining information.

For the creation of this particular comic, the main discussion points were around how to set the comic in Ireland (which we achieved by using photographs from the fieldsite as a guide to the style of houses ), as well as character representation. We also discussed what the best examples of ‘perpetual opportunism’ would be and how to illustrate them – we settled on outsourcing human memory to the smartphone (i.e. taking a photo of the concert poster to remember later), receiving a notification from the family chat group to buy milk and taking the opportunity to catch up on the news (which flows in real-time) while queueing in the shop – three examples of the way in which the opportunism that smartphones offer changes our relationship to location and transport.

We hope you enjoy this latest installment, and invite you to view the previous comics set in Italy, Japan, Uganda, and Chile.

Individuals and inequality

Daniel Miller14 June 2021

I am currently writing a second book about Cuan, my fieldsite in Ireland. This will allow me to spend much more time presenting evidence for inequality, focusing on an area of social housing located in the middle of Cuan, that remains quite apart from most of this quite affluent middle-class town. Detailed study, however, reveals many nuances to any simple or dualistic presentation that just opposes these different segments of the same town. The overall rise in income and possibilities in Irish society over the last 50 years have impacted upon most of the population, though not all. Bob would never have expected to be able to live outside of social housing, having worked first as a butcher’s assistant and retired finally as a school caretaker, low paid work that precludes the ability to purchase a property. Yet in retirement, he found his true vocation as a poet and today is as comfortable at the opera as he in the betting shop.

The term class is quite a crude categorisation. I would argue that Ireland has a much stronger egalitarian ideology than here in England, laid across still evident inequalities. Many of the oral histories of individuals I recorded talk of the extreme poverty of their origins but alongside the love of literature and the arts. I didn’t feel that this film represented class mobility or a change in class identity, or even that actually Bob sees things in such terms. It seemed there was both something Irish about Bob and also much that was simply individual. This is an additional point. Bob doesn’t have to be typical of anything or anyone, but for the anthropologist, it is hugely important to acknowledge that he exists and that abstract discussions of class and inequality need to balanced by meeting people as individuals, in this case as Bob.

The film is included in the recent book I wrote with Pauline Garvey, Ageing with Smartphones in Ireland.