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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


ASSA Team Update – April 2021

By Georgiana Murariu, on 28 April 2021

It’s been almost two years since the members of the ASSA team came back from fieldwork and we have lots of updates and new material coming in the next couple of weeks!

What is the ASSA team up to?

The 6th of May will see the launch of the first three books in the ‘Ageing with Smartphones’ series, which is based on the results of the team’s research:

All of the books will be open-access and downloadable from the UCL Press site.

A Twitter thread summarising some of the points in the Ageing with Smartphones in Ireland book is here. This can also be found on Instagram here.

The Global Smartphone is a comparative book that focuses on the take up of smartphones by older people in all of our 10 fieldsites, many of which you might have become familiar with by now if you have been following this blog!

  • Cuan, Ireland
  • Thornhill, Dublin, Ireland
  • Lusozi, Kampala, Uganda
  • Yaoundé, Cameroon
  • Bento, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Kyoto city and Tosa-chō in Kōchi Prefecture, Japan
  • Dar al-Hawa, Al-Quds (east Jerusalem)
  • NoLo, Milan, Italy

The rest of the books will talk about each specific fieldsite in more depth, focusing on ageing, retirement, and the changes to the way in which people live, communicate, resolve intergenerational conflicts, and care for each other and their own health – all aided by the smartphone, of course.


We also have a 3-week course on Futurelearn coming up on the 10th of May, called ‘An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health‘.

The course is free to take and is also based on the results of the ASSA team’s research – it is self-paced and makes use of interactive discussions and short films in what should be a comprehensive look at topics like smartphone use in different social and cultural contexts, models of ageing, and different aspects of mobile health (including the team’s alternative approach to it).

You can now pre-enrol onto the course and you will get notified when it starts. The team will be present throughout the course to interact with learners and give feedback on the various discussions happening throughout the course.


On the 26th of May we will host an open session where members of the public and anyone interested in the project can meet the team and hear more about their fieldwork while having the opportunity to ask them questions.

The event will be hosted by UCL’s Centre for Digital Anthropology and chaired by Hannah Knox. You can register for the event here.


In the meantime, we have also updated the Publications page on our website with a few recent open-access papers on performing healthy ageing through images, deploying visual aids such as emojis and stickers to maintain a digital public façade, and much more!

We’ve also published a Discoveries page, which summarises the main findings of the project. These are illustrated through short videos, infographics and a few cartoon-style illustrations. There will be more cartoons to come in the near future and we are excited to share the results of our research through this creative medium!

In the meantime, we will continue blogging here on a weekly basis.

Finally, if you haven’t had a look at our project trailer yet, you can do so below!

The right to disconnect…but disconnect from what?

By paulinegarvey, on 26 April 2021

From the 1st of April this year, a new Code of Practice was introduced in Ireland called the ‘Right to Disconnect’ which was launched by Tánaiste (deputy head of government) and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar. The Right to Disconnect gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours, including the right to not respond immediately to emails, telephone calls, or other messages[i].

This Code of Practice is aimed to enhance a work/life balance but is also part of a larger package of measures that the government has identified that are currently transforming work/life practices in Ireland and elsewhere.  New laws are planned to facilitate working from home where possible, working more flexible hours and other blueprints ‘to transform rural Ireland by facilitating people to work more remotely and flexibly’[ii].

By these measures, the government is regularising what many people have been doing informally for some time. Restricted to a 5km limit from home until very recently, individuals have increasingly carved out spaces in their day for work-time, family-time, cooking-time, exercise-time, and limited socialising-time. One activity that combines a unique response to the pressures and opportunities of lockdown is sea swimming.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the dramatic rise of sea swimmers that have flocked to Dublin shores during the past year, to the degree in fact, that it has featured in the international press like the Guardian[iii] and the Washington Post[iv] and national satirical sketches. Within a couple of months of the first lockdown, numerous WhatsApp groups sprung up where people arranged to meet friends along the Dublin coast. The groups swelled along popular swimming spots, and numbers were such that Dublin City Council have posted signs asking people to ‘swim and go’, fearful that too much socialising will follow the hobby.

What seems striking to me is that, unlike established sea swimmers that have been regulars at these spots for many years, these new groups seem to be largely – although not exclusively of course – composed of middle-aged women. In fact, the objection to the arrival of middle-age, middle-class, often female swimmers became evident in the running jokes about these newbies muscling in on more established middle-aged, middle-class, often male swimmers, bringing their expensive changing robes with them. A south Dublin swimming area received media widespread attention with its anonymous sign ‘no Dryrobes, no Dryrobe types’.

Image below from Yvonne Gordon’s 25 March 2021 article in the Washington Post: During Dublin’s lockdown, swimmers find joy — and some rivalry — in the chilly bay, available online at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/03/25/dublin-bay-forty-foot-swimming/

Work/life balance is, of course, something of a fallacy, implying that ‘work’ is something distinct and separable from ‘life’, which flexible working hours can adequately address. The fallacy of the ‘domestic sphere’ as a discrete entity has never been more apparent during the pandemic as people have learned that their homes are not separate from their working lives, but the control-tower for diverse cross-cutting responsibilities that are increasingly difficult to disentangle[v]. In a recent study, women have been shown to be disproportionately affected by these changes. A recent Deloitte survey, which explored the pandemic’s impact on the work/life balance and well-being of working women across 9 countries, shows that 65% of women report that they now carry more responsibility for household chores, while nearly 70% of women who have experienced these disruptions are concerned their career growth may be limited.[vi]

Some of the avid Dublin sea swimmers report something similar. The middle-aged women featured in the Washington Post article talk of the ‘joy’ swimming creates, the sociality that they find there, but also how swimming alleviates anxiety. Others have mentioned to me the stress of living and working in the same space where demands of family members and colleagues are constant and in stereo. For some I have spoken to, they mention the subtle shift in household spaces where partners have slowly monopolised the attics, spare bedrooms and garden rooms for work purposes while their wives are in more public spaces such as kitchen tables or children’s bedrooms. For others, again, sea swimming is a direct response to the incessant Zoom meetings and the strain occasioned by long hours online – as one woman said to me: ‘I swim to feel my own body’.

There are several strands to this issue but the flexibility offered by this new Code of Practice, while welcome, does little to clarify what precisely people want to disconnect from.

Swim and Go sign at a Dublin swimming shelter.



Garvey, Pauline. 2018. Unpacking Ikea: Swedish Design for the Purchasing Masses. Routledge.

Gordon, Yvonne. 25/03/21 During Dublin’s lockdown, swimmers find joy — and some rivalry — in the chilly bay, The Washington Post, available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/03/25/dublin-bay-forty-foot-swimming/

O’Carroll, Rory. 25/11/20. Shivering Dublin bay swimmers slighted for their ‘fancy fleeces’, available online https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/25/shivering-dublin-bay-swimmers-slighted-for-fancy-robe



[i] There are three rights enshrined in the Code which comes into effect including the right not to have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours; the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours; the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example: by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

[ii] https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/6b64a-tanaiste-signs-code-of-practice-on-right-to-disconnect/

[iii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/25/shivering-dublin-bay-swimmers-slighted-for-fancy-robes

[iv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/03/25/dublin-bay-forty-foot-swimming/

[v] See Garvey 2018: 130-147

[vi] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-about-deloitte-understanding-the-pandemic-s-impact-on-working-women.pdf