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Introduction and what to expect

The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing team explain the rationale behind this course, which focuses on smartphones, ageing and health.

Welcome to the ‘An anthropology of smartphones’ course! We are 11 anthropologists who researched how older people use smartphones in 9 countries around the world in order to understand their consequences for humanity. Our project is called ‘The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing’ (ASSA). We look forward to sharing the results of our research with you through this course.

In the video above, Daniel Miller, Professor of Anthropology at University College London, introduces the course.

This course, rather than summarising the whole field of study regarding the smartphone, focuses on the results of our team of researchers, who conducted ethnographic field studies lasting 16 months each. We hope you’ll agree that this course provides a thorough grounding in understanding this extraordinary device.

Furthermore, if this course whets your appetite, there is much more detailed evidence available. The team have also written an open-access comparative book called The Global Smartphone, which brings together findings from across all the fieldsites, some of which are summarised within the first week of this course.

In addition, individual team members are also writing monographs about their respective fieldsites. Much of this material relates to Week 2 of the MOOC, and we will link to it in the relevant steps for those who want to read about these fieldsites in more depth. Finally, there will also be an edited book about the health interventions that emerged from this project, which are discussed in Week 3. This book is due in 2022.

As noted in the film, the course takes place over 3 weeks and each week is divided into several parts.

A brief summary of each week

Week 1 looks at assumptions about the smartphone and introduces the project and the methodology behind it. We also examine the smartphone as a material object, what an app is, and present several original perspectives, such as the idea of the smartphone as a ‘transportal home’. For those who are not familiar with anthropology, we also introduce learners to the discipline and discuss its responsibilities and the role it can play today, including in understanding the different responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Week 2 considers smartphone use in the context of ageing, which is undergoing huge shifts around the world and represents one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century. It looks at intergenerational relations, retirement, living an active life, and how smartphones impact these aspects of people’s lives.

Week 3 considers smartphone use in relation to health and care, including how the device helps deliver care at a distance in different parts of the world. We also examine how googling for health may exacerbate class differences and what an alternative view of ‘mHealth’ (mobile health) might look like based on the evidence of the ASSA project.

On Friday, the 14th of May, we will hold a one-hour Twitter Live Chat from 2 to 3 pm (BST – British Summer Time). Members of the ASSA team will be online & available to answer questions about our fieldwork, our research, and our methodology. Simply use #FLAnthroPhones to ask a question or follow the conversation!

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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