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How older people get younger

In this step, we explain a bit about how smartphones can be seen as making people younger.
People in Milan know the city’s reputation for fashion, style, and industry. Getting to know people here reveals how deeply they also care about their relationships, their family, and friends. They express this in a number of creative ways. Eleonora decorates her smartphone with images of her grandchildren, while Elisa connects her phone with an old-fashioned receiver, allowing her to recreate the authentic feel and comfort of talking on the phone. For this policeman in Kampala, his smartphone displays his Catholic faith. He has Jesus as his background image for protection. In Japan, I found many older people often have quite functional and simple phone covers and a notebook design.
Others like to decorate their smartphones with charms or style their phone cases to match their personal aesthetic. In Lusozi, more people have mobile phones than smartphones. They tend to top up their airtime and data on a daily basis, just when they need it. In Kyoto and Kōchi, most people use smartphones. But some, especially older people, still use flip-style feature phones, known locally as garakei, which are considered easier to use, more robust, and less expensive than smartphones. All around Yaoundé, you can find airtime sellers and also downloaders, who you can pay to download music and videos onto a device. Sometimes people require specialist software on their phones.
Laila, our researcher in Dar al-Hawa, uses an iPhone with screen reading software, because she is blind. Using an iPhone can be slow and frustrating as it has to read every bit of text out loud. But now, I would not be without it.

As noted previously, in most regions, though not, for example, in Japan, smartphones initially were adopted mostly by younger users and became associated with youth culture. At first, this meant older people were excluded, but once they too start using smartphones, they may start to share some of those youthful associations of the smartphone as a result. In addition, they may use smartphones to directly re-engage with the things they enjoyed when they themselves were young, such as music or hobbies they gave up in their youth.

In the film above, there are multiple examples of how smartphones help people feel younger, from across several fieldsites.

Of course, ageing is only partly a matter of how we feel, our subjective experience. It is also a question of how other people regard us and define us.

If you regard yourself as ‘older’, how does your experience relate to the general points made in this and the previous step, about changes in the experience of ageing?

Was this different from what you expected or different from what you observed for your parents or grandparents around the same age as you?

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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