Consumer-directed wearable technologies and digital apps that permit individuals to self-track, develop new modes of self-knowledge and potentially share their data with others have become increasingly popular. While a growing field of studies has emerged around digital self-tracking, quantification and ‘data-veillance’ (Lupton, 2016; Nafus, 2016), the connection between these technologies and aging has been largely neglected. Ruppert et al. (2013, p. 35) suggest that the devices central to digital culture are those that ‘track the doing subject’. Given that this ‘doing’ subject is central to contemporary agendas of active, ‘positive’ aging, aging must be taken up as integral to understanding this aspect of digital culture.

We focus primarily on two examples of digital technologies which are marketed to aging individuals: wearable fitness trackers (such as FitBits) and their associated apps, and digital brain-games. Both technologies invite users to generate measures, monitor progress and find meaning about themselves and their bodies in assemblages of data. With respect to aging, they conjoin around the imperative to ‘use it or lose it’, with the assumption that aging equals physical and mental decline unless the individual does something about it. Thus, the promotion of these technologies to older people is ultimately rooted in cultural anxiety about aging.

These technologies also assume a certain level of technological literacy on behalf of users. ‘Outputs’ need to be interpreted and made meaningful to their users, which implicates a complex web of expert and lay discourses, suggesting that we need to pay attention to the ways in which the data produced circulate through these networks and webs of technologies, relationships and expertise. While tracking and quantifying may be reductive in some ways, they may be productive in others. For example, they may provide opportunities for networked sociality that researchers of digital culture have barely begun to explore (Nimrod, 2013). Our research is aimed at exploring some of these open questions.

Barbara Marshall, Trent University

Wendy Martin, Brunel University

Stephen Katz, Trent University

Research Assistants

Agata Wesolowski (Trent University) (in 2015)

Kirsten Ellison (University of Calgary) (current)

ACT Partners
Trent University
Brunel University


Project updates

Publications: Marshall, B.L. and Katz, S. (2016) How old am I? Digital culture and quantified aging. Digital Culture and Society, 2(1), 145-153 Katz, S. and Marshall, B.L. (in submission) Tracked and fit: FitBits, brain games and the quantified aging body. In submission to Journal of Aging Studies Presentations: Marshall, B.L. (2015) Self-tracking and ‘successful aging’: Shaping the grey market for wearables. Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), Denver, November 11-14. Katz, S. (2016) ‘Gaming the Brain: Digital Cognitive Performance in the Shadow of Dementia’, The 3rd International Sociology Association Forum, University of Vienna, July 10-14, 2016. Marshall, B.L. (in submission) Our Fitbits, ourselves: Wearables, self-tracking and aging embodiment. In submission to IAGG World Congress on Gerontology and Geriatrics, San Francisco, July 23-27, 2017 and to HCI (Human Computer Interaction) International (Session on New media in the everyday life of older people), Vancouver, July 14-17, 2017.

Conference sessions organized: Martin, W. and Marshall, B.L. (2016) Digital Technologies and Everyday Life. The 3rd International Sociology Association Forum, University of Vienna, July 10-14, 2016.. Martin, W. and Marshall, B.L. (in submission) Aging, the Digital and Everyday Life symposium proposal in submission to IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics, San Francisco, July 23-27, 2017.

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