Critical Questions: Digital Culture, Personal Technologies and Quantified Aging

Stephen Katz, Barbara L. Marshall
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada


This paper outlines four critical questions emerging from the authors’ two recent research projects conducted at Trent University, ‘Digital Culture and Quantified Aging’ (SSHRC) and ‘Being Connected at Home: Making Use of Digital Devices in Later Life’ (CIHR). The projects engage in a mixed methods examination of the ‘technical turn’ in gerontological culture by collecting data from professional, commercial and internet sources, and carrying out qualitative research with older users of self-tracking and gaming technologies. First, are self-tracking and mobile technologies (e.g., fitness, sleep, mood) designed to monitor and manage health also constructing and popularizing technical measures of the aging process. Second, are data from these technologies, as well as from home monitoring systems, being uploaded, shared, aggregated and distributed beyond private use. Third, in what ways do digital and quantifying health technology industries promote their products with anti-aging promises for improved physical, emotional and cognitive health. And fourth, have these technologies and their metaphors of ‘smart’, ‘fit’ and ‘optimized’ created new images of the aging body as open to greater calculation, intervention, control and experimentation. Conclusions suggest that the digital devices that quantify aging also produce new reflexive conditions for older people to negotiate their own experiences and manage their futures against the risks and expectations assembled through the technical logics of such devices.