By Scott DeJong
On Wednesday June 26 ACT and the Socio-gerontology Network hosted a panel discussion titled Mundane Media Moments: Ageing, the Ordinary and Everyday Life. Dr. Alexander Peine (chair of the Socio-gerontechnology Network) set the scene and moderated the discussion as a group of scholars shared their recent work and thoughts on how aging, the mundane, and technology are entangled. The question at the forefront of conversation was “How does the mundane matter?’. The audience and scholars were asked to consider how our daily practices are transformed by and with the technology in our lives. The panel moves past the assumption that technology is only worthwhile for its designed value and techno-optimist narratives about emerging designs.
Dr. Wendy Martin opened the panel discussion by highlighting just how much of what we do is “unremarkable”. Reframing the concept of mundane towards unremarkability, evaluates how human routine is interspersed with technology. Through a series of photos, Dr. Martin’s talk emphasized the tempo-spatial qualities of technology and their role within our daily routine. Martin highlighted how the pandemic puts into focus how the “mundane keeps us moving day by day” by helping us deal with challenging times and pointing to a relationship with technology when we think of what is missing.
Dr. Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol continued to explore the nature of the pandemic and the mundane by pointing to the insignificant ordinary questions we ask ourselves and others. Ordinary behaviours, like checking in with a friend, can quickly become remediated as our lives change. For her, the pandemic illuminates the mutability of mundane technologies where our communication goals change alongside our lives. Of course the pandemic was not the only focus, but rather it showed how some of our practices are typically rendered invisible until our lives begin to change. As our contexts change and we age, how we communicate and engage with technology does as well.
Providing tangible examples of this life-technology relationship, Dr. Galit Nimrod revisited their work on casual leisure with Grannies on the Net. Through rich focus group data, Nimrod pointed to casual leisure as a time filler commonly mediated by technology use. Unlike serious leisure that can quickly be tied to productive activities or “side-hustles”, a focus on casual leisure for older adults points to the various everyday life circumstances that they arise from. Time fillers are one example of a typically insignificant media moment that requires greater consideration.
Closing off the discussions, Dr. Daniel Lopez discussed ethnographic work on an app meant to counter older adult isolation. It explored how technology opens up new communication affordances for older adults, specifically focusing on memes. Memes, visual and textual images shared via a chat feature, completely altered the nature of communication on these devices and promoted specific behaviours through the app. Lopez’s work showed the paradoxes of technological affordances for altering communication. On the one hand, memes acted as an easy means to share and an inclusive form of communication. On the other hand, as more memes were posted the technology began to have storage issues and further isolated users by kicking them off the network. This relationship between everyday use and technology points to the need for research on the mundane forms of communication in our lives.
The panel ended with a series of questions posed by the audience which considered technological binaries, the nature of problematic technological actions (i.e., privacy), and how this exploration of the mundane directly feeds into policy and research directions. The panel proved fruitful in fostering dialogue between leading scholars whose work intersects age with socio-technology. ACT is so grateful to have co-hosted this lovely event and if you are interested the full video is available for view below.