Who put the smart into smartphones?


The word smart as used in terms such as smart cities and smartphones usually refers to the ability of a device to learn from users through algorithms and AI. In this paper, by contrast, we will examine what older people actually do with smartphones, based on evidence from nine field sites around the world, each of which was studied over a 16 month period. We will show that the creative and inventive uses of older people around the world are far more important in creating the smartphone than the conventional notion of smart. Also By teaching smartphone use to older people we could start by seeing what was not smart in the smartphone. This led to a wider examination of the field of mHealth, which is usually seen as the creation of bespoke health apps. But our research shows how and why in practice this is not the main way people employ smartphones in relation to health. Far more significant are the way older people use the ubiquitous apps of their smartphone but reconfigured to be used in relation to health. Though these can have both negative and positive consequences. Overall the paper will argue for an approach to the smartphone which we call smart-from-below.


Full name: Daniel Miller
Affiliation: University College London.


Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He is a Fellow of the British Academy. He has written and edited forty-one books. Recent volumes include Tales from Facebook (2011) Migration and New Media (With Mirca Madianou 2012) Consumption and its Consequences 2012, Digital Anthropology (Ed. with Heather Horst 2012), Webcam (with Jolynna Sinanan 2014), Social Media in an English Village (2016), How the World Changed Social Media (with 8 others, UCL 2016), The Comfort Of People (2017), The Global Smartphone (with 8 others, UCL forthcoming). Ageing with Smartphones in Ireland (with Pauline Garvey, UCL forthcoming). He was the director of the Why We Post Project (2012-2017), and is currently the director of the ASSA project Smartphones and Smart Ageing (2017-2022).

He tweets at @DannyAnth