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SSHRC Insight Grant 435-2017-1343, 2017-2022

Barbara L. Marshall, Trent University (principal investigator)
Stephen Katz, Trent University (co-investigator)
Isabel Pedersen, UOIT (co-investigator)
Wendy Martin, Brunel University UK (collaborator)

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About this Project

This research project is directed at technologies that track, measure, compare, aggregate and thus quantify, in various ways, age and age-related function. Our focus is on 'quantified aging': the ways that self-tracking technologies and digital apps are used to create new modes and styles of measuring, calculating, storing and sharing information about the aging self.

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We focus on three technologies: a) 'Wearables' and mobile technologies, including those designed for self-monitoring (such as fitness trackers) and those designed for tracking and monitoring aging individuals by caregivers or institutions. b) Digital apps that collect and connect data from wearable devices, and/or deploy algorithms for 'calculating' age and its correlates; and c) Age-related apps relying on the rhetoric of games and scores, such as those used in digital 'brain training' games that track imagined cognitive plasticity and enhancement, while promising protection against decline.

Across these contexts we will explore how concepts of age and 'success' in aging are produced in technical ways and investigate how these connect to professional, actuarial and cultural practices that divide populations into young/old, active/inactive, fit/frail, responsible/irresponsible and risky/risk-averse. Our intent is not to deny that new technologies benefit the lives of older people, but to suggest that such technologies cannot be assessed outside the social contexts in which they are developed, promoted, used and capitalized.

Research Activities

Research activities related to this project include historical and documentary research and field research at technology and consumer electronic trade shows; textual and visual analysis of marketing and informational materials; interviews with engineers, tech designers, marketers and policy makers, and interviews, focus groups and social network analysis with users of these technologies.


Digital Culture and Quantified Aging Team

Wendy Martin, Kirsten Ellison, Barb Marshall, Isabel Pedersen, Stephen Katz

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