On November 6 and 7, the ECREA Digital Culture and Communication (DCC) Section celebrated a new conference. Hosted by the University of Brighton (UK), the conference held the theme “Digital culture meets data: Critical approaches“, focusing on the late turn to datafied societies and its implication on research, education, and, finally, digital culture and communication.
Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol presented a paper co-authored by Andrea Rosales in the panel “Where are older people?“, in which Kim Sawchuk (Principal Investigator of the ACT Project) led the sessions’ discussions. The paper, “Learning about the limits of datafication: An intergenerational comparison of smartphone logs“, provides an overview of the preliminary results of a comparative study on smartphone uses between different generations.
To analyze smartphone use from an intergenerational perspective, we combined a datafied and a traditional approach. We targeted a sample of users representing the online adult population in Spain. We collected the logs of participants’ smartphones activity during a month in 2014 (238 individuals) and 2016 (336). An online survey complemented the tracked data to get a better understanding of the relationship with the device. Finally, three focus groups with older individuals discussed the 2014 results to get a nuanced picture of their perceived digital communication practices.
We relied on a high-standard market research company to avoid sample selection biases. Specialized in online fieldwork, it granted access to a consumer panel. The company’s discourse was aligned with the usual promise of objectivity associated with data analysis (van Es & Schäfer 2016). However, fieldwork faced two challenges. First, older individuals were underrepresented in the panel–as older ages are of limited interest for online market research. Second, log data were not always clearly defined, which likely creates non-explicit or hidden biases.
Despite these limitations, it was technically possible to analyze older individuals (65+), who showed lower levels of use compared to younger generations–except for news and weather apps, the calendar, address book, and notes. They spent comparatively less time on WhatsApp, yet regarded it in great relevance (Rosales & Fernández-Ardèvol 2016). Given these particularities and the demographic shift towards an ageing and aged Europe, it is of most interest to engage in more empirically-based analyses on how older individuals use digital devices. However, we need to understand the limits of the available data for an accurate inclusion of older populations in digital communication research.