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Smartphones, Smart Ageing and mHealth

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SmartPhoneSmartAging (Smartphones, Smart Ageing and mHealth)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

The proposal consisted of three main components. The first is a study of ageing. Most such studies concentrate on people defined by age, but this study is focused upon people who do not see themselves as young nor elderly. The second is a study of the use and consequences of smartphones. Most such studies are concerned with the technology and capabilities of smartphones, or the public concerns such as fake news and addiction. But our study focuses upon what people actually do with smartphones as part of everyday life. The third component brings the first two together by examining the use of smartphones in relation to the health of older people. Most such studies emphasis mHealth as the creation of bespoke health apps for smartphones. But our study looks at how people already use smartphones for health purposes which is dominated by general apps such as WhatsApp
The project is expected to make several direct contributions. Firstly, the period of ageing we address has grown substantially and now may be long as a person’s working life. Generally, we have not caught up with these changes. For example, when we think of our children’s inheritance, we forget they may be 70 years old at that time. There are many implications for the way we think about pensions, leisure activities and how to accommodate people not defined as young or old. Secondly our study of smartphones will be the first that moves beyond its association with youth, to create a new conceptual framework for thinking about what smartphones are and their consequences for almost every part of our lives. We also draw attention to the huge diversity of what people turn smartphones into, depending on which population we are focusing upon around the world. Thirdly we believe our project has major implications for the use of smartphones for health. The established mHealth sector tends require considerably funding and is mostly a top-down agenda. Our project draws attention to what we believe will be effective health interventions, which mainly have no cost and are already being used, so we can see that they work. For example, we have just published a 150 page manual on using WhatsApp for health purposes.
An initial four months was spent creating a team and developing the details of our research protocols as well as seeking advice from relevant experts. This was followed by 16 months spent conducting ethnographic fieldwork involving eleven researchers in ten fieldsites across nine countries. The research was simultaneous, collaborative and comparative. This compromised the bulk of the original research that will provide the evidence for this project. Since the completion of these ethnographies the team is now involved in analysis and writing the eleven books that we hope we will be able to publish giving details of our findings.
The project is highly innovative. Only with new digital media would it be possible to carry out such an extensive collaboration and comparison even during the period of investigation. Methods such as the systematic discussion of every single app on a smartphone allows a much more detailed qualitative assessment of the use and consequences of these phones. Our ability to survey everyday uses of smartphones for health purposes is very different from the usual top-down approach to mHealth.
The current aims are to produce a comprehensive comparative book called The Global Smartphone which we will hope will become a standard reference point for all future studies of the smartphone. We also hope to produce nine individual monographs detailing the results of our studies of ageing. We also intend to publish an edited volume summarising our contribution to the study and use of mHealth. These eleven volume will constitute thousands of pages of primary evidence. In addition we expect to write journal articles and contribute to workshops and conferences.
The next phase of our work will also shift towards the long term considering of our alternatives to conventional mHealth with potential implementation and evaluation of projects related to our various fieldsites. For example, we are considering attempting more extensive work on the use of smartphones in obtaining and conveying information about menopause.