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Second quarter: case study on the digital lifespan

Posted on 7 February 2014

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One of the case studies for the fellowship is ‘Charting the Digital Lifespan’ (CDL), a two-year interdisciplinary project involving partners at five UK universities (Dundee, Heriot-Watt, Newcastle, Nottingham and Surrey) to critically explore the concept of the Digital Lifespan (DL).


Led by Wendy Moncur at Dundee and combining expertise in anthropology, cultural studies, interaction design, computer vision, and machine learning, the CDL project considers what it means for individuals to ‘live out’ digitally mediated lives across the human lifespan – from birth, and specially to understand the implications of people’s digital interactions for identity creation and management from a lifespan perspective. The project goal is to generate social, cultural and technical insights to inform digital literacy, technology innovation, and UK policy making.

To understand how individuals make sense of digital personhood across the lifespan, CDL is gathering multiple views about the DL, from UK citizens of differing generations who have interacted with digital technology in different ways at different stages of their lives. In turn, the objective is to capture a rich picture about digital personhood as it is experienced at the current time and as it is envisioned in a future where Digital Natives approach adulthood, become parents, and retire.

As the design partner on CDL, the team at Newcastle will incorporate the design, development and evaluation of novel digital tools for depicting and reflecting upon digital lifespan representations. To date, in collaboration with Diego Trujillo and our project partners, I’ve been exploring design methods for engaging with those who are transitioning into new parenthood; designing compelling forms of research engagement: deployable ‘probes’ to explore existing digital identities; and props and scenarios to envision future identities.

As a case study, CDL invites methodological challenges and opportunities for sharing, interpreting and consolidating insights from the different disciplinary endeavours, mediated by communication design.