Mapping Older Adults’ Data Worlds: A Pilot Study  

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Cal Biruk - McMaster University
Nicole Dalmer - McMaster University



Research Areas:

Digital technology practices, impositions, and appropriations
Aging and community-driven data

Popular culture would lead us to believe that older adults simply don’t interact with digital technologies. Those who do, according to dominant representations, have a limited understanding of the digital objects they use, thus making them vulnerable to victimization through data harvesting and online surveillance. McMaster University researchers Cal Biruk and Nicole Dalmer want to change this perception through their work examining the relationship between older adults and the digital objects they use in their everyday life.  

Mapping Older Adults’ Data Worlds is a pilot project that will gather and trace older adults’ experiences and understandings of their digital devices, focusing in particular on the data objects older adults deem significant in their daily lives, as well as the data inputted to and emanating from these devices. The research will be undertaken in two phases, the first of which will be a series of interviews with older adults to uncover the understandings they have of data. Interviewers will ask older adults about the digital devices they use that then contribute to the production and circulation of data in their everyday lives.  

The second phase of the research will consist of a mapping exercise, during which interviewers will visit older adults in their homes or other places of importance and ask them to identify key data objects (smart phones, tablets, digital picture frames, glucose monitors, etc.). Participants will then use drawing, sketching, crafting or other skills to map or create visualizations of the kinds of data and information that enter and exit their chosen object. The maps and images created through this exercise will be shared online, through a publicly accessible “museum of data objects” (MoDO). A physical museum exhibit is also planned.