Charting the Digital Lifespan

We have yet to experience a complete lifespan in the Digital Age, from conception to death in old age. Those who have grown up interacting with digital technology are still relatively young, whilst older technology adopters hold paper trails of memories. Also, we are yet to fully understand how social media posts from teenage years, reflecting opinions of that time, could shape individuals’ identities in their future professional lives. Indeed, the traces of our digitally mediated interactions may persist indefinitely beyond the physical lifespan and be harnessed in ways that we do not expect or desire. At the present time, our digital lifespan remains an emergent and unmapped phenomenon.

In this EPSRC-funded research project, we use the concept of the ‘Digital Lifespan’ to investigate how digital identities are created and managed across the human lifespan by UK citizens, delivering social scientific, cultural and technical insights to raise digital literacy and inform policymaking and legislation on self-representation in the Digital Age. To achieve this, we bring together interdisciplinary expertise in anthropology, interaction design, computer vision and cultural studies, for an empirical, pragmatic inquiry. By adopting the ‘lifespan’ perspective on digital representation, we further engage a multi-generational research population around significant life ‘transition points’, such as ‘emerging adulthood’, ‘becoming a parent’ and ‘approaching retirement’, and invite reflection on people’s digitally mediated lives as both experienced and ‘envisioned’.

Our research incorporates the design and evaluation of novel digital technologies for depicting and managing digital lifespan representations, and generates a ‘rich picture’ of how the digital lifespan is currently conceptualised and understood within our UK population.

Select the link below to download a copy of our picture book, which explores some of the project’s key findings: