Reconfigurations of Home/care in Smart Home Designs for Aging-in-place

Technologies designed to allow for older adults to “age-in-place” safely and independently have experienced tremendous growth in the past five years (Orlov, 2019). Prominent companies that have emerged with ‘smart home’ devices for the older adult include CarePredict, Sensara, Billy, TruSense, Essence, LiliSmart, and Presence Pro Care. While many of these companies include devices that are also marketed to younger adults, such as thermostats, doorbells, and voice-activated hubs like Alexa and Google Home, they also, more significantly, add into their purview home sensors that are designed with a function unique to this demographic: the monitoring not of the home but its inhabitants. Drawing on Kim and Jasanoff’s (2015) notion of ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’, this paper explores the imagined spaces of aging in place with home sensor technology. Examining the promotional materials of a selection of home sensor technologies marketed to older adults and their caregivers, I highlight the kinds of homes, inhabitants and users that the devices evoke in their conceptual design. These devices, I argue, reconfigure the home into an active participant in the management of its inhabitants and care into an act of remote and constant surveillance by algorithms. As new policies emerge to assist older adults in their ability to stay in the home, we need to be more critical of the increasing turn to smart home technologies by taking into consideration the problematic assumptions that are imagined into their design and the many social, material, and emotional consequences of their adoption.

Aging-in-Place, Smart Home, Home Sensor Technology, Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Social and Cultural Perspectives on Aging

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

  • Kirsten Ellison
    • Postdoctoral Fellow, Sociology, Trent University
    • I am a postdoctoral fellow at Trent University, Canada funded through the SSHRC Insight Grant, Digital Culture and Quantified Aging. My recent dissertation, 'Molecular imaginaries of aging and age intervention', examined the representational modes through which molecular understandings of aging and the body are popularized for mass consumption, looking specifically at the use of image and metaphor. Broadly, my research has interrogated the intersections of health, science and technology in popular culture. In my current role, I am exploring the conceptual, visual and technical mapping of 'smartness' in the home as it relates to 'aging-in-place.' My independent and collaborative work has appeared in the Journal of Aging Studies, the British Food Journal, the Journal of Media and Cultural Studies and the International Journal of Cultural Studies.
  • Barb Marshall
    • Professor, Sociology, Trent University, Canada ON, Canada