Project Summary

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 from a very early age are still young, whilst older technology adopters have identities that pre-date the Digital Age, populated with paper trails of memories. Many citizens have only a limited awareness of the permanency and consequence of posting in public and extended social circles. Digital posts from student or teenage years reflecting opinions or behaviour that seemed socially appropriate at that time may not reflect well in future professional life. Digitally mediated interactions produced in life may develop an undesirable perspective if they linger after physical death. The lifelong digital trails generated through our digitally mediated interactions, including online, echo our physical lives, but unlike a physical life, the Digital Lifespan can persist indefinitely, and the rich personal context it provides can be harnessed in ways an individual might not expect or desire.

In this EPSRC-funded research, we will produce unique insights into the digital lifespan of UK citizens both now and in a future where our young Digital Natives approach adulthoood, become parents, retire, and pass away. To help generate these insights, we will first chart the unmapped territory of the "Digital Lifespan" as it is now in the UK, exploring the ways in which virtual and physical aspects of our lives converge, diverge and clash. This chart will be grounded in a series of indepth studies with UK citizens at four transition points in their lives: approaching adulthood, becoming parents, retiring, and bereavement.

The chart that we create will guide us as we look into a future where citizens increasingly live out their lives through digitally mediated interactions. We will explore the implications of this future with individuals, policymakers and industry representatives. The knowledge and insight developed into issues surrounding ownership and management of citizens' Digital Lifespans will be used to raise digital literacy. New technologies will be designed and developed which go far beyond available online tools which bring personal digital content together in one place. Our new technologies will automatically draw out the personal context of such content, making inferential links and distilling the impressions which citizens give of themselves through digital media. These distilled impressions will be reflected back to individuals, raising digital literacy by promoting awareness of the way in which individuals digital identities are (or will in future be) perceived online over their entire lifespan. Further these novel technologies will equip citizens with ways to manage the impression that they give.

Beyond individual citizens, our work will inform educators and policymakers, providing a deeper understanding of what it means to live as a UK citizen in a Digital Age.