“Then I just speak to it more harshly”: Digital voice assistants and sonic-affective infrastructures in older people’s smart homes

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Digital voice assistants (DVA) have been celebrated as a breakthrough in eldercare. Mainstream discourses emphasize voice-based technology as practical assistants, and thus figure voice as a practical means to achieve certain ends. But there is more to voice interactions than merely distributing messages and articulating commands. Voice-based interactions create sonic-affective environments and enact cultural categories, likes and dislikes.

In this paper we explore the phenomenon of DVA’s in older people’s smart homes. Through ethnographic interviews we study how older people use DVA’s and with what effects for their experiences of the sonic-affective environment in their homes. We combine the concept from Science and Technology Studies of infrastructure with a cultural anthropological view on voice. Based on this, we see voice-based interactions as infrastructures that link the realms of the technical, cultural and sociopolitical to the level of the individual, creating sites where shared discourses and values, affect, and aesthetics are made manifest in and contested through embodied and material practice.

The paper analyzes interactions between voices, technologies, and homes, to exemplify some of the infrastructural and affective effects of voice-based technologies. We find that the use of DVA’s results in changes in the affective environments of the home, such as by creating uncertainty, harshness and intervening in cultural and temporal enactments of politeness. Moreover, their ability to make voices travel beyond the material confines of the home, renders its boundaries more permeable, thus creating a sense of disempowerment both towards technology and the management of the privacy of the home. We propose the phenomenon of voice and DVA’s in older people’s smart homes as an interesting topic for socio-gerontechnology research.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventFifth International Socio-Gerontechnology Workshop: Theorising Ageing in a Digital World - Open University of the Netherlands, Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 28 Sept 202329 Sept 2023


ConferenceFifth International Socio-Gerontechnology Workshop
LocationOpen University of the Netherlands
Internet address

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