New media and elderly people's social relationships – University of Copenhagen

Ageing and old age in the media and elderly people’s media use

New media and elderly people's social relationships

Project Leader: Cecilie Givskov

The purpose of this project is to explore what it means to age in a media environment that is wider, less structured and more interactive and individualized than the mass media environment of the 20th century. For elderly people the influence of the Internet and mobile technology on our social lives coincides with withdrawal from the labour market, perhaps becoming a grandparent, experiences of loss of partners, friends, family members and loss of health and mobility. Media applications such as SMS, chat, blogs, social platforms mediate our relationships to family members, friends, romantic and sexual partners and wider social networks in society. As such media function as ‘technologies of relationships’, and they are also both shaped by and shaping our social life and interactions. The media technologies are therefore also the objects of emotions, feelings and experiences that relate to how the media can be integrated and used in our social lives. The project will contribute with knowledge on how media are shaped by and shape social relationships specific to the social and relational situations that are significant to elderly Danish pensioners: as grand parents, widows and widowers, rich, poor, immigrants, emigrants, urbanites or villagers.

The analysis draws inspiration from the ‘life course perspective’ (Hareven 2000) and from empirical studies of the interaction between digital media and family relations (Miller 2011; 2012; Chayko 2002). The media use and experiences of elderly people and the meaning that they ascribe to their current practices are analysed compared to how traditional media like the phone and letter has shaped how the new media are used, experienced and understood, and how the previous media life course of the informants has shaped their social relationships and forms of interaction. Moreover current practices and understandings are analysed with focus on how media mediate the dynamics between the norms that structure age and relationships (as ‘old’ or ‘a grandparent’) and the actual social relationships of significance to the informant (Miller 2012).

Through off- and online observation and qualitative interviews with 25-30 informants the aim is to access a spectrum of elderly people’s new media practices, their choices or lack of such. Activity based off- and online observations and interviews and will shed light on the motivations behind the choices; how the media and their technologies are bodily managed and handled; how the use shape and are shaped by the routines and organization of the daily life; how the informants are emotionally attached to the media; how social interactions take place through the media; how media contribute to maintain, develop or establish social relationships; and the discourses related to age and aging that the informants express in relation to their media use. With regard to online observations data comprise documents like SMS, mails, updates, blog entries and media diaries. Informants are selected compared to their choice (or lack of such) to purchase and use new media and in consideration of variation related to gender, class, ethnicity, martial status and their urban or province environment.