'Ways of Knowing' about Aging, Old Age and Transitions in Later Life: Insights from Social Media

Monday, 11 July 2016: 17:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anne MARTIN-MATTHEWS, Department of Sociology, The University of British Columbia, Canada
Social media provide  important outlets for altering or reinforcing dominant narratives of aging and old age.  This presentation considers how 'ways of knowing' about aging, old age and selected life course transitions are (re)framed  and transformed through the digital technologies of  communications involving social media, and  related aspects of social connectivity and social networks. In the discussing ‘ways of knowing’ about aging and old age in general, several forms of digital media are considered: websites, blogs, Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), and Instagrams. Representative depictions of aging and old age in each social media format are considered.

The presentation also focuses on one selected lifecourse transition: to widowhood in later life.  Social media provide outlets for expression among those whose widowhood is considered ‘off-time’ or in other ways ‘disenfranchised’. But social media also transform the experience of widowhood,  enabling the visual depiction (and wide distribution) of portrayals of self in widowhood. The case of an 87-year old widow in the USA and her one million (plus) Instagram followers is illustrative here.  

Inter-generational access to new media provides opportunities for images and portrayals of aging that profoundly challenge the dominant public narrative of deficit and decrement in the fourth age, and of misery, decline and isolation with widowhood in later life. Such representations challenge and reinforce ideas about aging in complex and contradictory ways. Such issues as the creation of ‘personas’, of archetypical representations vs. deliberately exaggerated ‘types’ of aging and old age, and the role of (younger) others in facilitating the technology and nature of old age representation, are addressed.