Networked Individualism Among Older Adults: Digital Media Use and Personal Network Structures

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Hua WANG, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, USA
Barry WELLMAN, NetLab Network, Canada
Renwen ZHANG, Northwestern University, USA
Older adults are typically defined as individuals 65 years or older. To what extent are older adults networked individuals, in terms of the structure, composition and functioning of their networks? How does older adults’ involvement in digital media affect their social networks, or vice versa? Although there have been some studies on older adults’ adoption and use of digital media, we believe we are the first to inquire into how older adults are networked individuals --or not -- and their use of digital media. Based on semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted in 2013 and 2014 with 41 older adults living in the East York borough of Toronto, we examined these two research questions through (1) quantitative analysis of device ownership, communication channels, digital media use as well as their personal network characteristics such as social ties, size, and diversity; (2) qualitative content coding of major themes emerged from participants' comments; and (3) user profiling to generate case studies on networked seniors. Our findings suggest that older adults are becoming more accepting of digital technologies, especially for maintaining important social relationships and overcoming challenges with geographic distance and limited mobility. Networked individualism should not be limited to younger individuals. Many older adults are actively engaging in mediated communication, after formal retirement and living alone. Although the stereotypes around older adults and the digital divide may be reflected among participants over 80 years old, we believe many in their 60s and 70s are qualified as networked individuals in their own way.