chapter  8
13 Pages

The (in)visibility of older adults in digital leisure cultures

BySHANNON HEBBLETHWAITE

Introduction Over the past 25 years, technology has transformed the world in which we live. The sheer speed and ease of transmission of information has altered how we communicate and interact, both on-and offline. Political and journalistic rhetoric suggests that the world has become an information village in which people are connected to each other in a global network society (Castells, 2010). Older adults, however, have been rendered invisible in this discourse. Until very recently, limited research has focused on understanding the technology needs of older adults. Even less work has examined technology in the context of leisure for older adults. This chapter presents an interdisciplinary approach to understanding older adults’ experiences of emerging technologies and the digital leisure culture, drawing upon literature from leisure studies, critical gerontology, and communication and media studies. Situated broadly within critical theory, this work will be used to interrogate ageist assumptions in relation to leisure and digital media use (or non-use). Rather than assuming that older adults are incapable of learning and engaging with new technologies, I examine how older adults are agentic in their choices around media use and explore their meanings associated with digitally mediated leisure. By considering how ‘digital ageism’ (the individual and systemic biases that create forms of inclusion and exclusion that are age-related) operates in subtle ways, I will explore how communication is connected to social practices and shared rituals that constitute leisure experiences. The chapter provides two supportive case studies that highlight the importance of understanding digital leisure from the perspective of older adults: (1) MemorySpace, a digital literacy initiative that illustrates the potential for actively engaging older adults in the discourses around digital leisure, digital literacy and lifelong learning; and (2) Grannies on the Net, an exploratory case study of Canadian and Romanian grandmothers which illustrates the critical approach that grandmothers take in using social media.