Jane Vincent, social researcher: "As society ages, we must acquire a greater understanding of the media and communications expectations of the very old"
Foto de Jane Vincent null
Last January, Vincent was a visiting researcher at the IN3
Jane Vincent has published widely on the topic of the social practices of information and communication technology users and her academic career since 2001 builds on over two decades of senior industry involvement in the design, development and implementation of digital mobile communications in Europe. Her Doctorate from University of Surrey Department of Sociology is on emotions and mobile phones and was awarded in 2011. She was a member of the Net Children Go Mobile and EU Kids Online projects and is an active participant in European COST Networks researching students’ use of digital and paper technologies for reading and writing, and ageism in media. Last January, Vincent was visiting researcher at the IN3 with the Communication Networks & Social Change (CNSC) research group.
Could you briefly explain what your research work is about?

I research the behaviours and social practices of information and communications technology users. I am especially interested in how people become attached to technological devices due to the relationships and connectivity they provide, as well as in inclusive access to technology – new and old.

Up until now my studies have focused on children aged 7 to 16, and adults mostly under 60 years of age. Despite the ageing population, it would appear that the very old – those over 80 –are researched less often as an age cohort with regard to positive health and social experiences and inclusion. Therefore, my visit is the beginning of my exploration into this very old age group – what particular media and communications issues they encounter and what action is required to ensure their continued inclusive involvement in the everyday life of society.

Which projects would you like to emphasize?

There are many projects by others as well as some of my own that are relevant when considering the media and communications experiences of the very old, and my aim during this week is to find out about all those that I have not yet encountered.

Three projects in particular inform my present interest. The first builds on my doctoral research, from which I learned that people's similar life experiences and needs relate to life stages and events, such as marriage, divorce, moving house, bereavement, new babies, etc., not to their age. We know that children’s use of ICTs demands special attention to help shape good lifelong practices and protect them from harm. This is explored extensively in a second group of projects, namely EU Kids Online and Net Children Go Mobile. These studies and their findings and methodology might provide a framework for studying the very old. Lastly, there are a growing number of projects developing technical solutions, including social robotics and co-designed ICT, which sustain independence and autonomy in older age but perhaps not to the extent that they would serve octo- and nonagenarians. All these not only inform my interest in the very old but also highlight the gaps in my knowledge.

What is your assessment of our University’s collaboration and expertise in this field?

I know from the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona that this region has many interests and opportunities in the present and future digital world, and your University is part of this ecology. This visit, my first, is made possible by your participation with COST Action IS1402 on Ageism . Your expertise in the field of information technologies and your collaborations with other organizations, such as the ACT team in Canada is impressive and I look forward to learning more during my short stay.

Where do you feel there is the most work left to be done within your field?

There is no simple answer to this question, as there will always be more that we can learn in all aspects of my research interests, especially since we can expect new disruptive technologies to emerge and old ones to die out. I believe that the life course of older adults who have retired and who are still motivated to be involved in society – who do not suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's – is not well researched, nor are their needs provided for by industry and business as well as they could be.

As society ages and people live longer, we must acquire a greater understanding of the media and communications expectations of the very old and how they could be fulfilled.

Are new technologies helping as much as they could to consolidate active ageing in Europe?

Whilst the challenge with new technologies is to make them economically viable at all stages of the value chain, the paucity of devices, content and so forth suitable for the very old is indicative of the low expectations of technology providers and perhaps of this age group as well. Deficiencies in digital literacy and the digital divide are recognized among children and young people. However, this topic is not adequately addressed with regard to very old adults, over 80, many of whose needs are similar to those who are younger and more digitally literate, but this group has different, often physical, frailties.

Could you give an example or two of good practices that you would like to emphasize in this respect?

Life stage-inclusive design: the involvement of older people and people of all generations in the design and development phase of new technologies, testing the efficiency of products with all groups. One example is the Dundee University User Centre – a place where older people and technology meet – or community self-help groups.

Media representation of products and services being successfully used where no one is in awe of the very old age of the users; they simply include them as part of the mix. There may be fewer users, but it is not extraordinary to be 85 or 95 and using social media or a smartphone.

Does society give enough importance to the elderly’s adaptation to new technologies? To what extent is it a setback that certain generations are so cut off from new technologies?

There appears to be a lack of awareness of the diminishing mental and/or physical agility that marks the onset of old age. People are not necessarily looking for a special "elderly" version but rather one that works for their individual needs. It is not only the elderly and very old who are less able to access new technologies; the problem exists amongst all age groups, but less attention is given to solving the problems of the elderly.

The gradually increasing average age of the European population is one of the main problems of future content. Does the degree of ageing of the population go against the very concept of active ageing?

To turn this statement on its head, I would argue the increasing average age is opening up new markets for future content, as well as building on the current content that people will want to take with them into their very old age. There is a huge opportunity for active ageing to be reimagined as the population ages so that it can embrace more than the contemporary meanings of "active" to deepen and enrich lives, including those of the very old.