Older people and online worlds: Isolation or Integration?
It is accepted that social contacts with family and friends and the social support drawn from these social contacts are positively associated with the quality of life of older people. Maintaining this social connectedness however can be challenging. With globalisation family and friends may no longer be geographically close and, if health and mobility decline so may the ability to travel.
The online world offers new options for older people. Online world in this sense is the combination of devices, interfaces and people that create a world (or community) in ‘internet space’. There is still some debate around the value of online relationships, including that younger internet users may experience more social isolation however research also has found that online connectedness leads to decreased loneliness and depression. The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between older people’s use of the online world and the physical world. Ethical approval was obtained from Bournemouth University. The study adopted a generic qualitative approach, using semi-structured interviews with 20 participants aged over 65, and a thematic analysis was carried out. The study found that people were using the online world in three different ways
Online activities facilitates physical world activities:
Fred discussed how he organises a walking group for older people communicating online with group members about where the next week’s walk will be and sharing information about the route and type of walk.
Online activities compensates for physical world activities:
Sarah, a lady in her 80’s explained that she wasn’t very familiar with technology, but has joined an online Scrabble group and now regular plays saying “I used to love playing Scrabble but my friends have died so… (now) I’ve got about four people that I play word games with and you know – miles away. I don’t even know who some of them are.”
Online activities contributes to physical world activities
Freda stays in touch with people she met in a dieting group several years ago
“I went on a diet in 2008 and met a few friends on website and we are still friends. Sometimes we meet …we met for a hen party when one of us got married”
These three different models show how integrated online and ‘real world’ activities are now for older people. Boundaries often do not exist between the online and real world, and positive benefits rather than increased feeling of isolation were reported.