Presented by Constance Lafontaine and Kim Sawchuk at the Canadian Communication Association (CCA) Annual Conference 2019/ Colloque annuel de l’Association canadienne de communication (ACC) 2019, which will take place at the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences hosted by The University of British Columbia

Presented as part of  the following Panel: Creative Industries-Cultural Policy III – Policy participation paradoxes in CRTC consultations and the Creative Canada framework

“In this paper, we deploy “age” as a critical standpoint to interrogate the techno-optimistic promises of e-governance as an inclusive and effective means of engaging the public in policy. We focus on the increasing prevalence of digital technologies and online research methods to engage the Canadian public, particularly older adults, in government consultations. In particular, we discuss the recent involvement of Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT) in the 2018 CRTC inquiry into misleading and aggressive sales practices by telecommunication service providers (CRTC-2018-246).

While the CRTC explicitly stated that it was eager to hear “from those who are more likely to be affected by these practices, such as seniors, people living with a disability and those whose first language is neither English nor French” (CRTC, 2018), it did not put the conditions in place to reach these targeted groups. Instead, a “digital first” approach relied chiefly on online advertising, a complex online commenting platform, a digital survey, and offered no advertised options for Canadians to access the consultation through non-digital means.

We argue that in a society where older adults’ knowledge of the digital world is unevenly and unfairly distributed along lines of age, education, literacy and income, consultations conducted solely online over-represent those who are socially-included and render absent the experiences of the older adults most likely impacted by (and targeted by) the aggressive and misleading sales practices of telecommunication service providers.

We also discuss what we have learned from our intervention in the CRTC’s inquiry into these misleading and aggressive sales practices by telecommunication service providers. First, we explain ACT’s efforts to track and record the barriers to older adults’ public engagement caused by both the CRTC’s prioritization of a digital strategy and a highly converged media landscape where there is scarce in-depth coverage of the issue. Second, we discuss the mobilization of our cross-sectoral research network to assist in the creation of our CRTC intervention.

Through focus groups and interviews, we spoke to 53 older adults in malls, libraries and community centres about their experiences with telecommunication service providers. While the majority of respondents had experienced sales practices that were tantamount to abuse, many of these stories were disclosed after long conversations. We reflect on the political implications of our findings and our rhetorical decision to analyze these misleading practices as a form of systemic abuse. We underscore the methodological import of developing complementarity methodological approaches to meaningfully involve older citizens in media policy and digital futures, and what it means to take age not merely as a variable, but as an ontological and epistemological standpoint to critically interrogate the techno-optimistic assumptions embedded in current e-governance efforts.”

Constance Lafontaine
Concordia University

Kim Sawchuk
Concordia University

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