This month’s In Focus article comes to us from Dr. Sakari Taipale at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. Taipale is a research group leader for the Centre of Excellence in Research on Ageing and Care (CoEAgeCare), which studies the transformations in ageing in a digital age through analyses of everyday life and societal and policy change. In his paper, Taipale considers the ways in which digitalization of everyday life has shifted the ways we think about age and ageing.
In ageing studies, the “oldest old” are typically viewed as being largely dependent on other people’s help, while the “old” are still considered independent, self-determined actors. The line between “old” and “oldest old” is most often perceived to be crossed when the most undesirable aspects of ageing, such as infirmity, dementia and long-term care needs appear (Higgs & Gilleard, 2015). The boundary between old and oldest old becomes less stable and connected to individuals’ physical and cognitive abilities in the context of digital media use. As research often fails to make this distinction, people of different ages and generations are lumped together without acknowledgement of other influential considerations such as socio-economic status, availability of technological assistance and geography. As such, the ways we differentiate between old and oldest old become obscured in these studies with significant consequences in how we understand the ways older adults use digital media and technologies. Our everyday lives have become highly dependent on, and mediated by digital communication technologies and new media, thus it is imperative to explore the ways in which digitization shapes the social imaginary of old age.