University of Sussex
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Older people’s appropriation of computers and the Internet

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:21 authored by Dave Harley
This thesis looks at how older people integrate computers and the Internet into their everyday lives and make these technologies their own as part of their broader experience of ageing. The thesis starts by considering the limits of current ‘deficit-driven’ models of accessible design used in relation to older people and highlights a need to develop new approaches which can accommodate the adaptive and ‘positive’ capacities that emerge with advanced age. The approach subsequently developed provides a consideration of older people’s situated and subjective experiences in relation to computer and Internet engagement as part of their adaptations to ageing. Qualitative and ethnographic data in the form of participant observations, contextual interviews and video-based observations are all used to examine the ways in which older users identify computers and the Internet as relevant and construct meaningful uses for them over time. Four case studies are used to explore the contextual and subjective determinants of these emerging psycho-socio-technical relationships over time and in different contexts. Through grounded analysis patterns are established in the data which outline persistent qualities of these emerging relationships in relation to ageing. A psycho-socio-technical process known as ‘appropriation’ is used to frame these adaptive relationships as they develop over time. In contrast to existing models of accessibility this analysis shows computer and Internet appropriation to be driven primarily by positive adaptations to ageing rather than its deficits. Six ‘core themes of relevance’ are identified across the studies (social contact; acquiring knowledge; supporting independence; intergenerational connection; reminiscence and life review and creativity) which represent age-relevant motivations that can be used as the basis for accessible designs promoting appropriation. In addition appropriation is outlined as a cumulative developmental process with distinct phases over time. This provides a structure for supporting older people’s appropriation of computers and the Internet whilst maintaining an emphasis on well-being. Finally this thesis contributes to understandings of contemporary ageing, offering insights into the potential for computers and the Internet to change the ageing experience in developed societies.


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  • Informatics Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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