1 Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Faculty of Humanities, Københavns Universitet2 Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Faculty of Humanities, Københavns Universitet
Population ageing and the declining share of working age people is a long-term trend that began several decades ago – particularly in the EU. As traditional family structures and work-life structures loosen, as we live longer and stay healthier longer, ageing populations are becoming hot topics in the realms of politics and commerce – and, of course, media. Ageing populations are key drivers of media sales, especially in the areas of mobile and online media, and they are the dominant audience groups following the news. At the same time, social institutions realign their relations with (older) citizens through digital media. In spite of this inversion of the age pyramid and their significance as media users and active citizens, older people’s media use is rarely the focus of media producers or communication scholars. What research does get carried out involving older people’s media use is generally characterized by chronological life phase and generational perspectives, to some extent influenced by medicalised images of old age where ageing after the 60s gets correlated with a loss of intellectual and creative resources, a decline of social life and physical health, and with regard to media, a lack of literacy. With an empirical basis in age cohorts and focused on digital divides and generational gaps, such age-reifying perspectives tend to have little to say about how living with an abundance of media choices influence processes of ageing in later life, that is: how ageing in the media is experienced and done and how this taps into to the negotiations of the ages in the lifespan. In this paper, recently developed conceptualizations of polymedia, media life and mediatisation are deployed to capture how media today is intrinsically interwoven with our lives and its institutions. These perspectives are then coupled with approaches from the field of cultural gerontology in order to ask questions that critically explore the interactions between media life and processes of ageing. Cultural gerontology has emerged within the broader field of gerontology (from the 1990s onwards) as a critical humanistic approach to common sense understandings of the lifespan, of later life, and to the concept of ‘healthy ageing’. With its basis in life historical, phenomenological and discourse analytical perspectives and with a commitment to theory this type of research explores the meanings of ageing and their sources. From this interdisciplinary point of view it is further agued that perspectives are necessary on how media contribute to the construction of life phases - that is, perspectives which focus on the interaction between media, sense making, (inter-) subjectivity and ageing. The paper concludes with mapping the field for research on ageing and media, combining cultural gerontology with media (life and mediatisation) studies. Among other things it will be relevant to explore what motivates older people’s purchasing of technologies such as smart phones and (mobile) personal computers; what influences their choices of using interpersonal and social media within specific communicative situations, relationships and communities; and how different communicative and/or participatory media genres get selected for particular purposes.