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Producing the digital inclusion of older adults

Coordination :
Géraldine Goulinet-Fité (Laboratoire MICA, Université Bordeaux Montaigne – ggoulinet-fite[at]france-assos-sante.org)
Christophe Humbert (PSInstitut/Laboratoire Dyname, Université de Strasbourg – humbert.chr[at]gmail.com)
Hervé Levilain (Laboratoire 2L2S, Université de Lorraine – herve.levilain[at]univ-lorraine.fr)

Contact :
RSS Editorial Board <rss[at]misha.fr>

The issue will be published second semester of 2023
– Submission of abstracts and keywords in French and English (4,000 characters, including spaces) by March 1st 2022. Abstracts should mention the axis on which the proposal is aligned, the title, the underlying theoretical approach, empirical data, field work and methodology. Abstracts should also include a select bibliography (not included in the 4,000 characters) and a short bio-bibliographical note on the author(s).

– Submission of articles in French or English (40,000 characters, spaces included) before September 1st 2022. Articles will receive 2 anonymous expert reviews.

– Authors are requested to comply with the journal’s presentation guidelines:
<https://journals.openedition.org/revss/448>.

Referring to people’s age or to their generation (for instance, Generation Z or millennials) is often used as an obvious explanation for their relation to digital technology to account for the dexterity and ease shown by the younger generations who were “born with it” or, inversely, to explain why it is so difficult for the older generations, who have only been confronted with this late in life, to appropriate digital technology. The fact is that for most older people, using digital technology is not easy, though we should not forget that some seniors put a lot of effort into discovering technology and make active and positive use of it. In an increasingly digitalized society, older adults’ uneasy relationship with technology seems to be a major concern in attempts to reduce the risk of “exclusion,” “a feeling of forsakenness,” or the “digital divide,” as 27% of people over 60 never use the internet (Petits Frères des Pauvres 2018). Today the concern over the place and the use of technology in society is relatively common. It manifests itself in different shapes, including in scripts (Akrich 1986) that are deposited in digital objects, in their design and their ergonomic characteristics, and, on the users’ side, in the shape of a more or less diffuse work on the way these objects are equipped and the gestures that apply to their use, and which is provided not only by institutions, organizations, and professionals, but also by family members. From this perspective inclusion becomes an ineluctable necessity, a superior common value or principle that guides public action and policies, professional approaches, as well as the ordinary actors who attempt to give someone access to digital technology (for instance by offering a cellphone to a family member), to make them do things (for instance by sending them a link) or to help them do things with it (for instance by showing them how to send a text message).This is the perspective from which the present call for papers proposes to apprehend digital technology as a “sociotechnical revolution” that imposes a new format for a great number of practices.

From social networks to dating apps, from ecommerce—with BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store) or curb-side pickup—to online administration, from using a search engine to managing one’s personal data, from using cellphones to take and send pictures and MMS messages to face-time with family members, from the smartphone to robots and digitalized health services, it seems pertinent to state that the logic of digital technology allows it to reach far beyond its specific uses and to be deployed in a number of systems (websites and digital kiosks), practical operations (stating and paying one’s taxes), and objects (smartphones, computers, etc.). As we see it, in old age digital inclusion is not conceived as a state or a fixed characteristic, but as a social activity that is carried out through a work of mediation or intermediation and aims to accompany older people who are “going digital.”

This Call for Papers is part of the reflections and presentations held by the group who worked on the theme “Modern technology and the inclusive society” during the 6th international conference REIACTIS of 2020 entitled “Social Inclusion and Old Age.” Contributions should be aligned on any of the following three axes:

1. Public action and the production of digital inclusion

Far from being a misunderstood and ignored question, inclusion has become the main focus of a variety of public actions that propose different ways to accompany people in what has undoubtedly entailed major transformations in contemporary society. Despite its limitations (Boullier 2016), the expression “digital divide,” which is widely used in public action and in politics, reminds us that the question of technology has become all the more crucial with administrations in France increasingly using the internet for their procedures, an increase in online trading (with its inevitable effects on local businesses), and with the networks which used to constitute sociability now often functioning through the interference of social media. This is one of the examples given by the French Ombudsperson (le Défenseur des Droits) who in their 2019 report complained about the “digital hell” caused by the dematerialization of public services. Public authorities are indeed becoming aware of the need to reduce the digital divide and have for the past ten years issued recommendations and action plans to ensure the inclusion of older adults. In 2011 the White Paper “Seniors and interactive tablets” suggested providing specific systems for the use of tablets. While in 2013 the report of the National Council on Technology (Conseil National du Numérique, CNNUM) entitled “Citizens of a digital society” took a more ergonomic approach, and while the 2015 digital strategy also suggested supporting training and digital mediation to accompany the use of digital technology, recognizing that people who are not connected are socially, culturally and economically marginalized.

For this first axis we invite contributions that question both the way public action complicates and constructs the question of the “digital divide” (or “digital inclusion”), as well as the answers that are proposed by local actors in the shape of systems (digital mediation and intermediation). We will take a particular interest in papers that focus on the relations between the dematerialization of public services and inclusion through technology.

2. Digital technology from the perspective of old age

The second axis aims to examine the ways in which technology in its different shapes comes to occupy a space in people’s lives, accompanying key moments in their existence and inscribing itself into the ecosystem of life. Here, rather than attributing a form of passivity to the users of technology when it comes to technological objects or relating the use of these objects to affinities and fixed competences, contributions can also describe the ways in which users appropriate these tools, integrating or shifting their usage according to situations and contexts of use, or to key moments in their existence. Bobillier Chaumon and Ciobanu (2009) describe four factors that are at work to explain the way seniors will adopt ICT: the importance of the social network, the usefulness attributed to digital tools, and personal and experiential factors, which allows for digital practices to be integrated in a life project.

At the same time, after attempting to draw a profile of non-users, the sociology of non-use tends to base its investigations on listening to how non-users describe their “non-practice,” more specifically the systems of representation, models and references that are constructed and brought to bear, and which underlie the decisions and actions of non-use (Boutet, Trémembert 2009). We could assume, for instance, that the lockdown situation linked to the recent Covid-19 epidemic has led to an increased use of social networks and mobile telephoning, just as we could propose that the use of digital technology is likely to vary according to which time in a person’s existence it occurs (Caradec 1999), and this not only with reference to events on a personal level or to identity, but also with reference to changes in the life of family members, which require a reconfiguration of usage in order to maintain the bond. Contributions can also focus on the place of digital technology in the “life reorganization process” (Clément, Mantonvani 1999), as it appears at key moments in life, or as a response to a transformation in the environment (closure of local businesses, lockdown, absence or decease of family members, etc.). We will specifically welcome studies that examine the context of use, misuse and non-use (or renunciation), and the support brought by family members (children, grandchildren) to allow the digital conversion and/or accompany its uses in the context of family (ICT), of daily use (ecommerce) or bureaucratic purposes (online administrative services).

For many people the “last years of long life” are the time when they pass from the third to the fourth age, which is one of loss, deficiency and poly-pathological developments (Lalive d’Épinay, Guilley 2004). Contributions can therefore also look at how as part of their “sick person’s work” (Strauss et al., 1982), older adults in situations of vulnerability or dependance are brought to use, misuse or not use digital technology for their health and autonomy (online healthcare, online assistance, online consultations, etc.), and how they are accompanied by social and health professionals or family members, from the same perspective of a “production of digital inclusion.”

3. Users and their experiences: script and inclusion

The third axis invites papers that describe the processes by which age-related issues are introduced and are taken into account in the conception of digital tools, or in their adjustment to supposed or observed specificities of this age group. Complementary to the preceding two axes, the idea is here to question the ways in which inclusion aims to be realized, and how it is integrated into digital systems. Contributions could therefore take an interest in the ways in which the “script” of digital tools takes into account how they can be used by “older people.” Indeed, this script represents

the designer’s technological conception and realization of his perspective on the necessary relations between the object and the actor who needs to use it, and which presents itself as a predetermination of the scenarios which users are invited to imagine through the technological tool and its instructions (user guide, contract, suggestions for use, etc.) (Akrich, 2006).

Bibliographie

Beyond discussing the generic design (phones with large touch screens, simplified version OS, etc.) contributions could also focus on the integration of these systems in people’s living environment (adjustment of the functions, adaptation to the person’s body or home) or on discussions of experiences (forums) that uncover all the plasticity that characterizes innovation (Flichy, 2003). This axis also aims to welcome papers that deal with the appropriation of digital systems and tools by their users. The production of digital inclusion can indeed also be seen as a process that escapes the grasp of designers, notably through “diversions of use” (Akrich 1998). This could entail analyzing social relations that are built around digital tools, and which can produce inclusion, or not.

Akrich M. (1998), « Les utilisateurs, acteurs de l’innovation », Éducation permanente, 134, p. 79-90, <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00082051>.

Akrich M. (2006), La description des objets techniques, in Akrich M., Callon M., Latour B. (éds), Sociologie de la traduction. Textes fondateurs, Paris, Presses de l’école des Mines, p. 253-265, <https://books.openedition.org/pressesmines/1197>.

Bobillier Chaumon M.E., Ciobanu R.O. (2009), « Les nouvelles technologies au service des personnes âgées : Entre promesses et interrogations : une revue de questions », Psychologie Française, 54, 3, p. 271-285.

Boullier D. (2016), Sociologie du Numérique, Paris, Armand Colin.

Boutet A., Trémembert J. (2009), « Mieux comprendre les situations de non-usages des TIC. Le cas d'internet et de l'informatique : Réflexions méthodologiques sur les indicateurs de l'exclusion dite numérique », Les Cahiers du numérique, 5, 1, p. 69-100.

Conseil National du Numérique (2013), Citoyens d’une société numérique : pour une nouvelle politique d’inclusion – rapport, <https://cnnumerique.fr/nos-travaux/inclusion-numerique>.

Clément S., Mantovani J. (1999), « Les déprises en fin de parcours de vie », Gérontologie et société, 90, p. 95-108.

Flichy P. (2003), L’innovation technique, Paris, La Découverte.

Lalive d’Épinay Christian, Guilley Edith (2004), « Les dernières années de longues vies. L'incapacité lourde constitue-t-elle aujourd'hui la dernière étape de la vie ? », Gérontologie et société, 27, 110, p. 121-129.

Petits Frères des Pauvres (2018), L’exclusion numérique des personnes âgées – rapport, <https://www.petitsfreresdespauvres.fr/media/332/download/2018_10_01_Rapport_exclusion_numerique_personnes_agees_pfP.pdf?v=2&inline=1>.

Strauss A., Fagerhaugh S., Suczek B., Wiener C. (1982), «The work of hospitalized patients», Social Science and Medicine, 16, p. 977-986.

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