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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Digital social interaction in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic Sin, Frances JiHae


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults have been encouraged to stay indoors and isolated, leading to potential disruptions in their social activities and interpersonal relationships. We conducted an interview study (N=24) to examine older adults' technology adoption and communication practices in light of new circumstances related to the pandemic. Our interviews revealed that the pandemic motivated many older adults to learn new technology and become more tech-savvy in an effort to stay connected with others. However, they also reported challenges related to the pandemic that were major impediments to technology adoption. These were: (1) lack of access to in-person technology support under physical distancing mandates, (2) lack of opportunities for online participation due to negative age stereotypes and assumptions, and (3) increased apprehension to seek help from family members and friends who were suffering from pandemic-related stresses. This study extends technology adoption literature and contributes an up-to-date examination of the "grey digital divide" (the gap between older adults who use technology and those who do not). Our findings demonstrate that despite the rapidly increasing number of tech-savvy seniors, a digital divide not only persists, but has been exacerbated by the transition to virtual-only offerings. We reveal the challenges and coping strategies of older adults who remain separated from technology, and propose actionable solutions to increase digital access during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

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