Information InFiltration. Your blender for art, dissent, media, tech culture. Puree to taste.

front page???E.A.Dobbsreview-a-rama

secret room upstairsFilterItYourselfwhatever
[- Social Software & Senior Citizens
By SophiaRawlinson, Section guest host history
Posted on Mon Oct 27th, 2003 at 01:14:04 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
As part of my MA dissertation, I discussed what I thought social software was, and attempted to create a prototype new media scheme for senior citizens.


[ --------------------------------------------- ]

Most projects I came across throughout my research focused on taking a group of people not familiar with new technology and introducing them to computer programs, digital photography etc. whereas my project aimed to provide a service for those already familiar with new technologies. In general, social software seems to either conjure up ideas concerning helping others to communicate efficiently and/or creating software that is easier to use - an idea that was met with some scepticism by older people I discussed this with. What I would like to discuss really is others perceptions on what constitutes social software, and in what ways can this software be implemented - with particular reference to older adults using new technologies.

[editor's note, by TreborScholz] Link added for those who will not go deep down into the comments

[ --------------------------------------------- ]

Social Software & Senior Citizens | 10 comments
[new] other approaches to social software (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#9)
by amy on Fri Oct 31st, 2003 at 10:28:25 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

hi sophia! i'm curious about your thoughts on "social software" in relation to others' approaches to that term. for example, matthew fuller's discussion of "social software" in Behind the Blip: Software as Culture. or the work in social software by De Waag and Sarai? do you feel that these approaches to the topic are addressing the idea of "social software" in ways that mesh with your work - and/or do you see distinctions?

on an unrelated topic - in your essay you discuss websites that are designed in ways that seniors often find off-putting or difficult to navigate. i'm curious whether you find these issues also arise in print media? for example, magazines in the style of "wired", i'd imagine might also suffer these problems. (while wired itself is of course difficult to navigate for most age groups. :-) )

# begin amy's sig
-- Discordia is nice.
# end amy's sig

[new] Essay (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#8)
by SophiaRawlinson on Thu Oct 30th, 2003 at 12:41:28 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

A shorter essay (microsoft word file) on my project has been uploaded to

[new] simple interfaces etc. (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#7)
by SophiaRawlinson on Wed Oct 29th, 2003 at 01:01:11 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

With regards to "simpler, unified interfaces" and the popularity of the email list, the email phone seems to be an alternative offered to older adults, it is currently being introduced into UK residential care homes (there is an article on the BBC about this scheme here.)
I agree that there is an important issue of perception too. Many senior citizens I spoke to felt they did not need to be treated any differently from anyone else, and the idea that older people are not used to modern technologies is not necessarily true - as one person on the forum pointed out: "who invented them in the first place?"

[new] define old(er)? (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#5)
by Aileen on Tue Oct 28th, 2003 at 06:09:03 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

"Older adults using new technologies" - since some of these words have been rattling around in my head, please allow me to tell you the story of how my bank turned me into an old woman:
It used to be pleasant to take a short walk to the bank occasionally, where friendly and competent human beings greeted me by name, understood what I needed, and could even tell me that my husband had already been there (this is not a machine-readable connection, it requires human insight). Then the bank decided to "modernize".
The friendly humans disappeared into back rooms somewhere and the hall was filled with shiny little terminals, with which customers could take care of everything themselves, and these apparently cloned beings in the form of pretty young women in mini-skirted business suits and snappy young men in shiny new ties.
Enter me: since my hair started turning grey long before I was thirty, it is quite conspicuously grey now, especially when I have it securely pinned up out of the way. Although my vision has not improved with age, I have worn thick glasses and had difficulty focusing on my environment since I was 8. I don't dress well - I spend 10-12 hours a day pounding words into a keyboard and staring at a screen, it doesn't matter what I wear. Thus I was immediately identified my a mini-skirted clone as an "older woman" and she had been programmed to expect that "older women" are timid about using "new technology" and require reassuring guidance. I'm afraid I bit her head off, so she was replaced the next time by another clone with a shiny new tie.
These "modern" terminals at the bank are allegedly designed to be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Since I have never seen anyone in a wheelchair using one, I have no idea whether that works are not. I do know that they are next to impossible to operate for someone who is tall and doesn't see very well. The combination of the height, the lighting, the angle and the silly cartoon-like icons on a framed touchscreen leaves me fumbling helplessly, obviously in need of assistance.
I never saw myself as someone reluctant to use "new technologies" before, in fact I have always liked machines and enjoyed experimenting with them, and despite what my children think, I didn't see myself as "old" before - I'm not even 50. But somehow the "modernization" of my bank turned me into an "older woman in need of assistance".
Software, hardware - or the whole constellation of technology and expectations?

[new] silver lining (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#4)
by GabrielPickard on Tue Oct 28th, 2003 at 04:37:46 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

To my experience, older adults will tend more to viewing the computer as one unit. They prefer hard- and software that seems streamlined (their love of laptops is almost legendary). So i would see one of the tasks of social software as broadly trying to satisfy this need for simpler, unified interfaces - and at the same time trying to ensure that the whole endeavor does not go down the drain of streamlining, and all the horrors that may follow (corporate control, streamlined content etc.). That's hard enough. But i really do think it's necessary - and it should involve the hardware. Have you ever seen a person move a mouse with two hands? I have. g*

[new] More Info (Avg. Score: 2.00 / Raters: 1) (#2)
by MyronTurner ( on Mon Oct 27th, 2003 at 04:44:40 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

I realize you would like to get us to give you some of our un-influenced ideas. But I agree with Gabriel. It would be helpful if you'd give us some of the conclusions you reached in your research or perhaps some direction.

But maybe I can just get the ball rolling:

One very common tool that people of all ages use, which would apply to older adults, is the email list, which is straight-forward and easy to learn to use. I know that older adults do use them.

Another, possibly more intimidating format, is the Wikki, which combines some of the interactivity of a chat room or email list with the greater commitment, flexibility and permanence of a web site. I've never participated in one myself, but it seems to me to be an attractive format for people willing to invest the time into creating a web site out of their conversations.

[new] just a dumb question (Avg. Score: 1.00 / Raters: 2) (#1)
by GabrielPickard on Mon Oct 27th, 2003 at 03:51:33 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

can the dissertation, or any related material be viewed anywhere... or did i miss something (because i' sleepy)?


  • URL by SophiaRawlinson, 10/27/2003 04:45:27 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME (3.00 / 1)
[new] Social Software (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#10)
by SophiaRawlinson on Fri Oct 31st, 2003 at 11:42:16 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

I think Fuller's ideas for social software seem to focus more on software that is critical of itself and software development issues, but may not necessarily be more 'user-friendly' - much like the work of Sarai and The Waag. In my project, I aimed to work towards more 'user-friendly' interfaces for senior citizens, along the lines of work by Sarai and the Waag; although it certainly would have been interesting to develop some sort of conceptual work based on Fuller's definitions of social software in his essay.
I suggest the idea of the collaborative interface, as one such way to increase usability - an example being the Wiki (as previously mentioned by Myron Turner) - a democratic form of web publishing & editing. The artist group Knowbotic Research develop collaborative interfaces using both software and hardware.

So far, most critical software I have come across is in the realm of 'net art' - if anyone knows of any other examples, I would be interested to hear about them. Also, critical writing on social software seems to be thin on the ground - in my essay I spoke mainly of Kittler, Fuller and Manovich - are there any other critical thinkers that can be applied to social software issues?
I agree that usability issues may also occur in general information design, including print publications, for example.
I am happy to email my dissertation, which discusses these ideas further, to anyone who is interested.

Social Software & Senior Citizens | 10 comments

[- how to post and vote
[- faq (discordia q&a)
[- faq en español
[- search
[- send feedback

[- sick of english?
[- multi-lingual babelfilter

[- Username
[- Password

Make new account >>

Stories, articles, images and comments are owned by the Author. The Rest © 2003 The Discordants under the Gnu Public License

submit story | create account | faq | search