PhD Graduate Guang Ying Mo and Professor Barry Wellman on Social Support Through Digital Media

January 23, 2019 by Nico Golinski

PhD Graduate Guang Ying Mo and Professor Barry Wellman, in collaboration with Professor Anabel Quan-Haase (University of Western Ontario), published an article in Information, Communication & Society. The article explores the role of digital media in developing social support and companionship among older adults. The authors argue that learning to use technology effectively can provide an important source of social support to older adults.

Guang Ying Mo obtained her PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 2015. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Ontario Telemedicine Network and her research focuses on social networks and innovation. Barry Wellman is a retired Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

We have posted the citation and the abstract of the article below. The full text is available through the University of Toronto Library Portal here.

Quan-Haase, Anabel, Guang Ying Mo, and Barry Wellman. 2017. "Connected Seniors: How Older Adults in East York Exchange Social Support Online and Offline." Information, Communication & Society, 20(7):967-986.

How do older adults mobilize social support, with and without digital media? To investigate this, we focus on older adults 65+ residing in the Toronto locality of East York, using 42 interviews lasting about 90 minutes done in 2013–2014. We find that digital media help in mobilizing social support as well as maintaining and strengthening existing relationships with geographically near and distant contacts. This is especially important for those individuals (and their network members) who have limited mobility. Once older adults start using digital media, they become routinely incorporated into their lives, used in conjunction with the telephone to maintain existing relationships but not to develop new ones. Contradicting fears that digital media are inadequate for meaningful relational contact, we found that these older adults considered social support exchanged via digital media to be real support that cannot be dismissed as token. Older adults especially used and valued digital media for companionship. They also used them for coordination, maintaining ties, and casual conversations. Email was used more with friends than relatives; some Skype was used with close family ties. Our research suggests that policy efforts need to emphasize the strengthening of existing networks rather than the establishment of interventions that are outside of older adults’ existing ties. Our findings also show that learning how to master technology is in itself a form of social support that provides opportunities to strengthen the networks of older adults.

Read the full article here.