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East Yorkers' Network Structure, Relational Autonomy, and Digital Media Use

Sat, August 11, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, Franklin Hall 2


Networked individualism is a critical concept about the transition of societal shift from geographically bounded local groups to the contemporary network society comprised of sparse, permeable, and dynamic communication networks. The underlying assumption about networked individuals thus far in the literature is that they are at a younger age. There are fears that older adults have been left behind in this transition to networked individualism. In this study, we are the first to inquire to what extent—and in what ways—are older adults networked individuals. Using in-depth interviews with 41 older adults living in the East York area of Toronto, we used a combination of quantitative coding, thematic analysis, and individual profiling to analyze their social network structure, relational autonomy, and digital media use. Our findings render a rather complex and nuanced picture, showing three types of older adults along the spectrum of networked individualism: networked individuals, socially connected but not networked individuals, and socially constrained individuals. Although most participants are socially connected, those who are networked individuals actively manage and navigate multiple, diverse, and non-redundant social networks. Digital media use is neither necessary nor sufficient in qualifying a person as a networked individual as the great majority of East Yorkers—even if not networked individuals—integrate digital media into their everyday lives.