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Visible Pathways: A Life Course Perspective on Technology Use and Relationship Reconnection

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Title: Visible Pathways: A Life Course Perspective on Technology Use and Relationship Reconnection
Author(s): Quinn, Kelly A.
Advisor(s): Papacharissi, Zizi
Contributor(s): Jones, Steve; Johnson, Timothy P.; Meraz, Sharon; Muramatsu, Naoko
Department / Program: Communication
Graduate Major: Communication
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago
Degree: PhD, Doctor of Philosophy
Genre: Doctoral
Subject(s): midlife social network sites internet users life course social reconnection relationship processes
Abstract: Research on internet communication technologies by midlife and older adults has received less attention than the young, yet rapid gains in the use internet media suggest older adults have become significant users. Adoption of specific applications has emerged in patterns distinct from younger users, reflecting the different experiences and attitudes that older users bring to these media. This research explores the unique approaches midlife adults bring to the use of email and social network sites, and examines their use in maintaining and regenerating relationships. In doing so, this work adds to scholarship on the communication practices of midlife adults, and also on how specific communication technologies are utilized at different life phases. The life course perspective considers an individual’s social and historical contexts, network of relationships, and timing of important events, such as the incorporation of the internet into everyday life, to explain differences in life outcomes. This study employs a mixed methods approach to examine the intersection of the life course and internet use. The first research phase employs statistical comparisons of cohorts of younger, midlife and older adult internet users to surface trends and patterns; the second research phase analyzes interview data to elaborate and illustrate these trends at midlife. A heightened temporal attentiveness tied to the recognition of life’s finitude creates pervasive awareness of how specific technologies are perceived and used by midlife adults. Tension between identity expression and privacy arises online and midlife adults rely on prior experience to navigate this process, using social strategies rather than technological interventions as boundary management tools. Interpersonal connection is the primary driver of internet communication at midlife, and characteristics such as contextual search and asynchronicity invite and support the reconnection of dormant relationships in novel and significant ways. Reconnection of lapsed ties at midlife illustrates a use divergent from that of young persons. Reconnection with truly dormant ties is rare for young people: shorter life spans mean fewer opportunities to experience these events, but because these technologies—designed to maintain weaker forms of connection—are introduced at earlier points in life, they may never be experienced by the young.
Issue Date: 2012-12-10
Genre: thesis
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Kelly Quinn
Date Available in INDIGO: 2012-12-10
Date Deposited: 2012-05

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