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Interruption events and sensemaking processes: A narrative analysis of older people's relationships with computers

This thesis provides a situated understanding of the ways in which the reality of a new technology is socially constructed. In particular, it examines how members of the aged interpretive community made sense of the computer as an interruption event, a technology not yet routinised as part of their everyday taken-for-granted reality, and needing to be consciously considered and evaluated to make it understandable. Members' sensemaking is studied as a narrative process in which meaning is produced by drawing on a repertoire of narratives, evaluating and developing localised responses to those narratives for the purpose of action taking. Two hundred and four participants over the age of 55 years, recruited predominantly from senior citizens' and SeniorNet organisations in the North Island of New Zealand, were interviewed in 28 focus groups over an eighteen month period between September 2001 and May 2003. Participants were categorised according to their self-identified membership of one of three groups: computer users affiliated to SeniorNet member organisations; computer users without SeniorNet organisational affiliation; and non-computer-users. Their computer-related stories were analysed using narrative analysis to identify and map the similar and different ways in which they constructed computers and themselves in relation to computers, in the stories they told. The research findings from this interpretive study augment the largely functionalist literature on older people and computers and provide insights not identified in previous studies. In particular, the findings indicate that participants identified a common meaning for the computer as actually or potentially useful for older people, but their meanings also varied according to their membership of one of the three participant groups, with SeniorNet members tending to identify the computer as an opportunity; Users, as a tool; and Nonusers, as a threat. Participants' meanings were traced through a storying process that identified three narrative elements as key: the settings in which accounts of the principal protagonists older people and computers were produced; the strength of the narrator's identification with old stories and values; and the ways in which the narrators oriented to the computer in the context of other technologies and events, or in isolation from them. The study makes a contribution to knowledge by enhancing understanding of older people's relationships with computers, through a micro level investigation of their experiences with, and meanings for, the technology. In addition, by identifying and explicating the processes through which the ongoing reality of a new technology is constructed and negotiated, and compared and contrasted in relation to three separate sub-groups of the one demographic population, the study contributes to social construction of technology theory. The study also makes a contribution to practice by showing how the alignment of old stories and new stories is a crucial component in the process for enabling those new to a technology to negotiate an appropriate placement for it, and how such alignment can be influenced by age-peer groups and the imperatives of inter-generational family communication.
Type of thesis
Richardson, M. A. (2006). Interruption events and sensemaking processes: A narrative analysis of older people’s relationships with computers (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2626
The University of Waikato
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