Last week I followed, briefly, the suggestions shared via the hashtag #Selfisolationhelp, on how to keep in touch with distant relatives, during the Covid19 crisis. By and large, the comments discussed different uses of digital technology to stay in touch with relatives and friends; with a great many of these focusing on older citizens, for whom Covid19 presents a very significant health risk.
Following the #Selfisolationhelp discussion on Twitter reminded me of a research project by my former colleagues, and co-authors, Sarah Quinton and Rebecca Pera, investigating how older consumers use photo sharing on social media. They have recently published the findings from their research, in the journal Psychology & Marketing, in a paper entitled “I am who I am: Sharing photos on social media by older consumers and its influence on subjective well-being” (paid access).
Sarah and Rebecca focused on photo use, as research indicates that older users of social media engage more with photos than text-based content. Together with Gabriele Baima, Rebecca and Sarah, conducted individual and group interviews. They found that the activity of sharing photos on social media played a very important role in the well-being of these social media users, in the ways outlined below.
They used photos to reinforce their identity and communicate their personality, for instance, as someone who makes others laugh. However, they tended to post few selfies, because they felt younger than the image in the photos.
Positive relations with others
Sharing photos was an important tool for creating and reinforcing bonds with others, and helped to develop the ‘connective tissue for relationships’ (p. 11). However, they could also lead to the dissolution of friendships, for instance if a third-party shared a photo without permission.
While the research participants appreciated getting positive feedback on the images shared (e.g., a like on Facebook), they reported that anticipated social approval did not determine what they shared.
Learning how to use the technology hadn’t been easy. The research participants talked about tears and frustration. However, learning how to use these platforms had created new opportunities, and made things easier (e.g., communication).
Purpose in life
These users felt that sharing photos allowed them to connect with the world beyond their immediate interests. It allowed them to connect with others around difficult topics, and to be part of larger conversations.
Sharing photos on social media also created many opportunities for continuing learning and to develop new skills – for instance, using the technology, taking photos, or about the topic featured in the photos themselves.
Obviously, when this project was conducted, Covid19 had not made the news, and no one could imagine that many people would be encouraged or required to self-isolate. So, these findings refer to routine use of social media, rather than use during a difficult, confusing time. Nonetheless… who knows? Maybe encouraging your older relatives to post photos on social media, and to interact with other users’ photos could help make their isolation that little bit less painful, and give them a sense of purpose.
Sending you all my very best wishes for this difficult period.