Our Technologically Mediated Lives

Posted on: September 8, 2014

by Shelia Cotten

I feel very lucky to do what I do. I study technology use across the life course and the impacts of technology usage on health, social life, and educational outcomes. My research has involved thousands of elementary school children, hundreds of teachers, and thousands of older adults, not to mention a range of age groups across the life course. In some of my research I have worked with colleagues to train older adults who are in assisted and independent living communities to use computers and the Internet to improve their quality of life. Older adults are at higher risk of loneliness, social isolation, and depression than other age groups. Helping them connect to the Internet to communicate with others, find information, and overcome geographical and social boundaries has a range of positive impacts on their quality of life. I hope to extend this work with older adults in high poverty communities and those with specific types of health conditions.

Rather than focusing on older adults, I want to share with you some brief thoughts about technology use by and for others at the other end of the age spectrum. Here, I’m referring to infants, babies, and even the fetus and embryos prior to birth. Before a baby is born in today’s society, the baby’s digital life has already begun. Whether it is from ultrasound pictures, baby bumps, or pregnancy test photos that are stored on computers, mobile phones, or in the cloud, posted on Facebook, pregnancy progression websites, or emailed and forwarded to friends and family members, a myriad of information is conveyed about babies before they are even born. As babies are born, grow into infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and continue to progress through the life course, even more information is shared through a variety of technological platforms and applications.

In these early stages, much of the digital information is shared by parents, older siblings, other family members, and friends, with little to no knowledge of this by the child. We know that sharing digital information like this can enhance social support and social integration among social ties. However, we know little about the long-term effects of sharing this type of information on the youth as they progress through the life course. Privacy issues, identity creation and work, online safety and security, and the impacts on future development are only a few of the issues that we know little about in our technologically mediated world.

Given the rapidly changing technological world in which we live, we need more people to study not just what types of individuals are using various technologies or how they are using them, but also to focus on the impacts of technologies in general and as people move through the life course. By gaining an understanding of how different types of technology use affect our lives, hopefully we can begin to design interventions to improve quality of life for varying groups in our society.

Technology is constantly evolving and researchers are only in the infancy stage of understanding the impacts of technology use on individuals, groups, and our society more generally. I encourage others to think about ways to further our understanding of the impacts of our technologically mediated lives and how we can harness the power of technology to enhance health and well-being for everyone.

Examples of some of my research:
Shelia R. Cotten, George Ford, Sherry Ford, and Timothy M. Hale. Internet Use and Depression Among Retired Older Adults in the U.S.: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences, 69(5): 763-771, 2014. Doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbu018.

Shelia R. Cotten, Daniel Shank, and William Anderson. Gender, Technology Use and Ownership, and Media-Based Multitasking among Middle School Students. Computers in Human Behavior, 35: 99-106, 2014.

Shelia R. Cotten, William Anderson, Brandi McCullough. Impact of Internet Use on Loneliness and Contact with Others Among Older Adults: Cross-Sectional Analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(2): e39. http://www.jmir.org/2013/2/e39/. Doi: 10.2196/jmir.2306, 2013.

Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotten. No A 4 U: The Relationship Between Multitasking and Academic Performance. Computers & Education. 59(2): 505–514, 2012.

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