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Literature Review: Mass Communication and Older Generation

I. Introduction

A. Practice Effectiveness Question

My practice effectiveness question is whether traditional news outlets are being stereotyped for older adults, thus leading to both older and younger adults being not fully informed about the current events. This paper seeks to understand how the new methods of mass communication have affected the older generation as well as the stereotypes that the current mass media has about aging.

My interest in this research resulted from my experience with my neighbor whom I loved very much. He loved watching the news and listening to music. He was extremely interested in the mass media and wanted to know what was happening in the world. However, the current ways of news outlets made my neighbor change his behavior. He began feeling isolated and hated. At first, no one could understand why he was acting like that. However, as he was watching some TV shows with his family members, they came to understand his worries. The old man believed that the media was not for aging people. He considered that the media was the mirror to society. Consequently, what the media said about the old people was the reality in the society. He was sure that people perceived him as useless, unattractive, and careless.

All of a sudden, the old man’s behavior changed. He started looking for solutions that the media presented to make old people look young. He started to use chemicals that were said to remove wrinkles and make the skin smooth and young. One day, he went for plastic surgery secretly. Unfortunately, the old man went to the wrong hospital as he did not want it to be revealed. It was a new hospital that people hardly knew, and the doctor was not qualified. As a result, the surgery failed, and he developed serious problems. His skin was replaced with scale-like material. He had wounds and rashes everywhere, causing the man a lot of pain. He did not want to tell the truth, but the pain forced him to do so. His sons took him to a qualified hospital where he started the treatment. Unfortunately, normal skin could not be retrieved. The old man later died with bad skin. He was so bitter with the media that influenced him and other old people.

I was very sad when my neighbor died. Later, I got interested in understanding what the mass media was doing to the elderly in society. Therefore, I have decided that I will research the topic to examine how the attitudes and beliefs about the elderly in society are reflected in mass media.

B. Key Working Definitions

New media outlets are the methods of passing information through new technology. The mass media refers to the methods, such as radio, television, the Internet, movies, and cartoons, which are used to pass information to a large number of people. In the current world, news employs new methods that stereotype old people, leaving them with no means of getting information about current events (Henry& Heckaman, 1999). Human socialization and upbringing, personal experiences, and life outlook play a crucial role in how people view each other. Human beings are social animals who live in the media and commercial-driven society. Consequently, music, advertisements, movies, television shows, cartoons, and other forms of mass media affect the way people perceive the world around them, including views regarding aging. Mass media have integrated with our everyday life. Therefore, society absorbs sounds, impressions, and ideas that display the attitudes that people have toward aging. In addition, the media as the mirror to society reflect the values, morals, and stereotypes of the people. As a result, sexism and ageism are shown through the mass media (Vallocheril & Thorn, 1998).

II. Search Strategies

As a New York University student, I have the privilege of utilizing several databases from the university online database. I used EBSCO and BOBCAT. I started by searching ‘mass media and old age.’ I also searched for ‘misconceptions of the elderly in the media.’ As a result, I received more than 10,000 articles. However, I had to select peer-reviewed and book articles. So, I picked relevant journals and books on the topic. I managed to get all the information that I needed for the research. However, some of the journals and relevant books were not available in full text, only titles of the articles. Therefore, I decided to look for the books in the national library, where I managed to get several scholarly materials that were useful for my research.

III. Literature review

A. Introduction

Social media has been received differently by people of different age groups. Young adults have embraced new media and its aspects and are using it to change their lives. On the other hand, older adults have not fully accepted the new developments in new media, in particular, social media. This paper reviews literature on reasons why older adults have not embraced and utilized new media as compared to young adults who have been using different platforms.

B. Review of the Evidence

Social media has had an unbeatable impact “on the news industry, particularly news distribution. People online, now more than ever, are reading, monitoring, and most importantly sharing news on their mobile phones, with their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and with countless other social media digital tools.” The websites of social media have quickly become a powerful marketing tool, offering significant opportunities for brand and product managers, corporate communications executives, and customer support professionals (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001).

As Leist (2013) asserts, “while social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools.” The use of social networking among Internet users aged 50 and older has nearly doubled from 22% to 42% over the past year.

The most important benefit of social media is that it allows people to communicate easily. When you use social media sites for your business, it gives you an opportunity to magnify the conversation that surrounds your brand. “But one thing, you must be dedicated to the conversation and you need to devote your time to respond effectively and take it easy in selling your products or services” (Gil, et al., 2009).

Social media can be often attractive when our social contacts are online. Yet, many older adults lack online social contacts. For instance, Ms. M expressed interest in “all the things out there,” but “out of my friends, only a few have computers.” Consequently, this reduced her enthusiasm for going online. She explained that from her social circle, only a friend’s daughter uses Facebook (Williams & Gulati, 2007).

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Researches conducted on the view of older adults on computers showed that some of the older adults had a positive opinion of computers as compared to younger adults. Other researchers found that no difference existed between the attitudes of older and younger adults. It is undeniable that older adults are now embracing computers and technological changes in information delivery. With the advances in information technology, communication among people is now easy to manage, efficient, and affordable for everyone (Chen, 2002).

Different scholars have conducted numerous researches in an effort to understand how older adults perceive social media. In the previous research and literature review, it was clear that older adults had an adverse view on social media and networking. The associated social networks with unacceptable behaviors like cyberbullying. This supports the general public view that older adults have a negative view and understanding of social media. Their perception of this issue is that it helps cultivate unacceptable behaviors among the youth (Hayes, 2008).

Privacy seems to be the primary concern for older adults who seem to believe that younger people do not have a private life as social media make their lives public. One is left to wonder if young adults will have the same belief regarding the issue of privacy and social media when they grow older. With various educational practices on the concept, function, and relevance of social media to the lives of these individuals, it became apparent that they were, in fact, willing to take steps to engage in social media. This shows that the older generation does not have sufficient knowledge of different concepts and functions of social media, hence the misguided perception that media have a negative influence on the life of an individual. The issues of privacy and functions of social media are also solved as adults change their view after education on different aspects of social media (Boyd & Ellison, 2007).

The other key issue that comes when one compares the use of new media by older and young adults is how these people utilize information. It is evident from the previous situations that young adults have fully embraced new media. During the 2008 and 2009 elections in the United States of America, social media played a crucial role in the political campaigns. This was the time when politicians recognized the power of social media and employed social media platforms to voice their issues. Presidential aspirants embraced social media as a powerful tool to reach the youth who play a vital role in choosing the best candidate. The decision to use social media was conceived from the amount of time that young adults spent online. It is difficult to find young adults reading newspapers or watching the news on TV. The youth find everything that they require online either through their phones or computers. On the other hand, older adults use TVs and print media like newspapers to get information regarding various issues. Social media give people a chance to have an interpersonal experience with political issues. Consequently, through social media, the youth and older adults who have embraced new media have an opportunity to become close and personal with others with the same interest in politics. Through various platforms, people are able to voice and share their political views without the hindrance of traditional media.

It is clear that the recent influx of politicians’ interest in social media was the result of the need to have self-efficacy and political involvement by different parties. This explains the reasons why politicians resorted to the new media platform where they could be involved in various matters with the youth (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001). The older adults, on the other hand, missed the opportunity to inform their politicians about various issues affecting them because they were not involved in different platforms of new media. Young adults were vibrant during the campaigns as they took part in different contributions and criticism of political figures on various media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs (Wang, et al., 2011).

Privacy is not the only issue that hinders older adults from fully embracing social media. The research shows that age is a key factor in the ability of an individual to process information, hold memories, and remember things. Therefore, young adults are more empowered in terms of information processing as compared to older adults. These two groups have different processing capacities that may explain the reasons for different engagement in social media. The latter entails a lot of information where one deals with another person on different levels (Henry & Heckaman, 1999). Young adults have time and memory capacity to engage in different activities related to social media. On the other hand, older adults lack these abilities. Researches show that matters regarding environmental support would show a smaller difference between young and older adults as compared to things that require cognitive processes. This can explain the reasons why younger people have more preference for things that require cognitive processes, while adults focus on things that require less processing like radio, TV, and audio. The self-initiated process seen in print media is common among young adults because memory recall is higher among this group. However, this is not the case with older adults who lack the recall and self-initiated process that the youth have. Consequently, young adults can engage in social media better than older adults as self-initiated processes help them recall various aspects of the content. Audio and visual contents do not require recall; therefore, adults find it challenging to initiate processes that involve it (Wang et al., 2011).

Different life stages have various implications for an individual, and they are marked by different activities that force the individual to act in a certain way. People gather information around them and apply them to different issues. This determines how they utilize things surrounding them. Young adults are at the life stage when they are shifting from the childhood experiences and images of self to initiation of sex roles, developing future roles and establishing close relationships with others around them (Gonzalez, et al., 2012). This requires a lot of information to help them through the transition process. Therefore, news media are a crucial tool in their socialization cycle. College students, for example, utilize social media in various ways. These groups of people are in need of information, and they employ it to help them through different life stages. They engage in different platforms that assist them in advancing their careers, personal lives, and social interaction. This exposes them to various concepts that will help them better their lives (Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010).

Access to new media also explains the disparity in the use of social media between young and older adults. Many people think of social media as the use of the Internet, web blogs, chat rooms, emails, newspapers, and web cameras. The availability of computers and smartphones that allow people to interact through social media is no longer an issue. The prices of these equipment are now affordable. However, one may note that there is an enormous gap in the utilization of these resources. Young adults are at the forefront of the employment of the devices. Older adults lag behind in the use of the Internet and social media. The research shows that 95 percent of young adults utilize computers and access the Internet. It also shows that the same number of youth owns personal computers or smartphones that allow them to access social media. The results also display that only one in three adults utilizes the Internet, while most of the youth access the Internet at different times of the day (Xie, et al., 2012).

The two theories that explain the effect of media on aging are the cultivation theory and the social learning theory. According to the social learning theory, young people are greatly affected by what they hear, see, and learn from the media. According to Vallocheril and Thorn (1998), young people imitate or copy what they hear or see what other people do (Henry & Heckaman, 1999). On the same note, the cultivation theory argues that mass media are capable of shaping perceptions of society. The media has many images that make people change what they think concerning particular matters. In the media, the majority of people portrayed are young, belonging to either the upper or middle class. This clearly indicates that we live in a society that is youth-oriented. Society today fears death and aging in a similar way as if they were the same thing. In the media today, it is less likely to have older adults being portrayed realistically. Therefore, the reality about them gradually disappears, leaving society with what the media tells about aging (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001).

Media use stereotypes for all religions, cultures, ages, and races. According to Vallocheril and Thorn (1998), stereotypes refer to the presentation of people on the basis of their cultures, sexes, nations, religions, and ethnic groups. There are many stereotypes in mass media such as televisions, cartoons, comics, the Internet, and movies. For instance, in the Internet cartoon known as “Honesty on the Internet,” two elderly persons are presented in their underclothes, with a computer, chatting with each other. The shape of the old man and woman in the cartoon is discouraging (Vallocheril & Thorn, 1998). In this cartoon, the bodies and faces of the old people are totally distorted. The two cartoon characters representing the old people are lying to each other. The cartoon implies that the woman told the man that she was a model. He is impressed by this fact, so he says that he participates in the speed boat race. Consequently, the cartoon suggests that old people are not genuine. They have to lie to remain relevant and attractive to other people. On the same note, the cartoon suggests that the old people are careless eaters as shown by means of the cigarette and junk food on their table. There are many bottles of beer around them too, indicating that they are drunkards. The media, in this case, portray a bad image of old people. The audience is made to believe that old people are bad and careless (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001).

In the 1970s, there was a rare representation of the elderly in the media. According to the survey conducted in 1978, only 3.7 percent of 90,000 television shows had elderly characters. However, the little percentage portrayed the elderly as unhappy, unattractive, and ineffective (Delloff, 1987). In the famous television show known as “All in the Family,” which was aired in that decade, the two main characters were Edith and Archie. The couple was presented as tired, unhappy, and bored of life. On the contrary, their daughter Gloria is presented as a happily married woman who enjoys life with her husband. Therefore, the media portrayed the old people in a negative way. The comparison in this show indicated that the young were more accustomed to fashionable issues as compared to the elderly people who were ridged. The old were conservative and unwilling to accept changes of modernity. On the same note, another show of the 1970s which portrayed the elderly as fake and unattractive was “Son and Sanford.” Sanford Fred, one of the main characters in the show, was old. He was presented as a manipulator of other people. “Maude” show was the first in the 1970s to present the elderly as good people. It presented old people as kind, generous, and wise (Vallocheril & Thorn, 1998).

In the 1980s, there was more presentation of the elderly in the mass media. More and more shows were aired with endless stereotypes and attitudes toward the elderly. Unfortunately, most of the shows presented the old people as stubborn and impatient. In one of the famous television shows entitled “The Golden Girls,” old women were portrayed as wise but stubborn and careless. The young generation was made to dislike the old people as they were seen as useless: they made little contribution to the economy and everyday life since they were just consumers. There were some of the shows in the mass media, such as “Cocoon,” which promoted the importance of friendship as people grew old and demonstrated how to remain healthy during the old age. From the 1990s, the presentation of the elderly people in the media increased (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001). Unfortunately, the elderly were continuously presented as stupid, unreasonable, stubborn, careless, and evil. In most African mass media shows, old women were presented as witches. African movies showed old people as evil and wicked. Furthermore, nowadays, media are full of advertisements on the importance of looking young. There are many remedies employed to reduce wrinkles and look young forever. In fact, plastic surgery which had been seen for many years as embarrassment is nowadays a good thing. Media encourage old people to do everything possible so that they can look young and attractive. Media associate youthfulness with smartness, attractiveness, and intelligence, while the old age is the opposite of that. Therefore, old people who can afford it use chemical treatments, exercises, surgeries, and other solutions that the media impose so that they can remain relevant (Henry& Heckaman, 1999).

IV. Discussion and Implications

New media have brought many changes to the way people communicate, interact, and deal with various aspects of their lives. Different issues are associated with new media. Age appears to be the key factor in determining the view of people on social media. This new platform opens numerous opportunities for individuals. However, not everyone has been able to embrace this new wave of communication and interaction. There is a huge gap between how young and older people view different platforms of new media. The number of older adults who utilize new technology for communication is low. However, this is not the case for young adults. They have fully embraced new media and do many things using various concepts of the platform to make communication and personal life easier (Morgan & Kunkel, 2001). Many stereotypes seek to explain the gap that exists in the utilization of social media by the youth and older adults. It is clear from various researches conducted on the issue that the lack of education on various issues regarding social media is the root cause of this disparity. The other reason may be the ability of people of different age groups to process information. It is important to educate older adults in various ways that can be useful for them in terms of embracing new media and utilizing the opportunities that arise. By doing so, the gap between older and young adults will decrease. Older adults will finally get to understand the importance of social media in communication, marketing, branding, and interaction with other people from their social circle.

The elderly use mass media more than young people. It is unfortunate that media have negative attitudes, stereotypes, and misconceptions toward the elderly. The latter spend hours listening and watching the same media that have little good things for them, thus affecting them very much. Firstly, the elderly feel bad for becoming old. They start wishing they never grew old. This makes them regret their age instead of enjoying a life that they have loved. Secondly, they feel hated and unaccepted by young people. Consequently, they are forced to believe that they are useless and unattractive. As a result, they are likely to get psychological disorders such as depression, moods disorders, and stress. Due to the negative attitudes, the elderly are forced to accept the solutions that might make them look young.

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