Prosumers: Older Adults as Digital Content Generators

Written by Dennis Kappen


Futurologist Alvin Toffler coined the term Prosumer in his book the Third Wave (1980), when he predicted that the role of producers and consumers would begin to blur and merge. Personalization, mass customization and social media have lead to the “prosumption” of   digital media content on the web. Ubiquitous technologies and pervasive computing has additionally furthered the proliferation of “prosumption” on the web.

Reference Information

Jenny, W., Frank, V., Sonja, P., Lars, K., Elizabeth, O., Alan, G., & Downs, J. (2013). Older Adults as Digital Content Producers. In CHI  ’13 (pp. 39–48).


Normally older adults have been considered as consumers of digital content. Providing older adults with access to digital resources has been an interesting area of research. The authors claim that while accessibility to digital resources is important, it does not sufficient in the realm of establishing social relationships.  The paper investigates the relevance of digital content produced by older adults and its influence on forging new social relationships.

Based on the investigation, the authors conclude that older adults are willing to embrace social engagement and self–expression with their peers when technology facilitated this interaction.



Much research has been focused on user-generated content and young people. Older people have been overlooked as content creators and were considered to be consumers of this content. Social media technologies are also geared to older adults such that they have easy access to digital content produced by others.

The authors indicate that researching the communication preferences of older adults necessitates the need to gear social technologies in a way to allow older people to express their individuality and engage in reciprocal communications. The authors argue that current research has focused on participatory design with older adults, their interactions with different interfaces and their attitudes towards new technologies.

A few technologies that encourage social connections which the authors review where the older adults are consumers of digital content are as follows:

Design Technology Opportunities/Challenges
Digital   Photo Frames(consumers) Family   members can send photographs and messages to their relatives Older   adults who are socially isolated may not have family and friends to   communicate with:
Building   Bridges Project(consumers) Communication   device used to build connections within a group of older adults who did not   know each other 160   characters limitations
Photostroller(consumers) Streaming   images (from Flickr) on a device attached to a stroller Residents   viewed content together, relating life histories.
Online   digital communities(producers) Forum   for older adults Sharing   life challenges, joy of contribution
Collective   memory(producers) Storytelling   about their neighbourhood Co-creation   of online content
Video   Blogger(producers) Life   experiences on the web Support   from online viewers
Wayve   Device(producers) device   was used to display and send photographs, text messages, handwritten notes   and drawings grandfather,   in particular, embraced the opportunity to produce content to share with his   family; creative   and playful intergenerational messaging

Based on the research of the above technologies the authors developed Enmesh (ENgagement through MEdia SHaring), an iPad application to create and share photographs and messages. However the challenge that I am facing is whether this application was unique in comparison to the Wayve product.

Study   Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Older   adults as producers of online content(   photographs and messages)
Pilot study No Pilot Study
Participants Seven   participants (F=5, M=2)2 Care   managers Seven older   adults (aged 71-92 years) Not known to each other, 2 socials were held to   introduce one another.
Method Interviews at   start, middle and end of studyCare managers   were interviewed at the end.
Time interval 3 Months
Materials IPad, Enmesh   application, common interface
Procedure 3 month trial   period; First two weeks participants shared photographs; social; six weeks ;   social; interviews Socials were   conducted to enable participants to meet and know each other outside of the   online would
Measures Interviews
Findings Social   interaction between the participants increased with comments on their posted   photographs.

The authors designed their own social media application Enmesh as a means to provide a portal for peer to peer sharing of photos and digital content, and building small communities. Enmesh served as an application where older adults could share stories about their lives in personal and creative ways.

The introduction section of the paper has a lot of repetitions’ where the statement “we focus on older adults as content producers” has been repeated three times.  I am surprised that this paper carried out only qualitative research in the form of interviews.  The number of participants was quite low to conduct any statistical analysis on the data.  From a CHI perspective, perhaps, I believe that this paper was published purely on selective nature of the population sample.  I could not find any major difference between the Wayve product and the Enmesh product.


The authors indicate that their findings indicated that to be a producer of digital content; the technology should provide opportunities for self-expression and creativity and how the content will be displayed and shared with others. The users were both the content creators and the audience. The application enabled successful social interactions between the participants through messaging and responses to one another’s photographs. According to the authors; they trialed a socio-technical system involving technology, social events and a care organization. Even though I felt that the application was not unique, the authors presented older adults as producers of digital content and build new social connections.

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