Capitalizing and Compensating: Older Adults’ Religious and Spiritual Uses of Technology
Keywords:religion, spirituality, information communication technologies, gerotechnology, aging
This study explores how older adults use information and communication technologies (ICTs) in their spiritual and religious lives. How widespread is their use? What kinds of ICTS do they use and for what reasons? What impact do they have on their religious and spiritual lives? We explored these questions by collecting interviews with 90 older adults, average age 77, from six major Judeo-Christian faith traditions. The sample was developed from nominations by pastors, priests, and rabbis in three southern California cities. Data were collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews and analyzed through abductive analysis. Many older adults in our sample reported using ICTs to assist their devotional lives—nine in ten of our participants provided examples, thus dispelling technology as merely a tool for the young to incorporate into their religious lives. An unexpected finding of the research was the wide variety of ICT usage mentioned by these elderly participants —over 15 distinct ones were mentioned. The reasons for using ICTs fell into two primary categories: compensating for age related changes and capitalizing on unique opportunities for growth in later life. The results demonstrate support for Carstensen’s Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory and have implications for practitioners working with older adults, such as social workers and clergy, as well as for marketers in industry.
Ahmad, N. A. and Razak, F. H. A. 2013. “On the emergence of Techno-Spiritual: The Concept and Current Issues.” Computer and Mathematical Sciences Graduates National Colloquium.
Ahmad, N. A., Zainal, A., Razak F. H. A., Adnan, W. A. W., and Osman, S. 2015. “User Experience Evaluation of Mobile Spiritual Applications for Older People: An Interview and Observation Study.” Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology 72(1).
Atchley, R. 2009. Spirituality and Aging. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Press. .
Azzi, C. & Ehrenberg, R. G. 1975. “Household allocation of time and church attendance .” Journal of Political Economy 83(1), 27-56.
Baltes, P. B., and Baltes, M. M. 1990. “Psychological perspectives on successful aging. The model of selective optimization with compensation.” Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral science, edited by P. B. Baltes and M. M. Baltes, 1-34.
Bell G. 2006. “No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices.” In: Dourish P., Friday A. (eds) UbiComp 2006: Ubiquitous Computing. UbiComp. Lecture Notes in Computer Science vol. 4206. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. doi.org/10.1007/11853565_9
Bengtson, V. L., and DeLiema, M. 2016. “Theories of aging and social gerontology: Explaining how social factors influence well-being in later life.” In M. H. Meyer and E. A. Daniele (Eds.) Gerontology: Changes, Challenges, and Solutions. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger
Bengtson, V., Endacott, C., and Kang, S. “Older adults in churches: Differences in perceptions of clergy and older
members.” Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging, 1–25. 2017. doi:10.1080/15528030.2017.1414727.
Bengtson, V. L., Kang, S. L. C., Endacott, C. G., Gonzales, G. G., and Silverstein, M. 2018. “Emerging
Developments in Spirituality, Religion, and Aging” in New Dimensions in Spirituality, Religion, and Aging. New York: Routledge.
Bernal, V. 2005. Eritrea on-line: Diaspora, cyberspace, and the public sphere. American Ethnologist 32(4), 660–
Biniok, P., and Menke, I. 2015. Societal Participation of the Elderly: Information and Communication Technologies
as a “Social Junction.” Anthropology & Aging 36(2): 164–181.
Boellstorff, Tom. 2011. “Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of
the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, 504–520. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Bowen, Lauren Marshall. 2012. “Beyond Repair: Literacy, Technology, and a Curriculum of Aging.” College English
Buie, Elizabeth and Mark Blythe. 2013. “Spirituality: There’s an App for That! (But Not a Lot of Research).” CHI
Changing Perspectives, Paris, France.
Campbell, Heidi A., Brian Altenhofen, Wendi Bellar, and Kyong James Cho. 2014. “There’s a religious app for that!
A framework for studying religious mobile applications.” Mobile Media & Communication 2(2): 54-172.
Carstensen, L. L. 1992. “Social and emotional patterns in adulthood: Support for socioemotional selectivity
theory.” Psychology and Aging 7(3): 331–338. doi:10.1037/0882-79220.127.116.111.
Chappell, N. L., and Zimmer Z. 1999. “Receptivity to new technology among older adults.” Disability and
Rehabilitation 21(5-6): 222–230.
Charness, N., and Boot, W. R. 2009. “Aging and Information Technology Use.” Current Directions in Psychological
Science 18(5): 253–258.
Corbin, J. M., and Strauss, A. 1990. “Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria.”
Qualitative Sociology 13(1): 3–21.
DeSantis, L., and Ugarriza, D. N. 2000. The concept of theme as used in qualitative nursing research. Western
Journal of Nursing Research 22: 351-372.
Flanagin, A. J., and Metzger, M. J. 2010. Kids and credibility: An empirical examination of youth, digital media use,
and information credibility. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fozard, J. L., Rietsema, J., Bouma, H., and Graafmans, J. A. M. 2000. “Gerotechnology: Creating environments for
the challenges and opportunities of aging.” Educational Gerotechnology 26(4): 331-344.
Gatto, S. L., and Tak, S. H. 2008. “Computer, Internet, and E-mail Use Among Older Adults: Benefits and
Barriers.” Educational Gerontology 34(9): 800–811.
Glaser and Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Aldine Transaction: New Brunswick.
Gonzales, A. 2015. “The contemporary US digital divide: from initial access to technology maintenance.”
Information, Communication & Society 19(2): 234–248.
Hughes-Rinker, Cortney, Elyse Bailey, Hannah Embler, Jesse Roof, and Emily Harvey. 2016. “Religious Apps for
Smartphones and Tablets: Transforming Religious Authority and the Nature of Religion.” Interdisciplinary
Journal of Research on Religion 12(4). http://s3.amazonaws.com/chssweb/documents/23092/ original/IJRR_Religious_Apps_2016.pdf?1476725129.
Hutchings, T. E. “Reading and the Christian Bible.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 44(4) (2015): 423–
Ismail, J., Md Noor, N. L., and Rahim Wan Mohd Isa, W. A. 2014. “Addressing cognitive impairment among elderly
people: A techno-spiritual perspective.” The 5th International Conference on Information and
Communication Technology for The Muslim World (ICT4M).
Kim, Dae Young. 2017 Transnational Communities in the Smartphone Age: The Korean Community in the Nation’s
Capital. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Lee, Chaiwoo and Joseph Coughlin. 2014. “Perspective: Older Adults’ Adoption of Technology: An Integrated
Approach to Identifying Determinants and Barriers.” Journal of Product Innovation 32(5): 747-759.
Loder, James. 1998. The Logic of the Spirit: Human development in theological perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-
Loges, W. E., and Jung, J.Y. 2001. “Exploring the digital divide.” Communication Research 28(4): 536–562.
Lutz, P. A. 2015. Multivalent moves in senior home care: From surveillance to care-valence. Anthropology & Aging
Marquié, J. C., Jourdan-Boddaert, L., and Huet, N. 2002. “Do older adults underestimate their actual computer
knowledge?” Behaviour & Information Technology 21(4): 273–280.
McCann, R. M., and Keaton, S. A. 2013. “A Cross Cultural Investigation of Age Stereotypes and Communication
Perceptions of Older and Younger Workers in the USA and Thailand.” Educational Gerontology 39(5): 326–341.
Micera, S., Bonato, P., and Tamura, T. 2008. “Gerontechnology.” IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology
Magazine 27 no. 4 (July): 10–14.
Mitzner, T. L., Boron, J. B., Fausset, C. B., Adams, A. E., Charness, N., Czaja, S. J., … Sharit, J. 2010. “Older adults
talk technology: Technology usage and attitudes.” Computers in Human Behavior 26(6): 1710–1721.
Müller, J., Sancho, J. M., and Hernández, F. 2009. “New media literacy and the digital divide.” Handbook of
Research on New Media Literacy at the K-12 Level, 72-88. Hershey, PA: IGI Global/Information Science
Mynatt, Elizabeth D. and Wendy A. Rogers. 2001. “Developing technology to support the functional independence
of older adults.” Ageing International 27(1): 24-4.
Nardi, B., and Harris, J. 2009. Strangers and friends: Collaborative play in world of warcraft. International
Handbook of Internet Research, 395–410.
Niemelä‐Nyrhinen, J. 2007. “Baby boom consumers and technology: shooting down stereotypes.” Journal of
Consumer Marketing 24(5): 305–312.
Pekkarinen, S., and Melkas, H. 2012. “Safety Alarm Systems and Related Services.” Technological Applications and
Advancements in Service Science, Management, and Engineering, 339–357. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Plaza, I., Martín, L., Martin, S., and Medrano, C. 2011. “Mobile applications in an aging society: Status and trends.”
Journal of Systems and Software 84(11)L 1977–1988.
Anderson, M. and Perrin, A. 2017. “Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults.” Pew Research Center website, May
Accessed January 5, 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-
Reichertz, Jo. 2007. “Abduction: The Logic of Discovery in Grounded Theory.”Handbook of Grounded Theory, edited
by Bryant, A., Charmaz, K., 214–28. London, England: Sage Publications.
Schreurs, K., Quan-Haase, A., and Martin, K. 2017. “Problematizing the Digital Literacy Paradox in the Context of
Older Adults’ ICT Use: Aging, Media Discourse, and Self-Determination.” Canadian Journal of
Schroots, J. J. F. 1996. “Theoretical Developments in the Psychology of Aging.” The Gerontologist 36(6): 742–748.
Selwyn, N. 2004. “The information aged: A qualitative study of older adults’ use of information and
communications technology.” Journal of Aging Studies 18(4): 369-384.
Silverstein, M., and Bengtson, V. L. “Return to Religion? Predictors of Religious Change among Baby-Boomers in
their Transition to Later Life.” Journal of Population Ageing. (2017).
Spradley, J. P. 1979. The ethnographic interview. Orlando, FL: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, Inc.
Strauss, A. L., and Corbin, J. 1998. Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing
grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998.
Tornstam, L. 2005. Gerotranscendence: A developmental theory of positive aging. New York: Springer, 2005.
Vroman, K. G., Arthanat, S., and Lysack, C. 2015.“‘Who over 65 is online?” Older adults’ dispositions toward
information communication technology.” Computers in Human Behavior 43: 156–166.
White, H., McConnell, E., Clipp, E., Bynum, L., Teague, C., Navas, L., … Halbrecht, H. 1999.“Surfing the Net in
Later Life: A Review of the Literature and Pilot Study of Computer Use and Quality of Life.” Journal of
Applied Gerontology 18(3): 358–378.
Wyche, S. P., Hayes, G. R., Harvel, L. D., and Grinter, R. E. 2006. “Technology in spiritual formation.” Proceedings
of the 2006 20th Anniversary Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work - CSCW. doi:10.1145/1180875.1180908.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- The Author retains copyright in the Work, where the term “Work” shall include all digital objects that may result in subsequent electronic publication or distribution.
- Upon acceptance of the Work, the author shall grant to the Publisher the right of first publication of the Work.
- The Author shall grant to the Publisher and its agents the nonexclusive perpetual right and license to publish, archive, and make accessible the Work in whole or in part in all forms of media now or hereafter known under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License or its equivalent, which, for the avoidance of doubt, allows others to copy, distribute, and transmit the Work under the following conditions:
- Attribution—other users must attribute the Work in the manner specified by the author as indicated on the journal Web site;
- The Author is able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the nonexclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the Work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), as long as there is provided in the document an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online a prepublication manuscript (but not the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work) in institutional repositories or on their Websites prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work. Any such posting made before acceptance and publication of the Work shall be updated upon publication to include a reference to the Publisher-assigned DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and a link to the online abstract for the final published Work in the Journal.
- Upon Publisher’s request, the Author agrees to furnish promptly to Publisher, at the Author’s own expense, written evidence of the permissions, licenses, and consents for use of third-party material included within the Work, except as determined by Publisher to be covered by the principles of Fair Use.
- The Author represents and warrants that:
- the Work is the Author’s original work;
- the Author has not transferred, and will not transfer, exclusive rights in the Work to any third party;
- the Work is not pending review or under consideration by another publisher;
- the Work has not previously been published;
- the Work contains no misrepresentation or infringement of the Work or property of other authors or third parties; and
- the Work contains no libel, invasion of privacy, or other unlawful matter.
- The Author agrees to indemnify and hold Publisher harmless from Author’s breach of the representations and warranties contained in Paragraph 6 above, as well as any claim or proceeding relating to Publisher’s use and publication of any content contained in the Work, including third-party content.
Revised 7/16/2018. Revision Description: Removed outdated link.