Capitalizing and Compensating: Older Adults’ Religious and Spiritual Uses of Technology


  • Samantha L.C. Kang University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Camille G Endacott University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Gabrielle G Gonzales University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Vern L Bengtson University of Southern California



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.  

Author Biographies

Samantha L.C. Kang, University of California, Santa Barbara

Religious Studies

Camille G Endacott, University of California, Santa Barbara


Gabrielle G Gonzales, University of California, Santa Barbara


Vern L Bengtson, University of Southern California

USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging,  Suzanne Dowark-Peck School of Social Work at USC.


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.

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

(5): 437-457.

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:10.1037/0882-7974.7.3.331.

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). 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

(2): 145–163.

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.


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

Communication 42(2):359-377.

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.