The ubiquitous nature of online access, reduced prices on consumer electronics and the increased number of connected everyday artifacts, have created a situation where internet use and social networking participation are spreading to user groups not touched upon before. One of many consequence of this change is how we in the last couple of years and in many countries have been witnessing a radical increase in online presence of seniors (La Rose, 2008, Zickuhr and Madden, 2012, Findahl 2012). In the US, for instance, more than every second senior aged 65 or above have found their way online (Zickuhr and Madden, 2012). As for other groups of Internet users, social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are becoming increasingly popular among seniors. From 2009 to 2011 usage levels of social networking sites within this group in the US climbed from 13% to 33%, an increase with 150%.
The place for internet and social networking in the lives of seniors is by many researchers considered to be as a tool to avoid loneliness, unhappiness and isolation during their senescence (Fiori et al. 2007, Gibson et al. 2010, Lewis and Ariyachandrat 2010, Sundar et al. 2011, Taylor 2011). Some of the ways to achieve that is through enabling an easy way to maintain contact with family and friends (Selwyn 2004, Lewis and Ariyachandrat 2010, Sundar et al. 2011), potentially causing increased health (Berkman, 1995, Gibson et al. 2010), access to health and societal related information (Selwyn 2004) and a chance to live at home as long as possible (Sundar et al. 2011).
Even if more and more seniors are becoming internet and SNS users there are still many that are not. Many older adults and seniors are reported as being cautious regarding social networking sites in specific and internet use in general (Lehtinen et al. 2009). Some of the fears that have previously been documented are related to a view on internet as a dangerous place (Lehtinen et al. 2009), SNS as an arena for socially unacceptable behavior (Lehtinen et al. 2009). Lehtinen et al. (2009, p. 51) even state that: “From this it follows that SNSs do not seem to fit the everyday communication of older adults well”. Overcoming obstacles for inclusion in the information society, of which social media in undeniably an important part, is an important challenge emphasized by a number of national and international efforts (e.g. UNECE 2007, CEC 2007).
Michael Arnold (2003) used the two-faced god Janus as a metaphor to describe how a certain kind of technology functioning in one way in one context may have consequences or implications of one kind, and a contrary set of consequences or implications in another. While Arnold used the mobile phone as an example for describing this characteristic of technology, he could just as well, due to ubiquitous internet access and widely spread computer literacy, have used social networking sites.
Even if previous research have addressed and characterized early use of social networking services among seniors, there are still a lot left to be done. While we have come to know a great deal about reasons, benefits and consequences of online presence and reasons for resistance, we know very little about the process through which seniors manage their personal boundaries in relation to SNS. This is what this paper addresses, the way that seniors let, or do not let, aspects of SNS become a part of their lives. This is a fundamental question in strive towards inclusion of all segments of citizens to be part of the information society.
Empirically, the paper is based on a three yearlong qualitative study of senior’s use of internet and social media (AGNES – ageing in an networked society). We have conducted focus group interviews as well as individual interviews and the seniors have also kept diaries. The diaries contain their reflections on the processes through which they have come to involve Facebook in their everyday life. Apart from capturing the dynamics of the ways that seniors start using social media, the paper does as well contribute to knowledge about how to methodologically explore senior’s IT-use.