Older adults (65+) watch more television (on average) than younger people do. This has led to the one-sided image that older people watch a lot of television because they have nothing better to do, or because they have nobody to talk to. As media researchers we should leave this stereotypical view behind, and search for a fuller understanding of the role of television in older people’s lives.
Notions about successful aging can help media researchers in that search. Therefore I have chosen a clip that presents some famous ideas about aging (based on the work by Baltes and Baltes). The clip shows that aging involves both gains and losses. Many people in their 60s are as active physically, mentally, and socially as they were in their 40s. Also, the SOC model is helpful, with its notion of selection and compensation as central adaptation strategies.
When we look at older adults’ experiences of their television viewing, with these ideas about aging in mind (as I did in my dissertation), a much more diverse view on watching television appears. Older people mainly use television in selection strategies: They watch television because television adds something to their lives. They choose to watch television or specific programs, because they find them interesting, instructive, cozy, it makes them laugh, or they enjoy watching together. And when they are critical about television or specific genres, they choose not to watch those. Only some people watch for want of something better: as compensation for things that are not possible (anymore).
I’m wondering whether older people in different cultures and different countries experience their television viewing differently. There will be similarities between Western countries, but also differences. For example, the American culture places much emphasis on work and achievements which could make the transition to other meaningful pastimes after retirement more difficult than in Western European countries. On the other hand, Americans watch more television on average than Europeans, which might make television viewing a more acceptable pastime. And what do we know about how older people in for example China and Japan experience their television viewing?