Loneliness and Life-satisfaction Among the Elderly

By: asgaralipatel

INDIAN JOURNAL OF GERONTOLOGY, VOL.20, No.4, 2006, p:405-416.

INTRODUCTION

Electronic technology is changing our life-style to a great extent. Prevalence and excessive use of electronic products found among people, cutting across cultural differences, have set in a trend for e-culture. Electronic-culture is new. It is emerging as a transnational and global phenomenon; not confined to geographical boundaries. Internet, especially, is expected to bring in sweeping and lasting cultural transformations. For instance, terms like e-commerce, e-business, e-banking, e-mails, e-organizations, e-governance, e-journals, e-books, e-medicine, internet, web-shopping, etc have become part of the current lexicon.

The advances and breakthroughs made in the fields of information and communication technology (ICT) and electronics during the present and previous centuries have resulted in the emergence of e-culture. Though the ICT revolution started in the near past its progress towards networking is achieved only recently through the impetus provided by the Internet (Uzelac, 2003). According to Mercer (2003) it is the ICT-availability and access to Internet that provides scope for production of e-culture. However, today the emergence of e-culture is taken for granted due to prevalence of the interactive digital applications of the ICT such as Internet and mobile technologies (Mitchell, 2003).

Van Dijk (2001) identified four different types of access to ICT as conditions for the emergence of e-culture, namely, motivation, possession, use and skills. Motivation concerns psychical access to ICT: the interest in it, the will to use it and the lack of fear of new technology. Possession means, in this context, the availability of equipment and an Internet connection at home or at work, school or university. The third component of access is the actual use that people make of available possibilities. The use depends in part on the fourth form of access, namely the possession of digital skills (De Haan & Huysmans, 2002).

E-culture though prevalent widely, is a recent phenomenon. The scientist community has not explored much of it now. De Haan and Huysmans (2002) cautions that the exploration of e-culture may only be the start of a long-term process of change taking place at a global level. Research on e-culture presently is at a rudimentary level and so is its concept. Scholars in this field have tried to define e-culture in various ways, but all being far from conclusive.

E-culture is increasingly perceived as a new digital media culture or digitalization of culture. Netherlands council for culture (2004) argues that, within the context of the 'digitizing society,' e-culture should be seen as the integration of ICT into the primary processes of productivity, distribution, presentation, preservation and (re)utilization of cultural expression. According to the view of De Haan and Huysmans (2002) the term 'e-culture' is stated to refer to the diffusion of new technology, its application for various avenues such as information and communication in addition to shifts effected in related attitudes, values and norms. Patel and Rajendran (2005) have defined "electronic culture" as "increased use of electronic goods by individuals in various areas like home, office, public places and those they carry personally with them, to fulfill their psycho-social needs."

E-culture is both technological and a social development. There is a widespread consensus that new digital and networking technologies like the World Wide Web (WWW) and the Internet have the capacity to reorder the domains of everyday social and personal life (Dona Kolar-Panov, 2003). Cultural habits and participation in cultural life are changing as a corollary of e-culture. Hence, it would be pertinent here to consider briefly the concept and importance of culture in the light of a psychological focus leading to the study on the impact of e-culture.

According to Brislin (2000) one of the major assumptions of cross-cultural social psychology is that culture shapes human behavior. Numerous advanced theories of social behavior indicate that cultural factors play significant role in the determination of behavior, shaping values, self, and motivation of individuals (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Lehman et al (2004) point out that culture and psychological processes influence one another and a dynamic interplay exists between them.

Culture aims to ensure a harmonious relationship between humans and their environments. Psychological well-being remains the main focus of cultural norms and practices. Myers and Diener (1995) refer to life-satisfaction as one of the three key aspects of psychological well-being, the others being positive and negative affect. Life satisfaction stands together with the affective elements to yield a relatively comprehensive picture of psychological well-being (Diener et al., 1999). Chirkov et al (2005) found 'culture-fit' is positively associated with life satisfaction. Adjustment to cultural demands is essential for psychological well-being and life-satisfaction. But cultures are diverse and dynamic social systems and not static monoliths (Bandura, 2002). Cultural changes are inevitable and tend to create new demands which the elderly may find difficult to fulfill. Now the dawning of e-culture emphasizes the acquiring of digital skills and demands shifts in related attitudes, values and norms. Access and usage of electronic technology will be an important determinant of life-satisfaction in this era of e-culture.

Culture also emphasize the importance of group living because from an evolutionary perspective, solitude (loneliness) is dangerous; mutually supportive collective behaviour is beneficial, both for survival and sexual reproduction. Thus, it makes sense to assume that humans have an evolved tendency toward the establishment of shared beliefs, behaviours, and normative structures that help hold social collectives together (Campbell, 1982). Loneliness is popularly viewed as a relative deficit in social relationship with others in the environment. Russell, Peplau, and Cutrona (1980) defined loneliness "as the relational deficit reflecting interpersonal and social relationships that the individual evaluates as quantitatively inadequate or too few in numbers." It has been conceived as a problem for everyone from children to elderly, however, elderly experience more loneliness because their spouses might be deceased, their friends might have either moved away or died, their children might be in distant places/ cities or on account of physical disabilities (Peplau et al, 1982). Mullins and Mushel (1992) indicated that the elderly people desired to be part of a social network and also prefer the existence of a set of friends but not emotional commitment to a set of friends. They also pointed out that the inability to be part of a social network and lack of friends in old age results in the experience of loneliness. The rapid spread of e-culture enabling easy access to information and facilitating communication with others may help elderly reduce loneliness. Especially, the Internet provides people access to a complete new space and society known as 'cyber society'. Anybody who enters this virtual world can expect an almost infinite number of possibilities to retrieve information, engage in social interactions and build up lasting relations. There, with the exception of the physical body, the individual can encounter almost everything which can also be found in "real society": such as membership, role playing, emotions, work, commodities, discussions, etc. Like the conventional reality the cyber experience can also form identity (Jones, 1997). Hence the Internet is considered as an identity-based technology (Langer, 2003).But the onset of electronic culture also poses new demands which the elderly must cope with; failing may result in the experience of loneliness.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

Reviews done indicate that studies on e-culture are fragmented and inadequate. Scanty information is available about the influence of e-culture, both at international and national levels. The scientist community has just begun to recognize the importance of e-culture and its influence. At present there are not much substantial empirical evidences available on the impact of e-culture. In India, unfortunately, the research efforts in understanding and investigating the status of e-culture have not yet gained momentum. The research and academic community are dormant regarding the influence of e-culture. Deplorably, many researchers belonging to various disciplines are yet to take up this issue. In particular, from a psychological perspective, e-culture still remains unexplored. India is one of the poorest countries in exposing commercial contents on the global platform using digital media. However, the scope of India's strength in this direction is immense. The government of India as well as many NGOs stand dedicated and determined to enrich and enhance the e-status of India. Osama Manzar's (2005) book "The Best E-contents 2005" published by 'Digital Empowerment Foundation' (DEF) is an eye-opener regarding the e-contents in India. India is perhaps one of the most uniquely positioned countries in the world.

The present investigation is significant because looking around one finds a number of problems in our society especially related to the elderly. The changing demographic profile of India where there is a rapid increase in the aged population, it is increasingly becoming vulnerable due to the process of urbanization and industrialization (Venkoba Rao, 1992). Chadha and Easwaramoorthy (1993) have critically evaluated the need for a comprehensive study on elderly in India.

Reviews made on psychological well-being indicate that not much is known about age-related changes in life satisfaction, most studies has focused on the role of positive and negative affect. Studies on the impact of cultural changes upon life-satisfaction among the elderly in Indian context appear negligible. Loneliness has become the subject of substantial empirical research only recently. One impetus for the new interest is the realization that loneliness is a serious and widespread problem for millions today (Weiss, 1973). Lakshminarayanan (1993) found that the elderly people feel lonelier than any other population. Research on loneliness among the elderly particularly in Indian context also appears inadequate (Patel, 1998).

Despite, a developing country, its wealth of information, resources, and knowledge capacity puts the country in the list of top 5 countries in the world. India like other nations of the world is no exception to the global process of digitization. India certainly is getting transformed into an e-society, at a faster pace (Osama Manzar, 2005). There are no substantial empirical evidences available regarding the reaction of Indian elderly to the e-cultural phenomenon. Adapting to e-culture demands the acquiring of digital skills (De Haan and Huysmans, 2002). The elderly might find this difficult which may leave them less satisfied with life and also feel lonelier. No studies relating e-culture, loneliness and life-satisfaction among the elderly were also found. Hence this investigation is a pioneering effort made to explore the relationship of e-culture with loneliness and life-satisfaction in Indian context. This investigation will enlighten the academic and research fraternity throwing light on the relationship of e-culture with loneliness and life-satisfaction among the elderly.



METHOD

Sample

The sample for this study comprised of 120 elderly individuals (60 females and 60 males respectively) from Pondicherry (a Union Territory of India). The age range of the samples were between 60 to 73 years (Mean age=64.3 years). Samples were restricted to the educated segment of the elderly population, those with a minimum of a graduate degree and above were only included in this study. Purposive sampling technique was adopted.

Tools used

The research tools used in this study for data collection were the (1) e-culture Inventory, (2) UCLA Loneliness Scale, and (3) Life-Satisfaction Scale, selected after a comprehensive review of related literature.

(1) E-culture inventory

This inventory was developed by Patel and Rajendran (2005) to measure e-culture. It evaluates e-culture based on multiple electronic products people use in different areas such as home, office, public places and those that they carry personally with them. Under each area certain electronic items used by people such as (a) Personal computer, (b) Internet, (c) digital diary, (d) mobile phone, (e) micro-oven, (d) disc-man, (e) Digital cameras, (f) lap-tops, (g) automatic washing machine, (h) DVD players, and frequent visits to (i) computerized shops/ movie halls/ theme parks/ ATMs, etc were stated and verified. The inventory consists of 42 items with 2 responses, i.e., "yes" and "no" respectively for each item. The 42 items are classified into 4 areas, namely, home=16 items, office=11 items, personal=8 items and public=7 items. The score for 'yes' in home area is 2, in office is 1, in personal area is 3 and in public area is 1 were as the score for 'no' in all the areas is 0. The maximum score possible in this inventory is 74 and the minimum score is 0. High score indicates high e-culture and low score indicates low e-culture. The reliability and validity co-efficient values for this inventory were 0.72 and 0.85 respectively found significant at 0.001 levels.

(2)Revised University of California at Los Angles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale

This scale was developed by Russell et al (1980). It is a 20 item self-report on which respondents express how often their feelings and behaviours reflect perceived isolation and dissatisfaction with social relationships. This scale consists of 10 statements dealing with satisfaction of one's social relationships and 10 statements dealing with dissatisfaction of one's social relationships. Respondents indicated how frequently they experience each item on a scale from 1 to 4, corresponding to 'never,' 'rarely,' 'sometimes,' and 'often' respectively. Russell et al (1980) determined high internal consistency reliability for the instrument yielding a co-efficient alpha of 0.94. They also found acceptable concurrent validity and discriminant validity. Split-half reliability in Indian context was 0.71 (Jha, 1988).

(3)Life-Satisfaction Scale

This scale was constructed by Campbell et al (1976) to measure life-satisfaction. The scale consists of 7 items based on Likert-type of scaling technique with 5 responses, namely, 'very happy,' 'pretty happy,' 'happy,' 'not happy,' and 'not too happy,' and the scores range from 1 to 5 respectively. The maximum score possible in this scale is 35 and the minimum score is 7. The test-retest reliability reported for this scale and the validity worked out with Psychological Well-being Scale and with Index of Domain Satisfaction was found to be significant.

Procedure

The samples of this study were personally and individually contacted and data was obtained through face-to face interview. The duration of data collection were spread over a period of two months (60 days). The obtained responses were scored and statistically analyzed.



Table I: Showing the Mean, SD, SEM and t-test for e-culture score of the groups on the basis of gender.

GenderNMeanSDSEMt-valueLS

Male6034.8015.461.091.35NS

Female6032.3715.961.44


Table II: Showing the Pearson's moment correlation co-efficient for e-culture with

loneliness and life-satisfaction.

Variables r

Loneliness-0.171**

Life-satisfaction0.154**

** significant at 0.001 levels

*significant at 0.005 levels

Discussion

The main aim of this research study was to explore the relationship of e-culture with loneliness and life-satisfaction among the elderly. For this purpose Pearson's product moment correlation were calculated, since no significant gender differences were found as indicated in Table I the results for both sexes are combined and given in Table II.

It is inferred from the results summarized in Table II that e-culture has a highly significant positive relationship with life-satisfaction but is negatively and significantly related to loneliness.

In this study e-culture has been conceptualized as increased use of electronic products. The outcome of the present research indicates that more use of electronic items by the elderly results in high life-satisfaction. This outcome of the present study can defended by the view that access to electronic technology and use of electronic products by elderly has multiple implications, it connotes that the elderly posses the required digital skills, is active and productive, is mentally and physically healthy, has adequate economic support and is progressive minded. Van Dijk (2001) has already identified four different types of access to information and communication technology (ICT) as conditions for the emergence of e-culture, namely, motivation, possession, use and skills. Hence, the elderly individuals who are high in e-culture may find easy to adjust to the demands of e-environment and thereby experience more life-satisfaction.

The finding of this research that e-culture is inversely related to loneliness among elderly indicates that increased use of electronic products by elderly individuals results in low level of loneliness and vice versa. The rationale for this finding might be that the preoccupation with electronic products especially multi-media technologies by the elderly may make them feel part of a social network or be a replacement for the lack of friends. The information and communication technology (ICT) championed by Internet and mobile technology ensuing in e-culture has made access to information and communication between people simple, effortless and undemanding. Loneliness which is popularly viewed as relative deficit in adequate social relations may be compromised by increased indulgence in electronic technology making contacts and communication easy for the elderly. Further the elderly individuals possessing the motivation and skills to use electronic products may have more perceived control over their environments. Patel (1998) has empirically proved that increased perceived control results in decreased loneliness among the elderly.

CONCLUSION

The present study reveals that e-culture is positively and significantly related to life-satisfaction and loneliness is negatively and significantly related to e-culture among the elderly.

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