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The supportive network: rural disadvantaged older people and ICT

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2016

John Richards Initiative, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia.
John Richards Initiative, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia.
La Trobe Rural Health School, La Trobe University, Wodonga, Australia.
School of Social Science, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK.
Address for correspondence: Steven Baker, c/o La Trobe University, P.O. Box 199, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, 3552 E-mail:


The rapid development of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) is profoundly transforming the social order, into what Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells calls the network society. Mobile technologies, such as smartphones and tablet computers, are perhaps the definitive tools of the network society; however, cultural and economic barriers exist that restrict access to these transformative tools and to the information networks in which they operate. One group that is particularly at risk is rural older people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This paper reports on one aspect of a larger action research project that involved working with a small group of rural, socially isolated older people with histories of homelessness and complex needs (N = 7) and their social workers. This paper focuses on the older participants who, having been provided tablet computers, were then supported to use the device in their homes over the course of eight months. Despite most participants having never used a computing device of any kind prior to the research project, findings suggested that participants gained confidence, independence and social engagement as a result of their ICT use. Results also highlighted that they experienced challenges in utilising ICT, specifically technical, economic and social barriers. Findings highlight the individual and structural issues that must be addressed to enable all citizens to participate fully in the network society.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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