Posted: May 24th, 2022
Life Span Case Study Project: An Analysis of How Computers Have Affected the Lives of Three Different Age Groups
This life span case study project interviewed three individuals from the following age ranges, representing a mother, father and child in the same family who all live together:
Interviewee No. 1: “Mary,” age range middle and late childhood (age 12 years);
Interviewee No. 2: “Anne,” age range early adulthood (age 35 years); and,
Interviewee No. 3: “Bill,” age range middle adulthood (age 54 years).
All three interviewees were located by word-of-mouth requests to family members, neighbors and friends for suitable subjects until three individuals of appropriate age ranges were identified who agreed to participate in the study. The family containing an appropriate mix of ages was referred by a mutual friend an contacted initially by telephone to make introductions and arrangements for the interviews.
Approximately 15-20 minutes were spent with each interviewee during a telephonic interview with Mary (she was reluctant to participate otherwise) and face-to-face meetings with Anne and Bill that took place one after the other but separately in their home. Anne and Bill are married, with the marriage being Bill’s third and Anne’s second; both have children from previous marriages but Mary is their only child together. No compensation was paid to any of the interviewees in exchange for their participation in the study, although Mary was provided with a new Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as a token of appreciation for her participation and Anne and Bill received a gift certificate for a dinner for two at a fried-potato-skin-and-margarita restaurant of their choice.
The topic under consideration in these three generational interviews concerned the impact of technology in general and computers in particular on learning, and all three semi-structured interviews were guided by the questions at Appendix a. The life course developmental framework developed by Erikson and Piaget were used to help frame and interpret the context of the interviewees’ responses.
Interview No. 1 — “Mary,” age 12-1/2 years:
When contacted by telephone, Mary had to be requested to speak up several times in order for her to be heard properly. Based on this, it was assumed that she was rather shy and reserved but Mary was assured that she could hang up at any time if she felt uncomfortable answering any of the interview questions. In response, Mary said she was just not used to talking to people on the telephone. When asked if she had an Internet-enabled computer of her own, Mary proudly proclaimed that she had “two of them,” but “she only used one of them most of the time.” Mary also noted that her family had high-speed Internet access which had made a big difference in the types and quality of the games she could play online.
When asked what she used her computer for most of the time, Mary said she used it for homework “sometimes,” but mostly she played and chatted with her friends on a Web site called “Gaia.com.” Mary reported that she had owned her “best computer” since last Christmas when she had received it as a present from her parents for her consistent straight a report cards; however, this was Mary’s second personal computer, having receiving a Dell laptop the previous Christmas from her parents as well.
When asked approximately how much time she spent on playing on Gaia.com and learning activities, Mary hesitated for some time before replying, “I think I spend about 3 or 4 hours a day online in Gaia. Sometimes I get up before I go to school to check in with my friends.” Mary was asked if there were any learning activities on Gaia.com, and she replied there might be a few, but she was only interested in the chat forums and game rooms. She did proudly emphasize, though, that she had taught herself HTML so she could help others create their own pages in Gaia.
When she was asked what she thought computers would look like in 10 years and 20 years for now, Mary did not hesitate but said they would probably look about the same, only smaller maybe. Mary also said she intended to keep using her computer for school-related activities in the future for projects such as the upcoming science fair where she used her computer last year to create text and graphics for her display board that helped her and her partner win second place and a $5.00 prize (the topic was “The Stink that Makes You Think,” which was an analysis of how smells trigger memories).
After Mary was asked if she thought there should be computers in every public school classroom, she said she was not sure. Mary attends a Catholic school, although she and her parents are not Catholic, and she said they had a few computers in some of their classrooms but they were not as good as the one she had at home (her “best computer”). When she was asked if the government should furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help stay in school and get good grades, Mary said, “Sure, why not?”
Finally, when she was asked what she thought was the most important thing that computers have done for humans, Mary did not hesitate in replying, “They play cool games. They also let me talk with my friends whenever I want and I meet people from all over the world. I can find information on anything I want whenever I want. I can’t imagine what life must have been like for my dad and mom. My dad said he remembers black-and-white TV and just three stations. God, he’s old.”
Interview No. 2 – “Anne” (age 35 years):
Anne and Bill graciously allowed me to visit them in their home for the purposes of their interviews which took place in the family’s dining room (coffee and cookies were provided by Anne). Anne is a “stay-at-home mom.” Armed only with a clipboard containing an outline of the semi-structured interview questions (see Appendix a) and pencils, this researcher asked Anne if she had an Internet-enabled computer of her own, and she replied that she and Bill “shared” one in the spare bedroom. Like Mary’s, this computer was also equipped with high-speed Internet access. When she was asked what she used the computer for most of the time, Anne responded that, “I used to just play stupid CD games like mah jongg and card games like spades online, but my daughter told me about YouTube.com and I’ve been having a lot of fun in there recently listening to my favorite music and watching my favorite videos anytime I want.” Anne said they had owned this shared computer for just over 3 years and that it was their second computer (their first was an IBM 286 that still left a bad taste in their mouths, she said).
The only socializing that Anne reported being engaged in with her computer was chatting with other players on occasion in her spades games online at MSN.Zone. Anne said she also used the computer sometimes to look things up when she had questions, or to find recipes that were missing from her cookbook. She also said she enjoyed reading the news but said it spoiled her enjoyment of the local newspaper because “all of the news was online the day before.” Anne said that she had tried to use the computer to help her with her banking and other financial activities, but gave up after trying, unsuccessfully, to use Quicken for a week.
When Anne was asked what she thought computers would look like in 10 years and 20 years down the road, she thought for awhile before responding, “I guess they’ll still need all the same stuff to work, but maybe they’ll make ’em so they don’t cost so much.” Anne said she definitely planned on using their computer in the future for learning activities, and said her and her husband had used both of their previous computers to help their daughter learn. They had also purchased every CD-ROM they could find such as the Reading Rabbit series and Math Wizard, but said Mary had always enjoyed books more than these applications.
When she was asked if she thought there should be computers in every public school classroom, Anne said she believed all students should have computer access in the classroom. Anne became a bit more animated and emphatic when she was asked if she thought the government should furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help them remain academically competitive. She stated in no uncertain terms: “We already pay taxes to fund the public schools and still have to pay tuition and all kinds of fees to send our daughter to the best private school we can afford. Why should we have to pay for stuff for public school students that our own daughter doesn’t even have in school?”
Finally, when she was asked what the most important thing computers have done for humans, Anne said she guessed it was their contribution to making businesses more efficient and providing additional ways for people to have fun, learn things and keep in touch with each other.
Interview No. 3 – “Bill” (age 54 years):
The interview with Bill took place immediately following the conclusion of the interview with Anne who left the dining room after being thanked for her participation and the refreshments. Bill is a semi-retired disabled veteran of the U.S. Air Force with Vietnam-era service; he continues to work part-time as a pizza delivery driver. Because the couple’s ownership of a shared computer with high-speed Internet access had been established in the interview with Anne, this interview skipped these questions and went directly to an interrogatory concerning what Bill used the computer for most of the time. Bill replied that, “I like to play chess sometimes, and I’ve been a big fan of all of the Tiger Woods golfing games on CD for the computer.” As to socializing on the computer, Bill said this feature was available in his chess room, but he avoided it since it “was just kids bad-mouthing each other and I’m there to play chess.”
When asked if he used his computer for research or other learning purposes, Bill said, “Sure, all the time. Whenever we see something on TV that we have a question about, we just look it up. it’s great.” Bill also reiterated his wife’s comments concerning the couple’s use of their previous computers to help their young daughter learn, but Bill also emphasized that, “I taught Mary how to read when she was just 3 years old by using a copy of Green Eggs and Ham. Kids love repetition and even though I think Mary was just kind of faking it at first, she was able to read the whole book after a few weeks and she hasn’t stopped since.” Bill also said he tried to encourage Mary to use her computer for research and learning, but complained, “She’s on that damn Gaia website all the time and she keeps asking me for money to buy things to use in there. Just last week I spent more than $40 on junk that can only be used in that website, and it’s just a way to rip kids and their parents off.”
When he was asked what he thought computers would look like in 10 or 20 years, Bill was quick to respond. He replied, “There won’t be any computers in 20 years, probably sooner than that. Computers are already everywhere,” he said, “and they keep making them smaller and pretty soon they’re just going to disappear completely.” When he was asked if he planned on using his computer to help him with any research or learning activity in the future, Bill said, “Absolutely. We may not know what computers will look like years from now, but I sure depend on mine now.”
Like his wife, Bill became somewhat agitated at the questions concerning whether he thought there should be computers in every public school classroom. Bill agreed that all students should have access to computers in their classroom, but pointed out that his own daughter did not have computers in all of their classrooms, and the ones they did have were quickly becoming obsolete. Also like his wife, Bill was not pleased with the suggestion that the government might furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help them remain academically competitive, and said, “We can’t get a school voucher program in this country and it’s tough to keep Mary in a private school. She’s a top-notch student, though, and we figure she deserves whatever we can afford.”
Finally, when he was asked what he considered to be the most important thing that computers have done for humans, Bill said, “It’s the age of information, and we owe that to computers. Just think of all the things that we take for granted now that rely on computers. Shoot, they even took us to the moon and that was using 1960s technology. Just think of what we will be able to do a few years from now. I always wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up and those guys were my heroes. My grandchildren will probably be able to vacation on the moon and colonize Mars thanks to computers.”
Part Two: Discussion number of researchers have offered various frameworks in which an individual’s course through life could be better understood. Paramount among these, of course, were Erikson and Piaget. According to Austrian (2002), “Erikson viewed development as resulting from a combination of biological, cultural, social, and psychological factors, merging within the ego. He postulated that at each different stage there is a psychosocial ‘crisis’ that, when resolved, enhances ego mastery. At the end of each stage, Erikson felt that a new psychological “virtue” (strength) is acquired. Each successive stage with its accompanying crisis is related to the basic demands of society; thus, the life cycle and society’s institutions evolve together” (p. 46).
Erikson’s first five developmental stages were extensions of Freud’s psychosexual stages, and Erikson originally postulated a total of eight sequential stages involving ego crises, states of disequilibrium, and accompanying critical tasks, which enhanced competency and guided healthy life span development (Austrian, 2000). During the later part of his life, Erikson propounded yet another stage, the ninth, that concerned a sense of one’s own integrity vs. A feeling of defeat or despair about one’s life as physical deterioration occurs (Austrian, 2000). Each developmental stage in life, Erikson maintained, has both positive and negative factors which are incorporated into the person’s identity; moreover, each stage must be successfully completed before an individual can move on to the next stage. The successful resolution of the specific crises of each developmental level, Erikson felt, enhanced the individual’s sense of self and ego identity (Austrian, 2000).
All of this developmental progress, Erikson maintained, was naturally directed at maturation and personal growth. According to Hannush (2006), “In the large Eriksonian life-span scheme, the essence of developmental movement for adults is outward, forward, and upwards toward a conscious, ethical concern for others and a deeper sense of spiritual self. Erikson maintained that the caring, generative person was the developmental pinnacle for each adult” (p. 115). Moreover, Erikson believed that there was a “one-size-fits-all” goal to which all rationale people should aspire: “The fully developed adult is, of necessity, a generative, integrated, and ethical adult, the endpoint to which we all ought to aim” (quoted in Hannush, 2006 at p. 115).
Likewise, Piaget maintained that as an individual matures, new structures must be developed that build on the old, thereby enhancing interaction with the environment (Austrian, 2000). According to this author, “Intellectual development, Piaget’s main interest, happens in a series of stages that require different types of interaction with the environment and thus different psychological structures” (Austrian, 2000, p. 52).
The interviewees fell into the following development stages as described by Erikson:
Mary’s age of 12-1/2 years places her in Erikson’s Adolescence (12 to 18 Years), with the Ego Development Outcome being Identity vs. Role Confusion stage where the individual’s basic strengths are Devotion and Fidelity (Harder, 2002).
Anne’s age of 35 years places her in Erikson’s Young Adulthood stage (18 to 35 years), with the Ego Development Outcome being Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation and the basic strengths of Affiliation and Love (Harder, 2002).
Finally, Bill’s age of 54 years places him squarely in Erikson’s Middle Adulthood stage (35 to 55 years), with the Ego Development Outcome being Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation and the Basic Strengths of Production and Care (Harder, 2002).
While the interviewees fit neatly into these developmental categories according to Erikson, there were some anomalies noted that were worthy of note. For instance, Mary’s age places her on the cusp of the previous developmental level according to Erikson, but notwithstanding her seeming shyness and reservations on the telephone, Mary’s intellect probably places her far above this category for this developmental aspect at any rate. Likewise, Erikson would suggest that Bill had some distinct challenges ahead of him as he attempts to achieve the next developmental stage, particularly considering his current employment status and inability to secure more gainful employment in pursuit of a traditional career. By contrast, Anne appears to fit neatly within the developmental category assigned by Erikson across the board.
All of the interviewees reported they used their computers for recreational and learning activities, but the two female subjects indicated they also used their computers for socializing, with Mary being the most active in this regard. All of the interviewees also indicated they intended to use their computers for these purposes in the future, but they disagreed as to what computers might look like in the years to come and what the most important contribution computers had made to humans, with the oldest subject recalling exciting early applications of computers and the youngest subject emphasizing their current ability to help her keep in touch with her friends and make new ones without ever leaving her room. Whether this is a healthy trend or not is beyond the scope of this analysis, but it is reasonable to suggest that Mary and her parents are not alone in these shifts in how people relate to each other.
On a final note, in an attempt to ensure honesty in the three semi-structured interviews, the interviewees were assured of their anonymity and that the results of their participation would be used for academic research purposes only. All three subjects were also assured that they could stop participating in the interview at any time, and they could receive a copy of the research results if they desired. There were no real difficulties encountered in the conduct and compilation of the project beyond the identification of three willing participants of suitable age ranges.
Conclusion number of social scientists have offered various frameworks to help understand how people grow and relate to each other throughout their lives. From Jung to Freud to Erikson and Piaget, these researchers all tend to agree that people’s lives can be pigeonholed into various developmental categories that require the successful completion of various crises to achieve developmental success. The results of the interviews suggest that these developmental categories may have to be reexamined in the future in light of profound changes in the way people are going about their daily lives today, and the manner in which technology has affected their relationships. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that these three age groups share a common fondness for their computers, but regard them in fundamentally different ways, but with all of them focusing on how much fun they can have with them as well.
Austrian, S.G. (2002). Developmental theories through the life cycle. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hannush, M.J. (2006). Erikson on development in adulthood: New insights from unpublished papers. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 37(1), 115.
Harder, a.F. (2002). The developmental stages of Erik Erikson. Learning Place. [Online]. Available: http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm.
Appendix a Questions Used in Semi-Structured Interviews with Life Development Subjects
Do you have an Internet-enabled computer of your own?
If yes, do you have high-speed Internet access?
If yes, what do you use your computer for mostly?
If yes, how long have you owned it?
If yes, was this your first computer?
If yes, do you use your computer for socializing?
If yes, do you use your computer for playing games?
If yes, do you use your computer for research or other learning purposes?
If no, do you have access to an Internet-enabled computer at home?
If no, do you have access to an Internet-enabled computer elsewhere?
What do you think computers will look like in 10 years? 20 years?
Do you plan on using a computer at home [or school] to help you learn anything in the future?
Do you think there should be computers in every public school classroom? Why or why not?
Should the government furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help them remain academically competitive [alternatively, stay in school and get good grades]?
What do you think is the most important thing that computers have done for humans?
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