PhD thesis title: Social media: Digital content creation & sharing – A study of three age groups

In the first few years of the 21st Century, access to and use of Web 2.0 digital technologies by ordinary, non-professional web users increased considerably in the UK (Office for National Statistics, 2010). Today anyone of any age with access to a computer, digital tools and an Internet connection can create and publish digital content online and this practice is no longer the preserve of the professional. Many academics and media commentators (Gauntlett, 2011; Castells, 2009; Leadbeater, 2008; Shirky, 2008; Benkler, 2006; Poster, 1995) see this as a significant shift from the traditional way individuals receive and ‘passively’ consume media to a position where they are more actively, responsively and inclusively engaged.

In the last fifteen years much research has been conducted into the online actives of children and young people. Many web commentators have written with enthusiasm of the so-called ‘net generation’ and ‘digital natives’. However, little research has been concerned with adult web users, their differing levels of digital literacy and how they create and share content. This study investigates how adults engage with social media and examines how they create, share and publish content online. Content creation, in the context of this project, is defined as an arrangement of visual and/or audio material that requires some element of composition or editing.

Using empirical qualitative research this study uses face-to-face interviews with UK adults, already engaged in creating content, aged between 18–28, 40–50 and 65+. Each one of these age ranges has grown up with different forms of communication technology and has a familiarity with ‘one-to-one’, interpersonal and ‘one-to-many’, mass communication paradigms. This research focuses on how and why these adult age groups create and share content through a networked ‘many-to-many’ paradigm, a communication structure that may be unfamiliar to them, and looks at their motivations for creating and sharing content online.

The study also brings into focus the issue of digital literacy within adult age groups and addresses not only each group’s level of technically competence but also their critical awareness when engaging within the digital domain. These are issues of great importance for individuals’ self-expression and proficiency in an increasingly digitalised world. The research also helps to give a more insightful understanding into the over-simplistic and sometimes polemical perception that the, so-called, ‘net generation’ and ‘digital native’ are more digitally literate than that of the ‘baby boomers/generation x’ and ‘digital immigrant’ (Tapscott, 2009; Prensky, 2006).


Benkler, Y. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press.

Castells, M. 2009. Communication Power, Oxford University Press.

Gauntlett, D. 2011. Making is Connecting. The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, Cambridge, Cambs, Polity Press.

Leadbeater, C. 2008. We-think: mass innovation, not mass production, London, Profile Books Ltd.

Office for National Statistics 2010. Internet Access 2010 – Households and Individuals, Statistical Bulletin: Internet Access 2010. London: Office for National Statistics.

Poster, M. 1995. The Second Media Age, Cambridge, Polity.

Prensky, M. (2001), Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5

Shirky, C. 2008. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Penguin Group.

Tapscott, D. 2009. Grown Up Digital, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.