Ageing Futures: Towards Cognitively Inclusive Digital Media Products
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This thesis is situated in a moment when the theory and practice of inclusive design appears to be significantly implicated in the social and economic response to demographic changes in Western Europe by addressing the need to reconnect older people with technology. In light of claims that cognitive ageing results in an increasing disconnection from novel digital media in old age, inclusive design is apparently trapped in a discourse in which digital media products and interfaces are designed as a response to a deterministic decline in abilities.
The thesis proceeds from this context to ask what intellectual moves are required within the discourses of inclusive design so that its community of theorists and practitioners can both comprehend and afford the enaction of cognitive experience in old age? Whilst influential design scholarship actively disregards reductionist cognitive explanations of human and technological relationships, it appears that inclusive design still requires an explanation of temporal changes to human cognition in later life. Whilst there is a burgeoning area of design related research dealing with this issue—an area this thesis defines as ‘cognitively inclusive design’—the underlying assumptions and claims supporting this body of research suggests its theorists and practitioners are struggling to move beyond conceptualising older people as passive consumers suffering a deterioration in key cognitive abilities. The thesis argues that, by revisiting the cognitive sciences for alternative explanations for the basis of human cognition, it is possible to relieve this problem by opening up new spaces for designers to critically reflect upon the manner in which older people interact with digital media. In taking a position that design is required to support human cognitive enactment, the thesis develops a new approach to conceptualising temporal changes in human cognition, defined as ‘senescent cognition’. From this new critical lens, the thesis provides an alternative ‘senescentechnic’ explanation of cognitive disconnections between older people and digital media that eschews reductionism and moves beyond a deterministic process of deterioration. In reassessing what ageing cognition means, new strategies for the future of inclusive design are proposed that emphasise the role of creating space for older people to actively explore, reflect upon and enact their own cognitive couplings with technology.
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