Engaging the disengaged: Examining the domestication of mobile telephony among older adults in Trans-Nzoia and Bungoma Counties in Western Kenya

  • Leah Jerop Komen
Keywords: older adults, mpesa, isolation, connection, e-inclusion, domestication, Kenya


The world is growing older. Considering the increasing number of older adults, it is imperative to consider how technology design can meet the needs and wants of these important user groups. Mobile phones offer great potential in improving quality of life for older adults in areas of, healthcare, independent living, communication and reduced isolation. There have been numerous studies on technology design for older adults (Fisk, Rogers, Charness, Czaja, & Sharit, 2004), but much of the work has focused on indoor and stationary applications such as desktop computers (Zajicek & Brewster, 2004). Although older people need support beyond stationary situations inside and outside their homes (Goodman, Brewster, & Gray, 2004), limited number of mobile functions are used by older adults due to high cost associated with mobile phones (Lee: 2007). Conversely, Nimrod (2015), argues older people use mobile phones extensively but little is known about relevant domestication processes involved and the extent to which older adults adopt and use mobile phones. This study interviewed 40 older retired civil servants aged 60 years and above in Western Kenya. Using domestication theory, this study examined the appropriation (Possession and ownership), Objectification (meaning and symbols), incorporation of mobile phones in older people’s everyday life and conversion (unintended uses) process of the domestication of mobile technology by the said group. Findings showed that mobile phones both enhanced closeness with their children and isolated them from them too. Majority felt mobile phones had become their ‘extended family members’ bringing the news of the world to them via mobile phone calls and texts. However, the small font size of texts and the fact that phones were getting smaller in size made it difficult to use. Their favourite mobile phone application was the mobile money locally dubbed Mpesa as they could now receive cash transfers from the government.

Key words: older adults, mpesa, isolation, connection, e-inclusion, domestication, Kenya


Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 2305-7432