Interview with Päivi Rasi

Finnish researcher presented investigation on “groups who don’t want to use the Internet” in latest CECS Media Education Seminar

Päivi Rasi is a Lecturer in Media Education at the University of Lapland’s Centre for Media Pedagogy in Finland. She is also the Chairwoman of the Finnish Society on Media Education. Rasi presented her last research on older peoples’ Internet (non)use in the previous CECS Media Education Seminar.


What is the main core of your research?

For the last seven to eight years, I have been conducting a research on older people’s use of Internet, especially in rural and remote areas in Finland and in the USA. My focus is on the people who refuse the Internet.

What did you find in the USA?

I lived there for 10 months, in Michigan, as an exchange teacher. It was also a rural area, in the northern part of the country, and within the population there was a great deal of people who don’t want to use the Internet.

Is that a deliberated ideology or is just a matter of reluctance to technology?

In many situations, these people do not want to use the Internet. As researchers, we have been calling them as Internet not users, Internet refusers or simply “want-nots”. In Finland, in a relatively affluent technology centred society, there are still people who don’t want to use the Internet. This is more valid for the group ages over 60, 65 years old. Even so, there are different groups in this population. Some of them don’t want to use the Internet, so they are “the want-nots”. Some of them feel that they don’t have the competencies to do that, but still would be able to learn. It is a diverse group.

Do they live well, afterall?

Yes, yes. Very often they live, what I would call, a traditional nature oriented lifestyle. They appreciate the contact with nature, the outodoors living. They feel that technology has no place in their lives. Some of them feel very angry with the digitalization of modern life. In Finland, I found people angry at the Government for forcing them to join the digitalization process.

What part of Finland are you referring to?

So far, my research has been focusing in the northern part of Finland, in Lapland, but also in the Eastern part. These are rural areas. That is why the Government is placing a lot of efforts in those regions, with digital means, because in some of those place there are no banks, no groceries…

So, we can assume that the technical conditions to engage with digital means is not a question.

It is a matter of ideology, instead. The digital gaps are no longer the access ones. The infrastructure is there. Lifestyle, skills, digital competences: these are the areas where you find differences.

Was it easy for you to study these people? How do they feel about them as a research object?

Older people were really welcoming the approach. They were really happy for the fact that someone was interested in getting to know their attitudes towards the Internet, especially the non-users. They seemed to be relieved and happy that someone listened to them. Some of them feel that society has left them aside of the technologies. I could easily have used more hours in interviewing them.

What kind of media consumption were you able to find in these groups?

When we talk about people over 60, 65 years old, the television is still valid and powerful. And by television I mean the traditional set, not the one we could watch through the Internet and over the smartphone. Radio is also powerful. Finland is a country where regional newspapers are trusted as news sources. So, within this population I have been doing my research on, newspapers are the main resources for information.

Your research deals also with social representations, especially those fostered by the media. How come is the portrait of elderly in the press important for them?

Are there prejudices towards old people’s Internet skills?

You might call it prejudice, but I would rather call it a restricted representation. If you look into the statistics, and in the case of Finland, they tell you that old people use the Internet for other purposes, most of them ignored by the media. There is a gap of representation. The newspapers do not talk about those people whom don’t want to use the Internet and my research tells that it is a matter of ideologies, lifestyle, and ways of living that just don’t fit with modern technology.

How do you see your recent nomination as Chairwoman of the Finnish Society for Media Education?

In a broad scale, from an European point of view, how do you see the evolution of Media Education? Are we moving forward towards a wider recognition of this area?

I think there is a variation between countries, but in overall terms we have been doing a lot of progress. I am seeing more initiatives towards people of all ages, so it is not only about media literacy in children and young people. There are more efforts and funding for the study of older people and media literacy. This is a very impressive issue. There is also an intergenerational dialogue, among young and old people, and both of them can learn with each other. In Finland, we have now included media literacy in the school curricula.  

How come this happens there?

For both basic and secondary schools. We have an area called “Multi literacies”. The new curricula demands, regardless of what he or she teaches, that every teacher needs to promote media literacy in the classroom. That’s a challenge for everyone, for the teachers, for the professionals whom support the training actions. It is an exciting panorama. That’s why one of the challenges is how to train teachers.

Why did you choose CECS and the University of Minho to proceed in your research?

Last year I was in Toronto, in a conference on human centred technology and I met Inês Amaral [a CECS researcher] and from her I learned about our centre and the work you do here. I instantly went to your website and looked into your research, which is a very interesting, high quality one and very much related to the subject that I do. That’s how it started.



Text: Fábio Ribeiro
Photos: Vítor de Sousa