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Connected Christmas – making it happen

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And so it happened! Five days after I posted this plea for people to help me to do something to prove that technology can help to do something about loneliness at Christmas I was at a Christmas Party in Urmston, Trafford showing residents of a sheltered housing complex how to use Skype, how to search the internet for pictures of their old neighbourhoods, and that Youtube is a treasure-trove of videos which is bound to have something of interest to them.

It was thanks to Abdul Razzaq, Director of Public Health at Trafford Council, and Matthew Gardiner, CEO, and Rodger Cairns, MD for Independent Living, of Trafford Housing Trust, that all this was able to come together so quickly. It proves what can be done, with a bit of will.

I know this sort of stuff works, because I’ve done Digital Tea Parties for older people before. The difference this time, was the challenge of fitting technology in with a Christmas Party, with the objective of proving that people need not be lonely and isolated at Christmas.

A particular challenge on this occasion was that two hours of the party at Royle Higginson Court was taken up by singer, Little Mo, entertaining the residents. For that period there was little I could do, other than capture some of the atmosphere and give the outside world some insight into what was going on. For this aspect of such events in future, I would hope that we could build a network of potentially isolated people who could look in on the entertainment and enjoy it wherever they are.

Having got to the party an hour early to set up, I had time, before Little Mo’s performance, to show a couple of Youtube videos on the lounge TV via my Apple TV; and we also did a brief Skype hookup with Chris Baker from Ongo who was running a digital inclusion session in Scunthorpe.

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One particular Youtube video really fascinated the residents and we ended up watching it twice. It’s embedded below, and it’s a film from the 1950’s of two men acting out a pub crawl around Urmston. This really engaged the people at the event, not least because they agreed that all but one of the many pubs featured was still in business. This must be some kind of a record given the numbers of pub closures there have been over the years, particularly since the smoking ban. It got me thinking about whether we could recreate this video in modern-day Urmston. Who’s up for that? This discussion also gave me my first learning point of the day, as I was informed that Trafford General Hospital, which appeared in the video, was the first National Health Hospital.

So, I attempted to capture some of the atmosphere as Little Mo sang for the residents.

When the singing was over, there was an opportunity to engage residents in some of the tech opportunities. I accepted a challenge from one to find pictures of the road she was brought up on and which no longer exists. That quest was successful. And then, my good friend, Chris Conder, was kind enough to sit with a cup of tea in her kitchen in North Lancashire and chat with the residents in Urmston via Skype. A small number of residents, just did not want to engage, but quite a few were really pleased to chat with Chris, after they had got over the initial suspicion and surprise that this was all possible. Quite a few told me they were bowled over by the picture quality, and were amazed at what was possible.

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And then I met Tommy (below). Tommy had appeared not to take much interest in what I had been demonstrating, but, as I was about to leave, one of the other residents told me Tommy wanted to speak to me. Tommy told me he was 91 and had never seen the point of the internet, but now he realised that he could use it to talk to so many people, he definitely wanted to get a tablet device. We had quite a conversation, during which he told me he was a singer, and that he had been in the middle of making a CD when the recording studio he was working with closed down. I asked him if he realised that a tablet could be used as a portable recording studio. He was a amazed by this, and said he definitely needed to get one now.

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I believe this kind of approach works for three reasons:

  1. It attempts to blend the technology into something that people already want to be involved in, rather than making it something separate and special;
  2. It avoids the scariness of sitting someone down and forcing them to use a keyboard and mouse; and
  3. It shows that, fundamentally, such technologies are simply aids to the ancient art of human communication and connection, which is what everybody wants at the end of the day.

2014-12-17 16.31.24This was a pilot. It could have done with a bit more preparation, but it succeeded in that it opened up a number of people’s eyes to what it possible, and, as I said in the previous post, I want to be able to be doing a lot of these next Christmas, as we must seize on the opportunity offered by the heightened public awareness of loneliness at this time of year to change things. Of course, one of the real challenges of all this is being able to build on the initial sparked interest and ensure this results in some solid outcomes.

I had a long chat with one of the residents who told me that he really regrets losing his confidence as he has got older. He said that he knows he doesn’t go out as much as he should, and he doesn’t really usually mix with the other residents, because of his diminishing confidence.

This got me thinking about other ways we can use technology to help people who are in this situation. The “pub crawl” video went down very well, because it triggered memories, but also because it showed familiar locations. But most of the residents had few recent experiences of the venues involved. This is why I think it is important to produce video, including live streaming, and photography of local events. There is no reason at all why the residents of somewhere like Royle Higginson Court could not be involved in local events through watching them on the TV in their residents’ lounge. But that requires someone to be providing video and photography coverage of the events, and for the places like Royle Higginson Court to have the equipment (Smart TV, Apple TV or Chromecast), and staff knowledge to facilitate residents’ viewing. Why should people be forced to withdraw from their local communities as they get older and / or more infirm, when it is perfectly possible to facilitate their remote involvement?

So, many thanks again to Abdul at Trafford Council, Matthew and Rodger at Trafford Housing Trust, Shona, the manager at Royle Higginson Court, but most of all, to the residents who let me in to their Christmas Party. I hope this can be the start of many more such events.

And just a little footnote from a Twitter exchange:

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Let’s End Loneliness at Christmas

I have been prompted into action by a piece on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, about technology and social media aiding older people to overcome loneliness. Hurrah! I thought as I listened, finally this stuff is coming out in the open. You can hear the item below.

Every year there are stories about older people being isolated and lonely in their homes; and yet, every year there are advances in communications technologies which potentially offer cheaper and easier to use solutions (at least in part) to this problem. But there is no joining up.

What is the problem? I think society finds it really easy to hide behind its preconceptions and stereotypes about how older people would react to new technologies, and it uses this as an excuse to do nothing. And I think that technophobic professionals who project their own hangups onto the people they work with are a key barrier too. My own direct experience, through projects such as Our Digital Planet and Digital Tea Parties, suggests that, if approached in the right way, most older people will see the benefits of new technologies once exposed to them. So, let’s do away with the stereotypes and get on with breaking down loneliness. The lady featured in the Five Live report is a prime example of how this can work.

So, now I want to do something directly about this. I am announcing now that by November 2015 I intend to have a project in place that will connect people at Christmas. It will focus on bringing digital elements to Christmas parties in Care Homes, Sheltered Accommodation, Day Centres and elsewhere, with a view to leaving a legacy of older people who are  skilled and resourced to connect with each other and their friends and relatives over Christmas and beyond.

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So, I am looking for project funding, sponsorship, donations, and help-in-kind to connect up Christmas Parties in 2015. If you can provide:

  • funding
  • equipment (tablet computers, laptops, projectors, connected TV devices, etc.)
  • publicity

Then please get in touch.

And it’s not too late to do something THIS Christmas. Let’s pilot this idea. If you are running a Christmas Party for older people, you’d like to collaborate on connecting it up, and you can find a few hundred pounds to make it happen, then, let’s do it in 2014!

Technology can break down so many barriers. Let’s shout this message to the world.

Footnote

Only five days after originally posting this, I was able to run at pilot event in Trafford.  Here is the report of that event http://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/connected-christmas-making-it-happen/

Social Media for Social Good Advent Calendar #adventsmsg

Santa will be late this year (photo by Wayne Butterworth on Flickr)

It’s the Season of Goodwill, isn’t it? Well, actually, that phrase really irks me as I think it’s used by some people as an excuse to limit their quota of goodwill to a defined period of the year. For me, every day should be the Season of Goodwill, and that’s why I use the hashtag #365goodwill on Twitter.

Nevertheless, there are certain traditions at this time of the year, and, this year I am going to join in with at least one of them.

Starting on Monday 1st of December, I am launching the Social Media for Social Good Advent Calendar. Every day, for 25 days, up to, and including Christmas Day, I will be posting a short video clip with a little bit of my thinking on using Social Media to help make the world a better place.

So, watch this space, every day during Advent. You can follow all the clips on the hashtag #adventsmsg on Twitter, or by clicking on the tag #adventsmsg on this blog. So, if you miss one, you can still find it.

I hope you find this useful. I intend to have fun making the videos, which is partly what it’s all about really.

 

Tackling loneliness

There are so many lonely people in our world, and yet the modern world has given us the tools to banish loneliness for ever. Older people, in particular, are not taking advantage of these tools, so how can we address this.

This is my idea for a project, can we make this happen?

1. First step is to identify lonely, older people, and recruit those willing to take part in the project.

2. Video interviews with lonely, older people, describing their life stories.

3. Post the videos on the internet.

4. Encourage online discussion about the stories

5. Discuss the online interaction with the people who have been videoed

6. Provide equipment and training so the older people can take part in the online discussions

7. Encourage and facilitate future interactions and contact between all project participants

Can we do this?

To aid your thinking, here is the lovely Ron, from Our Digital Planet in Bristol

Older People and “Digital Skills”

Some more thoughts on the debate about older people and “digital skills”, further to my post of a week or so ago.

As well as saddling the objective of getting older people online with a prohibitive price tag of £875m, the debate is also being increasingly framed around “teaching” people “digital skills”. I believe, from my own experience of working with older people, that this is the wrong way to approach it.

Now, if I am an older person, retired from the labour market, why would I see a need for someone to “teach” me “digital skills”? Surely that is for someone who needs to do such things as part of their job?

My preference is that, rather than employing “teachers” to “teach” digital skills, we need to find ways of incentivising people who love digital technologies to pass on that love to people who have yet to come to the party. This, I believe, would both be a more effective approach, and would be likely to be delivered much more cheaply than £875m. Digital technologies can be fun, life enhancing, and socially beneficial. People who are not on board are missing out on all of these benefits, and we need to show them that.

One of the things I don’t get when working with older people is the tendency I have witnessed of many, professionals and others, to treat them like children. I think this contributes to their exclusion from digital technologies, with some thinking it is their duty to protect them from new and scary things. New technologies can both open up older people’s horizons to new experiences and connections, and be used to remind younger people that older people were once young themselves. We can use video, audio and photography to enable older people to tell their life stories which can have positive benefits for themselves and can act as a signal to others that these are people who have been active, with varied roles.

And I also don’t get the obsession with the 1930s and before which some people working with older citizens have when setting the context for events. Someone who is 75 now was 15 in 1954. As most people’s musical and social preferences are set in their teenage years, they are far more likely to be Rock ‘n’ Roll fans than to have an appreciation for Vera Lynn or George Formby.

Older people are becoming increasingly digital confident. But both the ability to continue to participate in the digital world, and to be introduced to it for the first time are threatened by “gatekeepers” who want to protect them from it, and by the system’s inability to cater for such needs. Thus, a lot of older people spend time in hospital, where, as I told BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” programme, there is unlikely to be free wifi to connect them to the outside world. The interview from this programme is below.

 

And the lack of digital infrastructure in care homes should be a national scandal. Those which are trying to address this, like the home in Newport which I visited last year (see video below), are all too rare.

The cost of digital inclusion £875 million?

Some very welcome coverage of Digital Inclusion issues in the mainstream media today, including on BBC TV Breakfast programme and on BBC Radio 4’s Today. This is stimulated by the publication of a report by The Policy Exchange which estimates that it would cost £875 million to ensure everyone in the UK has the digital skills necessary to thrive online in the modern world.

Now, while I welcome this much-needed focus on a vital issue, which exercises me greatly, the way the debate is framed gives me concerns.

Firstly, there is that figure, £875m. And it is not the first time this figure has been quoted as the same sum was mentioned in a report earlier this year commissioned by the Tinder Foundation [pdf]. I don’t doubt the figure is accurate, but I still don’t think it is helpful. I think politicians, in particular, look at it and say “we can’t afford this”. I am a great believer in biting off manageable chunks of a problem, and I think presenting the issue as one big problem with an £875m price-tag presents a sizeable barrier. I wonder if not enough work is being done to learn from the many innovative local initiatives which are taking place all over the country, and working out how these can be applied elsewhere, from within existing resources. The other point is that people learn best from others like themselves. A lot of the focus needs to be on voluntary digital champions who can cascade their skills to their friends and neighbours. Taking this approach may well reduce the costs.

My second concern is about the framing of the debate around “digital skills”. It tends to set people off into thinking about training courses and teachers. In my opinion, and based on experience, this is not about training courses; it is about demonstrating to people what they are missing out on. This is best done in a fun way, in unusual settings, and with zero emphasis on “teaching” and “skills”.

Digital Tea Party

This Friday (2nd May) I am working with Leeds Federated Housing Association, the HUGO project, and JTM Service to run a Digital Tea Party.

The format will be a traditional vintage tea party, and people are baking cakes to bring along; but it will be augmented with digital technology, giving people the opportunity to try out different kinds of gadgets and equipment, and it will feature a live Skype linkup with a similar event taking place eleswhere in the city.

So tune in for some fun and games, this Friday from 2pm. Follow the hashtag #digitparty on twitter and elsewhere on social media.

Image credit: Patrick Emerson on Flickr  https://www.flickr.com/photos/kansasphoto/

Telecare & Telehealth: Drivers for Digital Inclusion

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Earlier this week, I spend two days at Leeds University Business School, videoing the AKTIVE project conference “Technology, Care and Ageing: Enhancing Independence”. Although my role was to observe proceedings through the screen on the back of the camera, I found the whole event fascinating.

The conference theme was about the use of Telehealth and Telecare with older people. I got to see a lot of the conference, as I was asked to capture snippets of all the parallel workshops. As I went around the event, I heard a common theme emerging, which was repeated in a keynote presentation by Professor Heinz Wolff (pictured above). This was that it is essential to get people acquainted with unfamiliar new technologies before there comes a crisis in their lives which means they are forced to use them. There were many examples cited of people rejecting telecare equipment, or failing to use it as intended, because they were frightened of it, or at least extremely unfamiliar with it.

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Esther Rantzen at AKTIVE 2014 Conference

This is a similar theme to one of my recurring mantras for Digital Inclusion, which is that people have to be introduced to new technologies in enjoyable ways and in familiar settings, before they have to use them for formal, or in this case, life-saving purposes.

There is an audioboo below, in which I captured my immediate thoughts. I think it is imperative for the Digital Inclusion and Telecare / Telehealth communities to unite around a common agenda to build familiarity with new technologies among older people for whom they can be life-enhancing, and life-saving, tools.