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.

 

The Digital Inclusion Laundry

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Today we had a lovely get together of people with a stake in Digital Inclusion in Leeds. The event was held at Leeds Federated Housing Association and included an update on the HUGO project, one of whose buses is now on the road and taking digital inclusion to the city’s housing estates.

An intriguing idea was presented by John Middleton of JMT Service Ltd. He is working on a proposal for a Digital Inclusion Laundry. His idea is to turn housing association laundry facilities into internet cafes for the digitally excluded. I love this idea as it fits in with my philosophy of taking digital inclusion to where people are, not expecting them to come to you.

In the video below, John explains some of the other projects he has been involved in (as a washing machine supplier!) and then goes on to outline the Digital Inclusion Laundry proposal. Please get in touch if you can help make this idea a reality.

Social Media and Social Change – reaching the people at the top

This is a response to a plaintive tweet from Shirley Ayres reproduced above. I share Shirley’s frustration. We’ve been using social media for getting on for 10 years now. It is not new, but many organisations still treat it as a weird innovation to be distrusted and feared. This is costing them money and causing their service users to suffer.

Many of us have been chipping away at this fear and reluctance, usually from the bottom-up. Where we have failed in large part is in getting to the people at the top, those still wedded to old-style command-and-control management methodologies; those who were already in a senior position before the first computer entered their workplace; and those who still get their PAs to print off their emails. This has to change.

I’m going to do something about this. And this is what:

  • I’m going to try to crystallise the informal community of social good innovators I am connected to via Twitter – I suggest an online community (maybe a Ning) acting as a resource bank for innovation good practice, a source of mutual support, and a rallying point for action;
  • I am going to work with this community of people to try to get us speaking slots at big conferences where the senior people go. I am thinking of conferences like SOLACE and ADASS ;
  • I am going to lobby for funding for this network. Shirley has a really good idea where this can come from below.

Who’s up for this approach? Maybe it’s all happening already. If it is, please let me now. Duplicated effort wold be wasteful.

“Why have I resisted so long?”

He came into the Internet Station of Our Digital Planet in Wigan and without introducing himself said “I’ve reluctantly come to the decision that I can’t hide from the internet any longer. My family are constantly complaining that I don’t participate in things they organise online”.

He asked to be shown how to send an email. Afterwards he said “I feel guilty now I know how easy it is. Why have I resisted so long? My family must think I am so rude”.

The Importance of Digital Storytelling

Last week I got the heart warming news that the LS14 Trust had secured 3 years funding for their Digital Lounge. When I met with them in March, they were seriously fearing closure as the funding they had was running out.

So, I made a video in which the staff members told some stories about how important their work is, and it generated quite a lot of interest.

Digital storytelling is important, and it works. Here’s the video I made with Nic and Jo:

If it makes me happy…

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I’ve just had a lovely chat with a gentleman (who told me he was 85) who came into the Our Digital Planet Internet Station to tell me that new technologies and the internet are all a con.

He proudly stated “I am firmly a man of the 1950s, and that’s how I want to live my life”. He believes that all modern gadgets are part of a process of convincing people to buy things they don’t need. “I’ve seen them walking about with these biscuits” he said (meaning tablets)… “what’s all that about?”. He said he is content with his view that he has had his life and the modern world has nothing to offer him. I told him that made me sad, but he said he has been happy, and sadness has no part in his life. He doesn’t get lonely and is content with his own company.

And then he pulled out his mobile phone, which is pre-programmed with the work and home numbers of his daughter and that of a taxi company. “This is the only new technology I have, and it does those 3 things for me,” he said.

We had to agree to differ, and this was one that got away. But, if he is happy, who am I to ask him to change?