Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Greta and Arnold

This is the first in a series of posts on a piece of work I am doing for the Centre for Ageing Better on capturing stories about how older people use technology. If you or someone you know would like to tell their story, please get in touch. I’m particularly interested in talking to “younger” older people (55-70).

I visited the Seniors Centre in Catford, South London to meet Greta and Arnold and talk to them about how they use new technologies. The video of the interview is below.

Greta and Arnold have been married for 60 years, and Arnold recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Some of the key points they made about new technologies are:

  • They were fascinated by their younger relatives “waving smartphones about like they were magic”. This made them want to learn more about them;
  • Their journey started when they became trustees of the Seniors Centre and were told they had to use email to receive documents. This terrified them at first, but forced them into changing their attitude;
  • They were further intrigued when the Seniors Centre started holding Techie Tea Parties. The most recent of these events attracted over 60 people. As Greta says; “it’s a very good idea to have tea and technology together”;
  • A key advance was when they learned to get their emails through their smartphones, although Arnold complains that Greta’s phone is constantly pinging with news of her Amazon purchases;
  • Greta explains that nobody taught her how to use Amazon, she saw it as a next step on from the basic skills she had already acquired;
  • The single most transformational moment in their recent lives was learning how to use WhatsApp. Greta says “it gives us so much pleasure”. This pleasure is chiefly derived from the daily updates they get on the progress of their baby great-granddaughter;
  • Greta admits that they were frightened of new technologies in the first instance, but they learned that they needed to relax. “Once you start relaxing you can do it very well” she says:
  • Arnold says “Young people tend to be obsessive and do it all day. We have the rest of the world to pay attention to”;
  • Technology is always evolving. Greta thinks their next step will be to learn to make videos so their family can keep in touch with Greta and Arnold’s day-to-day activities rather than it all coming the other way as at present.

AirBnB as an antidote to the Bedroom Tax?

photo by Raj Kumar

Yesterday, I was at HouseMark‘s Digital Futures Club. This is a regular event that I am part of with a number of others, and it has become a growing club with more housing providers who want to explore the world of digital technologies joining all the time. Check it out here if you want to be part of it.

At this event, Paul Taylor and I kicked off with a joint presentation about what members had told us they wanted from the Club, and the kinds of meaningful activities we envisaged being facilitated to ensure that members could implement digital technologies in their own organisations. I was struck by something that Paul said during this session, namely that “there are no stupid ideas”.

So, after the event, a number of us congregated in the pub round the corner, the pub, of course, being the place where most great ideas are fostered. This is so true that I am thinking of launching an ideas generating app called Pub, except that it probably already exists. Anyway, after most other people had drifted away, Paul and I were still kicking ideas around, and I mentioned that I had stayed in an AirBnB apartment the previous night. And quite quickly, this thought got linked with another we had been discussing about the Bedroom Tax. So, I asked the question, why couldn’t we organise an AirBnB for Bedroom Tax; i.e. something which allows people subject to the bedroom tax, but who need to keep their “spare” room to rent it out for short periods to cover the gap in their Housing Benefit payments?

Photo by Duncan Morrow

Now, go on, I can hear you shouting already about all the reasons why this is impracticable, impossible, and even immoral. But, as Paul said, sometimes you have to act as if there are no stupid ideas. Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. And, as we repeatedly said and heard yesterday, and at other times, the UK social housing sector has no choice but to change radically, so all ideas have to be considered.

Could we do this? Why not?

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