This is a follow up to my post about the potential power of Facebook’s Portal to be a force for digital inclusion. I’m still not sure about whether, given Facebook’s track record on privacy, these devices will be welcomed in everyone’s homes, but I do believe that, on the face of it, at least, they do appear to be a game-changer for video conferencing. In fact, I am wondering why I am calling it “video conferencing”. In the context of something like Portal, I reckon that video conferencing sounds like a very corporate, business-like term, whereas Portal, as the advertising for it makes clear, is about bringing people together. It’s about joy and sharing. For years, I have advocated greater use of video chat to bring people together and reduce loneliness and isolation, and I have met resistance from people who have told me that such mechanisms are impersonal. But the Portal advertising, which features The Muppets, is clearly focused on emotion, empathy, love and friendship. And I was prompted to write this piece by seeing an advert for Vodafone’s new 5G service, which, again, focused on the emotional impact of connecting people via video. Here it is:
This advert focuses on Grandparents telling their grandchild bedtime stories via hologram. It’s a story told with an obvious tug on the heartstrings. So, it seems to me that big business now believes that emotions can be projected across the internet, and thus used to sell their products. And it has always seemed strange to me that people who have probably grown up weeping over films at the cinema and on TV, and perhaps eagerly awaiting the next retailer’s Christmas Advert, don’t think that one-to-one video could have anything to do with emotion.
The time has come to dispense with those notions of video chat being impersonal. They are standing in the way of taking practical action to deal with loneliness and isolation. When I did a piece of work for the Centre for Ageing Better a few years ago I met Greta and Arnold who were getting daily updates on the progress of their young greatgrandchildren via WhatsApp, and Joyce who had reconnected with her family across the Atlantic after a 40-year break via Skype. I still love the CNA Speaking Exchange which pairs students learning English in Brazil with isolated older people in the USA. I will leave you with an inspiraitional video from that project. I am still looking for funding to run something similar involving UK older citizens.
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