Growing Old Disgracefully

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the myth that older people don’t do digital really gets my goat. This is just one of many myths about older people which I struggle to counter in my work on digital inclusion. Many of those myths are not about digital technologies at all, they concern wider aspects of people’s lifestyles and what society deems appropriate for citizens of a certain age.

And sadly, it is all too often the case that individual older people only hit the news when they pass away. One of my childhood heroes, David Bowie has left us, at the age of 69. “Older people don’t do digital” the mantra goes, and yet, as Richard Branson has today reminded us, David Bowie was one of the first artists to release an album for digital download.

This is nothing to do with that album. It just needs to be watched again and again; with the context, that this was 1972.

I don’t really know much about the attitude of Motörhead frontman Lemmy’s attitude to digital technology. But, his funeral was live-streamed on Youtube after he departed, aged 70. And, if you think you have ideas about how Senior Citizens should behave, I’ll leave you with this performance from a 63 year-old Lemmy and friends.

A Manifesto for Social Tech in later life

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Yesterday I ran a second Connected Christmas event at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, Calderdale. There was a mixed group of some who were there for a second time, and some new participants. I hope I was able to open their eyes to some new possibilities. I know we all had a good time again, which is what it is really about. One lady told me she was really disappointed that there had been no carol services on the television over Christmas. Even though she has her own laptop at home, it had not occurred to her to go online to find any she could watch. I was able to help her find carol services on YouTube. One gentleman was an ex-chef. We chatted about his favourite dish, roast goose, and found a video of one of Jamie Oliver’s assistants cooking one. He put up a robust argument that her methodology was wrong.

As ever with these kinds of events I learn as much as the participants. One of the lessons was about degrees of digital exclusion. The lady with her own laptop is a retired accountant. She uses her machine for two main purposes, one is creating and modifying spreadsheets, which is a particular interest of hers, the other is for talking to her grandchildren in Australia via Skype. She sees her laptop as being for those purposes and has to be coaxed to explore its other possible uses. She is unlikely to appear on any official statistics about digital exclusion, she will be counted by the statisticians as being online, and it is great that she is able to see her grandchildren on the other side of the world while she talks to them, but, she is not exploiting the technology to anything like its full extent to improve her life.

The retired chef was an interesting case. I asked him if he used the internet at all. He replied “No. There’s just my wife and I, when we’re at home we don’t have any use for that kind of thing”. I asked if he had friends and family who used the internet. He said that he did, but they lived busy lives and would be too busy to talk to him. But, for me, that’s exactly the point. It use to be difficult to talk to people in distant locations; the internet has changed all that. But many have still not caught up with this fact. These means that a lot of older people are living lives remote from their families and support networks when they could be closely connected with them online.

It was recently announced that there will be free wifi in all NHS premises. This is a massive step forward in helping people who need healthcare to stay in touch with their networks and access information. But it really must not stop there. Huge numbers of socially isolated people spend time in social care settings, whether these be Day Centres, Care Homes, or other facilities. In the case of Care Homes, they probably spend a lot more time in such facilities than they do in NHS premises. Ask yourself how you would feel if you had no wifi or tech in your house. And then consider that 50% of older people currently spend at least some of their time in Care Homes. That could be you. What would you do if cut off from the ability to use online networks and services?

There is a dangerous assumption that social tech has passed older people by, and that they therefore have no interest in it. These assumptions are made by professionals, relatives, and by older people themselves. But my work, and that of others, has proved that the right approach can result in older people being persuaded that social tech both has benefits for them and can be mastered. This approach is about careful and patient exploration of people’s interests and how their lives can be enhanced; it is emphatically not about putting people in classrooms, on courses, or chasing numbers rather than wellbeing. And social technology can open up so many opportunities for older people including:

  • reducing social isolation
  • allowing people to tell stories about their lives, and about treatment and recovery
  • building confidence for the adoption of telehealth and telecare.

So, here is my manifesto for a social technology revolution to transform how technology supports health, wellbeing, and social inclusion among older citizens.

  1. Health and social care professionals need digital skills training themselves, and to understand how social technologies can improve the lives of the people they work with. The most enthusiastic of them need to become digital champions (example DigiWards);
  2. The commitment to free wifi in NHS premises needs to be extended to Social Care settings, including Day Centres and Care Homes (example Ashton Park Care Home);
  3. Events such as Digital Tea Parties and Connected Christmas need to be adopted as the approach to interest older citizens in social technologies;
  4. Recognition needs to be given that digital inclusion of older citizens is a long term process, not a one-off event;
  5. Schemes to recycle tablets to ensure older people can access social technologies at reasonable prices need to be developed;
  6. Research and development of online social networks for older people needs to be further explored;
  7. The benefits of social technologies for older citizens needs to be promoted to their relatives and families.

Please get in touch (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you can help with any of these objectives.

Connected Christmas in Calderdale

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If you’re reading this you are probably pretty au fait with the internet. You’ve managed to navigate your way to this blog, at least. You may even have arrived here via a Google search. Can you imagine how different life is for someone who has never performed a Google search, who has never watched a Youtube video, or has never sent a text message. One of the first things I heard after waking this morning was someone on the radio talking about “Google, Facebook, and those kinds of services which have become integral to all our lives”. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with people for whom that is not true in any way.

So, yesterday I ran my second Connected Christmas Party. It was at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, West Yorkshire, and it could not have happened without the support of Calderdale Council’s Adults’ Health and Social Care Commissioning Service, and in particular Elaine James and Stacey Leonard. And, I was very grateful for the support of Paul Webster who was able to join us for most of the session.

And it was a lot of fun, after some initial scepticism and nervousness, participants were soon happily chatting about their favourite music, how their families use technology, and places they used to live, including Huddersfield, Rotherham, Ireland and Australia, which we could then search for on Google Earth and Street View. And the selection of favourite music which people requested included Billy Fury, Dusty Springfield, Mario Lanza, Roy Orbison, and The Beatles, yet again there was no demand for Vera Lynn!

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As we were leaving the Centre, Diana the Manager, asked how it had gone and was very pleased to receive positive feedback. “That’s really good”, she said, “because a few of them were quite reluctant to come along in the first place”. That’s because they had been told they were coming along to learn about the internet. When they arrived and found out that that it was about fun, communication, memories, and music, their attitudes radically changed. This is why I advocate that Digital Inclusion must not be about classes and courses, it has to be about patient and empathetic exploration of people’s interests and needs, and careful matching of content and services online which can meet those needs and stimulate those interests.

So, I’ll be going back next week to help people explore their interests further, and hopefully to introduce some new people to the joys of the internet at the same time.

Ultimately, I do this because I believe that technology can break down older people’s social isolation, and that excluding them from the online world is a real detriment to their health and wellbeing. One really interesting aspect of the conversation was the talk about how people’s families use technology. I believe older people get further isolated because the younger members of their families communicate with each other online, and then exclude those who are not seen to be tech savvy. I hope that what Connected Christmas and similar events can do, is to seek to plug older citizens into the online networks their families are part of and thus ensure they can receive care, attention, and support from those who they care about but who are not immediately close at hand.

The session also highlighted a pressing need for health and social care professionals to be trained to act as Digital Mentors. A topic to which I will be returning again soon.

Thanks again to Calderdale Council for making this possible. Please get in touch if you’d like me to run events like this for the people you work with. This kind of approach works. We need to spread it widely.

Humanising Systems

I woke up this morning to yet another example of what goes wrong when systems fail to perform as collectives of humans. There have been far too many of them to catalogue, and many of these failures are intensely painful to all involved, so I don’t intend to go into them here. The latest story was about attempts to replace the Liverpool Care Pathway end-of-life care system in the NHS with something a bit more personal and tailored to the needs of the individual. The previous regime was a prime example of bureaucracy replacing common sense and compassion, which has been all too common a feature of our lives for too many years.

I firmly believe that organisations work best when they function as groupings of human beings and when those humans are allowed to react firstly as people and secondly as bureaucrats. Many of the systems failures we have seen come about when people tick boxes rather than using their feelings, empathy, compassion, and judgement.

In recent times I have attended an event at which health and care professionals attempted to communicate their aims to engage the public in their work using PowerPoint slides with type too small to read, and one which even included an Excel Spreadsheet; and I have visited the offices of another organisation charged with public engagement which resides in a building at the far end of an industrial estate remote from public transport routes. Both of these are, to me, symptoms of systems failure. The thinking that led to those situations was wrong, and they lead to decision-making which is unhelpful.

And I wonder if it is a coincidence that the people who use these methods also don’t use social media in their work. Just as they hide away in their offices in inaccessible locations and couch their “explanations” in impenetrable language, they continue to shy away from modern methods of communication and transparency.

There are many laudable, conscious, efforts going on to promote transparency and “working in public” through social media, including the “Social Organisation” initiative in Leeds and the Bromford Lab in social housing. In many other cases, individuals have pushed the boundaries through their own personal use and have seen positive public reactions.

To me, there has to be a role for social media in breaking down the old, damaging consensus, that faceless bureaucracies are the most efficient kind of organisations, and leading the way to a new acceptance that transparency and human reactions are the best ways of getting things done. Social media reveals people’s motives, makes them open to scrutiny, and it helps them find like-minded people and supportive colleagues. This has to be a better way of doing things.

What do you think?

 

Free Hospital Wifi – Nearly There!

Those who know me will be aware that I have been campaigning for free patient access to wifi in NHS hospitals for more than 10 years. For most of that time I felt like a voice in the wilderness. In recent years the support has gathered, and, in the last year at least, it has felt like there was a momentum behind the idea.

And now…. the moment has not yet arrived, but the door is open. Today, Martha Lane Fox published her “Digital Recommendations for the NHS“. Among the recommendations are that all health staff should have digital skills, AND, that there should be free wifi for staff and patients across the NHS estate.

I know from experience that there is a long distance between recommendation and implementation, particularly in an NHS which is actually made up of a plethora of autonomous units. But the recommendation is there, and it has a budget behind it.

So, maybe the Campaign has won. But still join it any way here to make sure the momentum is maintained.

We are nearly there!

 

Announcing AgeCamp

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UPDATE: AgeCamp 2016 will take place on Monday 4th April at the Shay Stadium, Halifax, West Yorkshire

 

As you probably know, I have been working on initiatives to assist older citizens to use social and mobile technologies for a while now. It’s a frustrating field of work, frustrated on so many fronts by:

  • the reality of technophobia among older people (which IS a reality, but is often vastly over-stated)
  • technophobia among the staff of organisations working with older people (which can often be a bigger problem than that of the older people themselves)
  • inertia in the system, and reluctance to adopt new ways of working
  • risk aversion
  • lack of equipment and infrastructure in institutions, centres, and people’s homes
  • focus on the crucial role of telehealth and telecare equipment, which can often crowd out the potentially important role of social and mobile tech.

Often it can feel a lonely business, trying to get recognition of both the need for older people to use social and mobile technologies, and to get into the system to try it out with them.

So, I’m announcing AgeCamp, an unconference for people working with older citizens. This will be an opportunity for anyone who works with older people (and older people themselves) to get together in a mutually supportive environment, discuss their issues and plan joint responses. And, this is meant in no way to be an event which focuses exclusively on technology. Any issues about working with older people are open for discussion. So, if you want to re-invent the care home, or start a community minibus service, all topics are welcome.

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If you’ve never been to an unconference, here’s a pretty good description of how they work. AgeCamp will be led by the attendees, there will be no fixed agenda in advance, you come along, you pitch an idea, and if at least one more person wants to talk about it, you have a session (in fact you can run a session on your own if you really want to!).

Date

I don’t have a date or a venue sorted yet. (UPDATE: The first AgeCamp will be on 4th April 2016)

Venue

See above. Maybe someone could offer a venue, that would be great. (UPDATE: Courtesy of Calderdale Council, the venue will be in Halifax, at The Shay Stadium)

Sponsorship

I am also looking for sponsors. We need sponsorship for venue hire, catering, maybe some travel bursaries, and for post session drinks. This will be a great opportunity for people with products or services relevant to older people to promote themselves to a range of people working in the sector.

Please get in touch, using the form below, if you can help with any of these issues, or if you just want to get involved and make AgeCamp happen.

See you at AgeCamp!

Another appeal to end loneliness at Christmas

A year ago, I pledged to do all I can to end loneliness for older people at Christmas, when I wrote this post. Quite a lot has happened since then, but not nearly enough.

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There are still people who will be lonely this Christmas, and many of these people would have someone to talk to if only they could overcome their fears of new technology and connect with someone on Skype, Facetime, or FaceBOOK.

So, this is an appeal. If you are organising a Christmas Party for older people, for £300 I will turn it into a Connected Christmas Party, like this one. I will work with you to show the people at your party what fun connecting with people online can be, how they can re-kindle memories and make their lives easier. This is too important an issue to leave to those who say that technology has passed them by.

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Please let me work with you to make loneliness at Christmas a thing of the past. Contact me via john.popham@johnpopham.com

Preparing for the #HousingDay NewsRoom

I am really excited and grateful to Lewisham Homes who will be sponsoring the #HousingDay Newsroom.

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And I am even more excited that I will be joined in the NewsRoom not only by the guys from Resource, who, of course, are the people who bring you CommsHero, but also by Social CEO, Lisa Pickard from Leeds & Yorkshire HA, founder of #HousingDay, Adrian Capon, of Yorkshire Housing, Jenny Osbourne, CEO of TPASCaroline Chapman, from InCommunities, Beckie Kinsella from Plus Dane, and Hannah Jowett from Leeds Federated HA. But don’t worry, there’s probably room for you, if you still want to come along.

We’ll be curating and amplifying the best content from the day, as well as regularly live streaming news bulletins. And, of course there will be regular live linkups with our sponsor, Lewisham Homes.

I have been particularly impressed with Lewisham Homes’ Humans of Lewisham project, which has taken its inspiration from the world famous Humans of New York to celebrate tenants and their lives in photography with accompanying text. We’ve been discussing this in the Digital Storytelling sessions I’ve been doing recently with Riverside Group, and we’ve agreed that this model provides a fabulous format for telling positive stories about tenants.

And, as the theme of this years #HousingDay is #proudtenant; celebrating the lives and achievements of social housing tenants is exactly what we will be doing.

The Art of Conversation – Bringing together YouTubers and Older Residents

Is conversation really a lost art? Can it bridge the digital divide by pairing older residents with younger YouTubers?

OAP Internet Virgins on Sky 1

OAP Internet Virgins on Sky 1

Inspired by the television show OAP Internet Virgins on Sky1, I am working with Age Friendly Leeds  to re-imagine the art of conversation in a one day workshop where older residents will be paired with YouTubers. These conversations will be recorded and shared online.

The aim is to bring together some younger Leeds residents who know their way around the internet and spend their lives online, probably through making YouTube videos, and get them to persuade older residents that there are many benefits in the internet for them.

If you are a Leeds based YouTuber and want to take part, please click here to get in touch via Twitter.

There will be an announcement shortly about the venue, but the event will be taking place on Friday 4th December.

Let’s Make this a Connected Christmas

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It’s nearly Christmas. Yes, it’s coming round again, doesn’t it seem to come faster every year?

Last year, I declared my determination to make sure no older person was lonely at Christmas if technology could play a role in connecting them to others. To that end, I teamed up with Trafford Council and Trafford Housing Trust to add digital elements to a Christmas Party taking place at Royle Higginson Court in Urmston as a demonstration of what is possible. You can read about that here.

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Since then, I’ve run further digital tea parties in Whitby and Leeds. But I still hear people saying “older people don’t do digital”. Well a lot do, and the rest won’t unless they experience tangible demonstrations of the benefits it can bring to them in settings that are familiar to them. That’s what the Connected Christmas Party is about. If I can help a few more older people Skype their relatives on Christmas Day rather than sitting alone wondering what they are doing, I will consider that progress on the road to ending isolation.

So, if you are running a Christmas Party for older people this year, please let me work with you to make it a Connected Christmas. For not very much money I can help you open your attendees lives up to the endless possibilities of digital connections. Let’s do this, please get in touch.

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