Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Joyce

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This is the second in my series of posts on how older people are using new technologies, stories gathered as part of work for the Centre for Ageing Better.

An old university contemporary of mine put me in touch with his 91 year-old Aunt, Joyce, who emigrated to Florida from Bradford in the 1950s and who had more or less lost touch with her family in the UK before she learned to use Skype.

Here are some of the things Joyce told me. The full video of the interview is at the foot of the post:

  • Joyce started learning to use a computer because her sight was failing and it helped her read;
  • Before learning to use a computer, Joyce struggled to write more than a postcard, partly due to nerve issues in her hands. She has now written 3 books, none of which has been published, but which she writes for the sheer joy of it;
  • The most enjoyable part of being online is being able to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. Joyce remembers the time when she had to make an appointment to make a transatlantic phone call, and it was prohibitively expensive;
  • Joyce says that her sister-in-law was talked out of attending computer classes by her son who said she would never master it and it was a waste of time;
  • Joyce does much of her shopping online “because things are cheaper”;
  • Joyce says she would be very bored without a computer;
  • Facebook is where she keeps track of her children and grandchildren, and, that day, she had been watching her great granddaughter on a Disneyworld rollercoaster;
  • When asked her attitude to other older people not wanting to be online, Joyce replies “I think they are nuts…. They’re missing out on so much, sitting there in a chair, falling asleep or watching the Idiot Box”;
  • Joyce is firmly of the opinion that being online keeps her young. She says “I look at people 10 to 15 years younger than me and they look so much older. There is always something on the computer to keep your brain going”.

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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Wetherspoon’s – The Ultimate Social Network?

 

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I spend quite a bit of time in different branches of Wetherspoon’s, the pub chain. Ah, before you go rushing to conclusions, let me tell you why. There are two reasons.

The first is that I travel a lot, and I tend to do it on a budget to keep costs down. I stay in a lot of cheap hotels, and, to be frank, the quality of breakfasts in some of them leaves a lot to be desired. And some don’t offer breakfast at all. And I am vegetarian, which further complicates matters. If they can actually cope with the request for a meat-free breakfast, it is often the case that the eggs, mushrooms, etc. are cooked in the same pan as the sausages and bacon. So, as there are a lot of Wetherspoons around the country, and they serve vegetarian breakfasts, I tend to seek them out for breakfast when I am travelling.

The second reason is the 99p coffee. What, you don’t know you can get coffee with unlimited refills for 99p up to 2pm in Wetherspoons? So, even if I am not in there for breakfast, I often find myself working in a Wetherspoons and filling up on very cheap coffee at other times of the day. Yes, it’s great to work in hipster coffee shops, but, as I only drink black coffee, I am not really bothered about the quest for evermore outlandish caffeine-laden drinks. And, the other thing about Wetherspoons is that all its branches have free wifi (via The Cloud) which usually works pretty well.

And I have noticed something about Wetherspoons. Even early in the morning, when I am eating breakfast, there are nearly always several, solitary, older men in there, usually supping pints. I say solitary, because they will nearly always be sat at separate tables, not engaging with each other.

So, I have long thought that this may be an opportunity. If you are looking to engage with older men and get them involved in social activities, maybe Wetherspoons could be your starting point?

And here’s a video I made about Working in Wetherspoons. Why not try it and make me a bit less solitary in using the #workinginwetherspoons hashtag?

Amendment:  Just an addendum to say that I’ve done breakfast in Wetherspoon’s in Scotland and am aware that the Scottish licensing laws do not permit the sale of alcohol before 10am. They do, however, permit Wetherspoon’s to sell breakfast and coffee, and it is interesting that their branches in Scotland (at least the one’s in Glasgow and Edinburgh that I have visited) open for breakfast notwithstanding.

Sometimes it’s better to hide the technology

This is a much delayed post that I have been trying to get around to writing for some time.

Back in February, I attended a showcase event run by Age Friendly Leeds, under the auspices over the multi-talented Abhay Adhikari. There were a number of products on show, but two in particular caught my eye.

Bus Clock

The first was the “bus beacon”. This is a device, based on a raspberry pi which takes the live data on bus times which feeds the displays on bus stops and passes it to a simple clock which counts down the time until the next bus is due at the nearest stop. This is intended to allow people to wait longer in the warmth of their home rather than going out in the cold to wait at the stop.

The second device was the “mesh box”.

Mesh Box These are basically a raspberry pi in a box. Externally, there is just one simple button on box. Pressing this button allows anyone with a box to talk to anyone else in the vicinity with one. They connect to each other via a mesh (hence the name) rather than relying on the internet, so the person using one does not need an internet connection. The idea is that people can talk to their neighbours whenever they feel in company. The boxes do have on/off switches, so people do not have to receive if they don’t want to be disturbed.

Mesh box

What I really love about these devices is their simplicity. They hide the technology and present interfaces which anyone who is anyway frightened of digital devices is likely to feel comfortable with.

I look forward to hearing about progress with these items. If you want to find out more, try giving Age Friendly Leeds a shout.

What would be in your Internet Box?

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Elio Hector Lopez helps put together El Paquete Semanal, a sort of Internet-in-a-box delivered weekly to Cubans. Google wants now wants to bring Internet access to the island. Credit: Miguel Helft

Reading this story yesterday about how Google is working to improve internet access in Cuba, I was drawn to the description in the latter part of the article about El Paquete Semanal, the “internet in a box” which Cubans have been using for the past dozen years or so.

How it works is that someone compiles a “best of” the internet on a Terabyte disk and then copies of this are distributed by people traveling around the country by bus. This reminded me of what people often say to me when I run Digital Tea Parties. Digital Tea Parties are informal events (based, of course, around tea parties) where I introduce people to the joys of the internet. I often show YouTube videos of local historical interest at such events, and, a number of times, people have asked me if I carry those film shows around with me. I then have to explain that YouTube is a resource that anyone, anywhere can access, as long as they have an internet connection. This is part of people’s initial understanding of the internet, and the fact that it must have something to offer to everyone, whatever their interests.

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So, if you lived somewhere like Cuba, where your only access to the internet was via a hard drive brought to you on the bus; what would you want to be in the “box”. Let me know in the comments section below.

Unlocking important stories

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Yesterday I ran my 4th Digital Storytelling session with the Riverside Group. The first three sessions were with Marketing and Communications staff in Liverpool. Yesterday I worked with a group of managers who are closer to the frontline at their North East Office in Gateshead.

As I often find,  in this workshop as in others, people frequently preface their remarks with disclaimers along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to say”, or “no one is going to be interested in my story”. And you’d be surprised how often they then go on to prove themselves wrong. My point is that everyone is unique and every individual has something to say which will be of interest to somebody.

The latter part of yesterday’s session focused on getting participants to have their first stab at making a video with their smartphones. Again, people were very self-deprecating about their prospects, “I’m not at all creative” being the most common complaint. And then they all went away and made really good films.

Everyone has a story in them. Often it is just case of giving them the confidence to express it.

I made some of these points in my Social Media Masterclass at the CIH Scotland Conference in Edinburgh last week. And here is a video interview I did at that session. If you’d like me to help your colleagues unlock their stories, please get in touch.

Councillors and Social Media – Could They be YouTube Stars?

2016-02-12 10.04.45This is my second post on my takeaways from this year’s #notwestminster event. It may not be the last.

This was the second #notwestminster event, and there have been numerous other events with a similar slant, principally #localgovcamps over the past 8 years or so. It is tempting to think that we will always see progress as time passes, but I fear that this is not always the case. And in this instance, there is a field in which I think progress has stalled, or maybe even taken some backward steps, and that is the use of social media by councillors.

Councillors as Youtube Stars

Someone like Cllr. David Harrington from Stockton-on-Tees is living proof of why councillors should be making effective use of social media. More of that, including a video interview below. But, before that, at the Friday, Local Democracy Makers’ Day, I pitched an idea that I have outlined before, namely, how can we make Youtube stars out of councillors?

As I have written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that non-profit organisations need to make much more use of online video to engage with their customers and service users. There are now people who are making millions from YouTube videos; their audience is mainly young people, they are mainly young themselves, and their subject matter is normally pretty frivolous. But that doesn’t mean that this experience cannot be translated to a more serious area. And the benefits of Councillors engaging beyond the “usual suspects” of the politically-engaged, the campaigners and those with an axe to grind, has to be self-evident.

So, on Friday, we formed a group to work on how Councillors can use video to engage with their constituents, and I think we came up with something quite interesting, with possible applications beyond local government. The solution we came up with was a tool which would allow councillors to publish a map of their ward populated with videos about issues in particular locations. Lucy Knight pulled the tool together and published it immediately on her blog here, while I conducted a video interview with Cllr. Mike Jordan to give us some content to display. The video interview is posted below. It’s worth a watch as it gives some insights into how floods have been dealt with in Selby and North Yorkshire.

It’s a very rough and ready tool, but sometimes the most simple things are the best. I think this, if developed further, could be the basis of an engagement platform, providing opportunities for councillors to use video to engage their electorate. And it could be opened wider to allow local residents to publish their own videos on it in an effort to get something done about local issues. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping to develop this tool further.

Councillors and Social Media

And so to the wider issue of councillors using social media. I conducted the interview below with Councillor David Harrington because I was very struck with what he had said about how his councillor caseload has increased greatly as a result of his high profile on social media. A few years ago there was funding avialable to run programmes like this one which had quite an influence on increased uptake of social media on the part of local elected members. But, as austerity has bitten, funding for things like this has dried up. I think that is a great shame, and I’d be very interested in running some social media training sessions for councillors if either funding could be found, or if councillors themselves might be prepared to pay a modest amount to attend. If anyone can help with this, please get in touch. I’d be interested in the views of elected members themselves as to whether they would attend such sessions and how they might be funded.

AgeCamp – Putting Flesh on the Bones

LocalGovCamp 2015

I can now confirm that the first AgeCamp will be on Monday 4th April 2016. Thanks to the kind sponsorship of Calderdale Council, it will be held at The Shay Stadium, Halifax. We are using the hashtag #AgeCamp2016 on social media.

Book your place at AgeCamp2016 here now

As well as Calderdale Council, UKGovCamp have chipped in some sponsorship. Anyone else who wants to sponsor and/or exhibit, please get in touch.

AgeCamp is for older people and anyone working with older people. It will have no pre-set agenda. At the beginning of the day, people will be invited to pitch sessions that they want to run, and the agenda will be constructed from the session topics which people want to talk about.

Attendees will be from all over the UK (and beyond if they can get here). Anyone is welcome. Most people there will be those who have a problem they want solving, a project they want help with, or a product or service that needs developing further. The aim of the day is to come up with ideas that can be taken forward and that will make older people’s lives better.

AgeCamp is an unconference. It will be the first national unconference in the field of working with older people. Such events are now relatively common in other arenas, but this is a groundbreaking event in this sector. I have taken lessons and inspiration from an event run by Age Friendly Leeds last year. You should check out the amazing work they are doing with technology and older people.

A booking site will go live shortly (now live here). In the meantime, please put 4th April in your diary, tell your friends, make plans for your travel and session pitches, and get in touch if you have further questions.

UPDATE: We’re now taking suggestions for discussion topics here and for the Spotify playlist for the event here.

Digital Storytelling for Health and Wellbeing

Not long before Christmas I had the pleasure of working with Fran O’Hara and Pam Luckock of Working With Not To social reporting and videoing at their Dementia Co-Production event in Llandudno.

It was a truly inspirational event, and I was very glad to play my part in helping people to get their own stories about living with their own Dementia and that of their loved ones out to the wider world. It was a really illuminating day, and it demonstrated that it is a much more effective methodology to get people to tell their own stories rather than giving the floor solely to the opinions of professionals. The material from the day is still in production, but I have taken the opportunity to present some snippets within this post.

I believe that the power of the internet to bring people with similar issues together, and the availability of digital tools to enable people to tell their stories are powerful mechanisms for assisting people to take control of their own health, influence their treatments, and increase understanding of the development of conditions. And it is true that, in some cases, digital inclusion is an issue in this respect as people need to be introduced to the internet and its possibilities, before it becomes a tool to improve their health and wellbeing.

I’ve got previous experience of this when I worked with Clinical Commissioning Groups in South and East Cheshire to collect some patient stories.

There is not enough of this kind of thing happening in my opinion. So I now want to organise a national event on this issue, i.e. Digital Storytelling for Health and Wellbeing. Please contact me (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you want to be involved in this event, either as a service user, a health and care professional, a storyteller, or a technologist. Let’s build a movement which gets people’s health stories out to the world.