Addressing the Web Skeptics

Last week I presented at the ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) Tenants’ Conference in Leamington Spa. My theme was about Digital Engagement of Tenants. At the beginning of the afternoon workshop, I asked who, in an audience of about 40 people, had never used the internet. 2 men at the back of the room put their hands up, so I told them I hoped I would have convinced them they were missing out by the end of the session.

So, at the close of the workshop, I asked the 2 skeptics if I had changed their minds. One wouldn’t say anything. The other proudly told me he had not changed his view and went on to expound his theory that the internet has stopped people from learning things. That, because people now have information at their finger tips, and access to tools such as spell checks, there is no incentive actually to learn things any more. I explained my view, that having the internet at our disposal encourages us to be more creative, and to use the parts of our brains formerly dedicated to storing information for activities which allow us to deploy our skills and abilities to more effective ends. He wasn’t having it, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, I got a lot of positive feedback from the remainder of those present, and a number of people came forward to tell me I had inspired them to want to use the internet in ways which had not previously occurred to them. But I couldn’t help thinking about those two skeptics and all the things they are missing out on. The truth is the opposite of what that man claimed it to be. Closing one’s mind to the possibilities offered by the web is the ultimate act of refusing to learn. I personally will not rest until I have got everybody to understand that.

Time for a Social Housing Sharing Strategy?

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Sharing Economy, but you might not know what it actually is. There is some debate about this. At its heart it is about people using their assets and skills for economic benefit. Some argue that that the more apt name is the Rental Economy. Examples of this kind of activity are things like AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber. What people are doing in these examples is not really sharing, they are renting their assets out. There are examples of sharing where people barter goods and services, but what the new wave of so-called sharing platforms do, is basically to use the internet to allow people with resources to offer them for hire to those who need them. Is it really sharing? Well, no, but, for the seller it can open up otherwise unused assets to generate economic benefit, and for the purchaser it can enable them to afford to do things they otherwise would not. I was prompted to write this post by news of the launch of Waze Commute, which allows commuters to find drivers commuting their way and pay them a modest amount for joining them for the ride.

It seems to me that social housing residents could benefit greatly from greater application of these kinds of approaches, but that they are probably benefiting least from them. I have been encouraged in recent years by the growth of the Asset Based Community Development movement, which emphasises the strengths available in communities rather than the deficits, but I’m not sure how far that is being translated into the economic sphere.

And a major consideration in all this is the relatively high level of digital exclusion among social housing tenants. While the so-called sharing platforms thrive because of ubiquitous internet access, and, particularly use of mobile internet, many social housing communities remain excluded from this party. I know as well, from personal experience, that some social housing tenants can be resistant to embracing the internet because they are reluctant to share their personal details and data online. So, I would suggest that any strategy to realise economic value from assets, skills and services in low income communities must have a digital inclusion strand at its heart.

I believe we need to start a debate about how social housing tenants can be included in the “sharing economy”. Who is up for that? Mabe a Twitter chat, a roundtable, or an actual event?

 

 

 

Millom Really Gets Digital

2016-08-17 12.09.00

Yesterday I spent an extremely enjoyable day with the residents of Millom Court in Timperley as we launched Millom Gets Digital which is the first step in Trafford Housing Trust‘s strategy to bring wifi to its Sheltered Accommodation schemes and promote the wider digital inclusion of its tenants. I was really grateful to be invited into the home of the residents and it was fantastic talking to them about their lives and how technology might enhance them.

It was a great help that the first person I met when I arrived was Dorothy who was bent over her tablet using Facebook. She quickly volunteered that the introduction of wifi to the scheme has been immensely beneficial to her as it means that she can see and talk to her son and grandchildren in the USA on an almost daily basis. There turned out to be around 5 out of the 25 or so residents present who already were using some kind of digital device on a regular basis. This was very pleasing as one of the aims is to get residents to pass on their skills and interests to their neighbours.

me_at_millom_gets_digital

So, Jim Tunstall from THT, Lee Omar from Red Ninja Studios, Louise Rogerson from Intelsant and myself spent some time talking to the residents, telling them stories about the benefits of new technologies, and encouraging them to try out some new tools. Then we discussed people’s hopes and fears about new tech. The first comment from a resident was that she felt strongly that people should stop staring at their devices and talk to each other. We countered that argument by pointing out that the majority of new technology use is indeed about communication, and that it gives people the opportunity to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world. This point was backed up by Dorothy’s experience of talking to her family across the Atlantic.

We carried on talking, experimenting, and playing, over lunch. Gradually some of the more reluctant members of the group started to soften their attitudes and little victories were being won all over the room.

As we reconvened after lunch and further discussed some of the issues raised it became apparent that there were a small number of committed technology users who were very pleased that the wifi had been installed and extremely keen that it should stay. It is currently free to use on a trial basis and THT are looking for some evidence of the direct benefits it brings to people’s lives before deciding (a) whether to retain it at Millom Court, and (b) whether to roll it out to other schemes.  This should provide a further incentive for the committed residents to act as digital champions for their neighbours, as wider use is necessary in order to collect the proof.

Today was further proof for my beliefs about the effective routes to digital inclusion, namely;

  • begin with the power of communication and fun uses of the internet. Getting to grips with these will develop digital fluency and allow beneficiaries to tackle utilitarian uses at a later date;
  • nobody who doesn’t work in a office has any use for a desktop PC, and not many need a laptop. Touchscreen devices are the most effective gateway to the internet for novice users;
  • you will never convert every member of a group on day one, and it is futile to try. Start with those who already have some interest and get them to cascade that interest to their neighbours. Eventually, even the most reluctant will realise they are missing out on what everybody around them is benefitting from;
  • internet use is one of the most effective means of keeping older people’s minds active. It should be available on prescription.

Millom Gets Digital

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 16.42.34

Next Wednesday (17th August) I’ll be with Trafford Housing Trust launching a new Digital Inclusion Project at their Millom Court Sheltered Complex. Also involved with the project are Lee Omar of Red Ninja Studios, and Louise Rogerson of Intelesant.

Wifi has been installed at Millom Court, and on Wednesday we’ll be starting the process of firing up the residents to want to use it to bring them closer to their friends and relatives, re-kindle their memories, make their lives easier, and improve their health and wellbeing.

I am really excited to be involved in this project, and I hope it is the first of many on this kind of model. If you are going to be anywhere near Timperley on Wednesday, I’ll see you there.

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Jenny’s Story

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.40.52

This is another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use technology. I am very grateful to Baeti Mothobi of Orbit Housing Group‘s Social Reporting Team for capturing this story for me. This is part of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better.

Jenny’s tech story:

  • Jenny has been aware of the need to keep up with developments with computers, so did did some courses, and, eventually, bought a laptop, which she now uses all the time;
  • She never feels lonely, but that could be because she uses her laptop to communicate every evening;
  • She knows if she ever wants to find anything she can use Google;
  • The internet helps her hobbies. Jenny sings in a choir, and she can now learn the songs by accessing the music online;
  • Jenny is currently struggling to master her Internet Service Provider’s chat facility;
  • She learned about computers initially from the 5 year-olds at the school where she taught. They taught her not to be frightened, “it’s only a machine”;
  • Jenny researches places she might like to go on holiday online. She sees images of them which make her excited, so she can then plan her holiday;
  • She also finds booking holidays and flights quite straightforward.

 

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Barbara’s Story

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.47.00

Another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use new technologies. This is a piece of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. I’d like to thank Barbara’s daughter, Bridget Aherne, for arranging this interview.

Some of the things Barbara told me:

  • Barbara is still working; for an NHS GP;
  • She was sent on a computer course by her employer and gained an ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) Certificate;
  • Barbara has had a mobile phone since the 1990s when her daughters insisted she get one for her personal safety;
  • She teaches dancing and is now using music on her phone for this purpose rather than CDs;
  • Barbara communicates online with people in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Ireland;
  • She believes emails are much easier and cheaper than letters;
  • Barbara is part of the UK Irish community and keeps in touch online with many different groups;
  • She is contributing to a blog about the Irish experience of the First World War;
  • She is often frustrated by the computers she uses at work, they freeze often;
  • Barbara has frequently to help patients at the surgery where she works to use the self-checkin system;
  • She loves sharing family photos online using One Drive and Dropbox;
  • Barbara is concerned that her technophobic husband will lose out when Radio Eireann ceases broadcasting on Long Wave;
  • She loves internet banking as she can see exactly where her money is going, and she does online banking for some of the groups she is involved with;
  • Barbara does some of her shopping online;
  • She uses the internet to keep an eye on events in her husband’s home town in Ireland.

The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Teresa’s Story

Here’s another of my series of stories of how older people are using new technologies, for the Centre for Ageing Better. I captured this one unexpectedly at an event where I hadn’t taken my usual video kit with me, so it was done on my phone with no additional equipment. Sorry, therefore, for the background noise.

  • Teresa was persuaded to get first a smartphone, then an iPad by her grandsons who wanted to keep in touch with her. Her grandsons taught her how to use both of them;
  • She particularly loves keeping in touch using Skype, FaceTime, Facebook and Messenger;
  • The real value of how she uses her iPad is that she can keep in touch with family members all over the world;
  • Teresa believes that you cannot tell how someone is feeling on the telephone, but, by using Skype or FaceTime you can see people’s faces and get an insight into their feelings;
  • Teresa says she would now be lost without her iPad;
  • She spends a considerable time messaging with a good friend every evening;
  • Teresa’s next plan is to buy a wireless printer so she can print from her iPad;
  • The best thing about having access to new technologies is having face-to-face contact with her dispersed family;
  • Teresa says “As long as you’ve got wifi you can do it”.

Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Shirley and Graham

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 23.55.29

This is the third in my series of interviews for the Centre for Ageing Better with older people on how they use technology. I met Shirley and Graham at their home in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Thank you to Sophia, their granddaughter for making it happen. The video of the interview is at the foot of the post.

Shirley’s story:

  • Shirley first got involved in new technologies when she got involved in managing a local After School Club;
  • She had to learn to use spreadsheets to manage the finances of the club;
  • Shirley really enjoyed learning to use IT;
  • Shirley uses the internet to buy things;
  • Shirley’s oldest daughter lives in Canada and she loves to talk to her grandchildren there via Skype;
  • She does her banking online;
  • Shirley is thinking of buying a tablet so she can use it when she is on holiday;
  • She really appreciates facilities like eBay which she can use quickly to buy a replacement saucepan when she has burnt one on the hob;
  • Having access to the internet means Shirley can learn something new every day;
  • Shirley believes that all older people should give the internet a go;
  • She believes that the internet is very much better than the TV. “There’s nothing on the TV these days except repeats and Attenborough”;
  • Shirley loves YouTube and uses it to watch old episodes of “Top Gear” and “Open All Hours”;
  • She has recently purchased a VHS player as this is the only way to be able to watch her granddaughter (Sophia)’s childhood dance classes;
  • Shirley loves “spying” on the younger members of her family via Facebook;
  • She has a digital photo frame which she loves transferring photos to.

Graham’s story:

  • Graham used to work for BT International. In the mid-1980’s he was invited to a conference on the Internet, but he didn’t have time to take interest;
  • Ever since he has studiously avoided anything to do with his previous employer;
  • Just recently, he has been persuaded by Shirley to learn how to do online banking as their local bank branch has closed.

Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Joyce

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 20.43.47

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”.