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?

Elio Hector Loez

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.

digitparty_leeds1

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.

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.

Men in Caring Professions

Our ageing population, plus some other factors, has placed a heavy strain on the UK’s social care system. And it has become increasingly apparent that a particular facet of this strain has been the lack of men prepared to work in frontline caring roles. It is not always the case, but in many instances people prefer to be cared for by somebody of the same gender, especially when that care is intimate in nature.

As you will know, I am passionate about storytelling as a device for influencing behaviour and shedding light on neglected issues. So I have teamed up with the National Care Forum and Skills for Care to begin some work on collecting and disseminating stories from men who work in caring roles. We will be helping them describe what they get out of their work, set out pathways into the professions and progression routes through them, and communicate the reasons why more men are needed in the sector.

Next Monday, January 18th, we will be gathering at Skills for Care’s London office to interview a number of men on camera. If you would like to be part of this day, please get in touch. But there are other ways of collecting stories, and, if you would like to tell your tale, but can’t get there next week, get in touch any way, and I’ll talk to you about other ways you can contribute.

Please help with this worthwhile initiative in whatever way you can.

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

2014-12-17 16.23.18

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.

Announcing AgeCamp

digitparty_leeds1

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.

2015-04-07 12.20.05

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.

digitparty_leeds1

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.

2014-10-17 13.05.41

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

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

2014-10-17 13.05.41

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.

2014-12-17 16.23.18

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.

2014-12-17 16.31.24