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.

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.

Dementia North Wales – The People Know Best

This is another post about a great event I was fortunate enough to be part of in late November last year.

The Dementia North Wales event was truly inspirational as it gave a voice to people living with dementia. People with dementia were in the room contributing to the discussions and helping to design solutions, and people with dementia were the platform recounting their experiences, and detailing how their condition affected their lives, as well as describing their frustrations with the professionals who often failed to treat them in sympathetic ways.

And here’s the overview video I produced of the day, which I hope captures at least a little of the uplifting mood of the day

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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!