Engaging with your neighbourhood or the world via your TV screen

I came across this video via Twitter a couple of days ago. It’s a marketing campaign run by Norwegian Airways promoting its new service from Oslo to New York. They have fixed a remote camera to the roof of a special taxi cab in New York City, and installed a touchscreen in a shopping centre in Oslo from which people can manipulate the camera as well as speaking to the occupants of the cab.

OK, it’s a marketing campaign. But I think its a very clever one, and, for me, its important in highlighting some of the possibilities of technology. In the context of the work I have been doing with older people (see here), it shows what can be done in terms of giving people real-time, remote, access to things that are going on elsewhere. There’s some quite sophisticated, and no doubt expensive, tech involved in this campaign, but similar things can be done with much less expensive kit. You could have done something fairly similar to this, if a bit less flashy, with a couple of smartphones.

The event I attended at the House of Lords last week further convinced me that one of the keys to engaging older people with technology is the use of smart TVs, or the adaptation of existing TVs. Something like the Chromecast, can convert a TV into a smart device for only £30, and it will allow people to watch much more engaging, tailored, and interactive content than that currently pumped out by the mainstream TV channels.  Controlling a New York taxicam from Oslo may generate headlines, but I believe far more social good can be generated by engaging people in what happens in their neighbourhoods or interest groups using similar methods.

Using Technology to reconnect older people with their communities

These are some more thoughts on using technology to benefit older people based on my Connected Christmas experience.

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I’ve been struck by meeting a number of older people who are actually quite fit and healthy, but who seem to have slipped into a way of behaviour that is almost “expected” of them by society. Like the gentleman I met in Urmston who told me that his confidence has gone, and that means he rarely goes out or socialises in the lounge of the sheltered accommodation complex where he lives. I firmly believe that we can use new technologies to re-engage people like this with their communities, and to allow those who are not so mobile to have some degree of contact with what goes on around them. Instead of people sitting at home, or in a care home, a day centre, or sheltered accommodation lounge, depressing themselves by absorbing the latest bit of back-biting or family-feuding from the TV soap operas, why not engage with something local which has the potential to contribute positively to their lives?

I think these are compelling reasons for increased efforts to to get local community organisations to use social media, live video streaming, podcasting and other methods to cover local events. At Urmston, the video pub crawl proved particularly engaging, suggesting that even simple video tours of the neighbourhood could help to re-acquaint people with their surroundings and increase their sense of engagement with their communities and their former lives. And what could be achieve using gadgets such as Oculus Rift to immerse people in the lives of communities they formerly had strong ties with?

As I often argue, I think we can use technology to “re-humanise” society, rather than going along with the dystopian predictions of everyone forgetting the personal connections while they stare at screens. This is something I think we need to work on, urgently.

 

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Connected Christmas – making it happen

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And so it happened! Five days after I posted this plea for people to help me to do something to prove that technology can help to do something about loneliness at Christmas I was at a Christmas Party in Urmston, Trafford showing residents of a sheltered housing complex how to use Skype, how to search the internet for pictures of their old neighbourhoods, and that Youtube is a treasure-trove of videos which is bound to have something of interest to them.

It was thanks to Abdul Razzaq, Director of Public Health at Trafford Council, and Matthew Gardiner, CEO, and Rodger Cairns, MD for Independent Living, of Trafford Housing Trust, that all this was able to come together so quickly. It proves what can be done, with a bit of will.

I know this sort of stuff works, because I’ve done Digital Tea Parties for older people before. The difference this time, was the challenge of fitting technology in with a Christmas Party, with the objective of proving that people need not be lonely and isolated at Christmas.

A particular challenge on this occasion was that two hours of the party at Royle Higginson Court was taken up by singer, Little Mo, entertaining the residents. For that period there was little I could do, other than capture some of the atmosphere and give the outside world some insight into what was going on. For this aspect of such events in future, I would hope that we could build a network of potentially isolated people who could look in on the entertainment and enjoy it wherever they are.

Having got to the party an hour early to set up, I had time, before Little Mo’s performance, to show a couple of Youtube videos on the lounge TV via my Apple TV; and we also did a brief Skype hookup with Chris Baker from Ongo who was running a digital inclusion session in Scunthorpe.

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One particular Youtube video really fascinated the residents and we ended up watching it twice. It’s embedded below, and it’s a film from the 1950’s of two men acting out a pub crawl around Urmston. This really engaged the people at the event, not least because they agreed that all but one of the many pubs featured was still in business. This must be some kind of a record given the numbers of pub closures there have been over the years, particularly since the smoking ban. It got me thinking about whether we could recreate this video in modern-day Urmston. Who’s up for that? This discussion also gave me my first learning point of the day, as I was informed that Trafford General Hospital, which appeared in the video, was the first National Health Hospital.

So, I attempted to capture some of the atmosphere as Little Mo sang for the residents.

When the singing was over, there was an opportunity to engage residents in some of the tech opportunities. I accepted a challenge from one to find pictures of the road she was brought up on and which no longer exists. That quest was successful. And then, my good friend, Chris Conder, was kind enough to sit with a cup of tea in her kitchen in North Lancashire and chat with the residents in Urmston via Skype. A small number of residents, just did not want to engage, but quite a few were really pleased to chat with Chris, after they had got over the initial suspicion and surprise that this was all possible. Quite a few told me they were bowled over by the picture quality, and were amazed at what was possible.

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And then I met Tommy (below). Tommy had appeared not to take much interest in what I had been demonstrating, but, as I was about to leave, one of the other residents told me Tommy wanted to speak to me. Tommy told me he was 91 and had never seen the point of the internet, but now he realised that he could use it to talk to so many people, he definitely wanted to get a tablet device. We had quite a conversation, during which he told me he was a singer, and that he had been in the middle of making a CD when the recording studio he was working with closed down. I asked him if he realised that a tablet could be used as a portable recording studio. He was a amazed by this, and said he definitely needed to get one now.

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I believe this kind of approach works for three reasons:

  1. It attempts to blend the technology into something that people already want to be involved in, rather than making it something separate and special;
  2. It avoids the scariness of sitting someone down and forcing them to use a keyboard and mouse; and
  3. It shows that, fundamentally, such technologies are simply aids to the ancient art of human communication and connection, which is what everybody wants at the end of the day.

2014-12-17 16.31.24This was a pilot. It could have done with a bit more preparation, but it succeeded in that it opened up a number of people’s eyes to what it possible, and, as I said in the previous post, I want to be able to be doing a lot of these next Christmas, as we must seize on the opportunity offered by the heightened public awareness of loneliness at this time of year to change things. Of course, one of the real challenges of all this is being able to build on the initial sparked interest and ensure this results in some solid outcomes.

I had a long chat with one of the residents who told me that he really regrets losing his confidence as he has got older. He said that he knows he doesn’t go out as much as he should, and he doesn’t really usually mix with the other residents, because of his diminishing confidence.

This got me thinking about other ways we can use technology to help people who are in this situation. The “pub crawl” video went down very well, because it triggered memories, but also because it showed familiar locations. But most of the residents had few recent experiences of the venues involved. This is why I think it is important to produce video, including live streaming, and photography of local events. There is no reason at all why the residents of somewhere like Royle Higginson Court could not be involved in local events through watching them on the TV in their residents’ lounge. But that requires someone to be providing video and photography coverage of the events, and for the places like Royle Higginson Court to have the equipment (Smart TV, Apple TV or Chromecast), and staff knowledge to facilitate residents’ viewing. Why should people be forced to withdraw from their local communities as they get older and / or more infirm, when it is perfectly possible to facilitate their remote involvement?

So, many thanks again to Abdul at Trafford Council, Matthew and Rodger at Trafford Housing Trust, Shona, the manager at Royle Higginson Court, but most of all, to the residents who let me in to their Christmas Party. I hope this can be the start of many more such events.

And just a little footnote from a Twitter exchange:

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Let’s End Loneliness at Christmas

I have been prompted into action by a piece on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, about technology and social media aiding older people to overcome loneliness. Hurrah! I thought as I listened, finally this stuff is coming out in the open. You can hear the item below.

Every year there are stories about older people being isolated and lonely in their homes; and yet, every year there are advances in communications technologies which potentially offer cheaper and easier to use solutions (at least in part) to this problem. But there is no joining up.

What is the problem? I think society finds it really easy to hide behind its preconceptions and stereotypes about how older people would react to new technologies, and it uses this as an excuse to do nothing. And I think that technophobic professionals who project their own hangups onto the people they work with are a key barrier too. My own direct experience, through projects such as Our Digital Planet and Digital Tea Parties, suggests that, if approached in the right way, most older people will see the benefits of new technologies once exposed to them. So, let’s do away with the stereotypes and get on with breaking down loneliness. The lady featured in the Five Live report is a prime example of how this can work.

So, now I want to do something directly about this. I am announcing now that by November 2015 I intend to have a project in place that will connect people at Christmas. It will focus on bringing digital elements to Christmas parties in Care Homes, Sheltered Accommodation, Day Centres and elsewhere, with a view to leaving a legacy of older people who are  skilled and resourced to connect with each other and their friends and relatives over Christmas and beyond.

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So, I am looking for project funding, sponsorship, donations, and help-in-kind to connect up Christmas Parties in 2015. If you can provide:

  • funding
  • equipment (tablet computers, laptops, projectors, connected TV devices, etc.)
  • publicity

Then please get in touch.

And it’s not too late to do something THIS Christmas. Let’s pilot this idea. If you are running a Christmas Party for older people, you’d like to collaborate on connecting it up, and you can find a few hundred pounds to make it happen, then, let’s do it in 2014!

Technology can break down so many barriers. Let’s shout this message to the world.

Footnote

Only five days after originally posting this, I was able to run at pilot event in Trafford.  Here is the report of that event https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/connected-christmas-making-it-happen/

Social Media for Social Good Advent Calendar #adventsmsg

Santa will be late this year (photo by Wayne Butterworth on Flickr)

It’s the Season of Goodwill, isn’t it? Well, actually, that phrase really irks me as I think it’s used by some people as an excuse to limit their quota of goodwill to a defined period of the year. For me, every day should be the Season of Goodwill, and that’s why I use the hashtag #365goodwill on Twitter.

Nevertheless, there are certain traditions at this time of the year, and, this year I am going to join in with at least one of them.

Starting on Monday 1st of December, I am launching the Social Media for Social Good Advent Calendar. Every day, for 25 days, up to, and including Christmas Day, I will be posting a short video clip with a little bit of my thinking on using Social Media to help make the world a better place.

So, watch this space, every day during Advent. You can follow all the clips on the hashtag #adventsmsg on Twitter, or by clicking on the tag #adventsmsg on this blog. So, if you miss one, you can still find it.

I hope you find this useful. I intend to have fun making the videos, which is partly what it’s all about really.

 

Tackling loneliness

There are so many lonely people in our world, and yet the modern world has given us the tools to banish loneliness for ever. Older people, in particular, are not taking advantage of these tools, so how can we address this.

This is my idea for a project, can we make this happen?

1. First step is to identify lonely, older people, and recruit those willing to take part in the project.

2. Video interviews with lonely, older people, describing their life stories.

3. Post the videos on the internet.

4. Encourage online discussion about the stories

5. Discuss the online interaction with the people who have been videoed

6. Provide equipment and training so the older people can take part in the online discussions

7. Encourage and facilitate future interactions and contact between all project participants

Can we do this?

To aid your thinking, here is the lovely Ron, from Our Digital Planet in Bristol