Connected Christmas… and Every Day

Loneliness and isolation are killers. There is increasing evidence of this. Indeed, research suggests that loneliness is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. For the past 4 years, I have been working to address the situation by ensuring that older people can be introduced to new technologies in ways which are engaging and which demonstrate to them their usefulness to their lives, particularly how they can enable them to communicate with friends, family, professionals and support networks. And yes, I know that digital contact can be no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but, for people who have no interactions at all, it can certainly help them to build and maintain contacts that would not otherwise be available to them.

In an era when millions of us are keeping touch with our professional and personal networks online all the time, most of the people in greatest need of regular interaction are excluded from these benefits by their own lack of knowledge, unfounded fears, and the technophobia of the professionals who work with them. The work I have done over recent years with older people has clearly demonstrated that, if approached in the right way, their interest can be sparked, their fears can be overcome, and they can be guided on the path to regular online communication.

Every year at Christmas the media picks up on stories about people’s loneliness and isolation. Well, it’s quite a long time till Christmas 2017, but I am starting early on the road to making sure that by the time Christmas comes around, major inroads can be made to changing the situation of many lonely older people.

I am looking for partners to work with me on this strategy, and funders and sponsors able to help me make it happen. Much of what follows is recycled from an earlier post, which is still relevant, and which still forms the framework for my programme to end loneliness by digital means. This year it is going to happen. Contact me if you can contribute.

Digital Tea Parties

During the past four years I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, TraffordWhitby, Calderdale, and London, and there are a number of others in the planning stage. Digital Tea Parties are a great way of introducing older people to new technologies in a non-threatening environment. They allow the focus to be put on human communications and individual and community interests, rather than shiny tech. They are a familiar environment, in trusted locations, and they offer opportunities for those with a degree of interest to take the lead in introducing their peers to new gadgets. It is important in my view not to try to force people to use technologies they are uncomfortable with at the outset. Seeing others like them having a go can overcome that “tech is not for people like me” prejudice that often acts as a barrier.

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Providing Connectivity

I have worked with partners to connect up a number of sheltered housing complexes, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies.

Relevant Content

I am convinced that one of the barriers to new technology adoption is that older people struggle to find content that is of interest to them. And, in addition to this, I believe that activities such as slumping in front of the television actually contribute to older people’s social isolation by disengaging them from the world around them. Work at Digital Tea Parties, particularly the reaction to the pub crawl video at Urmston, convinced me that people need content to engage with that is directly relevant to them, as I expanded on here.

I am also seeking funding to run this Seaside Recollections project in which I would tour seaside locations guided in real-time by older people in pursuit of their memories of childhood holidays.

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Reminsences and recordings

I have conducted a number of video and audio interviews with older people. I believe this is an important thing to do for a number of reasons, namely;

  • it stimulates the older person’s memory
  • it breaks down some of the barriers to new technology adoption
  • it creates more content of interest to older people
  • it can change perceptions of older people by allowing them to present themselves as they were in their younger days
  • it contributes to project evaluation

Staff Digital Confidence

I am working on a number of initiatives to promote digital skills, confidence and fluency amongst staff working with older people. Funding has been very elusive for these, which is extremely disappointing, because I firmly believe that often staff act as gatekeepers, seeking to keep the older people away from technology because they are frightened of the consequences of letting them loose on it.

All of these are activities which can turn the tide in the battle to promote technology adoption among older people, and achieve the ultimate goal of breaking down loneliness and isolation. We need to roll these things out more widely and scale them up. If you can help, please let me know.

 

Millom Really Gets Digital

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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.

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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.

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

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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

 

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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.

AgeCamp – Putting Flesh on the Bones

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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.