More evidence from Leeds Social Media Surgery last night of the need for a National Smartphone Recycling Scheme.
My “patient” was someone who had been charged by her employer with communicating with young people, but was struggling to do so effectively. All the different methods I explored with her would have involved using a mobile phone of some kind, preferably a smartphone. The barrier we kept coming across was that her “work” phone was an ancient non-smart phone, which even struggles to send text messages, and she had been unable to persuade her employer that she needed a decent tool to do her job. She has a personal smartphone, but is understandably reluctant to use that for work purposes. Even using the Whatsapp application to send free messages was ruled out because it would have meant revealing her private phone number.
Organisations of this kind that fail to see the benefits of deploying smartphones are sending people like my “patient” out to do their jobs with both hands tied behind their backs. A low-cost source of recycled phones might start to chip away at this reluctance.
This morning I caught a little bit of an interview with Vladimir Ashkenazy on BBC Radio 4. Something he said struck a chord (maybe even literally) with me. He said that people in their sixties and seventies can still enjoy playing musical instruments even though they might not be as good at playing them as they once were.
I wonder whether one of the things that is holding back the digital inclusion of older people is the tendency to enthuse over the shiny and new gagets and marvel at the new opportunities they offer. I know I am as guilty of this as many people. Perhaps what really matters to older people is the ability to carry on what they have always done and enjoyed, and which they might be losing the ability to do.
During the Our Digital Planet project, I have come across a number of people whose eyes have been opened as to how the internet could help them pursue old interests. I am thinking of Ron in Bristol (pictured above), who found a new way of approaching his own photography and art, and I am thinking of visitors in Liverpool who were enchanted to find how Youtube offered an archive of material they had not been able to see for years. In one case this was of Tommy Steele singing his hit records from the 1950s, in another this was seeing Ian St. John in his pomp, playing football for Liverpool in the 1960s. And, also in Liverpool, there was the visitor from Malta, who was able to find archive video of his own wife being visited as a tiny baby in hospital by the then Princess Elizabeth.
Could we use new technologies to help people carry on playing musical instruments as their dexterity declines? I am sure there is work going on in this field. One of the other applications that immediately occurs to me is the use of tablet devices to enable people easily to increase the font size on newspaper articles and books which they might not be able to read in their paper versions due to failing eyesight. This could be used for reading music too. And I know there is lots of other work going on to enable new technologies to be used to help people adapt to the frailties of old age, but I am not aware that any of this is explicitly linked to digital inclusion. If it is not, it should be.
In Our Digital Planet, and in lots of other work I have done, I have been a strong believer in starting from people’s interests. I think we need to think a lot more about how we use the internet and new technologies to help people find alternative ways of doing things they have always done, and not alway be seeking for the new.