Provocation: instead of promoting an over-rich mix of technology to people who are resistant or not interested, offer a way to understand how the world is changing and then assess how little tech they might need for their needs and interests.
My immediate thought after our successful workshop on digital technology for older people was to develop a DIY version where people could profile the potential user, their needs and interests, offer a rich menu of sites, programmes and apps, then choose an appropriate device. This might be a smartphone, tablet, smart TV, desktop computer or laptop. Or - with the kit - they could do that for themselves using the a kit of cards and other resources, perhaps ending up with a hands-on demo if there were someone to help.
I also drafted an article, copied below, which is in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing, thanks to editor Tony Watts. This floated the DIY kit idea, and also reflected on how we should just see technology as part of the mix of communications and services any individual needs. I wrote:
... a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.
> so ... reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion).
From that social ecology perspective, the challenge is how to help people build the blend of newspapers, magazines, phone calls, visits, relationships and maybe online activities that is right for them.
The difficulty with the “choose your tech” kit is that it can make tech the solution without enough analysis of the problem.
Tomorrow I'm making a small contribution to an online discussion among members of the Digital Inclusion Group of the Age Action Alliance, on the theme of what can we do in practice to move things forward. The temptation is to offer ideas on how we can do more to get more people online, and so “included” in the world of technology.
But isn't the real challenge how to help people create or expand the world they want, bringing in technology where appropriate?
But how to help re-frame the discussion, and give us a nudge to change our minds about some aspects of the digital inclusion agenda?
Here's one idea I might fly. Let's create a kit that helps individuals - or those supporting them - to profile their needs and interests, their networks, and the various ways that they communicate and get services. What's working, and what isn't. How interested are they in exploring new opportunities.
Then how little technology might they need to make a difference, if any at all. If none at present, but the need arises, can someone act as an intermediary to get information, fill in a form, order something. If the minimal tech in insufficient, would it be easy to extend. I'm sure that there are lots of assessment methods from social care that we might build on. The exploration could be done within the Living Lab Drew Mackie and I are developing.
The kit should include explanations of how the world is technology pervasive and dependant, so avoidance may be challenging … but the focus should be on helping people, friends, families and supporters, make choices about how they wish to live in that world.
As technology become more personal, and the world more complex, the importance of understanding and being able reshape context become more not less important. So as well as looking at how to develop digital adoption and skills, look at building social ecologies.
It might be not awesome, but it could be useful.
Here's the article I wrote, published in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing
With huge numbers of older people still not using the Internet, David Wilcox argues that it’s time for a rethink on the way we promote and enable digital inclusion.
The recent Age UK London report on the Wealth of the Web did a really useful job of scoping the challenge of encouraging, persuading and supporting older people into using computers and so engaging with the online world.
The report noted that 78% of Londoners aged over 75 are not online and a total of 661,000 people over the age of 55 in London have never used the internet – and then went on to recommend action by pretty much anyone who could help. These included government, voluntary organisations, private companies and older people themselves, acting as digital champions.
Drew Mackie and I ran a workshop session at the launch event, where some 50 people played through how fictitious but realistic characters could follow their interests and enthusiasms using smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles as well as computers.
Lots of buzz on the day, but since then I’ve been pondering how Age UK London – and anyone with similar concerns around the country – might move from research and discussion into large scale action. My hunch is that the game has changed, and try harder isn’t going to work. Here’s why.
First of all, as the report showed, a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.
Secondly it has, in the past, proven really difficult to co-ordinate large-scale action, by multiple agencies, on the lines set out in the report … not least because senior decision-makers in relevant organisations are frequently less than passionate about technology themselves. They know how tough it can be to make tech work, and can sense there won’t be easy wins.
Thirdly, the report – and most programmes – are still focussed on computers, when a lot of consumer-led uptake is through smartphones and tablets. I suspect that older people with a potential interest in the online world are more likely to be enthused by a grandchild with an iPad than a computer in a community centre.
So even if you could get all the agencies together to talk about a computer-based digital inclusion programme they would be on the wrong track. And if someone were to suggest (as I might) that they should focus instead on tablets and smartphones, I doubt if they would have the experience as organisations to move forward. Individuals within organisations might well be using tablets at home – but the organisations would generally not be mobile-literate.
It’s good to see Age UK nationally promoting the uptake of tablets through a deal under which people can buy a customised Android-based Breezie Samsung tablet and get a year of phone support in the package.
However, this still focusses on the technology (albeit more usable tech) and I suggest, additionally, a rethink on two fronts.
First of all, reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion). Many, many organisations are of course doing an enormous amount on that front, so …
… focus on these intermediaries. Help organisations and carers enhance their digital literacies in ways designed directly to help those they serve, often using mobile technologies. Map who connects with who in the networks, and use technology and other means to enhance those connections and relationships. Age UK London and Positive Ageing in London – and other regional organisations – are well placed to do that with the many organisations in the field … so start at home. Develop mobile digital literacy in key organisations, and build outwards.
I would, however, go with the suggestion in the report about helping older people (or anyone for that matter) help each other. Recruit a core of volunteers who are enthusiastic about using iPads and other tablets like the Breezie and the Tesco Hudls, run some sessions to develop mentoring skills, and build a learning network so people can share experience. Ask organisations to host iPad/Android parties, building on the success of techy tea parties supported by EE, with bring-your-own tech. We could develop a DIY version of our workshop game so sessions don’t have to start with a screen, but with people’s interests.
Of course there will be continuing demand for more traditional computer-based learning. Libraries and centres are invaluable in providing access, support and sociability. I just don’t think they are any longer the ground on which to mount a campaign.