Introducing pensioners to technology and combating loneliness

When you think about grandparents and technology you might picture a baffled looking granddad, stabbing all the wrong buttons with a frustrated grandchild by his side saying ‘but Granddad, it’s easy, I’ve shown you three times!’

But with families increasingly living further apart from each other, technology is proving a critical way to stay connected to loved-ones and the wider world. But it’s not just about learning how to use mobile phones and how to send emails; technology is fast becoming more intuitive and accessible to older generations, allowing grandparents to connect with their families on a deeper level and reach out to other members of the community.

A BBC article published this week suggested that training every person in the UK basic digital skills, including how to send emails and use social networking could support combating loneliness among the over 65s.

A project carried out in the North East of England, for example, saw groups of residents aged 65 and over coming together in local libraries to use technology in a way that they could relate to. The digital inclusion project was originally designed by Flo-culture, an organisation based in the North East after receiving funding by the Skills Funding Agency managed by NIACE. The project was designed specifically with older learners in mind, introducing the technology aspect gradually, through the medium of oral history and digital storytelling.

Participants met each week in small groups where they got to know each other and shared stories about their memories of growing up and living in the city. The elderly participants were then introduced to iPad technology which they used to record their voices, edit photographs and put together a 2 – 3 minute digital story which was housed on an iPhone and iPad application called Memory Box. Participants also learnt how to use scanning equipment to digitise old photographs and how to use email to transfer photographs onto the iPads and to send stories to their families.

blog imageInterestingly, many participants said if they’d realised earlier that the project involved using technology they wouldn’t have signed up, and many were very wary of taking part in the technology aspect. It took a lot of support and encouragement but they soon got to grips with the iPads and created their own unique stories.

The project had an overwhelming response with two celebration events filled to the brim with participants who wanted to view all of the stories created, show off their stories and new skills with their families and friends, and catch up with the people who they had met every week for the past two months. Over half of participants said they felt that the project had had positive social, creative and learning benefits.

One learner said:

“I have gained confidence in the fact that all of us are in the same boat – terrified of technology!”

Yet in a post-project telephone interview, the same learner explained that she had bought an iPad as a result of being involved in the workshops.

As a result of the project, one learner felt they now had “an appreciation of what we all value in our past lives and irrespective of the differences, how similar we are if you can find the common ground.”

Some learners explained how learning to use technology had helped them to feel more connected to their own families through learning how to send emails to their families with photographs attached and sending links to their stories.

A few participants were already recording their family history by more traditional methods, but believed that the audio visual medium would make them more immediate and engaging.

Some participants even purchased iPads themselves after taking part in the project or asked for iPads for Christmas presents.

“I can honestly say, in a way, it has changed our lives – you can just pick it up and you get instant knowledge and that’s what I really, really like, you know?”

Another participant said:

“When I went on it and saw what it can do and [the tutor] showed us all the things, it just blew my mind, I thought it was wonderful.”

The project proved that whilst the participants’ favourite part of the project were the social aspects, getting out of the house for a couple of hours a week to share stories with a group of people over a cuppa; the older generation are still eager to keep learning and thrive on using new technology when it is presented in a way that is directly relevant to their lives.

Asked about why it was important to continue learning, one learner said:

“Once you stop learning, I think … you’re old. I mean, I do my exercise but you’ve got to do your brain box … When you’re getting older, you’ve got to have something to live for, to get up in the morning for … you’re busy, you’re active, it keeps you fit, keeps you young.”2

Since then, Memory Box has travelled the world, collecting stories from communities across Europe and even venturing to the USA with British Council funding; but it all started with a group of inspirational elderly storytellers from Newcastle.

The Memory Box app is available to download right now with an incredible collection of stories on there. In the next few weeks we’ll also be launching story creation tools, that will enable anyone to create and share audio visual stories with just a few taps.

Making memories is what we do every day, and so many of us capture those moments with photographs. But what about the story behind the photograph? That’s what Memory Box is all about, enriching how we collect those memories using voice and sound recording.