Real-world drop-in closes, online drop-in starts soon

Meeting room at Whitmore Community Centre - no people, tables and chairs stacked

Real-world drop-in closed, not suspended

Our last session was 2 March. The 9 March drop-in was suspended. Today we felt that it was unsafe even for a podcast session with only six people in the room — so that had to be cancelled too.

We cannot tell you when we will be open again.

Online drop-in, online learning

The whole point and purpose of the drop-in project is real-world social inclusion — explicitly counteracting the social distancing of the virtual world. But now we have to counteract the really serious effects of social distancing implied by the COVID-19 crisis.

So we are going to fast-forward existing plans to offer an online drop-in and online learning to older people who are isolated at home. That might be all of us soon.

Many of you already have the basic resource — a GSuite account. More than 100 people have email accounts at seniors.org.uk, bold.org.uk, szs.net or agewell.org.uk. Those are all GSuite accounts, and they all provide immediate access to an online meeting room app named Meet. We could add about 450 more, and it’s all free for us.

If you have a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or a desktop computer that is not too old — and an Internet connection at home, you should be able to use GSuite Meet. We expect that many of you will need help while you are using it, so we will recruit volunteers to join the sessions.

The online drop-ins will be group events, not conversations between 2 people — so you can expect to see familiar faces and hear familiar voices.

We still have many details to work out, and we still don’t know how we can include digital beginners and people with no Internet at home.

The 24/7 Online Drop-in

Everybody with one of the GSuite accounts has already received a link to the first experimental online drop-in. We are still testing it, so nothing much will happen for a few days. The information you need will be in your email and messages soon.

Our response to the COVID-19 coronavirus

Normal drop-in has been suspended

(Edited after posting to remove references to Whitmore Community Centre, which does not figure in our current plans).

After the 2 March session, we suspended the weekly drop-in because Internet access had stopped — but we were expecting to return quite soon.

But on the following day, we realised that Internet access had become irrelevant. We can’t restore the normal drop-in until the COVID-19 crisis is over.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything — but we would have to make substantial changes to ensure your safety. Here are some of the ideas and principles we are working on …

COVID-conscious etiquette and safety

  • High-visibility reminders of current guidelines and information — on the walls and on our screens.
  • Wash hands before entering or re-entering the meeting room, and again before leaving the building.
  • Keep at least 2m from every other person.
  • Don’t come if you feel the least bit unwell.
  • Don’t come if you live with, or care for, other people who are more vulnerable.

The equipment we use

  • Many people bring their own devices. We can insist that they should be clean — and not used by anyone else, not even volunteers.
  • Most people also use our laptops. We can ensure that each laptop is used by only one person during each session and cleaned after use. After that, they go back into the cupboard, and are not touched again until the following week.

Transport

  • Possibly the greatest risk.
  • Don’t use public transport unless you really must — and never during the rush hour.
  • We can adjust our opening and closing hours, eg- to finish at 4 instead of 5 pm.

Keeping in touch with you at home

  • We are giving a lot of thought to this, but there are no easy solutions.
  • We have email addresses and phone numbers of nearly everyone who has been to the drop-in recently — that’s you and about 300 others. So maintaining contact is not the main problem. Most people want real-world face-to-face help or support. That’s our speciality.
  • However, remote and online communication is well within our technical competence — and we expect to have at least one workable proposal soon.

Workshops instead of drop-in

  • We know there is a demand for short courses and workshops. We haven’t been able to meet it because the demand for open drop-in has been so much greater.
  • Last time we arranged Monday afternoon workshops was October 2019 (Google Photos 1 and Google Photos 2). We were instantly oversubscribed — but we were in control of the numbers. All we would have to do is reduce the maximum from 15 to 8, and repeat to prevent disappointment.

Audio activities

  • We haven’t done podcasting or Internet radio for a while — simply because we have been far too busy with the drop-in.
  • Both are suitable for small groups of people, and explicitly require you not to handle the equipment.

Your ideas, your preferences

It could be a very long time before we can get back to how it was last week. But what do you think we could do next week, next month, or the remainder of the year? If you  are a regular drop-in user, you probably know how to contact us quickly. The details are also on our Information page.

Lydia’s Yam Soup – reheated

This episode is part of a series of pilots for an updated Talking Food Radio.

Original Talking Food 2012 description – “Hackney food guru Lydia Bachelor leads a discussion about healthy eating, nutrition, shopping, markets, cooking, recipes – and any other food experience and knowledge that we would like to share”.

It was not a radio production. It was a live event, streaming what would have happened anyway – and considerably longer than this edited version.

Budget: zero.

Production values: everything must be done by older people (even if the result is below BBC standard), use only the most basic equipment (available to everyone), the background hubbub is just as important as the voices close to the microphone (the social context is vital).

Message: “If you are listening to this – STOP. Turn off your computer NOW. Please accept this invitation to join us in the real world – we have food for your body, mind and soul – and none of it is digital. Real World First!”

Identifiable voices: Ayo, Benediccta, Beverley, Bola, Chitra, Gabriella, Josh, Lydia, Myrtle, Paula, Pauline, Peter, Rick.

Recorded 10 May 2012 at ‘The Lawns’, Matthias Rd, Hackney. Remixed June 2019.

The Lawns was a lively (but acoustically-challenged) computer and social centre for older Hackney residents.

The League of Meals was a fun project that did not survive contact with reality.

That sweet potato

This episode is the first of a series of pilots for an updated Talking Food Radio. We used the same very basic equipment as the old radio show, and the same approach: conversation first, technology last. As the series progresses, we will adapt the recording method to suit the participants as well as the final goal – which requires much improved sound quality.

The pilot podcast track is a sequence of snippets from the 90-minute live recording. The discarded sections were generally the best conversation, but too noisily enthusiastic for the podcast medium.

The voices belong to: Brian, Grafton, Hyacinth, Ian, Mary, Nuala, Patricia and Rick.

Recorded 26 April 2019 at Whitmore Community Centre, N1 5NU.

Outro credit: excerpt from Horizontal Drift, Jared C Balogh – https://www.jamendo.com/track/1122560/horizontal-drift

Can you remember 1989?

How has the Web changed your World?

Then: Knowledge was hard to reach. Now: We have the world's information at our fingertips. #ForTheWeb
“Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked. Suppose I could program my computer to create a space in which everything could be linked to everything.” – Tim Berners-Lee
Then: Waiting by the phone for your call. Now: You're always with me. #ForTheWeb
Then: Never more than a hobby. Now: the world is my marketplace. #ForTheWeb
Then: Feeling alone. Now: I meet others who have my diagnosis. #ForTheWeb
Then: Feeling like one voice. Now: I can connect with millions. #ForTheWeb
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The World Wide Web is 30 years old this week

What difference has it made to your life?

30 years can change everything

The web has transformed our daily lives — from how we communicate with loved ones to how we work to how we learn. But right now more than half of the world’s population remains offline, and those of us who are online see unsettling stories each day about data breaches, so-called ‘fake news’, and other ways that technology is threatening our freedom and privacy. We need to change this by building a better web — one that works for everyone, everywhere.

Visit World Wide Web Foundation – ‘For The Web’

Social media, loneliness, older people

A grey-haired woman sits alone with a phone. Accompanying text: “… use social media to keep in contact with the people we already know, and contact with people that we would like to meet in real life”

Loneliness, social media and friendship

Some results from the BBC survey –

A year ago, we encouraged everybody to take part in the BBC Loneliness Experiment. The BBC reported back in January, and you can listen to the results as a podcast at …

  • Health Check Loneliness Part 1
    “How does social media and friendship influence the development of loneliness? Claudia Hammond analyses the results of the BBC Loneliness Experiment.”
  • Health Check Loneliness Part 2
    “In the last special programme about loneliness, Claudia Hammond looks at the role of health, society and culture and finds out about England’s new strategy for tackling it.”

If you can’t log in to the podcast, you can listen to the downloads on our computers at Whitmore Community Centre. If you are in a hurry, you can read our partial transcript below.

Part 1 touches briefly on something that is very relevant to the IT drop-in — the role of social media. The experiment and the report are journalism, not research — but the conclusions support our own observations that social media …

  • are most beneficial for people who have a functioning social network in the real world
  • can be addictive and damaging for people who are socially isolated

Transcript

This is a transcript of a 6 minute excerpt from Part 1 (27 minutes)

Claudia Hammond

Now when people hear that some young people feel lonely, the next thing they say to me is “it must be social media”. Those I’ve interviewed for this series from the ages of 14 to 96 have all been using technology to communicate. But the relationship between social media and loneliness isn’t straightforward.

Madeleine

I’m a drama teacher and I became a carer because my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was thirty-six. It was a complete shock. I’m probably not the epitome of what you would think of when you think of loneliness – mid thirties, active social life. But there were times at the worst moments of his treatment when I was alone. And it was very difficult. I couldn’t really explain to people. We used social media – we use Facebook – to update people on what is happening, mostly because it was just a very quick and easy way — you just say it once and it’s out there, and everybody knows.

The response that we got back from people – hundreds, literally hundreds of messages – it did make us laugh, and it did make us as positive about it as possible, just knowing that people were there and knew what was happening— was really helpful. I think it’s a bit of a double edged sword – the sense that it has its positives, through blogging and stuff like that, people have been in touch. And that’s great but I do think when I’m feeling at my lowest, going on social media – Instagram in particular – and seeing people seemingly having these amazing lives and enjoying themselves – and it does make me feel – why can’t I have that?

Claudia Hammond

We did ask questions about Facebook usage in our study and I asked Rebecca Nowland – research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, who has done extensive research into social media – what she made of our data.

Rebecca Nowland

Loneliness was associated with using this kind of negative self-disclosure and also being motivated to use social media to make friends – in contrast to non-lonely people who aren’t really feeling the need to use social media to do that. If you’re using online sources as the only mechanism for making contact with people, that’s not going to give you the quality and the intimacy, or even the touch that you get when you’re with somebody. That’s actually quite important to make a difference from the mental health and how you feel about yourself and your own self-worth.

Claudia Hammond

But don’t some people make really good friends online and say that this is the place that they can find someone who really understands what life is like for them, and they may be living somewhere relatively isolated where they are not going to find someone and find some of the things in common.

Rebecca Nowland

You’re absolutely right, and there’s an awful lot of literature out there to show that having a blog helps you connect with people and social media helps you to connect with people. But when we are talking about people that are lonely, and their social media use, you are talking about people that are unhappy with their current situation in relation to how connected they feel with other people.

Claudia Hammond

I see what you mean. So what it suggests is they may be looking for friends online, but not finding those relationships, those meaningful relationships and connections that they want to have that would alleviate the loneliness.

Rebecca Nowland

It’s more how you use it, not the using, that’s the problem. So for some people if they feel lonely – and it might be because their family lives far away – to communicate with them online would actually reduce the loneliness.

Claudia Hammond

You mentioned at one of the things that people who expressed higher loneliness in the survey do is to use more negative evaluation.

Rebecca Nowland

What that really means is that people put negative things that are happening to them on social media. That type of behaviour we find in people are quite high in loneliness – that when they do interact with people, they tend to say things that are quite negative. And that then makes people less likely to connect with them. Again this is very general.

Claudia Hammond

It’s a shame it might make it harder to connect.

Rebecca Nowland

I think there might be an unfortunate thing of human nature. There are two ways of looking at the data. There’s an association there – so if you use social media in a way that is very positive – use it more to get information rather than try to connect with other people, it would reduce loneliness. It’s all about how you use it. So you see here, we get the relationship between loneliness and entertainment, and the people that are not as lonely are using it more for information – so they’re going online to check what’s happening, having a look around and maybe find out what’s going on with people.

Whereas people using it probably to distract themselves from the feeling of loneliness – so using social media a lot because it’s something I can do that makes me for temporarily connected to people.

Claudia Hammond

I was really struck by the findings on whether people’s friends overlapped on Facebook and in real life. So can you explain what we were looking at and what we found?

Rebecca Nowland

Basically you’re asking people to say – how many of your friends that you have online are people that you actually know in real life – and lonely people had fewer overlapping friends. So they had fewer friends offline than they did online.

Claudia Hammond

And is that surprising?

Rebecca Nowland

It’s not surprising in a sense that has been shown before, but not in such large scale surveys covering such a vast age group. It shows that this is really a consistent thing.

Claudia Hammond

And what does that tell us about people’s lives, do you think?

Rebecca Nowland

It tells us that when we use social media in a way that we have less people that we know in real life on Facebook, then it’s associated with loneliness. So really, to utilise social media in the best way, we need to use it to keep in contact with the people we already know, and contact with people that we would like to meet in real life – and have friendships that way. If we end up in a virtual world where a lot of our friends are, we not really connecting with them in an intimate way and that’s associated with loneliness.


Photo by Bernard Hermant