We’ve probably all seen a newspaper headline arguing that technology is a cause of loneliness (“Loneliness in Britain is the legacy of social media and our high tech lives”) or an easy cure (“Give pensioners iPads to stop them feeling lonely, ministers indicate”).
But life, and technology, is never that simple: even whilst typing this blog as my brand-new laptop crashed without warning. And we know from both research and practice that we need a more nuanced debate around this topic.
On 22 July, the Campaign to End Loneliness hosted a workshop to discuss the role technology and telecare could play in keeping us connected, and preventing loneliness in older age. This blog captures some of the ideas and challenges presented at the event, and we’d love to hear about your experiences as well.
What does the research say?
Previous research has demonstrated that technology can both help reduce loneliness and to contribute to it, depending on how it is used. A 2014 review of loneliness interventions found that 3 out the 4 most successful activities involved a new technology but small numbers of research participants meant they couldn’t conclude if they’d be successful on a larger scale.
At our workshop, we heard from two experts in this field. Professor Arlene Astell from Sheffield University, talked about their work to improve take-up of technology and assistive technology. Professor Sue Yeandle, from the University of Leeds, then presented on her research into how telecare can be developed to help older people live a full and independent life.
What did our attendees think?
We also asked our attendees to debate a series of questions: what challenges did they face, what did they feel worked well and how they saw technology could become more a fix, than a bug, for people of any ages experiencing loneliness?
The list of answers, as I’m sure you can imagine, was rather long. We’ve pulled them all together into a handy workshop report but also created a short film to give you a flavour of what was discussed:
If you only remember 5 things…
Our workshop attendees came up with a wealth of useful tips, ideas and thoughts over the course of our workshop. A number of themes came out of these, so if you’d like to use technology to tackle loneliness, we recommend that you:
- Treat technology as a useful tool that should be used alongside a range of other things to combat loneliness: non-virtual relationships are still vital
- Remember that older people want from technology is what we all want: our interests and needs do not just change overnight when we turn 65
- Recognise that people aged over 65 are as just thirsty for new technology as you are, but some confidence building might be needed at first
- Try to focus on the benefits of a technology if introducing it for the first time: don’t describe the service, describe the outcome that it will bring
- We need more funding to make kit and training cheaper (and therefore less of a barrier) but we can start to talk and do more to raise the value of technology at the same time
What is your experience of technology: does it help you address loneliness, or cause it?
We want to hear from any services or organisations that can give advice or share their experience on how technology can be used to combat loneliness. If that might be you, take a look at the case studies in our workshop report and email Anna if you have a suggestion.
Alternatively, let us know your thoughts in the comment box below…
This article has had 5 comments
Reading this makes me very angry, as I’ve been isolated for over 4 years as a carer for my husband. I’ve been IT literate since starting courses in 1986, and use the computer every day.
I really feel strongly that this is not the answer to loneliness, as Loneliness is simply a fact of life in the UK 2014. I have found the majority of people disappear once they know you are not well or a carer.
It’s the “I” generation. Ipads, Imacs, Iphones. It’s all about “me” not others.
There should be a concerted effort from all political parties and charities and other agencies to ensure that we engage with our neighbours and our communities.
I agree with Daphne that being able to use a computer isn’t on its own the answer to loneliness … but I do believe that more recent technology, particularly smartphones, iPads and similar devices can help – IF. The big IF is that tech is personally most helpful in addressing loneliness if it is used as a social tool, and so that online activity helps promote face-to-face connections.
Many people are using “I” devices not just to create or consume personal content, but to generate social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other free platforms. Of course, this can be done on computers, but smartphones and tablets are usually easier to use. Friends and family can often help someone get started, and then stay in touch, and help expand the networks of connections.
Last year Nominet Trust published some research I led, where we investigated how tech can be used later in life. One of the themes was addressing loneliness, and we reviewed a number of projects and drew on the enthusiasm of members of Gransnet to show the potential. http://dtlater.wikispaces.com/Provocation+6
The campaign workshop, reported here, really moves things forward. Is anything else planned? I would love to contribute. Here’s a more recent workshop we ran with Age UK London exploring how people may adopt new personal technologies http://socialreporter.com/?p=2803
I should also have mentioned in my previous comment a very good round up by Shirley Ayres on How the internet and digital technology can combat isolation, that we cited http://shirleyayres.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/how-the-internet-and-digital-technology-can-combat-isolation/
You might be interested in the workshop that Drew Mackie and I ran this week on how to use asset mapping and digital tech to tackle social isolation http://socialreporter.com/?p=3032 – inspired in part by your workshop. We plan a larger event later in the year.
I think you missed Anna’s very important point Daphne. The point is not that technology can “cure” or even “fix” loneliness, the point is that WITH OTHER EXPERIENCES AND FACTORS technology can help people feel less alone. Nowhere is it suggested the people isolate themselves and use technology as their only outlet.
As one of those “I” generation millennial’s, I would say yes. There is more opportunity to be “me” centric but I think if you spent more time interacting with some of the people in my generation, you would realize we are handling the egocentricity rather well. I am well aware selfies are very widespread and twitter and Facebook and social media in general are very pervasive in society. But I truly believe my generation is very media literate and very technologically advanced enough that we are able to be both real life and virtual presences.
That being said, loneliness will never be cured. There is no instant fix. Analogue relationship are very important, intact they may even be the key to helping end your personal loneliness. Virtual relationships are what help keep your analogue relationships going when you don’t see the person every day. If you are feeling lonely the long term solution is not making friends on Facebook, the answer is to try for analogue relationships, it will be awkward and uncomfortable. But it will be rewarding. Then you can start using technology to supplement your relationships. By no means should your relationships ever be techno-centric. There will always be a place for physical relationships. That is what I believe this article is getting at.
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