/ Technology

Opinion: technology has been a lifeline

While tech is blamed for many of the world’s ills, I don’t think we should forget the good that it does: its connections have got me through the worst of a bleak year.

As parts of the UK begin opening up again I’ve been reflecting on what’s been a bleak year. But technology has been a big part of getting me through it.

How do you feel about reopening?

It’s easy to blame tech for everything from poor mental health to spreading hate and fake news. I live alone – by choice. The only carbon-based life form I want to share a home with is my cat – and I mostly like working from home, too.

But I wouldn’t have got through the past year without tech. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have kept me connected to my friends, colleagues and family. I’ve discussed telly, posted photos of my cat being ridiculously imperious…..

…..learned huge amounts from experts on Twitter, rolled my eyes at the excesses of others in direct messages and enjoyed photos of my colleagues’ walks on our work Slack. The list goes on.

Our connections have grown and deepened

My mum died in July, just as the first lockdown was ending. Neither I nor my siblings had been able to see her: there was simply nowhere open for us to stay nearby. Grief is hard enough to navigate in normal times; the pandemic made it even more complex.

But during that time, my brother, sister and I discovered that despite the distances between us, we could together manage her care in the last weeks of her life. Our connection, always loving, but often distant, has grown and deepened.

We’ve done that via our WhatsApp group, which has been a Godsend: a channel where we’ve worked out differences of opinion, planned how to haggle with undertakers, solicitors, estate agents and clergy, exchanged photos, and above all, supported each other.

The isolation of lockdown

Through the worst of a bleak year, connections provided by tech have got me through. A friend who knows I’ve found the isolation of lockdowns hard Skyped regularly to check in. We then obsessed over every detail of the fraught US election via WhatsApp.

There have been Zoom quizzes, Skype meetings of the charity of which I’m a trustee, cat pictures, coffees with friends via Google Meet, discussions on my Facebook wall: all the ephemera of my life,
moved online.

Thank God for the technology – it’s been a blessing. How’s it been for you? Has technology helped you through the pandemic the way it has for me?

Comments

I lag behind the times and only during lockdown did I discover Facetime. So for the past year I have had hour long chats with my sister in Canada. Incomparably better than emailing, which I confess were irregular.

The ability to communicate and transact more easily has always been technologically driven, telegraph, radio, phone, telex, fax, and has now become almost a universal benefit. We forget, maybe, these benefits when we criticise. The problem is, in my mind, that like tv and newspapers, but more so, dodgy information, adverts, proposals, reach many many more people so the bad consequences are so much worse. We will never beat the criminals because they are always one step ahead. We can only try and educate people to be more circumspect.

My one concern about new tech is the proliferation of so-called “smart devices”, often gimmicks, grown ups’ novelties, that serve little real purpose but add complexity and will likely reduce life or functionality when they fail earlier than the host product. However, we like new toys and they keep us spending.

Certainly agree with you here, they are great. My parents often are facetiming and using WhatsApp groups to stay in touch with loved ones in India. With lockdown restrictions it has been a great to be able to speak to people even more than before.

Generalisation is very dangerous, isn’t it :-). I agree that they can be useful. Although technically not smart, a remote control operates the lamps in my living room, and I can operate the tv without getting out of bed. But should I switch on my washing machine from the train – not good for safety, some say, – and the real work is not done smartly, sorting out the clothes and loading it. And do I need a smart coffee machine or light bulbs that change colour from my phone – how long does that novelty last?

But two issues; I know the elderly are far more savvy than many give them credit for, but can they handle all this tech, set it up, and sort it out when it goes wrong? How long do the apps last before smart becomes dumb?

Just giving thoughts from a dinosaur.

Colour changing smart lights have been a godsend in this house! My son’s nightlight gave up after 7 years of hardcore use. We now use his main light on very low and colour changing. I appreciate that this is a very specific use though!

I spent some time, especially in the first lockdowns, streaming box sets of favourite TV shows. I was also able to continue with my consultancy work, thanks to Skype and Teams and remote logins to some client computer networks.

I’ve enjoyed re-purposing old laptops as wildlife cameras, so I can keep an eye on the comings and goings of the foxes (and cats and hedgehogs) in my night garden.

But I’ve also used some of the time to start reading or re-reading books that I inherited from my late father’s collection.

In some ways the pandemic opened up new opportunities for me with tech. My son has had daily class zoom calls with his teachers and one to one calls with his teaching assistant. These have been invaluable to me in working out what he struggles with and I feel his TA and I are a proper team now which just wouldn’t have happened before.

The surge in online conferences has been great as well. I did work for a conference lately and it had some amazing speakers we couldn’t have got before as they are in the US.

I can’t imagine how much more isolating this year would have been without all the tech available to us.

Although I have used FaceTime occasionally, I started using it daily during the first lockdown and continued until I was allowed to form a bubble with a friend. I started using WhatsApp and Zoom on a to keep in contact with friends, and Zoom has become important for society meetings. It’s nice to be able to see friends and to show them a few photos. It’s not so long ago when long-distance phone calls were expensive, but I can we can make phone calls and video calls for no additional cost. It’s marvellous, but I am looking forward to meeting up with people outdoors.

I’m involved with three charities and technology has helped us keep going. We are now having regular committee meetings online and there is another webinar this evening. I missed the last one but was able to watch the recording online.

What is most encouraging is that technology has become easier to use and more more affordable. Many older people are now able to keep in touch with their families and friends. I know someone who is 95 and lives alone, yet is able to keep in touch with family living abroad with Skype.

I have just been speaking to this friend and asked how often he uses Skype. It’s mainly to keep in daily contact with his sons, one hundreds of miles away and the other in the US but he also continues his hobby interest and with computer help from one son will be publishing an eight volume set of books later this year.

Please can you recommend any review of the relative merits of different systems for video calls please, Kate? I’m thinking mainly of ease of use for those without much experience.

These smart devices have to serve a useful purpose. Some do, but others are dreamed up to add to the new equipment and do no more than give the makers more to claim in their advertisements. Of course, one useless gadget here can be very useful elsewhere in other hands. While I would never want an assistant to turn things on and off, many enjoy the flexibility it gives them. As I have found out, the more sophisticated the car becomes, the more controls are needed, the more sub menus need adjusting and the more parameters are built in. Again, it depends on who is driving as to which are the most useful and which are play things. A mobile phone no longer has the prime function of ringing other phones. One does that when everything else has been explored and used. Here the traders bombard with offers, apps and neat ways to add to the itinerary. I would never play video games on my phone, others compete and enjoy the skill. It would be interesting to do an analysis of what is available on the market; what it does and how essential it is for life. One could rate the aids to help blind people or those with mobility problems as being very important apps to have around. The ability to make funny pictures from photographs might be seen as fun, but what kind of rating would that have? If one starts with a basic piece of equipment that does one thing well, how soon, by adding things to it, does it become unusable or bloated? I see technology as a useful servant but sophistication brings complex – if that, then this happens, if this, then that will occur. Chose one of five settings and press OK. Do we need a simpler lifestyle or is this just the way life is in 2021?

The question was whether technology has helped during lockdown. The answer is yes when it worked. My governors’ meetings have been shambolic, but at least I was present. My Zoom orchestra rehearsals got us together even if we were playing alone. E. Mail continues to keep everyone in touch. I’ve bought things on line while shops have been shut and clicked and collected things from front doors. Being on the boat was quite lonely as the internet comes and goes there and I was one of the only ones in the marina. There were chats with office staff and supermarket people. What kept me sane was the complicated business of directing house building without being there to “help.” Lucky, I was, to have superb builders and architects around. There was solitaire on the computer, music to be composed and writing to work on, so the silence was also a blessing at times. I watched the fish playing football with breadcrumbs and talked to the ducks and the swans. Your introduction seems to equate technology with the ability to keep in touch with others electronically and it did that for me too, but not by using anything that wasn’t available at the beginning of this century. I can’t think of anything I used that I wasn’t already familiar with. There was nothing new on the market that I had to buy to stay connected.

I share Vynor’s experience [except the floating moments]. I have kept in touch by telephone and e-mail and used the existing desk top PC and occasionally the laptop for ordering things, looking things up, and being on here most days.

I have not made or received a call on my mobile for ages as that hardly features in my life although some of the people I had phone conversations with were using mobiles leading to discontinuous signals, poor voice reception, and mid-call battery failures.

I have endured several Zoom meetings and can’t wait to get back to proper meetings again but Zoom has been good for participation in talks and lectures [although the presentation quality has sometimes been awful].

I have never resorted to idle browsing or computer games – I am more than happy to read a book if I have the time and I have plenty waiting to be read.

So, overall, I would agree with Vynor that technology hasn’t helped much during lockdown and no additional facilities have been required.

I’ve found WhatsApp has been a big help for keeping in touch with the family more. We’ve ended up talking more which is brilliant.

Daphne is the cutest cat I’ve seen!

One aspect of all this that came to mind, was the fleetingness of the solutions we use nowadays. By that, i mean there are few opportunities to record calls for the future.

That would be important, especially with what has happened. It’s a deep and possibly morbid subject for some, but it can help people move on.

Mike

I have a weekly Zoom meeting with three friends from my university days. The free version of Zoom limits meetings to 40 minutes but we soon discovered that if everyone clicks on the same link we can have another session, and that works reliably.

I purchased a month’s subscription, mainly to be able to have two society AGMs without a time limit. The price is shown as £11.99 but with tax it adds up to £14.39. It’s not so long ago that a long distance phone call was expensive and and now we can do so much more.