30 October 2006
I went to the Health Park to meet with the walkers’ group. The group had finished their walk and were sitting in small groups at the Health Park café having their lunch. Caron introduced me to different members of the group.
The first people I spoke to were Irene Luxton and Alice Pearce. The first thing they told me was that they didn’t want to lose their local post office. We talked about how such local spaces are being closed down as a consequence of more people using the internet to do things like buy their car tax. Irene and Alice thought that the amount of local community communication that takes place when you just bump into people at the post office, when collecting your pension or what ever, was really valuable and that it would be difficult for such communication to be replaced, as it is often through chance encounters that we think to pass on certain information. They also were concerned that as pension books and similar mechanisms were outdated and no longer used, they need to remember numbers, which can be quite difficult. They said that the updating of such processes means that many people are left behind, for example, because they don’t all have a bank account. Even if people do have a bank account it is still very difficult to then get to your money once it’s been put in your account, because there are no banks or cash dispensing machines locally, so you would have to travel to get to the bank to get your money.
Irene and Alice said that they thought that one thing which really needs to be improved, especially if people are forced to travel to banks to get their money, is the bus service, across Bristol, and if there is any way that digital technology can improve the current situation that it be important to do so.
Alice and Irene then told me that the local Somerfield had been taken over by Kwik Save and that they don’t think that Kwik Save is good enough; there isn’t enough variety or high quality food there. They said that this would be one way in which digital technology could be useful, as by shopping on line you could go to whichever supermarket you liked the most.
Irene and Alice then said that they also thought that mobile phones were very useful but they aren’t sure how to use all the functions that newer mobile phones have. They said that they thought such things like mobile phones should be designed to be easy to use, but they aren’t. They suggested some support would be useful for lots of older people in using mobile phones and suggested that young people might be able to offer such support.
I then spoke to Betty Butler and Marion Davis, both of whom are walk leaders. Betty and Marion both thought that there were lots of ways in which digital technology was a good thing, but they said that many older people don’t easily change and so unfortunately some older people are reluctant to use it. They said that many older people carry on using older technologies, such as typewriters. They then said that they thought the main way forwards for many people would be digital photography. They said that lots of people use digital cameras now.
Marion told me about her use of digital photography and that she uses her digital camera lots, to take photos of walks they go on, flowers and other things she sees along the way, and of her friends. Marion told me that she also has a computer and a printer and that she puts her photos onto CD, which Cheryl has taught her to do. She underlined how important such help is when using new media. Marion said that one of the amazing things about digital photography is how quickly you can do things with photos once they are taken. She cited the photos taken during blackberry picking as an example of how quickly a result can be displayed. Marion talked about making books of photos of such events and activities using computers.
Betty said that one of her concerns about new media was the extent to which people might stop thinking, choosing instead, for example, to download someone else’s essay rather than write their own.
I then spoke to Jacqueline Nation and Josie Dingle. Jacqueline told me that she uses her computer to play games and that her daughter has internet access so she has used her daughters computer to do things on line. She told me that her computer had been really important to her, as it had occupied her through game playing in a way that usefully de-stressed her when she was unwell.
Jacqueline and Josie then voiced some concern about internet banking and the extent to which it wasn’t necessarily safe. They talked about such security issues and said that they compost any post that comes to them with their name and address on, but that you can’t compost digital information, so they would be worried about what other people might be able to find out about them and security.
They then said that, just as one can get hooked on playing card games on the computer, people could also get hooked on browsing the internet. They said that browsing the internet is a very time consuming process, and Jacqueline said that at her time of life she doesn’t have time to spend in that way.
Jacqueline and Josie told me about some training that had been set up to support people to use the internet which hadn’t been very successful. However, Jacqueline had then attended a course at The Park where she had been supported to develop the basic skills she had, and learnt how to use the internet and many other things. She told me that this course at The Park was really good, and that she got on well there, being awarded two different certificates. She only stopped attending for health reasons. However, she told me that she could see how time consuming it could end up being, because of the sheer mass of information that was on line.
Jacqueline and Josie told me that they thought the monthly commitment to paying line rental to be on line was prohibitive for some people. They also felt that this meant many people lost out on the good deals that you can get on line. For instance, Jacqueline’s daughter had researched a holiday in Scotland on-line and had got much better deals than they would have otherwise found. Buying things on line like holidays often means you get better deals, and so it seems unfair that some people, who can’t afford to be on line at home, loose out on such opportunities.
Jacqueline and Josie said that it would therefore be good if there was a public internet resource in a space like the Health Park, which people were supported to use, as and when they needed or wanted to. However they added that if there were long durations when no one wanted to use it, then it would be wasteful.
Jacqueline and Josie said they thought there were many other ways in which computers could be useful and that, for example, in terms of remembering things, computers could be an asset for older people. Jacqueline told me that she was planning to use a spreadsheet programme to devise a calendar to remind her what needed doing, such as pruning, in her garden at different dates.