Now there’s a word with a multitude of meanings, connection! But in the personal sense it simply means not being alone. Sometimes it doesn’t much matter whether we are connected to a person or a device. But I reckon, to be meaningful, it is a relationship with another human being – in the flesh, so to speak.
Of course, there is value in being a part of a worldwide web, but that’s not an option, anyway, for thousands of older folks who for many reasons, were never able to quite come to terms with this ‘modern technology’. And it is difficult to enter that world from scratch! It also means you need, at least, a Smartphone – “but the characters are SO small”; or a Tablet – not the kind you take three times a day with water, but a device – like an iPad. Or maybe you need a Notebook – not the ones used for notes – but the fold-up thing often called a Laptop. See, we’ve only just started and I’ve confused you!
Being connected is most important when it refers to the personal link we have with another human being, and that link is clearly lacking for lots of us oldies, especially when we are not even slightly computer literate.
Recently I attended a gathering where a small group of mixed gender older people were encouraged to explore and identify what is involved with “Social Connection and Participation”. Now there’s a can of worms! (Actually, that was only one part of the day-long consultation; I’ll talk about the other topics at another time). The social needs of older folk like me clearly extends way outside an internet connection; it’s as varied as the stars in the sky! So, I was interested to hear how each person in the group valued their available range of connections, and to discover that most participants were keen to “belong”. Of course, the most-wanted connection was to belong to a family. When that was not possible, for a myriad of reasons, the lack was felt profoundly, and the resultant isolation felt even more acutely when the person was immobilised.
The absence of family or a buddy is more than a disconnection. In discussion we all agreed how some friends and family sometimes don’t quite have that perspective. Many elders outlive their partners and erstwhile friends and that’s why it’s vital to encourage them to belong to community groups for fellowship, friendship, and some fun. That need is often met by club memberships or attendance at local council activities and libraries, all of which are a rich source of support.
The lack of transport, especially personalised, is a barrier to connection and participation, indeed a deterrent. Our gathering also identified the importance of encouraging our less-mobile friends to extend their interests and past hobbies, and that socially based groups can fill many needs, both online and in person. We all need to recognise what could/must be done to achieve those ‘unwired’ connections for our friends and neighbours.