Yesterday, something rather amazing happened.
I received a call on my video phone from a number that hadn’t called before – but from a location I knew. My grandparents house.
Now it might not seem an amazing feat to many, but with fond memories of hours of producing drawings of the TV remote just to help them not get stuck on Teletext for days on end, and trying to explain how to read a text message in terms of telegrams & buttons that can perform more than one task (which unfortunately still hasn’t sunk in), this really was something to be proud of.
With the internet put in place at the weekend, the phone has been installed for two reasons; for the family & grandparents to talk face-to-face whenever they choose, and for any of us to be able to work from their house if needs be, without effecting work life. A remote office set up just as I have set up for working from home.
Why a Video Phone?
Firstly, my grandparents are comfortable with a phone. They understand the numbers, they get the concept of an answer (green) & hangup (red) button, and they have being used to picking up a handset for many years. It’s really just a land line phone… but with the addition of a screen. And there’s no need to explain any more than that.
Other options would generally include using a PC. For those who have grown up around technology, the concept of using a PC is simple; Click on what you want, click twice to open, right click for more options, and type using a keyboard. But physically, this requires a user to grip a mouse, move the hand & click at the same time as trying to keep track of a mouse pointer on the screen. Many of us have grown up with an altered dexterity where we have learnt & used these movements for years. But for my grandparents, who have never had to learn or use these skills and who suffer with arthritis in the hands, just moving a mouse pointer is quite a challenge. And where a “Start Menu” usually consists of soup & pate, and a double click is something that happens in the hip when getting out of bed in the morning… well we’re better off sticking to what we (almost) know.
The phone also allows us to programme a handful of presets for a specific row of buttons, meaning they have no need to dial a URL or IP address – they can just press a single button and the call initiates immediately. It’s simple & intuitive, and if anything is showing on screen or they get stuck, the only thing they have to remember is “PRESS THE RED BUTTON!!” until they get back to where they know.
The First Call
I was rather shocked to be answering a call from my grandparents. The above probably only gives a small taste as to their attitude towards technology and seeing a call coming in from them would be, until very recently, completely unthought of.
But after minor encouragement to sit down in front of the phone, and an explanation of how to put the handset down without hanging up the call, I was surprised how quickly the conversation became natural and he had seemingly forgotten there was a screen between us.
And within minutes I was being shown a scar from the new pacemaker he’d had fitted that morning. Yes, that might make you cringe, but the fact that he could converse with distant family about something that was completely visual was really a revelation and has got to be the some of the best proof of the benefits of video communication I have seen to date.
For now, I think we will be letting them get comfortable with the new technology they have in place. Just because they have internet at their house, I don’t expect my grandparents to be tweeting any time soon (though the experience of showing them Google Earth, Spotify & YouTube must be repeated – they were rather blown away).
The benefits for them being visually connected are immense. From my point of view, there are far more benefits that could be achieved with video communication for the elderly. I have hopes that as more and more elderly people have video phones (or are dexterous enough to use a PC!), then more and more doctors, pharmacies & specialists will have video access too. Simple questions to a dietician, the Endocrinologist or the Opthalmologist could easily save a trip & scheduled appointment (saving time and money for everyone). And for those who are less mobile, this can be a huge health benefit too.
Plus, the improvement in elderly people’s lives, especially those who live alone, by having face-to-face contact with distant family & friends is immeasurable.
And the ability for us to easily work from another location due to today’s video technology is one I am always a strong advocate of. Work shouldn’t be about where you are but about what you do – and this technology allows you to juggle both your work & family life efficiently.