Staying connected during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Most of my IT Support clients are probably aware of my views of “social networking”. To put it mildly, I am very wary of the poor security, the snooping and data stealing by the tech giants, the abuse, the mis-information, and so on.

However, we live in strange times and “self isolation” and “lockdown” have forced us all to think about new ways of staying connected – and that includes me.

HeadsOne of the phenomena that I have seen a lot over the years (as an IT Consultant) is the tendency for people (usually in their thirties or forties) to try to press modern technology onto older relatives. I have no doubt they mean well. They want their older relatives to enjoy the benefits (as they see them) of technology and they want better connections with those relatives. However, they tend to assume that those relatives will see the world as they do: that they will see the benefits and not be deterred by the technology, the terminology, the complete “otherness” of some forms of modern communications.

As a result, I have often been approached by people who have asked if I can provide their older relative with training on things such as iPads, smartphones, Skype, and, of course, the flavour of the month – Zoom. Sometimes, I have already known the potential trainee and I inwardly groan as I think “X will not want this. (s)he will be intimidated by it, won’t see the benefits. But s(he) won’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and won’t want to cause problems, so will go ahead with the training without any real intention of getting to grips with it and using it”.

So, if you are thinking of encouraging an older relative to use an aspect of technology that you think is “obvious” and which you take for granted, please, please try to think of things from the older relative’s point of view before trying to press it upon them.

whatsapp - logoHaving said all of that, I happily admit that I am a very recent convert to Whatsapp and Whatsapp Groups. I recommend this app even for people who normally avoid social networking and technology in general. If you own a smartphone and are willing to engage with it at least to the extent of sending and receiving text messages, then Whatsapp is well within your grasp.

Whatsapp is an app that allows free phone calls, but what I’m concerned about here is its function of allowing “chats” (text messages, including pictures and even videos) either between two people or a larger group of people, such that everyone sees everything “posted” by all other members of the group.

Whatsapp - chat example
Even three months ago, such a post on Whatsapp would have been unimaginable.

As a direct result of the pandemic, I created a Whatsapp group for my siblings and myself. We are spread around the country and we do not in any sense live in each others’ pockets. The group has now been running for about a month and is a very very easy way of keeping in touch. Not only that, but the mere knowledge that it is there and that we can immediately and easily contact each other if necessary is of huge psychological benefit in these uncertain times.

We also recently created a Whatsapp group among the flats in the building in which I live. This is paying dividends in that we are already being useful to each other in small ways that wouldn’t have happened before. We also easily came to an agreement about how to deal with a specific problem that arose directly out of the coronavirus situation.

Whatsapp communications are private. The data is encrypted “end to end”, so no-one but the sender and receiver(s) know the content. This deals with a lot of my own mistrust (no – loathing) of “social networking”, but it is true that Facebook (who own Whatsapp) are harvesting “metadata” from Whatsapp (if they can match phone numbers to people, then they can connect people with the people with whom they are communicating, for instance). As far as I am concerned, this is a compromise of my privacy that I am prepared to make in the current circumstances.

So, if you are concerned about the welfare of an older relative and they use a smartphone (or would be prepared to give one a try), then I would definitely recommend trying Whatsapp with them before trying Skype or Zoom. And, if you are “the older relative” who is being asked to make more of technology to improve connectedness, then do give Whatsapp a try.

I’ve been searching online to see if there is a natural law that will tell you how many people you need in a whatsapp group before it is 100% certain that someone will post a picture of a cat. I haven’t found it yet, so it’s probably best just to assume that someone’s going to post one sooner or later in any group you join. Don’t let that put you off.