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Carers and the internet

Note: The following blog post has been contributed by Michele Lambert, Web Manager at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers

Working day in and out on the internet, I can veer from an incessant curiousity and excitement about new technology and its applications to an occassional urge to throw my computer out of the window and make a break for freedom, to a place where the world wide web can’t reach me. It can sometimes feel like communication overload; there are so many options to contact each other wherever we are, from Twitter to Facebook to now old-fashioned email.

Reading an old letter over the weekend, it seemed unbelievably quaint that I used to keep in contact with friends and family in that way. Now you can be at the other side of the world and still in a second help your friend decide what to cook for lunch. It’s so immediate that it has totally changed the way we interact.

With the internet a new world really did open up and brought its own particular challenges. Privacy intrusion and safety issues frequently come up in relation to Google and social networking sites. Last month there were even reports of ‘Facebook depression’ among young people; the site could feel like a popularity contest, heightening feelings of loneliness.

For most though, the internet reinforces social connections – and for those who are particularly isolated, connecting with others via social media can make a huge positive difference to their lives.

Listening to music onlineA survey we ran on our website earlier this year showed that nearly 9 in 10 carers (87%) find it difficult to leave their home due to their caring role. Over half (53%) felt alone and isolated and 46% had no free time to visit support services.

So this month we asked carers blogging on our site to write about the internet and its impact on their lives – and it makes for interesting reading.

From a young carer who struggles to imagine a world without it to the unexpected uses technology is put to. One carer writes: “When.. my daughter is lonely as she is at times, she goes upstairs and we chat on messenger. It is a great laugh and I pretend I am different person each time. This helps her type, learn to communicate and have a joke.”

Another uses Google maps to “walk” around the streets where she grew up. Often the opportunities it offered were not to do with caring, but helped in coping with some of the limitations that a caring role brings.

It’s clear digital innovations have a huge potential to empower groups such as carers, particularly those at the sharper end of caring who have difficulty accessing physical services. However 20% of the UK is not online – hence the government’s current digital inclusion drive. It’s about improving access to technology for groups who may be disadvantaged or marginalised due to age, disability, or geography. This might be due to lack of physical access or lack of resources or the skills to benefit from it.

Of course new online services need to be designed with those (living and working) on the front line and cannot be a replacement for face to face services – there will always be more complex cirumstance than online can cope with and there will always be a need to ultimately have someone there to talk to.

Contrary to my breaking free impulse through, it’s obvious that the internet really does represent freedom for a vast number of people who otherwise wouldn’t have this – whether that is empowering them to organise protests and demonstrations, or the opportunity to access info, friendship and support they would otherwise go without.

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April 27, 2011 Posted by | Internet, online | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments