It’s taken a fourth lockdown for me to provide an update on my mum’s digital journey after sharing her story the week before New Zealand’s first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. A year and a half later, the highly transmissible Delta variant is now in our communities, and we are back to relying heavily on technology to maintain social connections while physically distancing ourselves.
At the time of sharing my mum’s story, she had no digital skills, did not own a mobile phone, and of course, had no email address – the three most essential elements for individuals to interact with online services. My mum has always been independent with her healthcare and always had me to deal with Government agencies. She never needed to go online, which changed when COVID-19 hit!
Not long after sharing my mum’s experience, Jacinda Ardern announced we were going into Level 4 lockdown (25th March 2020). I quickly went out and brought my mum a mobile phone. If we were going into lockdown, the least I could do was help teach her how to use this new device. We live in an intergenerational household, and I wish I could say it was me that taught her, but it was actually my two daughters, Azrielle (10) and Cahrys (9). As well as completing their online learning, they spent time teaching their Nanny Ofe how to text, make phone calls, and access YouTube.
What motivated my mum to go online?
Like many Pacific communities, spirituality and family are two important values. It was these very values that made it easier for my mum to adopt new technology. During Levels 3 & 4, our church ministers at Mangere Pacific Island Presbyterian Church (PIPC) provided daily devotions via YouTube. These devotions and prayers helped reassure my mum during a time of uncertainty. Importantly, it was her entry point to the internet.
From this, she explored other videos and content that maintained her interest. She enjoyed watching clips from Niue, especially her village Avatele, and would often point out people she knew to her granddaughters. While my mum learned how to navigate online platforms, my daughters also learned new information about their maternal village, thus enhancing the transmission of cultural knowledge intergenerationally.
Below is a picture of my mum and daughter featured in the July edition of Digital Health Connect – a magazine edited by Health Informatics NZ (HiNZ). The edition explores digital equity and how the Government, tech industries, health providers, and NGOs are addressing this in their line of work.
At 73 years old, she now has the confidence to call and text her two sons and grandchildren overseas – sentiments she shared in Digital Connect. We recently had our second COVID-19 vaccination, and while waiting in the recovery area, she was happily watching YouTube clips on her phone. She can also access her patient portal and view her blood test results – something she could never understand or access in all the years she has managed her long-term conditions.
Digital navigation is linked to wellbeing
My mums story is not unique. I’m sure we know many other older family members already online or who learned to go online out of necessity. What’s important to note is online navigation is linked to social inclusion, higher wellbeing, and autonomy – essential elements that will benefit others like my mum, who is a widow and likes to maintain independence.
We often take for granted our in-person interactions until we’re told to go into lockdown. The same is true with our ability to go online. We still have some work to do in the digital inclusion and digital equity space, but through Moana Research, we look forward to sharing updates about our work, including our new programme DIGIFALE – Digital navigation for Pacific communities.
If you’re living in an intergenerational household, here are a few digital navigation tips you can use with older family members:
- Take your time – have patience as individuals navigate new digital spaces.
- Build on their interests – it’s about them, not you, and they may not like Tik Tok or Instagram as much as you do!
- Build their confidence – people are better motivated to learn when they are encouraged.
- Don’t get offended – If they prefer to learn from their grandchildren or younger members of your household (and not you), that’s ok. Let this be an opportunity to strengthen their intergenerational connection and communication.