There's no need to be lonely at home.03/16/2020
Time to be a solo social butterfly! Coronavirus might be emptying our diaries, but lifelong tech expert MAGGIE PHILBIN says there’s no need to be lonely at home. Just read her tips
- Maggie Philbin has been a science and technology reporter for over 35 years
- UK-based expert revealed how tech can be beneficial for banishing loneliness
- She suggests playing interactive online games, video calling and investing in AI
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
And so a very worrying spring begins, as coronavirus empties our work and social diaries and some of us face the difficult prospect of long periods at home.
For many, especially those who live by themselves, the thought can provoke real anxiety. How will you deal with not being able to catch up with friends and family?
It’s heartening to see communities self-organising. My 70-year-old friend across the street was extremely touched when new neighbours two doors down pushed a note through her letterbox offering to help in any way she needed. This immediately lifted her spirits — and mine, too.
And technology can also come into its own here. The answer is you needn’t really be alone. I’ve been a science and technology reporter for more than 35 years, and in that time I’ve witnessed nothing short of a revolution in the tech we use to connect to each other.
Maggie Philbin who has witnessed a revolution across the tech industry, reveals how the innovations can be used to overcome loneliness (file image)
Back in the 1980s when I presented Tomorrow’s World, the idea of talking to someone while watching them in real-time via a screen was the stuff of sci-fi films. Board games were still played with the person sitting next to you, not virtually with friends in another city or country.
Today, I run a charity called Teen Tech, which encourages young people to develop their digital skills. But it’s the crudest ageism to think that only the young can benefit from this brave new world.
When my dad was still with us, he regularly used the free video service Skype to talk to my daughter Rose, then working in the U.S. He loved feeling part of her life. So even as opportunities to see friends (in person) dwindle, you needn’t be lonely. Follow these tips . . .
Sort out the basics first. Make sure you’ve got access to a smartphone and know how to use WhatsApp; then start a multi-generational family group and encourage everyone to post a piece of news every day.
Give your neighbours a call, as many streets and villages are setting up WhatsApp groups. Feeling connected at a time like this will be really important.
Download a video-calling app such as Skype or FaceTime to your PC or iPhone and keep your contact numbers or emails up to date.
Even when you’re not talking, you can keep Skype open on your screen. You could watch a grandchild doing their homework (or playing Minecraft). There is something very comforting about that.
Maggie recommends online gaming with others to connect with friends and family, wherever they are (file image)
I don’t play computer games much, but I know lots of people who do and they’re not all teens! What’s especially fun is a team game you can play together.
There are lots of virtual versions of board games: link up with friends or family, wherever they are, and play interactive draughts, Connect Four or word games (try skillsgamesboard.com, or get the popular Words With Friends app).
Or push the boat out with an adventure game such as Sea of Thieves: you band together in teams of four and sail a pirate ship (one person mans the sails, another the cannons and so on). My mate Ali, who builds games, recommends this as a great way to connect family, no matter where they are.
LEARN NEW THINGS
Maggie revealed there are plenty of free fortnight-long courses from top British universities available online (file image)
If you’re feeling well, there are hundreds of short online courses, from half-hour beginner tutorials on basic computing (how to do online shopping, compare prices and use secure payment methods, for example — see the BT Skills For Tomorrow programme bt.com/skillsfortomorrow) to free fortnight-long courses on psychology, environmentalism or screenwriting from top British universities (futurelearn.com).
Most only require you to be interested in the subject, and ask for two to five hours’ study a week, using videos and interactive discussion with students.
The science and technology reporter suggests taking a virtual gym class to stay fit while in self-isolation (file image)
If self-isolation turns out to mean not even going to the local park for a brisk walk, we’ll need to keep active inside. At its most basic, that means setting hourly alarms on your phone to make you get up and stretch. Try a virtual take on the gym class by streaming live sessions.
Give SpinStream a go if you’ve got an exercise bike (spinstream.co.uk), GymCube for beginners’ Pilates (gymcube.com) or the YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene.
If I was stuck at home, I’d sort out all the loose photographs I’ve got muddled up in boxes and digitise them into an archive. There are apps that help you scan pictures, improve the quality and share. Google has PhotoScan, for example.
Or join ancestry.co.uk for a spot of family research: the chat boards are mines of expertise.
You want to connect with friends, but you don’t want other people to raise your anxiety levels.
Maggie advises sorting photographs and putting them into an archive (file image)
We all know the ones who make you feel better rather than worse — so chat to those who lift your spirits and avoid doom-mongers. I’d also stay off the wilder parts of Twitter, where conspiracy theories multiply.
If you’re struggling, the NHS recommends the app Big White Wall — an online community for people who are stressed or anxious, with round-the-clock support from trained professionals — but you have to register either through your workplace or local health service (bigwhitewall.com).
We’re bound to get bored watching the same things on telly. Instead, browse podcasts outside your usual interests (I loved Kevin Fong’s epic tales of Nasa missions, 13 Minutes To The Moon) and check out the free trials on Netflix (netflix.com or activate the preinstalled app on your TV) and music streaming service Spotify (spotify.com) — download a free version to your PC.
Watch box sets at the same time as friends or family, and discuss it live on WhatsApp. Or share playlists with your grandkids . . . they can show you how on Skype.
Maggie revealed artificially intelligent assistants that are voice-activated, can be helpful if you’re feeling lousy. Pictured: Amazon Echo
INVEST IN AI
If you’re really feeling lousy, artificially intelligent assistants that are voice-activated, with minimal effort to work (Alexa, Amazon Echo, Siri) really come into their own. I love my Amazon Echo Show, with a touchscreen and smart speaker.
Our TeenTech team are used to working remotely and from home, but take care of the ergonomics. My friend Andy has back problems and is currently improvising with his laptop on top of a chair balanced on a coffee table.
Take good care everyone.
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