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How to use your smartphone: Insights from a pilot course in Dar al-Hawa

Maya De Vries Kedem6 March 2020

Blog post written by Maya de Vries and Laila Abed Rabho

Please note that the participant names used in this blog post, as well as the neighbourhood name ‘Dar al-Hawa’, have been pseudonymised for reasons of anonymity and confidentiality. Dar al-Hawa is the pseudonym for a neighbourhood of 10,000 people in al-Quds (East Jerusalem).

One of the very first observations we had in the field site of Dar al-Hawa was that most people, young and old, own a smartphone. However, when delving deeper into the ways in which they used their phones, we discovered that their digital skills were very limited, and the use of different apps other than WhatsApp, is almost non-existent. Following the goals of the ASSA project, it was clear to us that part of our fieldwork should be to enable individuals to learn and improve their digital skills – an aim also aligned with what Kurt Lewin (1964) called research action in the fieldsite.

It took us more than a year to bring everything together, including finding the right organisation, the right space, getting the timing right, and finding future participants willing to join the course. When it finally happened, we were able to create a pilot course consisting of 12 meetings running for 3.5 hours each. Each of these sessions focused on one thing only, and that is teaching students how to use a smartphone. We partnered with a local organisation called “Good Thought”, a non-profit organisation established in 2003 which aims to reduce social gaps in Israel by providing teaching technical and digital skills to underprivileged groups. Good Thought already teaches similar courses, but they are usually aimed at helping students learn how to use a computer. When we approached them, it was after having spent a long time in the fieldsite, visiting people’s homes and seeing and hearing from different individuals who told us that they don’t have computers or laptops, just smartphones. Hence, we insisted that the course should be focused only on the smartphone. Because of this, the project was effectively a pilot one for the staff of Good Thought as well.

The first meeting took place on the 25th of November at the community centre in Dar al-Hawa, where 17 people arrived to receive information about the course. Eventually, only 15 people registered to attend the course – 4 women and one man. Since the state of Israel has previously declared that it aims to encourage its population and institutes to become more ‘digital’ and thus increase ‘digital equality’[1], we were lucky to receive significant subsidies for the course, meaning each participant only paid 20 NIS for the 12 meetings (NIS = Israeli New Shekel, this is the equivalent of about £4.41).

The leading instructor was N’, a Palestinian woman from al-Quds (East Jerusalem) who is a teacher by profession. Maya de Vries was her assistant throughout the course. In terms of participation and attendance rates, the course was a big success, as more than half of the participants attended 100% of the meetings, and the second half attended around 80-90% of the meetings. This indicates that participants were pleased with the content of the meetings and found it meaningful and helpful. Throughout the course, participants shared these feelings with us and told us how happy they are to be part of it. They also shared with us the fact that this course gives them a reason to get out of the house, and reduces some of the loneliness and boredom they experience on other days of the week when they don’t have other activities planned. One of the participants,  Malak (aged 78) said the course “was something to wake up in the morning and feel happy for”. Here, the act of learning and developing digital skills as part of a group with a mutual goal provided sociality as well, which is something that can be lost in older age.

N’ and de Vries also came to learn difficult it is for individuals who do not speak Hebrew or English to control their smartphones, even if the language of the device itself was set to Arabic. During a lesson about how to use the MyVisit app (a government app assisting users in booking appointments with various formal institutes like electricity companies or the National Insurance Institute etc.), we did not manage to find an Arabic version of it. Hence, those who did not learn Hebrew or English at school were excluded from this particular lesson and completely depended on their group mates as well as N’ and De Vries, to help them.

Figure 1: The MyVisit App (in Hebrew). The smartphone is held by one of the participants. Photo by Maya de Vries (CC BY)

We also came across several government-provided apps and websites which either did not have any Arabic content or had little Arabic content. Furthermore, only 3 out of 15 participants had an email account, and many government-provided apps require email registration to use. Although now each participant has an email account, which they created as part of the course’s assignments, they still found it more difficult to use these. Thus, if the government wants to increase digital participation among different groups, they should think about Whatsapp as an easier-to-use, more functional tool.[2]

In addition to the matter of digital inequality, we also considered the sociopolitical gaps related to the geopolitical conditions of Dar al-Hawa and al-Quds in general[3]. For example, we discovered how difficult it is for this age group to both click on the touch screen as well as wait for their ‘request’ to be uploaded. Many times, we had to explain to our students that they need to be more patient and wait for the app to upload their request, or for the website to appear. We repeated this instruction until our very last meeting – we do not think there is a clear solution to it other than continuing to practice using these tools.

Figure 2: Learning how to turn on the flashlight/torch on their smartphone (Photo by Maya de Vries CC BY)

WhatsApp is the most used app on participants’ phones – they all have it and they all know how to use its basic features such as sending messages and forwarding messages and photos. Nevertheless, we dedicated two lessons to WhatsApp use, including taking photos and selfies, which were not practicalities most of the participants were familiar with. We also taught them how to create a new group and how to record messages. Following WhatsApp, the second most popular apps were Facebook Messenger and Youtube. No one had any health apps on their phone, not even apps related to their health clinic, which has an Arabic language app.

One of the ASSA project’s findings across various field sites, including Japan and Ireland, was that ‘step counter’ apps are in widespread use among the populations studied. These step counters were not used by our participants, not even the versions that are free and built into their phone, although some had heard of step counting and the fact that there was an app on their phone that did just that. No one had actually opened the app, however.

Unfortunately, 12 meetings are simply not enough to teach participants all that smartphones can offer their users. This was something our participants felt during the course as well, and during the final session, they asked to have a second round of the course so they can learn more and develop their skills by learning how to use things like digital banking as well as other features we did not have the time to teach.

Going beyond the skills taught to the participants, as we quoted Malak before, we also heard, in the final session, how happy the students were when coming to the course and learning new things that can assist them in becoming less dependent on their children and grandchildren. Such feelings around the practicalities of independence should be more present among the older population in Dar al-Hawa. Thus, by creating more similar future courses, we are also hoping to make local older people’s lives easier and happier by increasing their knowledge in the digital arena.

Figure 3: The last session’s feast: participants brought home-cooked food to celebrate their achievements during the course. Photo by Maya de Vries (CC BY)

 

 

[1] See more here (in Hebrew): https://www.gov.il/he/departments/digital_israel
[2] We hope to create a greater change and solve this problem.  At the end of March, we are meeting with a representative from the E-Government office (Mimshal Zamin in Hebrew), thus hoping to work with them on both the language gaps, specific the Arabic one, but also on other accessibility issues for older people.
[3] The asymmetry in the education system has a long history, mainly starting after the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem. For more, see the following Ir Amim report at http://www.ir-amim.org.il/sites/default/files/Education_Report_2017-Fifty_Years_of_Neglect.pdf

Smartphones in “Dar Al Hawa”, al-Quds (East Jerusalem)

Maya De Vries Kedem3 January 2020

Written by Laila Abed Rabho and Maya de Vries

Please note that the participant names used in this blog post, as well as the neighbourhood name ‘Dar al-Hawa’, have been pseudonymised for reasons of anonymity and confidentiality.

Smartphones are perhaps the most important technological devices used in the world today. In our field site of Dar al-Hawa, a neighbourhood of 10,000 people in al-Quds (East Jerusalem), smartphones are part of everyday life, including among older members of society. As part of our fieldwork, we interviewed 22 women between the ages of 42 and 75 in the area. We discovered that even though many carry mobile devices with them on a regular basis, this does not necessarily mean that they make use of the full functionality of these, including apps and other features.

All interviewees agree that having a smartphone makes communication with their family members (parents, children and grandchildren) easier, whether they are in the country or abroad. Most of them actively use WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger to communicate, as well as to send each other prayers and quotes from the Qur’an. Some also browse the Internet and follow daily news. Overall, smartphones are seen as devices that make communication between family members much easier, especially in comparison to their older, pre-smartphone counterparts:

Eman (75), remembers a time when she had to top up her phone to make calls abroad:

“I used to have a card, and I would buy a 100 shekel card every time I topped up. When I called my brother in America or in Jordan, the conversation ended quickly – today I can call him for free. Smartphones have reduced the distance between us.”

Hala (58): “I used to use my phone to check on my daughter at university – she studied outside of Jerusalem.”

Smartphone use among older women in the Arab community is not limited to family communication and calls. Some women we interviewed use their smartphones to find recipes online:

Nisreen (56): “I love to read about cooking and find dessert recipes.”

Kholud (63): “I browse the internet to find recipes that suit my diet. I would also like to read about cooking and how to make dessert recipes.”

None of the women we interviewed use their smartphone to pay bills or do online shopping however. These findings are aligned with recent research reports on the digital divide within Israel, which have shown that there are significant differences between internet adoption and use among the Jewish population and that of the Arab population. Although internet use among the Arab community in Israel had increased to as much as 84% by 2015, there is still a large disparity in terms of the scope and nature of internet (and implicitly, smartphone) use between the two groups. While data shows that as many as 7 in 10 members of the Arab community had not shopped online or made payments on the internet in 2016, for the Jewish community, this figure was only around 30%. Among the Arab community, there are also more significant differences between different generations when it comes to browsing the internet, with over 45s being even more underrepresented and less confident that older internet users in the Jewish population.

Digital access and consequently, digital equality, tend to vary based on the socio-political background of a specific group or individual. In addition, the lack of motivation to use the internet can also occur due to a fear of technology, especially among minorities or more marginalised groups such as older people. Such groups are more likely to suffer from a lack of basic digital skills and knowledge and have limited exposure to the internet. As we have learnt from our informants, joining the digital world and learning how to navigate it are not self-evident processes, and can both take a long time. Even when adults learn how to use the phone and have practised using it multiple times, they may forget how to use it with time, some even forgetting the right way to properly use a touchscreen, for example. Such difficulties can have the effect of severely limiting the way these members of the population will use their phone, limiting their use to voice calls and WhatsApp.

Mayar (46) was very explicit about this: “I am afraid that a time will come when everything will be online. I do not know how to pay in this way. Sometimes when I am in a car park, I am asked to pay for the space online. I am also afraid that a day will come that I cannot find a machine [where I can still pay manually]. That’s why I wish to find a class to teach me how to use the smartphone. Girls in their twenties may know how to pay via the internet, but us women over 45 need education in this field.”

We also asked informants whether they use their smartphone to contact their doctor. Interviewees were keen to stress that they would never use their smartphone to communicate with their doctors in a direct way. There was one exception, Hamda (75), who said:

“Of course, I use it to communicate with my doctor. Today I want to call my doctor because I want to cancel an appointment I have. I want to tell him that I am not coming.”

It is interesting to note however that Hamda uses her smartphone to place a direct call to her doctor as opposed to using the clinic’s app or messaging him via WhatsApp. However, she is quite unique in this matter. Another research participant, Jumana (75) says: “As for communicating with doctors, I do not use it [smartphone]. I go to see the doctor face to face. If I had the clinic’s doctor’s number, I would contact them, but I don’t know how to use WhatsApp.”

The women we spoke to also highlighted the importance of phones among elderly people who were childless, or those whose children were far away and unable to provide them with immediate assistance.

Haya (62) says: “The phone is very good, I like having it with me in the knowledge that I can use it to communicate with my children at any given time. It is better than the house phone. It is very good to be able to use the camera no matter where you are. I sometimes also use YouTube.”

Rana (43) says: “Having a mobile phone is very important for the elderly who live alone today. There is even a service that allows older users to call the police or an ambulance at the touch of a button.”

The evidence from our interviews shows a widespread perception that phones have numerous advantages, assuming of course that informants know how to use their functions and features. The widespread use of smartphones also presents downsides – a fact that appeared as a more subtle implication in our  discussions with informants – something that is related to the specific cultural context of our field site.

For example, Haya (62) talks about the smartphone and the ridiculous things that can happen as a result of using the phone incorrectly:

If you know how to use it {the smartphone}, it is true that there is a lot of good in it. This phone is a blessing from God, but most people do not know how to use it in a good way, so they use it to do bad stuff. This is why some people prefer the old ‘stupid’ phone.”

The community in Dar al Hawa is considered a conservative one. It is not unheard of for some members of this community to use smartphones for abusive purposes that include discrediting or shaming other people.

While smartphones can make life easier, they can also complicate it, carrying the potential to influence the life of individuals (particularly women) and their families in a negative way.

Bearing all this in mind, it was particularly interesting to see in the WhatsApp group of the Elderly Club in “Dar Al Hawa” the following image praising the “stupid” old phone and its lack of capabilities:

It lived with dignity
It died with dignity
Never took a photo of a girl
And did not record any embarrassing situations (scandals)
And it did not carry music

 

الهاتف الذكي في حي دار الهوى، القدس

ليلى عبد ربه ومايا دة-فريس

 

تعتبر الهواتف الذكية من اهم الأجهزة التكنولوجية المستخدمة بكثرة لدى أغلب فئات المجتمع. خلال اللقاءات مع النساء الفلسطينيات في حي “دار الهوى[1] – القدس حول الهاتف الذكي واستخدامه، قالت أغلب النساء ان الهاتف الذكي سهل عليهن التواصل مع الأهل والأبناء سواء كانوا داخل البلد او خارجها.

حتى الآن تم اللقاء مع 22 امرأة بالفئة العمرية ما بين 42 و75 عاماً، جميعهن أكدن على استخدام الهاتف الذكي كوسيلة للاتصال والتواصل. أغلبهن يستعملن تطبيق الواتس اب والفيسبوك والمسنجر كوسائل للتواصل ولإرسال الادعية الدينية، كما يتصفح بعضهن الانترنت لمتابعة الأخبار. أكدت جميع النساء على سهولة استخدام الهاتف الذكي (على عكس الهاتف القديم) للتواصل مع افراد عائلاتهن خارج البلاد و داخلها:

إيمان (75) قالت: “كنت استخدم الكرت (كل مرة اشتري كرت بمئة شيكل) عندما اتصل بأخي في امريكا او في الاردن فينتهي بسرعة, اليوم انا باتصّل ببلاش. هو يقرب البعيد”.

هالة (58) قالت: كنت استخدمه للاطمئنان على بنتي في الجامعة“.

قسم من النساء يستخدمنه لتصفح ما يتعلق بالطبخ والحلويات. نسرين (56) قالت: أنا أحب ان أقرا عن الطبخ وأن استخرج وصفات للحلويات. خلود (63) قالت اتصفح النت لاستخراج وصفات للرجيم وأيضا أحب أن أقرأ عن الطبخ وكيفية عمل بعض الحلويات.

لم تقم أي من النساء اللواتي تم اللقاء معهن بدفع فواتير الهاتف او الكهرباء أو اي فواتير أخرى عن طريق الهاتف الذكي.

اثبتت الدراسات التي تمت حول الهاتف الذكي في إسرائيل الفرق بين المجتمع اليهودي والمجتمع العربي في استخدام الهاتف الذكي والانترنت. حيث وصلت نسبة مستخدمي الانترنت في المجتمع العربي حوالي 60% في عام 2011، مقارنة ب 77% لدى السكان اليهود. أما في عام 2015 فقد ارتفعت هذه النسبة في المجتمع العربي الى 84% (لجنة الاحصاءات المركزية في إسرائيل)، ولكن لا يزال هنالك تفاوت كبير في نطاق وطبيعة الاستخدام بين الشعبين.

اتضح أن أكثر من 70% من مستخدمي الشبكة من المجتمع العربي لا يتسوقون أو يجرون الدفعات بشكل يومي مقارنة مع 30% من المجتمع اليهودي. ظهر أيضاً تفاوت كبير بنسب التصفح بين الاجيال (فوق أو تحت عمر 45) بالمجتمع العربي ولكنهم يستخدمون الشبكات الاجتماعية.[2]

تتنوع التفسيرات بموضوع المساواة الرقمية حسب الخلفية الاثنية بموضوع التكنولوجيا وتبنيها:

أولا، قلة الأجور لذوي الياقات الزرقاء بسبب عدم المساواة الاقتصادية/الاجتماعية/الثقافية/التعليمية والتي من خلالها سيكون الانكشاف للعالم التكنولوجي متدني.

ثانيا، عدم وجود الدافع لاستخدام التكنولوجيا بسبب الخوف من التكنولوجيا من قبل الأقليات، نتيجة لعدم معرفة استخدام المهارات الحاسوبية والانكشاف المقتصر لشبكة الإنترنت.

مع ذلك، وكما يظهر من المقابلات فان الانضمام للعالم التكنولوجي وتعلمه ليس بديهي ويستغرق وقتا طويلا. حتى عندما يتعلم الكبار كيفية استخدام الهاتف عدة مرات، فانه قد ينسى كيفية استخدامه، أو يكون استخدامه محدود جدا (للمكالمات والواتس اب فقط).[3]

رغم هذه الدراسات إلا أن بحثنا يظهر استخدام النساء المسنات للهاتف الذكي في القدس بوضعها السياسي المركب. كما ويؤكد البحث على عدم استخدام النساء للإنترنت بشكل واسع في الهاتف الذكي، بالمقارنة مع استخدامهن للواتساب والفيسبوك.

هالة (58) قالت: “زوجي وابنائي يدفعون الفواتير

ميار (46) ابدت تخوف من هذا الامر: أنا خائفة ان يأتي وقت يصبح فيه كل شيء عن طريق النت وأنا لا أعرف كيف يتم الدفع بهذه الطريقة، احيانا يطلبون مني في موقف السيارات الدفع عن طريق النت. خائفة ايضا ان يأتي يوم لا أجد مصف فيه الدفع عن طريق ماكنة عشان هيك يا ريت حد يقوم بتعليمنا كيف يتم الدفع عن طريق النت. الفتيات في سن العشرين يعرفن كيف يدفعن عن طريق النت لكن نحن النساء فوق الخامسة والاربعين نحتاج لتوعية في هذا المجال.”

إضافة الى ذلك أكدت النساء أيضا على عدم استخدام الهاتف الذكي للتواصل مع الطبيب بشكل مباشر، سوى واحدة، حمدة (75) قالت: طبعا باستخدمه في التواصل مع طبيبي انا اليوم بدي اتصل في طبيبي لأني بدي الغي موعد بكرة بدي اقول له انا مش جاي بكرة.

لم تستخدم أي من النساء الهاتف الذكي للتواصل مع الخدمات الطبية ‘الديجيتال’. جمانة (75) قالت: “أما بالنسبة للتواصل مع الاطباء لا أستخدمه [الهاتف الذكي] فأنا اذهب لرؤية الطبيب وجها لوجه. بالنسبة للتواصل مع الطبيب قالت إذا كان رقم العيادة معي ورقم الدكتور باتواصل معهم بس انا لسا بتعلم على الواتس آب.

زاهرة (74) اذا بدي اشي من الطبيب بقول لنعمة بنتي بتتصلي اذا بدي اشي من المكتب بتصل عليهم كمان ما باستعمل الواتس آب.

كما أكدت اغلب النساء على اهمية الهاتف الذكي ومساعدته للمسنين خاصة المسن الذي ليس لديه أبناء او أن أبناءه بعيدين عنه ويعيش في البيت لوحده.

هيا (62) قالت: استخدم الواتس وباتفرج على الفيس ومرات أتصل على اختي من المسنجر. البيلفون منيح كثير بتطلعي مشوار بكون بلفونك معك بتتواصلي مع اولادك هو احسن من تلفون الدار كثير منيح بتكوني في اي محل وبتفتحي الكاميرا وأحياناً أستخدم اليوتيوب.

رانا (43) قالت: مهم جدا للمسنين الذين يعيشون وحدهم اليوم يوجد خدمة يستطيع المسن ان يضغط على الزر فتأتي الاسعاف او الشرطة.

أظهرت المقابلات أن الهاتف الذكي يتمتع بمزايا كبيرة، على افتراض أنهم يعرفون كيفية استخدام تقنياته. في الوقت ذاته، للهاتف الذكي ايضا يوجد جانب سلبي، والذي لم يظهر بشكل ضمني إلا في المقابلات مع النساء ويعتمد على السياق الثقافي لمجال دراستنا.

فعلى سبيل المثال، تتحدث السيدة هيا (62) عن الهاتف الغبي والأشياء السخيفة التي يمكن أن تحدث نتيجة لاستخدام الهاتف بشكل غير صحيح:

اذا بتعرفي تستخدميه صح بكون كثير منيح مش للهبل هذا البيلفون نعمة من الله, لكن اكثر الناس مش عارفين يستخدموه, بيستعملوه للهبل.”

يعتبر المجتمع ا في “دار الهوى” مجتمع محافظ، ولكن قد يقوم بعض افراد هذا المجتمع باستغلال الهواتف الذكية لأغراض مسيئة تشمل تشويه سمعة أشخاص اخرين. من الجدير بالذكر ان الهاتف الذكي من ناحية يجعل الحياة أسهل ومن ناحية أخرى يعقدها.

في ضوء ذلك، كان من المثير للاهتمام أن نرى في مجموعة الواتس اب التابعة لنادي المسنين في “دار الهوى” الصورة التالية والتي تشيد بالهاتف “الغبي” وافتقاره إلى القدرات:

[1] “دار الهوى” هي اسم مستعار وكذلك أسماء الذين تمت مقابلتهن.

[2] Lev-On, A., Brainin, E., Abu-Kishk, H., Zilberstein, T., Steinfeld, N., Naim, S. (2019) Narrowing the gap: Characterization of participants, short- and long-term effects of participation in LEHAVA program (To narrow the digital gap in Israeli society, in Hebrew).

[3] Gordon, C., Al Zidjaly, N., & Tovares, A. V. (2017). Mobile phones as cultural tools for identity construction among college students in Oman, Ukraine, and the US. Discourse, Context & Media, 17, 9-19.