Author: Maya de Vries
My field site last month was a bit sleepy as it was Ramadan. This holiday continues over a whole month during which Muslims fast throughout the day, break the fast after sunset, and continue eating throughout the night. In Jerusalem, during these days, school and work places usually finish early and people who fast prefer to stay home, especially when Ramadan takes place in the summer and the heat forces people to stay indoors. During Ramadan, the elderly club at Dar al Hawa was closed and there were no activities at all. However, its WhatsApp group, “The group of the elderly club members,” was open 24/7.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, as part of my ethnography, I conduct a participatory observation at the elderly club at Dar al-Hawa Community Center. Recently, they agreed to add me to their WhatsApp group, which was established in October 2015. The admin of the group is also the coordinator of the elderly club. Besides the admin, there are 30 members in the WhatsApp group, although 50 members participate in the weekly meetings and activities at Dar al Hawa. That means that people do not receive information through the WhatsApp group. Instead, the coordinator phones them about the regular activities of the club, such as sport lessons, field trips, and so on. However, some information they miss since they are not part of the WhatsApp group; that is the informal messages, which are usually composed of images of flowers combined with a “good morning” or “good evening” blessing or other quotes from the Qur’an calling to pray to the Prophet Muhammad.
They also do not receive the various videos containing information about bad foods, such as snacks, that cause cancer, a disease that bothers everyone at the club.
When asking their club’s coordinator if she thinks it matters that some members of the group miss such information, she said it is not a big deal. I agree with her that it is not such a big problem, as long as they get the formal information and keep on coming to the club every Sunday and Thursday. However, I do think it can affect to some extent the sociability of the members who do not carry a smartphones and cannot use WhatsApp. Those images of daily greetings have a positive impact, based on my short experience in the WhatsApp group. Just reading the blessings and seeing the joyful image attached—usually of red and pink flowers—have a positive impact, even if it is just a minor one.
Nevertheless, an image is just an image, and it is fair enough to say that looking at it will not solve major problems of elderly such as loneliness, difficulties in walking, or reaching high shelves at home.
Overcoming such problems is not easy, and one of guest lectures at the elderly club dealt exactly with such issues. The lecturer was a representative from the non-profit organization called Mini Active. This important organization run by women only has a project for elderly people in which an authorized instructor for the golden age meets with elderly people, including the elderly club in Dar al Hawa, and brings all sort of objects for keeping the home environment safe. There was complete silence during almost the entire lecture, indicating that it was an important topic. I sat quietly as well during the lecture and took photos of the various objects.
At the end of the lecture, they all approached the table where the objects were exhibited and asked the instructor many questions. There was a big fuss and noise around the table, and it seems many of them asked if they could buy some of the objects, but they were not for sale. The instructor explained where they could buy them, but not all of them heard her, meaning they missed this important information. Furthermore, it means that probably they will have to go with someone from their family because many of them do not drive or need assistance when leaving the village of Dar al Hawa. I felt an urge to do something for those who did not hear her or would not remember how things look like when they go to buy them. Therefore, I took photos of each object and sent them immediately to their WhatsApp group. While sending it, I knew that there were club members who would not receive these important photos. Furthermore, other important information was missing, such as the locations of the shops and their phone numbers. Therefore, I prepared a file with all the photos of the objects and the names and details of the nearby shops where they can buy them. I sent the file in the WhatsApp group, but more importantly I printed 30 copies and handed it personally to each one of the club’s members who were present in the last meeting.
Why is it important to blog about this? I find this experience significant to the ASSA project that aims to understand how digitation assists seniors. It is a great example of how elderly people experience life today. They are in between the fast pace of smartphones and the digitization of life, but not all the time, and certainly not all them are, as happened at the Dar al Hawa elderly club.
So, let’s imagine a scenario of a person going to buy one of the objects he was told about in the elderly club’s lecture. But, he cannot remember its name and he mistakenly forgot his phone at home so he does not have the image with him. The information paper handed out at the meeting was left in his bag, folded inside his wallet acting as a safety net, un-digitized. Now he can quietly buy what he needs. Therefore, it seems to me that when thinking of life improvements for older people, it should always be on both tracks, with digital and non-digital features. In a way, it is like a double feature screening, of the same movie from two different copies: analog and digital.