How tech is helping to beat the virus lockdown blues

How tech is helping to beat the virus lockdown blues
How tech is helping to beat the virus lockdown blues

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - OSLO: Widower Per Leif Rolid lives alone on his farm, a two-hour drive from Oslo. His sense of isolation has mounted with the coronavirus pandemic, but a simple screen is helping him stay in touch — without requiring any computer know-how.

Rolid, 87, has never owned a computer, smartphone or tablet. But that has not stopped him from getting messages, photos and video calls from his grandchildren scattered around the world.

The secret? A screen that looks like a mix between an old-fashioned television and radio, placed next to his TV.

There is no keyboard, login or password. And there is just one button to turn the machine on and adjust the volume, like an old-fashioned radio. On the other end, relatives can take a few minutes out of their day to contact the family patriarch via an app.

“I can see them while talking to them. I keep in touch with family at home and abroad, on travels. I feel like I can be with my family all the time,” Rolid says with a smile.

The tech revolution that has changed our daily lives in so many ways has left parts of the population behind.

According to a study carried out by the British Red Cross, more than 9 million adults in Britain feel lonely, including 4 million of those aged 55 and over.

In Norway, 35 percent of people over the age of 67 live alone.

That feeling of isolation risks being aggravated by confinement measures during the coronavirus outbreak, as older people are told to avoid physical contact with
others since they are most at risk.

According to psychologist and physiologist Christopher Lien, the added isolation is “particularly regrettable.”

“Lots of old people have quite a small social network and if you add weeks of social isolation to that, it’s clear that for a lot of them this network becomes even smaller,” he said.

“In the worst cases, they can end up feeling disoriented in space and time. They lose their bearings when they can’t get together in their nursing home or have visits from friends and family.”

The virus crisis could give a boost to tech companies developing products to bridge the gap between generations, with analogue people on one end and their digital-savvy counterparts on the other.

The global market for such machines — known as telepresence robots — could rise by 20 to 35 percent this year because of coronavirus, and could hit $400 million, according to Lian Jye Su, tech analyst at ABI Research.

The screen used by Per Leif Rolid on his farm in Redalen was made by Norwegian startup No Isolation, which specializes in using technology to tackle loneliness among vulnerable groups.

“We know that this is not something that exclusively happens during a pandemic, but it became clear that this harms the most vulnerable first and the hardest,” said No Isolation CEO Karen Dolva.

“All of a sudden the families realized that we have to take them online,” noting that “granddad doesn’t have to be digital to
be online.”

The screen, called Komp, “becomes like their window to the family in the day-to-day life.”

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