Communities are explained in the English dictionary ‘as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’. Technology has fuelled the evolution of community, generating new platforms for us to socialise and interact with.
In a traditional sense, community can be thought of as the people and places in which we live. This definition can be extended, to include the groups, societies and even employment we engage with. In today’s modern world, a new form of community has emerged - the digital community.
Digital communities, defined by IGI Global as ‘communities of interest or places that rely on digital technologies to communicate, network and disseminate information’. Marking the technological advances underpinning our daily lives, digital communities consist of online digital spaces for people with common interests to join together, irrespective of geographical location e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Meet Up to name but a few.
Facilitating the safe and continued expansion of social networks during the pandemic, digital communities are a powerful societal tool. From the safety of my home I have been able to make multiple new connections, both personally and professionally. The result of a digital community connection led me to learn of Sonjia and Marion, the inspiration for this blog piece.
Late one Friday night in the midst of an English summer, I eased myself into my armchair to catch up on the digital world. Two weeks earlier I had signed up to ‘Nextdoor’, a free community centred application to keep up to date with local happenings. Since becoming a member, I had sadly learned of concerns about safety in the community and an increase in criminal activity. On a more positive note, I had been able to find someone to give our kitchen a makeover.
That evening my eye eagerly fell to a post from Sonja, a lady requesting support to install Ring, a remote video doorbell connected to a digital voice assistant. As an aspiring gerontechnologist (academic code for someone who is interested in technology and ageing), I immediately hopped on the post and offered my assistance.
Sonja explained she had helped her ex mother in law, a 98 year old lady called Marion setup Alexa which was proving to be a ‘God send’. Both of Marion’s sons are pilots, travelling across the globe they are the epitome of what it is to be nomadic. In this day and age, the out migration of younger family members in the pursuit of employment and improved life chances is not unusual. According to the ONS there are an estimated 2.2 million older adults in the UK , like Marion living alone.
Technology enables many older adults to remain informed and connected to services, particularly important during the current pandemic. Amazon's Alexa Show is a hybrid device integrating both a screen and voice assistant, enabling new ways for users to connect with digital spaces. Marion uses Alexa Show, or her'magical box of information' to keep in touch with her two sons. She also enjoys asking Alexa to play BBC Classical FM , her favourite radio station.
Sonja told me Marion now wanted to install Ring as a security measure to protect her following a doorstep scam. In recent weeks scammers had tricked Marion into handing over her credit card, in exchange for a dummy card. She is hoping Ring will give her a third eye, enabling her to check who is calling before opening the front door to unidentified people.
After exchanging a couple of emails, we established that a hardwired installation of Ring was required, as instead of rechargeable batteries which would be fiddly for Marion. As I was not an Electrician, I advised my help would unfortunately not be very useful. Though I asked if I could use Marion’s story for this blog. A couple of days later Sonja stated Marion would be overjoyed to be included in a blog piece, so here we are.
In recent months Action Fraud highlighted how fraudsters have exploited the pandemic, duping innocent citizens into sharing their personal and financial information. Many incidences of fraud take place online, particularly on social networking sites such as Facebook. In the second quarter of 2020, Statistica reported Facebook is host to 2.7 billion active users each month. This number continues to grow, as we all seek safe and effective ways to keep in touch with friends and family during the pandemic.
Similar to fishing, in a phishing attack scammers send users emails impersonating reputable organisations, encouraging users to click on a link containing malware or requesting users to input personal details. The bait here, is the false e-mail and the fishing comes in, as not every e-mail sent will generate the desired response, or nibble. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) received 5,000 notifications of potential suspicious emails on their first day of opening. Anyone in receipt of a suspicious email can report to the suspicious email reporting service (SERS) led by the NCSC.
Common to all scams and their potential solution, as ingeniously presented by Marion is technology. Either, in the sense of increasing our vulnerability to scammers or by offering tools to protect against scammers landing on our doorsteps. As our lives continually straddle the physical and digital world, it is important we maintain our safety across both spheres. Increasingly, national organisations provide free advice and information supporting individuals to keep safe online:
National Cyber Security Centre: www.ncsc.gov.uk
Action Fraud: www.actionfraud.police.uk
Make it click (Good Things Foundation): https://makeitclick.learnmyway.com/directory/subjects/online-security