Drop-in goes viral in the real world

Virtual drop-in test run

We just finished our first experiment with G Suite Hangouts Meet.

We know that an online drop-in will never replicate the social value of the real-world drop-in — but it might be better than nothing in this time of obligatory social distancing.

However, as we are discovering day by day, the alternative does not have to be ‘nothing’ — it’s the explosion of civic care in every neighbourhood. The drop-in ethos has gone viral in the real world.

Anyway — the test run was almost entirely about anticipating technical difficulties before we get started. Hangouts Meet, and similar tools such as Zoom, are not difficult for users with a background in digital culture. But for people whose points of reference for communication are entirely in the real world, the barriers are quite high, and we don’t all want to climb over them.

The Real Drop-in was largely unstructured, unplanned and pleasingly unpredictable. That won’t work for us online — so the idea of a permanent 24/7 virtual space, open to older people as a digital tourist attraction — is off the agenda.

The way forward — some ideas

Small group events, more of them, more frequent, more dispersed, perhaps based on neighbourhood, with more volunteers, and always with a theme relevant for older people.

We can’t help each other to understand digital gadgets directly, so perhaps we could help a wider effort to take laptops, tablets and 3G/4G MiFis — set up and working — to the most excluded people.

The Virtual Drop-in could could then be part of that essential human support network.

More to follow, of course.