The second time that I turned back to face inland, the cliffs suddenly seemed a lot larger than before, yet the tide was sucking me back out to sea. Hangover instantly dissipated, I realised that although I liked to go for a swim in the sea now and again, I didn’t actually know what I was doing.

And I’d recently signed up to a triathlon.

Since that over-confident dip off the Dorset coast, I’ve started swimming regularly. Only after five weeks have I realised that my breathing is holding me back. And my breathing is bad because, essentially, I’m nervous.

I’m nervous because I’m rushing home to get to the pool before it closes. I’m nervous because there are some very slick swimmers alongside me. I’m nervous because I thought I was supposed to hold my breath under water, and I don’t like doing that.

Turns out my confidence is low, and my technique totally and utterly wrong.

But with a bit of support, swimming each week, watching other people’s technique (discreetly, for fear of looking wierd), practising things I’ve picked up online, and most important of all, setting some simple goals, I’m beginning to feel more confident and my technique is improving.

I’m making a few mistakes as I go along, like the occasional mouth full of water, but help is never far away.

It feels good to build confidence in something that I’ve been avoiding for a long time. As a result I hope I can bring a bit more empathy to the people we train as part of our business.

My own experience with swimming, and conversations with the people on our Digital Action Plans, make me think there are a basic set of ingredients to building skills and confidence:

1. Making a weekly habit (of whatever you are trying to improve)
2. Setting short-term, achievable goals
3. Having a long-term need, or target
4. Practising technique, with some knowledgable support

Right now I’m still splashing about; out of breath, but in a fairly safe environment, and swimming a little further each week.

I recently bought a tablet for my 85 year old Grandmother, and at the same time I bought a licence for Breezie. This is a piece of software endorsed by Age UK that helps simplify the interface on a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

When I was researching this for my Grandmother, I couldn’t find much in the way of independent user experience, particularly if you are buying and installing on behalf of someone, so I thought I would blog about my experiences here, in the hope this helps others make a decision.

The first thing to say, is that the tablet has been a huge success. I seriously thought there was a 50/50 chance I’d be punting it back on eBay within weeks. But Granny was emailing within an hour (having never used a computer in her life), and surfing within two.

It’s worth knowing that she is:

– 85
– partially sighted
– not confident with technology, but willing to give something a try
– has a simple SMS/call phone
– navigates a smart TV with Sky channels and recording (which, given how unfriendly these interfaces can be, has no doubt helped)
– had never used a desktop or any other computer before

IMG_2060Breezie only works with a Samsung Galaxy tab, which is frustrating. Originally, I was tempted to buy a more expensive iPad and set up a nice decluttered home screen.

I bought the Samsung and attempted to do this anyway, which appeared impossible. It came fresh out of the box with huge amounts of rubbish installed and hundreds of annoying, poorly worded notifications pinging and flashing away. If I had to use a Samsung Galaxy tab, I’d want Breezie too.

The question remains, would Granny do just as well with a stripped back iPad? Possibly.

No matter, I bought the Samsung, realised Breezie was going to be necessary, and ordered a licence. Fair to say that the whole experience gets better, eventually. I found their website tricky to understand and wasn’t entirely clear what I was getting for my £75. There don’t appear to be any useful screenshots on their website.

I received various oddly-worded emails confirming my order, and after accidentally binning one of these, which contained the link from which I could download the software, I was ready to set up.

The underlying problem with the instructions is that they assume your friend/relative is already online; that they have an email account, and, strangely, assume they have Facebook and Skype. None of which Granny had.

It isn’t possible to set up Breezie, then add in an email account, as far as I can tell. So, for example, if you had a friend or relative who simply wants to surf, Skype and read Kindle, and not email, this isn’t for you.

To begin with I had incorrectly set up my own Google account on the tablet (Google is the default for Breezie), so went back in using the account I created for my Granny. This is OK in hindsight, but the instructions talk about the user in the third person, while in fact you (the ‘sponsor’) have to pretend to be that person for the purposes of set up.

Once you are set up, things get a lot better, and I see the value of Breezie. The email interface is brilliant, plus the fact that I can log in remotely and add different buttons to the home screen as Granny’s confidence develops.

There is a greater range of Breezie-fied apps available than you might think, from their website. Neat buttons to help navigate photos, reading, Skype and shopping.

The micro copy and navigation around email is thoughtful and clear. The colours seem helpful in this case, and the whole thing is far from intimidating. I know my Granny quite well, obviously, so if she was feeling overwhelmed it would be obvious to me.

While she is getting on fine surfing the web, the browser is a bit disappointing with Breezie. It’s just the standard Chrome, interface, which means the tabs are too small.

The home screen only allows two buttons plus a third for ‘other apps’, whereas I’d quite like her to have, say, email, web and reading on the home screen, with a fourth button for other things, further down the line.

More recently, an annoying pop-up has appeared saying something about the account needing updating. This turned out to be yet another unnecessary prompt to enter Facebook account details.

Worth £75? Possibly, but if finances allow, I’d recommend testing an iPad first.

I get the impression my Grandmother might be a bit of an edge case for Breezie. Their marketing appears to target 60-somethings who already use the web, but want to simplify their existing interface. But there’s no denying I am deeply impressed that Granny is on email, and exploring the web with confidence.

I’m seven months in to an experiment with how I spend my money online.

  • if I can’t buy something online because a website doesn’t work, or keeps trying to force me to a call centre…
  • …I look for staff on social media, and contact them to try and complete a purchase, or get an answer
  • if this doesn’t work, I buy somewhere else

Why? Because I don’t like organisations advertising at me, when they can’t get the basics of customer service right, online.

There was a difficult decision to be made in January. I had a friend visiting and I wanted to take him to my favourite local pub/restaurant. Their online booking form doesn’t work, and they don’t respond on Twitter. We went somewhere else, and I felt bad for the pub, but still determined.

Runners Need benefited from my spending when I needed new trainers and one of their staffers came to my aid on Twitter, in February.

I’ve also made some fairly sizeable decisions around hotel and venue bookings, based on how usable the online service is, or if it isn’t (frequently the case), then the speed and personality with which staff come to my assistance on social media.

I was spurred on by Nottinghamshire Foundation Trust, who read my original post:

I also saw this, which made me laugh, and persuaded me to get more ambitious in terms of retailer and money spent:

Things were going OK for a while: I booked an entire weekend’s worth of logistics in Norway, online. Partly thanks to an OK airline booking experience (Norwegian Air), but also having had to resort to Facebook for accommodation, because the Norwegian tourism website is a bit of a mess.

I elicited some real-staff reaction from a very big brand, after blogging about some thoughtless advertising.

However, things have started to go wrong when it comes to moving house.

Solicitors and estate agents are tricky to procure online. I accept there needs to be some real-world interaction (not meeting people was never part of my plan), but websites lacking in information, and rambling email correspondence is totally at odds with my world of work.

Cancelling my TV licence was a nightmare thanks to a poor online transaction. I basically gave up, and didn’t bother pursuing any staff online, which was a mistake. The transaction that I abandoned somehow landed in someone’s in tray, and now I’m £65 better off. Bonus.

Car insurance is the one transaction where I have completely buckled. Again, I understand that they need certain types of information, but the basics such as quotes and changes of address should be serviced online. Rather than find a company who supports this, I broke my commitment from December and went with the cheapest option, which involved three painful phone calls. And stamps.

So how am I doing? A mixed bag at best, but I’m going to stick with my resolution and see how far I can take it.


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