New “Watch Party” Feature For Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime subscribers can be part of 100-viewer “Watch Party” groups and enjoy access to thousands of movies and films as well as chat between group members.

Watch Party

The Watch Party feature, which is similar to that of Netflix, allows an Amazon Prime member to simultaneously stream and share their favourite movie or TV show with up to 100 friends and family members who are also Prime members.  The synchronised playback controls mean that the Prime Member can use live ‘live chat’ via text with the group and pause, play, and skip the action for the group.

Watch Party does not require a plug-in to download and can be used for anything included with Prime.

Netflix and Others

Amazon Watch Party is clearly a similar (and competing) offering to Netflix’s service. Netflix Party also offers synchronised video playback and adds group chat to Netflix shows so that Netflix members can link up with friends and host long-distance movie nights and TV watch parties.

Other streamers offering virtual viewing parties include Warner Media, Disney, and Disney Plus.

Desktop and U.S. Only

Amazon’s Watch Party is currently only available to those located in the U.S. and with a U.S.-based Prime subscription.  People can join in a web browser on their computer, and Watch Party is only for desktop browsers except for Apple’s Safari, although a mobile version is reported to be on the way.  Devices such as Fire TV, smart TVs, game consoles, connected media players, mobile phones, and tablets are currently not supported for Watch party.

How To Use

To launch a Watch Party, a user clicks on the Watch Party icon on their screen, browses titles and episode lists to choose what to watch, chooses a name to use while chatting and then shares their Watch Party link with up to 100 people (friends join by clicking on their link).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The pandemic has been good news for those companies offering streamed online entertainment services as millions of people have been spending a lot more time on those platforms and seeking entertainment while off work and having their movement outside restricted.

The fact that families and friends have been separated from each other and that people have been unable to have shared, public entertainment experiences e.g. cinema and concerts, has created more of an opportunity for shared online entertainment experiences such as Watch Parties.

For Amazon, Watch Party is a way that it can compete with other big streamers such as Netflix, and Amazon is in a good position to do so with the vast amount of entertainment titles that it offers.

Featured Article – Medical Apps For Smart Devices

The global pandemic and news about tracking apps have put health and technology in the spotlight.  With this in mind, here are some examples of medical apps for smart devices and smart health products that involve a link between smart wearables, apps, and other smart products.

Just A Look, Not An Endorsement

Before we delve into the world of health-tech, we would like to stress that we have no connection to (and are not endorsing or selling) any of the brands or products mentioned in this article and that other brands and products to those mentioned are available.  The intention is simply to take a brief look at a range of product types that are currently available.

Samsung’s Smart Watch For Blood Pressure

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd (South Korea) has just announced the launch of its Samsung Health Monitor app to be used with Galaxy Watch Active2.

The smart app delivers a visual display of the wearer’s blood pressure to the watch and gives instructions if the readings present a potential danger.  Once the app is linked to the watch, and the app is calibrated every four weeks, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 wearer simply needs to tap their watch to measure their blood pressure.  The measurement results can be synced to the app on the user’s Galaxy phone and the results that have been tracked over days, weeks or months can also be shared with the user’s doctor as part of a medical review or consultation.

Heart Monitor

Samsung says that Electrocardiogram (ECG) tracking will also be supported on the Samsung Health Monitor app in South Korea within the third quarter of this year.

Other, EKG/ECG smart products and their associated apps are already available e.g. the mobile EKG monitor from AliveCor which links to a dedicated app to deliver and electrocardiogram (ECG) to a smartphone in around 30 seconds.

Fitness Watch

Many of us are already familiar with (or may have) a Fitbit or similar wearable health and fitness device.

The French ScanWatch, for example, is an advanced health/fitness watch that, for example, tracks heartbeat irregularities, and blood oxygen saturation during sleep, and connects to a smartphone (Android) app via Bluetooth.

Apple’s fitness tracking watch can also measure vital signs.

Sleep

Apple, for example, makes a number of other smart health tech gadgets that link to smartphone apps, such as the Beddit Sleep Monitor.  This system uses a slim, flat bracelet that feeds data about the wearer’s sleep to a smartphone app to help the user to improve the quality of their sleep.

Temperature Monitoring

With a high temperature (or limited high-temperature spikes) being a well-known symptom of COVID-19 for example, products such as the Withings Thermo thermometer, which gives the user an accurate temperature reading while automatically syncing with the app on the user’s iPhone or iPad, may be of particular interest to many people at this time. 

Blood Glucose Level Monitoring

For those who need to keep a close eye on their blood glucose levels, there are now some smart products on the market that can help achieve this.  One example is the iHealth Lab Inc Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System, which comes with a glucometer, lancets and a lancing device, and it connects to an App which displays and records the results and keeps a history of all blood glucose measurements.

Brain Activity Monitor To Help Reduce Stress

Smart brain activity monitoring systems are also now available.  These use a headband device that communicates (via Bluetooth) with an app on the user’s smartphone or tablet.  The purpose of these apps, such as ‘Muse’, is to be able to help users to lower their stress levels, increase their resilience and improve their engagement/attention.

Breathing

One of the few real benefits of the global pandemic has been an improvement in air quality, due to the dramatic reduction in vehicle and industrial pollution. There are, however, smart products linked to apps that can help give alerts about air quality to those suffering from asthma or allergies.  One example is Atmotube Pro which uses sensors and a free mobile app to keep the user informed about any air quality threats and the presence of harmful gases.  Other examples include the Index BreezoMeter pollen and weather app.

Fertility Tracking

For those hoping to start a family, fertility tracking wearable and app combinations can help. Examples include the Ovia Fertility Tracker and Ava’s fertility tracking system.  These device/app combinations use a wearable bracelet to take the measurements e.g. temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate, and sleeping patterns to produce results that are displayed in graphics on a smartphone app so that a woman is able to more accurately judge when she is likely to be most fertile.

Track and Trace Apps

Perhaps the most important health app at the current time for many would be a track and trace app.  Unfortunately, the much-anticipated app that was being trialled in the Isle of Wight has now been ditched.  The hope is, with human track and tracing operating in the meantime, that an app based on Apple and Google’s technology will be available in the UK in the near future.

Looking Forward – Opportunities

Wearables linked to phone apps are a growth area that is providing many opportunities for businesses with health and fitness products that can be given significant added value thanks to a smart element and a good app.  The scope for businesses focusing on the health and fitness sector is huge although big tech names which already have integration of products and strong, recognisable, and trusted brands e.g. Apple or Samsung are in a particularly strong position.

Even though manufacturers of smart wearable technology are offering something of real value to consumers who are now, perhaps, more conscious than ever about health matters, they should not forget that security and privacy of the data stored and transmitted about the user should always be a priority, and it is in the interest of the manufacturer and the customer that correct safeguards are taken.

Big Tech Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Big companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have committed to considerable financial support for black-owned businesses as Black Lives Matter gains momentum.

Google

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by U.S. police, followed by world-wide support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign, Google has announced a “set of concrete commitments” that are designed to build sustainable equity for Google’s Black+ community, and to make their products and programs more helpful to Black users.

Commitments

Within Google itself, and extending outwards to “Googlers” everywhere, Google says that it is committing to:

– Improving Black+ representation at senior levels and committing to a goal to improve leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 per cent by 2025.

– Doing more to address representation challenges in hiring, retention, and promotion at all levels.

– Working to create a stronger sense of inclusion and belonging for Googlers, particularly the Black+ community.

– Setting up globally-focused anti-racism educational programs that are scalable to all Googlers.

– Working with health providers and other groups to better support the mental and physical health and well-being of the Black+ community.

Economic Opportunity Package

Google says that it is also committing to a $175 million+ economic opportunity package to support Black business owners, start-up founders, job seekers and developers. This new money is in addition to YouTube’s $100 million fund to help Black creators and artists. 

The $175 million includes:

– $50 million in financing and grants for small businesses, in the Black community and in partnership with Opportunity Finance Network.

– $100 million in funding for Black-led capital firms, start-ups and organisations supporting Black entrepreneurs.

– $15 million in training to help Black job seekers to improve their skills.

– $10 million+ to help improve the Black community’s access to education, equipment, and economic opportunities as developers.

Facebook

Facebook has also announced that it will commit $200 million to Black-owned businesses and organisations and has said that it will commit to increasing the representation of people of colour in the company’s leadership positions by 30%.  Facebook says that this will include 30% more Black people.

The $200 million commitment will take the form of $25 million going to supporting Black content creators, $75 million as cash grants and ad credits for Black-owned businesses and non-profits serving the Black community, as well as $100 million being spent annually on Black-owned suppliers e.g. marketing agencies and construction companies.

Netflix

Netflix has announced that it is looking to create long-term opportunities for entertainment creators, youth, and businesses in the black community by donating $5 million to non-profits creating direct opportunities for Black creators, Black youth, and Black-owned businesses.  Netflix has also announced that it will be donating $1 million in grants to black youth organisations, matching 200 per cent of its employees’ donations to charitable causes and committing a further $2 million to as yet unnamed benefactors.

Amazon and Microsoft

Meanwhile, Amazon and Microsoft have both come under fire in the press over allegations about their response to recent events.  For example, Amazon has been criticised for allegedly standing by its commercial partnerships with US police forces and over past treatment of non-white employee organisers, and Microsoft has been criticised over an alleged leaked email from a mural artist who appears to have been asked by Microsoft and advertising firm McCann to make a BLM mural in New York “while the protests are still relevant.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The shocking murder of George Floyd, the BLM protests, and the toppling of prominent statues around the world appear to have created greater momentum for change.  These commitments from some of the big tech companies are a way to ensure that some concrete action happens and that there are some real opportunities, benefits, and changes, although there is still a lot further to go.  Now is a time for businesses to reflect on what they could be doing towards creating real equality in the workplace and in creating opportunities in the community for those who are not treated equally purely because of race or colour.  Ultimately, this is a much wider challenge for all of us in examining our own attitudes and looking at how we can create a society that you would expect in the 21st century.

Tech Tip – Better Video Chats

If you would like to improve your video conference calls in terms of how things look, sound and operate, here are a few tips:

– Consider using a webcam rather than the built-in laptop cam.  It may be better quality (picture and sound) plus it offers flexibility in positioning.

– Consider using a slightly side-on angel for the webcam so you can talk and type at the same time while being able to look and lean-in when you need to.

– If you’re using your laptop camera, place the laptop on top of books or objects (in a safe and practical way) so that it is raised, and level with your face (eye level) rather than focusing up towards your chin or the ceiling.

– Use a neutral background and switch off lights behind you.  You may also consider using a light in front of you.

– Close windows if they are the cause of excess and distracting light and noise.

– Use a Bluetooth headset (with a microphone) and Bluetooth speakers if you have them.

– Use a mute button/control where possible and appropriate.

Internet Speed Record

Researchers from Australia’s Monash, Swinburne, and RMIT universities claim to have set a new Internet speed record of 44.2 Tbps.

Fibre Connection

The claim, which is featured in the ‘Nature Communications’ journal (https://www.nature.com/) refers to setting the bandwidth world record for ultra-dense optical data transmission over 75 km of standard optical fibre, with a single chip source.  It has been reported that the fibre connection was run between RMIT’s Melbourne City campus and Monash University’s Clayton campus in order to represent the infrastructure that is used by Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

Micro-Comb

The exceptional speed and bandwidth achieved in the test, enough to download the contents of more than 50 100GB Ultra HD Blu-ray discs in one second, has been attributed not just to the capacity and capabilities of fibre, but also to the addition of micro-combs to the cable fibres. 

Micro-combs are optical frequency combs based on micro-cavity resonators, and the researchers report that the ability to phase-lock, or mode-lock, these comb lines were key to breaking this speed record.

Micro-comb technology, therefore, appears to be a highly efficient way to transmit data and micro-combs offer the full potential of their bulk counterparts but in an integrated footprint.

Integrate With Existing Infrastructure

RMIT’s Professor Arnan Mitchell has been quoted as saying that the challenge will now be how to turn the micro-comb technology into something that can integrate with the existing cable infrastructure, and the that the long-term hope is to “create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost”.

Data Centres First

Communications commentators have suggested that once the new technology is commercialised, data centres are most likely to benefit first from its introduction and that home and business users may have to wait years before they can use it, provided that it is affordable.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For communications infrastructure companies, this development means that they can augment the fibres that are already in the ground with this new micro-comb technology, thereby meaning that their existing networks are still good and scalable for the future.

This speed record and the new technology is also good news for the autonomous vehicles industry, gaming industry, medical fields, and other industries, segments, organisations, agencies and businesses that need greater speed and capacity to help them deal with increasing data demands.

Featured Article – Does Your Phone Have A Virus?

Phones are essentially powerful mobile computers that contain vast amounts of valuable personal information. This article looks at how to tell if your phone has a virus, what to do if you think it has, and how to protect your phone.

Virus or Malware

Both a virus and malware are malicious programs, but in security terms, a virus is a type of malware that copies itself onto your device and malware, the general terms for malicious software, is a type of threat.

Types of Mobile Malware

There are many different types of malware that can infect mobile phones, including:

– Banking malware, many of which are Trojans designed to infiltrate devices and collect bank login and passwords.

– Spyware, used to steal a variety of personal data.

– Ransomware, which locks the phone until the user pays a ransom.

– Mobile Adware, whereby “malvertising” code can infect a device, forcing it to download specific adware types which can then allow attackers to steal personal data.

– Crypto-mining apps, which use the victim’s device to mine crypto-currency. For example, in February 2019, security researchers at Symantec claimed to have discovered 8 crypto-mining apps in the Microsoft Store.

– MMS Malware, whereby attackers can send a text message embedded with malware to any mobile number.

– SMS Trojans, which can send SMS messages to premium-rate numbers across the world thereby landing the user with an exceptionally large phone bill.

Android Vulnerable To Malware From Malicious Apps

Android phones are known to be vulnerable to malicious software that usually arrives via a malicious app that the user has downloaded, sometimes via the Google Play Store or an app from a third-party app shop.  A recent Nokia Threat Intelligence report showed that Android devices are nearly fifty times more likely to be infected by malware than Apple devices.

For example, back in September 2019, Security researcher Aleksejs Kuprins of CSIS cybersecurity services company discovered 24 apps which had been available for download in the Google Play Store that contained spy and premium subscription bot ‘Joker’ malware.  Also, in January 2019, security researchers discovered 36 fake and malicious apps for Android that could harvest data and track a victim’s location, masquerading as security tools in the trusted Google Play Store.

Android phones are also vulnerable to malware and viruses if users download message attachments from an email or SMS, download to the phone from the internet, or connect the phone to another device.

Why?

Reasons why Google’s open-source Android is vulnerable to malware include:

– The complicated processes involved in the issuing of security updates means that important software security updates often get delayed.  This is because unlike Apple iPhones, there are thousands of different Android devices made by hundreds of different manufacturers, each with a range of hardware quality and capabilities. 

– The open-source nature of Android, which is also one of its strengths in terms of scope and flexibility, can also lead to more human error and potential security holes.

Apple iOS

Apple iPhones are generally thought to be much less at risk from viruses and malware because they have protections systems built-in which include:

– The need to go through the Apple App Store to download an app. Apple reviews each app for malicious code before it makes it into the store, thereby stopping an obvious method of infection.

– iOS “sandboxing” stops apps from touching data from other apps or from touching the operating system, thereby protecting a user’s contact and other personal data.

– The majority of iOS apps do not run as an administrator, thereby limiting their ability to do damage.

– Apple issues frequent updates to patch any known vulnerabilities, which everyone with a compatible device receives at the same time.

Still Targeted

Although the vast majority of viruses/malware attacks on phones affect Google’s Android phone OS (97 per cent), and viruses are rare on Apple iPhones due to the built-in security measures, they are also still targeted by cybercriminals, and vulnerabilities in iOS platforms do exist.

For example:

– Phishing attacks e.g. bogus pop-up ads are used to trick iPhone users into downloading malicious software.

– Back in August 2019 a Google Project Zero contributor reported discovering a set of hacked websites (from February 2019) that were being used to attack iPhones to infect them with iOS malware and had most likely been doing so over a two-year period.

Signs That Your Phone May Have a Virus

Some of the main signs that your phone may already have a virus/be infected by malicious software are:

– Unusual and/or unexpected charges on your phone bill e.g. additional texting charges.

– Your phone contacts reporting that they have received strange messages from you.

– The phone crashes regularly. 

– New/unexpected apps are present.

– Apps crash more often than usual.

– An increase in the number of invasive adverts on your phone (a sign of adware).

– Slowing down of the phone and poor performance.

– Large amounts of data being used, without an obvious cause.

– The battery life is noticeably reduced.

What Next?

If your phone is infected with a virus, take the following steps:

– Switch the phone to airplane mode to stop malicious apps from receiving and sending data.

– Check the most recently installed apps against the listed number of downloads (in the App Store and Google Play).  Low download numbers, low ratings and bad reviews may indicate the need to delete the app.

– Install anti-virus software and carry out a scan of your handset.

– You can also contact your phone’s service provider or visit the high street store if you think you have downloaded a malicious/suspect app

iPhones

If you suspect that your iPhone may be infected:

– Check your apps and delete any unwanted ones.

– Clear the phone’s history and data, and restart.

– Consider installing mobile anti-virus software.

Prevention

Prevention is the best form of cure, and the steps you can take to ensure that your phone is both secure and not infected with a virus include:

– Using mobile security and antivirus scan apps.

– Only using trusted apps / trusted app sources.

– Check the publisher of an app (which other apps they have created), check the numbers of installations and positive reviews before installing an app, and check which permissions the app requests when you install it.

– Uninstalling old apps and turning off connections when not using them.

– Locking phones when they are not in use.

– Not ‘jailbreaking’ or ‘rooting’ a phone.

– Using 2-factor authentication.

– Using secure Wi-Fi and VPN rather than just the free Wi-Fi when out and about. 

– Being careful with email security and hygiene e.g. monitor for phishing emails and not clicking on unknown/suspicious attachments and links.

– Being careful with security around texts, social media messages and ads.

App Developers

With apps being the source of many infections of phones, there is an argument that there is responsibility among mobile app developers and those commissioning mobile apps to ensure that security is built-in from the ground up. This should mean making sure that all source code is secure and known bug-free, all data exchanged over app should be encrypted, caution should be exercised when using third-party libraries for code, and only authorised APIs should be used.

Also, developers should be building-in high levels of authentication, using tamper-detection technologies, using tokens instead of device identifiers to identify a session, using the best cryptography practices e.g. store keys in secure containers, and conducting regular, thorough testing.

Going Forward

If you train yourself to regard your phone as another mobile computer (that probably has a lot more personal data on it) that can be targeted by cybercriminals and needs protection, and are cautious regarding apps, emails, texts and adverts, then you are less likely to end up with a damaging virus/malware program on your phone.

Virgin Media and O2 Join Together To Compete Against BT

Virgin Media and O2 are merging in a £31 billion deal to create an entertainment and telecoms company that will provide some serious competition to telecoms giant BT.

Mobile & Broadband

O2, which is owned by Spain’s Telefonica, has around 34 million mobile phone customers, in addition to providing the network for Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff.  Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global (the largest broadband internet service provider outside the US), has around 6 million broadband and cable TV customers and 3 million mobile users.  O2 operates in around 180 countries, has more than 9 million broadband customers (a 36% share of the Broadband market) and around 29 million mobile connections across the group.

It is thought that as well as potentially taking market share from BT, the merger will give Telefonica the opportunity to make some money out of its O2 acquisition, and Liberty Global the opportunity to combine fixed-line and mobile networks to create new areas of value.

O2 Says

O2 (Telefonica chief executive Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete) said about the deal, “Combining O2’s number one mobile business with Virgin Media’s superfast broadband network and entertainment services will be a game-changer in the UK, at a time when demand for connectivity has never been greater or more critical.”

Virgin Media (Liberty Global) Says …

Mike Fries, the Chief Executive Officer of Liberty Global, highlighted how Virgin Media has fast broadband speeds and an innovative video platform and how O2 is viewed as a reliable mobile operator.  Mr Fries said about the merger, “With Virgin Media and O2 together, the future of convergence is here today. We’ve seen the benefit of FMC first-hand in Belgium and the Netherlands. When the power of 5G meets 1 gig broadband, U.K. consumers and businesses will never look back. We’re committed to this market and are right behind the Government’s digital and connectivity goal”.

What About The Regulator?

With a merger of this size, bearing in mind that there has already been a substantial merger between BT and EE in this market in 2016, competition is clearly an issue.  However, many of the main telecoms commentators seem to think that the Competition and Markets Authority will allow the merger, but this will, of course, depend on how the deal affects consumers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Where each of the two merging companies are concerned, it seems that Telefonica gains access to Virgin’s broadband, cable and mobile, thereby giving it the opportunity to make more money out of O2 and Liberty Global gains access to O2’s vast and reliable mobile phone network so that it can combine fixed-line and mobile networks to create new value.  Both partners can leverage the synergies and new opportunities to diversify their products and services, thereby providing some serious competition to BT’s dominance and, hopefully, providing new and broader and broader ranges of products, better services, and faster connections to businesses.  It has been reported that both companies are looking to invest £10bn over the next five years to make sure that the merger delivers value and this kind of investment is likely to be welcomed by business customers.

Featured Article – How Tech is Helping Reduce Lockdown Stress and Mental Health Problems

A state of lockdown has increased our reliance on technology as a way to help us meet our needs, and here are some of the many ways that technology can help us to actually reduce stress and help us look after our mental health in these challenging times.

Apps

There’s a wide variety of apps that can help occupy the mind, relieve stress and anxiety, and help in the fight against common mental health complaints such as depression.  The types of apps that could help include:

– Meditation apps.  A break in routine, being able to go out less (thereby getting less access to daylight), perhaps drinking more alcohol and general worry has meant increased stress, higher anxiety levels and worse sleep for many people during the lockdown. Apps that offer guided meditation instructions can help breathing and help improve the ability to relax and to sleep properly.

– Chat apps and digital socialising apps can help re-enforce feelings of safety and normality, as well as provide the kinds of interaction that is missing due to social distancing and lockdown.

– Hobby apps and the Facebook hobby tracking app. These apps can tap into our creativity, keep us in touch with what we enjoy and with what provides known positive reinforcement and rewards.

– Fitness and weight loss apps.  Not having the freedom or circumstances to allow normal daily exercise has seen many people turn to fitness and weight loss apps which, if followed can help to reduce stress and maintain good feelings about ‘self-image’.

– Mental health apps.  For those who already have mental health challenges or for those who are finding the lockdown and its effects challenging to their emotional and mental wellbeing, the NHS provides several mental health apps.  See https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/category/mental-health/

Physical Exercise and Fitness Tech

Outdoor tech such as fitness monitoring bracelets/watches have become more valuable as the range of sports that people can take part in outdoors has been dramatically reduced, and simple walking, running and cycling have become more popular than ever.

Of course, one of the best ways to tackle lockdown stress, for those who are able is physical exercise such as walking, running, cycling, dancing, and Yoga.

Real-world ways to help with relaxation and reducing stress include gardening (if you are lucky enough to have some garden space), art and crafts, playing music and chatting with friends, and although our technology can’t provide all aspects of these, it can provide elements of these experiences.

Online Platforms

Those who are able to work from home using remote, collaborative working and video conference platforms e.g. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger and Slack can have many different needs met such as interaction, the safety, security and distraction provided by still working without the stress of worrying constantly about contamination, thanks to being able to work at home in a safe, controlled environment.

Other online platforms that have provided a release from stress, positive social proof and humour, information and sessions relating to hobbies and interests plus appealing to the human bias for intermittent and novel rewards include Google’s YouTube, Facebook, and other social media channels.

Computer Games

A 2015 study (Amanda Roy, Christopher J Ferguson) found that computer games/video games that encourage competitive and cooperative gameplay reduce stress.

Also, in February, ‘Psychology Today’ highlighted 5 ways in which video games can help with stress and mindfulness.  These include being able to put the brain on autopilot and thereby deliver a kind of meditation, providing a break from the challenges of real life, enabling an expression of freedom and creativity, prompting the release of dopamine (the so-called ‘happy chemical’), and providing a social environment where connections can be made and social interaction can be experienced between a group of ‘like-minded’ people.

Selective and Moderate Use

Some argue for less technology. Selective and moderate use of technology during the lockdown period could be most beneficial for mental and emotional well-being.  Continually visiting social media and watching news bulletins that repeat negative and frightening news stories (virus death counts) can increase stress, anxiety, and negative feelings.  This can also lead to ‘catastrophising’.  It is also advisable to seek news from more objective and reliable sources in order to maintain context and proportion.

Looking Forward

Our phones continue to be an important tool for managing our lives in the modern world, and the kinds of apps and platforms that we can access via many different devices have proved to be important in suggesting and providing ways that can help us retain a healthy and mental and emotional state.

The fact that our technology (e.g. collaborative working platforms) has allowed around 40% of people to work and interact with colleagues while being able to keep safe at home has been one important way that technology has helped, and will continue to help decrease stress and provide some hope in dark times.  There are very few effective substitutes for feelings of safety, freedom and being able to take real physical exercise in the real world, although many people have turned to increased amounts of digital entertainment, taking good breaks and keeping screen-time down is a healthy practice anyway, but now more so than ever.

Looking forward, technology in the form of a contact tracing app in the UK could provide feelings of re-assurance (if it proves popular) as we all face more uncertainty when lockdown restrictions are eased and we have to move forward safely in a still delicate, pre-vaccine environment.

Laptops For Online Lessons at Home

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has announced that the UK’s Department for Education will be providing disadvantaged children across England with a supply of laptops and tablets to help them study at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Those In The Most Vital Stages of Education

The government says that the devices are intended for children in the most vital stages of their education (15-year-olds), for those who receive support from a social worker, and for care leavers.

Mr Williamson says “By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and enabling schools to access high-quality support, we will enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come. We hope this support will take some of the pressure off both parents and schools by providing more materials for them to use.”

Also 4G Routers

The government has also announced that it will be providing 4G routers to disadvantaged secondary school pupils and care leavers where their families do not already have mobile or broadband internet in the household.

Oak National Academy Too

The UK government has also announced that it will be backing the funding of the Oak National Academy, a new enterprise created by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England. The new online Academy will be providing 180 video lessons each week, across a range of subjects, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.

Other Tech Resources and Online Lessons

At the end of March, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) announced that it would be spending £2 million on 9,000 Chromebook laptops to help pupils in receipt of free school meals or with an education health and care plan (EHCP) to access its programme of digital learning.

Also, the BBC has announced that it will be launching a range of educational resources online and on TV.

UK non-profit ‘Brilliant Club’, which works with 800 schools and colleges across the UK to increase the number of pupils from underrepresented backgrounds progressing to highly selective universities, has also released a series of online resources, free of charge, which are suitable for pupils aged 10-18.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Education directly benefits business and the economy so, at a time when it is unclear when children will be able to return to school, having the resources, help, funding and infrastructure to enable online, remote learning is important for the future of young people and for the UK.  It should be recognised, however, that challenges such as wealth gaps in education and exclusions like a lack of devices, the affordability of internet contracts and how a young person’s broadband status could affect their ability to keep up with learning do exist.  It is, therefore, good news that the government has recognised this and is providing some practical help at a time that is particularly important in educational terms.

Tech Tip – How To Speed Up Your Internet Connection

With most of us working from home and with a much bigger demand than normal being placed on our broadband connections, here are a few simple ways to try and speed your connection up:

– Move your home router away from other devices e.g. TVs, Bluetooth speakers, baby monitors, cordless phones, and consider placing the router on a table or raised position rather than on the floor.

– Try to stagger the number of family members using the internet at one time.

– Don’t use your microwave while online as this can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.

– Consider using a homemade DIY ‘parabolic’ antenna e.g. shielding the back of the router in a beer can that’s had the top and bottom cut off, been flattened, and stood up in curved shape. Please note: be incredibly careful to avoid injury if attempting to make this.

– Get a signal booster.

– Set your router to reboot regularly to keep your Wi-Fi speed high.