From the Doors of Perception newsletter......
If the Emude seminar in Milan is too bottom-up for your taste, check out CustomerMade. The event explores the "phenomenon of user-driven innovation that goes beyond do-it-your-selfing, customization, and personalization. It's no longer a matter of choosing between models - consumers are designing the very models they choose". The speakers include Teo Härén who is billed as "Sweden's most popular lecturer on creativity'. The conference is also an opportunity to visit the new, beautifully designed IT-University by the famous Danish architect Henning Larsen. Copenhagen, 20 April.
The trouble with old people
'The Trouble with Old People' is a short season of four films, each with its own distinctive take on different aspects of life in later years: the agonising and intensely personal decision that has to be made when elderly relatives are no longer able to live independently; grown-up offspring who are torn between doing their duty and finding their elderly parents a burden; and the elderly on their own, longing to feel part of a family again and willing to be adopted to bridge the generation gap and create life-changing relationships.
Elderly and driving
An interesting yet older article by the CBC on a governmental incentive to allow elderly people to take driving lessons again instead of giving up driving all together. In British Colombian for example, people over 80 have to pass a medical exam before they can renew their license.
Because ageing also means the decline of physical abilities and judgment, this is a great way to empower people to renew their skills set facing the fact that they were taught how to drive more than 30 years ago, in completely different traffic conditions.
Research on the elderly
TheNational Center for Social Research has a number of different research groups working on issues relating to ageing at the moment that are quite interesting. From quality of life to ethnic dimensions of the elderly, I'm sure they would be a great partner for RED.
They were behind the research done on the abuse of elderly at home that was published a few weeks ago. This as an incredible set of results, proving that the vulnerability of the elderly at home can lead to abuse from even their closest relatives. This is such an important problem that it has lead to the creation of so-called "dignity guardians" that "will include representatives from Help the Aged, Action on Elder Abuse and Which?".
Inheriting the wind
The concept of inheritance after the death of a loved one has often been the subject of many soap operas, movies and fights between relatives but with the population change that we are now facing, this may be a thing of the past. This NY Times article talks of the decline in inheritance due to higher life expectancy and lack of retirement financing.
As more elderly people are having to dip into their savings to make ends meet, pay healthcare and a retirement home, this leaves little to their heirs.
The numbers are interesting though because if we are to believe the predictions for 2050, in the US at least, $25 trillion will be passed from the old to their offspring. This is however only 7 percent of the estates that account for half the aggregate bequests i.e. the rich, and for the rest of the population, the so-called baby boomers must share inheritances with more siblings than the previous generations as well which accounts for further decline.
This idea of working for your children's future benefit or saving up for them is slowly disappearing only to leave behind the harsh reality of saving for yourself and achieving financial independence on your own.
I'm curious as to how this will affect the next generations and the next population waves, will the idea of inheritance disappear altogether? What model will or might replace it? How would you invest your money knowing that you will have nothing to give to your children? How will this change your savings habits, your personal investments during your life?
MIT and the future of technology for the elderly...
An interesting article from the weirdest source: the CS Monitor on the MIT Media Lab's new director Frank Moss. Among many others, one of his objectives is to push the research towards more social causes and
"to more strongly focus the Media Lab on confronting "some of the looming social problems we have today," including the healthcare challenges of an aging population.
He sees more healthcare being delivered in the home ("health without hospitals") through technologies such as the ability to "project a physical presence" to a remote location by manipulating a proxy robot. If Moss could project his own physical presence to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, to look in on his aging father "and do basic things for him, that'd be a wonderful thing," he says. "I think that physical projection may be as commonplace 20 years from today as digital projection is today.""
This is interesting in terms of how the highest people on the innovation ladder think of social services. Can technology really solve everything? Especially with a community of people, the elderly, who have never been used to it and are hardly technology natives as most children are now? Is it possible to introduce technology in people's lives without prior education? Is technology a necessity in the services we provide and develop or the invisible backbone of services that cater to behaviors that are natural to the elderly?
I picked up on this very interesting Guardian article on a portion of the elderly population in Japan who are now addicted to video games. A seemingly unlikely target group, this game was first developed as "Brain Training for Adults", a package of cerebral workouts aimed at the over-45s by the Japanese game console and software maker Nintendo, is said to improve mental agility and even slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease." The release of similar games for the US market is set for later this year as well.
This addresses an interesting issue around the mental abilities of the elderly, what it's like to grow old and lose some of your capacities, the awareness that you're not as "quick" as you once were, how can we design for a positive and engaging mental attitude in the elderly.
The article ends with a set of tasks which may help provide the brain with some healthy activities: memory tasks, routine changes, playing a musical instrument, exercise and listening to Mozart.
A cultural approach to taking care of the elderly
Most of us are used to thinking that we will either end up taking care of our parents or put them in a retirement home where they will be taken care of. But this is also a matter of local flavor and culture.
In Italy for example, children tend to stay with their parents for much longer, sometimes until their mid 30s and the parents become an integral part of the family when they marry, this allows in a way for an intergenerational connectedness and support. But what happens when it's not even people taking care of the elderly but robots?
I found this Yahoo online article on Japan developing robots to take care of the elderly.
"A Japanese-led research team said it had made a seeing, hearing and smelling robot that can carry human beings and is aimed at helping care for the country's growing number of elderly."
This is one way in which a society and it's culture has decided to deal with taking care of the elderly, but how does this affect inter-generational relationships? Will the robots start occupying an emotional space in these people's lives as care takers? Will people entrust their elderly relatives more easily to robots, knowing that nothing can go wrong?
Positioning ageing as a global issue
Ageing is as we know an important global challenge we face at the moment. According to a report published by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs this is also a first in the history of humanity.
"By 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in history." The proportion of people above the age of 60 was 8 % in 1950, in 2050 it is expected to reach 21% , a dramatic jump.
The process of ageing is also described by them as being "pervasive" ie, something that touches everyone: men, women, children and therefore affects everything from the economic area (economic growth, savings, investment, consumption), to the social aspects of our lives (health care, family composition, living arrangements) and the political landscape (voting patterns, representation).
This also poses a great challenge for the generations which have to support the ageing one, this concept is known as the " potential support ratio, or PSR (the number of persons aged 15-64 years per one older person aged 65 years or older)" and indicates the " dependency burden on potential workers" and is of course affected by the social security schemes of old and traditional political and economic structures that were not installed for these purposes.
A perfect example is this recent Washington Post article that talks about the " fight over Social Security ...and the inevitable reallocation of resources that is sure to produce winners and losers, in the United States and around the world."
Now this is definitely a challenging context to design within.
RED's Touching the State project looked at how design might change the way people experience citizenship by looking at 3 key touchpoints between the state and citizens - jury service, voting and the citizenship ceremoy. In a similar vein, Everyday Democracy is an exhibition organised by students from Curating Contemporary Design MA, at Kingston University, in collaboration with Demos, which aims to reconnect people and their daily lives with politics. The exhibition includes a series of workshops and an element of visitor participation in the creation of the exhibition itself. Check out the Kingston University website for details.
Ageing differently - insights from Professor Pat Thane
Professor Pat Thane, Leverhulme Professor of Contemporary British History at the Institute of Histrical Research, joined the RED team for lunch today and provided some great food for thought on the ageing project.
Pat highlighted the need for segmentation of the ageing the population by need rather than age. Older people are not a single definable group but diverse in their fitness, wealth, class, ethnicity, gregariousness and so on. People also live to old age in widely different states of health. It raises interesting questions about the relationship between childhood development and development stages in later life - particularly the differences in progressive models of stage development seen amongst a population.
Is design political?
'My policy colleagues say they went into politics because they wanted to challenge the status quo and make things better for ordinary people. That's certainly why I went into design. So maybe design is more political than you think.'
Writing for Core77, RED Senior Design Stategist, Jennie Winhall, gives her take on the question, 'is design political?'
Plea to designers to help bin throwaway culture
Designers are being urged to pitch into a national drive to make their products longer-lasting and help bin the 'throwaway culture'.
A think-tank will put designers at the heart of the sustainability debate in a unique conference at the Design Council in London in April (11 April, 2006).
Some of the country's top design researchers will come together to discuss the future of the profession and whether designers are victims or culprits in the battle to stem the nation's appetite for short-lived disposable items.
Games designers tackle ageing brains
Nintendo product proves addictive to over-45s anxious to ward-off effects of old age
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Tuesday March 7, 2006
Forget the idea that being good at computer games is a sign of a misspent youth. If millions of Japanese are to be believed, it is the secret to a happy and healthy old age as millions of them take up brain training, the country's latest computer game craze that is due to arrive in Britain by the summer.
Thanks to Martin Bontoft for the link
Here's a video of Brain Training in action:
ESRC Seminar series
From the University of Surrey website:
The care home industry in the United Kingdom is experiencing a period of change whilst it adapts to meet the requirements of an ageing population. Research aiming to inform future developments has been, and is continuing, to be undertaken throughout the country. The Economic and Social Research Council has awarded funding to the University of Surrey together with City University and the University of Sheffield to run a research seminar series that will enable this research to be brought to policy makers, services providers and users. The intention is to facilitate the exchange of national and international ideas and experiences, inform and plan for future joint undertakings in research and development in care homes.
There are five seminars in the series, which will be held in venues around the UK. Check the website for details and to register.