Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Technology doesn't help old people

I'm back! And life has a pace again - oh, Lord - life has a rhythm. I'm so happy. So happy to be working and so happy to have a home again. So happy to be living out of a dresser and not a suitcase and happy to be repaying debts and gifts of kindness; half of which required no reciprocation.

I missed you, Internet world! I can't say how many of my truly lovely friends find my sentiments baffling and this favored medium of interaction, somehow, artificial and insincere. But in having to take a hiatus from my laptop created space for some new observations to take place that have inspired me and caused me to be more enamored with our technology and more in love with people.

More on that later.
I am taking my last class this summer. I will finally have my overdue BA in Sociology by mid-July. You are all invited to the party - it will be a grand affair consisting mostly of a large scale scavenger hunt and a lot of food. (I am planning on investing more time in setting it up than in my class... unwise?)

Below is my first short essay. It's awful. AWFUL. But I think it makes some interesting points worth commenting on. The course is Intro to Gerontology and the topic was an exploration of whether or not technology is a help or hindrance to the elderly. What do you think?

Technology, by definition, is the ultimate byproduct of human creativity and pragmatism; it is the development of tools that aid humans in their pursuit of enlightenment, comfort, or vitality. Technology is the human response to the preservation of both individual and collective lives and lifestyles. In a consumerist culture, the most valuable life is that of the consumer. When faced with the question of importance and application of technology for a specific sub-group of a given culture, we must consider both how able the group is to consume and how applicable to their lifestyle, and therefore how interested they may be, to the product in question. Because technology is funded and perpetuated by the demand of the consumer, particularly in America, it follows that technological development caters to the most normal and high consuming demographic. The elderly (65+ y.o.) only make up just over 12% (but growing) of the US consumer market while the bulk of the working and consuming age group (20-55 y.o.) make up well over half of the population. It is logical to assume that most technology is developed for this sub-group of the population and their specific demands and needs.

For the growing elderly population, technology is only as useful as it is consistent in its application. The cell phone may be slightly helpful to the elderly lifestyle because it is simply a more advanced version of a technology that previously existed, the telephone; but computers, particularly new forms of social interaction available via technologies, are more difficult to implement and are not designed for use by the elderly. A glance at the ads and layout of social mediums like facebook & myspace will reveal a format hardly conducive to the inevitable site and audio difficulties developed later in life. Likewise, the growing necessity of usage of such social networks further isolates the elderly from a generation with a unique form of relationship. This is not to say that the elderly cannot adapt and communicate in these fashions, but the rate at which technology evolves and changes is not expected in the aging generations as it is by the modern children of technology.

The lack of demand for assistive technology for the elderly is the result of several factors working against the potential development of technological aid. The 65+ group cannot create a demand for itself as it does not carry enough influence as a minority population. There are simply not enough people in the sub-group to unify under this specific consumer demand. The elderly also represent a significant portion of the population that is not working and, therefore, cannot independently pursue or afford a perpetually more convenient or comfortable lifestyle. Due to the sharp decline in veneration of our elderly, advocacy for the minority by more highly represented consumers does not exist either. Because of poor representation for needs of the elderly in the technological market, most developments, it would seem, are unsustainable, expensive, or difficult to attain and implement. Such assistive tools that do not have the proper support can be dangerous or a hindrance to an elderly lifestyle.

Technology that does exist in an assistive or enriching form for the elderly is simply residual consequence of products developed for the aforementioned, larger subgroup. For example, the development of the medical alarm necklace, or panic alarm, commonly used to send an emergency signal in the case of an accident or out of reach phone was originally designed for government facilities and guards as a security device. There are several examples that include creative uses of mobile devices, hearing and sight amplifiers, medical tools, and even food, etc, that originally had little to do with assisting the elderly. But such creations that were not intended for operation by the elderly may contribute to sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles or dependencies that suit the primary consumers’ demands more than they benefit their users. In the case of the panic alarm, such technology replaces what was originally human responsibility – the application of this particular device encourages a lifestyle of independence more closely affiliated with the primary demographic than what may be most conducive or beneficial to its elderly user.

Before technology can be truly helpful to our aging population, the majority must recognize the elderly as valuable social group worth preserving and assisting with our technological endeavors as our own needs and comforts are.
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