Here we are, a global aging population, pivoting on a speedy technology curve – kick starting, crowd funding, backing another hackathon or pitch event to promote technology innovations we hope will enhance or improve our experience with the promise of longevity.
Over at least the last five or so years, it has become quite alluring, you might even say seductive, as start-ups all over the world have taken advantage to jump on the up curve of a longevity economy, particularly with technology innovations. While this continues to be an opportunistic time for throwing money in this direction some, both on the inside and outside of the tech space, do worry and warn that even with all these advances, we could still be aging on a lonely planet.
For every mobile app, robotic device or virtual reality set up we have or dream to create, over the next five years; how will our social interaction develop in our later years? If we are at such an awareness today, through studies and surveys that recognize social isolation and loneliness as a serious life issue as we age, how can we be sure that all these technologies will benefit in the way we think they could or should? After all, are not these technologies simply meant to augment our daily living, not replace our human interactions?
Last month at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, Business of Aging Global Network meeting, the discussion focused on this very subject – Supporting Optimal Aging & Fostering Social Connectedness through the Innovative Use of Technology. Those of us participating in the lively group conversations ranged in expertise from the world of technology, to the delivery of care services, marketing, research and other related businesses in the longevity economy.
Imagine – technology designed to accomplish all of this
Given that the path for technology innovation is fast moving, it really is hard to know which of these products will be highly adaptive by consumers and enjoy sustainable markets, either by the elder adults themselves or by their care giving families. So working this back to an important marketing issue, one of the first questions was – “what is our vision for this area of technologies that support optimal aging?”
Not surprisingly, human responses prevailed. For example, solutions need to:
- be affordable and support inter-generational engagement with family and the community
- demonstrate the value of older adults and their contributions
- build bridges and opportunities to facilitate face-to-face communication
As to the second bullet point, I take this to mean the contributions from older adults in the development of these technologies. Now if you were a tech start up preparing for a pitch event, you would have needed to hear the responses to the final question discussed by the people at this Sheridan event: “Where do we see a mismatch between our vision and reality?” (Well, current reality we could say.)
While responses in this part of the conversation provided a rich level of practical, thoughtful insights, they are too numerous to detail here, but one that stuck out to me was that “we need a better link between research and commercialization and – we have to gather better behavioural insights to gauge the success of any particular solution.” Yet this all takes time and persistence for building this long-term relationship chain – R&D, business and consumer market feedback.
Or, life with phantom sensations of social connectedness
As with all technologies, there are upsides, downsides and side-swings where some just flop. With that said, if our concern is how we foster social connectedness, how can we be sure we don’t get the opposite effect? Like a phantom sensation, is there a false sense of actual connectedness? On one hand, a technology like an app or robot may be useful in a case where – living alone remote from family – a sudden health issue is immediately resolved, but on the other hand, what’s the good if no person pays a face-to-face social visit for weeks on end?
Technology advancements that address themes such as aging in place, health/home care support and mobility are only going to accelerate, and as longevity trends continue, who wouldn’t want to support or augment optimal aging? So I will continue with allure to follow technology as part of the larger global aging narrative, as I have for years on this blog.
We just have to keep asking the right human questions while we market the technologies that could benefit us in so many ways as we journey, aging through our life course.