As you may have noticed, I’ve done some cross-posting with Bill Thomas’ blogsite at http://www.changingaging.org, where I also post once or twice a week.
The Sunday New York Times ran two articles yesterday that speak to recent Changing Aging topics, so I’ll mention them here and invite you to go there for running debates on these issues.
Bill has posted several articles about Paro the Baby Robot Seal, who has been suggested as a balm for loneliness in nursing homes. This has stirred a vigorous debate about whether robots can ease the pain of loneliness and what it might say about our society. The last in the thread is here: http://changingaging.org/2010/07/09/even-more-robot-news/
Now, the Times reports robots being used to teach pre-schoolers and elementary children and to work with autistic children as well (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/science/11robots.html?_r=1&th&emc=th). These robots have been “taught” to analyze facial features for emotional reactions and connections, and to respond in kind.
That’s all very well, but….weren’t they programmed by humans, and therefore, can’t humans learn to do this as well or better? It’s one thing to have a machine do long strings of mathematical operations in a nanosecond; it’s another to make a human connection and dispense wisdom. Robots can be a nice teaching adjunct, as kids can learn while they play with them. But are we really so short on time and staff that we need a machine to provide basic education to our pre-schoolers, or find that special connection with a child who lives with autism? I’m still uncomfortable with where this is going…
The second article used Ringo’s 70th birthday performance to reflect on older adults who continue to live life as they did 40-50 years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/weekinreview/11zernike.html?scp=1&sq=turn%2070&st=cse).
The article referred to the late Dr. Robert Butler, who died last week, and interviewed aging expert Dr. Anne Basting at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Dr. Basting pointed out that the media emphasis on older adults who continue to navigate the world of younger adults further devalues those who have moved into elderhood and no longer “measure up” to adult standards. Dr. Basting mentioned that “we are a culture of doing. We don’t really know how to be. That’s something that late life gives us, is time to be. But that’s stigmatized.”
How can we pull these two articles together? Well, if our adult resources are so strained, how can we tap into the wisdom and experience of our elders to help us connect with our children?
Good stuff. For more of this, check out http://www.changingaging.org, or read Bill’s book, What Are Old People For?