The elderly are sidelined, but new tools could help connect them in communities and fight for a place in society.
How the scenario could unfold
In this scenario, we consider the potential for emerging trends in technology that may influence relationships
We project that existing trends of social isolation among the elderly may progress further into the future. We suggest that as life expectancy extends and work becomes more global, families may disperse and the elderly may be less supported. In this context, an already vulnerable demographic of society may become even more neglected and witness a deterioration of services that can accommodate their needs. Whether it’s transport, retail or entertainment, elderly people may feel like their communities are shrinking and that they are becoming less able or welcome to engage in society the way they’d like to.
We also propose that as national institutions defile public trust, alternative means of taking action in the world may prosper. We consider that online collectives may become a more powerful means of organising around common interests and specific grievances. These collectives may gain in sophistication in the way they grow and how they amass evidence toward their cause. We may see platforms emerge that use concepts such as clicktivism, crowdfunding and social media mobilisation to advance their methodologies and have impact on the world around them.
We consider the significance of this context from the perspective of a future character who we create based on our research with real people.
What might that mean for Sandra?
For someone like Sandra, whose friendships are reducing and who feels neglected by society, meaningful connections with anybody can bring a little joy. We can explore how services may challenge or meet the needs of people who feel sidelined.
I feel good knowing my daughter’s family is ok… every time the phone rings I wish it was him. Sometimes I hear the phone ringing even when it’s not.
People may expand their freedoms to live how they like and subsequently have the types of relationships they like in a more transient but online world. New arrangements of relationship may be initiated, supported, or managed by AI and usher in even more radical concepts of relationships.
Sandra lives in a three-bedroom house with two cats. Her daughter lives in Finland and her husband passed away fourteen years ago. She spends most of her time sitting and watching documentaries because she has a weak hip but she sometimes takes her scooter to the community centre to see other people and talk about what’s going on around town or share old stories. Although she enjoys going out, she increasingly feels like she’s unwelcome in town – it feels as though she gets in the way. She has been to three funerals for friends in the last 18 months. Her biggest fear is having a serious health problem that will cost more than she can afford.
Happiness for Margaret is knowing that her daughter and grandsons are healthy and happy and she talks to them whenever she gets the chance. She always enjoys seeing her friends to relive fond memories but worries when she has not heard from them for a while.
Sandra’s goals are to keep finding meaningful companionship and to be as much a part of her family’s life as possible.
Sandra’s happiness is dependent on her ability to feel connected and relevant to the world through the relationships she has in it.
Explorations in ‘Sidelined and connected communities’
We explore the future by looking for potential points of traction between this scenario of sidelined and connected communities and the needs of someone like Sandra. These explorations are outlines of services that act as emerging spaces for solutions or as spaces to explore the problems and provocations elicited by the services.
Dignifight is a union style platform for organising activism for the elderly to reshape society so it accommodates them fairly. The platform provides activism tools and events that proactively enable the elderly to fight for their right to be respected in society.
Microaggression recording wearables track and monitor the lived experience of age discrimination to build evidence and their media machine communicates their fight with headlines such as ‘46% age pay gap for the elderly’.
The platform also offers partnerships with Re-training Schools, Universities and recruitment agencies designed specifically for the elderly to help them come out of retirement if they want to.
Team: The Lab
YOLT is an events organising algorithm that connects hosts, venues and people together to create amazing communities of diverse individuals.
It learns people’s preferences, and forms safe events around people’s common interests and provides activities and conversation starters that are appropriate to each group in order to connect people together across all demographics.
Once connected people grow their online network of friends so they can see what people are doing and evolve their own social groups.
Team: The Lab
In this set of explorations, we are asked to consider two ways in which disconnected and sidelined communities can reclaim their own power and connection to one another and to society. One that uses a union style strategy to bring together activists and organise in highly sophisticated ways and the second strategy that uses technology to match individuals with groups and facilitate new communities.
The first area of exploration uses sophisticated algorithms to get to know individuals that are isolated and then using that information it matches people to each other and initiates events and conversations to help transition people from isolated, anxious and perhaps vulnerable positions into more resilient communities. From this exploration, we can ask what it may mean to have communities facilitated by algorithms. Might it bring together new types of people that would otherwise not have connected? could that promote tolerance and acceptance or division? If all communities have their own identities – do algorithmically created groups and friends have a unique style? Do these communities need to be maintained by AI as well as initiated by them and if so does that mean the quality of the relationships is lesser?
While these questions are based on the full unfolding of the concept, and while the concept still represents a potentially exciting way to reduce isolation, the explorations take the discussion around technologically enabled relationships up to a ‘community’ level where we can begin to explore how algorithms could intervene in fruitful or damaging ways having macro side-effects.
The second area of exploration revolves around the concept of activism and proposes a union style model that mobilises disempowered communities to act in organised ways to reach their goal. Protest may be a traditional means of making change but it’s organisation may become increasingly sophisticated. The internet could bring people together around common causes, wearables could help to portray people’s plight, social media can carry their message and their direct actions can be designed and organised to the greatest effect by platforms dealing solely in fighting injustice. What this represents is a potential emergence of services that build on clicktivism, crowdfunding and social media mobilisation by adopting new technologies and coordinating in new ways that bring more voice to people’s needs.
This particular exploration also raises topics around what an age inclusive society might mean and what impact societal relationships may have on people’s happiness. The inclusion of emotion sensing wearables as a weapon in the activists arsenal to document microaggressions not only translates the damage caused by inequality to the broader public but it also demonstrates the impact of transient, micro-relationships on people’s happiness. We may be able to quantify the true impact of the interactions we have as we pass on the streets and in the shops.
These explorations discuss our relationships at the community or societal level and introduce discussions around the role of technology in initiating community and potentially highlighting the impact of unhealthy societal tensions.
Related to ‘Sidelined and connected communities’
Creating and facilitating relationships through enhanced empathy and compatibility.