Two pieces of news have got me thinking about death (again). Most immediately, mere hours, I learned that a heroine and icon Carrie Fisher joined the stunning ranks of Great Voices who didn’t make it out of 2016. The other I’ve been sitting with for a while: the confirmation with a second, more robust trial that psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, is a cure for “existential anxiety.” In other words, a cure for the fear of death. The latter is great news. The former is deeply sad, but we’ll all get through it.
You see, I am not the kind of futurist who thinks that indefinite life extension is desirable, let alone a good idea for society. I think that death is necessary, and that fear of death is natural. Grief is a compound emotion, the elements of which vary for each moment it’s experienced and each person who experiences it.
It’s that time of year again. The global holiday of January 1, and with it, the annual ritual of self-improvement: setting New Year’s resolutions. It’s a time when we’re called on to reflect on our lives and the behaviors we might want to change—and bombarded with ideas on how to do so. It’s the time of year that makes me crave the realization of one of our Science and Technology forecasts: Adaptive Encouragement.
Adaptive encouragement: From self-quantifiers to life doulas
Imagine a digital advisor that interprets your raw health data and offers continuous support along with interactive data visualization and recommendations for changing—and maintaining—daily routines or medications.
Embodied in intelligent programs, mobile devices, and the cloud, a life doula (like a birth doula) will remind us of our goals in moments of weakness. It will offer suggestions and encouragement in context to help us make healthy choices.
This kind of adaptive, personalized support will improve chronic illness management with automated diet tracking, in-home blood marker monitoring, and realtime analysis of genetic, metabolic, and protein data.
A quasi-intelligent automated system that takes the heavy lifting out of learning about your habits and changing them? Sold!
This vision is part of a future when roles like life coaching are automated and extended through ever-present technology. It also points to the possibilities of adapting care systems to optimize the well-being of people with chronic ailments: rather than a slap on the wrist at the doctor’s office, you get a gentle vibration to get youout of your chair and moving. Haptic feedback and sensitivity, emotional support and peer interactions are the future of this softer side of mobile health, beyond the expert-fed prescriptive reminders. This is a future of gentle nudges to show us the actions that will help us increase our capacity for well-being, but also remind us to do nothing when that’s what’s really best for us.
Our colleague Alex Charmichael over at the Quantified Self wrote this forecast, and I’ve heard it echoed in the desires of my of the quantified selves I’ve been interviewing for our project for the RWJF building and refining the QS Guide to Self-tracking Tools. For those of us who generally only embark on self-improvement binges once a year, there are a lot of lessons and tools we can learn from both the continuous and episodic efforts of the QSers. One tool I learned about in interviews that might be of particular interest to New-Years Resolvers is Health Month—a game that helps you focus on making progress towards your goals on a daily basis. (The game starts promptly on the first of each month, so start on Jan 1st to get credit for your progress!)
Most importantly though, one of the key lessons I’ve heard that’s especially crucial for new years resolutions is self-compassion in all your self-tracking and self-improvement efforts. Shame and frustration at little slip ups can do a lot of harm—so this year, try staying future-focused and forgiving.
Here’s the piece I wrote over the weekend for the Health Horizons blog. I didn’t get to meet them, but on Friday I listened rapt and gawked at the webex of Emota.net, our neighbors in Palo Alto who are doing some seriously cool stuff. It’s on the HH and Future Now blogs HERE.
I just got a note in my email. My aunt is busy with her own appointment, and nobody had yet volunteered to pick my uncle up from the VA hospital tomorrow, after he recovers from surgery. Hey, it’s a Friday. I can take off a little early to pick him up, and get him to my cousin’s place over the hill. I respond to the email, volunteering. In a grocery store across town, my aunt’s phone chimes in her purse. On the tray attached to my uncle’s hospital bed, a digital picture frame brightens, and my little bobble head avatar floats forward and let’s him know he can expect me when it’s time for him to check out.
I could live with this future. A couple years ago, the same arrangement would have taken at least a dozen stressed-out calls between my aunt and my mom, my mom and me, me and my five cousins, me and my aunt, and finally me at the VA with my mom, trying to find my uncle’s room in the biggest dead-cell zone in the valley. At the end of the day, while everyone’s relieved when the surgery goes well, everyone has a headache.
This streamlined future of ambient, collaborative caregiving isn’t quite here yet, but today at IFTF we heard a fantastic talk from one of our neighbors, Emota.net. They’re bringing this future to life. They’ve coined their discipline “emotional networking, which complements existing telehealth solutions to address not just clinical health, but emotional and social aspects of elder care.” They’re building a platform that can operate across numerous devices, and facilitate the convergence of multiple communications media to bring different generations together.
The purpose is to distribute caregiving practices among a support network of family, friends and care professionals, while giving this network a tangible presence in a person’s everyday environment. It takes “ambient co-presence” to a functional extreme, creating a gentle convergence of email, updating services, and virtual worlds. Image that you’re hanging out on your grandma’s kitchen table, tossing her hearts and flowers on a break while she reads your status updates (if she’s so inclined). And she bobs around in an app on your desktop, or phone, or tablet. If she needs help, you’ll get a notice, or if she’s really sick, her nurse will get a notice. Otherwise, you’re just there: framed on the table with her other family, friends, caregivers.