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.
This all sounded awfully familiar.