Welfare technology for everyone. Or?
I like my grey hairs. No, I’m not lying – it is true. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse of them in the mirror, I stop, fascinated by how the light is caught in them in a way a way that my otherwise rather dull ‘young’ hair never did. And the older I get, the greyer hair I get. I am aging, no doubt about it.
I think that one of the reasons for why I like my grey hairs is that I am curious. Having been 50+ for a few years now, I am now fast approaching an era in my life that is new to me; an era that I have only read about, and have images about, but that I have not experienced myself. I’m becoming “upper middle-aged”. This is something that will happen after I have become ”middle-aged”, but before I get “old”.
Aging is not something that is just happening to me – we all age. But does that mean that we all become the same when we are old? Or that the only thing we become when we age is ”elderly”? The answer to both of these questions is, of course, no. It was therefore a bit sad when, in our research a few years ago, we found that the prevalent image of elderly people and ageing in the industry for welfare technologies is stereotypical. Simply put, elderly people are (only) portrayed as old and ill. As unable to look after themselves unaided. And technology is given as the solution to this. That ageing is personal, and that people have different experiences of ageing – which can have consequences for how, or even if, technology can, need to or even should ‘help’ – seemed completely irrelevant. There was only one image of older people; an image where all elderly were clumped together in one /predominantly white and male/ category. In other words, the industry was creating a single rather negative image of aging that would then shape the technologies it was creating. A negative self-fulfilling prophesy only capable of creating dull technologies for dependent, frail people.
I have lived long enough to know that each age has its charm. And its challenges. A challenge of being ‘upper middle-aged’ seems to be that it becomes more difficult to control the development of one’s body. Sure, my body is becoming heavier, even though I train more and eat healthier. Fine, my skin is clearly becoming more crinkly, even though I avoid the sun and use expensive creams. And I have definitely noticed that I become tired more quickly, even though I don’t have the same tempo as I used to.
But just because a new age brings new experiences does not mean that the experiences from the other ages disappear. On the contrary. The old experiences become part of us; they are embodied and become part of our practices. From when I was a child I can, for example, I still feel playfulness and that special childish, undisguised, curiosity. From when I was a young adult, I can fully embrace that youthful joy in celebrating, partying, and indulging. From the years when I became a parent I have embodied – and cherished – practices of putting other human beings before myself, and of enacting care. And from the first part of being middle-aged I feel well familiar with the sober focus and the reflection that the insight that ‘I’m-soon-halfways-there…’ brought. All of these experiences are in me, in my body and in my soul. And I can – and do – bring them out when I feel like to. I play with colours, shapes and materials in various sorts of crafts and love exploring things I see when I go on forest walks. I dance wildly on my sitting room floor, with the music turned up to max. I happily cross the country when my young-adult-children need my help with moving. And I love to philosophize with my friends over a cup of tea, or a glas of wine.
I hope that the people that I meet when I grow old understand that I want to continue with all of these things. That they don’t only see my grey hair, my fragile body, and my tiredness; but that they understand that I am all the ages I have experienced, and that I will continue to express them in practice. And that those that develop and procure welfare technology also see this, so that there is space for all of me even in a context where technology assists me, or those caring for me.
PS: Did you know that Mälardalen University has a brand new Center for Welfare Change? Here we come together, with public sector organisations, companies and members from civil society to develop the welfare of the future, based on useful and meaningful welfare technology. Read more about the Center. External link.