Final Paper: Healthcare as an Archive of Feelings

Matt Kasson

Final Paper

 

Medicine in the modern era has been defined by incredible discoveries and miraculous cures. Vaccinations, antibiotics, as well as new diagnostic technologies now allow physicians and other medical professionals to eradicate disease more easily than any other time in human history. We have new understandings of how diseases and viruses operate, from the common cold through complex cancers. However, as with many other aspects of our modern culture, medicine is not perfect. In the United States especially, costs have skyrocketed while results lag behind. In 2013, we spent $2.9 trillion on healthcare alone, and these costs increase every year. (1) Before long, it is quite possible that our economy will be literally bankrupted as a result of this wild spending, and arguments abound as to what the best solution to this problem may be. While the issues at hand may seem complex, and many people may claim to  have the correct answer, the truth of the matter is that there is no clear cut solution to our problem at hand. Medicine and healthcare are extremely personal, intimate topics. When political decisions literally affect people’s lives it is no wonder that tensions and emotions alike flare up at every debate. Undeniably a complex issue, I believe we have a duty to at the very least understand this archive and out relationship with it whether one agrees with it or not. In this paper, I will try to examine both the specific causes of our healthcare crisis, as well as the current state of healthcare itself. Finally, I will evaluate our culture’s relationship with this issue, and how the technologies it represents shape the world around us.

One major source of cost for healthcare is that of prescription drugs. Many people are shocked at the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a single pill, however this a very real aspect of modern healthcare. As a result, many are often quick to point to large pharmaceutical companies as major drivers for these ridiculous costs. This may be true to an extent, but not so much as people might assume. One of the major reasons that medicines often have such high costs is not their actual manufacturing, the the research and development (R and D) that must go into each medicine before it can be sold. This process often takes years, and after a drug has been successfully created it must still pass the regulations and testing of the FDA, which again can take years. Add all this time together and it is not unreasonable to expect a single drug to cost a company billions of dollars to create, while taking up to a decade to even go to market. Hospitals are another often blamed culprit for the skyrocketing costs of healthcare. We have all heard the stories of people going to the emergency room for a look at an annoying cough, only to be slapped with a bill in the thousands of dollars. this aspect comes down mostly to an administrative issue, as well as a centralization problem in all hospitals. On top of this, the emergency room has in itself become known as an almost “ground zero” for the issues plaguing American healthcare. The ER is supposed to be used, clearly, as a place to go when you are faced with a true medical emergency. They are required and regulated to maintain enough professional personnel, diagnostic equipment, and supplies to handle any and every health problem which it may encounter. As a result, in my example of the thousand dollar bill for an annoying cough, the reason was not the visit itself but the resources needed to make that visit possible. Truly, however, all parts of the American hospital cost exponential amounts of money simply because are system lacks the organization to manage it as efficiently as we need it to.

As a system in this country, many would argue that the healthcare system itself is inherently flawed. One of the main arguments behind this reasoning is that private insurance companies, which in the past dominated the healthcare market, have the ability to determine which hospitals and which physicians they are willing to pay. In addition to this, often times they will simply refuse to pay for certain procedures. For many people who never purchased health insurance, the situation was even worse for both the patient as well as the system as a whole. This relationship held between the individual and this system can be illustrated in the following example: if a pregnant woman in labor was to walk into a hospital uninsured, what would the hospital do? Of course, they would have to care for the woman. It is in fact a law that they MUST care for this woman. (2) However, because this woman has no insurance it is very likely as well that she doesn’t have nearly enough money to even come close to paying the thousands of dollars needed by the hospital and its staff to carry out the procedure, in which case Medicare covers the cost. However, Medicare will likely not come close to covering the full amount needed. So then, who is responsible? In this case and in most cases, it is the hospital which must “foot the bill” so to speak. The hospital must pay for everything involved with the procedure, and cover the cost elsewhere. But where else can money come from? In truth, it comes from those people who DO have insurance. In order to cover the costs of those people without quality insurance, or any insurance at all, they must hike up all prices across the board. This reasoning is one of the main driving forces behind the Affordable Care Act. There is a paradox in this country that people without insurance are driving up insurance prices, which in turn forces less people to be able to afford and purchase health insurance. By forcing people to purchase cheaper and more flexible insurance from the government, many hoped that this cycle could be broken. In some ways it has. For instance, as of mid-2015, 11 million Americans gained health insurance coverage under the ACA, and the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 18% in 2013 to 11.9%. (3,4) While this helps, people fear that it will not be enough. By tackling all of healthcare, the government risks the possibility of bankrupting itself. Unless enough people take advantage of the program it is likely to collapse, the results for the national economy being devastating.

Now that I have given a background for the issue at hand, I’ll now attempt to evaluate the role of healthcare as both an archive of feelings in modern culture and a technology with which we as people have an ongoing and developing relationship. In “An Archive of Feelings,” Ann Cvetkovich related experiences of trauma to her own personal development. She writes that some of our most important personal and interpersonal growth comes as a result not of happiness but instead moments of intense stress or worry. She goes on to write that, “As a name for experiences of socially situated political violence, trauma forges overt connections between politics and emotions.” (5) For Cvetkovich, this trauma stemmed from the politics of lesbian and gay rights, and the toxic political discourse these things promoted. However, I believe and clear connection can be drawn between this topic and the topic of healthcare in America. For instance, both items detail the relationship of the government with our personal lives. In the case of Cvetkovich, the government attempted to strangle in many cases the feminist and gay rights movements, and in others it was often just the culture of the United States itself which attacked her. On the issue of healthcare the government and our culture alike also attempt to control what people can and cannot do; how we can and cannot live. We archive in hospitals, doctors, and nurses many emotions that we are unable to talk even to our own family’s about. Some of the most personal and emotional facets of our lives will take place in whitewashed rooms filled with men and women wearing lab coats. I think that for this reason, the healthcare system is one of the most unique in our current world. Few other places are concurrently so modern and open to the world while remaining secretive and silent for the people it serves. In “Alone Together” Turkle writes that, “We have to love our technology enough to describe it accurately. And we have to love ourselves enough to confront technology’s true effects on us.” (6) I feel that one of the greatest barriers most patients have in the world of medicine and healthcare is the inability to confront not only its abilities, but also its limits. We love the machines and pills that save us, but we hate the financial and emotional costs that they have.

Turkle wrote on technology as if it was a being separate from mankind, but one which we grow closer to each day. It was seen as a tool for our use, something apart yet integral to our daily lives. Medicine is very much similar to this, however I feel that in the near future this line of separation will grow thin. Healthcare as a whole is a monster in our modern world. It is a service which people need for their very survival, however it is something which can bankrupt entire families in the blink of an eye. Medical technology each year grows more and more advanced. Soon, much of modern medicine will become less a tool and more an extension of our own bodies. The consequences of these developments are some which humanity has never faced before, however there are facts on the table which cannot be denied: Our nation needs healthcare. We need it, and we need to change it before it is too late. It is something which impacts each and every person in our country and the world, and before we can reap its benefits we must come to learn how to control its consequences. Truly it is a problem which needs solving today, despite its true consequences not being felt until tomorrow.

 

Sources:

1) http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/downloads/highlights.pdf

2) 42 U.S. Code § 1395dd – Examination and treatment for emergency medical conditions and women in labor

3) Jenna Levy. “In U.S., Uninsured Rate Dips to 11.9% in First Quarter”. Gallup Polling.PMID 041815

4) Alonso-Zaldivar, Ricardo. “Number of Uninsured Fell by More Than 11 Million Since Passage of Obamacare, CDC Reports.” Huffington Post. 

5) Cvetkovich, Ann. “An Archive of Feelings.” 2003.

6) Turkle, Sherry, “Alone Together.” Basic Books 2011.

 

 

 

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Cellphones as an extension of humans

evolution-of-cell-phones-technology

Did you know more people in the world have mobile phones than toilets? It is true. Can you imagine a life without your cellphone? Would you survive without your cellphone? Many of us would think we can’t survive without them. But people in the past were able to live without cellphones why wouldn’t we be able to? Is it because cellphones were created as an extension of humans? Were they changed over time to adjust to humans?

Cellphones have a long history and to explore the connection between cellphones and humans, I have decided to relate it to my parents. The reason why I am choosing my parents is because I believe they can give a relatable story on cellphones. Unlike many people from my generation, my parents did not always had a cellphone. Even when the concept of cellphones existed, they didn’t have the money to afford it. So how did they contact people? They would use public phones and write letters. By the time I was a little kid, my parents had a cellphone. In the beginning, even though cellphones had the capacity of adding contacts, my parent would rarely use it. They still memorized many phone numbers and would dial it manually. Over time, my parents learn to use the basic functions added to a cellphone. The main function they would use is contacts. Now, they didn’t have to memorize that many phone numbers nor carry a small phone book with them. It wasn’t necessary for them. The change from a cellphone to smartphone made my parents’ life easier in terms of carrying extra technology. They still didn’t use their phone fully even though it was a smartphone. They used it to call people, take pictures, record videos, and listen to music. They didn’t have to carry a camera, a video recorder, and a music player anymore. They were satisfied with that for a while. During my senior year in high school, I already had plans on going to a school out of state. Because my parents saw the convenience of FaceTime, they decided to buy an iPad for my mom. The reasoning behind it was for my parents to be able to “see” me while I was in college. During that time, I downloaded an app called WeChat on my mom’s iPad. I told her that she could leave me voice messages since we couldn’t text each other because of language barrier. My mom would use it from time to time. She wasn’t always using it. In contrast, my dad who was in Mexico at the time, started using WeChat too. The difference, he used it 24/7. And that is how cellphones changed for my parents. They went from not using it in the past to now not being able to put down their phone during dinner.

From the beginning until now, cellphones have evolved but those changes complemented our lifestyle. Looking at my parents, the lifestyle they had in the beginning and now are different. They were busy almost the whole day so cellphones weren’t a necessity for them. They were in one place for most of the day and could use the restaurant phone. Now, cellphones are a necessity for them because they travel a lot now. But that is just one case and it doesn’t completely explains how phones are an extension of humans. To further explore the relation of cellphones and humans, we have to look at the history of cellphones.

The very first cellphones that were known as car phones were invented in 1956. They were too big to hold that people had it in their cars. With disputes and upgrades over signals and frequencies by 1971, AT&T became the first company to come up with a system in which modern phones use. In 1973, Motorola invented the first cellphone, the Motorola DynaTAC, which looks similar to present cellphones. The cellphone was invented by Dr. Martin Cooper (Keith). Then by 1983, the phone is upgraded to the DynaTAC 8000x. Although the cellphone is huge compared to our cellphones now a days. It was the first cellphone that was considered small and portable back in the days. The DynaTAC was expensive when it first came out. Only few could afford it and it was only used in the business and sales world. The cellphone quickly became shown in many different media such as movies like Wall Street and television shows like Saved by the Bell. As more upgrades to the phone came along over time, the cellphones became smaller and more portable (Ray).

The appearance of the cellphone has change greatly over time. The DynaTAC was really big. It was like holding a brick. It had the numbers and dial buttons. It didn’t have a screen. It was similar to many house phones nowadays but bigger and without a screen. Then by 1989, the Micro TAC was introduced as a personal telephone. Although it was expensive, it wasn’t just limited to people in the business and sales world. The Micro TAC was a lot smaller compared to the DynaTAC. It had an antenna and flip case to protect the number buttons. The Micro TAC added more buttons to the phone. In pop culture, the Micro TAC was used in the Star Trek series. In 1997, cellphones had a big upgrade with the invention of the internet. The Synergy by Philips Consumer Communications introduced the many other features now seen in our cellphones. It was the first cellphone to have a screen that was “touch screen” and used wireless connection. It used wireless to connect to e-mail, internet, and faxes. It has change the purpose of cellphones by adding new features other than calling. By 2002, texting became a popular thing to do that T-Mobile introduce the Sidekick. The Sidekick has a screen that flip out and a full QWERTY keyboard for faster texting. The Sidekick had features that built the current cellphones. It had apps, games, a camera, and access to the internet. In 2007, the very first iPhone was introduced to the market. The iPhone wasn’t just a cellphone anymore, it was a smart phone. It was fully touchscreen with apps, camera, and music player. The appearance and system of the cellphone started as big and simple. The very first cellphones were big and just had one function, calling and talking to others (Washington Post). Over time, cellphones became smaller and smaller so it would be easier to carry. The system of the cellphone became more and more complex. Functions were slowly added to cellphones and now cellphones have become like our personal assistant.

With the physical and systematic changes in cellphones, did the purpose of cellphones shift into another direction? The main purpose of cellphones in the past and even now is to talk. Cellphones were invented so people could call others no matter where they were. Although the purpose of a cellphone might still be to call someone else, other purposes have been added over the evolution of cellphones. Present cellphones allow people to not just only call others but it offers a way for humans to interact and communicate with others through not only phone calls but apps and functions. In other words, the purpose of cellphones has shifted to communicate. Other than the basic functions such as making a call and sending a text message, current phones are smartphones. Applications can be downloaded to fit anyone’s lifestyle. For example, Samsung phones have added a new feature called S Health where it counts how many steps per day you walk and also it can check your pulse. Nowadays, people are so busy that they don’t have the time to always exercise. Because of that, they can try to increase their steps per day. Which is something even busy people can easily change by using stairs instead of elevator and parking at a farther location. Another function that is now helpful for our current lifestyle are reminders functions and applications. Alarms on cellphones have been able to replace physical alarm clocks. Other applications can be used for as reminders for upcoming deadlines and work schedule. Another example is the addition of email. Email was created to adapt to people’s lifestyle. Many businessmen needed to check their email to contact and communicate with other businesses. Slowing email wasn’t just used by professionals and businessmen. Now, email it is used by almost everyone which is why it is very convenient to have it linked to our cellphones. We are able to access it even when we are not around a computer. Email being linked to our cellphones have decreases the usage of regular mail. Many business prefer to send out an email to customers because it will be easier for them to access it and possibly use it when they are at their store without needing to bring a physical paper or coupons. Although the new features and applications are changes to fit our lifestyle it is also because we dislike talking on the phone. From Alone Together, “Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they “reveal too much”. They rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice”. (Turkle, 11). This shows that it isn’t just the lifestyle but also our likes and dislikes that matter.

Cellphones have been helpful over time. There are many advantages of cellphones. Cellphones have become like our personal assistant. Cellphones make our lives easier by storing information so we don’t have to memorize it such as phone numbers. One can set reminders and alarms for deadlines and activities. It allows people to communicate with friends and family whether it is through phone calls, social media, or text message. Being able to carry a cellphone anywhere you go is also helpful in case of an emergency. Although cellphones have many advantages and were created for us, there are disadvantages when technology improves. Cellphones or smartphones have so many capabilities that we forget about real human interactions. People can go on dates and they would have their phone with them and check social media when they can have a real interaction. Sherry Turkle mentions that social media is there to help us connect and it is a good thing but because we are so focused on the content we see on our screen, we tend to forget to have a real conversation and interaction. We are together by keeping each other updated with technology but we aren’t really together. That’s why we are together alone. As it is mentioned in her book Alone Together, “Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of a friendship” (Turkle, 1). It shows that we like that we get to pick and choose what we want using technology. Cellphones have also caused serious accidents that are fatal. Many tend to use their cellphones when they are driving which has caused serious accidents. They are so focused on checking that text message or notification from a social media that they don’t pay attention to the road and cause accidents.

As it can be seen cellphones have change a lot over time. How does the changes correlate to humans? It isn’t a surprise that over time humans have become more complex and busy. Our duties have become more complicated than ever just like cellphones. The very first cellphones were simple. All it was able to do was make a phone call. Now cellphones are able to multitask by storing data, making calls, connect to the internet, and notify one about different news and weather. In the beginning humans had one task, to survive. Now humans not only have to survive but also work, go to school, make money and etc. Humans have become more complex and smarter over time. Because humans have become more complex and smarter, our cellphones have also become more complicated and smarter. Cellphones are an extension of humans. Just like McLuhan mentions “All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical” (McLuhan, 26). For example, “the book is an extension of the eye” (McLuhan, 34-37) and “electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system” (McLuhan, 40). Similarly to the comparison McLuhan makes, we can infer that cellphones are an extension of humans. When you combine all the features cellphones has right now, we can see how it is an extension of us. The camera in the cellphone is an extension of our eyes. The recorder and music player is an extension of our ears. The speaker is an extension of our mouth. The memory space inside of a cellphone is like our brain. It stores different things whether they are things we can see or internal codes to make the cellphone work. The internal codes are like our organs, they work together to make the cellphone work as a whole. An example of how a cellphone might work as a whole is recording a video. It requires the camera/lenses to capture the picture. Which is like our eyes. Then while recording the video it is also recording the sounds. That part is like our ears. We listen to our surroundings. Then when the video is stored and when it is played back, it is like our brain memorizing a moment and recalling it.

Since cellphones have become a part of us or at least an extension of us, does the functions and capabilities of cellphones meet our needs? As our lives become more and more busy cellphones are there to make those busy schedule not seem as bad. We can organize our schedule into calendars, alarms, and reminders. In that sense, cellphone do meet our needs but because we are constantly thinking of new ways and ideas cellphones can met our needs even more. Because we are experimenting with different technology and making technology advance at a really fast rate it isn’t surprising that cellphones will be improve even more in the future. Although I can’t say that I have a solid idea of the future of cellphones, no doubt those changes will be made to meet our needs and make our lives easier. Improvements to intelligent personal assistants such as Cortana and Siri will be made. Those personal assistants will become smarter in understanding you. Some other changes that connect cellphones to humans even more are that cellphones will become smarter at syncing with our biological reflexes such as our eyes movements, thoughts, cultural and social preferences.

Cellphones have change greatly in the little time it has existed. Those changes wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the changes in humans. Humans becoming more complicated and smarter enable changes in cellphones to make our life easier. Different functions and applications are an extension of a different body part. It aid us when need it. We can use our brain to memorize more important things. In conclusion, cellphones as a whole is an extension of humans and the changes in purpose and function were created to adjust to the human life.

 

Citations

(1). Keith, Robert D. “The Cell Phone Timeline.” History of the Cell Phone. University of Florida. 2004. Web. 28 April 2015. <http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall04/keith/history1.htm

(2). McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage, an Inventory of Effects. California. Gingko Press Inc. 2001. Web

(3). Ray, Amanda. “The History And Evolution Of Cell Phones.” AI Blog. Art Institutes. N.d Web. 28 April 2015. <http://new.artinstitutes.edu/blog/the-history-and-evolution-of-cell-phones

(4). Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York. BASIC BOOKS. 2011. Web

(5). Washington Post Staff. “The History of the Mobile Phone.” The Switch. The Washington Post. 9 September 2014. Web. 29 March 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/09/09/the-history-of-the-mobile-phone/

Magazines

There is a well-known picture that represents our humane society both past and present. It is of a man sitting at a bus stop holding a newspaper from roughly the 1940s and a pictures of a man sitting at a bus stop holding a cell phone from the 2000s. Such a picture shows that no matter the era, the actions of humans are still the same. Whether it is a newspaper or a cell phone, humans are engulfed in the entertainment and simplicity brought by the technology in front of them. Having something to read or scroll through allows an individual to be secluded from others while still being present. It is a distraction and an escape from reality. Magazines are a unique example to explore through this mindset of distraction and seclusion from the everyday world. Throughout the years, magazines have developed into such a wide range of categories and are individualized for a specific target.  As children, many of us have probably had fundraisers for our school by selling magazines to family and friends. My elementary school did this, along with other sales, to raise funds for things such as donations, projects, damages, etc. We would be given a catalog with every magazine that a customer could purchase, and the options seemed endless. It was amazing how much money our school raised through such an easy fundraiser. Everyone was willing to purchase a magazine because they knew they would get their money’s worth based on how often they would turn to their magazine. With there being so many different magazine themes and targeted groups, there is literally something for everyone to be interested in or intrigued by.

Once people have a magazine, they are submerged in it’s contents. Whether sitting at home on a Sunday evening, or hanging out in the waiting area at the doctor’s office, people are amused by magazines. They sit there and read the gossip, the latest in sports, the new gardening style, the latest fashion, etc. When sitting in the waiting area, many individuals are frightened at the sound of their name being called to go into the exam room after being so in-tune with the paper product sitting in their lap.

In Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, she states, “We are lonely but fearful of intimacy…We are psychologically programmed not only to nurture what we love but to love what we nurture. So even simple artificial creatures can provoke heartfelt attachment.” This leads to a controversial topic: pornography. One of the most well-known examples of pornographic imagery is Playboy Magazine. Although Hugh leads a very successful lifestyle, there is a potential underlying meaning to the use of such magazines. Society relies on technology for companionship and acceptance with one’s self.

Many people who read magazines are reading to be in tune with the lives of others. Ann states, “They read to find out about other people’s lives. We are all-nearly all- curious about other people, about our neighbors, about the people in the next street, about the workmen on the building site around the corner, or about the other children playing in the park” (1). Humans have a desire to know what is going on and want to feel like a part of something else, because they themselves are never good enough. Some people even feel like the life they see through a magazine is better than their own. They want to be the character they are reading about. Turkle states, “He scanned in pictures from magazines and wrote profiles for imaginary people. Then, he used their identities to begin conversations about himself.” This is just one example of the potential use of a magazine to make an individual feel a part of something better.

Magazines truly are a medium of information that is used to evoke feelings that are not present in an everyday lifestyle for some.

  1. http://www.bdtips.com/read/?article=why-do-people-read-books-newspaper-and-magazines

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Self Portrayal Online

The emergence of the internet as a commonly used item brought about many possibilities for how people could portray themselves. The internet gives people the opportunity to talk to others, who they will never see again. This freedom allows for self-expression in a way unlike when communicating with someone face-to-face. Oftentimes, people portray themselves as one of two ways on the internet: as their completely truthful selves or as the way they want to be (and are not).

Chat rooms, online games, blogs, social media, and other websites in which people can comment allow for people to portray themselves a certain way to the (online) public. The online world gives a person the opportunity to construct and edit a “self” (2). Many times, people will construct their ideal self, or someone they want to be. They do so by making themselves online look a certain way or give themselves certain characteristics. Having this opportunity allows people to explore different identities in a virtual environment, which overall wouldn’t have any consequences on their real lives. On virtual reality websites, you are able to experience things that would happen in real life, and be able to react without real life pressures (you are able to log out or delete yourself at any point).

However, instead of completely lying to others about themselves, people can be brutally honest (more than they would be in real life around people they know). Many times, people will make blog posts describing their current feelings that portray ideas they wouldn’t be willing to tell people in real life (but would be willing to tell strangers that they don’t have to see or talk to anymore in their lives). The virtual self can allow people to practice sharing their feelings and prepare them to do so in real life. Virtual life also allows people to gain confidence with this practice in order to do things they would otherwise be worried to do (for example, coming out to others). By being able to say certain things to strangers, it makes it a little easier to say it to friends and family.

Apart from virtual reality, people can also talk to others in other ways online. For example, people will talk to friends and family over social media (like the option to chat with others). Without having the person in front of you when you tell them important information, it makes it easier to say what is on your mind. The internet communication, in comparison to face-to-face communication, also allows a period of time people can have before responding. Many people find this preferable because they can think about what they are going to say before they say it. Even just the lack of physical contact (which usually leads to a more personal connection) allows people to feel more open to share ideas (1). People will also post their thoughts as a “status” which is public to all of a person’s friends or followers (and sometimes to the whole world). In this case, if people react positively to the message, the person who posted can feel good. If people react negatively, the browser could just be closed and the person wouldn’t have to deal with people’s responses (which is easier to do than having to physically run away from a group of people who are disagreeing with you). The online option is a less stressful way to express oneself.

The ability to portray oneself differently than they are in real life is slightly misleading. If you talk to someone solely online, that doesn’t give you an accurate representation of how the person is in real life. Online communication also takes out the personalized aspect of building relationships (2). However, it also brings a sense of comfort that would not be available in person.


(1) Suchanek, A. M. (2012). Is your social media presence an accurate portrayal of who you are? Information Space. Retrieved from http://infospace.ischool.syr.edu/2012/03/08/is-your-social-media-presence-an-accurate-portrayal-of-who-you-are/.

(2) Turkle, Sherry. (2011). Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Robots for the Elderly–Necessary or Inauthentic?

It is no secret that the current population is aging, and aging quickly. There is a growing concern for the availability of care for the increasing number of elderly. Although this worry is prevalent in the U.S., it is also true on a global scale. In Germany, the ratio of caregivers to care recipients is expected to grow from 1:9 to 1:17 by the year 2050.1 An entire industry is built around the necessary care of the elderly, and many fear that such labor will not be able to keep up with the demand. In Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, an alternative solution is presented: the use of robotics to provide care, security, and companionship for the aging population.

The idea that robots can successfully replace caretakers could be argued from two distinct viewpoints. On one hand, the reality must be faced: there will simply be a greater number of elderly people requiring care than there will be people willing to provide the care. In this respect, robots could potentially serve a very pragmatic role. Some of the current robotic machines on the market are used for bathing, mobility, tracking vital signs, dispensing medication, and calling for emergency care when needed.1 Such uses could make the difference between life and death in certain situations when constant human care is simply not available.

In a journal article by Jennifer Parks, another interesting perspective is offered on this topic. Parks notes that the field of caretaking is overwhelmingly and historically delegated to women. The responsibility of “community care services” almost always falls to the female population. Indeed, I challenge you to walk into a nursing home and locate a significant number of male nurses. This gender imbalance creates an issue in which women in the caretaking industry are subject to heavy and repetitious labor roles, which can even result in injury and “care burnout.” In this regard, Turkle offers that robots could potentially eliminate the cruelty that, unfortunately, exists among caretakers of the elderly.2 However, there are also many drawbacks to this form of artificial human care.

Despite the practical use of robots, they are ultimately still highly “inauthentic” when it comes to human interaction. Robotics may be useful in bathing an elderly patient, but that experience now lacks the personal touch and nurture that only a human can provide. The mechanic care given by robots can also play a part in eliminating dignity for the elderly. For someone who lives in a care facility with little freedom, the interaction with real human nurses may be the only thing they look forward to in a given day.

Finally, it is important to recognize how the use of robots can mentally affect the caretakers they replace. To a certain extent, humans need the “burden” of care in order to validate their ability to provide love.2 This responsibility makes us feel needed, and the person being cared for, consequently, reciprocates with love and appreciation. Although the amount of care needed for the aging population can be overwhelming, it also provides an opportunity to perform very fulfilling work. Robots may be able to replace humans in some cases, but caretakers and care recipients are both missing out in this arrangement.


 

1Parks, Jennifer, “Lifting the Burden of Women’s Care Work: Should Robots Replace the ‘Human Touch’?” Hypatia, 18 Dec 2009.

2Turkle, Sherry, Alone Together. 2010.