Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Web Secret 510: The promise of technology

I ended my recap if the Best of iWebU last week - it was time to move on.

Also, I had to share a moving, mind expanding Wired article with you: "Something to Watch Over Me" by Lauren Smiley.

Much has already been written about our growing aging population, which combined with insufficient numbers of home health aides, is headed towards catastrophe.

You don't have to be a medical social worker to know that home care is expensive and at times unreliable. Fortunately, technology now exists, to help with that cost and keep seniors home for a longer period of time. The article describes this tech and I herewith summarize its salient points:

Arlyn Anderson was involved in caring for her 91 year old father, Jim, who was increasingly forgetful, but wanted to remain in his Minnesota cabin. One day, she about a new digi­tal eldercare service called CareCoach. For about $200 a month, a human-powered avatar would be available to watch over a homebound person 24 hours a day; Arlyn paid that same amount for just nine hours of in-home help. She signed up immediately.

A Google Nexus tablet arrived in the mail a week later. When Arlyn plugged it in, an animated German shepherd appeared onscreen, standing at attention on a digitized lawn. Following the instructions, Arlyn uploaded dozens of pictures to the service’s online portal: images of family members, her father's boat, and some of his inventions.

Jim formed a relationship with the avatar almost immediately and named his dog Pony. Within a week Jim and Pony had settled into a routine, exchanging pleasantries several times a day. Every 15 minutes or so Pony would wake up and look for Jim, calling his name if he was out of view. Sometimes Jim would “pet” the sleeping dog onscreen with his finger to rustle her awake. His touch would send an instantaneous alert to the human caretaker behind the avatar, prompting the CareCoach worker to launch the tablet’s audio and video stream. “How are you, Jim?” Pony would chirp. The dog reminded him which of his daughters or in-person caretakers would be visiting that day to do the tasks that an onscreen dog couldn’t: prepare meals, change Jim’s sheets, drive him to a senior center.

In Monterrey, Mexico, Rodrigo Rochin opens his laptop in his home office and logs in to the CareCoach dashboard to make his rounds. He talks baseball with a New Jersey man watching the Yankees; chats with a woman in South Carolina who calls him Peanut (she places a cookie in front of her tablet for him to “eat”); and greets Jim, one of his regulars, who sips coffee while looking out over a lake.

Rodrigo is 35 years old. He grew up crossing the border to attend school in McAllen, Texas, honing the English that he now uses to chat with elderly people in the United States. Rodrigo found CareCoach on an online freelancing platform and was hired in December 2012 as one of the company’s earliest contractors, role-playing 36 hours a week as one of the service’s avatars. He is the person behind Jim's Pony.

The rest of the article describes the many sometimes unexpected ways Pony helps and monitors Jim's well being. And how CareCoach was invented. And how it represents a new source of employment opportunity for workers with good English skills around the world.

It honestly describes the promise and the pitfalls of the CareCoach technology.

Overwhelmingly, I was left with the promise.

Worth the read.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Web Secret 509: the best of iWebU - A video game to cope with grief

On August 15, 2018, I will be celebrating 10 years of iWebU - that's over 500 weekly posts .

Leading up to that momentous date, I am re-releasing the "best of iWebU", starting in 2008 and moving forward.

These are the posts that stand the test of time and remain as valuable today as they did then.

And so, I revisit Web Secret 469: A video game to cope with grief

Why? Because while technology is sometimes something to be feared, sometimes it is to be celebrated. And this post is about when tech delivers.

Web Secret 469: the best of iWebU - A video game to cope with grief - May 31, 2017

When was the last time you saw something remarkable?

I know, I couldn't remember either.

But today, I did.

When Amy Green's young son Joel was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, she made up a bedtime story for his siblings to teach them about cancer. What resulted was a video game, mostly created by her husband Ryan, "That Dragon, Cancer," which takes players on a journey they can't win.

That's right, someone used the video game, a medium we think we know, to accomplish something seemingly impossible.

To understand how this happened, you could watch Amy's TED Talk.

Or read Wired Magazine's thought provoking exploration "A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever," written by Jason Tanz.

Tanz explains: "That Dragon, Cancer is not a tricky game to master. Indeed, it’s barely a game at all, more a collection of scenarios that the player explores and clicks through. There is some degree of agency—you can decide how long to spend in any particular scene, for instance — but the overwhelming sensation is one of being a bug caught in a rushing river; you might veer a few degrees in either direction, but you can’t alter the overall flow."

"The questions That Dragon, Cancer is asking... are the kind of spiritual and existential quandaries that have haunted humanity since Job: Why are we here? Can we influence our fate? What kind of God would allow such suffering? How do we endure the knowledge that we, along with everyone we have ever met and loved, will die?

...That Dragon, Cancer doesn’t provide any solutions to its queries

Tanz quotes Reality Is Broken, by designer and academic Jane McGonigal, in which she argues that we should engineer our world to be more like a videogame, incorporating its system of rewards and escalating challenges to help us find meaning and accomplishment in our lives. "Green, though, is doing the opposite. He’s trying to create a game in which meaning is ambiguous and accomplishments are fleeting. He is making a game that is as broken—as confounding, unresolved, and tragically beautiful—as the world itself."

Or you could do none of the above, and play the game.