Earlier this week I tried out sewing small RFID buttons into (and onto) a test fabric quilt. The aim is to create a musical blanket that can be used for storytelling. The ‘electronic cup’ shown on the right can read the tags and play preassigned passages of music when you hover over one of the buttons.
While visiting relatives in London, I took the opportunity to pop in to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see this fascinating display about memory techniques.
‘In the age of the internet we rarely rely on the skill of remembering, but systems to assist memory were once essential. One of the oldest is the Memory Palace, which requires picturing a familiar building, then placing vivid images within it. When you imagine walking through the building, the images trigger the facts you want to recall. The technique comes from an ancient Greek story about a banqueting hall that collapsed, crushing the guests beyond recognition. The poet Simonides was able to identify each guest by mentally walking around the table and visualizing them.
Cicero and Quintilian described the Memory Palace in their treatises on rhetoric, which were influential in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, when education involved rote-learning facts and figures, different memorising systems evolved and were promoted through lectures, manuals and children’s card games.
But Simonides’ simple and personal technique still appeals. For a mnemonic setting we might use, rather than a banqueting hall, our home, a place characterized by strong visual, sensual and emotional recollections. This display explores the art of remembering, as well as the idea of home as a Memory Palace.’
The journey to Oxford, for the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, started in an appropriately creative way. On board the 08.55 from Didcot, I discovered a Pass It On book, left for the ‘next person’ to find, read and give away. I had heard much about this delightful exchange, known as a Book Swap, but this was the first time I’d had the good fortune to stumble upon such serendipitous gift.
There was also a serendipity to be found in many of the stories, research and experiences of dementia that were recounted at the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, throughout the day in Oxford. Continue reading
Just back from attending my first gerontology conference – lots of food for thought, some of which I express below, much of which I hope to feed into the Tangible memories project as it develops…
Meanings and metaphors of home
Several papers explored the meaning of and metaphors of ‘home’ in later life. I particularly enjoyed Sheila Peace’s presentation and will follow up on her call to look at Iris Marion Young’s (2005) work on identity and homemaking. Sheila explored the different understandings of ‘domestic’ and ‘institutional’, drawing on individual case studies to highlight home as an intergenerational space, home as an orientating space, home as remembered past, supporting present and concealing future, and home as dwelling/ as a receptacle of continuity and change.
Susan Braedley’s work offered a counterpoint to this suggesting that the concept of ‘home’ is generally unhelpful when applied to care home design and development. Drawing on an international project (Healthy Ageing in Residential Places – in which she is working with Liz Lloyd, University of Bristol amongst others) she suggested that metaphors of ‘home’ tend to dominate care home design and that in her view this was unhelpful and should be reframed to rather focus on concepts such as respect, dignity and equity. Susan’s insightful work touched on the unhelpful discourses surrounding institutions as nightmare places in comparison to the warmth of home. She pointed out how these discourses shape the policies and practices in new facility design, staff models and care relationships in particular ways that tend not to highlight social justice (both for staff and for older people living in these facilities).
Digital co-production and passionate scholarship
In a symposium organised by Kim Sawchuk a number of interesting papers and presentations explored co-design and co-production work with older people in making digital resources and content. Jospeh Blat discussed the work of his HCI research group who utilise co-production and ethnographic methods in designing games and other digital content for use by older people. It was great to hear of other HCI departments working in this realm, Joseph’s deep understanding of the power of ethnographic methods in HCI was refreshing. Kim’s own presentation focused on her ongoing work with a variety of activist community organisations run by older activists. She discussed what ‘Activist ageing’ (as opposed to ‘Active ageing’) might mean and the need for public (digital) records of the campaigning work that older people do. Drawing on a term used earlier in the day at Mim Bernard’s Ages and Stages symposium she described her work as passionate scholarship. Wendy Martin from Brunel University then presented on her interesting work using photo voice methods with older people, here I was left wanting to hear more about the challenges related to the use of digital technologies in researching with older people. The symposium finished with a highly personal piece in which Aynsley Moorhouse presented and shared an audio piece that she had developed using naturalistic recordings and hours of conversation between herself and her father as he was diagnosed with and experienced the ongoing symptoms of dementia. Aynsley’s paper was moving and honest and she then shared her audio work with us – the lights were turned off, permitting tears to fall.
Future technologies and older people
My paper session was opened by Caroline Holland who led the delegates through a whistle top tour of sociotechnical change and the implications of some of these changes both now and in the future. Caroline’s work is of particular interest to the Tangible memories team as she has done various studies exploring environment and usability of novel technological solutions with older people.
My paper presented some of our initial findings concerning loss of objects, meanings of home and the range of stimuli for stories we are finding useful in working with our widely diverse groups of older people in care settings. I concluded that there is a need to better understanding the relationship between material artefacts and records and digital representations; that digital curation should be understood as a process of translation between the material and the immaterial; and by pointing out the need for a ccommitment to collaborative research and co-curation of life stories with novel technologies whilst retaining ethical relationships that stress mutuality, dignity and reciprocity.
Great news for the project today that our proposal for the Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff has been accepted. The aims of our proposal were:
1. To create an immersive, portable installation, utilising novel tangible technologies and a set of dissemination materials, recreating a care home setting, in which audience members will be encouraged to:
- engage meaningfully in thinking about community, object based story telling and tangible technologies in care home settings
- drink tea, eat cake and engage in conversation with older people, academics and community experts working with us to discuss our experiences of being involved in co-produced research where technology is being co-designed with older people
- experiment with and reflect on some of our novel technological prototypes to tell their own stories
2. The installation will enable us to user test some of our prototyped novel tangible technologies for storytelling with a wider audience and to collect data on the accessibility and effectiveness of the co-designed technologies.
3. To create an installation and dissemination materials that can be re-purposed to spread a message to policy makers, members of the public and academics about the need to re-imagine care homes of the future e.g. to develop ‘community’ in care, person centred care and the use of novel tangible technologies to enable stories and memories to be shared in care home settings and beyond.
4. To explore the practical and ethical challenges in including our older people in the dissemination of the project. E.g. How dementia friendly are these kind of events? How easy is it to navigate issues of accessibility?
What Are You To Me? Is an interactive multimedia installation that explores how we might remember the lives of our grandparents, taking audiences on their own personal journey through the fragmented re-imagining of three culturally diverse families. It is an archive of memories, where sights, sounds and smells become the trigger for audiences to access their own memories, wishes and regrets.
The installation provided a great opportunity for us to think about ways of triggering memories. Some ideas we discussed after the visit included:
- The tags only contained a small amount of text but were really good at evoking a whole scene. Keeping stories short, or at least having a synopsis seems like a good idea.
- The use of smells/odours/scents was really interesting when combined with the tags.