Has it come to this?

First stop Ketchikan

 Jerry and I are on a cruise in Alaska.  It seems eons since we left, and truth to tell, I'm ready to be home.  Tomorrow we get off the ship and onto a land tour for a few more days, then the long trek back to the Ranch.

One of the things I love about cruising is the chance to read, and read, and read.  I picked up a book in the library called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who thoughtfully considers the effects of technology on us humans.

Very interesting, and very pertinent to our role as stewards of the lives of fellow human beings who have Down syndrome, autism, and a variety of other handicapping conditions. 

Turkle examines in some depth Japan's attempts to deal with a phenomenon quite familiar to us–too many old, frail people in need of care and attention, and too few young, healthy people interested in providing it for them.

This has led the Japanese to lead the world in the development of robots to help provide care for elderly and/or disabled people.

Oh yea.  Just what I wanted, R2D2 chirping around the house getting my breakfast, being the one who'll still need me and feed me way past 64 (which by the way I already am by five years).  Alas for those of us who feel, however shakily, that the human condition should still look for solutions within the human community, all too many seniors are altogether happy to interact with robots.

Maybe after six months with Nurse Rachit I will be, too.  Who knows?

But most disturbing to me was Turkle's revelation that busy young Japanese professionals have taken to hiring actor stand-ins for themselves to visit Mom and Pop dithering away at home or ensconced in the local home for the aged.

Sometimes, of course, Mom and Pop have gone round the bend a bit too far to notice the difference, but oftentimes they know full well the person in front of them is an actor playing a part, but they still are grateful for the human interaction and go along with the game.

I suspect many of these interactions already have scripts written for them anyway.  Does it really make a difference who says the words?

I mean, what's the difference between a robot programmed to have a polite conversation with you and an actor hired to do the part?  Maybe there really isn't any.

Here on the ship we observe elaborate politenesses with the staff, as do they with us.  The first part of every conversation is predictable as bugs in June in Texas.  90% of what we say to one another is pleasant and follows a formula.  But every now and then you get into a real conversation with, say, one of the young Filipinos waiting on you in the bar.
You learn he has a son he hasn't seen because he has not been home since the baby was born.  You hear his dreams and ambitions that grow daily as he tries to make the most of this opportunity to get ahead, build a house, send his boy to college some day.
Or talking with a fellow passenger you discover passions in common and stories that could fill a very interesting book.
And I remember Ethel Barrow, an old Quaker friend, who toward the end of her life had a special caregiver who introduced her to fugues.
“Listen, Leah,” she would say to her daughter-in-law, “listen to this.  This is a fugueI'm so happy I lived long enough to learn about fugues.”
So, does it make a difference?  My answer is not only yes but…hell yes.
Here at the Ranch we are indebted to LeAnn Powers for articulating so well what we are looking for in the staff people who provide care for our residents.
“It's not coverage,” she would say.  “It's companionship!”
R2D2 has a long way to go before he/it can offer that.