The people behind Paro the Robot Baby Seal seem to have retained the world’s best public relations firm. They’ve scored stories in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
I don’t get it.
Or, maybe, I do get it and I hate admitting the ugly truth.
American culture sees aging as primarily a matter of technical failure. Our once reliable bodies “get old,” they breakdown, they need to be fixed. We rely on technology to fix things that are broken. Inside of this worldview it makes perfect sense that a 6,000 dollar robot baby seal would be hailed, by the nation’s most prestigious newspapers, as a cure for the loneliness that so often invades old age.
What is missing is any awareness of aging as a time of completion. What if old people are not broken? What if their most vital, and most essential, needs are not technological?
A lonely heart cries for love but has none.
Strong, healthy, nurturing connections are the nectar of old age, and the baby robot can not and will not offer people any form of genuine relationship. It’s a fake. In fact, it is a cruel fake. It offers the appearance of relationship (with a lump of of circuits, wires and fake white fur) in place of a heart and soul.
Kavan and I were talking with the Pioneer Network’s Bonnie Kantor about this earlier today. She has an interesting take on this controversy and I’m hoping she let us post her thoughts here sometime soon. (BTW their annual conference is going to be stellar.)
I was hoping that Paro would be a novelty story but the gnarly little robot seems to be resonating with the mainstream media.
Our elders deserve much better than this…
(NEWSER) – Is Paro—the adorable robotic seal designed to comfort the elderly—the best thing to happen to solitary seniors since the Clapper, or a tasteless substitute for human attention? Manufactured in Japan and recently cleared in the US as a Class 2 medical device, the $6,000 robot is intended as a sort of pet therapy (it can recognize voices and make “weird” sounds), just without the messiness of a living animal. But ethicists fear that we’re putting the emotional well-being of seniors in the hands (flippers?) of a gadget.
“Why are we so willing to provide our parents, then ourselves, with faux relationships?” asks one MIT professor. But Paro’s fans say it’s invaluable for certain needy patients, particularly dementia sufferers, reports the Wall Street Journal. The seal’s European distributor requires nursing home employees to take a class on the device, so they don’t allow patients to, in the words of one consultant, “escape into a strange seal robot’s universe.”
I would add that we are all in danger of escaping “into a strange seal robot’s universe.”