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Checking on Your Elders: Just Leave the Water Running

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There's nothing wrong with longevity, if I have any left, but here in Japan I've had a glimpse of the future and I'm not all that sure I want to be there when it arrives.

It's looking way too virtual for an insistently palpable individual like myself. I've always liked face-to-face, hand-to-hand, cheek-to-cheek, even cheek-to-jowl, if that's all there is. What they're planning for us elders, elderlings, and those who will follow is cold, metallic, and wireless, with all the emotional warmth of a silicon chip.

They're already well along in developing robot caregivers (might as well use a bespoke forklift), but you really get the sense that the old ways are fading, the old meanings falling silent, and the old values losing their luster, when you read a newspaper article like the one I found at The Daily Yomiuri.

Not that I am ever going to be conned into such a situation, mind you (no way; I'll circumnavigate the earth in a canoe first), but the fact of the steady distancing between the generations and what that portends, the growing desensitization regarding the issue of ignoring your elders to as impersonal a level as possible, already has me polishing my paddles.

The market researchers are so sure of the social outcome that government and corporations are already turning elder-isolation into a marketing ploy! (Remember, Japan is the developed world's coalmine canary):

The Tokyo metropolitan government's Waterworks Bureau is to offer a new service enabling families who live apart from their elderly parents to check on them, by sending relatives daily e-mails with details of the volume of water their parents have used. Such a security service has already been introduced for gas consumption and some models of electric kettles…

In other words, the water company et al. will belatedly update you on the survival status of your forebears.

Like I said, if a public utility is ever my go-between, I'm outta here. When it reaches that point I'll open the taps, turn on the gas, plug in my electric kettle, and launch my canoe. Anyone else who's interested, let's meet on some pre-arranged tropical islands and start our own government: World Elder Restoration Of Classy Karma.

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About Robert Brady

  • While I’m sure your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek, there are aspects to this development that are larger than people trying to distance themselves from their elders.

    The robot caregivers are related to one problem and one prejudice. The problem is the low birthrate in Japan. In the past, the oldest child often was responsible for the parents while the others were free to fly off wherever they chose. With many couples having one child or no children and with companies transferring employees all over Japan with no regard for the employees’ personal lives, it’s very difficult for children to care for their parents in their home area.

    Since many parents are reluctant to move from their homes to be with their children, this means there’s little choice but to care for one’s parents from a distance.

    One potential solution to the birthrate issue would be to allow more immigrants in to fill up the gap. Not only would this increase the number of young people but it would probably also provide a workforce willing to be paid less and do the types of jobs the Japanese tend not to pursue (such as eldercare). This is where the prejudice comes in. The Japanese would rather use technology than allow in more of the unwashed (largely Asian) masses.