Messy Realities: Technology, Craft and Accessiblity

– Anne Ferrey

What do you think of when you see the word “technology”?

Some of our colleagues in the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences have been exploring that question in collaboration with the Pitt Rivers Museum, along with designers, technology experts and members of the public. The project, “Messy Realities”, explores ways in which the assistive living technologies of today echo technologies of the past, and how thinking about the links between objects in the Museum’s collections and current technologies could help us to think about those technologies differently.

Assistive living technologies, such as pendant alarms and monitors, are designed for a particular function, but less thought is given about how they actually fit into peoples’ day-to-day lives. Many of these health technologies are not customisable to fit each person’s life, and they may lack any kind of aesthetic appeal. This means they may not “fit” into peoples’ homes and lives, and therefore not be used for their intended purpose.

One way to make technology more user-friendly, or perhaps just more friendly, is to tone down its cold, clinical nature using craft. One situation in which this might be helpful is pendant monitors for elderly people or those at risk of falling. Although pendant alarms can save lives by providing access to assistance for people who are in difficulty, many people do not want to wear these monitors. Reasons might include finding the monitor uncomfortable or inconvenient, but patients might also dislike its medical look. It could be a constant reminder of a person’s frailty and the potential for a medical problem to occur.

We wondered whether some of these problems could be mitigated by covering the monitor to make it less medical and more personalised and “friendly”. The Messy Realities team asked for a sample monitor cover (pink and purple, please!) and I obliged by quickly crocheting a prototype for them. Excitingly, this crocheted cover has been selected to be included as part of the Messy Realities display at the Pitt Rivers Museum curated by Museum staff and Gemma Hughes of the Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. The crocheted case demonstrates one way in which craft could be used to soften and de-medicalise necessary technology, to customise it, and perhaps to make it more likely that it will be used by the people who need it.

I attended the launch party for the new exhibit, which will run from July 23-September 28 2018. It was opened by Professor Trish Greenhalgh (pictured below, left) and Dr Laura Van Broekhoven (right), the Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

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Below, you can see the Yarnfulness crocheted monitor as part of the exhibition (caption reads: “Pendant alarm in crocheted pouch: A simple way of personalising a pendant alarm. Digital pendant alarm worn as a necklace, used to summon help, UK. Enclosed in pouch crocheted by Dr Anne Ferrey of #yarnfulnessproject (yarnfulnessproject.org) at a Messy Realities engagement activity at the Pitt Rivers Museum”)

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If you are in the Oxford area, please check it out!

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