Thursday, 31 July 2014

Only Connect – How to Bridge the Gap?

Edwardian novelist EM Forster
Mike Wright gazes at a connected future

My last blog expressed concern that undue reliance on technology could threaten to dilute our experience of the ever-present moment – threatening the only connection with reality we have.

I suggested that dystopian visions of future societies ruled by computers may not be too far from the present state of things, in so far as we allow social media to dictate our actions and opinions.

But of course, technology is also an inseparable feature of our everyday lives – while in reality the dystopian vision can never be realised, as the future can never be experienced. But equally we might want to start recognising that a Utopian alternative, of living harmoniously with technology, is something that is not awaiting round the corner but is possible now… perhaps only ever now.

The words of Edwardian novelist EM Forster seem apt – that we ‘only connect’. And it is completely possible to envisage a society in which technology aids us without disengaging us from experience and reality.

After all, technology has been responsible for connecting and reconnecting people in all manner of ways, all over the world. The Internet is probably the most obvious example of this, while Alexander Graham Bell decided to invent a rudimentary Skype system all those years ago! Just as importantly, technology is – and can be – routinely used to help people become connected in a manner that improves the quality of everyday experience. For example, a small, but sophisticated, device worn on the ear can pick up, process, amplify and transmit sound. Hearing aids make a world of difference in terms of the experience of hard of hearing people keen to have a share in the knowledge of the ever-humming gossip of the world.

Technology likewise offers people with disabilities the means of accessing lifestyle choices and opportunities to make the most of their abilities, thereby serving to lessen any sense of alienation or isolation that could arise through impairment. Prosthetics have helped to restore mobility to individuals who have lost, or simply never had certain limbs – and I have even heard of technology which hopes to be capable of restoring vision to those who have inherited blindness, or age-related macular degeneration, through the development of ‘bionic’ eyes.

It would seem that our sense of independence and personal freedom to be able to do things for ourselves – something which is perhaps often taken for granted in the normal human experience – can often provide us with a feeling of worth and value, making it easier to feel ourselves as part of a whole, not merely an isolated fragment.

Based on the examples I have mentioned, I would suggest that the aim has not necessarily been to reshape the world through technological means but to reassert the status quo and pay particular attention to the importance of our natural human experience.

In my Utopian view of a society – that’s to say, one that makes use of technology as a means of ensuring collective happiness  – I would suggest that perhaps an answer lies in viewing technology not in its darker aspect but positively… as a means of providing us with the personal freedom and self-awareness to realise that essentially, we are all connected, Forster-style, so that we may ‘live in fragments no longer’ and hopefully find ourselves exalted through such a relationship with one another.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Serious Case Review (SCR)

Ruth Eley tells of her experience of preparing an overview report for an SCR

Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board report on Mr ‘D’ was the first time I had dipped my toe into the murky waters of Serious Case Reviews and it turned out to be a fascinating experience. Initially, there’s a period of waiting for other people to do their bit, then the information starts coming in and you have a dawning realisation that this is going to be just as complicated as you feared it might be when you agreed to the undertaking all those weeks ago. Although all Individual Management Review authors from each partner agency are expected to use the same template and work to the same terms of reference, the reports vary in depth, style and quality, so making sense of them can be daunting. In this case, the safeguarding team produced a master chronology from all the individual ones, which ran to over 90 pages, and it was fascinating to see the same incidents recorded by different agencies, e.g. a visit to A and E could be recorded by the ambulance service, various professionals in the patient record, social services emergency duty team and the police.

It was as I was putting together the ‘Key Events’ section of the report that I realised that I was the only person who had the whole story. Writing the report therefore became even more of a responsibility to make sure that I got the detail right, as well as drawing out the important themes from the analysis, coming to conclusions that were fair and based on the evidence before me and shaping recommendations that would be useful to the various agencies and to the safeguarding board itself.

Importantly I needed the confidence to seek further information or clarification to answer questions that arose as I was doing the work or to fill a gap in the story. There was broad agreement at the Safeguarding Panel about my conclusions and the discussions and negotiations about the final recommendations were considered, honest and constructive. All in all I was pleased with the final product and am hopeful that all agencies really will use it to improve practice and the ways in which they endeavour to work together on behalf of vulnerable people.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Mind the Gap – Is our use of Technology an aid to living or clever distraction?

Mike Wright looks toward our possible future: will it be a happy one or a ‘dystopian’ one?

I have my concerns about Technology. However, my concerns are not the kind that all centre around a dystopian vision in which computers have become sentient and made us all slaves, where memory foam remembers things we wish to forget or where self-service checkouts learn to expect the unexpected items in the baggage area.

Instead, my concerns are about how far today’s Technology, in the form of Social Media, may remove us to a realm of thought and away from a world of experience. Actually, it’s not really Technology itself I have concerns about but rather how we use it. A wise man once remarked that ‘one of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken’. My question is then whether, a gap (between man and nature) is being formed - and if so, what can we do to restore the bond?

My concern stems from the multiple situations where I have found myself playing ‘gooseberry’ to a friend and their Facebook page. Or where I find that a smile - as evidence that I like what they have said - is insufficient validation of a statement, when measured against a ‘thumbs up’ icon being clicked. Or again, when a memory of being present at an event (such as, perhaps, meeting for coffee) is deemed untrustworthy, unless supported with an evidential group ‘selfie’.

In response, I find myself asking whether we can ever truly live in the moment if we are constantly trying to capture and relive it. And as the present moment is the only thing we can ever truly experience, it seems infinitely important to me that we don’t lose our only connection with reality through interaction with a virtual representation of it.

So, the dystopian future in which we have become slaves to computers does not seem all that distant when I reflect on how much time we spend relying on them for the purpose of work, interaction and entertainment. Is our complicity in playing Candy Crush Saga for seven hours a day in fact a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome in the digital age? Is our nature as a Human Being, evolving into that of a Human Thinking?

Perhaps this has all been a bit too one-sided. After all, I am writing these very words using the fruits of Technology and they are to be published and read exclusively through the medium of the Internet. On a practical level, we can’t function without Technology. I suppose the key consideration is whether our use of Technology is an aid to living or acts as a distraction that keeps us from living.

And in this regard, happiness is always the method of measure. I can’t help feeling that less time spent interacting in cyber space would mean a restoration of the bond between ‘(wo)man and nature’ and a rediscovery of our own nature as truly living beings.

An increase in the amount of time we spend having real, shared experiences may also go some way in restoring the sense of community and the common bond that has apparently been lost as an exclusive quality that only ‘the good old days’ possessed. Who knows?

If at this point of reading you feel the desire to break the connection of thought, and instead wish to wander into the world of experience, I encourage you to log off and rekindle your relationship with reality for a while!

And remember - mind the gap!