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Design and Entertainment

The final applications category boasts the most diverse set of applications.  Artists, designers and entertainers of all types will enrich people’s lives with their services.  They will extend and personalize services we are familiar with today and they will introduce us to aspects of their culture that we otherwise would never have experienced.

 What Are Design and Entertainment Services?

This set of services is a little hard to define with precision.  The people who provide these services are more “artist” than “worker”.  Their objectives are more to “enrich” than to “inform” or “advise”.  And their customers tend to be consumers rather than businesses.

 Where Will You Find These Services?

Initially, the design and entertainment services that we are already familiar with – broadcast media, online entertainment, interior decorating – will simply add a small teleservices extension to enhance their offering and test this new concept.  

 How Will You Access These Services?

You’ll play chess or Scrabble™ on your PC.  You’ll entertain your party guests with personalized music on your new home entertainment center.  You’ll listen to stories from around the globe on your video phone.  You’ll get your personalized daily astrological reading live on your cell phone.  And you’ll redecorate your living room with help from a wireless broadband robot dog with impeccable taste and an endearing Hungarian accent.

 Are You Serious?

Mostly, no.  Get it? 

 Actually, while many Design and Entertainment services are fun and mostly frivolous, some are very serious.  While I was doing the research for The New Neighbors, in fact, I had a personal experience that illustrated to me the potential importance of some of the services in this category.  I’d like to share this story with you.

 I knew a lot about Lara already, well before I finally met her.  Several months earlier, I was shopping for a house in the San Carlos area, and hers was on the market.  The price was very attractive because the house needed a lot of work – although the building seemed structurally sound, the paint everywhere was peeling, the floor coverings were discolored and cracked, most of the fixtures were broken, the yard was overgrown, and the interior reeked of cat urine.  But then, I was looking for a fixer-upper!

 Lara wasn’t involved in the sale, even though the house belonged to her.  All her financial affairs had been taken over by the County Public Guardian’s Office.  The neighbors, concerned by the deteriorating condition of the house and by Lara’s increasingly eccentric behavior, had referred her to the Public Guardian for evaluation.  The county determined that Lara was no longer safe living on her own or able to manage her own affairs, and they helped her move into a nearby assisted living center.  The house was to be sold in order to pay her taxes and to fund her on-going care.

 In discussions with the neighbors, a charming image of this woman began to take form in my mind –she was eighty-five years old, a former math teacher, a kind woman with a quick smile and a love of children and cats.  A widow since 1989, with one son somewhere on the East Coast.  An avid gardener, who dug the flower beds and planted the roses that now lay under the tall weeds covering the yard.  A good neighbor by any measure.

 Well, I didn’t get the house, but I was intrigued and bothered by the story behind it.  Finally, I decided to go to the home where Lara now lives so I could meet her and hear her story first hand.

 The woman I met is very different from the one I had heard about.  The Lara I met is scared, withdrawn, and depressed.  She no longer walks, even though her profile says “ambulatory”.  She imagines a threatening world of strangers who want to do her harm.  She now lives in a clean and modern apartment, but refuses to eat, bathe or dress herself, or to take her medication without firm assistance.  Most of her communication consists of vague, paranoid ramblings.  But then, seemingly out of nowhere, she sits up and looks me in the eye.

 “I wasn’t always the way you see me now, you know.  I wish you had met me before instead of now.  When I was teaching, when I was living in the neighborhood.” 

 She motions toward a letter sitting on her dresser, sent twenty years earlier and saved with care.  It’s a touching, thoughtful thank-you note from a former student.  ‘Your math class was the pivotal moment of my education’, it says.  ‘I didn’t think girls could be good at math; I didn’t think we were supposed to be.  You showed me that that wasn’t true, and you taught me to like math.  Now I am a successful electrical engineer, and I love what I do.  And every single day I think of you.’  I put the letter back on the dresser.

 “You know where I started the long slide down this hill?” she asks, then points down to the old stuffed chair that she is sitting in.  “Right here in this chair.  One day I was very tired and very lonely, and I just sat down in this chair and didn’t get up all day long.  The next day I did it again.  And again, and again.  I know now that I needed help, but there was no one there.  And now there is no turning back.”

 Loneliness, boredom and helplessness, according to Bill Thomas of The Eden Alternative, are the “three plagues” that cause the bulk of suffering among senior citizens.  What begins as loneliness becomes isolation and depression, and may lead to dementia and a variety of psychotic disorders.  Independence yields to helplessness, and joy gives way to fear and to anxiety.  Companionship is the antidote to loneliness, but many elders have no access to companions.  Transportation becomes a major barrier, and in-home care is prohibitively expensive.  The new neighbors, many of whom have strong cultural traditions of caring for their elders, could help.

 What’s more, elder care is a significant economic market.  In the U.S., the approximately 60 million citizens over the age of 55 represent about half of all discretionary income.  Living assistance services for the elderly are already a $40 billion industry, so services that prolong a person’s well-being and their ability to live independently at home are of great economic value, not just to that person but also to his or her family, insurer, and health care provider.

 Of all the service products that the new neighbors will deliver, the one I want to see happen more than any other is the one where no one has to sit alone in an old chair, day after day, and feel herself slide down into despair and helplessness in a way that will despoil the final years of her life.

(see a list of Design and Entertainment services)