Friday, June 27, 2008

Social networking across generations

To further expand on my last blog about the potential of social networking applications involving the elderly, consider one of the the biggest problems confronting most healthcare systems: the problem of medication compliance, which is particularly acute among elderly patients. Basically, many patients fail to take their medications as prescribed, either out of forgetfulness/laziness, or false sense of recovery (leading to premature termination of medicine taking). Because of non-compliance, many medication prescriptions fail to have their intended effects on the patients. In addition, the efficacy of many drugs cannot be scientifically verified because of the compounding effect of non-compliance.

There are no easy solution to this huge problem, although I have come across a number of interesting innovations trying to deal with it, including one by a Singapore-based start-up called RemindCap. As the name suggests, the company makes a medicine bottle that has a special cap fitted with electronics that can be programmed to beep when it is not opened at the prescribed time interval. While I like this innovation, it is not as creative as another one that came out of Japan: they also put a special cap on the medicine bottle meant for the elderly patients, but instead of just beeping, they add a network connection that links the cap opening to a digital pet belonging to the grandchildren of the patients (many Japanese children play such digital pet rearing games). If the cap is not opened at the prescribed times, the digital pet grows weaker and eventually die. So out of love for their grandchildren, the elderly patients become more diligent in adhering to the medicine taking schedule. I find this example fascinating, because it not only utilize digital technology (as does RemindCap), but also incorporates deep insights of the social bond between the patients and their grandchildren, and taps the power of grandparental love to overcome their own human weakness.

Of course we can see various limitaitons to this particular innovation as a business (e.g. not all elderly patients have grand children who play digital pets, so the addressable market is reduced...), but my basic point is that the internet and digital media have the power to leverage and enrich social relationships, even among people who are not IT-savvy in the literal sense. The issue is not technology; what we need is imagination, empathy for and understanding of human weaknesses, emotions and desires.

The example above pertains to social networking across generations, but one can easily think of many other forms of scoial links (e.g. imagine teenagers playing in a virtual world game, in which their avatars can only gain strength if their team-mates exercise on a treadmill machine...who knows what this may do to kids' obesity...). I do believe that the potential for using digital technology to connect the elderly and young children is particularly vast and untapped...if you think about it, which demographic groups have got the most amount of leisure time for play and social interaction? The elderly and their grandchildren! Indeed, they have more in common than they have with the middle generation (who are busy working). Sadly, these two generations are increasingly physically separated in most urbanized societies, as nuclear family becomes the norm. I hope a new generation of entrepreneurs will create the imaginative digital tools to help them re-connect with one another...


BjornLee said...

check out the Wii Fit and its potential for making exercise cool for all ages again..

Zack Yap said...

Hi Prof Wong,

I am wondering if you think that a lack of innovative solutions for the age groups that you have mentioned is due to the difficulty to connect to the problems faced by them.

Especially when the physical distance between the aging population and the rest of the family is continually being stretched. Even parents are having less time to spend with their young children.

Also, those that are being all excited about entrepreneurship and innovation happens to be at an age where they have no children and such problems are handled by "adults" aka parents.

JP said...

I agree with Prof Wong's comments on the silver hair sector.


zwee said...

I totally agree. Social networking should cut across all generations.

Wii is a great example. My bro and I just bought another Wii for the family just for my parents use.

My parents are constantly on to check on what i'm doing. The next step is to engage them by getting them to sign up.

I have difficulties trying to engage the older demographics. They keep telling me they don't think they are in our target market.

Dian said...

This innovation is amazing! The Japanese never stop impressing us with their ability to capture emotions and bring humanity into their design.

This is a very interesting observation. What are social networks competing for? People's time. It's very true that the elderly and the kids have the most amount of spare time. However, we rarely see any online social networks consider them as their target demographics. It seems that both groups are automatically excluded from the internet and high-tech market.

We are facing exactly the same problem at We all agree that the older generation are the ones with a lot of stories to share, life lessons to tell...but unfortunately, they are not internet savvy...Sadly, those internet savvy people are too busy to write.

I think the situation will change dramatically in the next 20 years when the internet savvy group turn into their retirement age.

As for now, we really need to think creatively to earn the participation of the 2 groups mentioned.

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In my opinion, the great thing about these social networks is that anyone can join. Small businesses can now take advantage of social media to market their products as well as to promote their websites.

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