Messy Realities: The Secret Life of Technology is a Public Engagement with Research project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Led by project researcher, Gemma Hughes, from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, the project was delivered in collaboration with me and Jozie Kettle, the Pitt Rivers Museum Public Engagement with Research Officer.
The team includes researchers, Museum staff, designers from Rycotewood, people living with long-term health needs, their family and friends. As a group we shared stories about the role technology has in our everyday lives. These conversations were stimulated by handling UK medical technologies and worldwide objects from the Museum collections that show how cultures from across the world have developed objects to support their health needs. By placing diverse types of objects together we were able to see how museum objects could be reinterpreted as assisted living technologies.
|Medicine Box made from a Nut, India, [1893.5.5] Inro for Medicine, Japan [19188.8.131.52], Sistema Tupperware, UK,|
Suzy Pryor ©
We started by talking about the central role Tupperware has in many of our lives, from keeping left over food edible and safe from bacteria, to making taking our pills a simpler task. We looked at how wearable technologies such as a leopard claw amulet from
Ghana protects against drowning, in the same way a pendant alarm from the UK protects against falls, and the crucial role human belief and interaction has in these technologies working.
|Walking frames and sticks, UK, with carved Knobkerries [2002.115.edu & 2016.436.edu], South Africa|
Suzy Pryor ©
We thought about how technologies from across the world hold meaning, are personalised and adapted, and how technology can support individuals as their long-term health needs progress. This can be exemplified by the metal walking frames, traditionally given out in the UK, which are generic and can be seen as lowering the status of their user, next to Knobkerries from South Africa which are crafted as hunting weapons and transformed in later life in to walking sticks that demonstrate the users community status as an elder.
|Nico shows the group an Inro from Japan, used as a medicine box [19184.108.40.206]|
|Jean and Paro, the Robotic Seal, meet each other|
We also had a visit from Paro, a robotic seal, and handler, Professor George Leeson, Director of the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing, who talked about how Paro, which can respond to human interactions has supported people living with Dementia.
Our four weeks of conversations led us to believe that technologies can exist in isolation of people but work better when they are person-centred and their use is supported by community and human interaction. This led designers, Michael and Phil to work on person-centred design with Sheila, Phil and Isla to imagine new technologies that would better support their lives.
|Messy Realities Exhibition with Visitor Comments|
On 23rd July 2018, we launched our co-produced display, Messy Realities: The Secret Life of Technology which brings together our four weeks of conversations and comments. We are hoping to collect visitor ideas of what Technology means to them to continue the conversation with Museum visitors. The display is up from now until the 28th September, so please come and add your comments.
Messy Realities has transformed my practice and has made me rethink the way I engage with communities across the programmes I support. By bringing together people from a range of backgrounds and experiences we were able to have new conversations, outside of our bubbles of influence which have contributed to new ideas for research, to everyone’s confidence in the importance of our opinions, and to developing new ways of working in the Museum.
|Messy Realities Launch Event, July 2018|
If anything reminds me to continue this new model of practice, this email from Jean, one of our group members, will be it:
‘I asked Sheila for your email address so that l could say a really big THANKYOU for the Pitt Rivers sessions.
As you can see l am taking advantage of the little bit of IT technology l have managed to acquire.
I have enjoyed them very much indeed. It felt like being a student again. I wasn’t a teacher, wife, mother, helper, carer etc, responsible for others, but just ME.
I don’t know what came over me on Monday. I have never spoken out like that in my life. I was the one who sat at the back and let others hold forth. I hope l was not too inarticulate.
I have never taken recreational drugs but l was on such a ‘high’ after Monday’s session l imagine that’s what it is like.’
Families and Communities Officer