Our Responsibilities to Future Generations

Wollongong is promoting itself as an age-friendly town and is putting together a positive ageing plan for the next few years. Last Sunday, October 1, was the International Day of Older People and the council chose 8 older residents to profile on public panels for the day. They are on display somewhere in the town for the whole month of October. The topic of these was “things I’ve learnt”.  I was one of these, and found I had much in common with the other 7 whom I met at the launch.  I was interviewed by Darinka, who wrote the text on the poster (see below next to my panel)

I was born in 1945 and grew up in Sydney.
I studied physics. I was often the only woman in the department, I remember in a class of 500 I was the only female. My university adviser referred to me as the invisible woman as I was never noticed.  Physics taught me observe the real world, which has helped me with my current work.
I taught myself programming which I eventually taught. Technology has enabled women to do many of the things that only men once did. I’m 71 and have an interest in how older people can be supported through the use of technology to stay engaged. We make too many assumptions about who, how and why people use technology. 
I’m a ‘greenie’; we should look ahead, not just 10 years but 150 years. We have a responsibility to generations that come after us.


The last sentence above, was my answer to the question “how would you describe a successful life”? I often wonder when my grandchildren are my age, how will they  worry about the future of their grandchildren. So I see my life’s influence spanning about 150 years.

I was interviewed at the launch and that story is here.


Bottlingfog in Colour

bottledfog2 Bottlingfog is the ‘handle’ that I chose many years ago for my Twitter and Blog posts. As I often say, it was inspired by the persistent fog along the escarpment near my home-town of Wollongong. I frequently encountered this fog in early-morning and late-night drives to and from Sydney when I was on the committee developing the Australian Knowledge Management Standard from 2001-2005.  The fog became a metaphor for the confusion and diverse perceptions among members of the committee. Trying to come to a consensus for the Standard was likened to attempts to ‘bottle fog’. In 2005, the Australian KM Standard was eventually published. It was quite revolutionary and continues to have an impact in organisations who adopt it.

While the traffic congestion and parking options in Sydney have deteriorated, the train service from Wollongong continues to improve. These days I do most commutes to Sydney by train where I can get some uninterrupted time to catch up on emails and other odd jobs on my laptop. The coastal scenery from the train is wonderful on this trip which takes a little over an hour. However, there is about half an hour during the trip when there is an internet black out. If I have nothing I can work on offline, my mind then wanders into the many topics that interest me and on which I work.

My research colleagues advise me that I spread my attention too widely and that I should focus my energies more narrowly. While this is sound advice for someone wanting to get a head in academia, I am now semi retires and in a position to follow my own passions.


My current short bio refers to two main areas of research: my ‘grey’ and ‘green themes’. However, I do have other topics in which I dabble. So, I am now broadening the spectrum to acknowledge what I really do and identify these by colour :

Grey is my colour for my work on positive ageing and my social enterprise Living Connected which runs programs for digital inclusion of engaged, active and independent elders.

Green is my colour for sustainable development where I work on projects that will save the planet and humanity. I believe that developed nations to do most of the heavy lifting to reduce Green House Gas pollution of the atmosphere, lands and oceans allowing less developed nations to catch up.

Black identifies my endeavours to respect the wisdom of our first peoples, listening to their voices and learning from their centuries of experience of living on the great southern land where we live together. We must empower their communities to maintain culture as we close the gap.

Pink identifies my interest in gender equity, which in my experience is often amplified by other sources of discrimination (race, age, sexual preference). There is a need to balance the needs of individuals versus those of society as a whole.

Blue identifies my concern for, and contribution to, the future beyond my lifetime.  I look into a blue-sky future where my descendants, student and others whose lives I have influences reap the consequences of what my generation has done and accept responsibility for what they do in their lives.

Gold is part of my national identity, the green and gold of Australian. Blue and gold are the colours of Wollongong my home town and also my favourite sports team, the Parramatta Eels.

White light is composed of all colours of the spectrum and represents my interest in complexity.  I am particular fascinated by the ideas of complex adaptive systems and seek to find ways to research and to deal with wicked problems which have competing requirements and too many interacting components to ever be able to predict future states and events.

My Living Connected Venture

Toward the end of an academic career the imperative of getting grants and publishing in A* journals diminishes and the question of leaving a meaningful legacy becomes more important.  All this research that I have published for other academics to read could actually be turned into something practical and useful.  Hence, my last big projected before I retire is to start up a Social Business,  Living Connected, built on the findings of my  research into IT and Seniors.sc-ck

The founders of Living Connected are, like myself,  senior citizens who have embraced IT.  We have followed the digital revolution over many decades and enthusiastically make use of each new generation of personal computing to enrich our lives.  Over the past few years we have been involved in projects helping residents in aged-care facilities to also enrich their lives by learning to use computers.  We have done research and become experts in knowing what works and what doesn’t.  Now we want to put this expertise into a support program for seniors who live at home.

ascca-skypeA review of international research in the fields of gerontology and information systems confirms the importance to continued Social Wellbeing and good Quality of Life of (i) staying connection with family and engaged with community, (ii) spending time on meaningful activity, (iii) being independent and in control of everyday affairs, and  (iv) having a dignified life. Our own research has demonstrated how many seniors who are becoming isolated at home or in care can better achieve these benefits when they learn, with help, to use IT. It is definitely not just a matter using IT for its own sake. The distinctive aspect of the Living Connected program is that top priority is given to enhancing the wellbeing of clients and each program is customised to the needs of individual clients. Our personalised, integrated and continuing service is based on our research which has found that:

  • Engagement, activity, independence and dignity are social determinates of health
  • There is no reason an older motivated person cannot learn to use suitable IT
  • However, it is not just a matter of giving someone an ipad and a couple of lessons
  • Appropriate technology and continuing support is essential
  • You mast start by recognising the diverse needs and situations of each client
  • Meeting those needs requires personalised, patient relevant guidance
  • It is important that seniors learn on their own device
  • The value of easy, reliable and affordable Internet access
  • Ongoing support must be friendly and non-threatening
  • Having fun is critical for success.
  • Social connections via the Internet should not be at the expense of face-to-face, indeed the two modes of interaction can support each other.

You can read about this project online:

An opinion piece in Aged Care Insite Blog:  “Nurture seniors’ tech skills for everyone’s gain”

An article in Educational Gerontology “Enhancing the Wellbeing of the Elderly: Social Use of Digital Technologies in Aged Care” by Helen Hasan and Henry Linger

Publicity on the University of Wollongong News entitled “Growing Old Gracefully”

A tearful border crossing

My oldest daughter, Suzanne, turns forty this year and she has just lived out a dream she has had for most of her life.

SuzieYasmin2When Suzanne was 5, our family lived with my in-laws, her grandparents, in Amman Jordan. My husband, Saleh, worked on a UN project there for a while and it was a rather stable time in the Middle East. Our youngest daughter, Sanna, was born while we were there.

At her grandparents’ house, Suzanne became great mates with one particular cousin, Yasmin, whose mother was also a foreigner. The girls communicated in a strange mixture of Arabic, English and Turkish.

Back to Australia and 20 years went by during which Suzanne vividly remembered her days in Amman and her friendship with Yasmin in particular. Letters between Saleh and his family often exchanged photos of the girls growing up on opposite sides of the world.

When Suzanne married, the couple started to plan a visit to Jordan but hopes were dashed when Saleh told them that his parents were very upset that Suzanne had not married a Muslim. It was OK for their son to marry someone, i.e. me, outside the faith, but not for a girl!

SannaJordan2Over the last 15 years many things changed as both girls were busy having their own families. Although born in Jordan, Sanna was too young to remember it, so Saleh took her with him on a most successful family visit. 9/11 happened while they were there. Not long after that both of Saleh’s parent died. Then more recently, Saleh also passed away after a slow decline with Alzheimer’s.

I work as an academic and last year I had a paper accepted for a prestigious conference in Israel. I told Suzanne that I would take the opportunity to pop across the border and visit the family in Jordan whom I had not seen for years.

Suzanne immediately declared that she wanted to come with me. The younger generation in Jordan are now more open and Suzanne had begun to connect up with some of them on Facebook.

Then she also wanted to bring her oldest boy (8), incidentally named Jordan. Next it was suggested that the second boy, Cooper (7), come as well. So, there we were at Sydney airport, the four of us saying goodbye to the youngest boy, Hunter, who was only 3 and who stayed home with his Dad.

2099Arriving in Tel Aviv early in the morning we dumped our bags at the conference hotel. Our first wish was to catch a train to Haifa where Saleh was born and we had an exciting day walking around the ruins at Acre where we spoke to some friendly Palestinian families who still live there. Then after the conference we caught a taxi to the Jordan River and crossed the border at the Allenby Bridge. The Jordanian immigration officials were greatly amused by my red-headed grandson named Jordan and helped us contact Yasmin who gave us directions to her place.

2621When the girls met it was as though they had never been apart. The boys quickly broke the ice with the rest of the family and, although few speak English, we all got along just fine. Saleh’s youngest brother, Noor, had often walked Suzanne to school when she was 5 and he became our designated driver. We visited the families of all 8 of Saleh’s brothers and sisters. We also had wonderful outings to Petra and the Dead Sea with many of them. Suzanne made a list of all 50 odd of her cousins there and the large hoard of their children.

DSCF2270All too soon, Noor had to drive us back down to the Jordan-Israel border for our return flight back from Tel Aviv. It was an emotional goodbye having had only 10 days to catch up for 35 years. However plans are now being made to return once Hunter is old enough and we can save up enough for the flights. Meanwhile, we all keep in touch on Facebook.

All too soon, Noor had to drive us back down to the Jordan-Israel border for our return flight back from Tel Aviv. It was an emotional goodbye having had only 10 days to catch up for 35 years. However plans are now being made to return once Hunter is old enough and we can save up enough for the flights. Meanwhile, we all keep in touch on Facebook.

The Next Decade of Digital Technology

This Friday I am running a workshop entitled “Looking Ahead to the next Decade: Responding to a Range of Future Scenarios in Digital Communication and Coordination”. In preparation I have been trying to do some looking ahead myself, seeking inspiration for some meaningful insights into what I can contribute. In desperation I have turn to my recollection of the past to see if there are any lessons there.
My first encounter with digital technology was a brief mention of transistors at the end of an electronics course in my physics undergraduate program in the early 1960s. In contrast to the analogue valve technologies that could moderate and amplify electrical signals, transistor-based logical circuits were just switches that were either on or off (o or 1). I was not very impressed!
Since that time solid state devices have revolutionised our lives with spectacular breakthroughs each decade. In the 1960s financial institutions began to process customer accounts faster and more reliably on computers. By the 1970’s most large organisations had mainframes that could be programmed in 3rd generation languages through dumb but human-readable terminals. In the 1980s we had the first local networks of computers and other devices supporting corporate emails, printers and client server systems. More significantly, this was the decade of personal computers with end-user applications such as word processors and spreadsheets. The 90s heralded the birth of the Internet, a network of networks that hosted the pervasive but static World-Wide Web. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee the basic components of the Internet were not patented or copyrighted but a free gift to all. In the 2000’s the web became dynamic with direct access by end users to everyone else on the planet: micro businesses had access to global markets; social media emerged; Internet devices went mobile; functionality expanded and converged.
Looking back there were many past predictions that were way off the mark. At a conference in the 1980s IBM confidently predicted that voice and language recognition software was sufficiently developed that it was ready to support audio as the dominant way people would interact with computers. Nokia was so sure that text would not be used on its mobile phones in favour of the richer media of audio and video that they made SMS a very cheap option that was rapidly taken up.
What has been obvious with respect to the technology have been ongoing trends to greater processing power on smaller, lower cost, more reliable devices with greater capability. I do notice however that screens on mobile phones are now increasing in size with the convergence of more functionality onto these devices. I suspect that these trends will continue but are not the most exciting ones to predict with more of the same.
One of the challenges of mobile devices are their need for energy and reliance batteries that must be charged regularly. So one of my bolder future prediction concern innovations in energy sources for mobile devices. I remember in the days before digital watches we used to have to wind them up. Then we had ones where our arm movement would provide the energy for winderless watches. Maybe some form of biological energy source such as body heat or movement could power small mobile devices.
Another challenge for digital devices that also requires innovative solutions are their need for traces of rare metals that are difficult to recycle and becoming scarce. This may require their radical redesign. There are also conflicting requirements for access and openness balanced against protection of identity and security that require socio-technical innovation.
Moving further into the social sphere I suspect that the greatest changes over the next decade will come in the social end of the social-technical spectrum as societies and nations grapple with the dialectic contrasts of openness and freedom against security and control; work against play; wealth versus wellbeing; corporate versus community. The Web has become a global platform for mobilising change, resistance to traditional authority in the hands of the few, democratisation of knowledge and action; and advocacy for great equality through sustainably development. I imagine a future where these issues are contested through debate on the Web and promoted through collective activity of global movements organised via social media.

Activities in the Age of Social Media

My mother lived from 1912 to 1990 and one of the things we had in common was our wonder at the changes that technology brought over each of our lifetimes. She remembers a time when the lamplighter would go around Sydney at dust lighting the gas street lamps. I must bore my students with stories of what we did before we had television: racing home from school or a weekend outing to sit around a crackling radio and listen to the latest episode of our favourite serials. Our imagination would provide the video.

Now my children are grown up I have time to develop my own career as a researcher and am fascinated by the rapidly changing landscape of how we live and work with digital tools via the Web. As a social scientist I rely on the lens of Activity Theory to provide rich insights on how the tools we have available to us mediate what we do.

Next week we are having a day workshop on the topic of “Activities in the Age of Social Media”. Over the past few month a good deal of my time and effort has gone into organising not just the workshop but some also some online activities with participants leading up to it. While there has not been as much activity as I had hoped, the experience has made me reflect on how and why I use various social media and other online applications.

The tool I enjoy most is Twitter (handle @bottlingfog) Whenever I am online it provides me with a stream of interesting, often witty, snippets from people I choose to follow with links to more detail if available. It is low maintenance and optional.

Email is the opposite; high maintenance and compulsory. Some group activities generate so many emails that I often miss the ones that I need to act on. I suspect that email is the source of much of the chaos of contemporary life and much more of a problem than social media.

I greatly appreciate wikis and blogs as ways to dynamically co-create and co-evolve content with anyone anywhere. The dialogues that sometimes flow spontaneously as comments on a blog post, often between strangers, can sometimes be quite intriguing.

Although I have had accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn for many years, I rarely logged until recently when I thought I should get involved with the groups set up for this workshop. Contrary to my expectations I have found that keeping up with “friends” on Facebook was more interesting and useful than knowing what was happening to my “connections” on LinkedIn. Through Facebook I keep up with my daughters and their families; see what has become of the 20 or so international PhD students I have supervised; and keep in contact with the large families of my husband’s brothers and sisters in Jordan.

Overall these tools enable us to communicate and collaborate with anyone anywhere more easily, quickly and cheaply. The opportunity this provides to get involved in more and more interesting activities can be quite seductive so that we are, or at least I am, drawn into engaging in a many more projects than we would otherwise have done. I’m not sure this is all going to lead in the next 5 or 10 years but will almost certainly be something that few have predicted.