I Is The AGNES
About ten years ago, I went to some tech entrepreneurship something-or-other - don’t remember quite what, but I believe it was held in the MIT Faculty or Alumni something-or-other over on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Perhaps if I were a bit younger, or perhaps if the intervening decade had not been quite so jammed packed with multiple sources of overloading information, I might remember the details more clearly. But I don’t, other than to say that I was working at NaviSite at the time; the company was a member of NEBATA, the New England Business and Technology Council; and among the technologies that were showcased at the something-or-other I went to over in Cambridge were an RFID tagging system, nanotechnology, and something related to IM. NaviSite also had a table at the NEBATA awards dinner – held at either the Copley Plaza or the Park Plaza Hotel. (Whew! I do like to give the old memory an occasional workout, since it’s one of my strong points – ask me what I wore for the first day or kindergarten – and I’m a believer in use it or lose it. And I just checked. The dinner was at the Copley.)
What I remember most about the something-or-other I went to in Cambridge, however, was a presentation by Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s AgeLab, which develops technology that will help keep elders independent. Even at the tender age of fifty-something, I remember thinking (and I do remember): this is good, interesting, and useful stuff.
I made a mental note about the Age Lab, and filed it away in a folder in the virtual file cabinet of my mind. The mental note said this is good, interesting, and useful stuff.
And there the mental note stayed, the paper yellowing a bit, until I saw an article in yesterday’s NY Times on the Lab.
The article’s writer had recently spent a bit of time trying to maneuver around wearing the Lab’s Age Gain Now Empathy System, orAGNES, a “souped up jumpsuit” with helmet that mimics the effects of aging – stiffer gait, dimming vision, less mobility and agility in general.
When I read through the catalog of difficulties that wearing, or being, AGNES resulted in, I figured that AGNES must replicate being in your eighties or nineties.
But, no, Aggie is designed “to simulate the dexterity, mobility, strength and balance of a 74-year-old.”
Jeez, Louise. That’s just 13 years around the corner. (Note to self: admit that you’ve been slacking a bit on some parts of the thrice-weekly exercise regime. Let’s face it, those parts are boring. Plus my knee hurts from chopping all that ice in the clogged up storm drain on the corner. But stop with the excuses already and start revving up the routine a bit. Plus start taking the stairs at The Writers’ Room. I was going to write ‘it won’t kill you’, but in fact it probably could. Those suckers are steep and narrow, and there are some linoleum tiles missing on the landings. Talk about tripping hazard. Plus I’m always wearing a heavy back pack. Plus The Room is on the 5th floor. So climbing those stairs probably could kill me. Probably not a heart attack on the way up. I may need to take a breather at the fourth floor, but climbing those 71 stairs – not that I’m counting – is something my ticker can withstand. I’m more likely to stumble on the way down and tumble arse over tea-kettle into a broken neck. Further note to self: update will before starting to take the stairs down.)
Anyway, AGNES helps with the work that the Age Lab does coming up with products that make life easier for the aging – bonus points if these products have appeal to the younger set, as well.
Researchers at AgeLab are studying the stress levels of older adults who operate a hands-free parallel-parking system developed by Ford Motor. Although this ultrasonic-assisted system may make backing up easier for older adults who can’t turn their necks to the same degree they once did, the car’s features — like blind-spot detection and a voice-activated audio system — are intended to appeal to all drivers who enjoy smart technology.
“With any luck, if I am successful,” Professor Coughlin says, “retailers won’t know they are putting things on the shelves for older adults.”
As it happens, one of my earliest posts on Pink Slip was devoted to sneering at cars with automated parallel parking. (Look Ma, No Hands.) I sneered, of course, because parallel parking is one of the few mechanical anythings that I’m actually really, really good at. Now that I’m living the car free life, those skills may have atrophied a tad, but anyone who’s owned a car and no parking space in a city had better get good at parallel parking. I no doubt burned out a clutch or two doggedly getting into or out of a parking space that was only four inches longer than my car, but, damn it, I got into it. (Forget the clutch cost. What about the opportunity cost of spending 45 minutes getting into a space when I could just go and pay to park somewhere…)
Anyway, I now see the selfish error my sneering ways, and recognize that automated parallel parking is not for wusses. It’s for older folks who really can’t turn their necks like they used to.
Not that I ever intend to own a car again, but I would definitely consider this feature next time around, if there were to be another next time around. Which there probably won’t be.
Meanwhile, there was other interesting information in The Times article on aids for independent living. Which I am so all for.
I’ve got a few ideas of my own for things that would help.
I’d like to see someone come up with a little device for figuring out what’s navy and what’s black. Something other than floor gouging crampons to keep you upright when walking on ice-slicked brick sidewalks. (You have to be outside your house, sitting on the freezing cold steps, to put them on and/or take them off.) And something to permanently remove that one weird lip hair that keeps popping out. (Okay, you can still live independently with a rogue lip hair, but you might poke your eye out with a tweezer trying to remove it.)
It’s still a few years before I’m completely AGNES-like in my ability to get around, but I must say I love that old-fashioned name. Half of the nuns I had in school seemed to be Sister Agnes Something (as in Sister Agnes Miriam), or Sister Something Agnes(as in Sister James Agnes). But I had very few contemporaries with this moniker. I did go to grammar school with a Mary Agnes, but she was called Mary A.
I do have an Agnes story, however, and it is this:
When I was in college, I was walking on Brookline Avenue in Boston when I passed a harried mother trying to pack her kids into a cab. One of the children, a girl who appeared to be about eight or nine, was balking for some reason, and the mother was getting increasingly agitated.
After a few back-and-forths with the amazingly stubborn child, the mother got, as we wouldn’t have said then, into the kid’s grill.
“I is the mother,” she shouted at her daughter. “You is the Agnes. Now get in the cab.”
Agnes obeyed. How could she not in the face of her mother’s supreme grasp of power dynamics?
For all of us, there are times when we get to play The Mother, and other times when we get to be The Agnes.
But, if we live long enough, we all age into some sort of AGNES or another.
If we’re lucky enough, prepared enough, and attentive enough it may not be all that bad.
A shout out to the MIT Age Lab for all they do to help make life better for tomorrow’s geezers.