Tons of future tech are headed our way like an avalanche, barreling downhill. There’s a lot of change headed our way in technology, society and the economy. The first pebbles are bouncing off our collective roofs right now, and that’s why you and I are talking about it. 

Last week, we talked about conversational interfaces for computing, how things will be different as we increasingly talk to our computers and phones rather than focus our attention on operating them. Your fellow reader Jeane Callahan said she was working with a group of students who are developing a grocery ordering service. They are struggling with how to make it easy for seniors to use. Jeanne passed along the idea of a conversational interface, which they are now considering. Let customers, especially older seniors, have a conversation with an intelligent bot and ask for what they want. Cool. 

Let’s look more closely at older rural seniors trying to live independently as they age in small towns. That’s an important demographic group for most small towns. And a lot of new technology is going to change that, if we’re open to it. 

A conversational interface for ordering groceries is good, but what if grocery basics just order themselves? The sensors in the fridge and cabinet could know when basic items need ordering and just place the order themselves. Any regularly used items can be subscribed to. No one has to remember to place an order or forgetfully double-order.  

Driving is part of the rural reality because we’re all spread out, and it’s a challenge for older seniors. Today’s cars have lane-keeping assistance, can stop themselves and monitor and alert drivers to road hazards. In fact, self-driving cars are on the market today. Fully autonomous cars are coming. These may help older seniors be safer while driving (or riding.)

Or maybe all a senior has to do to get a ride to a doctor’s appointment is to make a phone call (answered by an excellent conversational bot) to ask for a pick up by a completely automated car service, then ride downtown to the doc. There is no human driver to get impatient when they are slow to walk to the car or slow to get in or out, so it’s much less stressful than asking a family member or a stranger for a ride. 

But what about eliminating the need to make a trip? Maybe virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can replace the need for some trips. Shop via VR, just like walking through the store in-person. Visit a doctor via webcam. Chat with friends via AR, like they are in the same room. Perfect for rural people, where we’re spread out. Travel via VR, which is happening now.

Another big issue for older rural seniors is home maintenance, but that might be getting easier with more automation. You’ve gotten used to little vacuum robots, so what’s next? Cleaning robots? Nano-bots that scrub your home clean each day?  

How will this technology interact with people choosing co-housing or shared living arrangements? Will tiny houses clustered around shared living spaces shake up senior housing models?

Will anti-aging technology play into this? What about the initiative to end all disease? Will people be healthier at older ages?

If all that adds up to older seniors who are more able to live independently as they age, how is that going to affect your town? Will you see fewer people move out to be near other family members? Will fewer people be placed in far-away care centers? Will care centers disappear entirely or be completely rethought? Will healthier older seniors add richness to your community? How will you engage them in conversations, events and projects? How will they meaningfully contribute to the future of your place? 

There is no way to predict all the possible outcomes or to prepare for them all. The only way to get ready for the future is to make your town more open to new ideas. That’s where the solutions are going to come from: new ideas.

It’s not that no one should worry about water leaks or preserving your heritage. It is that we’re all headed for the future together, so let’s start talking about it. 

Start having some of these future-oriented conversations in your town. It’s a good distraction from current and past acrimony. And it’s a good way to start making attitudes just a little more Idea Friendly. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 
Becky

PS – Join Deb Brown and me for an informal conversation (sorta like a webinar). We’ll be answering your questions, celebrating small steps and looking forward to 2017. Live Sunday, Nov 27, 6pm CST. Replay through Dec 31.

Get a weekly dose of positivity for small communities from Becky McCray and Deb Brown, co-founders of SaveYour.Town. We share practical steps you can put into action right away.
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