Beyond Living Histories

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 85 (July/August 2005)

First of all, my heartfelt thanks to the participants at the May 20-22, 2005, Beyond-Einstein/Socratic Training workshop for the totally unexpected, very thoughtful and most welcome gift of an IPOD device. That fits absolutely perfectly with my music improvitaping and related involvement. The way I’ve had to be hurtling through my affairs, it would have been years before I would have gotten one for myself. That was a most welcome and gracious surprise gift.

Second, thinking about that gift gave me a quite remarkable idea involving IPODs and Alzheimer’s victims — an idea which, if implemented, could make a staggeringly huge positive difference in human terms…

  1. There is a movement in some quarters where sociology students at some universities go out to elderly persons and collect their memoirs on audio recordings, part of a sociological effort to develop local and regional histories (and generate material for TV documentaries).
  2. We have proposed, from time to time, “Operation Wings of Humanity,” the wings referring to the young and the old among us. In great awareness of the fact that the vast majority of human beings spend their entire lives without ever really having been heard (and all the incredible ramifications of that issue!!!), and of the benefits to both parties in a Socratic exchange, and of the need to improve language skills in at least our young, I believe it would be most extraordinarily beneficial to all concerned to organize young volunteers to record and transcribe the day-to-day collected memoirs of as many very elderly persons as possible, especially those sequestered semi-forgotten in nursing homes.
  3. What if that were done and one organized IPODs for Alzheimer’s patients from their own memoirs as follows —
    • Simplest operation possible, one button to push for play, slide left for “rewind” (return electronically to an earlier part of the track) and slide right for forward. Button clearly labeled “push first”; IPOD visibly bearing the name, address and phone number of the person; almost as simple for recording—a second, slightly less prominent button; erasure possible only by a much more elaborate code. Downloading and uploading would be kept simple, mainly done by volunteers assisting.
    • Name, address and phone number first on the track; special message by the Alzheimer’s patient to himself next; recent and current events and entries next; then the accumulated memoirs of that patient.

Everything concerning that patient’s identity, what he is currently doing and currently about, his current situation, the most important-to-him things he wants to remain aware of or be reminded of, and all of the rich tapestry of memories which helped to define him as a unique and meaningful human being, would be right there for him at the push of a button.

Material benefits and cost-savings: for some, this should enable another year or so of independent living. Human benefits for all would be the assured retaining of most of what one deemed it meant to be that particular special human being. The preservation after death of that IPOD would also be a form of immortality just as surely as one’s accumulated diary or journal or a written book.

This seems to me meaningful and desirable.

Once the necessary general programming and/or engineering were done, young people all over the world could assist in collecting the living histories of elderly people in their respective areas. For such of the elderly as either suffer Alzheimer’s or were showing beginning signs of that disease, the further version of the program could, with young volunteers’ help, be made to provide that Alzheimer’s patient conveniently the secure external referents as can literally extend and continue that person’s existence in the world as a meaningful human being.

The necessary Socratic skills are simple and very easily and quickly learned. Not only the one being interviewed or “drawn out” but also the “Socrateur” doing the drawing out, both ends of the Socratic exchange, harvest huge personal and intellectual and perceptual benefits. Volunteers of all ages, not only the young, might usefully be drawn into this role. This includes younger or more competent elderly just getting into making up their own memoirs, helping their colleagues as part of that process. This project could make certain aspects of our current way of life considerably more humane and richly human.

I am writing here for this reason:  I do not think our Project Renaissance is positioned to carry out such a proposal, but I think the proposal has potential for stunning human benefits. (Yes, I think the manufacturers of IPOD-like devices should have a very strong interest in advancing such a project, but it will fare much better if we have individuals referred by you with whom to communicate.) — So, does anyone reading this know anyone who is in position to take up such a project and might be gotten interested in doing so? Can you refer them to us and vice-versa?