This doctoral research has created and explored e-textiles as catalysts for social connectedness. The Dundee Conversation Quilt and Soft Sound Spheres have been designed with older adults with experience of loneliness to encourage sensory and interactive experiences that support essential interpersonal exchanges and encounters, contributing to feelings of belonging and social connectedness.
Thanks to societal, medical and technological developments we, as a population, are living longer: 1 in 12 people in the UK are aged 75 and older and by 2040, this is projected to increase to 1 in 7 people (UKRI.org, 2020). Whilst longer lives can provide us with greater opportunities for sharing our life experiences with others, we are also facing greater health and wellbeing challenges, including loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness and isolation can be extremely harmful to health, with loneliness and poor social connections being equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010), and associated with an increased likelihood of dementia, heart disease and depression (Valorta et. al., 2016; James et. al, 2011; Cacioppo et al., 2006). Whilst it is true that people of any age can experience loneliness or isolation, older adults may be particularly vulnerable due to age-related changes and life transitions. Indeed, it is estimated that upwards of 1.2 million older adults in the UK are chronically lonely (Age UK, 2016). With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, older adults may find it even more challenging to maintain their social connections. In fact, the Campaign to End Loneliness (2020) suggests that half a million people aged 70 and over in the UK are currently experiencing protracted periods of isolation as a means to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. Many individuals are going five or six days without seeing or speaking to another person and this can be damaging to physical, mental and social wellbeing as older adults may be without additional support and feel low or disconnected. It is increasingly vital to support people as they age: allowing older adults to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected for as long as possible.
Textile Connections has created a series of e- or electronic - textiles with older adults who have experience of loneliness as catalysts for social connectedness. By combining tactile and familiar materials such as fabric with sound, The Dundee Conversation Quilt and Soft Sound Spheres can engage older users in physical-digital experiences to support social interaction and activity.
Combining textures, sights, sounds and songs from the city of Dundee, the Dundee Conversation Quilt supports storytelling and sense of identity and place. Used within a group context, the quilt encourages conversation around shared experiences, heritage and knowledge. The quilt has been on tour around different community and care home groups, and shown at EVA London Digital Futures and V&A Dundee, and has successfully supported social interaction and relationship building which are essential to social connectedness.
Dundee Conversation Quilt
Soft Sound Spheres
Four sensory spheres have been constructed from textiles of differing tactile and aesthetic qualities to encourage social interaction. Users actuate the sounds within each sphere through specific interactions related to the individual characteristics of the sphere and materiality. For example, the fluffy 'Stroke' Sphere (Image 4, below) is actuated with a stroking motion and produces soothing sounds to emulate a sense of companionship with a loved pet.