Deliverable D3.5: “Human issues related to housing design for elderly and smart homes”


Interview with Rafael Capurro by Barry  Guihen

March 2013

  • What would you suggest is a reliable measure of “successful” ageing in place?

A reliable measure of “successful” ageing in place is the appropriate balance between the degree of dependency on others as well as on technology, in the broad sense of the word, on the one hand, and the degree of freedom in taking care of myself, on the other. This measure depends on a person’s character, relationships, way of life, history, health, etc. as well as on historical and cultural dimensions. In other words, the “success” or, better, the ethical measure for good life with regard to ageing in place comes from our ‘whoness’ or personal identity which arises in the interplay with other human beings in physical and digital places within a shared world. The question about “success” is addressed to a personal ‘who’ and not to a neutral ‘what’.

  • Smart homes have a role to play in remote care for elderly people. However, what are the social and psychological implications of the increased role of technology in caring for older people?

Taking care of others takes place in between the poles of taking the place of the other and opening a path for the other to take care of herself. Smart homes and remote care might be at one pole or the other, or at some place in between depending on the situation and the degree of personal and social freedom.

  • How do we balance the issue of autonomy in the context of smart homes for elderly people? How is this balance affected when the user experiences cognitive difficulties due to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s?

Freedom is not a fixed parameter but depends on the personal degree of openness to others and the shared world. This balance, particularly in the context of smart homes, should be thoroughly reflected, evaluated and dynamically adapted to persons and their respective worlds, including physical and digital places, within a relation of mutual care and respect. In case of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s the balance goes towards taking the place of the other by others and/or by technology. But there might remain also some kind of personal freedom to be respected and acknowledged.

  • What is the ideal future for ageing in place? Is the increased adoption of ICT solutions and “smart homes” a necessary part of this future?
Ageing in place in smart homes should not be seen as a kind of Utopia – it can easily turn into a Dystopia of digital control and surveillance in a negative sense – but as an option (with different forms and degrees) for good living in physical and digital places. It might allow elderly people to retain or even enhance their freedom while at the same time relying on a familiar physical and digital context where human relationships might assure them that they are respected and hopefully also loved.


  • Given that "successful" ageing is something to be measured or evaluated on an individual basis, based on, as you say "person’s character, relationships, way of life, history, health, etc. as well as on historical and cultural dimensions", the "who" rather than the "what", alongside the fact that smart home technology represents a vast umbrella of devices and services, what recommendations would you give for those attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of the smart home concept for older people and embed the technology with fundamental values, such as respect for privacy and dignity of older users?

Those attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of the smart home concept for older people are already embedded in housing traditions with roots in various forms of being-in-the-world that might differ from the values and ways of life of the persons for whom the devices are supposed to be useful or even “successful”. Such differences should be made explicit in order to avoid cultural bias and technological colonialism. Feeling at home is a key ethical issue with regard to smart homes.

The evaluation of the smartness of a smart home does not depend originally on new technological devices and services but the other way around: devices and services should be conceived and adapted to the specific forms in which a person, a family or a whole society conceives the freedom to reveal and conceal themselves so that they can decide who they are or want to be.  The vast umbrella of devices and services should be matched with the vast umbrella of ways of life, giving the opportunity for people to make their own choices.

Such choices should be monitored. People might be able to make new, informed choices in view of experiences in other places and cultures. Knowledge of such experiences might come about using old and new media as well as on the basis of face-to-face meetings, entering into conversations, exchanging ‘good’ and ‘bad’ experiences and bringing their needs and expectations into the process of creating new devices and services. Both the designers of devices and services for smart homes and the evaluators should take an active part in such conversations.


Thanks to Barry Guihen for the questions and to Michael Eldred (Cologne) for critical remarks as well as for polishing my English.

Last update: March  22, 2017


Copyright © 2013 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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