Skeuomorphic Reassurance: Personhood, Dementia, and Gerontechnology

In David Kreps, Gordon Fletcher & Marie Griffiths (eds.), Technology and Intimacy: Choice or Coercion. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International. pp. 61-71 (2016)
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This paper introduces the concept of ‘skeuomorphic reassurance’ as a guiding principle for human interfaces in technological development and design, particularly for older people and people with dementia (PwD). Skeuomorphs exhibit decorative design elements reminiscent of ‘parent’ objects that incorporated such design elements because they were structurally integral. Human interfaces adopted by new technologies need to be carefully balanced between novelty and recognisability. The philosophy of personhood is discussed in the context of dementia, concluding that the subjective character of conscious mental processes is an irreducible feature of reality, and that the persistence of personhood in PwD constitutes a further argument in support of this assertion. Assistive technologies that aid family and carers, as well as PwD, and their relationships, need to ensure that skeuomorphic reassurance is incorporated in their design, not least because older people and PwD need recognisable interfaces today, but, as this paper argues, because the problems today’s over-65s have with digital technologies may quite likely not go away, but re-present themselves generation after generation, unless skeuomorphic reassurance is built into their design.

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David Kreps
National University of Ireland, Galway


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