Friday, 6 April 2018

Making our own music again

I really enjoyed @SamSly 's blogpost for #socialcare future, "Simple Humanity". One of many things that jumped out at me was this, early on in the post: 

"I realised that the first point I would want to make about the future of social care would be that we really don't need to re-invent what citizens need to look out for and look after each other - it's probably already out there. We shouldn't be wasting time and money on the next big transformation or reform, but instead should focus on all the things we already have as a society and build on those."

This is such an important point, that has echoes in a number of the other blogposts in #socialcarefuture, and I just wanted to make a couple of short reactions to it here.

First, it's vital that we remember Sam's point and not get overly fixated on 'innovation' as a thing. I've probably gone on about this before, but there's a great book by historian David Edgerton about the history of technology, called "The Shock Of The Old". This book looks at what he calls "technology in use" - what technologies are actually used by most people over time, in what ways, often by stitching together what comes to hand and using what works best for people on a daily basis. The technologies used by most people are quite often "old" technologies (the bicycle?), rather than the onward march of innovative technologies trumpeted in most histories of "technology by invention" even if they have little impact on most people's lives and don't survive for that long (Concorde?). 

Do we need a similar perspective on "technology in use" for people using/brushing up against/trapped in social care, rather than always looking to innovations and great leaps forward in social care "technology"? How do people want to live their lives, and what's already to hand (or can be helped into being) in what combinations for people to take and use? Some funky newness might be helpful, but it's also OK if it turns out not to be useable. As David Edgerton says in his book: 

"The twentieth century was awash with inventions and innovations, so that most had to fail. Recognising this will have a liberating effect. We need no longer worry about being resistant to innovation, or being behind the times, when we choose not to take up an innovation. Living in an inventive age requires us to reject the majority that are on offer."

A quick and fairly random analogy to finish on. Over 100 years ago, when technologies for recording and transmitting music were not widespread, most people experienced music by making it themselves and listening directly to other people making it. Technologies for recording and transmitting music have now become so ubiquitous that making music rather than consuming it seems to have become a smaller part of the lives of fewer and fewer people. 

Is this what our current technology of social care services (including all the violent bureaucracy of eligibility and assessment) have done, turning people into consumers of 'care' provided in standardised formats? A choice agenda here might mean going from one radio station everyone is forced to listen to, to the fractal byways of music streaming services, but it's still at bottom listening to someone else's music coming out of a speaker.

In social care, are we too quick to strain for new technologies of 'consumption' and getting in the way of people making their own music? A multitude of things can count as music - alone, together, involving a musical instrument, getting a sound out of a milk bottle, karaoke, involving just a voice or a body, silence. Music needs - what? Confidence (maybe?), skills (not necessarily, whatever they are?), other people to make music with? (for some kinds of music?), an audience (sometimes?), equipment (for some people?), a place of safety and love (ideally?). How does social care, with due humility, take its place, so that we can all make our own music again?