Valerie Jones, Seaton Distinguished Professor of advertising and public relations, was voted the winner by attendees, earning a $1,000 prize to go toward her research at the fifth annual Faculty Research and Creative Activity Slam.
In her talk, “The Loneliness Epidemic and the Value of Voice,” Jones discussed her research into how voice can alleviate loneliness. She gave Amazon Echo devices — voice-activated virtual assistants — to people ages 72-92, and trained them to use them.
“Setting timers for cooking, or reminders for medication. Asking for the weather, or for the Husker game time. Playing music from their past that they used to dance to with their late spouse,” Jones said.
She found people were able and eager to engage with Alexa and even to use the technology to deepen existing relationships, including Walter, an unmarried, childless elderly man who called his niece with the assistant.
“She picked up through the app on her phone, and Walter was amazed — he saw blue skies, golden fields and his niece in her combine, right in the middle of harvest. I’ll never forget the look on Walter’s face as he took it all in, or the smile on hers as she showed him around the cab,” Jones said.
“What if … we prescribe interaction, social connection, and not just medication? If we create programs tailored to the individual, and proactively engage older adults when they need a companion most?”
The Slam is part of UNL’s Research Days week-long celebration. Each of the competitors had to answer the question “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in sharing your research or creative activity with others?” in five minutes or less, without PowerPoint.
Other participants were Shireen Adenwalla, professor of physics and Xiaoshan Xu, associate professor of physics; Stuart Bernstein, associate professor of engineering; Amy Desaulniers, assistant professor of veterinary medicine and Stephen Lahey, professor of classics and religious studies.