Did C-3PO really understand all the whirrs and whistles that emanated from R2-D2? Did Data really have the ability to feel emotions when he finally had the appropriate chip installed? Did Hal 9000 (or “CARL” in the French version) feel any psychic pain while singing “Daisy Bell” during his death throes as Dave removed his service modules? Questions without answers these are, I suppose, until we more closely assimilate with our computer brethren in our impending Borgian future.
One question that can be addressed now while still in our mere mortal form is: How do we, as mere Homo sapiens, choose to allow digital communications to affect our relationships and interactions?
Much has been written about, and academicians have debated over, the impact of cell phones and emails, IMing and Facebooking, texting and tweets. One element that I think we in medicine must address is the etiquette and ethos we will choose to maintain as we cope with the tremendous impact such an expansion of communication choices brings to the delivery of healthcare services.
When I see ivory tower discussions about the impact of social networking and all tools digital, I am sometimes alarmed at the seeming passivity of the observations and conclusions. Perhaps I am being too harsh; I know social science is one of observation and discussion of the observed behaviors. But, as a clinician of kids, I know that merely plotting their growth, detailing their development, and recording their progress to full assimilation into the world of “adultitude” is not enough. Guidance and modeling of appropriate behaviors is essential to their mental, emotional, social, and moral success.
We are, in essence, in the infancy of our digital development. As a communal infant, we need to consider the future to which we aspire. Just as we attempt to provide guidance to our biological offspring, we, too, need an inspirational archetype. However, there are no roadmaps, no role models with whom to associate and after whom to pattern our behaviors. Thus, it seems imperative that we seek a “best practices” for our digital interactions growth, knowing that it can only be extrapolated and estimated from a non-digital past.
I offer here a completely Ludditian example of a Best Practices (caps intended) communication technique as prima facie example number one:
I have a relatively new friend who, interestingly enough, I met through these pages here on HIStalk Practice. He is a corporate COO who travels to many exotic ports of call as he helps to expand the digitization of healthcare communications globally. One of the most engaging and enjoyable people I know, he has the ability to speak corporate-ese with ease and yet seamlessly transition to “Regular Guy” mode with more wit, humor, and just plain good-to-talk-to-ness than most anyone I’ve ever known. Perhaps it is his ability to shift between these mindset forms that allows him to understand of the value of the old good graces of social intercourse as he pursues advances for its more modern expression. To wit: He is the only person I know who still sends real, honest to goodness POST CARDS! I cannot begin to tell you how it brightens even the dreariest of days to receive a little handwritten message on the back of a beautiful photo from Nourilang Falls in the Jiuzhaigou Valley of China. Even one from someplace more mundane such as Seattle or Denver (no slight intended to those good cities) has a special power and touch few emails or tweets will ever match. The personal “oomph” of these cards is tremendous.
I’m not proposing that everyone start sending snail mail again, though I’m sure the USPS wouldn’t mind. I’m suggesting that as Twitter and Facebook and cell texts and emails invade more and more of all our personal interactions, lessons from the past ought not be lost. Corporations and companies and doctors’ offices don’t create messages; people do. Every communication that emanates from anywhere ultimately involves someone, some person or persons, wanting to connect with some other some-one or -ones. And every single one of those messages has the power to move, motivate, or inspire, but only if the connection, the personal touch, is achieved.
My friend’s good communication graces may seem quaint and outdated, but the power of his message with its ultimately personal touch is undeniable. Simple communication etiquette goes a very long way in empowering connection. As mom always said, “Remember your manners.”
From the trenches…
“Good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them.” – Adam Weber in “Blast from the Past”
Dr. Gregg Alexander is a grunt-in-the-trenches pediatrician and geek. His personal manifesto home page…er..blog…yeh, that’s it, his blog – and he – can be reached through http://madisonpediatric.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.