Tag Archives: technology

On D-Day, Exploring the Context of “As We May Think”

As We May Think (Cover)

During National Poetry Month (April), I thought it would be interesting to quote one of the poems published in the same issue of The Atlantic Monthly as the incredible essay, “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush.

“As We May Think” was required reading when I was in grad school, and it still it. This is a work that was truly seminal in shaping the origins of the Internet, hypertext, the Web, more. Provocative, inspirational, decades before its time. It’s online, easy to find, and it’s even open and free to the world. When I went looking for poems from the issue, though, that was not easy to find, much less free. I ended up having to request the print copy. Print. Really? You must be kidding me, but no, it’s true. It took me a month to believe I wasn’t going to find it online, and another few weeks for me to place the request for the print and find time to actually look at it.

You know what happens with print? You go looking for one thing, and find something else. You turn a page, and a picture catches your eye. You start to skim one article, but a beautiful word or phrase on the facing page distracts you. Before you know it, you are turning pages whether or not they have anything to do with your original question.

Let me tell you something about the issue of The Atlantic for July 1945. It was published less than a year after D-Day. It was published only a few months after the official end to the war. It was published when people first began to see, to believe, that World War II really was going to end, and stay done. It was the beginning of moving through the shock and trauma of the war, beginning to tell stories that couldn’t be born, that no one wants to remember.

When I first read “As We May Think” it seemed all shiny and glossy, this vision of what might someday become computers, personal assistants, ready flexible access to information. The dream that was so much bigger than people realized at the time, bigger than I realized when I read it in grad school. I had no idea that this was one essay of a larger series that The Atlantic was publishing on science and the war, no real idea of the world in which it was written. Sure, we studied WWII in school, read about the concentration camps, the war bonds, the atom bomb, the refugees, the destruction of historical treasures across Europe, the bombing of London, the evacuations, the debates in America about whether or not to enter the war, the American resistors who joined the war efforts in Europe early and were shunned as unpatriotic for the rest of their lives.

It never really came alive for me, though, in the way that it did when my computers broke this week and I went through the journal issue that contained Vannevar Bush’s essay. Some of what I found there:
– “paper bombs” as tools to influence thought
– Ad: advertisements on new technologies created for the war that had drastic impacts on food and home lives of civilians (from ice cream to oranges to vitamins)
– serious examinations of media reporters, “their reliability, their prejudices, and their mistakes”
– the role of propaganda on both sides of the conflict as obvious and visible even at the time
– first person reports of Buchenwald, shocking ghastly stories neglected from modern reports of the camps
– bitter heart-wrenching poems of soldiers from the fronts
– sweet stories of life back home, still edged with fatigue and loss and an undertone of the global anxieties, and stories of life with what we now call PTSD or depression or anxiety or others
– “Should Jews Return to Germany?”
– Ad: the misunderstood science that led to putting iodine in gasoline
– “Prithee, Little Book, Who Made Thee?”
– Ad: “Coal? Yes, indeed, it’s a big item in the drugstore!”
– Ad: “For the first time in history, a world without poverty and without war is technically possible. Whether we achieve it depends on how well we understand the ‘Economies Of Peace’.”
– book reviews of and advertisements for works by Henry James, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Mann, John Crowe Ransom, W. H. Auden, and other familiar names.

Somehow, “As We May Think” takes on a different flavor in the context of essays, and poems like this snippet from Sasserath, which resonate so very differently now than when they were written, that echo with limits and struggles that repeat now in some places and yet have become fictions in others.

“We who must live on substitutes for life,
The powdered egg, the dehydrated spud, …
Or learn the art of love with plastic limbs …”
“On Anodynes, by Simpson Sasserath, RT2/c

Reading and seeing “As We May Think” in the context of the series of which it was a part, similarly lends a depth that makes it seem even more extraordinary. The series was called, “A Scientist Looks at Tomorrow,” beginning in 1945 ad stretching to at least 1947. It included titles such as these:

– The Social Animal / Caryl P. Haskins
– Stars, Proteins, and Nations / Philippe Le Corbeiller
– A Design for Fighting / Harlow Shapley
– Penicillin, Plasma Fractionation, and the Physician / Dr. John F. Fulton
– A Physicist Returns from the War / I. I. Rabi
– Psychiatry and the Way / Big. Gen. William G. Menninger
– DDT and the Balance of Nature / V. B. Wigglesworth

I’m now curious to find them all, as a fascinating window into what was considered the cutting edge of emerging technologies in the mid-1940s. But the few sentences that resonated with me most closely came from a few months after the Bush essay, towards the end of the year, in an essay called, “The Return to Love,” by Rollo Walter Brown.

We can take our choice. If we do not believe that the awakening, the generosity, the loyalty, the warmth, expressed in love can transform the world into something more livable than what we now have, then we can take the alternative and believe that husbands and wives who cannot endure each other, neighbors who cannot endure each other, races who cannot endure each other, people who scoff at anyone who would make an improvement, can somehow, added together, constitute one world living in amity. We can wait among our raucous hatreds until somebody somewhere decides to enforce his special hatred with some super-super atomic bomb. That is something definite and “realistic.” But might we not have a more interesting world if we tried love?

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us:” Technology and Ethics through the Words of the Pope

20-09-2015 Incontro Giovani

With the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I thought it might be interesting and pertinent to explore emerging technologies in the context of the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I self-describe my religion on Facebook as Zen Pagan Catholic (which makes for some interesting conversations from time to time), and primarily practice as a Catholic, but I have a deep fondness for many other faiths as well (Quaker! Judaism! More!) and like to look at ideas and concepts in a broad ethical framework. This is just a small ‘deep dive’ into an area where a global leader in ethics touches on the impacts and ethics surrounding emerging and existing technologies. There are many such, and many ways to explore this.

I thought the image opening this post was a real treasure illustrating how current technologies, services, and memes (selfies? Instagram?) are being adopted by or associated with even institutions as ancient as the Catholic Church. This image, and most of the images used in this post, are from the Flickr stream of the Vatican itself. That says something right there about the adoption and use of social media and new communication technologies by the Vatican and the Papacy.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, subtitled “On Care for our Common Home.” It made a lot of buzz, and you’ve probably already heard about it. I immediately started scanning the Italian version, and as soon as I could find the English translation on the Vatican website, I downloaded the PDF. Very quickly I realized that throughout the document there are an enormous number of mentions of technology, its strengths and weaknesses. I was, shall we say, surprised? I wanted to blog about it then, but I think this is actually a better time.

Pope Francis begins Laudato Si’ with establishing the context for it in earlier works of church doctrine, specifically referencing a presentation to the FAO by Pope Paul VI back in 1970 and another from the the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in 2012. Back in 1970, Pope Paul had adopted use of television and the existing technology structure of the times for carrying the message. I was surprised again to learn how many videos are in Youtube of his travels that year: departing from Rome, Hong Kong, Philippines, Syndney (Australia), and more. So, this image from the Vatican of Pope Francis in front of film cameras might be very similar to views that would have existed of Pope Paul VI.

24-09-2015 Visita al Congresso degli Stati Uniti d'America

Pope Francis cites one specific portion of Pope Paul’s words on the risks and importance of technology, but there are some great nuggets in the rest of the speech as well.

VISIT OF POPE PAUL VI TO THE FAO ON THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF ITS INSTITUTION; Monday, 16 November 1970

“But the carrying out of these technical possibilities at an accelerated pace is not accomplished without dangerous repercussions on the balance of our natural surroundings. The progressive deterioration of that which has generally come to be called the environment, risks provoking a veritable ecological catastrophe. Already we see the pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink. We see the pollution of rivers, lakes, even oceans – to the point of inspiring fear of a true «biological death» in the near future, if energetic measures are not immediately and courageously taken and rigorously put into practice. It is a formidable prospect which you must diligently explore in order to save from destruction the fruit of millions of years of natural and human selection. In brief, everything is bound up together.”

“Will the prodigious progressive mastery of plant, animal and human life and the discovery of even the secrets of matter lead to anti-matter and to the explosion of death? In this decisive moment of its history, humanity hesitates, uncertain before fear and hope. Who still does not see this? The most extraordinary scientific progress, the most astounding technical feats and the most amazing economic growth, unless accompanied by authentic moral and social progress, will in the long run go against man.”

“We must repeat this today: the Church, on her part, in every domain of human action encourages scientific and technical progress, but always claiming respect for the inviolable rights of the human person whose primary guarantors are the public authorities.”

“One of the best assured invariable principles of your action is that the finest technical achievements and the greatest economic progress cannot effect by themselves the development of a people. However necessary they may be, planning and money are not enough. Their indispensable contribution, like that of the technology which they sponsor, would be sterile were it not made fruitful by men’s confidence and their progressive conviction that they can little by little get away from their miserable condition through work made possible with means at their disposal.”

The words and thoughts are so powerful and so relevant today, that I find it almost hard to believe they were spoken roughly 45 years ago. The really critical part is “unless accompanied by authentic moral and social progress.” I don’t care what religion you are, or aren’t, that much should seem like common sense: that technological discovery unbounded by ethics is a risk to all. Isn’t that the story behind an overwhelming number of science fiction stories and novels? Take a technology, just one, and see how it could go wrong. Then try taking two, or three. And then just imagine everything we are discovering now, all of it. It is frankly astonishing that we persist, and it speaks well of us that we do. That we haven’t destroyed ourselves yet, despite so many close calls, is hopeful. How long can we ride this rollercoaster and keep from flinging ourselves off?

That’s the introduction. Now, what does Pope Francis say to expand on these earlier thoughts from Pope Paul VI? He mentions technology at least 95 times in the encyclical. NINETY-FIVE TIMES in six chapters, with the preponderance of them in Chapter Three: “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, for which the first section is titled, “Technology: Creativity and Power.” Whoa. Frankly, technology, while a significant presence in the document, is only a small part of it. Here is a visualization of the major themes in Laudato Si’. You can find “technology” at the tip of the far left lobe of the leaf.

Laudato Si 2

When he does mention technology, sometimes it is to point out technologies of concern, or philosophies of concern, and other times it is to point out technologies that are desperately needed, or which need to be more widely available. This document is the opposite of a Luddite point of view, instead carefully and judiciously framing the conversation around technology in the context of where is it helpful for the world and humanity, as compared to when is it simply being developed out of curiosity, laziness, or for its own sake. Obviously, Pope Francis argues clearly and strongly for a sane, humane philosophy of technological development and access, within the overarching vision of stewardship and responsibility. Because the document as a whole focuses on ecology, it is often assumed that this is all that’s in it. Pope Francis takes it farther, talking about technology in the service of equity and social justice, medicine, transportation, artistry, welfare, and others, attempting to show through that diversity how a single challenge connects throughout the entirety of human life and how we touch and connect throughout the entirety of the context in which we exist, the world.

At least, that’s the way I’m reading the document. I’ve selected just a few examples (24), a few snippets, phrases and sentences that seem illustrative to me. There is much that was relevant to the questions and concerns raised, written in beautiful language, that is perhaps not explicitly focused on technology. Much of what he says on other topics echoes strongly the debates in healthcare from the empowered patient movement, the flipped clinic conversations, and other initiatives designed on making healthcare more responsive and patient-centric. Where he talks about economics and lifestyle choices, it echoes the need for patient choice, and placing clinical guidelines and recommendations within the context of the patient’s goals and priorities for their own life. Pope Francis places a strong emphasis on collaborative and shared decisionmaking. I have made a conscious effort to not select the non-technological quotes for this post, but I sincerely hope that these few tidbits below might inspire you to look more deeply into this exceptionally lovely, deeply thoughtful, and eloquent essay.

Festival of families in Philadelphia Festival of families in Philadelphia

ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME

1.

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. … Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. … All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”

2.

“Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

3.

“[T]heir disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful.”

4.

“We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”

5.

“The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.”

6.

“Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.”

7.

“Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

8.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. … The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests.”

9.

“In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been beautified thanks to environmental renewal projects; beautiful buildings have been erected; advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of public transportation.”

10.

“Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution.”

11.

“The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm.”

12.

“We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.”

13.

“A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence.”

14.

“Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance?”

15.

“There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. … This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life.”

16.

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.”

17.

“It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application.”

18.

“Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people. Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment.”

19.

“Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community.”

20.

“Merely technical solutions run the risk of addressing symptoms and not the more serious underlying problems. There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group.”

21.

“Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since ‘the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed’.”

22.

“This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties. The outcome may be a decision not to proceed with a given project, to modify it or to consider alternative proposals.”

23.

“Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals.”

24.

“By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour. Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

A Tack Board of Tags (HOTW July 19, 2015)

There have been some fantastic conversations on Twitter this week, on a huge diversity of topics and organized around some intriguing hashtags. I was personally involved with the Summit for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media (#MCCSM) and the local systematic review training course (UMTHLSysRev). It was a series of happy coincidences that led me to the events Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (#AbSciCon); Inspirefest 2015, the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with new perspectives on innovation, leadership and success (#inspirefest2015); and International Association for Suicide Prevention (#IASP2015). I was surprised to find two very relevant Twitter chats that were new to me: hereditary cancer chat (#hcchat) and the Internet of Things chat (#IoTchat). Last but far from least, the nursing-inspired #WhyWeDoResearch tag is a very motiving and inspiring meme to explore. I’ll put just a few examples of each below, hoping to intrigue you enough to go look at these yourself.


Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media | #MCCSM (#mccsm archive)


Systematic Reviews Workshop: Opportunities for Librarians |
#umthlsysrev (#umthlsysrev archive)


Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 | #AbSciCon


Inspirefest | #inspirefest2015


28th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, Montreal, 2015 | #IASP2015 (#IASP2015 archive)


Hereditary Cancer Chat #HCchat
(#HCchat archive)


#IoTChat: Internet of Things Twittersphere Chats Evolve | #IoTchat


Why We Do Research Campaign (Weebly sites blocked in UM hospitals) [Campaign video 1; campaign video 2] | #WhyWeDoResearch (#WhyWeDoResearch archive)

Eszter Hargittai on Essential Tech Skills (#mlanet15)

Part 5 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.


Eszter Hargittai #MLAnet15

Is the Internet good or bad? Safe or dangerous? The answer from Eszter Hargittai at the MLAnet15 Closing Plenary was, “It depends.” Even if I was tracking tech events at the conference, even if this topic wasn’t my own bread-&-butter, even though Natalie has already done an completely excellent blogpost about this session, I would (and do!) still want to blog on this.

“It depends,” is the correct answer to most debates about anything to do with the Internet. Eszter Hargittai has hard data, and strong methodologies behind it, to show that most of our stereotypes about Internet use, audiences, abilities, etc. are considerably more subtle, nuanced, granular, and shaded than commonly believed.

Eszter Hargittai #MLAnet15

In her research, there were a surprising or worrying number of students who were unable to distinguish phishing URLs from real URLs, to define fundamental Internet jargon terms, to determine accurate versus biased news, to leverage social sharing appropriately for employment, to find accurate and useful health information for common search topics, and more. She described impacts of lower socioeconomic status, gender differences that carry over to online environment, and importantly reframed the “digital divide” as “digital inequalities.” The example which most impressed me related to emergency contraception use. I suspect I’m not the only medical librarian who’s been approached by friends or neighbors with questions related to this topic. In Dr. Hargittai’s sample, a full third were unable to discover that it was possible to buy this over the counter at your neighborhood drug store. And that doesn’t even touch on the question of the other two thirds who do know how to find and purchase it, but do they know how to use it appropriately and safely in the context of their own health history?

Eszter Hargittai #MLAnet15

The Internet can empower as much as it can endanger. What makes the difference? Hargittai says skills.

Eszter Hargittai #MLAnet15

And the skills that are needed are ones that can largely be taught and learned. Librarians are people who generally (“It depends”, remember?) have both the needed skills and know how to teach them. This was a talk that the librarians who attended are still talking about, and I suspect that will continue in months to come.

You can explore the Storify, and its over 300 tweets to see what else people had to say about the talk.

HOLD THE PRESSES!!! Wave the Flag! Susannah’s Coming!

Pic of the day - Flag in Dawn's Early Light

I could not have been more delighted when late yesterday I saw a post on Gilles Frydman’s Facebook stream to the effect that Susannah Fox is the new CTO of HHS (meaning: Chief Technical Officer of the United States Department of Health and Human Services). Gilles was sharing Susannah’s post on the HHS Idea Lab Blog (worth following, if you don’t already).

Susannah Fox: I’m the New CTO of HHS: http://www.hhs.gov/idealab/2015/05/28/im-new-cto-hhs/

Executive.gov: Susannah Fox Named HHS CTO: http://www.executivegov.com/2015/05/susannah-fox-named-hhs-cto-sylvia-mathews-burwell-comments/

FedScoop: “Susannah Fox, an expert on the intersection of technology and medicine, takes over for former Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak.” http://fedscoop.com/hhs-names-next-cto

In that post Susannah talks about her work with the Pew Research Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and much more. She talked about how very much she was enjoying being exactly who she is and where she was. And then, something magical happened, something magical for all of us: the HHS recruited her, went after her, and convinced her to take the CTO job. This is magical because Susannah is not just intelligent, expert, influential, and well connected. Susannah has heart. She is kind to strangers. [See Regina’s post on Susuannah’s Walking Gallery jacket: “That was my idea of Susannah Fox. I did not know her name. I did not know her job. I only knew that she was kind and was a good mother.“]

Susannah is gracious, polite, honest, and real. Susannah has family and friends, people she cares about with real day-to-day health struggles. Susannah is a person, a REAL person. She is fiercely, heart-wrenchingly protective of her kids. She thinks her hair looks funny, and she fusses to get it just so. I think she’s gorgeous, of course, and she rolled her eyes and laughed when I said her hair was lovely. She has hobbies and interests beyond the job. She has a passion for helping others, because she really CARES, and for helping others in the right way, with information and evidence and data and tools. She doesn’t help just the anonymous strangers because it looks good. She doesn’t just help the people she loves because she loves them. She is kind and helpful everywhere she goes, because that’s who she is. But she does it smart. She knows limits, and she knows that limits can be stretched when we collaborate. She knows tough choices. She knows the problems of the world can’t be forced into coming out the way we wish they would.

Susannah and I have talked over social media, email, various ways for years, and I was lucky enough to meet her in person last fall.

See? That’s me, all the way down at the end of the line. Alicia Staley is in front, Susannah is next, and Pat Mastors right before me. It was great fun, and they were all so kind. I, and so MANY others are excited, because we see hope for real, meaningful, significant change in American healthcare policy and leadership. Here are a few selected comments from public Facebook and Twitter about this (with many MANY more that weren’t public, so I didn’t share them here).

Gilles Frydman: “Today is simply a really great day for real, meaningful patient empowerment!”

Me: “Huzzah! Hurray! Whoohoo! Susannah Fox is the new head honcho of all things tech at HHS! WHOOOOO!”

e-Patient Dave DeBronkart: “This wins my prize as the biggest government-based Mazel Tov in the history of the e-patient movement! Bringing heart and soul to health IT??? From someone who knows how people ACTUALLY use the internet?? How great is this??”

Tim O’Reilly: “Awesome news from @SusannahFox http://1.usa.gov/1J5RsQt She is the new CTO of HHS. Big win for all of us!!”

Hugh Campos: “Today is a great day for the ‪#‎epatient‬ movement: Susannah Fox has announced that she’s accepted the job of CTO of HHS. Absolutely thrilling news!”

Brian Ahier: “I am so pleased that +Susannah Fox is now the CTO at HHS! Not only is she the first woman to hold this post, but she is one of the strongest advocates on behalf of patients, an incredible thought leader in the realm of health data (a true health data geek :-), but she is a genuinely wonderful person who will bring a whole new viewpoint to this role.”

Nedra Weinreich: ” A perfect role for a woman who combines tech savvy with human compassion. Congrats, Susannah!”

Meredith Gould: “SuperMongoHuge Congrats to @SusannahFox on becoming new CTO of HHS http://1.usa.gov/1eBjN4p Brava!”

Kathleen Comali Dillon: “Great news for us all- Susannah Fox is a pioneer in healthcare and waaaaay ahead of the curve.”

Casey Quinlan: “Susannah Fox is now Head Geek at HHS. I’m ‘sploding with joy”

Regina Holliday: “And the whole world clapped!!!”

Annaliz Hannan: “Sometimes the government gets it right and we, the collective healthcare consumer, win. This is our day as Susannah Fox accepts the post as Chief Technology Officer of Health and Human Services. There is no doubt she is tech savvy but it is her trusted voice in advocating for your access to your health data that makes this a banner raising day.”

Craig DeLarge: “Sweeet! Good on you! Good on us!”

Alexander B. Howard: “This is exceptionally good news for the American people.”

Joe Graedon: “Pretty amazing. Some days the good guys win! Hallelujah. Susannah earned this through vision, hard work and attention to detail. Hooray.”

Marianne O’Hare: “She’s a powerhouse! But also has that wonderful skill of making data-speak sound like a bedtime story.”

Christopher Snider: “Big news. Big deal. Congrats Susannah!”

Matthew Holt: “The lunatics have taken over the asylum in a great way today. @SusannahFox is now CTO of HHS”

Nick van Terheyden: “How cool is that – Susannah Fox appointed as CTO for HHS”

Jose Gomez-Marquez: “Congratulations! We couldn’t be more happy for @SusannahFox as the new CTO of @HHSGov and friend to geeks around :)”

I just wanted people to get to know her, a little. This is not just another by-the-book administrative appointment. This is special. Susannah is special.

Tech Trends VIII (#mlanet15)

Part 2 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.


#MLATTT #MLANET15

The event so fondly known as MLATTT is a gathering of a panel of medical librarians who describe new and emerging technologies in what has become, by a kind of traditional, highly entertaining and engaging ways. For many, it is a not-to-be-missed highlight of the annual Medical Library Association meeting. This year was no different, and if anything topped previous years for sheer blistering hilarity. When the video becomes available, this is a must watch. I plan to watch it again, and I was there!

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Eric Schnell gave a talk that had the older members of the audience guffawing with laughter as he extolled the pleasures of emerging technologies from the perspective of the 1980s and 1990s. There were some younger folk asking, “Mosiac? Atari?” It was extremely well scripted and supported with links and images, and delivered completely deadpan.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

The quantified self section presented by Jon Goodall was great fun for me, and I particularly enjoyed how he engaged the audience in reviews of some of the highlighted technologies. It was interesting to see who had used various tools, and whether they worked for them or not.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Kimberley Barker was incredibly dynamic, personable, and knowledgeable, as she sprinted through a rapidfire, high energy delivery of examples of tools, technologies, and trends relative to what’s happening with the Internet of Things.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

Jason Bengtson gave a candid, rollicking walk-through of some of his thoughts and experiences while creating the engaging information skills tutorial, Zombie Emergency. I was really impressed with how clearly he described the challenges of integrating education goals and content with gaming. Rachel Walden expressed well what I was thinking, when she commented on how impressive it was that Jason coded this, and is giving away the code for free in Github, as CC-licensed. You can find the actual quotes in the Storify, listed at the end of this post.

#MLATTT #MLANET15

J. Dale Prince might have been last, but far from least, as he wittily recounted his tales of being a new Apple Watch owner, pros, cons, and maybes. By the way, if you decide to buy a gold Apple Watch, Dale is willing to trade. 😉

Here’s the Storify, with much much more detail.

An archive of the tweets is available here, through Symplur. Almost 400 tweets in one hour?! That should tell you how much fun folk were having!

http://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/mlattt/

Choosing a Tablet Computer for the Elderly & Technophobic

Grandpa

From the “Drafts Pile” post, some folk commented and others emailed, but this was the most requested topic, which made it top of my list for writing the next blog post.

INTRODUCTION

It wasn’t that long ago that we were picking out a tablet for my dad. Back in the day, my dad was a hard core computer geek — programmer, hacker, build-your-own. My childhood was chockfull of tickertape and punchcards and Tandy home computer kits being assembled in the basement. My dad was anything but technophobic, but even for him the new world of the Web was confusing. I remember when he and I were talking on the phone, and he was having a small rant about how he and his tech cronies at the local college had spent hours trying to figure out how to download an image from a web page. They were SO frustrated (this was about 10 years ago). I said, “What?! Right click didn’t work?” and he replied, “Right click? What are you talking about?” I suddenly realized that I had outstripped my father in the realm of technology. I think it was quite a shock for both of us.

When I heard that my dad was still trying to get by using a >10 year old Windows machine, flatbed scanner, and a 2400 baud modem, my heart ached. We kids talked it over and went together to get him and iPad. Why an iPad? Mostly because that’s what other folk in the family had already, and there was built in family assistance for him if he needed help. Not to mention, I could also add the charge for his Internet access to my account, and he never needed to worry about it. But that was us, and that was a few years back.

I cannot imagine how much MORE frustrating and intimidating it must be for people who were never strong with “The Force” when it comes to computers. In my family now, I am the tech wizard and my (ahem, adult) children are the ones who come to me with questions about how to do things. And I go to my geek-squad friends and sister when I get stuck with mobile tech. And someday, I will be like my dad, uncertain in the face of tech that has evolved so quickly it has outstripped my ability to keep up. What are the options now for you and your loved ones?

BACKGROUND

Being a senior doesn’t mean you are technophobic, being a technophobe doesn’t mean you are a senior, and you can still have challenges with technology without falling into either group. In addition to the elderly, there are others, such as children or persons with certain disabilities, who benefit from making tech simpler to use, more self-explanatory, and more durable. Ultimately, making computers easier to use benefits EVERYONE, just like curbcuts for wheelchairs help bicyclists and parent pushing strollers. That’s how accessibility works. What’s important is to not assume that “they can’t do it”, or it can’t be done. Everyday we make progress making computers better, stronger, faster, smarter, and, yes, EASIER. So, while this post focuses on the motivating idea of elderly folk who are struggling with computers, don’t limit your ideas of who might be helped to just those groups.

Seniors and Technology

The Pew Internet Research Center has been tracking how seniors use and work with the Internet since 2001, when only 15% were online (my early adopter dad being one). Now, 14 years later, it’s roughly 60%, and even within those seniors who use the Internet, there is a lot of variation in how well they are able to use it.

“Two different groups of older Americans emerge. The first group (which leans toward younger, more highly educated, or more affluent seniors) has relatively substantial technology assets, and also has a positive view toward the benefits of online platforms. The other (which tends to be older and less affluent, often with significant challenges with health or disability) is largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically.” Pew. “Older Adults and Technology Use,” 2014.

These two groups aren’t necessarily stable, either. People shift between them. Fifteen years ago, my dad fell into the first group of tech-savvy elders. By the time of his passing, earlier this month, he had shifted largely into the second category, but still wanted to check his email. For others, it might be that a new treatment, supportive living situation, or even a techy gift might actually bring someone MORE into the realm of using the technologies around them. While I was traveling home from my Dad’s funeral, an older woman stopped me in the waiting room at Union Station. Her 82-year-old boyfriend (her words) had given her an iPhone, and her girlfriend was texting her, but she didn’t know how to read or answer the texts. Our conversation ended with, ” … and when it turns green, that means it’s been sent? Oh, thank you!”

Technophobia

Technophobia is a far more important concern than simply one’s age. The fear of the technology can be isolating, keeping people apart from loved ones and friends when this is how they communicate and connect. This is such a problem, that people are actually building tech solutions to address such very specific issues such as sharing baby pictures on Facebook, and how do you include family members who are not ON Facebook? [Check out Kidpost, if you have this challenge in your family.] AARP recommended the Presto Printing Mailbox for seniors without a computer, allowing friends, relatives, and caregivers to send anything from family photos to medication reminders. AARP went on to fund a major white paper on the topic, Connected Living for Social Aging: Designing Technology for All (2011).

The phrase “digital isolation” has been adopted to describe this as a significant social issue within society, with titles like “Digital Isolation Plagues Those Who Need Internet Most” and “What Will Become of Britain’s Digitally Isolated After Martha Lane Fox’s Resignation?” Digital isolation is blamed as a contributing factor to poor outcomes in disaster response and health (especially in diabetes). The origins of technophobia may or may not lie in the technology itself, but the impacts are surely heavily social in nature.

“… rarely, if ever, is technophobia based just on the happenstance of technical ignorance. It almost always has its roots in … a sense of estrangement from the world into which one is cast. Here common sense cannot help, for it is from the prevaling common sense that one is estranged. To the technophobe, the technological world seems alien; to common sense, the technophobe seems foolish.” Burch, Robert. Confronting Technophobia: A Topology. Phenomenology + Pedagogy 1986 4(2):3-21. https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandp/article/download/15013/11834

Solutions to technophobia need incorporate that social aspect of the presumed problem. Sarah Maurer recommends that technophobes can get past the fear by starting slowly, taking a class, try a touch screen, get the same types of devices your relatives are using, and ask your kids and grandkids to help you learn your way around.

Maurer, Sarah. 10 Tips to Beat Technophobia: Seniors can conquer their fears and start enjoying online technology. WCCTA WebsiteCompass Spring 2012.

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association recommended in 2004 that you start out by playing Solitaire, using cheatsheets, and don’t make the mistake of asking a true geek for help (because they may not be the best communicators). They also recommended “reverse mentoring,” where you learn something and then teach it to someone else who knows even less. These are still good idea, although some folk might prefer to replace Solitaire with Candy Crush or Trivia Crack or one of the other hot new games.

NLADA. Overcoming Technophobia

More

If you are interested in tracking this area, I have two recommendations. One is Senior Tech Insider, a truly marvelous news tracking service from Karen Heyman which shares news and alerts about telemedicine, accessibility, policy and regulatory issues, and emerging technologies that touch on the lives of the elderly. The other is a counter to the argument I hear so often of, “I’m too old to try.” Me, I’m only approaching 60, so perhaps I’m not a persuasive case. So check out John F. McMullen, who is older than me. I’m not sure how much, but I know he was around for many of the tech events that shaped my youth, and he was tied right into them, knows the folk involved, and still writes about them and how the issues have progressed over time. He’s everywhere online (blogs, BlogTalkRadio, Facebook, Flickr, Google Plus, LinkedIn, OpenSalon, Podbean, Twitter, Youtube, …). He is enormously more engaged in multimedia production than I am. And he still writes and talks about technology. Never say it can’t be done. Heck, did you hear the one about the 114 year old woman who couldn’t register for Facebook because their age verification form didn’t go that far? It’s true.

TECH OPTIONS

So, even with recognizing there are some pretty significant social aspects to working with a loved one to help them get online, and assuming that they don’t have a philosophical opposition to the very concept and are willing to try, what happens next? Where do you go, what factors are most important in your decision, what are the choices? Do you go with a ASUS VivoTab, RealPad, In-Touch, iPad, Kindle Fire, or … what?

COMPARISONS & SELECTION CRITERIA

Checklist

COSTS
– Device Price
– Network Access (is included, or is extra?)
– Monthly fees?
– Carrying case or protection (optional)
– External keyboard (optional)
– Security or registration (optional)
– Training or courses (optional)
– Tech support (included or optional extra?)
HARDWARE OPTIONS
– Display (resolution, crispness, color, screen size, enlargement, zoom, etc.)
– Buttons (size, visibility, clarity of purposes)
– Keyboard (built-in, optional add on, external, on-screen, in-case, …)
– Battery life
– Wall or plug-in charger
– Weight
– Memory card slot (optional)
SPECIAL & PERSONAL FACTORS
– Tech Support available, what kind, does it match person’s preferences?
– Interface & appearance
– Accessibility & font enlargement
– Background Skills
– Special health concerns that may impact on how device is used
– Apps available for personal interests
– Apps available for hobbies & games
– Apps available for special health needs or tracking

More resources

For Dummies: For Seniors: Buying the Right Tablet: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/for-seniors-buying-the-right-tablet.html

My Ageing Parent: Computers or tablets for older people? http://www.myageingparent.com/computers-or-tablets-which-are-better-for-older-people/

My Ageing Parent: Are there better tablets for elderly than iPad? http://www.myageingparent.com/better-tablet-ipad-elderly/

New York Public Library: Tablet Buying Guide: A Primer for Technophobes, Luddites and the Just Plain Confused (2013) http://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/12/20/tablet-buying-guide

Senior Planet: The Best Tablets for Technophobes (2014) http://seniorplanet.org/the-best-tablets-for-technophobes/

TechRiggs: Best Tablets for Seniors and Elderly Senior Citizens (2015) http://www.techriggs.com/best-tablets-for-seniors-and-elderly-senior-citizens/

HARDWARE OPTIONS

These are currently the best known and available tablet computers which were either designed explicitly for seniors or which are being promoted as useful for that demographic. Several of these were designed in collaboration with seniors, such as the AARP RealPad and the Senior Touchpad. Some of these have been around a while and have a lot of pre-existing support resources, like the iPad, Chromebook, and Kindle. Others are brand new, like the GrandPad, just announced in February 2015.

MORE:

Best Tablets for Seniors and Elderly Senior Citizens http://www.techriggs.com/best-tablets-for-seniors-and-elderly-senior-citizens/

Don’t waste your money on AARP’s RealPad http://www.modern-senior.com/dont-waste-money-aarps-realpad/

Great deals on tablets for seniors: http://www.modern-senior.com/great-deals-tablets-seniors/