Back to Basics: A meditation on old and new with Joe Tomei

JtomeiTrying to figure out how the old bits mesh with the new bits. To get started, this recent NPR piece, entitled Millennial Doctors May Be More Tech-Savvy, But Is That Better? From the article:

The University of Texas Southwestern class of 2014 is celebrating graduation. Class vice president Amy Ho has shed her scrubs for heels and a black dress. She says with modern technology, med school really wasn’t too hard.

“If you want to do the whole thing by video stream, you can,” she says. “I would wake up at 10 a.m., work out for an hour or so, get some lunch and then video stream for 6 hours and then go to happy hour. It actually was not that bad.”

Millennial physicians like Ho are taking over hospital wards and doctors’ offices, and they’re bringing new ideas about life-work balance and new technologies.

One time, a patient asked Ho if it was OK if he recorded her performing a minor surgical procedure.

“He Instagram-videoed the entire procedure,” she says. “It’s not that a senior physician couldn’t do it — I think that they might not have the comfort level.”

Later in the article, there is this, which, as you can probably imagine, provoked a food fight in the comment section.

She means comfort with technology… Many have never worked with paper charts and they don’t read dusty medical journals — they look at them online.

We absolutely consult Wikipedia, not the library to find the most up-to-date medical research,” she explains.

Putting my cards on the table, I’m totally uninterested in trying to figure out if Wikipedia is an appropriate reference or not. What interests me is not whether it is wrong or right, what interests me is how computers can make things easier and what we have to do to let computers make things easier.

In this case, making things easier is impeded by the comfort level of the people participating. Yet the narrative of crusty old doctors versus hip interns (or, if you like, veteran medical professionals trying to stop the excesses of a generation that doesn’t know how good it is) can sometimes obscure the problem.

As an example, on a mail list I’m on, populated by folks who are generally computer savvy, we were discussing reducing the maximum file length in order to prevent the list from being overwhelmed by quotes. This is because the digest function of the list is set so that it mails out a digest when the total sum of messages is over a certain amount of memory. However, gmail and other programs hide that quoted material, so that someone writing ‘I think so too’ can end up triggering the digest function. In our discussions, it became clear that we didn’t really know what a particular amount of memory entailed in terms of text.

When I read this article, and saw this picture below, I realized that a lot of times, we lose (or take for granted) information that could easily answer our questions.


We don’t have a way to seamlessly add an image to an email conversation, (I’ll try to explain why that is in the future) but here, I would just note that as we are moving into newer and newer technologies, we are forgetting lots of information. Some of it, maybe most of it, is not really needed, but sometimes, we are setting aside things we might need to understand what we are doing.

Previously, I’ve felt this pressure to blog things that were for the more advanced, to try and bring something new to the table. But after reading the NPR article, I realized that I’d like to write about some very basic things and try and explain why some people aren’t ‘getting it’. So starting next week, I’ll be talking about more of the basics, but basics that I hope will help someone get into digital or (probably more likely) help you explain to someone how to do something. Hope you enjoy and if there is something that you think would be interesting, drop a note in the comments.

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