The Alarm Fatigue of Social and Digital Media

We have in social and digital media impressive ways to connect and share and learn. You can get instant notifications of breaking news and brand-mentions. You can set filters of curated feeds tailored to your interests. You can, in a manner, feel your way around the world just by sliding the tips of your fingers over a glass pane.

With these media – mobile technologies in particular – we are witnessing a relentless rocketing of healthcare-related applications. Almost each one includes some type of notification system: check your glucose, monitor your weight, record the number of miles you ran, take your neuroleptic…

Today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies, however, are utterly and increasingly infiltrative. They pervade every facet of life and culture and business – and we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The more benefits accrue; the more conveniences available; and the more targeted and customized these social and digital media, the more alerts and alarms absorb our attention.

It’s not that these are bad things.

But for all of the opportunities which they create, the higher costs rise. (This is in accordance with eternal economic principles – everything has opportunity costs. Except get-rich schemes, of course 😉

So if we extrapolate the effects of these technologies on our health and awareness, the trend is not good if left to itself. If we do not apply discipline and focus and mindfulness, we’re cooked – and the net of the benefits over their costs goes into the red.

What can be done?

I think there’s actually a very simple response to this: mindfulness.  Simple is not easy. Mindfulness is both the easiest and hardest things we can maintain.

Curious: for all of our technological accomplishments, for all of our scientific advances, for all of our insights into medicine and nursing and other healthcare , we are – in the end – left with one refuge against the “wreckful siege of battering” tweets: our minds.

You will not survive the 21st Century if you do not have a spiritual central (note: spirituality is not the same as religion, although the two can overlap).

You will, if you do not pay strong enough attention, succumb to Social and Digital Media Alarm Fatigue.

For those of us who have worked in an ICU or telemetry floor, we know the high-costs of alarm fatigue: increased patient risk, increase staff stress, attention-fragmentation. In those situations, the best cope by being mindful of what they do – they have a clinical center so-to-speak.

For those of you who have never had to combat alarm fatigue in the clinical setting: get ready, it’s coming your way.


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