What’s A Human To Do?

The machines take over.

Millions of machines tweeting their data.

Millions of machines following other machines, retweeting to other machines following the ever-expanding Cloud of tweets.

Billions of tweets propounding per second: news of their work…calls to action.

Trillions of nanobots moving guanine, cytosine…reverse transcriptase…transmuting carbon molecules into alchemical dreams.

All this mechanical purposing evolves into an ecosystem of invisible purposes – maturing into a purposing onto itself.

Amid the alien world dusted around them, the human feels a deepened need for meaning.

What’s a human to do when the galaxy of technology does the lifting?

At last, the human confronts the pressure of isolating what being human is all about.

The human remembers: it is a lost creature – cut off from nature and now cut off from technology.

The human re-cognizes the world.

The human is no longer just a being.

The human is a presence.

Touch or Tweet?

Before digital – before tools – was the digit. The original digit. The finger.

The fingers could touch, could point, could gesture, could fashion – the tip of one could even make love. Wonders of bone and fascia. These fingers, these first digits, made the first tools, the first paintings, the first languages, the first civilizations.

And now, the ultimate bringing-forth of our fingers, the binary grip of the digital age – the all-or-nothing fascism of zero and one – is poised to render its ancestors into feeble vestiges of natural selection.

The tweet is now metaphor for the rapidity of technological selection and point-to-point connection. The tweet seeks to replace the touch.

Healthcare is now poised to seek out new ways of patient care via digital technologies.

But as it does, what happens to touch – which is more than just skin-to-skin, but eye-to-eye, mouth-to-ear, heart-to-heart?

What happens when we decide to tweet more and more, and touch less and less?

To touch or to tweet? There’s a question.

For we are entering an undiscovered country: if we lose ourselves in tweets and lose touch of each other, how shall we grasp what matters most to us all, the other human digit: our dignity?



Shiny New Objects in Echo Chamber Are Duller Than They Appear

Shiny New Toy Syndrome has two polar variants.

The first kind manifests itself in hypomanic pursuit and evangelization of anything just out of the gate. Examples include using services like Foursquare with absolutely no idea why. Although the tool may have its uses, the early adoption phase tends to be saturated with mimicked obsession.

The second kind is characterized by a complete lack of awareness of what’s going on in the world. Examples include companies that never heard of “a Twitter” until Chad in Corporate Communications discovers that some fourteen year old kid has been impersonating the company on Twitter for years.

You see, it’s easy to do one of two extreme things when it comes to technological evolution: 1) keep your eyes glaring over shiny new objects or 2) close them to what’s happening around you.

Living in the echo chamber of early adoption and gazing onto shiny new objects is a lot like looking into bent mirrors: the objects are duller than they appear.

This is why so many early adopters have such a hard time convincing the laggards.

So when you walk into C-suite carrying what you think is a shining ball of light, they see something far duller. It’s hard to illuminate minds with something that doesn’t shine in their eyes.

The true sheen of a shiny object is somewhere between how you perceive it and how laggards do.

In fact, laggards have the advantage of watching you make a fool of yourself.

Today’s technologies and media evolve with such speed, that credibility won’t be based on adopting early. It will be earned by those with the speedy wisdom to break away from the crowd.

When driving down the road of innovation, never forget: shiny new objects are duller than they appear.

And never assume that the laggards are duller than you. That’s your blind spot. 🙂


Mind Blown Away: World Lens

World Lens. It’s a great name for a mind-blowing iPhone app by QuestVisual.

What does it do? It translates foreign language instantaneously using the phone’s camera lens. Here, take a look [link]:

The translation part isn’t what blows me away. It’s the speed of the darned thing.

That it can use video so instantly makes me think that this technology represents something with evolutionary promise.

In theory, these could (partially) replace the need for QR codes and Microsoft Tags. In this regard: you go to a restaurant, and just by pointing your lens at the building, all the information about the place is available.


I could see the premise of this technology extended into medicine. I could see it go beyond translating text, to object recognition and instant remote information retrieval.

  • Rash identification.
  • Enhancement of diagnostic visualization.
  • Pill recognition (think Pillbox).
  • Device recognition with product information and recall.

The list goes on.

As these individual technologies emerge, their convergence and overlaying open up entirely new opportunities for healthcare.

Mind. Blown.

@PhilBaumann @HealthIsSocial

Reconnecting with Disconnection

While skimming through the comments section of @NickBilton‘s NYT’s post One Step Back from the Digital World, I came across a reference to Hamlet’s Blackberry. Since I just discovered it, I haven’t read it: but it definitely looks interesting.

Anyhoo, Nick’s post and the Amazon summary of Hamlet’s Blackberry touch on something I’ve thought and written about before: the health effects of social media and other technologies.

There’s something about the designs of these tools which create paradoxes:

  • Curation services that help with information-overload lead to curation-overload
  • Paper-saving technologies create more data for printers to print
  • Technologies which liberate us from menial tasks ensnare and surround us
  • Socially-connecting technologies create opportunities for people to disconnect from each other

Ask yourself: If you had to give up your daily gadgets and interfaces, what would you do? Could you do your job? Could you communicate with your friends? If so, how?

Let’s refine the question: What would be the bare minimum level of technology you would need to accomplish your personal and professional activities of daily living (ADLs)?

I’m no Ludite. I’m connected to the Matrix. And I’m not just a consumer: I’m an active producer and interactor. I am, in a sense, a sort of Creative Technologist (Hat-tip to my friend Jess Seilheimer – @JaeSelle – who, by the way, is someone I think represents the kind of talent needed in 21st Century healthcare & life science marketing; so follow her).

And yet…I do wonder if there are better design sensibilities we need when developing these technologies. Right now, their evolution is rather ad-hoc. Actually, totally ad-hoc.

Human evolution is way slower than technological evolution. We’re adaptive – incredibly so. Still, there’s a point of tension where the elongating human-technology differential snaps.

Perhaps rather than focusing on technological solutions to technological problems, maybe we need to focus on the non-technological parts of ourselves.

The most obvious way to do that: connect with each other. Deeply. Meaningfully. Personally.

We absolutely need media in order to connect, even if it’s just air to speak with each other.

But if the medium is the message, then what’s the message we’re sending each other if we’re connected mostly via Twitter and Facebook, SMS or other social media?

Just as we need solitude from others, we need our social circles to have freedom from media-saturation.

We – and the upcoming generation – will need to work out how to return technology from an ensnaring being into a liberating being. That can only be done by our thinking and willing.

Reconnecting with Disconnection may be the paradoxical solution to the paradoxical problems created by technologies.

How are you handling the digital world and maintaining your important relationships?


Windows and Mirrors – The Rise of Inadvertent Narcissism

A window shows you a world beyond you.

A mirror shows you…you.

The world turns on windows and mirrors.

What you view has much to do with what you know and feel and are – and what you can become.

And the medium that provides the view has much to do with what is seen.

Windows and mirrors are media.

Depending on the composition or the condition of the media, you get interesting variations on their properties. For example, a window can act as a mirror if the angle of the lighting is right.

But while windows can be mirrors, mirrors usually remain…mirrors – once they become mirrors, it’s hard to get them to show you worlds beyond yourself.

There are certain media which can be both windows and mirrors. That’s what’s so peculiar about Web media.

Google is a medium. It’s a window. It displays views of the world beyond yourself. But as you use Google more and more, it returns views of the world based on your search history. The window of Google slowly turns, query by query, into a peculiar mirror. In a way, the longer you Google the world, you begin to Google yourself.

Twitter is a window. It’s also a mirror. Your tweet is a window to someone else…then she retweets it and you see your tweet reflected on your screen.

Facebook is a window. It’s also a mirror.

Youtube is a window. It’s also a mirror.

Yes, the more you use social media, you grow more lenses through which to view the world. What’s more interesting: you get to view the lenses of other people, and to view the world through those lenses.

It’s all very cool and can be very useful. Mind-expanding really.

But these media – like actual windows – can easily turn into mirrors.

The real-time stream of tweets and Facebook updates conveys billions of tiny window-bits.

If you stand by the running flow of water, you catch glimpses of entire worlds beyond yourself.

The stream gleams and glitters like no other.

If all you do, however, is to lean over the surface of the stream, those windows will – almost imperceptibly – flip into mirrors.

Yes, this is like the story of Narcissus and Echo. (“Echo Chamber” has more meaning to you now, doesn’t it?)

Whether the Web is a good or bad thing for us depends on how much it carries us closer to a new kind of narcissism:

Inadvertent Narcissism.

Only the Web could help to create a beast like that: Inadvertent Narcissism.

I know you don’t mean to be a narcissist. Neither do I.

But given enough tug and pull, if we don’t pay attention to the world outside us and confuse the media for the message, that’s what we’ll all become. A Web of inadvertent narcissists.

When that happens, we will have become a Sibling Society.

A sibling society is not capable of democracy nor leadership nor peace. For there is no vertical structure of life experience – it’s all horizontal and two-dimensional. A hall of mirrors.

It’s the kind of society where the few with the ambition to rise above the cacophonous horizon leap to acquire all of the rights of adults with none of the responsibilities.

It’s a society where children grow up to be children. It sounds like fun. Except for one thing: when children raise children, child abuse is inevitable.

It only ends in a war of all against all. Sibling rivalry.

Dear friend:

Treat these windows with great care. We are gifted with them. Open them up. Use them. Share them. Look through them.

Just know: the longer you use these windows, and the less you peer through them, you will – without much notice – be looking at them.

The fundamental challenge of this century isn’t so much the upending disturbances of the Web, nor geopolitical battles, nor global economic collapse, nor famine.

No, the most difficult challenge of our time will be to become who we are without becoming each other.


Teh Three Internets

There are three Internets. [Yes, the title was deliberately spelled Teh. Google it if you’re confused.]

Here is some Venn goodness (click image to expand):

We are somewhere in the middle of the Web of People and the Web of Things. In case you’ve been wondering.


They’re Webs actually. Hmmm, or are they Internets? Whatever, I don’t know. Who cares what pedants gripe about.

Anyhoo, here they are explained with a bit of the old detail:

  1. The Web of Servers – The first iteration of the Web is what we got used to from the early 90s to the mid 10s. Search engines. Forums. Online shopping sites. What we engaged with mostly were the servers that delivered data to other servers which eventually delivered the data to us. It was hard to say “RT @Buddha May all beings LOL” and have thousands of strangers LOL. People went crazy over SEO – basically positioning of data on servers for search engines to crawl, index and deliver on demand.
  2. The Web of People – Blogs probably more than any other medium brought forth what we call a Social Web. It wasn’t terribly snappy, but it grew a layer of sociability out of which came Facebook and Twitter, and the social features of Youtube and Flickr.  People are going crazy crazy crazy over Social Media – basically positioning of yourself as a nice and valuable person who gets Liked, Followed and Ignored.
  3. The Web of Things – The soon-to-be-doomed service FourSquare gave us a glimpse of how to hyperlink a restaurant into the Web. As other technologies like RFID and QR Codes and Microsoft Tags (or their future equivalents) proliferate, virtually anything can be subsumed into the Web. The Web of Things is composed of everything else beyond servers and people. People will go crazy  – like never before. Minds will be blown. And people will need constant infusions of drugs we can only enviously dream of today.

If you’re fascinated by Social Media, you’re already late to the party. For Social is simply a small part of a larger party. And the party is going to be the whirring of information-as-energy; the fusion or elimination of human capacity with or by technological rapidity; the origin of chaotic political structures in the breakdown of old powers (sentence structure a la Julian Jaynes).


sEHR is Social EMR. That’s science fiction right now. But we need to start thinking of it – especially given the prospect that FDA plans on regulating EMR (registration required for full story). You think getting EMR together is a nightmare now, imagine what happens when FDA regulatory powers over devices meets its regulatory powers over marketing. Good luck with that.

We are moving into a world where machines will tweet. Where people will check into disease states and network with patients and providers. Where your doctor and nurse will Follow the data radiating around you in ways unimaginable today. The Twitterfication of medicine will happen – not soon, but it will happen.

(If you’re lucky, your insurance company won’t Unfollow and Block you. It probably will, so keep enjoying life large for as long as you can and die quick as a bunny.)

It’s becoming a world where traditional ideologies are being strained through the political, social and cultural tensions of technological Consequence and Ramification.

The same is true of Healthcare Ideologies. Think about it: medicine, nursing, public health, healthcare marketing – all are laden with assumptions and theories and practices which evolved over the cultural and technological conditions of their time.

There were problems to be solved. The thinking and the tools and the attitudes of the times forged the solutions.

We need new eyes for both old and new problems. The thinking and the tools and the attitudes of today’s workforce need radical upgrading.


You see, the key to evolving Healthcare beyond its stodgy present isn’t in technology. Yes, the tools are absolutely important. But it’s the ideological structures and ways of thinking which require enormous re-thinking, re-feeling and re-doing.

I can’t tell you what the future will look like – I’ve been there but that gnarly warp back to the present has erased all memory of it 😉

What I can tell you is this: being awake to what happens is an urgent skill in this century.

I hope the picture of those three circles I’ve drawn helps you to see into the approaching distance.


Fred Wilson, John Doerr and Mark Zuckerberg

If you’re in healthcare and do anything with technology, communications, marketing, professional collaboration, information systems or advocacy, then you need to understand the big ideas and things will make this century tick.

Web 2.0 Summit 10 ends today but video of the good stuff is available online. One of the videos is included in this post below.

Three of the most influential people in technology today are venture capitalists Fred Wilson and John Doerr, and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Fred Wilson has invested in some of the biggest technologies, including Twitter, and blogs and tweets extensively. John Doerr is similarly influential, investing early in companies like Google. He hasn’t tweeted much (unlike Fred Wilson, he turned down investing in Twitter), but since Twitter is the Borg sucking everyone in, you can follow him here.

Mark Zuckerberg, as you know, is founder of Facebook. Whatever some of us may think of Zuck, he’s emerging as someone who may end up holding the information of the largest gathering of human beings ever assembled. (Repeat that in your head and think about the implications.)

During Web2.0 Summit, these three men exchanged views. I strongly recommend you set aside an hour to watch each.

You ask: Why? And what in the world does this have to do with Healthcare?? Because these are the players who are shaping our world, helping to manifest the technologies which will have everything to do with Healthcare: from information systems to social media to the Internet of things.

Here’s Zuck [link]:

Here are Fred Wilson and John Doerr [link]:

Keep an eye on people like these. What comes out of Silicon Valley and San Francisco is having, and will continue to have, enormous impact on what you do. If you’re not paying attention to a changing world, it probably won’t pay much attention to you.


The Intuition for Technology

Note: this is a slightly psychedelic post. It starts off in the shallow end, but goes a bit deep. Many of you who follow us are into Healthcare, Marketing, Communications, Patient Advocacy, etc. What we do here on HealthIsSocial, however, is to help you see things anew – and to hear things outside of the proverbial echo chamber. If you don’t step back to question, examine and understand the big picture cultural ramifications of technology on your profession, how do you plan on getting better? Just sayin’. Enjoy! 🙂

In 2007, did you see Twitter wings taking to flight? Did you even know about Twitter?

If you said yes to both, how did you know?

When a new technology comes along, how do you decide whether to invest resources into it?

For instance, if you’re in healthcare communications then a part of your job description (whether your boss states it or not) is to understand media – and media are subsets of technologies. If you didn’t hear about Twitter in 2007, why not? Regardless of its relevance to your work, have you thought about where your attention was spent?

Now that people can’t stop talking about these things – maybe including you – what could you have done a few years ago differently so that you would be more in-the-loop about the very landscape shaping your profession? (I have answers, but I want you to use your inside voice 😀 )

What healthcare applications will gain traction? There are over 6,000 and growing.

What kinds of mobile healthcare applications will get the most adoption?

Does Augmented Reality in Healthcare have a strong future? Is it hype, or is it a new frontier that we haven’t fully explored?

My own track record isn’t astounding, but I do believe it’s better than average. I can’t tell you how much I was derided for saying years ago that Twitter would become this Century’s telegraph – that millions of people and machines would rely on Twitter-esque communications protocols.

I’ve tried to go back to my good and bad predictions about technologies, to see if I could find a pattern. So far, nothing clearly ‘logical’ has emerged.

But one thing I have realized: in each of the predictions one common thread prevailed – intuition.

I can’t tell you how to get a “better intuition” about technology.

What I can suggest, however, is the following:

  • Hone your intuition, especially in this Century of technological upending.
  • Listen to your intuition. Don’t be afraid if your intuition is wrong. Focus more on whether your perception of things is valid. That is: invest some time in understanding a technology’s properties, possibilities, limits and ramifications.
  • No matter how hard you try to ‘see’ the value of a given technology strictly on rational terms, know that technology always ends up being re-purposed in unpredictable ways.
  • Be careful not to dismiss a new technology, or a novel way of using a technology.
  • We have always had a relationship with Technology – so always consider how you are relating to a technology. What does your intuition tell you?

These may be some of the key ingredients in developing an intuition for technology.

I simply can’t see how agencies, clients, individuals, governments or others can fully grasp and exploit technologies without having some capacity of an intuition for them.

Intuition is a fascinating but real power. It may not always ‘work’, but it does hold an important place in our life. Also: intuition isn’t a mystical thing – there are solid underlying biological processes which govern our deeper perceptive faculties.

As an aside, check out Daniel Kahneman’s lecture on the topic of exptert intuition.

A personal note about intuition in clinical practice:

I can tell you that during the first few weeks of working in an intensive care unit as a new nurse, it was my intuition that got tested and elicited.

The only clinical experience I had at the time was what I learned in an eleven-month accelerated program and Drexel University. With almost no ‘real’ experience, there were instances when intuitive pulses caught my attention. I zeroed-in on those pulses (like never before), and that listening may have saved a couple of lives, or mitigated damage. I’m not alone with such experiences.

Think about intuition in general. Were there important decisions in your life that would have been made differently if you listened to your intuition?

So why am I making a big deal about Intuition and Technology?

Because, the ultimate end-point of Technology – for all of its benefits in creating Civilization – is the elimination of the need for us, for Homo sapiens sapiens.

Think about it: as technologies get cheaper and more powerful and more common, their presence will reach a point where what we do is completely replaceable.

Our monolithic relationship with Technology was what gave rise to Civilization, Culture, Progress, Politics, Craft – all of the things that we consider human institutions. In fact, each one of them is itself a technology.

Capitalism, for example, is purely technological – it’s an algorithm (invest > produce > market > start over). And Capitalism is one of our most ramifying technologies: it’s changed time, labor, family values, political relationships, and has spurred the advancement of the very technologies which quicken the pace of the algorithm!

Technology helped – and will continue to help – us build amazing things. But technology’s paradoxical challenge against us will have to be addressed.

Except for one thing: we human beings have something that can’t be replaced. What is it?

What is that thing, that essence, that has nothing to do with our arms, eyes, ears, mouths, muscles, bones, brains?

If we figure out what that is, we may have a chance of flying past the near-fatal threat which Technology will eventually serve.

Can we overcome the Technological Monolith?

If you have an iPhone or an iPad – have you considered how similar they are to the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Think: you slide the tips of your fingers across a smooth surface and a virtual universe of data streams forth. To rip a phrase from 2010My God, it’s full of stars!

Just a thought.

Just as our hominid ancestors millions of years ago couldn’t at all imagine us – what kind of Being they would evolve into – we today cannot imagine the kind of Being we will evolve into. It’s too much – it’s full of mystery.

We’re all Social Media Apes and Twitter is the Monolith.

Kubrik may have used Space as a sort of Final Frontier canvas onto which he painted his vision of our future relationship with Technology. One of his plot devices was that our contact with an intelligence greater than ours revealed things about ourselves – in particular our capacity for tool-making.

But I would offer this: in a sense, Social Media is today’s canvas for our Odyssey. Kubrick didn’t envision Social Media – he went right to Space because in the 1960s that seemed to be where the ‘future’ would happen.

What we call Social Media can be viewed as a kind of Monolith through which we touch each other – but we are touching each other through Technology. It’s not contact with extraterrestrials, but contact with ourselves which may be propelling the Odyssey of this Century.

But: whatever we learn about ourselves in this Odyssey will be a technologically-influenced context of our perception of ourselves.

That essence of ourselves that I referenced earlier? Might we identify it somewhere in this new canvas? Will it be revealed or concealed?

Is the Monolith of Twitter a medium of transmission, or just a mirror? Will it turn us from apes into something more sophisticated? Or will it just turn us into apes aping apes?

Our intuition about each other – about ourselves – must be at the forefront of our Odyssey as we move from the Web of Servers to the Web of People and on to the Web of Everything Else in the Universe.

Our intuition about the technologies we make – and the technologies which Technology makes – will need to become almost a way of life.

Technology catalyzes time and wants something.

Anyhoo, we need to get a better apprehension of our intuition. Technology catalyzes time. As life feels faster and faster, we have less time to think thoroughly about what technology wants.

Which is to say: as technology gains a stronger hold of our world, the value of intuition increases.

So, what does your intuition say about our current – and future – relationship with technology? What will be the saving grace after Technology replaces the ‘old’ us?

You must find your own answer. Here’s a part of mine.

@PhilBaumann –    @HealthIsSocial