‘Big Brother is watching you’ ~George Orwell.
Technology is amazing. When I started working as a nurse in this country, in order to control the rate of an intravenous drip we had to stand and count drops per minute. You would then be able to work out how many mL per minute, and thus the hourly rate. Today you turn on a pump and plug in numbers. To know what numbers to plug in we use our calculator. Or the pump may automatically compute it for you! Wonderful! And yet we still teach nursing students the drop factor method (‘But why, Ms Powell?’). And we force them to do it without a calculator (‘But why, Ms Powell?’). Why? Because machines break down, because calculators may disappear, because you may be in a hurricane trying to care for critically ill patients without electricity.
We no longer need to remember simple things. How many phone numbers can you recite by memory? Who can you call without your preprogramed cell phone? The math I teach my students is made even more difficult because they no longer know their times tables. They cannot understand why they need to learn and retain information about medications and lab values when they can reach for their smart phone and look it up. Yes, we love the Google, and we Google whenever we can. But are we losing brain cells as we come to rely on a machine? What part of the body will become redundant as we use it less and less? They say the appendix once served a crucial function in the body. Now it is expendable.
How do we make sure that we don’t lose ability in the face of this amazing technology? When you watch a little child explore the world, making sense of the sensations, manipulating toys, you get a little idea of how man evolved from out of the caves. Just observe a toddler playing in the sand, experimenting with any available object. They spin things and study things and attempt to use things in new ways. Of course nowadays give them an iPad and they soon find the right buttons to push to start a game, and then they sit mesmerized and motionless. But as tempting as it is to give in to the hypnotizing tech toys, we need to provide balance. In the same way we need a varied diet with fresh fruit and veggies; we need to provide a variety of activities for young developing minds and bodies.
This week we are learning about the extent to which our government is peeping over our shoulder, aware of our phone and computer activities. I would guess that many of us already had an idea that this was going on, or that it had the potential to be happening. As a private citizen you may have think you have the right to surf whatever websites you wish, and talk to whomever you desire. But the reality is that technology is advancing faster than the conversation about limits. The same exciting advances that are giving us instant access to everything are permitting others to monitor our activities.
In order to keep up with science we have to be thinking ahead of science, and plan for the potential pitfalls. In medicine we have ethics boards who try to assess the potential dilemmas in scientific developments. In vitro fertilization provides infertile couples with options, but that raises concerns with those who believe in the sanctity of human life. When does human life begin? What happens to the fertilized eggs that are not needed? If they are discarded, is that murder? What about cloning? What about a couple who get pregnant in the hopes that the new baby will be a match for an older sibling with leukemia and thus be able to donate bone marrow for a transplant?
The scientific community is required to have Institutional Review Boards, bodies who must approve research activities before they can proceed. In the past there were violations of human rights in the name of scientific inquiry, horror stories like the Tuskegee experiment (if you Google that you will understand one reason why African Americans have a general distrust of the medical community). Today scientists must receive training in the ethical way to perform research, and their activities must be approved.
As a society we can decide how we wish to advance. We can demand that our leaders in every walk of life maintain ethical standards. We can require better of our political leaders, and hold them accountable for their activities or inactivities. We get the society we deserve, and if we don’t make demands or make our voices heard, we cannot complain at the results.
Big Brother is watching us. This was the future as imagined by the English novelist George Orwell who wrote the futuristic novel 1984 in 1950 (the same year he died at age 47). The book described a world where the government was able to monitor your every activity. Be aware that there are no more secrets. If you are on facebook, I am sure you already know this!
So this Friday morning let us rejoice in the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips, but let us not forget there is a price to pay. Let us love our technology, but handle it with care. Let us expose our children to the amazing scientific advances, but let us also expose them to the natural beauty of our world, to the simple pleasures of playing in the dirt or reading a book. Let us keep informed about the activities of our leaders, and be conscious of the fact that they are looking over our shoulders. Let us not lose our connections to our neighbors next door while we keep up with our family around the world.
The world is a complicated place. Have a great Friday, and a wonderful weekend! And say hi to Big Brother for me!