I wasn’t surprised at all when I read this article about a San Diego Padres fan being struck in the chest by a foul ball. Although neighboring fans moved out of the way, the injured spectator was trying to update Facebook and didn’t notice the ball speeding to his section. Studies have demonstrated increases in injuries to pedestrians who text and we all know the hazards of texting while driving. This is another example that smart phones may really be making us dumb.
For many of us, technology has been integrated into various facets of our lives longer than it has been playing a role in healthcare. Because of it, some of us are losing essential skills. Now that GPS navigation is widely available in vehicles and on phones, people seem less likely to know how to read a map or use a road atlas. On family vacations when I was a kid, I looked forward to driving across the state line so we could stop at the visitor’s center and pick up a map. We always had a stack of maps from various states in the glove compartment which were great to look at while on long trips.
Vacations were about getting away from day-to-day activities rather than letting work stress follow us everywhere we went. We didn’t feel obligated to tell the world every little thing we did or broadcast pictures of our food using the internet. If we needed to contact someone, we had to find a pay phone. (Remember pay phones? My buddy Skeptical Scalpel does in this funny blog posting.)
Technology can be great – it’s definitely safer to have a cell phone in case of emergency than to have to walk down the road to find a pay phone which may or may not be in working condition. It’s reassuring to have allergy and interaction alerts in my electronic medical record rather than relying on memory (as if one could actually know every interaction out there – cytochrome P450 haunts my dreams.) But does relying on the system hamper our desire to actually learn and retain the information?
I thought I’d be immune to it by now, but as a primary care doc, I’m still amazed at people’s dependence on technology. The other day, I walked into an exam room where a patient was scheduled for a gynecological exam. I generally run on time and actually had to wait a minute after I knocked because the patient was still changing out of her clothes. I could barely make it into the room because the patient had rearranged the chairs to allow her phone charger to reach the outlet. She also unplugged the exam table, making it impossible for me to perform her exam without plugging it (and the lamp) back in. She was already texting by the time I entered the room and I had to ask her to put the phone down so we could conduct the visit.
I see countless parents who can’t put their phones down long enough to talk to me about their children. What message do they think they’re sending? Unfortunately, the kids develop the idea that what’s on the screen in the virtual world must certainly be more interesting than the real world. They think it’s normal to be connected to the office 24×7. When we’re rounding in the hospital and we’re focused on our phones rather than interacting with nursing staff and the care team, it’s no different. Conversely, trying to interact with members of the team while they’re texting or taking personal calls isn’t a good thing, either.
At a local youth camp where I volunteer, we have detailed emergency preparedness plans and the staff monitors conditions so that we’re ready for severe weather. Nevertheless, parents are still glued to their phones watching weather radar in case it might rain rather than seeing their kids do fun things like archery and horseback riding. I watched one mom tell her son that he needed to get back in line to do archery again so she could take a picture because she missed him doing it the first time. Why did she miss it? She was on Facebook posting pictures from the morning’s activities.
With obesity and lifestyle-related diseases on the rise, it’s even more important for each of us to put down the technology for some part of the day. Try driving without the GPS and actually take in your surroundings. Or, get outdoors and let your brain recharge or give your body some needed activity. Reclaim your critical thinking skills and your sense of wonder rather than letting technology define your world.
Can you name the location pictured above (courtesy of Jake DeGroot) or do you know its purpose? Email me.