I've just spent a wonderful evening with friends and neighbors. The talk turned to technology and we eagerly discussed new features on phones that are not quite phones anymore. They are communication/organization/information devices. They all have their own names, like nymphs in Greek mythology: Treos, blackberries, Razrs.
Although we can certainly reach more people and obtain more information, has it made our lives any better? Have we put this technology to its best primary use: to make our lives less nasty, brutish and short?
In the medical field, there's plenty of technology, yet it's often poorly employed. Doctors have become test-centric -- mostly due to their fee for service structure -- rather than focusing on results. Will an MRI relieve pain if a doctor doesn't have full access to his patient's medical records? Why can't a doctor call up all that information as easily as he can get a reservation for his favorite restaurant on his blackberry? Is something wrong here?
Acccording to the US Food and Drug Administration, medical errors kill about 98,000 people a year. That's nearly twice the number killed in all of the auto accidents in the US every year. Can this number be reduced? Surely if you can get a microwave to beep when it turns off, you can get an alarm to go off when someone's getting the wrong medication or too much of it.
This is not a screed on the US healthcare system, which is broken in so many ways, this blog can't do justice to this argument at the moment. I'm talking about technology becoming our servant instead of our muse. It should be both, but it isn't.
In the conclusion of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, he tells us "do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old, return to them....Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all dissapation."