Tag Archives: technology

Tips for using your cellphone

A cellphone

Congratulations on your purchase of a new cellphone! While this tiny rectangle of metal and glass may not look like much, you will soon find yourself drawn into its world  —  inexorably. So as not to become one of those zombie cellphone users you see around you, crashing their cars, walking off cliffs, and ruining friendships, we have some tips for you. What’s that? This is your 10th cellphone purchase? Well pay attention, sonny boy, you might learn something too.

Like all technologies, cellphones are neither good nor evil. It is how they are used that matters. True, there are certain technologies, like nuclear weapons and cellphones, for which finding good uses is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless we will try.

  • Waste time more efficiently
    You’re stuck in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Go ahead and use your cellphone. It’s got to be better than that tattered June 2010 edition of People Magazine.
  • Read good stuff
    Millions of books, articles, online courses, and other good stuff are available to read via your cellphone. Use it to learn. Avoid mindless social media and amateur videos. If you’re going to walk off a cliff, do it while reading Tolstoy instead of while perusing cat videos.
  • Push vs Pull
    Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was the first disrupting — no, interrupting — technology created (thank you very much!), and the cellphone is a much more malignant interrupter. Not only is it already a telephone, liable to go off at any moment — and unlike an old-fashioned telephone you can’t go outside to escape it — but it will also cheerfully beep or ping or vibrate incessantly with so-called “push notifications.” You need to set limits. Who’s the boss here: you or the cellphone? Do you really need to be alerted to the astounding fact that so-and-so, someone you’ve forgotten about, has finally tweeted something after not tweeting for a long time? Push notifications are usually on by default, and need to be turned off for each app, which is a pain. Nevertheless it is worth the effort to do so. Short of North Korea declaring war on the US, these notifications can wait until you decide you want to check them.
  • Don’t be rude, there are other people out there
    Long ago, at the dawn of the cellphone age, I saw a woman at the train station seemingly talking to herself in the middle of a crowd of people. I thought she was schizophrenic, talking to an imaginery person. Now such a sight is common, and people share their end of a private conversation with abandon in the midst of a crowd of perfect strangers via their cellphone plus or minus some bluetooth accessory. Don’t do this.
  • Put it away
    Two people at a restaurant. Man and woman. A lovely couple. Ignoring each other while fully mesmerized by their cellphones. This scene is repeated everywhere thousands of times a day. Why? Even if the other person is more boring than a cat video, can’t you at least pretend to be a human being who still is interested in others of your species?

It is hoped that by following the guidelines above, you will remain a sane and productive cellphone user.

The Smartphone is an Essential Medical Instrument

The storage capacity of the human mind is amazing. One estimate of the size of the brain’s “RAM” is as high as  2.5 petabytes (a million gigabytes). The number is based on the total number of neurons in the brain and the total number of possible connections per neuron. I suspect it is an overestimate, given the vagaries and innate inefficiency of biological systems. Nevertheless the true figure is undoubtedly impressive. But not infinite.

There are well-documented feats of human memory and calculating prowess. Ancient Greeks could memorize and recite the epic poems of Homer. Indeed this was how the Iliad and the Odyssey were passed down for generations before the Greeks acquired writing. Savants can quickly perform cube roots of long integers or have memorized pi to over 20,000 decimal places. Musical prodigies like Mozart or geniuses like Einstein impress us with the capabilities of their brains. Yet for the average person who has trouble memorizing a shopping list, these stellar examples of mental fortitude provide little solace. The old myth that we are only using 10% of our brain capacity has been debunked . So unless you’re willing to believe the combination kelp-Ginkgo-biloba-blueberry supplement you heard about on the radio is really going to work, you are pretty well stuck with the brain and memory capacity you have right now. At least until things get worse as you get older.

While the brain’s capacity may increase due to evolutionary forces over the next few thousands years (or not, see the movie Idiocracy), the amount of information that it is required to hold is not constrained by such a slow process. According to one source , there are now over 50 million scientific publications, with about 2.5 million new articles published each year. There is a 4-5% increase in the number of publishing scientists per year. No one can absorb all this. The days of the “Renaissance Man” who could quote Bulwer-Lytton while relating the latest experimental data from Maxwell and then play a Bach fugue while giving a dissertation on Baroque counterpoint are long gone. So what’s a 21st century scientist (or physician) to do?

One thing we should not do is to attempt to memorize everything. It is important to off-load as much information from our brains as possible. Our brains need to be more like an index than a database. We need to know what information we are looking for and where to find it. Information that we use all the time is automatically memorized and we don’t have to look it up. But a lot of information that we don’t use frequently is better off external to our brains. As long as it is easily retrievable, it will be available. Better to look something up that we are unsure about, such as a drug dose, than hazard a guess and be wrong.

Fortunately we live in an era when we can implement this strategy very easily. We carry smartphones that are constantly connected to the Internet. All the data we need is at our fingertips and incredibly easy to look up. Similarly we can store data on these devices for later retrieval. This constant availability of information makes life easier for doctors and undoubtedly makes for better patient care because of decreased mistakes due to memory errors.

There are those who would argue that relying on these devices is a crutch, and any good doctor wouldn’t need them. What would happen if a doctor’s plane crash landed on some remote island, where there were no charging ports? How could that doctor function?

I think it’s time to put aside such nay-saying and embrace our digital assistants. These devices are our tools, as essential to modern medicine as ultrasounds, blood tests, and MRI scanners. Take away any of these tools, and doctors will be limited in what they can do. We should be proud of the impressive technology that allows us to carry powerful computers in our pockets, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to use them.

Notwithstanding the above, medical board certification is still old-school, rooted in that outmoded 19th century Renaissance Man philosophy that doctors should hold everything in their heads. Certainly some medical board questions are practical and test things all doctors should know. But thrown into the mix are a lot of obscure questions about obscure facts that may be difficult to regurgitate during a testing session, but would be easy to look up online in a few seconds in a real-world setting. So, do these tests actually test one’s abilities as a real-world practicing doctor armed with modern information technology or are they just a particularly arcane version of Trivial Pursuit?

I’ll leave the answer to this question as an exercise for the reader.