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Tag: Big Brother

A Cowardly New World

Last month, the National Post’s Tom Blackwell reported that a growing number of hospitals say patients and their families are secretly recording doctors and nurses. Some say it’s a symptom of the breakdown of trust being patients and their physicians.  Welcome to a Cowardly New World.

The biggest examples that reported in the National Post included a video camera installed in a clock radio to secretly record doctors and nurses as they treated a patient.  The footage was used as evidence regarding substandard care at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.  At Toronto’s University Health Network, a video camera was reportedly concealed inside a teddy bear.  A camera concealed in a wrist watch was used to record evidence against a Calgary psychiatrist.  Smart phones are also being used overtly and also surreptitiously.

I have experienced this first hand in the ER.  On one occasion during a night shift, as I was about to stitch up a patient’s cut, his buddies asked if they could record me doing it.  I thought it was kind of cute and innocent.  The recording took place in a closed room away from other patients so there was no risk anyone else could be filmed surreptitiously.

To be clear, that example was overt.  I had another patient encounter that was quite different.  I remember seeing an elderly patient who came to the ER with a medical problem.  Both the patient and a relative were present in the room the first time I saw him.  I came into the room a second time to give the patient and the relative some test results.  As I walked into the room, I noticed that a cell phone was on a chair in the room; it was seated in the middle of the seat cushion, sort of like an invited guest.  I paid no further attention to it.

The relative said the patient’s daughter (a physician) and was en route the hospital to speak with me.  I started to tell the patient and the relative my working diagnosis and my management plan.  Suddenly, the cell phone talked!  A voice emanated from the smart phone’s speaker disagreeing with me!  The daughter had been surreptitiously listening in all along.

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The Dead Past

I must start out with a confession: When it comes to technology, I’m what you might call a troglodyte. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone or a Blackberry. I don’t have an avatar or even voicemail. I don’t text.

I don’t reject technology altogether: I do have a typewriter—an electric one, with a ball. But I do think that technology can be a dangerous thing because it changes the way we do things and the way we think about things; and sometimes it changes our own perception of who we are and what we’re about. And by the time we realize it, we find we’re living in a different world with different assumptions about such fundamental things as property and privacy and dignity. And by then, it’s too late to turn back the clock.

When I think of new frontiers on the internet I’m reminded of a science fiction story I read in college by my favorite SciFi author, Isaac Asimov. It’s called “The Dead Past,” and it goes something like this: Scientists have invented a machine called a chronoscope that can be used to view any time in the past, anywhere in the world, but this technology is strictly regulated by the government. Historians try to get licenses to view ancient Carthage or Rome, but government bureaucrats churlishly deny most requests based on mundane considerations of cost and convenience. So a frustrated historian teams up with a frustrated physicist and a frustrated journalist and together they reverse-engineer the chronoscope. They are eventually apprehended, but by that time the journalist had sent the plans to half a dozen of his news outlets; the secret is out and can never be retrieved.

And there, in the closing pages of the story, Asimov explains why the government had been so secretive about this invention:

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