#MayoRagan - Fighting the Powerlessness of the Virtual

After a busy day, and a pleasant dinner, I headed back to my room to relax. I looked at the pile of books next to my bed for a little light reading. I had been reading Michel Foucault's "The Archaeology of Knowledge", which has been though provoking, but I had had enough thoughts provoked during the day, so I went for something a little lighter, Jean Baudrillard's "Screened Out". It seemed somehow appropriate.

I scanned through the different articles in the collection. "AIDS Virulence or Prophylaxis?", "We are all Transexuals Now", "No Pity for Sarajevo", "Otherness Surgery". Several of them would probably be a great night cap to a great day. I settle on "The Powerlessness of the Virtual".

It was about when some students held a demonstration which delayed a high speed TGV train in France for ten minutes.

All they will wrest from the transparency of the rich is this ten minutes of immobility, this ten-minute freezing of the TV spectacle of which they are the victims.

I paused to wonder what Baudrillard would have thought of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. He goes on to say

A scaled-down version of the clash between the real and the virtual and its fantastic consequences at the planetary level: the dissociation between a very high frequency virtual space and a zero-frequency real space.

This lead me to think about Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig, trying to make sense of his own life, sets out on a motorcycle, with his son riding along, to rediscover some of his past and his quest for quality. He choses to ride a motorcycle on the backroads to be more in touch with what is going on around him, instead of viewing the interstate out the windows of a sealed up car, not much different than watching a long television documentary about the land zipping by.

Okay, this is a long introduction to my reactions to Tuesday's sessions at the Third Annual Health Care Social Media Summit at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The final keynote of the day was @SeattleMamaDoc. She is as powerful and passionate a speaker at a conference as she is online and she received a standing ovation.

As more and more of our communication takes place online, takes place in the virtual realm, we have to worry about whether we are riding an information superhighway with Baudrillard similar to the drivers on the interstate that Pirsig spoke about.

@SeattleMamaDoc embodied something closer to riding the backroads of the internet on a bicycle (with a properly fitted helmet!), closer to the quest for quality that Pirsig writes about.

We cannot afford to let science online be dominated by celebrities that don't really know the topic. We need scientists, researchers, and experts to find their voice online, and find it as a voice that is meaningful and heard, and not just a ten minute delay of a high speed train.

How do we do this? It is similar to Pirsig's trip; joining in conversations about quality; storytelling.

@SeattleMamaDoc was not the only compelling speaker on Tuesday. There was a great panel about patients with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) and how they had come together online to inspired medical research. One of the panelists used the phrase, "Patient Initiated Research". I thought that captured very nicely the power of the patients, the researchers, their connections online, and hope for new areas of medical research. I tweeted that as a great new potential buzz phrase, which ended up being retweeted by many.

"Patient Initiated Research", its a great idea whose time is overdue, and is also an antidote to the powerlessness of the virtual.

Yet the virtual continues to evolve, and with that, I should do a shout out to one of the other presentations that I thought was incredible. I tweeted that @EndoGoddess managed to fit about three hours of information into a one hour time slot. I don't have the time or energy, right now, to hit even a small subset of the points she did. Suffice it to say that she is doing some very interesting work with texting and apps to improve health outcomes, and when you get right down to it, the real power of this conference, no offense to people focusing on marketing or ROI, is improved health outcomes.

The virtual has changed dramatically since Baudrillard wrote his article, and perhaps with a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sitting next to a health blogger's computer, the virtual can become a bit more powerful, especially for those running with ideas picked up at the summit this week.