The Race to a Paperless Society

It is amazing how once you notice something, you begin to pay attention and in paying attention you discover a whole new world.

Several weeks ago I wrote an article on portable medical records and the possible uses of technology to bring part of the medical records from novelty status to a mainstream medical device. A few weeks later I was introduced to a new generation of portable medical records that were capable of synchronizing with the electronic medical records at a physician’s office or at a hospital.

For those of you who are not familiar with portable medical records allow me a moment to give some definitions. A portable medical record is a USB drive device such as a Thumb Drive, a USB wristband, a USB flash drive wristwatch, pendant, or other portable mass storage that can be worn on the body attached to a belt or keys and holds basic medical information in a database form. Almost all these devices now are password protected and offer varying levels of functionality.

A personal health record is the online equivalent of the portable medical record. This software exists on the Internet with storage maintained at a third-party site. The information is again password protected and in an emergency can be accessed by the healthcare provider with an Internet connection and that password.

An electronic medical record is a software package utilized by hospital healthcare facility physicians that replaces the paper patient chart. This is an official document and subject to significant government regulation. By 2008 every healthcare provider in the United States must be executing concrete plans to transition from paper to electronic records and by 2014 all paper must be gone.

With that in mind let’s turn now back to the portable medical records. This is a market that is exploding. A few short weeks ago I wrote an article, my second in this arena, that described nine products of this type. Two days ago I did a new Google search on this topic (okay, I was desperate for an article topic) and I found no fewer than 24 companies now offering these devices in the United States, Canada and England. Many of these devices are now being made in Taiwan and China and installed directly on the flash drives. They are coming in every shape, size and form but unfortunately with little or no functionality.

Yes, they all have some form of password protection and an emergency screen where basic information can be seen without the use of the password. They hold information such as living wills, organ donor cards, healthcare surrogate contracts, past medical histories, allergies, medications and a few hold greater levels of data. Two of them integrate with online personal health records but only one can import and export to electronic medical records.

None of these systems however have one basic piece that is required for credibility in the medical world. It is called change tracking and it is the ability for the healthcare professional reading the portable medical record to look at what changes have been made in the portable medical record and what existed in the record before the change was made. Change tracking is an internal audit of the system and ensures that there has been no tampering that could threaten a patient’s life.

At least there was not such a system until this week. This week [http://www.theoriginalmymedicalrecords.com] announced the prototype release of Version 1.2, a portable medical record with change tracking, high-level encryption and password protection.

This is truly something new and represents a second generation of portable medical record.

Where will this new medical device find a home?

As the water resistant or splash resistant USB devices these units are already finding a home on the wrists of scuba divers, sky divers, mountain bikers and others who enjoy high fun/ high risk sports.

But I envision a larger market. I envision a day when rather than receiving a flimsy paper wristband at the hospital or nursing home a patient has a portable medical record in a waterproof band around their wrist. When the nurse comes by with their wireless Tablet computer to chart she simply plugs the patient record band in and the records are immediately synchronized. The patient goes nowhere without their chart on their wrist.

When they go home the patient takes the band with them carrying the entire chart in miniature form. The hospital has its copy. The patient has their copy and their copy goes back to the doctor’s office.

In the event of an emergency the patient’s band is on their wrist and it does not matter what emergency room they go into, what EMS service picks them up all the important information is at the fingertips of those there to save their life.

I envision a day when my disaster medical assistance team (MDMS/DMAT-FL3) provides care in a Katrina like event after a natural disaster with subsequent flooding and places a USB flash drive wristband around the wrist of every evacuee. Information on federal assistance, registration for finding lost family members, their own personal information as well as a health record will travel with them from the moment of rescue until their final destination. If they already had a personal medical record on their wrist or in their pocket or around their neck as an independent we in the MDMS/DMAT-FL3 would be able to plug their device into our computers and upload the important information to help them recover their lives and help us treat their injuries.

This second generation of flash drive device holds tremendous promise not only for the transfer of information but even the prevention of medical errors by ensuring that the most basic information is in the hands of those who are making the most important decisions.

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How Instant Messaging Has Plagued Our Society

The era of mobile technology has helped speed up communication between individuals. This is the general notion nowadays. Everyone talks about how it is much easier to communicate with loved ones who live miles apart than it was to do so in the old days. Technology has enabled man to communicate with someone from the opposite end of the globe within minutes. Business growth has taken place because the world is now a global village thanks to technological advancements. One can call his children who are in a university abroad; one can make a video call to friends and family who live in other cities, countries and continents! How easy it has become for an individual to get in touch with another individual. It seems as if everybody is merely a phone call away! However, all that glitters is definitely not gold. Everything comes with its price and the process of development in communication technology surely comes with a heavy price; the distortion of language, the murder of manners and the loss of close bonds between individuals.

There is no language on planet earth that has emerged overnight. Languages evolve over long periods of time. They are continuously improved as language is the primary factor which makes human beings superior to all other creatures. Yet, within what seemed like the blink of an eye, communication technology has distorted languages, particularly the English language, in a ghastly manner.

Since we live in the world where nobody has enough time, we look for short cuts in everything including expression. A very small example is the use of abbreviations to show joy and happiness; LOL is part of most internet and cell phone users’ daily vocabulary! In our attempts to ‘save time’, we have no respect for manners which were once a big part of language. A few years back, if one was busy, he or she would apologize to the other person and promise to get back shortly. Nobody has time for that now. TTYL is the new way of telling people how busy you are. Where are the manners of speech? Where is the respect for others?

‘U’ is the new ‘You’ simply because it takes less time to type. Students often make the mistake of using this form of writing in their formal assignments and exams, leaving the poor old English teachers shocked and speechless!

The linguistic impacts that communication technology has had are countless. However, these are not the only impacts that this technology has had. I once read something on Facebook (oh the irony!) which said, ‘you won’t have any wifi in the forest but I promise you’ll have a better connection’. The words struck me immediately because of the meaning they held. Despite the fact that the internet has made communication so easy, it seems like the connection between people has deteriorated. One sits for hours in front of a screen, using fingers instead of one’s tongue to type words instead of saying them and using emoticons to express feelings instead of using his or her own features to do so. The mini heart attack that one gets if he or she misplaces her phone even for a small while is not because of the fact that the person won’t be able to communicate with friends. It’s because of the fear of being ‘disconnected’ from the lives of hundreds of people one has added as friends on their Facebook account. Communication as a process has sped up, yet the process of communicating has deteriorated. It feels like the human race no longer knows how to communicate.

Communication technology has definitely helped the human race. However, the damage that it has caused and continues causing with each passing day cannot be ignored. If only the world did become a forest with no wifi, there probably would be a better connection after all.

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Society Is Witnessing the Increase Rate in Juvenile Crime

As we move into our adolescent stage, we soon start to take our own responsibilities. Behavioral changes occur which is why we become more social and self-dependent while making ourselves less dependent on our immediate family. It is obvious that in our teenage there is an adrenaline rush which excites our freedom and so we starts making own decisions related to education and choices in our lives.

It is ultimately the society and culture that contribute in the development of human. Attitudes, beliefs, behavior is actually the reflection of our society that every human posses. Areas that are economically deprived and experience low employment will surely prove to have high crimes. The areas that come with fewer opportunities in respect to education and work can never think of demolishing juvenile crime. The European countries do have a high rate of juvenile crimes and it is absolutely not a new phenomenon.

What leads to juvenile crime?

Parents try a lot to protect their children and keep them away from watching any kind of inappropriate media content and negative news. But, is it really possible? No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to completely keep your children secluded from negativity of the world as teens are today more engrossed into computers and social media.

  • Nowadays teens have quicker access to information as it is easily viewed in their smart phones. But, due to lack of maturity and way of thinking, it becomes really difficult for them to understand the true meaning of any news and the sense of independence is rather being misused.
  • Due to easy access to all kind of information, teens can read and view things that might not be appropriate. Girls fantasize about their love affairs whereas boys imagine themselves to be invincible.

These are the reasons why today’s generation is more inclined towards criminal activities. Being more isolated, teens are completely involved in technology. Teens those who grow up in a society that struggles to earn their bread everyday can certainly evoke a sense of anti-social behavior.

Categorizing juvenile crime

We can categorize juvenile crimes by felonies and misdemeanors. This categorization is basically done based on intensity of any crimes and level of violence in any cases. Depending on the intensity of any crime such as sexual offense or using a weapon with the intention to harm anyone can be treated as an adult crime.

Juvenile crimes can lead to severe consequences and it is the reason behind keeping the families far apart and so it can take any the innocence of a child. The childhood is literally endangered due to exposure of criminal minds and deeds all around.

Individual and family risk factors

There are different factors involved which can influence in juvenile criminal act. Minor who have lower level of intelligence and lacks proper education is certainly more prone to become a criminal. While there are also other factors which can lead to such heinous act such as uncontrolled aggression, impulsive behavior and dissatisfaction in everything.

Sometimes families do have contribution in making an adolescent violent which leads to some dreadful crime. Lack of supervision and parental guidance, neglect and abuse, parental conflict and lack of emotional, psychological support to kids can certainly contribute in ill behavior. Children who are not so close with their parents usually get involved in inappropriate activities.

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The Scourge of Drugs and Addiction on Family and Society

There are so many grandparents these days who are morbidly concerned for their children and especially grandchildren. A scourge has hit the heart of family and it bleeds into every sinew of connection, poisoning intimacy. It takes its prisoners on many accounts and it ruins myriad lives. In some cases, it takes no prisoners because death is involved.

Drugs and addictions steal the heart of the family member. Their heart is no longer for what is best for everyone. Their loyalties are divided; their heart is for the substance now. Drugs and addictions kill the hope that once throbbed and thrived within them. Those dreams seem lost and, at least for a time, irretrievable. And drugs and addictions destroy every semblance of peace and safety from the family unit. There is never a time when everyone can relax, and perhaps there are some who are never at ease.

Despite the chatter of the drug user – who has become an evangelist for their substance – there is no good thing about their substances/s of choice; it only produces harm. They have come to protect a component of their life they will not, and in many cases cannot, live without. Addiction causes the addict to manipulate people; they must in order to get what they need. We may also know something of this. We may share some of their story as our history. So many of us do, and this is how we can testify to the truth, that drugs and addictions are a scourge for society. We paid the price. And so did our loved ones. Addiction is no respecter of persons. It can snare anyone.

So, what can be done?

The prevailing wisdom is tough love. We do not enable them. We do not bail them out. We pray for the rock bottom experience that will bring them to their senses. We don’t make excuses for them. We do not give them money or the means to continue their harmful habits. Hard as these things are, we must pray that they find no enablement. Unfortunately, there are always some who will insist on ‘helping’ them.

What if there are dependents involved? This is the saddest reality, because we become eye witnesses to the abuses of neglect, among other abuses that are carried out. The World Health Organization (WHO) arrange child abuse into four categories: physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, and neglect. If we see abuse, what should we do? We should do the right thing, of course. Be prepared to report it. Do as much as is possible to get the abused the help they require. But be warned, things often get worse before they get better. You will need every ounce of strength and every minute of support. The situation may get more painful than you could have previously imagined possible.

One thing we can do is pray. Another thing we can do is be a positive influence in the children’s lives, but we also must be prepared for an eventuality where access to them may be curtailed if the drug addicted family member feels threatened. Things can turn nasty quickly.

It can be difficult, even impossible, not to enable yet maintain a working relationship.

One thing to remember always is we need to exercise the wisdom of self-restraint. Maybe you are the only sensible adult influence in the child’s life. That’s a precious role you have. You have a God-anointed function in their lives. Do what you reasonably can to stay a part of their lives. And see what you can get them involved in that builds hope, joy, and peace into their lives.

But we should resist the temptation to retain a role in drug-affected lives through enabling the addict.

Where we as grandparents and parents (and at times as children of addicts) do well is to have faith that change can occur, but change only occurs when the person needing to change is honest with themselves and others and stays honest.

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The Broken Question of Good and Bad in Our Society

I am a hypnotist.

This is usually met with an incredulous look – but recently, interestingly, I am getting the question: –

“So you deal with the anxieties and phobias and hidden angst in people – so would you say in your opinion most people are bad, or inherently good?”

Which is a little general and open in scope.

By people I presume they mean humankind – not just a few random people. And by good or bad – I presume they mean not evil or saint like – but generous and kind or unpleasant and mean.

If they do mean Saint or Evil – then of course, I believe, we have seen, and see that in individuals, but not in humankind as a whole.

So if that is the question I am being asked “As humans are we inherently good or bad?” I would answer, given the right circumstances any of us can be kind and generous.

And given the right circumstances any of us can be unpleasant and mean.

“Ah ha” they then say “you are saying it’s all about the nurture, not the nature that creates us. So we are a blank slate, and then life creates us.”

I do not mean to say this. Or at least, perhaps, I have used the wrong word when I said ‘circumstances’ – depends on the ‘circumstances’.

I mean taking all things into account. Including how the fetus came into life and what it brought with it, are part of the ‘circumstances’.

I am a hypnotist – did I mention? As a Hypnotist I deal with the mind, and have interesting events occur between Minds in the comfortable Hypnosis chair.

And in general I find that we are driven primarily by shame or fear. Shame about something that happened to us, that we feel was somehow our fault – though we may have only been 2 years old – or less. Fear that because of what happened to us in the past will be worse in the future, unless we do some ritual steps.

The position of Hypnosis is that you can alter, rewrite, take away the energy, release the emotion in such a way that the past hurts and shame no longer effect the present. Thus freeing the individual.

The position of Marketers, Media operators and Politicians of course is that they can manipulate these fears and shame to move a society.

Of course Marketers and Politicians are human too and suffer from the same fears we all do. And in their fear they perpetuate, both their, and our self-abuse.

And then, it is a matter of degree, of course. What happened to me may seem like nothing compared to what happened to you -and we carry that ‘incident’ forward in our own way.

It’s a truism if you are loved and appreciated – we can give love and appreciation. If you are broken in some way – it’s much harder to offer forgiveness and gratitude to another. If you are hurt or shamed – it is natural to hurt and shame another. It’s the ritual.

The world lives in the realm of Blame, Distrust and the Fact.

As a practicing Hypnotist I tend to see the world only through forgiveness and belief. That is, the client’s belief. I am not interested in the facts, or the truth – if there ever was such a thing. I am only interested in the facts or truth the client believes to be true – because is their truth – and the only truth that has any validity.

Do I say then – there’s no absolute truth?

I have no idea – I deal with humans and their relationships. The thing that gives us the most joy and the most sorrow. Other People. And in that arena, where we spend all of our time – no there is no Absolute Truth. There is just belief.

So to answer the question are we good or bad – the answer of course is yes.

Can we create a ‘good’ society? I have no idea. I am a hypnotist. I am only able to work with the individual in front of me.

And I know, that if the individual is willing, we can move from any badness or fear or shame to love and compassion. From bad to good. Every time.

If the individual is willing to make the internal journey.

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Meanwhile – The Impact of Comic Books on Society

Comic books and graphic novels have long captured the imaginations of children, teens and adults everywhere. Many people have read comics when they were kids, occasionally hiding a comic book inside of a school book in order to read it while their teacher lectured. The frequency of which we would enjoy these tales usually decreased the more we grew into adulthood however, they still have a tremendous appeal. Comic books have usually been thought of as nothing more than mere “children’s books” however, they have come a long way over the years.

Comics and graphic novels address a range of societal issues and allow us to showcase what is happening in the world today. Some comic books act only as plot devices, some as social commentary, and others try to make us think.

Their has been a rise in interest in comics in recent years primarily due to the entertainment industry and the internet. The internet has given people new options for buying, selling and trading comic books with the online marketplace and websites such as eBay and Amazon.com. Online comic book forums and message boards have also given comic book readers and collectors an instrument through which to connect and share their passion for this creative medium and have piqued interest in those new to comic culture.

Comics are now recognized as a valued medium and we can see their influence in just about every sector of our entertainment. From movies to television and from video games to amusement parks, comics have had a tremendous impact on our culture. As a result comics are no longer being censored in the sense of what should and shouldn’t be in them. This may be a bad thing for some but for others it is a basic part of free speech and the first amendment.

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New Novel Set in Homosexual Society Explores Reverse Discrimination

Patricia Marie Budd’s Hadrian’s Rage is a fascinating upside-down look at a country in the twenty-second century in part of what was Canada. In the country of Hadrian, homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is frowned upon and, until recently, illegal. Hadrian was named for the gay Roman emperor, and its goal is population control and restoration of the environment. Heterosexuals are blamed both for gay bashing and for overpopulating the earth, so scientists have genetically altered humans to make them homosexual, although some still have straight or bisexual tendencies. While it is not illegal to be straight, anyone caught having heterosexual sex is sentenced to death because of the danger that overpopulation poses to the country and the world.

However, those with straight tendencies do exist. Before the novel opens, Todd Middleton, a popular basketball player, was one of them. When he was caught having sex with his friend Crystal Albright, he was sent to a reeducation camp where the camp director used extreme measures to try to wipe away his heterosexual feelings, including raping him. In despair, Todd begged his best friend, Frank Hunter, to mercy kill him. Frank did so, and as a result, Frank is now serving a lifetime sentence in Hadrian’s army. (These events happened in Hadrian’s Lover, to which Hadrian’s Rage is a sequel, although it is also a standalone novel.)

Such is the situation when Hadrian’s Rage opens. Frank Hunter’s family has been torn apart-his fathers-Geoffrey and Dean-have split up because Dean, who also underwent reeducation in his youth-is now unwilling to deny his straight tendencies. Dean has become part of a Gay-Straight Alliance on a college campus. Meanwhile, one member of Hadrian’s media is no longer willing to promote gay propaganda against straights. Melissa Eagleton, head anchor of the national news, leaves her job when the station owner wants her to promote his agenda rather than let her report the truth. When Melissa sets up a rival station, new opinions begin to be expressed in Hadrian. Simultaneously, straight people are starting to appear in public, holding hands, and being attacked as a result. And then a young college student, Tara May Fowler, is brutally beaten to death after coming out as straight to two other girls whom she thought were her friends. Amid all this chaos, will Hadrian be able to survive, or will it fall apart and allow the hordes of straight people seeking to breach its walls to take over and destroy the earth?

Author Patricia Budd has done an amazing job of not only imagining a world of reverse discrimination, but in bringing home the fact that this world is a thin metaphor for our own. Throughout the novel, she provides footnotes referencing real-life events in recent years that are the basis for the novel’s scenes. For example, the death of Tara May Fowler is based on the brutal murder of Vladislav Tornovoi, who was raped with beer bottles, tortured, and murdered by two of his friends on Friday, May 10, 2013 in Volgograd, Russia after coming out to them as gay. The book is dedicated to Tornovoi’s memory.

Patricia Budd certainly knows how to create an intriguing fictional world. The reader watches how wrongly the people of Hadrian behave, despite their good intentions, and feels both saddened and shocked to think such things are happening in our own world at the present time. Budd’s pacing is fabulous, with short chapters and news reports to keep the reader constantly wondering what will come next. She also does an excellent job of juggling multiple plots and characters so that the reader never gets bored. Most importantly, she creates realistic and endearing characters who search their hearts for truth and then find the courage to act upon it. Readers will fall in love with Destiny Stuttgart, the last of the Founding Families of Hadrian, who stands up for what she believes is right, even when people say it goes against the country’s constitution and they dismiss her as old and senile. And then there are the characters whose hearts are conflicted, who want revenge but find themselves falling in love with their enemies. In the end, the novel offers a deep and moving expression of how overcoming prejudice and being open to forgiveness can change the world.

I thought Budd’s previous book, Hadrian’s Lover, a powerful and highly imaginative novel, but Budd has now superseded it. Hadrian’s Rage leaves me in awe. I don’t think anyone who reads this book will ever forget it, and hopefully, it will help to change the world, one heart at a time.

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Domestic Violence: A Scar on Indian Society

Domestic violence is a reality in many families around the world. Since I come from a relatively secure environment I am nothing short of appalled by the fact of domestic violence. I used to think that this was a problem mainly in developing regions and among uneducated people but stood corrected once I became sensitive to ground realities. According to the global estimates published by the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Domestic violence isn’t something that happens merely in purely and if I may add, harshly, patriarchal structures, but also in so called progressive cultures. It is as much of a problem in America as it is in India, although the levels and kinds of interventions may differ. Domestic violence is a sad occurrence for it reveals the lack of respect and honour given to women not only in society at large but within the boundaries of their own homes!

The National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the husband occurs every nine minutes. This occurs despite the fact that women in India are legally protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The Act provides a definition of domestic violence that is comprehensive and includes all forms of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and economic violence, and covers both actual acts of such violence as well as threats of violence. Despite having such systems in place, domestic violence still continues to carry on its demonic existence within families.

In the case of domestic violence, the victim is usually the woman who is perceived to be subservient to her male counterpart. According to the National Family Health Survey – 4 (2016) conducted by the Union health ministry, every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence in various forms. The survey reveals that 27 percent of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 in India. These are pretty disturbing figures. It doesn’t matter that such cases are more common in rural areas than in urban ones. The cause of concern here is that something as demeaning and barbaric as this is even occurring in our country. India’s listing according to a report by Thomson Reuters, as the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women doesn’t help our cause. No country is without its flaws but for a country that worships women deities… it doesn’t speak very well about us.

When we think of domestic violence, we are prone to think that husbands are the primary perpetrators. While this is true to a certain extent it is not the only offender. 31 percent of married women, according to the survey, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their spouses. While married women are prone to receive trouble mostly from their husbands besides other family members like in-laws, unmarried women have also reported physical violence mostly from their mothers or step-mothers (56%), fathers or step-fathers (33%), sisters or brothers (27%), and teachers (15%).

As if this wasn’t enough to sour the mood, the surveyors discovered a chilling fact: Women in India are supportive of domestic violence! Yes, you read that right. Data shows that women between the ages of 40-49 were most supportive of domestic violence, with 54.8% in agreement. The percentage justifying abuse is surprisingly only marginally lesser among younger women. 47.7% of girls between the age of 15-19 agreed with domestic violence. 54.4% of rural women agreed with domestic abuse while 46.8% of urban women supported it.

Take a minute. Go over the numbers again and think about what they have to say. The Indian family is definitely not a healthy place. Nearly 50% of families are marred by domestic abuse be it from husbands, parents, in-laws, siblings, children or other relatives. This brought home to me the grave situation our country’s women are in. For most of my life, domestic violence was something I read about in the newspaper or watched on television. But after listening to a colleague who shared her experience of domestic abuse, I couldn’t ignore its ugly existence any more.

This got me thinking: How can we prevent domestic abuse from taking place? Education has a pivotal role to play in alleviating this somber situation. The main distinguishing factor in acceptance of domestic violence is education, much more than income, or even age. The report stated that instances of domestic violence, including physical and sexual violence decreases sharply with schooling and education. Cases of physical or even sexual violence are significantly lesser among educated people than among un-educated ones. But this alone is not enough.

A legal framework is set up to tackle issues of domestic violence but often such issues don’t make it to the court or even to the police because of the culture of conservatism and shame that is attached to them. However, women need to be made aware that there is the strong arm of the law behind them. Numerous NGO’s are working around the clock to ensure that women’s rights are met and their grievances heard. Domestic abuse is a blot on any society’s character and concerted efforts must be made to erase it all together. The way ahead is tough and the battle has already begun. But have the soldiers prepared for the war? The side-effects of domestic abuse as well as those of external interventions are numerous and threaten the overall fabric of the family and society but justice must be done. How and by whom are important and urgent questions but if each one can take the bold step to prevent and/or address abuse appropriately, they would be playing no small in restoring the integrity of society’s character.

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Impact of Social Media on Society

“Do you have Facebook?”

“Yes, of course. But I don’t think you can find me, as there are too many people who have the same name as me. Try searching with my surname as well.”

“Hey, you celebrated your birthday in K-Box, right? I saw the photos in your Facebook.”

“Bro, I saw your comments about the YouTube video that I’ve posted in my blog. I’m happy that you are also deeply moved by the ‘Dancing Peacock Man’ as well.”

Social media or “social networking” has almost become part of our daily lives and being tossed around over the past few years. It is like any other media such as newspaper, radio and television but it is far more than just about sharing information and ideas. Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Blogs have facilitated creation and exchange of ideas so quickly and widely than the conventional media. The power of define and control a brand is shifting from corporations and institutions to individuals and communities. It is no longer on the 5Cs (e.g. condominium, credit cards and car) that Singaporeans once talked about. Today, it is about the brand new Cs: creativity, communication, connection, creation (of new ideas and products), community (of shared interests), collaboration and (changing the game of) competition.

In January 2010, InSites Consulting has conducted an online survey with 2,884 consumers from over 14 countries between the ages of 18 to 55 years old on social networking. More than 90% of participants know at least 1 social networking site and 72% of participants are members of at least 1 social networking site. On the average, people have about 195 friends and they log in twice a day to social networking sites. However, 55% of the users cannot access their social network websites at work. In the past, not many adults were able to make more than 500 friends, but with social media, even a child or teenager can get to know more than 500 people in a few days by just clicking the mouse. Social media has devalued the traditional definition of “friend” where it means trust, support, compatible values, etc. Although we get to know more people, we are not able to build strong bond with all the people whom we met as our available time is limited. Hence, there is an upcoming social trend of people with wider social circles, but weaker ties (people we don’t know very well but who provide us with useful information and ideas).

Social media also influences people’s buying behaviours. Digital Influence Group reported that 91% of the people say consumer reviews are the #1 aid to buying decisions and 87% trust a friend’s recommendation over critic’s review. It is thrice more likely to trust peer opinions over advertising for purchasing decisions. 1 word-of-mouth conversation has an impact of 200 TV ads. With the prevalence use of social media, there is numerous news related to it from the most viewed YouTube video on “Armless pianist wins ‘China’s Got Talent'” to Web-assisted suicide cases (e.g. New Jersey college student who killed himself after video of him in a sexual encounter with another man was posted online). Thus, does social networking make us better or worse off as a society?

Positive Effects of Social Media

Besides having opportunity to know a lot of people in a fast and easy way, social media also helped teenagers who have social or physical mobility restrictions to build and maintain relationships with their friends and families. Children who go overseas to study can still stay in meaningful contact with their parents. To a greater extend, there is anecdotal evidence of positive outcomes from these technologies.

In 2008, President-elected Obama won the election through the effective use of social media to reach millions of audience or voters. The Obama campaign had generated and distributed huge amount of contents and messages across email, SMS, social media platforms and their websites. Obama and his campaign team fully understood the fundamental social need that everyone shares – the need of being “who we are”. Therefore, the campaign sent the message as “Because It’s about YOU” and chose the right form of media to connect with individuals, call for actions and create community for a social movement. They encouraged citizens to share their voices, hold discussion parties in houses and run their own campaign meetings. It truly changed the delivery of political message.

Obama campaign had made 5 million “friends” on more than 15 social networking sites (3 million friends on Facebook itself) and posted nearly 2,000 YouTube videos which were watched over 80 million times. At its peak, their website, MyBarackObama.com, had 8.5 million monthly visitors and produced 400,000 blog posts. In order to ensure that their contents were found by people, the Obama campaign spent $3.5 million on Google search in October alone, $600,000 on Advertising.com, $467,000 on Facebook in 2008, etc. Currently, Obama’s Twitter account has close to 6 million followers.

In 2010, after the earthquake happened in Haiti, many of the official communication lines were down. The rest of the world was not able to grasp the full picture of the situation there. To facilitate the sharing of information and make up for the lack of information, social media came in very handy to report the news about the affected area on what happened and what help was needed. Tweets from many people provided an impressive overview of the ongoing events from the earthquake. BBC covered the event by combining tweets from the work of its reporter Matthew Price in Port-au-Prince at the ground. Guardian’s live blog also used social media together with the information from other news organisations to report about the rescue mission.

It has been two years since CNN officially launched iReport as a section of its website where people can upload video material, with contact information. During the Haiti crisis, CNN had published a range of social media material but not all the materials were verified. The editorial staff would vet the reports from the citizen journalists and labeled them differently compared to unverified contents. On Facebook, a group, named “Earthquake Haiti”, was formed to show support and share updates and news. It had more than 14,000 members and some users even pleaded for assistance to the injured Haitians in the group. Using email, Twitter and social networking sites like Facebook, thousands of volunteers as part of Project Ushahidi were able to map reports sent by people from Haiti.

The most impressive part of the social media’s impact on Haiti is the charity text-message donations that soared to over $10 million for the victims in Haiti. People interested in helping the victims are encouraged to text, tweet and publicize their support using various social networking sites. The Global Philanthropy Group had also started a campaign to ask wealthy people and celebrities, like Ben Stiller and John Legend to use Twitter and Facebook to encourage others to give to UNICEF. An aid worker, Saundra Schimmelpfennig, allowed the advice from other aid workers and donors to post on her blog regarding to choosing which charitable organisations to support. In the meantime, donors were asking questions in Twitter, Facebook and blogs about their donations and endorsements of their favourite charities. After every crisis, the social media for social cause becomes a more effective medium to spread the word.

Negative Effects of Social Media

There are always two sides of every coin. Social media is just a tool or mean for people to use. It is still up to the users on how to use this tool (just like a knife, can help you to cut food or hurt others). Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a study on “The Future of Online Socializing” from the highly engaged, diverse set of respondents to an online, opt-in survey consisted of 895 technology stakeholders and critics. The negative effects presented by the respondents included time spent online robs time from important face-to-face relationships; the internet fosters mostly shallow relationships; the act of leveraging the internet to engage in social connection exposes private information; the internet allows people to silo themselves, limiting their exposure to new ideas; and the internet is being used to engender intolerance.

Some respondents also highlighted that there will be development of some new psychological and medical syndromes that will be “variations of depression caused by the lack of meaningful quality relationships”, and a “new world society”. The term, “Social Networking”, has begun to deceive the users to believe they are social creatures. For instance, spending a couple of hours using Farmville and chatting with friends concurrently does not convert into social skills. People become dependent on the technology and forget how to socialise in face-to-face context. The online personality of a person might be totally different from his/her offline character, causing chaos when the two personalities meet. It is apparent in online dating when the couple gets together in face-to-face for the first time. Their written profiles do not clearly represent their real-life characters. It is more enticing for people to type something that others want to hear than saying the truth.

Besides the “friendship”, creators of social networking sites and users redefine the term, “privacy” in the Internet as well. The challenge in data privacy is to share data while protecting personally identifiable information. Almost any information posted on social networking sites is permanent. Whenever someone posts pictures or videos on the web, it becomes viral. When the user deletes a video from his/her social network, someone might have kept it and then posted it onto other sites like YouTube already. People post photographs and video files on social networking sites without thinking and the files can reappear at the worst possible time. In 2008, a video of a group of ACJC students hazing a female student in school on her birthday was circulated and another video of a SCDF recruit being “welcomed” (was hosed with water and tarred with shoe polish) to a local fire station made its way online.

Much news has been reported about online privacy breach in Facebook and Facebook is constantly revising their privacy policy and changing their privacy controls for the users. Interestingly, even when users delete their personal information and deactivate their Facebook account, Facebook will still keep that information and will continue to use it for data mining. A reporter asked whether the data will at least be anonymized. The Facebook representative declined to comment.

In the corporate world, human resource managers can access Facebook or MySpace to get to know about a candidate’s true colours, especially when job seekers do not set their profiles to private. Research has found that almost half of employers have rejected a potential worker after finding incriminating material on their Facebook pages. Some employers have also checked the candidates’ online details in Facebook pages to see if they are lying about their qualifications. Nowadays, younger generations have a complete disregard for their own privacy, opening doors to unwelcome predators or stalkers.

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Observations From the Coffee Shop – A Microcosm of Our Society

Coffee shops represent a unique opportunity to observe the human race in relative anonymity. Sitting in downtown Toronto in the waiting period between when my lovely girlfriend joins me and when my daughter is finished at concert she is watching I do what the average person in this coffee shop does not. I pause. In pausing I watch and pay attention to the surroundings.

The sound of milk steaming and the smell of fresh espresso. The clanging of spoons as baristas serve up highly priced custom drinks. The smell of freshly brewed coffee tinted with an assortment of aromas as perfumes and aftershave and body door at the end of the day all clash for dominance in an olfactory assault. I let the taste of my own highly priced drink (low fat vanilla latte) roll through my mouth the way I would cherish a good glass of scotch. In doing so, in consciously stopping and feeling, I open myself up to all around me…

Conversations in other circumstances that would be whispered, seam to gain a life and validity of their own as volumes increase so that friends can hear each other. Projecting their volume in a vomitus mass of words that in ordinary circumstances would not be discussed in public at all – or at a minimum in hushed tones. Always fearful that the secrets exchanged would go flying to ears that should not hear them. Yet the inside of the coffee shop seems to immune from such niceties as personal privacy. There are conversations about deals that people are working on,conversations about managers, companies, stocks – all the conversations that you would expect in a coffee shop in the heart of the financial district. There are conversations about co-workers, conversations about going out after work (but as long as *he* doesn’t come) conversations about family changes – who is getting married, having a baby, and who died.

Yet there is also a deeper more meaningful undertone. The two baristas who pause slightly when their hands touch. The shorter brunette looking at the taller blonde with a challenge as she looks away with a subtle blush. There is the business man and his female colleague. He is talking to a group in a fashion worthy of Socrates yet fails to notice how his companion cringes from his touch. Fails to recognize the plastic and rigid smile that is pasted to her face as she seems to endure the situation, falling deeper and deeper into herself as she emotionally and physically withdraws from him.

A text comes in from my girlfriend and I smile. She is on her way to me by train. Knowing the time it takes the train to travel this far, I order another high priced drink and continue looking around…

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