• Pat Mastors

Missed connections

I’m in DC, having just attended a day-long workshop facilitated by a futurist, exploring how trends in adjacent industries will impact the future of the nursing profession. (Imagine a world where your “smart garage”, linked to the floor of your house that knows your weight, and to a fridge that charts your eating habits, suggests you not take the car to work...because it thinks you need to go on a diet and should walk to work). More on that in a future post.

So I’m chewing on what I learned today as I step into the airport terminal and head to grab a meal during my two hour wait to go home. I’m contemplating the menu when my phone alerts me that my flight departure is now delayed from 6:55 to 9:35 pm.

Ugh. What to do with the next 5 hours?

I peruse the online menu, on the hardwired iPad perched in front of me. To my left and right, and at every table in the restaurant, each seat is similarly aligned with an iPad smart menu. It offers Games! Flight info! News! Food! Drink! Just tap tap tap to order, swipe your credit card, and minutes later a server will come up behind you and slide the order in front of you. No need for them to check back and see how you’re doing...your job is to tap tap tap if you want to order anything more, or want your check.

How efficient! How elegant! How great for inventory control! How easy to track/charge/manage!

I hate it.

I hate the sterile, streamlined process...absent any variables that can make air travel for travelers an interesting adventure. I miss meeting a server you can talk to, get their take on the food, and find a reason to leave a big tip. I’m stressed as I crane my neck over a high-level barrier to catch the eye of a passing worker to ask for a glass of water (not on the menu). I miss turning to the person next to me (not wanting them to have to tear their eyes from a device screen) and inviting a conversation.

I miss people.

So yes, I appreciate all the reasons my airport dining has been “technologically optimized”. I will use this time in the airport catching up on email, reading, checking the headlines, editing photos in my phone, writing this post.

But there was a time a few years ago I would think of a five-hour layover in an airport as a random opportunity the universe offered me to collide with strangers. Maybe learn something, maybe laugh, maybe hear a good story...but certainly to enjoy a new human connection.

This is the path we’re on with technology in virtually every industry. The efficiencies our digital world delivers will increasingly supplant much of the random imperfection of human encounters. There is a price. We don’t yet know what it is.

I’m both intrigued and terrified, especially as it relates to health care. My job is to speak up for patients.

Advancing technologies - everything from AI to user-friendly rating platforms - will for sure give patients many good things. More control, more information, more choices, more agency. And yet when things really go sideways, what patients really crave - is for caregivers to care. At times of biggest stress and vulnerability (which is where being really sick puts us), when we are stripped of our power and certainty, terrified at the thought of losing a loved one, or our own expectations of the life we thought we’d have, a kind word, listening ear, or warm hug can be the currency of salvation.

Can a robot or hologram be programmed to offer comfort and personal attention? Should it?

Would we want it to?

UPDATE: I finally boarded my flight from DC and promptly spilled my cup of water all over the passenger next to me. Turns out she’s a retired judge who arbitrates med-mal cases. Such a cool lady and we could have chatted all night.

Cheers to the random human encounter.


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