Social media: Just add water….. Instant expert

3 06 2012

In an exercise in sheer bluff and hypocrisy, I am now going to expand my hypothesis (aka brief thought and opinion) on social media encourages us to turn a fleeting thought into an opinion, and an opinion into instant expertise.

Somewhere in medical school, they teach doctors how to sound like they know what they are talking about. Not lie, not guess, but somehow, to convey an air of authority and confidence so that patients feel comfortable undertaking treatments. When you go and see a doctor, you want him or her to tell you the truth, but you also want them to tell you what they think is wrong with you and confidently lay out a treatment plan. You don’t want them umming and aahing about possible diagnoses and treatments and unable to make a decision. You want assurance that they know what they are doing.

Of course there is a down-side to this. When they really don’t know what they are talking about, they still manage to convey an air of authority, as anyone related or in business with a doctor may tell you.

Well, social media has the same effect. Social media wants you to say something. SOMETHING. Anything really, given some of the things we have all seen floating around the internet. But it wants you to have an opinion, pick a side, take a stand. Then we can all agree with you (*like*) or disagree with you (sometimes erupting into flaming). Social media does not want you to be reasonable and rational and tentative. Social media treats such rationality with the withering scorn it deserves. Social media IGNORES such approaches.

So being the attention-seekers that we are (not you and me – other people online) we turn into mini-shock-jocks. We start spouting opinions and, with the nice but false anonymity that sitting behind a screen seems to give us, we become mini-experts on a given subject. And then another, and then another.

And once you have put your opinion out there, you need to defend it.

While in real life we might be reasonable and rational, venturing opinions, gaining feedback and using it to modify our opinions, online we are experts. We have staked out our opinion in black and white and it cannot ever be retracted. Therefore no matter what evidence is presented to us, we must resort to the lowest of low tactics to defend our spot. Attack the messenger. We must dominate.

Present company excepted of course. You and I would never do that. But does it sound like what you have seen online?



24 03 2012

In my twenties I worked overnight for a medical locum service. We sent doctors out on the road to visit people at home overnight. Not quite medical emergencies, but at least in theory, things that couldn’t wait until morning.

Because I was studying at university at the time, and possibly because I was quite fond of a certain quality of life, I worked the weekends. Half of Thursday night (3am to 8am), all of Friday night (10pm to 8am), all of Saturday night, All of Sunday night and half of Monday night (10pm to 3am).

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It paid very well. (Very well.) And there is an entire community out there that works weekend nights and we got to know each other and had chats and sometimes met up for breakfast at the Hilton or the Hyatt in the morning. And it was nice driving home when rush hour was heading in the other direction. Every so often, I actually had a social life on the weekend and I would swap with the woman who worked the weekday nights.

Which is where my full moon story comes in.

It was a well known fact for we night workers in the medical industry that full moons were weird. Not in an astrology way, in a literal sense. And sometimes really bad. And the worst of all full moons was the Saturday night full moon, probably because it combined with a major drinking / partying night.

Full moon nights would be characterised by:
• Pubs – more fights and more injuries
• Police and Ambos – more call-outs for drunks and disturbances
• Hospital EDs – more bizarre cases, more injuries from fights and falls
• Nursing homes – patients restless and wandering, falling
• Prisons – more disturbances amongst the inmates

So the whole full-moon-thing is a fact, not a fiction.

Of course the reasons might be different – less the “lunatic” and more the fact that additional light means people sleep less deeply, are more likely to be out and about on the streets, etc. Either that, or the tide has gone out on their brains. Present company excepted of course.

So back to the story. I used to comment on how completely bizarre some of my Saturday full moon nights were, and the lovely woman who worked the week nights used to sympathise.

Until one day she did a swap with me and actually worked the full moon Saturday night.

And swore she would never swap with me again.

So yes, Virginia, there is a full moon syndrome. And everyone working those shifts knows about it – medicos, nurses, police, ambos, publicans, wardens. And I have to say, the bizarre stories in the media (and particularly social media, which I monitor) come thick and fast at the full moon.

So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The next full moon at time of writing in Australia is 6 May 2012. You have been warned.