It’s been a long time since I took a pregnancy test, but it was the perfect application of what passed for high tech in its day: private, accurate and consequential. Today, as technology advances, we are pushed beyond our skill sets without the benefit of human helpers.
Self-sufficiency is fine, but I miss having real human beings to answer questions or tell me that the bathing suit I’m checking out is going on sale next week. I miss having people who know more than I do about a problem.
When I go online to return an item, I must engage with a chat bot who has programmed answers. Round and round we go, with me having no way to tell Chat that my new shoe had a dead roach in the heel.
I had a foreshadowing of our new do-it-yourself world some 25 years ago, when my snazzy Dell desktop ran amok. One call led to another, until I reached a supervisor who said he would talk me through the fix. “First,” he said, “get a screwdriver.” This did not sound cool.
“Now, take off the back of the tower,” he said. I really didn’t want to open the back of the tower, but I did, and moved the wires he told me to move, and it fixed the problem. The house-call service industry was in its death throes.
Last week I saw an ad for a cardio phone app that can alert you if your heart rate is too fast or too slow. How is that helpful? Will it tell you you’re having a heart attack? If you have chest pain and an erratic heartbeat and your phone tells you you’re OK, what do you do? This is the perfect scenario for a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. I wonder if cardiologists are getting false alarms from patients who get false alarms from their wristwatches.
One cardiac patient offered this testimonial to his heart monitor: “This is an amazing little monitor! I recently began having heart palpitations in the middle of the night, and it’s very easy to just check my heart rhythm with my device to make sure I’m not having any serious arrhythmias. It has given me so much peace of mind!”
How is this OK? What if the dude is reading his gizmo wrong? What if the gizmo isn’t accurate? Why not just call your doctor? Actually, I know the answer to that. Answering services are understaffed. It’s hard to reach your doctor in the middle of the night. A trip to the ER is a drag.
One cardio app offers a “premium” subscription, which raises the question of what makes it premium? Does it monitor you less rigorously if you don’t upgrade? Do you get a refurbished monitor if you look for a bargain?
Now we can also buy portable ECG monitors for under $100 that you can carry in your pocket and glance at from time to time to see if your heart is behaving. The proliferation of these medical devices, available to the public, makes my own heart race.
During Covid we all learned to do some things we had relied on experts to do before the pandemic. I’d never heard about an oximeter before 2020, but when my husband got the sniffles, I regularly checked his O2 levels to be sure it wasn’t the virus. I cut our hair and figured out how to fix our TV because we couldn’t let a service person in. The problem is that now, even though we’re drifting back to normal, some do-it-yourself chores are here to stay.
I check out my own groceries because no one is at the registers. I check out my own purchases at the big stores, and I read my own lab reports on the patient portals because I want my results sooner rather than later. I book my own flights and make all changes online because I can’t get a human being to pick up.
All the work I’ve done in my life, aside from writing, which is a solitary endeavor, bonded me with other people in real time. I taught, I tutored, I lectured, and it was a way to nurture human connections.
In airports, subways and stores, kiosks go unmanned and unwomaned. We are increasingly on our own, without micro-connections to humanize our days. I see a time when virtual schooling could be universal. We will educate ourselves, order our food online, repair our own equipment and, heaven forbid, maybe operate on ourselves if the lesion is small and the instructions are good.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.