This is what Bryce Williams wrote in his manifesto today about Seung Hui Chon, the Virginia Tech shooter. Mr. Williams also referenced the Charleston and Columbine shootings as inspiration admitting he purchased a gun two days after Charleston because he was a “human powder keg just waiting to go BOOM!” Obviously Mr. Williams was mentally ill and joins the tens of thousands of shooters here in America struggling with mental illness, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, who can easily purchase a gun. In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over. Is that true? I really hope not.
Today’s shooting wasn’t a mass shooting. It’s one person shy of meeting the definition of four people shot in one incident. However, it’s highly sensationalist and was carefully planned to reach the masses via traditional and the virality of social media. Mr. Williams wanted to join the ranks of other mass shooter celebrities. Celebrities given celebrity status by the media. Zeynep Tufecki wrote an article in The Atlantic a few years ago stating:
“As a sociologist, I am increasingly concerned that the tornado of media coverage that swirls around each such mass killing, and the acute interest in the identity and characteristics of the shooter – as well as the detailed and sensationalist reporting of the killer’s steps just before and during the shootings – may be creating a vicious cycle of copycat effects similar to those found in teen and other suicides.”
In the 1980s, after a wave of high profile teen suicides, the CDC published recommendations for how the media should cover suicides. Miraculously, the media has largely obliged out of respect for the contagiousness of suicide. Will they do that in 2015? I highly doubt it, not after the invention of the 24 hour news cycle.
A few months ago, after being held in political limbo for over a year by the NRA’s lobbying due to his gun control comments, Vivek Murthy was sworn in as our nation’s Surgeon General. He should commission the CDC to write media recommendations addressing how our media covers contagious mass shootings. That should be his number one priority.
In the meantime, it’s day 238 of the year 2015. We’ve had 247 mass shootings. They are contagious. We can do things to make them stop. We should start with raising awareness that this is a public health crisis similar to suicide and seat belts and I applaud Dr. Murthy for taking the political plunge to do so.
Doctors own the concept of medical, but not health. Medical is acute and chronic illness that can be treated with pills or procedures. Health is an everyday series of decisions we all make involving our:
- work and home environment
- harmful habits (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
- thoughts and feelings
- bodies (massage, acupuncture, etc.)
Of the 40,000 hours doctors spend in training, 19 hours are devoted to nutrition. We get even less training in the other factors that contribute to health. Doctors are horribly unprepared to tackle health, but do pretty well with pills and scalpels. So let’s just stop pretending doctors are experts in health.
In the medical world, we have specialists, like cardiologists, and generalists, like primary care physicians. In the health world, there are specialists like nutritionists and exercise trainers, but there is no health equivalent of a primary care physician. The health world needs a new generalist profession— someone who specializes in all things health and knows when to refer to health specialists when appropriate.
Every day, we are bombarded with new “scientific research” claiming some new health benefit. This article, I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Dark Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How, is exactly what’s going on in this world of health “research.” Health sites, dependent on the traditional ad-driven business model of more content for content’s sake, are driving the demand for this kind of research. Combine this with the following summary of the state of scientific research from one of my favorite articles ever, Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science:
“Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.”
And to complete the perfect storm of health deception, easy self-publishing and almost zero cost to start what appears to be a real scientific journal that exists solely online without peer review is leading to fake scientific “journals.” If you’re a lazy journalist, you’ll accept a finding as scientific if it comes from one of these journals that publish any scientific study in exchange for a fee.
As the public becomes more and more health confused, we need a health generalist to sort through all the BS and distill it down for you and your life in the vein of Michael Pollan’s simple prescription for food:
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
I’m interested in talking with people who have the skills and experience to become a health generalist. It’s a profession that needs to exist and it blows my mind that it doesn’t. This will not be a western medical doctor. This will come from a health profession, not a medical profession. They will partner with you to create a realistic health plan for your life, figure out your motivations, and in a way that doesn’t feel like nagging, hold you accountable. If this resonates with you, shoot me an email. Let’s talk.
I spent the weekend in Sebastopol, California at Foocamp. This photo is from Saturday morning’s 40 mile bike ride to the Pacific Coast. Foocamp is Tim O’Reilly’s annual gathering he hosts where he invites roughly 300 people he believes are doing the most interesting things with Internet-related technology right now. It’s really about getting them all together, introducing them to each other, and creating an open forum to mutually learn. There are folks from the White House, small tech companies doing fascinating things, large companies with scale, artists, independents, etc. There’s a strong hardcore geek contingency who add a layer of deep understanding of their field. It’s definitely the geekiest conference I attend.
You show up Friday evening at the O’Reilly corporate campus and the bar opens. After dinner, in a big tent, we all take turns individually standing up saying your name and three words you’d use to describe your interests. It takes an hour or so and it’s always entertaining. After the introductions, a big physical grid is put up with hour slots on one axis and rooms on the other. Attendees are encouraged to claim a spot and lead an hour long discussion at some point in the weekend of whatever they think will be an interesting conversation.
It’s by far the best structure for a conference. This year was my 5th or 6th year going to Foocamp. Every year, a theme typically emerges. Healthcare, drones, the maker movement, AI— they’ve all been themes. Last year’s highlight was the small team of rock star technologists who swooped in to fix healthcare.gov. This year’s highlight, for me, was an hourlong discussion on why text messaging is the future hosted by Matt Webb of interconnected.org fame. Only about 15 people were in the discussion including Stewart Butterfield, the CEO and founder of Slack and Flickr, Trei Brundrett the VP of Product at Vox Media, and the head of product at Skype from Microsoft. We were all asked why we were there and I thought Stewart’s answer was best: “because the future of my business depends on the premise.” Slack is one of the latest companies to be valued over a billion dollars and it’s popularity and usefulness is on fire. The Sherpaa team uses it daily.
We all agreed that asynchronous text is the future. First, it’s just so convenient and slips so easily into our busy, multi-tasking lives. We’re social creatures and communication is literally our lifeline. SMS is my go-to place for communicating with the most meaningful people in my life. It’s noise-free. It’s also universal. Everybody in the world with a phone has access to it, one of the main reasons why FedEx chose it as the technology they’ve invested the most in to communicate with their customers. It’s just so damn scalable. It’s also analyzable and can be used by either humans or bots leveraging natural language processing.
But the most interesting thing about asynchronous text messaging to me is the concept of messaging as a platform with embedded widgets that allow you, via a messaging-like interface, to communicate with services and actually do things. It’s similar to how you can order food or a taxi via the messaging interface in WeChat in China.
Healthcare is a perfect application for this kind of functionality. Healthcare, at its core, is just communication over time about your health. It’s a discussion you have with and between healthcare professionals with data that trickles in over time from your physical exam, imaging, lab tests, medications, your subjective feelings about your health over time, and many others. Sherpaa’s product has been on this track of asynchronous text-based communication with data widgets scattered throughout the interaction since its inception three and a half years ago. I cannot wait to see this product a year from now.
In ideating and designing any of the healthcare technologies I’ve ever created, I’ve always taken inspiration from other industries and applied their best features to healthcare. I’ve always had a soft spot for asynchronous communication. Sherpaa was founded on it. And, like Stewart said, the future of our business depends on it. And so does the future of WeChat, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Slack, Facebook, and countless others. Sherpaa is in good company with rock solid precedence.
Sometimes a technology is invented that, although super simple and basic, it’s just a fundamental invention that changes things and will never go away. It can be somewhat improved, but it will be with us forever. It’s endlessly nostalgic. Wheels, electricity, and text messaging. They’ll always be here. And I’m having the time of my life building on a fundamentally important foundation, bringing it to healthcare, and creating the future with something so primitive.