Why Doctors Hate Their Computers

Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But screens are coming between doctors and their patients. [Atul Gawande] www.newyorker.com

Thoughtful article about problems that ensue when digitization imposes top-down centralized command on front-line workers.

Why People Still Use Fax Machines [Sophie Haigney/The Atlantic]

Fax machines are still in widespread use in law enforcement and medicine.

An early facsimile message was sent over telegraph lines in London in 1847, based on a design by the Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. There is some dispute over whether it was the first fax: Competing inventors, including Bain in the United Kingdom and Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell across the Atlantic, sought to father facsimile technology, which was a kind of white whale for inventors. Telegraphs already allowed messages to be passed across distances, one letter at a time using Morse code. But the dream of transmitting copies of messages and images instantly over wires was very much alive. Writing in 1863, Jules Verne imagined that the Paris of the 1960s would be replete with fax machines, or as he called them, “picture-telegraphs.”

The technology did eventually lead to a revolution in communication, though it didn’t happen until years later. It first became known to many Americans after the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where a fax machine transmitted newspaper images from around the world at a rate of 18 minutes per page—lightning speed for the time.

“In an age of instantaneous information and images, it is hard to appreciate the magic that millions in the 1930s experienced upon seeing photographs of distant disasters appear the next day in their newspapers, or the excitement in the 1980s of watching an exact copy of a letter emerge line by line from a machine connected to the telephone network,” Jonathan Coopersmith writes in his book Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine.

Faxing really took off in the ’80s, in offices around the world. It caused major changes in the speed of business transactions, allowing individuals and companies to disseminate materials quickly and broadly—someone in an office building in Japan could fire off a document to the United States instantly. It also served as a precursor to today’s digital-image culture: Fax allowed for the speedy dissemination of pictures of all kinds. This gave rise to so-called creative faxers who, Coopersmith writes, faxed “pizza orders, song requests, party invitations, greeting cards, ski reports, amniocentesis results, baby footprints, children’s drawings, and vows of eternal love.” People faxed Santa Claus. They faxed God, via the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

But its reign was short-lived.

What It Feels Like to Die

Science is just beginning to figure it out, writes Jennie Dear at The Atlantic:

“Roughly from the last two weeks until the last breath, somewhere in that interval, people become too sick, or too drowsy, or too unconscious, to tell us what they’re experiencing,” says Margaret Campbell, a professor of nursing at Wayne State University who has worked in palliative care for decades. The way death is talked about tends to be based on what family, friends, and medical professionals see, rather than accounts of what dying actually feels like.

James Hallenbeck, a palliative-care specialist at Stanford University, often compares dying to black holes. “We can see the effect of black holes, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to look inside them. They exert an increasingly strong gravitational pull the closer one gets to them. As one passes the ‘event horizon,’ apparently the laws of physics begin to change.”

What does dying feel like? Despite a growing body of research about death, the actual, physical experience of dying—the last few days or moments—remains shrouded in mystery. Medicine is just beginning to peek beyond the horizon.

What’s going on in the brains of people who don’t need much sleep?

Scientists study the brain activity of people who claim to be able to do just fine on five hours or less sleep per night. Research finds that these people might be more efficient than the rest of us at performing the memory consolidation that sleep provides. They might also be falling asleep for a minute or two at a time when things get boring. And maybe these short sleepers are just kidding themselves about how they function well on very little sleep.

I need more sleep than I’d like. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights I got four to five hours of sleep per night, and suffered for it. By Thursday and Friday I was a wreck. Last night I slept eleven hours and today it feels like my brain is packed in cotton.

(David Pescovitz, Boing Boing.)