Is Internet access a human right? January 6, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
Vint Cerf has written an interesting little piece in the New York Times arguing that Internet access is not a human right. He notes that this opinion runs counter to that given recently by a UN special rapporteur and the governments of France and Estonia (and Finland), which have made access a civil right.
(Joi Ito/Wikimedia Commons)
Cerf concedes the importance of ‘net access as an enabler for the realization of rights, such as a right to freedom of speech or expression. However, he argues that the ‘net is merely a tool, and so not worthy or eligible for the status of a human right:
… technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.
There is substance to this argument. For example, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants mobility rights to each citizen. That is, Canadians are entitled to move about freely within the public realm of the country, particularly for the purpose of changing residence or seeking work. The Charter does not guarantee to citizens any particular means of mobility, such as a road system, a horse, or a car.
However, Cerf may be missing the point. Although the Internet is a technological item, it is not only that. Consider first that the Internet has remained the Internet even though the technology has completely changed (several times) since Cerf and other researchers first invented it. Thus, the Internet should not be identified with this or that set of hardware.
I made a casual statement about how “technology is a tool.” It’s an innocuous phrase that has been uttered by millions of technocrats at one time or another.
But Graham looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Andrew, I have to disagree with you. IP is a social contract, not a tool.”
The instant he said it, I knew it was true, and I realized I had missed an important piece of the puzzle. IP (Internet Protocol) is a relatively simple set of rules used by all the individual networks that comprise the “Internet.” The IP rules work only because individual network operators have informally agreed to abide by them for the last twenty years or so–an informal social contract.
On this view, the Internet is not a particular collection of gadgetry but an item that obeys a protocol or agreement about how such gadgets should interact. Adhering to the agreement or contract is what makes something the Internet, not its momentary physical configuration.
In that case, a right of Internet access is not a right to access a particular collection of hardware. Instead, it is a right of access to a certain form of communication, regardless of the exact means.
Perhaps, then, Cerf’s concern is unfounded. Those who advocate a right of Internet access are not trying to force the government to guarantee each citizen a horse. Instead, they are advocating that governments guarantee each citizen some opportunity to communicate via the ‘net. This notion is not then as crazy as Cerf makes it sound. After all, access to the ‘net is overtaking traditional rights, such as freedom of assembly and mobility. If you have ‘net access, then your need to go to a particular location to discuss current events or to seek work is diminished. If ‘net access is rising to a par with access to public spaces and to other provinces, then surely it deserves serious consideration as a civic right.
Run that red light! December 2, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Traffic lights are a common way to establish control over how people share intersections. Of course, not everyone obeys traffic lights (although Monty Python likes them), especially when they are red. One solution has been the red light camera, an automatic camera that identifies cars that run the red lights and then issues tickets to the owners. Of course, those cameras are themselves somewhat controversial, with people complaining that they are abused by local authorities looking to make money on traffic violations.
A new idea being pursued by researchers at MIT is software that predicts who is likely to run a red light:
Using data collected from DOT-sponsored surveillance of a busy intersection in Christianburg, Virginia to track vehicle speed and location, the researchers could determine, within two seconds of a car approaching an intersection, with 85 percent accuracy whether it would run a red light.
Eventually, the researchers propose, this software could be incorporated into inter-vehicle communications systems, so that cars on the road can predict the behavior of other cars and react accordingly. For example:
“Even though your light might be green, it may recommend you not go because there are people behaving badly that you may not be aware of,” said Jonathan How, an aeronautics and astronautics professor who co-created the algorithm.
The system is obviously far from production, but it does sound like something that might appear on the road someday.
Although the system is envisioned as an aid to drivers, giving them recommendations about how to proceed at an intersection, it is really an advance in driving automation. That is, cars will, in effect, see around corners and thus be in a better position to control the car than the driver is in. A recommendation such “Stop! A car may be about to run the red light ahead!” about two seconds before the event will be of little use to a driver and, indeed, could just cause alarm and panic. It would be better for the car simply to slow itself down while informing the driver of what is happening.
Of course, the situation in which a car is constantly intervening in the control of the car will be very frustrating for drivers. Think of the recent Eco-Pedal by Nissan, a gas pedal that pushes back if the driver pushes too hard on it. The idea is to save fuel, but many drivers will likely find this sort of negative feedback too interfering and just turn it off.
As ever, there is also the possibility that such a safety system will create an incentive for drivers to behave badly. In this case, if someone thinks that most other cars on the road have this system installed, they may think it less risky to run a red light. After all, the safety gear in other cars will take care of the problem. Risk compensation strikes again.
In addition, we have to consider what sorts of bias might be present in how the system operates. Although it seems to be highly accurate, it will make mistakes. As a safety system, I assume that drivers who have the system installed in their cars will want to minimize false negatives, that is, instances where the system falsely concludes that another driver intends to obey the red light when, in fact, he will run it. This bias will help to reduce t-bone collisions in intersections. However, this bias will allow relatively more false positives, that is, instances where the system falsely concludes that another driver intends to run the red light when, in fact, he will obey it. In those cases, cars with the safety system will slow or stop needlessly when faced with a green light. This will reduce traffic flow and could result in rear-end collisions as drivers further back fail to anticipate this outcome. How shall we program the cars to deal with these conflicting interests?
Finally, when we have cars programmed to do all the driving for drivers, they may start to wonder why we have traffic lights at all.
Police and pepper spray November 23, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
One of the unintended consequences, I imagine, of the Occupy Wall Street movement is a boost in sales of pepper spray for police. For example, Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis police was recently filmed liberally applying pepper spray to Occupiers at the Davis campus. The spray is intended to provide a non-lethal option for police who are engaged in crowd control or faced with a potentially violent person to deal with.
One of the concerns with pepper spray has been escalation of its use. That is, it seems as though pepper spray is being used not only as an alternative to a police baton but as an alternative to lesser forms of verbal or physical intervention. As this Wired article puts it:
Indeed, while law enforcement scholars unanimously acknowledge that, on a per-violent-incident basis, pepper spray results in fewer injuries than direct physical violence, research suggests that having pepper spray could lead to higher numbers of violent incidents.
Why is that?
The Wired article considers how the presence of pepper spray may affect the psychology of the police officers who have it. One suggestion seems to be that police opt for pepper spray simply because it is immediate and effective. By design, the spray is overwhelming and would tend to quickly end a confrontation in favour of the officer. “If it is there, they will use it.”
Another possibility is that pepper spray changes how police officers approach a situation. Criminologists Paul Friday and Richard Lumb are quoted as asking rhetorically:
“Do officers become more assertive in suspect confrontational situations when they are ‘armed’ with an additional tool? Does the possession of OC spray unreasonably increase the sense of self-confidence and security and thereby create a self-fulfilling prophecy of threat?”
I guess what this means is that having pepper spray in the arsenal could make officers feel less of a need to compromise or take it easy in a confrontation. This feeling, in turn, may tend to raise the “temperature” of an interaction, making it more likely that a situation will turn violent enough to justify the use of pepper spray. This would be an example of technology as more than just a tool. This explanation seems plausible, although it does not explain incidents like that of Lt. Pike, who was clearly faced with a non-violent situation.
Criminologist Roger Dunham argues that there may be some social psychological factor involved:
“In their culture, it’s important to have authority. Most policemen will say that the only thing they have to protect them is authority, and they’re very sensitive to people who do not respect their authority,” he said. “When an officer gets on the scene, the number-one thing they’re supposed to do is take control” — and that dynamic is heightened when they know that other police will judge their actions.
On this view, the possession of pepper spray is socially technostressing (to expand on the concept as defined by Ron Westrum). That is, officers are sensitive to their status as the people in charge of a situation. This sensitivity is heightened when other officers are present who may judge an officer as not sufficiently assertive. Using pepper spray provides an officer with a ready means of showing who is in charge and thus relieving this form of social stress.
Another possibility discussed by Mike Masnick and due to Bob Ostertag of UC Davis is that police forces are becoming increasingly militarized. That is, police officers are becoming more like soldiers, troops in the “war on drugs”, “war on terror”, or perhaps America’s supposed class war. On this view, the police have been caught up in an increasingly confrontational view that social groups in the US have adopted towards one another. As we all increasingly view the social order as coming unglued, the police feel more intensely the pressure to control people who seem to threaten it.
There may be something to this suggestion. Lt. Pike seems to brandish his pepper spray theatrically, playing to the crowd in a way. I get the impression that he was putting on a performance that he wanted others to observe and learn from: “Don’t make trouble, or this will happen to you!” I am not sure that militarization is at work in this instance, but Lt. Pike seems to regard himself as simply part of a larger social situation, starting with his audience.
Any or all of these explanations may contain some truth. It would be easy to speculate about additional factors as well. Perhaps police officers are experiencing the effects of job deskilling. Crude as it is, perhaps pepper spray acts like a kind of negotiation-in-a-can, reducing the need for officers to master the art of verbal de-escalation, for example. At any rate, pepper spray seems to illustrate the observation that even a relatively simple design can have effects that are unexpected and hard to understand.
On the lighter side, such as it is, I draw your attention to this display of viral art depicting Lt. Pike and his pepper spray. It may make your eyes water, but in a good way. Here is my favourite:
(Disclosure: As a philosopher, watching Socrates get pepper sprayed right before drinking hemlock seems perversely funny to me.)
A magazine is an iPad that does not work October 19, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
Below is a cute video that is making the rounds. It shows a 1 year-old girl playing with an iPad, then a magazine, then an iPad. According to the father, Jean-Louis Costanza, the video shows how profoundly her experience with the iPad has “coded” his infant daughter.
It might be interesting to test more systematically the claim that exposure to an iPad will frame the expectations that children have of any old picture that they run across. However, the claim is plausible enough. And it does provide an amusing illustration of one of the themes of this blog, that technology is not just a tool. In this case, the introduction of an iPad has enabled the girl to interact playfully with pictures that then respond to her touch. In addition, it has changed (or, at least, conditioned) her perception of other things, such as photographs in magazines. The result, as her father puts it, is that a magazine becomes an iPad that does not work. In short, the iPad does not merely afford a new activity, it also affects how users treat affordances that were available before.
London calling, should anyone be able to listen? August 11, 2011Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100 , comments closed
As a followup to Cameron’s post, I want to make a quick comment along the same topic.
My thoughts revolved around the supposed neutrality of these communication tools. It is difficult not to point out the irony that in Egypt in February such technologies were praised by the West as tools of the revolutionaries, but now, they are condemned in the West as the tools of thugs, hoodies, or yobs and should be suspended or banned. To those criticizing such a ban, “A Blackberry is just a tool, to be used for good or evil” is a fairly common response. Banning Blackberries makes as much sense as banning hammers, bats or boots used by looters to smash windows, when these things can also be used for hitting nails, baseballs (cricket balls?), or hiking trails.
But I wonder about how neutral these tools really are? As sources have claimed, RIM’s BBM was chosen by rioters because it offers private, encrypted messaging that, for example, Twitter does not. The encryption is one of RIM’s best-known features, making its smartphones and tablets that much more valuable to banks, governments, the military and other who require secure and privacy communication. But public encryption technology is not valueless or neutral. Just as censorship technology is linked to forms of authoritarianism, presuming the existence of an authority who knows better than you what you should be allowed to see, encryption presumes, inherently, that people value private correspondence, that people value secrets, that people should have the right to hide something from the public.
By contrast, that Twitter does not use encryption and does not password protect all its users’ tweets also represents a value-based decision: that some kinds of communication should be open, publicly searchable, and free for anyone to read. So if you value your privacy, don’t tweet!
The value of encryption hitting up against the value of government being able to view its citizens communication is hardly a new issue. The encryption wars of the late 20th century are a recent example of this problem and it is clear, at least to me, that these are not “neutral” tools. I think if they were, people probably wouldn’t be debating this at all.
Hapify yourself! May 10, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
The Huffington Post has an interesting review of a new iPhone app called Hapify. The basic idea of the app is to allow users to use their iPhones to record what makes them happy, e.g., a kitten falling asleep. Users can do so with a photo, description, or location. The software builds up a happiness profile of each user that can be shared with other users or the public at large. The payoff comes with the promise that the app can make you happy. Perhaps when you are down, it can call up a YouTube video of kittens being cuddly (are there many of those?), or a friend can buy you your favourite flowers, or a store can offer you a coupon towards the purchase of a new pair of shoes of the kind you like so much.
(Image courtesy of Kalan via Wikimedia commons.)
Critics might wonder if Hapify represents a positive trend. Could we become dependent on our smartphones to know when we are happy, like infants who depend on their mothers to figure out whether they are hungry, gassy, or poopy? Perhaps, without Hapify, we will not count a feeling as happiness unless it is duly recorded. Ordinarily, I would say that such a worry is ridiculous: After all, most Hapify users will be adults who are already mature enough to know when they are happy or not. That is the premise of the design. The situation could be different for children or teenagers, whose ability to grasp and manage their own emotions is not as well developed. Also, information technology has a special ability to act as a kind of external brain, thus changing your thinking patterns, e.g., making you more prone to distraction. Hapify, though, does not appear engaging enough for that to happen.
A more immediate issue is that Hapify may be (or become) designed to focus people’s attention on links between happiness and goods. The app is free to download and will be monetized through selling stuff to users through ads, or by selling profiles to advertisers. “Say, that store across the street has a sale on your favourite ice cream!” The focus on selling stuff may work for Hapify but it could place users on the hedonic treadmill. In brief: people do tend to feel happier when they acquire something nice, such as buying a new car or pair of shoes. However, they also quickly adapt to the new situation so that the feelings of happiness fade rapidly. More spending is required to get the next jolt of warm fuzzy feelings. So, Hapify might help drive people into overspending by constantly reminding them that it’s been a days since they last went out for dinner, or that their friend loves the new car he just bought.
A more subtle issue would be the effects of Hapify on the user’s social network. If my friends and I are all Hapify clients, does that make me responsible when my friends are not happy? You can imagine the kinds of reminders you might get: “Your friend Karl has not been happy for 35 hours! You should buy him a new watch to get him over this rough patch.” Of course, the happiness of my friends is my concern, but I wonder if a social network might tend to amplify this interest beyond reason, exaggerating the importance of happiness reports (and the lack thereof), the role of purchases in making friends happy, and the sheer number of “friends” whose happiness rests in my hands or wallet.
Also, shouldn’t that be “Happify” and not “Hapify”?
Electronic health records and the environment May 4, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : Uncategorized , comments closed
A NYT blog entry discusses the results of a study done by Kaiser Permanente about the environmental impact of electronic health records.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
The study draws some interesting conclusions. First of all, you would think that a major reduction in environmental impact would come from the elimination of paper. If anything, the study suggests the reverse:
In fact, the researchers found that if electronic records simply replace paper records — without changing how things are done — the national impact would be to increase carbon dioxide emissions by 653,000 tons. (Or putting more than 100,000 more cars on the road.)
So, simply digitizing the existing system is not an environmental winner. However, an environmentally friendly result can be obtained by using the technology to change how people access the medical system:
The gas reduction comes from doctors using the electronic records and e-mail to answer inquiries from patients about simple problems, like mild side-effects from a drug or muscle strains, and thus avoid visits to a clinic.
“What stands out is the opportunity to reduce automobile trips,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser’s environmental stewardship officer.
So, the environmental benefit would come not from digitizing health records per se, but from distributing their use over the Web.
This note puts me in mind of work by Edward Tenner. In his book, Our own devices, Tenner discusses how technology and technique interact. Technology, I take it, you understand. Technique comprises the ways and methods people use to employ technology. The arrival of athletic shoes, for example, changed the way that people run when wearing them, as compared to other sorts of shoes or going barefoot.
If the study cited above is correct, the environmental benefits that could flow from electronic health records will proceed not from the technology but from the techniques that people use to deploy it. Precisely what techniques those will be remains to be seen. One obvious possibility is the use of social media by doctors. Some doctors advocate the use of social media whereas others regard it as a bad idea.
Also, I cannot help wondering if the study took into account the environmental impact of the use of the Web that medical work would induce. After all, even a simple Google search has a (disputed) environmental impact too.
Technology and anxiety March 10, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
Last month, I discussed how medical information technology is not a panacea, meaning that the mere application of high tech in medicine does necessarily lead to improved medical results. In the article in question, a medical doctor discussed the tradeoffs involved in computerizing existing medical practices. I chimed in that designers of the technology tend to overlook some of the disadvantages of computerization because of their optimistic attitude towards the technology itself. This phenomenon of optimism leading to exaggerated views of the advantages of computerization I put down to motivated design.
It was interesting, then, to see this article on the potential overuse of diagnostic technology in pediatric medicine. Dr. Sean Palfrey of the Boston University School of Medicine argues that pediatricians sometimes rely too much on diagnostic high tech and not enough on simple physical examinations and their own training. Dr. Palfrey notes that increasing reliance on diagnostic technology raises challenging questions:
The evaluation of a child with fever and cough is a good example. There are many possible causes, and we have a huge battery of available tests that might give us potentially relevant information. But why should we no longer trust our physical exam, our knowledge of the possible causes and their usual courses, and our clinical judgment? How much will we gain by seeing an x-ray, now, and how likely is it that the result will necessitate a change in our management? How dangerous would it be if we chose to perform certain tests later or not at all? Might our residents not learn more by thinking, waiting, and watching?
I can think of a number of reasons whey pediatricians might be risk-averse in their diagnostic practices:
- Doctors, parents, and people in society in general have a special concern for the health and well-being of children. When a child appears in difficulty, their doctors naturally want to take special measures to help.
- As a doctor, the pediatrician’s job is to restore their patient to health. The effects of their treatment decisions on others, or on society in general, is not their responsibility. So, they arrange for whatever tests they feel might be useful to decide on an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
- Insurance requirements and professional standards may demand the use of a diagnostic technology even where it may not be warranted in the view of a doctor in a given case.
- Then there is a simple aversion to failure. My impression, at some remove, is that doctors are strongly success-oriented and thus particularly averse to the possibility of making a mistake. They see diagnostic technology as a means to avoid failure and so they make use of it.
All these reasons are coloured, to some extent, by anxiety. That is, doubt about the outcome is present, and the pediatrician must consider the (possibly negative) view that others will take of their conduct. The result is that they experience anxiety, for which diagnostic technology provides some relief.
(Image courtesy of US Navy Journalist Seaman Joseph Caballero via Wikimedia Commons.)
So, the uptake of medical technology is driven by a push-pull mechanism. One form of push is provided by the optimism of the designers of medical technology. A form of pull is provided by the anxiety that doctors experience in diagnosing the ailments of their patients. If the result is too much reliance on diagnostic technology, then we might consider alternative routes for satisfying the mechanism that produces it. Dr. Palfrey suggests more professional discipline from doctors and more education for patients. I would not deny the importance of such measures. Yet, it seems to me that designers and doctors should think about some way of increasing their confidence, appropriately, in existing and established diagnostic technologies, such as the old-fashioned flashlight and tongue depressor.
A tale of two selves March 4, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
More interesting stuff is coming forth from the the 2011 TED talks. One that caught my attention is discussed here: Eli Pariser discussed how personalization on the ‘net tends to skew our sense of self. Facebook, for example, tends to censor the information that you see according to what it judges to be your preferences. If you are a political liberal, to judge from your tendency to click on links sent by liberal friends more than conservative ones, then Facebook gradually eliminates links sent by the conservatives. The result is exposure to a narrowing set of viewpoints, artificially inflating your sense that the world is the way that you and your immediate circle see it. Bad for political discourse, Pariser argues.
The concern is not new (see here, for example). What seems novel is Pariser’s analysis of why it happens. Why do people click on links in a way that seems to reveal such a narrow view of the world? Basically, it is a kind of struggle between two sides of ourselves:
He pointed to research on Netflix queues that examined how some films move quickly to the top of a user’s queue while others languish at the bottom of the list, never to be viewed. Ironman, for example, zips right up to the top and out the Netflix door to the user’s doorstep, while a documentary like Waiting for Superman never makes it to the user’s mailbox.
The Netflix queue exposes an ethics struggle between our more impulsive selves and the better selves we strive to be, the research showed.
“We all want to be someone who has watched Rashomon,” Pariser said, “but right now we want to watch Ace Ventura for the fourth time.”
- The first self is the experiencing self that lives in the moment. This self measures happiness hedonically, in terms of pleasure. It is the self that motivates you to eat junk food and watch FOX.
- The second self is the remembered self, built upon stories about events in the past. This self measures happiness in terms of whether the stories from the past are good ones or bad ones. It is the self that motivates you to eat spinach and watch PBS.
The two measures of happiness tend to conflict, which we experience sometimes as emotional dilemmas. For example, do you eat the yummy bag of chips, or forgo snacking in order to be a more svelte and healthy person?
(Image courtesy of M@rkus via Wikimedia Commons.)
Pariser argues, if I understand him aright from the article, that personalizing software tends to favour the experiencing self over the remembered self. Perhaps clicking is so easy and immediate an action that it is hard for us to wait long enough for the remembered self to weigh in fairly before pushing that button.
Pariser argues that designers of these personalization algorithms have a civic responsibility, to save us from ourselves, in a sense.
“We really need for you to make sure that these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility,” he said.
It is not clear how Google and others might fulfill this civic responsibility. Perhaps Google mail goggles is a start; you know, the Gmail feature that gets you to wait and think before sending off angry emails? Next time you click on Ace Ventura in Netflix, perhaps you should see the dialog box: “You’ve watched that an awful lot lately. How about Rashomon instead?”
Medical information technology is not a panacea February 10, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
In reading this TIME article about a doctor’s experience with medical information technology, I was struck by his conclusion that, although the technology can be a great boon, it is not a panacea. That expression provides a nice medical analogy to the claim, discussed before in this blog, that technology is just a tool. As noted previously, this expression has several, contradictory meanings but, here, it means that we have an obligation to be critical about computerizing an existing system.
(Image courtesy of Jejecam via Wikimedia Commons.)
In this article, Dr. Meisel makes it clear that health information technology has a lot to offer. He recounts when an elderly women was brought to ER obviously in a bad way but without medical records or family members. Thus, he had to treat the patient with almost no knowledge of her previous medical history. Had her medical records been available for retrieval on a distributed database, her care could have proceeded more immediately and accurately than it did.
However, although health information systems help to open some channels of communication, they tend to close others. Dr. Meisel mentions two:
- Patient status used to be represented in hospital wards on a giant whiteboard (which you may well have seen). Health IT systems replace this board with small computer monitor. Unfortunately, secluded monitors do not invite impromptu conferences among doctors and nurses in the way that the big whiteboards did. Such conferences could produce insights that helped with patient care. Has the computerized system unintentionally reduced this benefit?
- Previously, when Dr. Meisel ordered an X-ray, he would have to go to the Radiology department to get it. There, he would encounter the radiologist. They would often discuss the X-ray, and the conversation might reveal something that neither had noticed on their own. Now, X-rays are delivered electronically with the radiologist’s comments. Such a system tends to discourage casual discussion. What important information is going unnoticed as a result?
Computerization of health information systems can and does produce great benefits but important aspects of the previous, informal information system can get lost because they go unnoticed by the analysts designing the system, or because the analysts do not acknowledge their importance.
Why do designers make these mistakes? There are many contributing factors but I will comment briefly on one only: The designers are trained an paid to make the existing system more efficient by reducing it in various ways. For example, networking different medical record databases reduces the time and effort needed to dig up relevant information about a patient. Not a bad thing! However, the computerized system also reduces the number of channels through which information flows. This reduction makes things speedier but also reduces feedback loops, think casual meetings, built into the informal system. Since they are achieving desirable reductions in time and effort, designers may not think critically about whether all the reductions are a good thing. This phenomenon is an instance of what I have called motivated design. When designers aim to do good, they sometimes do not think through or properly evaluate the consequences of their work. If Dr. Meisel is right, this phenomenon may be adversely affecting patient care.
What can be done? Perhaps the designers of computerized systems need to develop a greater appreciation for the drama of human interactions in informal information systems. That is, what characters are involved in the informal system? What roles do they play? What happens when they interact? Is it important? If so, should it be reduced at all? Or, can it be accommodated in a computerized system?