An unusual, uncommon, and (perhaps) an exhilarating experience

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 47 , No. 5 , June 2005 , Pages 220-223 Editorials

I’m not sure if I should be writing this piece. I may look like a techno-nerd (according to my kids and apparently a number of my neighbor’s kids as well), and even though superficially I seem to possess a pretty good lexicon of techie-speak, it’s all a facade. Underneath my one-atom-thick-but-very-shiny veneer of e-knowledge lies a wasteland of even basic understanding of what is going on inside of things that compute. I have a number of computers that I work on and depend on daily including two home-based PCs and one at each of five worksites. I have a PDA and two cell phones (all three of which have enormous computing power), not to mention some kitchen appliances that are capable of doing some things that, when you think about it, are kind of scary. I only recently discovered that our current computers are still pretty slow because they depend on electrons to move information around. (Am I really that stupid or did anyone else miss that little point?) However, apparently things are going to get really fast when photons are the internal messengers and the term wireless refers to the guts of the machine and not all the connections on the outside. I find this really exciting; just think about how much better our lives will be once the several seconds it now takes to get answers from computers is reduced to nanoseconds. I’m sure everyone is all atingle with the expectation that switch times in a photon computer theoretically will eventually be around 10-43 seconds (Planck time) which is the length of time it takes a photon to travel a Planck distance (10-33 cm). Now, that is what I call progress, and I am verging on a clinical depression with the realization that there is very little likelihood that I will be around to enjoy the obvious benefits of stuff happening really fast.

Well, what I really wanted to write about before I got sidetracked by my e-insecurity was one of the results of our recent readership survey that was somewhat unexpected. The survey company (as all of them do) led off by reassuring us that their data are likely pretty accurate statistically and once we had been girded with statistical validation, proceeded to tell us—among many other things, of course—that not many of our readers use our online journal (5%). This result seemed to fly in the face of international scientific publishing trends that see virtually every publication of note (or trying to be of note) scrambling to get their production online.

We were a little surprised that so few doctors want to read the BCMJ online given that the percentage of homes in BC with at least one PC is the highest in Canada. Perhaps our web design is not user friendly? The site is hard to get to? We were actually in the process of improving the functionality of our web site before we received the results of the survey, but I doubt the cause of the paucity of visitors to our site is either the site design or problems with navigation. When you look at the overall numbers of docs in BC who visit any journal web site, you see they are really quite small, and I suspect that our current group of doctors just prefers to read a proper magazine and not a cathode ray oscilloscope. Based on some of the editorial comment I continue to see from non-Canadian journal editors, I also suspect this is a universal phenomenon. I wonder as well if the world’s physician demographic looks like ours, with a heavy weighting of individuals who grew up using slide rules rather than calculators.

However, we are a rapidly evolving computer-based society and web-based communication is not going to grind suddenly to a stop. I think it is important that we continue to improve the functionality and accessibility of our web site in the expectation that as our physician demographic naturally evolves, web users will actually understand how the machines work and (heaven forbid) picking up a hard copy of the BCMJ will be an unusual, uncommon, and (perhaps) an exhilarating experience.


James A. Wilson, MD. An unusual, uncommon, and (perhaps) an exhilarating experience. BCMJ, Vol. 47, No. 5, June, 2005, Page(s) 220-223 - Editorials.

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