Fear of missing out when it comes to new gadgets

Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit it, I get sucked into feeling that I’m going to miss out if I don’t get the newest phone, the latest gadget. Like when I was little and I begged and pleaded to be allowed to stay up, lest I miss out on some miraculous event, new gadgets create that sense that, if you don’t have them, you somehow are going to be missing something.

Recently, I needed a new case for my old phone. The store clerk looked down at my phone with frank disgust — “such an old model.” As if he were a Parisian waiter and I had just asked to pair my Escargot de bourgogne with a glass of chocolate milk heavy on the Hershey’s syrup.

My phone may be old, but it works, and I still haven’t figured out how to use 75% of its features. Like how the “autofill” feature got somehow turned on when I text. A family friend named Jack texted me a “Happy Thanksgiving” greeting. Jack is one of those truly classy fellows whom everyone likes and treats with great respect. I meant to text back “Happy Thanksgiving Jack,” but then autofill, and my clumsy fingers, somehow fired off “Happy Thanksgiving, Jackass!”

In the last few years, cardiology has undergone a dramatic techno-geek explosion. Coronary stents and fancy pacemakers have become passe. Now we’ve got battery-powered implantable artificial heart pumps for heart failure, artificial heart valves that don’t require surgery for implantation, and even a CardioMem device for detecting heart failure before it happens. Another of these devices, an implantable ECG monitor, gets inserted under the skin and monitors the heart for abnormal rhythm, sending signals from the patient’s home to a recording station. At the end of the day, I frequently stay late to review these transmissions.

One of the worst heart rhythms you can have is called “asystole,” which is basically a flat line on ECG or, in plain terms, stone cold dead. On the Friday night before Christmas, after my last patient left, I sat down to deal with the usual 70,000 emails, phone calls and messages that accumulated in the past day, as well as to read all the reports and tests whose results were available.

When I came to the pile of recordings from implantable ECG monitors, the computer interpretation on one of them was a bit startling: “Asystole event, duration 72 hours.” Which was followed immediately by resumption of normal sinus rhythm. In other words, the computer said the guy died for 72 hours, then came back.

Now, a review of the literature will show that this has only been described once before, about 2000 years ago. That particular event led to a whole new religion. But this was Christmas, not Easter, and after more fully reviewing the telemetry strips, the miracle turned out to be Fake News, a failure of the computer’s algorithm.

You realize, as you get older, that the latest gadgets are more often than not the miraculous wonders that we hype them to be.


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