Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

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Digital Age

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 8, 2010

     Teaching for twenty years led me towards perfecting the handout. I now have a color picture on the cover of a white notebook in which each week’s readings are divided by tabbed paper. For years, students have complimented me on the presentation, as well as the content. Recently, I added the title of the course on the side of the binder so that each student can proudly put the notebook in his bookshelf and have an easy way to find it again. I imagine my students carrying this notebook into coffee shops or reading it as they wait to see their doctor or their accountant. I imagine that the people in the waiting room might crane their neck to see what my student is reading. I envision my student proudly showing them the notebook and a great conversation begins.

      I have returned to teach a class of five students; five kind, considerate and thoughtful students. I proudly distribute my handout and almost in unison they say to me “you know, you could give us a digital file.” My heart sunk. “Yes,” I say,” that would save a lot of time and money,” while thinking that I am just not ready to stop creating my notebooks. I am struggling to accept that media is quickly becoming digitized and as such, there will be less things to “hold”. I see the benefits, but somehow I am sad to think that books could be going the way of records-museum pieces.

     A psychiatric resident and I are working together on a journal club to discuss some of Melanie Klein’s work. At the end of our meeting, I enthusiastically asked him “hey, do you want to borrow some of my books?” Gently, he said “no, that’s OK, I will just look her up on Wikipedia.” Stunned, I replied, “yea, I looked her up on Wikipedia, and I thought that was a good summary.” I think I was trying to sound hip.

        Where are the days when borrowing books, sharing the tactile experience of perusing pages of thoughtful writing, was an integral part to education? Am I old? I wonder. Or, am I living in a time of great technical changes in education? Either way, I am both trying to adapt, and protesting the change at the same time. Books take up a lot of space; they cost a lot of money. The new age will shift to lower space needs and lower cost for books. Still, imagining a world where all books are digital fills me with sorrow.

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Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 7, 2010

     Do I need my land line? Do I need a smartphone? How is our new digital world changing my access to my patients? What are the expectations about my availability? Have they changed with technology that allows instant communication? I have had my office land line for twenty years, same phone number. I have electronic voicemail, which when I started my practice was a new invention. Many of my senior colleagues at that time used answering services. I remember thinking how out of date they were. Now, I think of myself as out of date, as I am still attached to my land line. I am reluctant to switch over to a cell phone for all of my activities. Yet, many of my younger colleagues are doing this and in so doing, a new standard of availability might be evolving in my field. As I think about this, I begin to see how attached I am to the idea that there is a phone in my office; a phone which stays in my office. I feel that the land line creates a clear demarcation between work and leisure. I am also attached to my phone number-a symbol of my professional endeavor. Having said that, I know that it is only a matter of time until I dive into the smartphone world and cut the ties to my land line. The expectation that I will have continuous access to messages is beginning to seem reasonable to me.  I think that it is time to adapt to a new method of information flow. Change is coming,

Posted in Digital Age, Musings | 9 Comments »

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