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Technology cannot replace the principles of nursing

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Last week a man in America sent an email simply by thinking the words. No typing, no speaking, no electronic quill, he simply thought some words - which were, incidentally, ‘Go Badgers’ - and it appeared on a website.

For the sake of clarity, the ‘Badgers’ in question are a sports team and not real badgers. I think I would like the story better if the scientist in question, Adam Wilson, had taught some badgers to read and given them computers before inventing a way of posting electronic messages to send them away again.

Of course, when I say he ‘simply thought the message’, that is not entirely accurate. He had to put on a bobble hat first. Not just any bobble hat, obviously. His hat contained a lot of technology forming a sophisticated brain scanner.

In recent months, scientists have used technology to watch emotions such as love, anger and disgust forming, to watch a mind making a decision and to see the previously invisible early stages of Alzheimer’s. And scientists have developed scanners that can, literally, read minds. This might be fun at dinner parties or on the odd ward round but, I think, could lead to disappointment.

‘I can read your mind with the machine and after years of effort by our cleverest boffins and $1bn of research funds I can confirm that you are wondering which shoe is your favourite type.’

‘I am, and I would have told you that if you’d asked but you never ask me anything anymore, you’re always too busy down in the laboratory messing about with your pesky brain scanner.’

The point is technology continues to find ways to tell us that the TV series Tomorrow’s World didn’t have the faintest idea what the future held. Flying bicycles, indeed.

Meanwhile I spent some time last week listening to various ways in which nurses, occupational therapists and mental health professionals are developing creative services that are looking for different ways of using the principles of recovery to humanise and invigorate the psychiatric system. What was interesting was that the focus was not on the mechanics of information gathering or even treatment regimens but on the difficult human experience and how to carefully and constructively find a helpful response to it.

‘Scientists have used technology to watch emotions, to watch a mind making a decision and to see the previously invisible early stages of Alzheimer’s’

Of course, such soft-focus intangibility has little currency in today’s technological age. It involves, as one person said, ‘a different kind of knowing, a less fashionable more emotionally draining one’. That kind of care provision is not easily audited, costed or commissioned and it isn’t technological so it makes us seem backward.

Yet I was more reassured by the talents and depth of thought of these people than I have been by any bobble hat. That may make me a Luddite or a romantic, but as technology grows so should our need to refresh the founding principles of what it means to nurse.

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