Mind Over Miller: The electronic effect


Dr. Miller explains his skepticism of today's technology.

Everyone who knows me well would say I am an electronophobe (one who fears electronics). But that is not an accurate description—I don’t fear electronics as much as I distrust them. I don’t distrust all electrical devices, only most of them.

My distrust is not based upon misunderstanding or hyperbole. It is based upon experience. Take, for example, the electronic toilets that are increasingly found in public bathrooms. They are designed to conserve water—but do they? In my experience, they flush before you sit down. Even worse, many flush while you are sitting. Predictably, they don’t flush after you arise.

OK, so now you want to wash your hands. The sink operates electronically. That’s understandable. There are thoughtless individuals who would leave the water running if traditional faucets were used. So they developed sensors that cause the faucet to deliver a stream of water only if a person’s hands are under the tap. Admittedly, these prevent water waste (I’m ignoring the energy necessary to operate the sensors). They further minimize the amount of water used by emitting water that’s often either too hot or too cold for human flesh to endure, so we snap our hands away.

Now it’s time to dry our hands. We usually have a choice: we can use an electrically powered blower triggered by a sensor, which also delivers air too hot or too cold, or we can use a machine that will supply us with small paper towels. This contraption also uses a sensor, one that is cleverly hidden so that we must wave our hands around to trigger it, and then it delivers a towel. The hand waving speeds the evaporation of water off hands, saving paper and, thus, saving trees. If a second towel is needed, more hand waving (and more evaporation of moisture) will, in time, produce another small towel.

Thus, trees survive because less paper is used. However, the increased electrical power demands mean more fossil fuel consumption at power plants. This releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, trees metabolize carbon dioxide, so I guess it all balances out.

We who practice medicine are increasingly dependent upon electronics—and I don’t mean computerized bookkeeping. No, now we have electronic ear thermometers that instantly relate the body temperature. I’ve never actually used one of these devices, but when I see my physician, the nurse sticks one in my left ear. I asked her if my left ear was OK (I’m right handed, so I don’t know why she used my left ear).

Then there are those GPS devices people are installing more and more frequently in their automobiles. If used visually, they enormously increase the frequency of collisions due to driver distraction, but at least the collision occurs somewhere along the route you wanted to be on. This disadvantage can be mitigated by the GPS using a recorded voice that tells the driver exactly where to go, where to turn, and where to stop. Often times the voice is carefully selected to have a bossy tone, which is highly effective because most drivers will not dare to ignore the instructions.

Now they even have GPS collars for pets. A resident of my town bought one of these collars. One day her dog escaped from the yard and ventured several miles out into the country. Thanks to the GPS, authorities were able to track the escapee. They didn’t find the dog, but they were able to get the collar back.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.

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