A telephone, a time machine and redefining privacy


In my last blog “Not a serious means of communication” I quoted an internal memo sent by Western Union in 1876 who notoriously stated about the telephone “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”



Whilst reading around the history of the telephone and how is changed society it is easy to see that in the early days there were many issues with the telephone “Bell’s “speaking telephone” was not universally welcomed. Some people dismissed it as a scientific toy of little value.” (Sounding familiar?) (audiouk 2013) The more I read the more I found similarities between the early days of the telephone and the rise of social media however the issues that really struck me were the early problems xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx that the telephone encountered with privacy….


9152273_sIn the early days of the telephone people didn’t have telephones in their houses so would have go to the local store or some other central point to be able to make and receive calls. “Eavesdroppers could hear you conduct your personal business as you used a public phone.” (Elon 2013) And in addition to this Switchboard operators who connected the calls would also regularly listen into people conversations.  People were worried about their privacy. But yet here we are today with not only a telephone in every home but in every pocket and in every handbag! Some of the privacy issues were solved by technology but some of the privacy issues we just learned to live with … rarely are we concerned with eavesdroppers on our telephone conversations these days and we hold telephone conversations in all sorts of public places .. we have evolved and redefined privacy.


7407967_sIf we now jump into our DeLorean time machine and hop and skip “Back to the Future” (apologies for the pun but it’s my favourite film so had to squeeze it into my blogging somehow!) and get back to social media I often hear people expressing concerns over privacy.  Anyone who uses any form of social media only has to Google themselves to see the effect that it has on their privacy.  We are now sharing all sorts of personal events from birthdays to barbecues and these events can often be seen by many eyes.  Everything that we say and post in social spaces has the potential to be permanent and duplicated. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame describes privacy as a fluid concept says “to his mind, the development of the Web has fundamentally reshaped people’s expectation about what information should be private, and the extent to which they are willing to live their lives in a public forum.” Privacy is again being redefined.


13094516_sYes there are “privacy issues” with social media – and in healthcare this is  even more apparent than in many areas of life – but what technology doesn’t sort out (as with the switchboard operators in the early days of the telephone) society will evolve, develop and cope with.  We also have to remember that it is up to us what we share and don’t share and we should take responsibility for this.  However social media is redefining what our parents saw as privacy and our digitally native children will only see this new version of privacy … for us, the generation stuck in the middle we can take solace in the fact that we are all using telephones with a complete disregard for the historical privacy issues.

Not a serious means of communication…

It “has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” And “is inherently of no value to us”

9116145_sThese words were sent in an internal memo in 1876 by Western Union about the telephone but despite Western Unions opinion and thanks to those that had a little courage we now live in a world where communication over distances is easy and commonplace and it’s all down to telephone technology.  However I often hear people saying similar of social media and particularly so of social media and its applications in healthcare. Social media as a serious form of communication it is doubted and ridiculed yet latest figures show that Facebook has 1.11 billion active users and Twitter has 500 million users (Digital Marketing Ramblings) this equates to a whole lot of people communicating in a space that is not a serious method of communication! Should we not learn from historical blunders made by such people as Western Union and is it not time to think a little differently about social media instead of just dismissing, banning or ignoring it?

9786067_sWithin healthcare we are often more cautious than most as the care of vulnerable people is our primary concern and anything that may put those vulnerable people at risk is worth applying caution to ….. but I feel that instead of applying the breaks to social media we merely need to think differently.  A large proportion of society are already using social media and engaging in this space as healthcare professionals and organisations we not only need to be in tune with people and communicate with them in the way in which they communicate but also we need to be aware of what they are saying, how they are supporting one another and be there alongside them.

twugI have seen first-hand the positive effects of social media through my work with WeNurses.  WeNurses is a Twitter community of over 6000 nurses who use Twitter to exchange ideas, information, expertise, resources and support one another across geographical and hierarchical boundaries. Nurses ranging from student nurses to chief nursing officers have engaged and gained value from the weekly organised conversations.  Nurses are not the only healthcare professionals engaging in this way Occupational Therapists – @OTalk_Occhat, Midwives – @WeMidwives, LD Nurses – @LDNurseChat, Paramedics – @WeParamedics, Pharmacists – @WePharmacists, and MH Nurses – @MHNurseChat are all finding the value of social media. The engagement doesn’t stop there though patient groups are also mobilising and engaging: the diabetes community #GBDOC, the Mental health community #MHChat and the carers for people with Alzheimer’s community #AlzChat are just a few that I have come across.


Dean Royles from NHS Employers talked recently in his blog about having a permissive approach to social media “Driving a permissive use of social media – #NHSEngage”  By having a permissive approach to the use of social media there is no doubt that we are taking off the breaks and that is a scary thing indeed.  But the benefits of social media soon become apparent – sharing of knowledge and expertise on a global scale; being able to communicate with people regardless of hierarchy; support from “people like me”; engaging with the community that we serve; the ability to listen to all of the conversations “about us without us” ….. the possibilities are endless if only we have a little courage.

15824014_sWe should think of social media as a wonderful gift that allows us to communicate more with the people we care for, the staff who care for them and other organisations who care.  Have courage and think differently about social media and encourage its use it to engage and to be engaging – getting engaged in social media and healthcare is as important as all of the other methods of communication we use.

“Engage with patients, staff and other NHS trusts. Listen, learn…dig in #NHSEngage”  - Dean Royles @NHSE_Dean 

A Multi Media Nurses Day

Sunday 12th May was International Nurses Day and the online #nursecommunity came together and shared.  The nursing community has gone from one tweeting nurse to over 6000 proud and passionate nurses and this pride and passion shone through on Sunday.  Now I could go on … or I could just show you what happened … below are a series of links showing how the community came together and what they shared…. enjoy !

twitter we nurses

International Nurses Day Nursing History Big Share

WeNurses held a Twitter extravaganza and encouraged nurses from all over the world to share their nursing histories.  Over 150 nurses took part creating just under 1.5 million impressions.


A Prezi was created from the pictures of badges shared (best viewed with sound up and don’t forget with Prezi you have to click to view the next slide)  :

And the #NursingPride video was updated to include nursing history pictures tat were shared that night:

ind2013 from @WeNurses on Vimeo.



Britain’s Nurses – Favourite Nursing Memories

Britain’s Nurses posted a series of blogs from the #NurseCommunity – sharing nursing history stories.




International Nurses Day 2013 – Nurses Share Their Personal Nursing Histories

All of the pictures, blogs and chats were collated on a WeNurses Pinterest board



This wonderful event shows not only the passion and pride that nurses have but also how and why the community are engaging and using social media to help them to connect with one another.  International Nurses Day became not only an international event this year but also a multi media event – well done to all those who took part and keep sharing.



Something magical

I have been thinking a lot this week about nurse community – Sunday being International Nurses Day WeNurses are hosting a Nursing History Twitter Share-a-thon and photos showing our proud nursing history and blogs telling our own nursing stories are being shared already.  I have been so very touched by everything being shared that I felt that I needed to do something to collate what was coming in, so I created this film:

nursing pride from @WeNurses on Vimeo.

NP1The pictures in this film depicts scenes from times gone by, of the nurses we once were and the nurses our parents and grandparents were.  Nurses who nursed in my grandmothers era (the “call the midwife” era) lived together, had their friendships under one roof, ate together, learnt together, and shared experiences, and expertise together … they were a community.  And then the world started to change, society and nursing grew further apart from each other and more remote .. not just physically but socially and psychologically.  Neighbours no longer knew each other, nurses rushed home to live out their busy lives and the boundaries between the personal and professional became very defined, and this is how it has remained.

11621188_sBut this is not the end of this story as two magical things have happened in recent years, firstly the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fairies waved their wands and created social media – allowing for people to make connections and build communities in digital spaces and secondly the very clever boffins made huge advancements in mobile technology – allowing us to have those connections and communities in the palm of our hands.  Because of these remarkable, wonderful and magical events nursing is no longer remote, or isolated, we are able to develop friendships, share ideas, experiences and expertise and learn from one another again.


10942875_sI do not have a crystal ball and I do not know whether social media as we know it today will exist in the future but I do know that it is something we cannot ignore and should not ignore.  As the world moves on and our digitally native children mature and start to make decisions and choices the world will become a very different place. Nurses coming up behind us will be (and indeed are already) in this space from a young age and we need to be there too – guiding, supporting, role modelling, sharing our support and expertise. Nurses are inherently driven to connect and be with people and be part of communities … it’s our job, it’s what we do, and we are pretty darned good at it.  So we need to embrace this new online social media community so we can continue to share, to learn from and support each other in the way we have done in the past.

I have been truly moved over the last week at the nursing pride that is shining through the Twitter nursing community …. The #NurseCommunity has certainly empowered me and made me feel part of something bigger, it has made me hold my head up high and say “I am a nurse”

I for one will be sharing my nursing history pictures at 8pm on Sunday and tweeting loudly and proudly for International Nurses Day.

Twitter Groupthink .. and a few questions

Share with a

8558489_sA few months ago I had a conversation with someone and was dismayed when they said that nurses on Twitter are so agreeable that you never get a true representation of thoughts and that we had to beware of “groupthink”  Having not heard the term “groupthink” before I turned to my trusty social media platform Wikipedia (yes I know not remotely academic but accessibility makes it a great starting point) and had a read around – Wikipedia states Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome.” It goes on to say Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.” It certainly got me thinking and whilst I don’t deny that there are certainly times when the #NurseCommunity is in agreement I wonder if this is due to common interests, purpose and goals. There are also times when I have seen the #NurseCommunity disagree (although due to social media etiquette this is often done in the politest of ways) this leads me to wonder if the perceived anonymity that social media affords us (i.e. we are not face to face with those we are discussing issues with) has any counteract effect on the groupthink phenomenon?

With these questions and more running through my mind I thought I would ask the #NurseCommunity what they think and here are the conversations that ensued:

 GT 1

 GT 3

GT 4

GT 5

GT 6




It was an interesting discussion though really did not answer my questions and in fact raised more! In this dynamic and new space in which we exist and use in a professional do the old theories still apply? Do we need to consider new elements? Do we need to be cautious of collective agreement or should we embrace it and capitalise on the energy it creates? I have no psychological background but I have spent a long time observing and being part of this social media space and I can see the potential that social media offers us to improve and progress healthcare and it is because of this I feel we need to think a little on these issues and be mindful of our own behaviour.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on groupthink on Twitter and perhaps even evidence and answers to some of my questions – so please feel free add you comments (in fact I very much encourage you this week !!)