The panel on “Games, Social Media, and Entertainment” at the USC Body Computing Conference 5.0 left a huge impression on why social media is so important in health apps. Ed Saxon, producer of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”, started his panel comments with a version of this simple, powerful parable.
There’s a flight from Los Angeles to Singapore, full of ordinary but diverse and talented people. Along the way, the plane encounters a storm, is badly damaged, but manages to crash land on a deserted island.
The first thing the survivors do is look for a doctor to attend to the wounded.
They then ask for hunters, farmers, and fishermen to gather food and fresh water, and fire-starters and cooks to prepare it.
They then seek out construction workers to build shelter and facilities, and those skilled in sewing to mend clothes.
After a few days, when the wounded are stabilized, all are fed, shelter begins to take shape, and clothing is under control, they notice a man who has been helping everyone quietly, but doesn’t yet have an assignment. The leaders of the group approach him and asked him if he’d like a job, and he said:
I want to be the storyteller.
Their first reaction was laughter. Storyteller? We’re in a critical situation, there are very important needs, and this guy wants to tell stories. How about a real job? They then shunned the man, making him an outcast among outcasts.
But after a while, without prospects of imminent rescue, each day became more and more of the same – endless work to survive, with few results. Each night became darker and somehow lonelier, and the group was beginning to drift. It was then that a 40-ish woman among the leaders said: “I’d like to hear a story. Let’s give that man a chance.”
So the found the man, sitting quietly by himself at the edge of camp, and asked if he’d share a story. He did, telling a story of hope and courage, during which people laughed and cried at various times. The group slept better that night.
The next night, the same thing happened – after a long day of work, the group gathered around the storyteller and a campfire, and heard another wonderful story. The group found they had a lot in common, not only with each other, but with the characters in the man’s stories. As the days went on, and the stories continued, the group learned that this job of storyteller that they initially dismissed as useless was in fact very important to their well-being.
Eventually, the group’s work paid off. A passing plane noticed the signals from the island, directed help toward them, and they were rescued. Upon arriving back home, the media approached them and asked who the leaders of the group were. They stepped forward, and the first question was: “Tell us about the experience, and how you survived.”
The leaders looked at each other, and the 40-ish woman said: “Let us introduce you to our storyteller.”
Although most of us will never be in a plane crash, we will all have challenges in this life which will be difficult. We will look for hope and encouragement, and for people who have experienced the same things with a wish that they will understand our emotions. Those connections are vital to surviving a difficult experience.
This is going to be truest in healthcare. Social media applied to mHealth will help people with conditions, or caring for loved ones with conditions, to connect with others who have had similar experiences. We will look for answers beyond hard, cold facts of test results. We will look for ideas and ways to lift our spirits even in the face of dire circumstances. Sometimes, this will be key to recovery. Sometimes, it will be the key to healing.
The panel produced a wonderful conclusion: people for the most part want to hear positive things on social media, but there are certain situations – for instance, after accepting there is a serious health condition – where people want to connect to experience what others went through, and how they went on. The positive stories will be inspiring broadcasts: Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos open for all to see. The experience stories will be more private, shared between more intimate connections established on those same social networks and a creative new set of mHealth apps, but only for select people to see while the experience is underway. Once healed, the storytelling after the experience returns again to inspirational stories which can help others have hope, and prepare for what is about to happen.
This process has already started as websites, blogs, and search engines have helped share content, but the advent of social media is accelerating it. People will be looking to connect, share, and retell stories of survival and healing. Groups and apps can bring like-minded people together more quickly and more often on specific health topics.
At the end of the conference, Dr. Leslie Saxon (Ed’s younger sister, and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing) said something I hadn’t quite thought of in all my years as an alumni. She said USC’s “Fight On!” isn’t just a fight song for a football team, and it’s not just for supporting the university spirit. It’s a bigger call for dealing with the challenges of life, and she sees it everyday in patients and families under her care. Games, social media, and entertainment will play an increasing role as resources caregivers and families will have to “Fight On!” in health challenges.
Thanks to Dr. Leslie, Ed, and everyone else who inspired folks at the conference. Back to technology ideas from conference later this week …