The Umbilical Web


by Tony Kontzer

I recently enjoyed the incomparable experience of watching the birth of my second child--12 years after the birth of my first. Why I'm writing about this happy event here (well, aside from the biological need of any new parent to crow) is that it brought with it an unavoidable technology angle.

For anyone who either hasn't revisited parenthood recently after so long a gap, a lot's changed since 1997. Sadly, I'm not talking about healthcare IT here. So far as I could tell, aside from snazzy new display screens at the nursing desk and what looked like some more modern interfaces, not much appears to have changed on that front from the patient perspective. No one was carrying wireless devices containing patient data, the monitors spit out the same accordion-style tickers filled with seismic-type markings, and there weren't any alerts that caused nurses to come running every time the baby's pulse decelerated.

No, where technology had had its most obvious impact was on the innate need of the birthing partner (as they call pregnant women's significant others these days) to let the world know about the birth.

When my first son was born, someone in the room held an analog camcorder and recorded the scene on videotape. A single camera caught some random moments (on film, mind you) before and after the birth. It was the early days of cell phones, and hospitals wouldn't allow their use, so those of us present took turns using the phone to call friends and extended family to fill them in. They wouldn't get to see the pictures and video for weeks, perhaps months.

Contrast that with today. Using camera phones and mini digital camcorders, new dads can upload photos and video of the newborn instantaneously from their devices directly to the social networking sites of their choice for anyone to see.

I remember reading earlier this year about a hospital in Dallas that had used Twitter to provide continuous updates on a kidney transplant procedure to the loved ones of the kidney recipient, and thinking, this is just a bit weird, isn't it? But then there I was, just minutes after my son entered the world, using my BlackBerry to post on Twitter and Facebook, and sending personal text messages to family and friends. Within minutes, I had numerous responses on Facebook alone. (I managed to wait two days to post a photo, if only to make sure it was a worthy one.)

Think about it: In just over a decade, we've progressed from a few friends and loved ones being notified in the moments after a birth to a whole network of people knowing instantaneously. This is exactly what the early excitement over the Internet was all about--the enablement of a so-called "global village"--and given that my friends and followers hail from all over the country, with a handful stationed as far away as Vietnam, a global village it was (and is), indeed.

Those who still think the ability to instantly circulate information to an unlimited audience from a device in one's pocket doesn't hold huge implication for the modern corporation are simply being stubborn. Either that or they haven't had a baby lately.


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