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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Viral communications

Write two Tweets and e-mail me in the morning.

Our brave new world of viral communications may be about to take on a whole new meaning according to epidemiologists who spoke with the Washington Post.

Instead of running to the doctor at the first sniffle of what what be the swine flu, blog about it. Or Tweet your friends. Or your doctor. Pretty soon they will be able to spot an outbreak -- and you will have avoided sneezing and coughing and spread germs on the bus or subway or in your school or office.

Just make sure you have an adequate supply of aspirin and chicken soup in your medicine chest and refrigerator.

There is, to be sure, a potential loss of confidentiality in sharing every detail of every ache and pain with the Facebook friends and Twitter followers. But I'm sure there is some communications PhD candidate somewhere studying just how many people already happily give up that right to privacy and share things many of us could care less about in the first place.

A bigger concern might be the panic generated by this type of viral communications amid a population already on edge and being fed by the traditional mass media's insistence on overkill coverage.

But with the likely reemergence of the the H1N1 swine flu in the next few months, the people who make their living tracking disease trends may be on to something -- even if their population sample is limited to the geeky subset of people with computer access, handheld devices and a chronic problem of needing to share everything on the web.

Of course, the system will not be foolproof until scientists devise a way to determine if you really are a person and not a dog.

(New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20)

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Anonymous adamg said...

Google already does this - See Flu Trends for maps showing the prevelance of flu-related search queries.

September 02, 2009 9:06 AM  

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