Crisis as Entertainment

Pritpal S Tamber

March 5, 2017

Are we too busy consuming information about the problems we're dealing with to do anything about them?

I’ve been off my writing for the last few weeks for personal reasons. While there may be plenty more fish in the sea, cruciate ligaments don’t grow on trees so I’ve been dealing with two different types of loss. But through the fog of sadness one comment from my recent trip to California has stayed with me: crisis has become entertainment.

The point was made by someone who spends much of his time on the road (in the US) talking about the social determinants of health, and how the challenge is to un-make the unhealthy environments that we’ve made through policy and culture. He’s listened to everywhere, applause is fullsome, praise is effusive… but (in his view) nothing changes.

Do Something

Through his work, he advocates for a completely different approach to what’s seen in prevention and health promotion. People nod, agree, ask questions, but then… nothing. He feels like he’s just entertaining them when what he really wants is for more people to try something new, different, radical, scary, unchartered. In essence, to actually do something.

But nothing changes.

I think he’s a little pessimistic. Things are changing but, as is always the case when you’re asking established systems to change, progress is slow.

Turn the RSS off

But I take his point. Each week I wade through about 400 posts in my RSS reader that I’ve subscribed to, from SSIR to the Neighborhood Funders Group. There’s lots and lots of interesting stuff but I’ve started to see the same topics over and over: how to handle complexity; how to fund iteratively; how to see value (measure) in new ways. It’s all interesting but it often feels like more is being said than done. And I’m wondering if I’m just being “entertained”.

I had the same feeling when I was in the awful, self-important echo chamber of digital health. I’d read something, find it thought provoking, tweet it, chat to peers about it, and then – perhaps two years later – the same insight would surface in a different post from a different brand. In between nothing had changed (or very, very little).

I’m the Problem

So are all industries in self-important echo chambers of entertainment? How do we know when we’re being exposed to useful insights versus time-eating entertainment? And how do we make the leap from just being entertained into doing something (or doing more) as a better form of learning?

As usual, I don’t have any answers. I’m just conscious, as a blogger, a CEO of a company with weekly updates, and as a regular “sharer” on social media, that I’m as much part of the entertainment industry as anyone else. And that troubles me when what I’m usually advocating for is more doing. Is my advocating for doing a weird form of entertainment that’s actually getting in the way?

Dunno. But when you’re contemplating fishing and trying to grow a cruciate ligament you think about these things.

Well, I do, anyway.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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