Thursday, October 28, 2010

How healthy is Facebook?

I didn’t know until I saw The Social Network that Facebook began as an exclusive service for Harvard students before being rolled out to other top US colleges and eventually the rest of us. It suddenly made a lot more sense.

I'm on Facebook. But watching the movie, I began to wonder why anyone would want to sign up to the virtual version of a particularly brutal American rite of passage built around the public playing out of popularity. The social network is one of dysfunctional rich kids, dysfunctional geeks, dysfunctional scantily-clad women all dysfunctionally desperate for acceptance by the coolest frat club. Facebook, of course, becomes the coolest of the lot.

Today there are 500 million of us playing out this ritual, day in day out. Driving up and down on the same old strip like the kids in American Graffitti, permanent adolescents, a night that never ends. No wonder all the characters in the film end up suing each other.

The Social Network is written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin who created the West Wing. Like the characters he writes about he’s very smart and part of the secret of his success is the way he uses detail, very precise detail, to make us believe that this is real. I felt I was at Harvard just as I felt I was in the White House.

The result can be stories that are interesting and exciting on a theoretical or intellectual level but less so on an emotional one. No problem in a series when there’s plenty of time for us to engage with the characters - no problem at all in The West Wing where we're prepared to wait for what, a hundred episodes?, for Josh to finally kiss Donna - but a potential Achilles heel in a film where the audience needs to find someone to sympathise with fairly early on if we’re to be pulled in.

Sorkin seems to deliberately avoid using the obvious candidate for this role – Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin who put up the initial capital – to this effect. Perhaps Aaron’s even cleverer than I realise. The medium is the message and this film is pretty much absent of real emotion – it’s all the anaesthetised synthetic emotion of the courtroom. A mediated second-hand sort of emotion. Sounds a bit like Facebook really.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Are you a sucker or A Sugar?

Are you a trained salesperson or marketer or indeed pretty much anyone with so-called people skills? If so you've probably heard all about mimicking - you know, when you sit the same way as someone else or copy their language to try to create a bond. It's not always about selling, of course - counsellors might do it too.

So what? It's part of every day life now. Well, a 2009 research article I missed the first time round but saw in Wired found that people who do this - the mimickers - are far more easily fooled by the mimickees than non-mimickers. When you mimick you're less able to tell if the other person is telling you a lie or not. Generally we're all pretty hopeless at detecting lies but when you mimick you're even worse. In fact the study - You want to know the truth? from the journal Psychological Science - suggests that people's ability to detect deception is improved when they are given explicit instructions not to mimic.

So now you know. Are you a sucker for a lie? Is that the secret of Alan Sugar's success - a man who would never knowingly mimic anyone?

More about health at work on malehealth.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We're now on twitter

Malehealth is soaring high with the tweeters - or is that twits? You can follow us at:!/MHFmalehealth. (Or go to twitter and search for: @MHFmalehealth or jim pollard). Sign up. Right now it's like that awkward moment at a party before anyone turns up - and you know how painfully unhealthy that is for a host. Penetrating comment on the news and regular life-changing health tips - @MHFmalehealth is a real tweet for the soul.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NHS reform: a big challenge for a big society

Some say that to the Cameron Conservatives don't really regard the national debt as the terrible legacy of Labour mismanagement as they love to say but as a heaven sent opportunity. They argue that the Tory austerity package is more to do with an ideological commitment to reducing the size of the state - replacing big government with, snigger, the big society - than economics. Today's conference speech in which the Conservative leader appeared to reintroduce the old Elizabethan poor law distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor will only have increased those concerns.

So is the government plan for the NHS, evidence for or against this? If money was the main concern why spend an estimated £3 billion on another reorganisation - especially when you were constantly criticising Labour for behind the scenes fiddling while front-line services burned? Certainly the plan for GP consortia to replace Primary Care Trusts sounds horribly like GP fundholding, the disasterous pre-privatisation plan of the last Conservative government that hemorrhaged the NHS along an artificial purchaser-provider faultline.

The MHF wisely hasn't engaged with this ideological debate in its response to the government's health white paper. Instead it has stuck to the purely practical, offering the government help with, for example, a Gender Equalities Board to ensure that inequalities in health outcomes are addressed. This is one of 10 specific suggestions which if they are adopted could reform the NHS for the better. They won't protect the health service from the drip-drip of privatisation but they will protect the hundreds of men who die prematurely (before the age of 75) every single day. In a country where 42% of men die prematurely, they've got to be worth trying. Yes, 42% - a big number for a big society.