Driving on WA-520; Twitter, Location Awareness, and Healthcare

Publishing has been a bit delayed on this blog (but not on my TwitterFeed, I am starting to get how each thing fits together depending on what one is doing), due to the distraction of the beauty of the Seattle summer.

Seattle Skyline

As part of reconnecting with friends who are also iPhone users, I ended up participating in an application-downloading binge. “What does that application with the funny name do? I don’t know, let’s just install it and find out.” I did have the sense to stop and create e-mail aliases for some of them before signing up, but it’s otherwise interesting to reflect on the mob mentality’s ability to modulate concerns about identity exchange. That in itself is interesting – the agility of Apple’s application distribution scheme is going to change a lot about the viral use of software.

What happened next was even more interesting. I have been using Tapulous’ software’s Twinkle for a while now. It’s a Twitter-based application that publishes location information along with lifestreaming events. So, depending on where you are at any given time, it will show you your friend’s tweets, and with the press of a button, anyone who is tweeting around you. The interesting part is that if no one has tweeted recently, it will go back in time, to the location where you are.

WA 520

520, Big Mountain in background (Rainier)

While driving across the WA-520, pushing the button revealed the tweets of the people who had been stuck in traffic on this notoriously congested floating bridge hours and days prior. As we crossed effortlessly in the evening, I saw the frustrations of many a driver in the past few days while in the same place. It was a sort of a “kilroy was here” – a twitter signature of a place with meaning to Seattleites (this is the bridge that connects many Seattle residents to work for a very large software company in Redmond, Washington) that would persist.

Of course there’s a tie in to healthcare. Think about all of the places with meaning in the healthcare temple – the operating theatre, the waiting room, the intravenous infusion center, the intensive care unit. If a person had used the Twinkle application in one of those places, any future visitor could pick up the tweets/feelings/emotions of that space. Kind of like an emotional geiger counter. If we did a sweep now in these places, what would we find about these environments? Would it be good news or bad? Will America’s hospitals and health care settings create “no tweet” policies for staff within their facilities? Or would they do the opposite….

What if a health care organization used this feature with intention, and asked patients to tweet their feelings during these meaningful times in the lives of themselves and their families while physically located in these places. The tweets would remain fixed to the GPS location and would be retreivable forever in the future. It’s interesting to think how this could potentially connect patients and families to each other across time and place. Imagine if you could ask, “what were the triumphs and the sorrow that happened in this room before I came into it?”

In the meantime, the next time I am in a health care environment, I will have my location aware device “on” and listening…

If anyone else here has used Twinkle or any other location aware lifestreaming application, feel free to post your experiences here.

Ted Eytan, MD