I used to be Shy

I was born in South Africa, a small town called Senekal. There I lived in the moment. My dad was the village preacher, my mom the nurse. It was a sweet life. We had a windpump and plenty of farm animals. Then I grew up and we moved to the city, I went to school, played some rugby and got into some trouble. Then we moved to the States. High school, then the US army infantry. Surfed the water in Hawaii, surfed the sand in the Afghanistan. I went to college, I changed my major 4 times, then med school, then a resident in the hospital. A latina wife and a few kids later… today, back in the now.


I’ve always been shy. Growing up in South Africa the school culture promoted rigorous obedience, discipline, and to avoid individualism. I remember dressing in the same uniform as the other kids. I remember being scared to raise my hand or say something out loud in class. Lucky, my life took a turn and we moved to the US. Here I started gaining traction. A country where minor skills can be developed for free and marketed to make a profit. 

As a young boy I loved to climb trees. So bad that during recess one day I fell out of one and broke my arm. I still have the scars to show. This translated to taking gymnastics lessons. I won only one competition. I performed 10 cartwheels in a row and ended it with a round-off. I can’t remember what age I was but I remember my father was there to congratulate me on my achievement. I remember meeting Silver that year. Silver defeated me at my next and last competition, he gave me his name that day. I kept taking lessons but at one point dropped it all together. When I moved to the US I was offered to practice gymnastics in a public high school. Isn’t that great? In my private, almost all white school in South Africa, I had to pay for private lessons in gymnastics. In America the offer was free, all you had to do was try. So I practiced and gained many wins over my few high school years. Silver came back with a vengeance though and I failed miserably at my final state competition during my senior year and that was the end of that. It was a sour lesson, but one I learned from. I learned that in America you can try nearly anything for free until you get to the point where help will seek you and you can return the favor multifold. It’s a beautiful thing they have here.

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Most of you don’t care, which is appropriate, but for a few of those who know me, I have been mostly absent from social media until recently. My FB account laid dormant for years. My Instagram account was a forgotten password. Something changed. The part in my life where I started reaching out came. I found myself extending out to those I know and meeting new contacts all over the world. I started showing my family, my dog, music, some of the places I visit routinely and so on. It’s been a wonderful adventure.

Here’s what happened.

I don’t watch news anymore, I rarely google the top stories. There was a moment of existential crisis a few years ago where I gave it all up to see if it will change my life. I have realized that the most important news eventually reach me by word of mouth. Like in the old days. It’s been nice to avoid the flood of daily tragedy or corruption around the world. My life has in some ways improved substantially.

There was one piece of news I did find interesting, Facebook bought Instagram for 1 Billion dollars… What??? Suddenly my interest in Facebook spiked again.

When I first started using Myspace and then eventually Facebook I remember it being a platform to reconnect with old friends and family and display your life to some extent online. Then it became a platform of social reform. I lost interest around the time my feed was filled with ads and reposts from people I didn’t know. From what I remember I was very surprised by this news that Fb spent that much money for an app???

I finally started investigating and realized the power that lies behind social media. Yes, business and marketing companies take full advantage of this now. Our attention has shifted from television to social media. We choose to watch netflix over regular cable now for various reasons, among them, no advertising. No more commercials telling you to get the newest flavor of toothpaste or the car with the bigger cupholder. So where will these companies advertise to us? They pay top dollar to advertise directly to us through social media.

Social media controls information. Not the data that we upload, they could care less what we post, what they are interested in is our behavior. What do our clicks tell them about us? When you click “Like” on something, a number goes up. Not just for the thing you like but a number gets assigned to you personally in connection to what you clicked. This is valuable information to a company that is trying to figure out who to advertise their product to. If a cat company is selling a new fancy cat toy, it would most likely benefit that company to advertise just to cat people. Especially young cat people who are more likely to play with their cat. So they pay Fb top dollar for these stats in order to save money in the long run and guide their advertising.

The other side of the coin is the usage of Fb itself. It’s a type of industry that improves drastically in value based on the number of customers enrolled or connected to that industry. It’s an industry of information, and the more information it gathers the more successful it becomes. How does this happen? These apps and services are habit forming.  

Most of us check one or all these platforms within minutes of waking up in the morning. When you get a free moment at work or during your day you immediately pull out your phone and start swiping and liking, smiling and frowning. Waiting for the bus, the train, going to bathroom, all filled with updates from friends and family and business trying to snag your attention.

I’m still unclear how the internet figures it out. You may search something on Amazon.com and the next day an add for that same thing appears on your Fb feed. Shows you how connected we really are.

There is a brighter side, here is the amazing part of about these platforms.

It has brought back a sense of our humanity. We are able to connect with family and friends in ways that were long lost. We are able to meet our neighbors informally and get to know the pleasant villages we live in. It has opened the doors to the garage craftsman to market himself internationally to help increase his sales. It allows us to seek and find advice in the most unexpected ways.

Try this, next time you have a question or find yourself asking “how do I do this?” Just go on Fb (going live works better), post the question and see if you get an answer. It has worked for me every single time. The power we hold in our hands today is incredible.

Yes, social media has it’s criticisms and drawbacks. Unfortunately our young millenials are getting the blame for a lot of this, that’s just because they use it the most. We see their antics and mistakes and success the most.

So what drove me to seek out using these platforms?

Most of it came out of trying to motivate my patients to adopt life change for the sake of their disease. I see countless folks with high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and more. Many of these “chronic” diseases reside in making certain decisions on a daily basis. These decisions eventually become habits. Once this happens some of my patients will gravitate towards these choices on autopilot.

Knowing that their attention is mostly anchored in social media I have been trying to reach them is that manner. The problem with medicine and especially primary care is that it is in the end a money driven business. The healing is in the patient interaction, but making money lies in the efficiency of the business. The more patients I see and prescribe medicine to, the more money there is to be made. The pressure to reduce the office visit down to 10 minutes is overwhelming. The old days of home visits and getting to know your doctor is quickly fading. I think social media may be a way we can reconcile this void of the doctor patient bond. I am hoping to reach my patients on a different level, to give them the time they deserve.

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I plan to start documenting my journey to make this goal a reality. I hope to lay out my path for others to see. Not just potential success but also documenting the failure. Only then can I give a clear perception of what it is the “make it” in this and many other countries. So let’s get the ball rolling and see what happens…

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