I have a few more ideas to offer about Amanda Trujillo’s situation, about Social Media, about powers Nurses already have, and those we COULD have and soon, IF we decide to make it so. It wouldn’t require much from most individual Nurses, really, not much at all: for most of us, a few minutes here and there, perhaps a few dollars occasionally. Very little in comparison to the hard work we put in every day.
What do Nurses need most? What do Nurses like Amanda need most? They need more power, plain and simple. Everything else is details.
Here’s a thought: what about sending peanuts? Whoa, where did that come from? This, my friends, is a teaser: a preview of one of the real success stories later on in this post. Ordinary little people got mad, and instead of complaining and waiting for someone else to save them, they got organized, they sent lots and lots of peanuts. By so doing they quickly, cheaply, and rather easily forced a large Corporation to change its ways against its will. TRUE STORY, people. Check it out: unless you want Nursing to stay as is or get worse.
If you feel strongly about Amanda’s plight, or any other issue for that matter, if you’re frustrated and angry, if you want to make a difference, ponder this. What would YOU like to send to Banner Health, or to AZ BON? As a form of protest, I mean. Imagine, as really happened in the peanut example: A corporate or government office SWAMPED with delivery guys and reporters, true bedlam, piles of meaningful props EVERYWHERE, TWENTY TONS of them, crowds of reporters following the story, because its gone viral: reporters talking about what officials said to other reporters, about how unprepared and clueless they looked on TV talking to or running from THAT MICROPHONE, Editorials, viewer comments, blogs, tweets, letters, phone calls, on and on, a growing monster of scandal and embarrassment and distraction and COST. Now THAT is a message that would be hard to ignore, don’t you think? If you were on the receiving end, just how motivated would you be to MAKE IT STOP? You know it can happen, it seems to happen in some form all the time, doesn’t it? The many (so, so many) 24/7 news outlets desperately and ALWAYS need fresh vivid copy to fill time and boost ratings). Smart people make that work for them: a potent source of power.
Keep in mind, of course, that such phenomena are by their nature quite unpredictable. Their leaders often lose control of their brain children. There are risks, and the failures outnumber the successes. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, people, but when you band together in large numbers, as is EASY AND CHEAP with Social Media, the individual price can be pretty darn reasonable. It sure beats Tweeting and Retweeting about how little we can do, or how wrong it all is, or how bad THEY are, or how SOMEONE SHOULD DO SOMETHING. Someone is YOU, or some individual you recruit, or its most likely NO ONE.
But back to Nurses and Power.
Nurses offer expertise, oodles of good intentions, big hearts, heroic effort under hobbling conditions, and astounding volumes of plain old hard work: all crucial, all admirable. Still, it all goes only so far, as we’re all well aware. To the major deciders in America, it seems only a few simple things matter: money, power, ego, prestige. Everything else is secondary, or an excuse to seek these few things.
So what can Nurses do about it? Never let anyone tell you we have no options: it’s an excuse to do nothing for ourselves, it is false, and it is damages our morale and our creative energies. Only when we give up – only then, and sadly enough this is sufficiently common to make it seem justified – only then are we powerless. No, we have plenty of options – we’re trained professionals, we’re tough, we’re resourceful, we and no one else know how to make one of the largest, most chaotic and tangled and dysfunctional industries in history produce results in spite of itself – we care, and in repeated polls, we’re the most trusted profession in America, perceived as the most honest. Yes, we have power already, lots of power, we just don’t notice: the demands on us are too massive and surreal, we’re too distracted and distressed and divided. Oppressed groups, theory tells us, turn on their peers: sound familiar? What we lack is sufficient will, solidarity, hope, skills and knowledge to fully reach our potential as a positive social force.
Nurses need to make more widespread, thoughtful, and effective use of Social Media – by far the biggest game in town when it comes to social power, the most potent social power tools ever in history by far. We humans are still learning all its uses – everyone is a novice, and new tools will continue to emerge. Misuse offers serious risks, and ineffective use offers the waste of precious energy, hope, and time. Nurse Social Media activity is EXPLODING, sometimes bad (e.g. when Confidentiality is broken, etc.), but most often GREAT! – but still very primitive compared to what it can and will be soon enough, with experience and experimentation. How do I know this? Well, I don’t really – I’m guessing and taking optimism from our experiences so far. The cost of participation is so low that we can try MANY little experiments with it. They’re happening right now and all the time, all over the place, more and more. I myself have a collection of them going right now, and more on the way – most will likely fall by the wayside, but it’s still fun, it still teaches me important things, it still provides connections with peers, and I just might stumble onto something great. Most of everybody’s experiments will fail to catch on, or just get boring and get discarded, and that’s perfectly OK – all that creativity will bear fruit, with useful experiences along the way, and every so often a lucky/clever idea will quickly explode into prominence. Think Wikipedia – HUGE!, and hardly anybody thought it had a chance, early on. Ponder that: YOUR idea, IF you pursue it, could be that NEXT BIG THING.
Most of the Nurse Social Media activity so far, at least what I’ve seen, parallels that of other groups: simple individual communication, a good start: venting, trading support and ideas, great stuff, refreshing, fun, and educational. It meets our deep, essentially human social needs that our culture has otherwise neglected in recent years: a cure of sorts, however imperfect, for our pervasive modern isolation and alienation, very healthy in that way. Networking taken to a higher plane, turbocharged in scope even though more superficial than direct contact. We’ve also started more challenging and ambitious projects – organized virtual conversations, blogs, web sites, activism, even organization. The many and growing responses to Nurse Amanda’s sad situation serve as prominent and timely examples.
I have studied Social Media a wee bit as I began participating: I’m a reader, what can I say? I especially enjoyed Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, a must-read for anyone who wants power, influence, or a voice: it describes a breathtaking, game-changing new set of powers for formerly powerless little people. It’s also very useful if you want to understand the meaning of Social Media, not just the little details.
Shirky quotes early on: “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” This ancient Greek idea extolled simple physical levers – someone took a rock and a stick, put them together intelligently, and found themselves a powerful game-changer, a way to lift things no one could before, one of the ways former cave dwellers learned to build cities and Pyramids. Huge at the time, it helped take humanity into a great new place: civilization.
Social Media is today’s lever, folks: with some luck, persistence and intelligent planning, this group of tools offers an orders or magnitude increase in one’s social power. That’s adding zeros, people: 1 becomes 10, then 100, then 1000… sometimes MILLIONS, sometimes VERY quickly. We’ve never had anything nearly so socially powerful before. It gives people an unprecedented ability to communicate, organize, and make real change – all monopolized by the big organizations of the world, until now. It provides never before seen influence and voice, FAR cheaper, easier, faster-acting, more difficult to predict or resist or control, than ever before. These joys are now available to most ANYONE, anywhere, any time. You don’t even need a computer, necessarily: a cell phone will do. Repeatedly and increasingly, little people all over the world have spoken out, joined up with strangers, and shaken conventional Powers to their core, with little or no warning, and sometimes truly remarkable results. Some examples follow, mostly from that fine book (also mostly an easy read!):
- Two unremarkable New Yorkers – at first just a solitary victim of a stolen phone, then also a motivated friend of theirs as well – impulsively joined to address the theft. Using only a MySpace page, they found the phone, proved who had it and where. when their request for the phone was rebuffed, and the NYPD refused to help, they kept at it, and attracted the attention and help/support of many random people. Soon they attracted the attention of many media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, sixty newspapers, other radio and TV outlets, and two hundred blogs. They forced the mighty & stubborn NYPD to eat crow and take action only two days after it had firmly & publicly confirmed it had permanently closed the case. NYPD sent not a cop, not one but TWO DETECTIVES to investigate. The thief was arrested, the phone returned. The entire process took less than two months of part-time unpaid work, and this in 2006, when Social Media was MUCH smaller and MUCH weaker than it is today. Ponder that.
- Voice of the Faithful began as a small group meeting in a church basement to discuss the case of Father Geoghan, who the Boston Globe had just reported had allegedly (as they say) raped or fondled hundreds of young boys for decades, showing with official Church documents (given up under severe legal duress, another story) that officials had allowed this behavior to continue for 35 years, even moving him around, which of course only helped him find new victims and evade detection or consequences. Now sadly, such a story of a Power corrupted into protecting itself at the expense of the vulnerable, is hardly new or surprising, and hardly unique to any church. Voice of the Faithful, though, was new, and was BIG NEWS. After centuries of quiet powerlessness, using simple Social Media tools, in less than six months such an impulsively formed group went from thirty little people in a church basement to 25,000 members in twenty countries. Local Bishop Bernard Law tried and completely failed to suppress VOTF, to keep it ‘an internal affair’, private and manageable as such matters always had been for centuries. He refused to meet with VOTF for a year, then had his first meeting with it. He submitted his resignation to the Pope a week later. Pretty impressive for thirty powerless people working part-time for a year, don’t you think? That was in 2002 – consider just how small and weak Social Media was then, compared to now. Facebook had perhaps a few million members then – now its closing in on a billion. Ponder that.
- Countless flash mobs, protests, riots, and so on have emerged world-wide. Britain and other nations have had surprisingly little success predicting or containing them, as have authorities worldwide trying to suppress the Occupy movement, as has the Stalinist government in Belarus, as has the Chinese Communist Party. An angry small village in China recently forcibly expelled all government officials and police for days: within weeks a leader of this protest was appointed the local Party leader. All these events have depended heavily on Social Media in some form, often as simple as Twitter updates of police movements, messages to friends abroad, or Blackberries and their Send to All function. Ponder that. Also ponder that this new power can be used for good AND for bad, for advocacy, activism, and for crime: true of any power, any tool. WE MUST carefully maintain our ethics, even in our reasonable enthusiasm for these great new toys.
- Formerly unassailable dictators have fallen with stunning rapidity across the Arab world. Again, cheap & simple Social Media – ponder that.
- Wikipedia has risen from one man’s silly pipe dream to a major, respected institution in only a few years, all driven by volunteers, most of whom contribute very little time, perhaps one fixed typo or other edit every so often, most commonly one single act, total. Ponder that.
- When CBS cancelled the TV show Jericho (saw it once, perhaps, not sure), angry fans organized and started sending network officials peanuts using the online service Nutsonline, in reference to U.S. WWII General McAuliffe, who when surrounded and nearly out of ammunition during the Battle of the Bulge, asked by the Germans to surrender, famously replied, “Nuts!” The outcome? CBS received TWENTY TONS of peanuts, all from individual volunteer TV fans. The show was renewed. Ponder that. Who was in charge in that situation? Who had the most power?
That’s all well and good, but what about Nurses? What about Nurse Amanda Trujillo? Her situation has really sucked me in, I must admit, and I resisted it – I must admit I distrust bandwagons and ‘obvious facts.’ The more you look into her situation, the more disturbing questions emerge. The amount of relevant Social Media activity has EXPLODED and this growth, so far, has only continued to accelerate. Who knows where it will all lead? No one does, and that’s a fact. Certainly not anyone at Banner Health or the AZ BON. How much real power do they still have, today, over this situation? While its hard to say, I am really quite glad I don’t have to help run Banner Health or the AZ BON right now: they’re sitting ducks, and they may well know it. All their traditional tactics, contacts and prestige, all their traditional sources of power could very well help them not one little bit in this situation. Any one of them could be disgraced and unemployed tomorrow – there’s no way to know. Ask ex-Bishop Law: reportedly he remained completely confident in his position a week before he was finished, and Social Media was a tiny slow-moving puppy back then. Today, in comparison, its Godzilla, but more than that: its Godzilla who can appear with little or no warning, anywhere, any time, and its Godzilla who continues to grow. Ponder that. It’s a great time to be a little guy: anyone can gain real power, and make a real difference, if they play their cards right and enjoy some luck. Anyone.
OK, I’m tuckered out, frankly, and other priorities have been neglected too long. Time for a break. Also, who can possibly read all this text of mine? But one last thought: Emails and other electronic communication have a crucial weakness: it has become so easy, so cheap and painless, to send e-communications, and so easy to simply copy others’ posts, that the impact of each email or post is very small. Angry emails or e-petitions to Banner, or to AZ BON, or to politicians, to anyone in fact, have much less impact than do the old-fashioned paper versions – with their inconvenience and cost (that stamp and envelope), snail mail gives your message social heft. Elected officials in Washington have traditionally estimated that each constituent paper letter on an issue indicates TWO THOUSAND other voters who agree. That’s one power the internet lacks. This is also why something as silly as sending twenty tons of peanuts to your adversary can work – it indicates a level of commitment that no e-message can.
Ponder that, act accordingly, and keep us all posted. That’s how the new power works, even for us Nurses.