"When the dangers of surprise are avoided,
there can be no exploration,
and so no inner growth."
-- Richard Sennett --
"That was a delicious dinner," I tell Eliza truthfully. "I
think their hot wings stand the test of time, don't you?"
"Too spicy for my taste," she says, smiling.
"I see you haven't ordered your usual Rum Cow, though."
"The doctor said no alcohol."
"Oh?" I reply, looking at one of the delightfully colored
murals on the wall. "What's up?"
"Well, remember that I told you I'd surprise you for your
A little gust of panic blows across my brain, like the
first hint of humid air that spells the arrival of some unseen, unknowable
"That's the surprise."
"I got back the test results today. We're expecting."
Expecting. The word rolls around noisily in my brain like a
coin dropped in an empty coffee can. I feel dull, stupid, and dense. "Expecting
"A gazelle, you moron. What do you think?"
She sighed. "I can see we're going to have to take this one
The Wheel turns. And so do I, tossing and turning in the
dead still of night, with only the cats and the crickets for alert company. My
wife could sleep in the middle of a construction zone at midday. I look
blearily at the clock on the nightstand; it's 02:55. Finally I get up and go to
get a drink, and to wander around the house for a while, and to think. Plett is
enjoying this turn of events; she follows me happily, probably wondering if it
will all lead to something good, like food, or a fresh catnip toy.
I don't know much about zygotes, fetuses, and babies.
Ignorance makes me nervous, and dammit, there just seems to be more of it all
the time. That's an interesting thought, that while knowledge increases
geometrically, ignorance increases exponentially.
Just yesterday I was floating on a sea of euphoria, and now
I feel as if I have been sucked under in the wake of that same passing cruise
ship of life. What was that feeling? Oh yes, like the summer before attending
University. Well, now I feel like I'm in the middle of some bad
University-related dream in which I've just been told that I'm going to be
studying advanced calculus in my first semester as a mathematics major.
"But I don't know anything about calculus!" I would tell
the bursar's office.
"Better get cracking, then," would be the reply.
Thinking about semesters reminds me that the high school
which I attended used to work, for some reason known only to the Head Principal
and God, on the trimester system. And thinking about trimesters brings me back
to zygotes, fetuses, and babies.
Well, there's one good way to start learning. I might as
well look it up in one of the vHospitals.
The concept of the vHospital actually predated the vCity.
In the mid-1990s, as more institutions started to create sites on the Web and
make selected databases available to the general internetworking population,
the medical community followed suit. Many hospitals, clinics, managed health
care facilities and programs, insurance companies, etcetera starting pouring
out information on all aspects of health care and "wellness" maintenance. It
all became very unwieldy, and difficult to find specific information on
specific subjects. Eventually the National Institute of Medicine in the U.S.
and its foreign national counterparts organized the MediNet Database Sharing
Project and software programmers from around the world created special browsers
to navigate this ocean of medical information.
The information-based MediNet DSP was not very
customer-friendly, however. Basically it was designed by software engineers for
the convenience of administrators based on requirements and knowledge generated
by practitioners and medical research professionals. This was not a combination
conducive to comprehensibility.
However, time heals all wounds. Just about the time our
vCity opened in 1997, entrepreneurs around the world were already beginning to
design programs that enabled the average Internet user not only to access
medical information, but also act upon it. In other words, it became a
relatively simple process for people to find out what their problems were --
from allergies to mental health issues to injuries to diseases -- and find out
whom to contact within their local area for relief.
It is an interesting side note that while medical
professionals pioneered the use of VR technologies in a host of specialties
from cybernetic implants to cryogenic surgery to genetic research, they did
relatively little with exploiting VR as an advertising and marketing tool. The
vCity did not even have a vHospital site until 1998.
I think this reluctance was due to two main causes. First
of all, there is still today a real technological limit on what can be achieved
via telepresence. For the overwhelming majority of health-related work, it is
simply necessary for the practitioner to be in close physical proximity to the
patient. The direct, physical examination of a patient is a tradition that
stretches back far beyond Hippocrates. Secondly, the legal ramifications of
treating someone at a distance just haven't been hashed out yet in the courts.
With medical malpractice insurance rates rising the way they are, no one wants
to be the first to be sued.
So the medical community paradigm of bringing the patient
to the doctor is still alive and well. And I think sometimes this paradigm
blinds them to the enormous potential of establishing a direct and continual
multilogue with their customers. Or perhaps the medical profession is simply
reluctant to admit that it is an industry like any other. Hospitals, clinics,
and centers are just like businesses, shops and stores -- they compete with
each other for customers, and they need to establish marketing strategies.
Given the antipathy of the higher education professionals to the vCity
University concept, however, we decided to lay low on this one. Nobody in the
corporation wanted to poke the health care behemoth; we figured we'd let one of
our competitors do that.
I had interesting arguments with real world hospital public
relations staff members on this topic. "People just like coming to a real
building with real doctors and real nurses," they would say.
"Oh yes, and sitting for hours filling out paperwork too,"
I replied. "Very exciting stuff. But listen, I'm not saying they shouldn't. Why
don't you use a VR site to show people the latest innovations your clinic
"We already have a Web site," they would always say.
So we never did figure out how to penetrate that market.
Some real world clinics eventually did place sites in the vCity, when they
discovered that it was the equivalent of free advertising. Usually the pioneers
were doctors and administrators who simply enjoyed tooling around the vCity for
kicks, and one day they started to ask themselves, "Gee, How Come We Don't
Have....?" Still, the vHospital remained largely a 2-D experience. Or to put it
another way, the 3-D VRML-based aspects of touring a vHospital were fun and
very educational, but they weren't really necessary in terms of providing
information or rendering services.
The first time I ever used one was two years ago. I
remember putting in a lot of hours at the keyboard and eventually noticed a
tingling and gradual numbing, a sure sign of the onset of some kind of RMI
(Repetitive Motion Injury). So I took the opportunity to test out the vHospital
concept and bookmarked over to the one in the suburb of Nondescript.
The reason why I even noticed that one, by the way, is
simple. I happened to be scrolling through the old homestead at the time. When
I first created the First Citizen persona, I decided that it would be necessary
for the good of the infodemocracy to give him the most boring, average,
prefabricated house one could possibly imagine and thereby avoid any
accusations of preferential treatment. I called it the "log cabin"
The suburb of Nondescript is zoned as a 3C area. By
definition, the area defies description. It is a nice enough place to live,
but, well, kind of average. It is located northwest of downtown vCity.
It is a pleasant mostly residential suburb where, if it were a real world
place, the housing values would be average and the population density would be
equally average. You probably get the point by now. Just the kind of place to
settle down and spend weekends cleaning out the basement. The perfect place for
a humble home for a humble First Citizen.
As it happened, this vHospital, a simmcorp entitled The
Center for Study of Work-Related Health Care Issues, was designed to be an
actual reproduction of the real world hospital it simulated. Real world
hospitals require large amounts of space. Given the Zoning Volume requirements,
the Council registered this site in the Nondescript listings.
The whole thing was very well designed and quite
impressive. By scrolling through the front doors of the main entrance, I was
drawn towards an information desk. There were menu-driven applications that
asked me basic questions and the program began to build a patient profile.
This obviously took some time -- it certainly wasn't the
way to address someone with a problem needing immediate attention such as a
knife wound or a bee sting. I guess maybe because those are not generally
considered work-related health care issues. (Which leads me to think that
eventually, our vCity browser will have an emergency button one can click upon
that will notify real world officials in case of a real world emergency, such
as excessive use of penile cybernetic attachments used to enhance the VR
pornographic experience, maybe)
Anyway, eventually I got down to the point of addressing
specific questions about my RMI, all the while thinking that it was somewhat
ironic that I was probably aggravating my injury while trying to explain it.
However, after that things really worked fine. I was electronically whisked
away to a different site, a series of web pages listing professionals in my
real world area that could help me with my problem. I clicked on the name of
one that was only five minutes away from me by car, according to the map.
Sure enough, about half an hour later, I received a phone
"May I speak to Dr. Forest Green, please?"
"Dr. Green, this is Doctor Singh from Family Group Medical
Services. I see here you may be suffering from an Occupational Overuse Effect.
From the data you've given us it looks like a fairly simple case of Carpal
Tunnel Syndrome. Why don't you drop by and we'll take a look at it?"
I talked with him a bit further, asked him about his rates
and so on. He was extraordinarily friendly -- the more so after finding out
that I was fully insured. He asked about my work habits, the ergonomic design
of my equipment, and so on. Eventually I agreed to a no-charge inspection at
his office. When I arrived, all the paperwork was completed already, and all he
needed was my signature on a few additional forms.
Now that is progress. However, the upshot of all of
this was the oldest joke in the world. After fifteen minutes of further
examination and discussion, he finally supplied a possible remedy.
"So, it tingles and goes numb when you work too much."
"So don't work so much!" he said, grinning.
"Gee, thanks Doc," I said, grimacing. "And take a $50 for
My wife mumbles sleepily at me, "Where've you been?"
"Oh, in my office. I'm sorry to wake you up, I couldn't
sleep. I thought I might read up on pregnancy."
"That's nice," she smiles, burrowing deeper into the
pillow, already falling back to sleep. "D'you learn anything?"
"Yes. Apparently, it is the female that bears the