Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that technology isn’t an end in and of itself, its real aim should be to try and make life better in the most important ways. It’s easy to get lost trying the latest apps, spending time browsing endless sites on the ever-tinier subjects, or establishing lots more social media “friends” we don’t really know at all.

Melinda Gates spoke about using tech to make deep connections to others in her speech to the commencement class of 2013 at Duke University, her alma mater. She joined Microsoft in 1987 and mostly worked on multimedia projects. Shortly after marrying Bill in 1994, she left to start a family and in 2000, they formed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is now the largest transparently-operated private foundation in the world, with an endowment of over $42 billion and a mission of improving healthcare, education, and helping those in poverty.

Some of the points she made:

  • Technology is a tool that can be used to inspire and fulfill the purpose of a meaningful life, which is to make deep personal connections.
  • As you connect with people around the world from very different cultures, look for their common humanity, the one big thing that makes them human, rather than the many small things which make us different from each other. The universe is like computer code in that way: there is life and you and I are both ones.
  • When making choices, focus on ethics. Martin Luther King foresaw technology and science making the whole world like a neighborhood where we are all brothers and sisters. We should be working towards that goal.

Those sentiments aren’t simply lofty, they can be the foundation for improving dentistry and harmony between patients and their dental team. For example:

  • Presentation tools can show how different shades of veneers will look in the mouth. They can better explain the details of a treatment plan so the dentist can concentrate on listening to feedback
  • Digital medical records (that are compliant with HIPAA privacy laws) remind the patient and staff exactly what has been discussed before and what needs to be addressed, as well as the ability to share with others involved in treatment.
  • Mobile phones, email, and Denteractive’s text messaging allow questions to be asked and answered outside the office, as well as enabling reminder alerts.
  • Denteractive’s live video can enable patients not only to ask questions, but to see if she or he feels a connection with the dentist in advance of a first appointment. James Borg, in Body Language, notes that studies show that only 7% of communication consists of words, so both sides benefit from expressing feelings with gestures, posture, smiles, eyes, and so forth.
  • Social media, and the newer doctor-patient interactive platforms, make it possible for dentists and the public to know each other outside the office, to find interests in common, perhaps a particular sport, cooking, exotic travel, or a favorite TV show.

Used right, digital media allow us to fulfill our career and personal goals and to become better friends with everyone in our lives.

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