Building a New Culture of Health

Our crucial need for a free, humane, global, social-health platform

This article is part 2 in a series about humane technology, community culture, and global public health. Read the first article “Rebooting the Health of Humanity

My neighborhood in Seattle is a quiet little enclave, close to nature, with an old-timey main street and residents of all ages and demographics. When COVID arrived, the community sprang into action. A help map appeared on the neighborhood webpage, and an ecosystem of services blossomed, with folks volunteering to bring groceries to seniors and check in on each other’s mental and physical health. At eight p.m., like clockwork, we all cheer in solidarity with the city’s healthcare workers.

In these last three months, it has been heartwarming to observe such acts of kindness and care, as communities and businesses worldwide have embraced mutual collaboration.

Remarkably, COVID-19 has created a heightened moral and societal responsibility toward each other that we as a society, have not been able to manufacture without its impetus. By its very nature, coronavirus forces us to protect each other, from each other.

But why didn’t our neighborhood have a help map before Covid-19? With all of our focus on connectivity, why are we still not focused on building technology that creates purposeful connection?

The current crisis demonstrates that we are in dire need of humane technologies that will allow us to find safe spaces for bonding in our newly remote society, technologies that will provide social sanctuary and authentic connection — the way my neighborhood webpage has done.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of health.

Covid-19 has brought the world to its knees. Overloaded healthcare systems, economic uncertainty, and large-scale social distancing are only a few of the byproducts of the current pandemic. People are sick. People are scared. And people are isolated.

Our governments were not ready for this. As individuals, we were unprepared for this amount of uncertainty. Yet despite our multitude of social networks, at this time when the need for support and mentorship is so acute, we need a free, global, social health-based platform where we can come together as a worldwide family, to safely address our shared social, physical or emotional needs and conditions.

Imagine a world where it did not take a pandemic to check in with each other about our daily health. Where a free, empathy-based, digital infrastructure helped us collaborate globally on long-standing conditions, offer the wealth of our health experiences to others, and develop positive, purposeful conversations around health experiences and journeys.

Imagine a digital space where health professionals and researchers could daily acknowledge the importance of cutting through red tape and reaching across facilities and countries to share new resources and inspiration — without being spurred on by the threat of a pandemic.

And finally, imagine a future in which we all continue to clap, or give thanks on some level, every day, for those we appreciate, not because we are shut in our homes, but because we want to raise our voices in joy and encouragement.

Now, in the eye of the storm, how do we hold on to those unifying acts of humanity, support and appreciation that we have seen around the globe and begin integrating and synthesizing these gestures into a new, permanent culture of good health? How do we model a collective heart in the digital sphere?

Commercialized health and fitness apps cannot unify us when we’re separated from our loved ones. They can’t help us brainstorm about the health of an aging relative when the planes are grounded. Our current social media platforms are not designed to build up our self-worth, to mentor us, or to encourage an enduring sense of service to others.

Neither do these platforms offer support or tools to inspire or nurture the overburdened physician, at risk of burnout from a fractured system and a demanding patient population.

These are the limits of commercial health and social media technology companies, who ultimately work for their investors.

Never before has it been more important to take an active, rather than passive, role in our own health, and to connect with others in a space focused solely on healing and resource sharing. In this moment of worldwide contagion and isolation, it’s time for a new kind of digital sanctuary, one that nurtures and inspires both people and practitioners, unifying global society in reciprocity, trust and goodwill.

And when this crisis pauses, or passes, that need will still exist.

The new health technologies that will arise from this pandemic must be adapted to us emotionally, as well as socially. They must be genuine and offer much more than appeals to our egos and sense of validation.

Health is complex, and in addition to the direct care given by practitioners, we need the benefit of one another’s lived experience to truly address the totality of the issue.

Put any two people with the same health issue into a room together. Whether it’s COVID-19, Lupus, bunions, or PTSD, the chances are that someone has either lived through it or is currently managing living with it long-term. Regardless of age, class, wealth, location, color, sexual orientation, or special needs, they will find a shared story that resonates. They will find common ground.

Now take these two people out of that room and build a supportive free, digital social-health system that will guide them towards each other, humanely, based on their need for support or mentorship. Do not give them an audience. Do not triangulate them with groups or forums. Help them focus on purposeful, authentic connection about the issue they share.

Now is the time for a far-reaching, and scalable, free social-health platform where those two people — and millions like them worldwide –can learn to build a roadmap to their own better health and find multiple avenues to organize information, collaborate, and share hard-won health knowledge and solutions.

A health platform like this can be built around the knowledge that we’re rarely responsible for only our own health. We spend much of our adult lives collaborating on the health of those we care about. We need tools that can help us co-manage a loved one with trusted friends, family or caregivers, providing each other the support we need to level the playing field around health decisions, improvements and developments.

How many of us are now separated from family and friends because of Covid-19? We need health tools that will work for us, and for those we care about, whether we’re living in the same city, or across the ocean from each other. We need health tools that work for our lives, hearts and families, not the other way around.

Our secret strength is our ability to collaborate. Let’s build a new culture of health. What is your story? What you can offer? How can you help?

Megan Haas is the founder of Kinnected.org, a free, equitable, and diverse public platform that is uniting the global community to redefine health.

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