The Cultural Roots of Gizmo Idolatry

A reader responded to the previous post on gizmo idolatry with reference to a book on cultural differences in medical practice: Medicine and Culture, by Lynn Payer. I haven’t read the book, but it appears to make the point that even among western countries, doctors order tests and prescribe treatments with very different frequencies that are in part attributable to cultural factors.

This brought to mind an interesting article by Dr. Steven Weiss on the subject of U.S. culture specifically. Dr. Weiss argues that gizmo idolatry has twin roots: American Enlightenment philosophy and American frontier history. He quotes Benjamin Franklin and John Adams wistfully predicting that “new and useful utensils and instruments” “will ultimately terminate in the . . . amelioration in the condition of mankind”. And indeed this has come true in many respects. But as Weiss argues with many examples, “American medical technology advances more rapidly than our understanding of how best to use it”.

Similarly, “During the settlement of America, action was more highly valued than deliberation”. Weiss quotes a British historian regarding the American West, “already living in the future with today only half finished and yesterday already forgotten”. That negative device trial? That was yesterday’s technology. We’ve moved on to today’s technology. And by the time we finish a study of today’s technology, it will be yesterday’s technology. Action over deliberation!

About Justin A. Sattin

I'm a vascular neurologist and residency program director. I created this blog in order to share some thoughts with my resident and other colleagues, and to foster my own learning as well.
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