Thursday, 16 July 2009

My new bright shiny thing

Waiting in a café to meet my opposite number from Breast Cancer Care for breakfast. We meet up regularly to bring each other up to date on our respective organisations and also discuss any activities we are collaborating on at the moment. We participated in their excellent work on secondary breast cancer* (we supported a research project at Southampton University in collaboration with them looking at exactly this issue) and were part of the task force which was set up to address the very serious issues related to the support given to women whose breast cancer has returned. Have a look at their website if this is something that you are concerned about.

However, the reason for writing right now is somewhat trivial compared to the importance of the work both our organisations do. Of course I am not writing – I am typing on my new bright shiny thing – a netbook. This is very small, very light, pretty cheap and can do everything a grown-up computer can do. I have resisted having a laptop/portable computer, my arms are not strong enough to lug it around and the very light ones are too expensive, but when I am out and about the netbook would be so useful to have. Not only could I log onto files on my computer rather than printing things out for every meeting, but I could also type up notes on the spot.

My world of work encompasses an era before we had a computer on every desk. That was only twenty odd years ago. The first personal computer was the IBM PC and a wondrous invention it was. When I worked in the City in the 1980s we bought the second generation personal computer in 1984 which was the IBM PC XT. The cost was close to £8,000 and it had a whopping 128 KB of memory and a floppy disk drive – remember them? (The geeks out there can go to wiki to see the technical specs). When I left the City in the late 1980s the computer I bought to use to work from home on had one megabyte of memory and, as the person who helped me set it up said, “you will never use that much in a million years….”.

The advances in computer technology have not only changed the way many of us work, it has enabled medical research to process information in a way which was not even dreamed about only ten or fifteen years ago. We don’t forget that however smart, the technology is a tool, a very powerful tool, but still just a tool. It doesn’t replace human creativity, ingenuity and the ability to ask not only “why?” but “why not”. That’s the bit Breast Cancer Campaign supports.

*Secondary breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the first, primary tumour in the breast to another distant part of your body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

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