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Global Handwashing Day: 2012 vs 2020

Today is Global HandWashing Day . I dealt with the subject for the first time in 2012, in unsuspecting times. The preface of my ebook The End of the Era of Common Sense that came out that year was entirely devoted to this topic, which is topical even today.


The third edition of the Global Handwashing Day took place on 15 October 2011World Hand Hygiene Day. Washing your hands regularly and several times a day is useful and is common sense practice. It should come as no surprise that 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by direct contact and our hands are the main vehicle for spreading them. The negative consequences concern the health of individuals, but also the related costs for the community. The rule of washing hands repeatedly applies to all of us. Despite the obvious advantages of respecting it, to date the level of attention paid to this preventive practice is low, surprisingly low. The consequences of poor hygiene can also be very tragic. In 1846 the birth wards of the Vienna General Hospital recorded one death for every six parturients, chilling statistic and an unacceptable value for one of the best hospitals of the time. After several investigations and without being aware of the existence of the bacteria, it was demonstrated that the simple, regular and systematic cleaning of the hands was the remedy necessary to reverse a situation that seemed to be constantly worsening.

More than 160 years have passed since that day. Medicine and prevention have made gigantic strides forward. In all hospitals around the world it is now common practice to maintain a very high level of general cleanliness with particular attention to the hands due to continuous exposure to patients of various kinds. So common sense has prevailed over time? It would not seem.

No later than February 2, 2012, Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, one of the main medical facilities in the Californian city, issued a statement addressed  to the medical and paramedical staff relating to personal hygiene. The objective is to achieve a zero rate of diffusion of internal infections, a value that demonstrates the existence of a gap to be filled. In the US, deaths from infections developed in hospitals amount to 99,000 a year, which is enormous. Was it really necessary to draw attention to this point by the Californian hospital? Apparently yes, given that various research conducted in hospitals around the world show that the level of hand hygiene among the population of hospital workers is 25% of what is necessary and recommended. In short, in hospitals hands are washed once every four. Still on the basis of some internal findings, the least disciplined appear to be the surgeons,

In this case we are even faced with the denial of common sense. For generations we have known it is good practice to wash your hands several times a day. As demonstrated, it is not only advisable, but convenient, sensible and useful. Surprisingly, the objective measurement of the diffusion and regular application of this practice provides a profoundly different picture, even inconceivable in some categories which should excel in zeal and rigor. Medicine surprises with hyper-sophisticated techniques in performing complicated transplants of multiple organs and, at the same time, the statistics on hygiene in hospitals are in some cases even disappointing. Almost a contradiction.

What lessons can be drawn from these observations? First, that a more systematic application of simple common sense would in itself bring value and benefits. Since common sense isn’t always enough, technology can lend a hand. Special taps have recently been introduced andSpecial taps and dispensershave a high level of intelligence. Since the ideal duration of each single wash is estimated at 20 seconds, these taps have acoustic and luminous indicators to mark and adjust the time. But it doesn’t end there. They are also able to measure the frequency of use, the time of day and by whom, producing a large amount of useful data for the entire hospital capable of objectively measuring the implementation of this preventive practice. As evident, the advantages are not limited to these. The generated statistics provide punctual, precise indications for each individual healthcare professional, producing a complete and personalized picture. It may seem a little too coercive, but I guess everyone wants to excel in this ranking of merit.

In parallel, various messages addressed to hospital staff were studied to improve the level of attention to hygiene in hospitals. The most effective one, capable of raising the metric in question by 10%, emphasized the benefits for patients, unconsciously relying on the principles set out in the Hippocratic oath. In summary, common sense and technology can bring significant improvements and advances if mixed in the right dose.

The example summarizes the goal of this book. Bring to your attention concrete cases of new technologies and changing consumer behavior, provide them with an objective measurement of various phenomena through examples and data and evaluate how different forms of innovation can help us improve our behavior and decision-making processes. The technological innovation that surrounds us fits into this context, what I would define as technology for us humans. What am I referring to? To all the devices present in our homes, invariably in our pockets and purses, installed on today’s cars and even more so on tomorrow’s cars and now a constant component of everyday life for at least a couple of billion of the planet’s inhabitants. Thanks to the help offered to us through digital tools, we are able to describe the surrounding reality in a more punctual and precise way than has ever been possible before. Hand cleaning is just one of many possible examples to support the thesis that we can and must improve even in small things thanks to a more precise understanding of what we do (or don’t do in this case) and the possible consequences. In the example in question, the element of progress is the careful observation and measurement of behavior by placing it in a broader context of social responsibilities. Today we have the tools to arrive at making more balanced and correct decisions by exploiting the supports and aids that derive from the use of various technological solutions.

I am convinced that the growing adoption of simple and easy-to-use technologies will progressively change the way we act, helping us to be better humans. And this way of operating may also lead us to question some of the long-established “truths”, often simply clichés. 

Our behaviors have always generated traces, which are measured by third parties. The number of telephone calls made and received throughout the day by telephone operator subscribers provides an incredible amount of useful data for defining new tariff plans based on effective use of cell phones. In the coming years everything we do will be increasingly measurable as a result of the dependence and use of digital technologies, mainly the Internet. In this changed context, some obvious things that we used to believe must give way to a more rigorous and systemic approach, capable of also highlighting some surprises. As we will see later, Las Vegas is perceived as the entertainment capital of the world, but it is also the holder of a not particularly happy and positive record.

That explains the title. I don’t expect the abandonment of common sense, but rather the entry into a new phase characterized by a massive presence of widespread technology   at any time of the day, useful for making us more careful drivers, more respectful citizens, more helpful parents , the most incisive workers and the most satisfied consumers with the choices made. 

Therefore common sense integrated by an easily accessible information support to make more precise decisions capable of transferring value and utility. Welcome to a new world where technology, innovation and measurement represent the most correct way to evaluate everyday life, help us make decisions and define more virtuous behaviours.   Welcome to an extremely complex world from a structural and technological point of view, simple, easy and comfortable for us consumers. Welcome to the world where technology joins common sense. This is The New Normal .


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