Proving There’s No Limit to Online Spiritual Counseling, Pope Francis Video Chats with Astronauts

Drifting through space and 250 miles above Earth is the perfect place to reflect on humankind’s place in the universe. At least, that’s what Pope Francis thinks, judging from his recent video conference call to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The Pontiff chatted with the six-man international team for 20 minutesduring a direct link-up from the Vatican, posing questions such as: what is your opinion of love, what are your sources of joy, and how does life without gravity change your point of view of life on Earth.

As far as video calls go, that’s a lot deeper than your average Skype chat with your friends at college. It does, however, demonstrate the profound reach video conferencing can have in the internet age. There are no barriers between any two (or more) people in the internet-connected world sharing a face-to-face conversation.

As the Pope just proved, that means there’s no limit to the possibilities of online spiritual counseling.

The Real Magic of Video Conferencing

Watching the Pope speak to the orbiting astronauts brings to mind two things.

Firstly, the technology we have at hand today is incredible. You can stare at your smartphone from the comfort of your own home and watch one of the world’s leading spiritual minds speak directly to a bunch of guys in space.

Secondly, as remarkable as all that technology is, it’s still at its most profound when it serves basic human needs. Across a connection of hundreds of miles, the conversation is still one of who are we, where are we, what is love?




For all the wizardry of the underlying technology, the result is still just people talking, face-to-face. You don’t have to disappear into fairy tales of a world united through video conferencing to see the potential for that connection. There is a clear ability here for anyone with a little ambition to start a conversation, to build their own global network, and get people from all over the world sharing their opinions on some of the questions Pope Francis posed.

Create Your Own Video Conferencing Group

As impressive as all that video conferencing technology is, it’s still easily accessible to everyday people. You can host your own group chat with dozens of people all over the globe by using free apps like Skype and Facebook Messenger. Or, you can build your own video portal using browser-based video calling like WebRTC. That technology turns any internet browser into a video conference host using open sourced codes built-in to platforms like Google Chrome.

The trick to both solutions is getting people to notice you’ve built the perfect place for them to chat. For that, you have to think creatively about how you present yourself online, using methods such as thought leadership or existing social media forums like Facebook.

With a venue in place, though, there are no restrictions on the conversations you can host. You could set up weekly online meetings, like a movie club or a book clubwith a spiritual theme, or leave the virtual doors open 24/7 for anyone looking for answers to log on and start chatting. There are even translation services availablethat can let your group move out beyond the confines of your language.

That kind of group platform would service an informal, casual conversation, but video conferencing could also be used to deliver more specialized online spiritual counseling.

Online Spiritual Counseling

Video conferencing brings people together, but equally importantly, at times, it can keep them at a safe physical distance. Spiritual counselors have long been a part of military life, but it’s not always practical to have such a person at hand during active duty. Video conferencing could be a way of delivering that service without having to place an advisor in harm’s way–they could simply reach out from behind a webcam housed at a more secure location.

Similarly, counselors could use video calls to speak with inmates of high-security prisons, aid workers in hazardous conditions, counsel patients suffering from infectious diseases, or talk with workers in extreme locations such as oil rigs, mines, and remote areas. The calls could be staged as town-hall sized events using interactive live streaming or as private, face-to-face discussions.

In all these cases, affordable technology–video calling apps are free, HD webcams cost less than $100–is easily put to use to get people talking even though they are miles apart. As Pope Francis demonstrated, not even the sky is a limit to online spiritual counseling anymore.


*** Repost from VC Daily article on January 10, 2018

*** Image Source: Flickr CC User Aleteia Image Department

Beat Cold and Flu Season with Children’s Telehealth




Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room during the peak of cold and flu season, it’s easy to start thinking every cough and sneeze from the other patients is aimed at you personally. It’s even worse if you’re taking a child in for a routine check-up or another reason not related to contagious illness–you’d have to bring them to the doctor in a bubble to avoid all those airborne germs.

You’re not being paranoid, either. A study of nearly 85,000 people conducted over more than a decade found that kids under six face an increased risk of getting sickin the two weeks following a trip to the doctor. In turn, the study found that the child’s family also has a greater risk of illness after the waiting room encounter.

So, what can you do if your kid needs to see the doctor, now that winter is in full swing and children are passing viruses back and forth like they’re playing catch? That’s where children’s telehealth comes in. Ideally, it means you and your child get to stay safely at home while a virtual doctor visits via video conference.

Children’s Telehealth Via App

A group of pediatricians in Arizona has come to this very same conclusion. They’ve begun offering treatment for routine childhood illnesses like coughs, sore throats, and rashes over a video conference call. The service specializes in nighttime, after-hours care for kids, whereby parents can get an initial diagnosis over a video call before they, perhaps unnecessarily, rush off to the emergency room.

The concept is a simple one. For $125 per video call, parents can get in direct contact with a child specialist over their smartphone. Parents need to download an app to make the connection, but from there they have an instant telehealth portal in their pocket–and ‘telehealth’ is just a technical way of describing an interaction between a patient and doctor over video.

High-def video calling has become common over smartphone, so there’s enough visual clarity to recreate an in-clinic visit online, especially with mom or dad on hand to relay information like temperature and heart rate. In addition to keeping everyone out of the waiting and emergency rooms, virtual consultations also let kids stay in the comfort of their own home–and you can customize a telehealth call to appeal to kids.

Video Calling and Kids

Video calling’s recreation of in-person conversation is faithful enough to have earned it a pass from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The influential group is usually a harsh critic of screen time among young children, but last year made a rare exemption for video calls, expressing support for kid-friendly video chat apps. It found children as young as two were able to distinguish between broadcast video and interactive video calls. Because of this, the Academy suggested the technology could be useful in building relationships between children and distant family members.


In other words, a sick child staring at their parent’s smartphone understands that the doctor on the other side of the screen is speaking to and about them personally, and isn’t just another strange YouTube clip.

That understanding is crucial to a medical exchange in which a child is going to be asked to explain “where it hurts” and when they started to feel ill. As personal as video calling is, however, it’s still a digital format. We can certainly go much further in building on the face-to-face experience to make virtual doctor visits more child-friendly.

Making a Virtual Doctor’s Visit More Fun

VC Daily has previously explored some of the multimedia apps and special effectsthat can be paired with video conferencing to make it a more child-friendly. These include using popular augmented reality avatars and masks to introduce dynamic number, letter, shape, and animal graphics to a conversation, and touchscreen technology to let children get handsy with the images in front of them.

Similar concepts could be used in a medical setting. How about a touch-sensitive image of the human body so a child could point to the sore spot? Or interactiveaugmented reality projections that can be manipulated by little hands to demonstrate basic motor skills? If the strange face of the remote doctor makes a small child too uncomfortable to participate in the exam, there are cartoon avatars that can be employed to speak on behalf of the pediatrician, such as Skype’s WonderGrove Kids below:



All of this imagery and visual spectacle is available to make a virtual appointment with the doctor more enjoyable than a real-world trip down to the clinic. The real achievement, however, is preventing the child–and by extension their parents and extended family–from having to sit among a cloud of sneezing, coughing victims of the cold and flu season. If the online examination proves as effective as an in-person appointment–and there’s evidence to suggest it can be–then one day all of us could be spared that paranoid wait in the doctor’s office.



*** Repost from VC Daily article on January 9, 2018

*** Image Source: Flickr CC User Brett Neilson

Technology and Diversity: Building an Innovative Business Through Diversity and Collaboration

If you’ve read any of the numerous studies and business innovation bestsellers out there (here we’ll tip our hats to Intel for putting its money where its mouth is), you know that diversity drives innovation. But we don’t always grasp how to go about fostering the kind of diversity that will push innovation. Just ask Silicon Valley. Or Hollywood. Or Washington, D.C. Without the right approach, efforts at cultivating a diverse workplace will miss the mark. We’ll look at what the right approach is to growing diversity, the connection between technology and diversity, and how to manage diversity using collaborative tools like video conferencing to get innovative results.

Reimagining Diversity

Before we consider how technology can help, let’s go over the basics. Why is diversity such a complicated idea? It starts with our terminology. Diversity has become a generic and often misleading catchphrase. Think Orientalism, corporate America-style, with two categories: the default—white, male Americans—and everybody else, in the Other category. Yes, we absolutely need to get non-white, non-male and non-Americans in the room. But if your end-goal is an innovative business culture, you won’t attain it simply by hiring from the Other category. It’s going to take more than that.

To get the real benefits of workplace diversity, we have to imagine diversity differently. It’s not just a category to be checked off; rather, achieving diversity is the product of fostering a rich landscape of identities. Consider this: each one of us is made up of multiple subject positions, like points on a 3D graph. Some points are fixed, some are not. Some points are visible to others, some are not. These points include—but aren’t limited to—age, sex, sexual orientation, race, dis/ability, religion, socioeconomic status, and political views. Each one of us perceives the importance of every point differently, depending on our values, beliefs, daily lives, and circumstances. In short, much of our identity isn’t static—it’s dynamic. Adding to this landscape is our role in the workplace, our different levels of power within a group, and our unique communication preferences.

Bringing Together Diverse Identities Through Communication

So once you have a diverse workplace, how can you ensure it’s propelling your company forward? The key is inclusion, and we need great communication to get there. Let’s pretend an HR manager has composed a team of people representing the full human landscape. What’s next is building working relationships based on mutual respect. Research demonstrates that the defining trait of any successful team is teammates who treat each other respectfully, establishing the psychological safety of group members. Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School describes this safety net as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

Now, having a safety net doesn’t mean your team can’t or shouldn’t argue; debate and discourse are necessary components of producing innovative solutions to business problems. The goal is for team members to freely interact, share ideas, and tackle impediments.

In a diverse workplace, unconscious bias and stereotyping can obstruct this goal; the only solution is to acknowledge issues as they arise and address them head-on. Professional educator Steve Lowisz clarifies, “HR professionals need to embrace the uncomfortable conversations that might result from learning to ‘deal with differences’. People shouldn’t be ‘tolerating’ each other; you need to start accepting people. Don’t be afraid to talk about what may or may not be offensive. You need to start learning about each other and start communicating.” So what’s the best way to communicate? That’s what we’ll talk about next.

Technology and Diversity: Encouraging Innovation with the Help of Tools

According to author and Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, a workplace leader’s goal should be to foster an “idea marketplace”—that’s what you get when you combine diversity with respectful collaboration. Cue collaborative technology as the great equalizer (but ensure the tech you choose is accessible to every member of your team). Even if everyone is working in the same office, the right software and communication tools can facilitate creative brainstorming and problem-solving.

Think of the right technology as a workplace-hierarchy workaround that can help leaders manage a diverse workplace. Video chat is one way to invite debate in multiple settings, countering workplace power differentials. Meeting in a virtual video conference room welcomes participation and appeals to diverse communication styles. Video conferencing with chat functionality is a particularly effective medium because it gives colleagues the benefit of a face-to-face exchange without the underlying in-room dynamics. Adding a chat tool facilitates engagement for those less likely to speak up during an in-person meeting. And it goes without saying that video conferencing sessions should be easy to record and even easier to share, so that everyone can access them.

In virtual shared spaces, workplace leaders should encourage and model curiosity, passion, and empathy. As Edmondson explains, a leader should “ask genuine questions and listen intently to the responses, display deep enthusiasm for achieving team goals, and show they’re attuned to everyone’s diverse perspectives no matter their position in the hierarchy.”

Managers should be prepared to argue from every side equally, providing counterpoints to challenge preconceptions and encourage balanced discussions.

Whatever your role in the workplace, contributing to a healthy working environment should be your priority. And since communication plays such a big part in a workplace, you’ll want to make use of all every tool available, including video conferencing. Just keep in mind the ultimate goal: we should all believe that we belong. As former President George W. Bush recently said, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” It’s long past time that we do better.



*** Repost from VCC Daily article by Kelly Kincaid on January 5, 2018

***Image source: Flickr CC user Axiom News