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Definitions of 'remote' - it's not just about distance, by Alasdair Mort

‘Remote’ – from the Latin ‘remotus’ (removed)


1.       Distant from towns and cities - “a remote Scottish glen”

2.       Having minimal relationship or connection - “The brother and sister’s relationship was always remote”

3.       A networked computing system - “Remote access is available through IP address 192.34.673.21”


Flick through your dictionary of choice and this is the sort of definition you will see for the word ‘remote’. It’s the type of description that most of us would think of instinctively, although I would guess that most people would imagine distance first. Your mind might drift to a remote location, perhaps the summit of Everest, the middle of the Sahara Desert, or deep in the Amazon Rainforest. Literally thousands of miles away from ‘civilisation’, even with some arrow-toting locals to boot. The stuff of Indiana Jones, Hillary and Norgay, or (Robert Falcon) Scott of the Antarctic. Adventurers and dare-doers.

But actually, ‘remote’ is also about physical separation, not just sheer distance. I started out as an altitude physiologist because I was interested in how the body functioned at the extremes, and how to protect people in hazardous environments. We simulated altitude in a low-pressure chamber, constantly monitoring people’s condition to ensure safety. Those in the chamber were only a matter of feet away horizontally from the sea-level of safety on the outside, but we were separated by thousands of simulated feet vertically (not to mention several inches of steel). That’s also a remote situation.

And this physical remoteness can then turn into emotional remoteness. You only need to consider some of the ‘immediate’ care given in our communities, where we sometimes rely upon a combination of healthcare professionals and volunteers. Take for example, a ‘First Responder’ from a local community – the local plumber, baker, pub landlord – called to someone with a breathing problem, or a fire service ‘Co-Responder’ called to a cardiac arrest. The London Fire Brigade has just completed a successful trial of this life-saving care across four of London’s Boroughs, including 500 fire fighters, 44 watches and 11 stations. The crews may be operating in a city, but they are still remote from professional care; doctors, nurses, paramedics. They’re on their own – intensely stressful and emotional – but in those first few minutes it’s vital to record data accurately. If these data aren’t recorded, are recorded inaccurately, or are lost, then it’s a problem, particularly if they are needed as evidence in court.

So, remoteness matters, and it may not be as far away as you think. The next time you have visions of Indiana Jones holding a golden artefact on the end of a rope above a snake-infested lake, think about what’s happening around the corner from YOU. Being remote isn’t just about space and time. In medical emergencies, seconds count.

Alasdair is CEO of MIME Technologies and a human physiologist


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