They tell you you'll never forget high school and they promise glories for the "golden years," their very fulsomeness a hint that adolescence and old age can be two of life's most horrific chapters. But they don't tell you that in your mid-forties you will suddenly become unable to see any object that is either (a) very close to you or (b) very far from you, unless you constantly switch eyeglasses — and sometimes not even then.
Having reached this era and identified this debility, however, I made it a point at last month's National Managed Health Care Congress to sit brazenly in the front at each session I attended. That way, I figured, my eyes would be a safe, middling distance from the slides and I'd have a fair shot at deciphering them.
No way. Speaker after speaker, hurrying through complex materials, paused to apologize for absurdly crammed visuals with tiny type that would have been unreadable from the front row even if the projector operators had been acquainted with the concept of focus, which often they were not. In one case, even a cartoon slide — something evidently included for its very accessibility as a tension breaker — appeared to my admittedly imperfect eyes as an undifferentiated bluish haze.
"It's in your handouts," of course, is the ubiquitous excuse. But sometimes it isn't. And even when it is, how many of us, having taken four days off to attend a conference, can devote much further time to detailed study of the conference materials?
I don't mean to single out NMHCC for abuse. Actually, that meeting provided an impressive array of well-informed speakers with clear presentations. (One of them, Peter Kongstvedt, M.D., of Ernst & Young, was kind enough to sit down with me for a wide-ranging interview.) But it seems to me that managed care's complexity cries out for coherent explanation, and that while most speakers chosen for its various conferences explain that complexity well, the simple matter of clarity in visual aids apparently defeats many of them.