My Father Says He’s a ‘Targeted Individual.’ Maybe We All Are

Excerpt from this article:

The story he told sounded unlikely: that he was one of thousands of “targeted individuals,” who had been covertly spied on and manipulated by the CIA in the early 2000s. (So-called TIs have begun banding together around the country and across the internet.) But he didn’t sound agitated or disturbed the way I had imagined a paranoid schizophrenic might.

The hypothesis started to broaden: In our digital economy, covert players are constantly harvesting our data and churning out exquisitely tuned consumer profiles to tap into our dreams and desires. We are being surveilled. We are being controlled and manipulated. We are perhaps being tortured. But it’s not the CIA or aliens perpetrating all this. We are doing it to ourselves.

A thought occurred to me: Could the stories of “targeted individuals” be a warning, a cautionary tale about the real targeting we experience as digital technologies pervade our lives? Perhaps my father’s perception of electronic harassment is the result of his sensitivity to the mechanics of things. He may be seeing through to the nuts and bolts of the web, weaving a story out of its danger and turning it into a terrifying delusion of persecution, suffering, and torment.

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A small miracle of the App Age: I entrusted my children to a stranger – and they loved it

Excerpt from this article:

In the grand context of human history, what we were doing was outrageous. Nearly everyone who has ever lived would only trust someone they knew to look after their children. But today it does not seem so unusual. People seem to have steeply increased their propensity to trust strangers. We rent out our homes to them, we get into their cars, we meet them for a drink on the understanding that we may be having sex later on (so I hear).

In theory at least, this is a good thing. Social scientists have compiled a mountain of evidence that what they call “social trust” – trust in fellow citizens you haven’t yet met – is the secret to a successful society. Countries with higher trust in strangers have higher economic growth, less corruption, and happier citizens. They have lower suicide rates, less chronic illness and fewer fatal accidents (the economist John Helliwell suggested that if France was as trusting as Norway, its traffic fatalities would be halved). Politicians often debate the best way to increase productivity or improve education. Few propose policies to raise trust. But maybe our smartphones are already providing the answers.

ReplyAll #130 The Snapchat Thief

Excerpt from this podcast:

ALEX: Yeah. So take everything he says with a grain of salt. But he told me that he and his fellow hackers actually have a pretty reliable method for how they usually get accounts. It’s called SIM Swapping.
PJ: OK.
ALEX: So here’s how SIM Swapping works: You, PJ, have a phone number. I’m not going to say it on the radio even though that would be such a good troll.

ALEX: Um. So, so, what they do is they find out that you have a valuable account and they find out your number. And they call the phone company and pretend to be you and say, “I’ve got a new phone that you need to transfer my phone number to.” So the phone company transfers your phone number to the hacker’s phone.
PJ: And then they have logins on all your apps?
ALEX: They don’t have logins on all your apps. But since everybody uses two factor authentication on their phones–
PJ: Ahhhh! Then they go to instagram and they’re like “I forgot my password!”
ALEX: Exactly. And then Instagram sends a password reset text to the phone number, which they’re now in control of, and just like that, they have your account.
WORTHY: You know what OGUsers is right? 
ALEX: Oh, do I ever.
WORTHY: Yeah, so basically, OGs like that–OG handles, those are easy because it’s normal people like me and you. As long as I got the number, done. All I got to do is call T-Mobile, Verizon–any phone companies and you’ll have it for about 24 hours before they notice, you know, it was obviously a fraud. But by the time you know that happens you’ve already swapped that OG handle, you’ve got it. It’s yours. It’s done.
PJ: I mean, I don’t know if this is true, but there’s probably a lot of people at T-Mobile who are trusted to port a number.
ALEX: Yeah like my experience at every phone store I’ve ever been to is that the people there are moving phone numbers from one phone to another all day every day. Like, anytime you buy a new phone, that’s what they’re doing.

Avoiding Miscommunication in a Digital World

Excerpt from this article (good podcast episode too):

The issue though really is you have to understand the basic problem. Any kind of form of writing, unless you’re Shakespeare, involves basically less emotional information getting through than a face-to-face conversation. And so you might feel safer in that situation. You might feel like you can control it better.

But what happens when we get face-to-face is that willy-nilly, we exchange a huge amount of information about intent. And that’s what humans really care about. We care about what’s the other person intending toward me? Is that person friend or foe? Is that person going to have me for dinner or am I safe with that person? Is this person more powerful than me or less powerful? So those are the kinds of questions that we’re asking.

When we don’t get that information – and here’s the important point – we tend to make it up. The brain hates to be deprived of information like that because its survival depends on it, and it’s always predicting a few seconds ahead: is there danger here? Is there danger here?

And so what the brain does is when it’s deprived of those channels of information, the brain makes up information. And here’s the kicker: it makes up negative information because that’s more likely to keep you alive if you assume the worst. And so that’s why so much of written communication gets misunderstood, and typically misunderstood not on the positive side, but on the negative side. People usually are offended or their feelings are hurt. You rarely get people calling up and saying, “Boy, I misinterpreted your email. I thought it was wonderful!”

On Physician Burnout and the Plight of the Modern Knowledge Worker

https://i1.wp.com/calnewport.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/emr-640px.jpeg

Excerpt from this article:

On Screens and Surgeons

Atul Gawande has a fascinating article in the most recent issue of the New Yorker about the negative consequences of the electronic medical records revolution. There are many points in this piece that are relevant to the topics we discuss here, but there was one observation in particular that I found particularly alarming.

One of the striking findings from Maslach’s research is that the burnout rate among physicians has been rapidly rising over the last decade. Interestingly, this rate differs between different specialities — sometimes in unexpected ways.

Neurosurgeons, for example, report lower levels of burnout than emergency physicians, even though the surgeons work longer hours and experience poorer work-life balance than ER doctors.

As Gawande reports, this puzzle was partly solved when a research team from the Mayo Clinic looked closer at the causes of physician burnout. Their discovery: one of the strongest predictors of burnout was how much time the doctor spent starting at a computer screen.

The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting

A woman wearing a bra and panties kneels on top of a giant smartphone

Excerpt from this article:

This language says a lot about how Viome and an ever-increasing number of new health companies are encouraging people to think and talk about nutrition: as a problem of personal technology, where losing weight isn’t an experience of self-deprivation, but one of optimization, not unlike increasing a year-old iPhone’s battery life or building a car that runs without gas.

Viome and other start-ups in its market don’t characterize themselves as diet companies, but weight and other nutrition-adjacent health concerns are the chief things around which many of them are oriented. 23andMe wants to help you eat and exercise according to your genetics. Bulletproof wants you to change your morning coffee routine to increase your work performance and reduce hunger. Habit promises to study your personal biomarkers to tailor a nutrition plan just for you. Need a few hours of supposedly superhuman mental acuity and calorie burning? Pound a ketone cocktail and keep it moving. Can you control your body’s need for fuel through “intermittent fasting”? There’s an app for that.

A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley

Excerpt from this article:

The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.

A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a regionwide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.

“Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.”

Ms. Stecher, 37, and her husband, Rushabh Doshi, researched screen time and came to a simple conclusion: they wanted almost none of it in their house. Their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride (the four-hour drive to Tahoe counts) or during a plane trip.