It’s Digital Heroin

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

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There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex.

 

Activity Trackers May Undermine Weight Loss Efforts

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Wearable activity monitors can count your steps and track your movements, but they don’t, apparently, help you lose weight. In fact, you might lose more weight without them.

The fascinating finding comes from a study published today in JAMA that found dieting adults who wore activity monitors for 18 months lost significantly fewer pounds over that time than those who did not.

The results suggest that activity monitors may not change our behavior in the way we expected, and raise interesting questions about the tangled relationships between exercise, eating, our willpower and our waistlines.

 

Twitter wants to know your birthday so it can shower you with balloons and ads

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Users who do fill out their birthdays can choose who sees the information, making the date either public, open to followers, or restricted to themselves only. But no matter the privacy level you set, Twitter will use the information for marketing purposes: a note in its support database confirms that the social network will use your birthday “to show you more relevant content, including ads.” By filling out your date of birth, you’re not only getting a screen full of balloons and more timely congratulatory tweets, but you’re making yourself an easier target for marketing.

Stressed at Work? Tell It to Social Media

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Can social media thus shine a spotlight on workers’ stress levels? The authors of a new study analyzed a database of more than 2 billion tweets from almost 47 million individuals during an 18-month period. After filtering for only English-language tweets with the words “work” or “job” in the post, the authors were left with a sample of more than 8 million work-related tweets, or about 3.65 percent of all the tweets that were sent in the U.S. during that time.

…To examine weekly trends, the authors aggregated the text analysis results to correlate with the days of the week — all the Mondays together, all the Tuesdays together, and so forth. They could then calculate which days, on average, featured the most tweets about work-related stress.

Everybody really does hate Monday, it turns out. Tweets with mentions of work stress peaked at the beginning of the workweek and slowly declined through Thursday. On Friday, there was a much steeper drop-off, suggesting that people either are mentally ready to be out of the office or don’t see much point in discussing stressful work circumstances with the weekend rapidly approaching.

One would think the pattern would continue and that workers would largely feel stress-free when away from the office Saturday and Sunday. However, the analysis uncovered a different pattern: Negative emotions and stress-related comments don’t decrease steadily from Friday through the weekend, but actually begin to pick up Saturday and increase markedly on Sunday. Clearly, the “Sunday blues” are no myth — people begin fretting about their jobs as the weekend draws to a close and the stresses of Monday morning loom on the horizon.

What Your Yelp Review Says About You

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Here are a few common examples of Yelp review comments and their actual meanings:

“The staff was snooty” I felt intimidated by how fancy this place was and/or arrived underdressed.

“The actor/waiter was…” My waiter was extremely good-looking and I resent that.

“Not authentic” I’d like to take this opportunity to brag about my world travels to a bunch of strangers online.

“Hipster” There was kale on the menu and nobody else was wearing UGG boots.

“We didn’t get a free ____” I am a terrible human being who doesn’t comprehend how the economy works.

“The portions were too small” I’m probably from the Midwest and/or typically dine at large chains where I’m accustomed to being served a giant trough of food.

“Too scene-y” Nobody hit on me.

“Not enough vegetarian options” I use my dietary restrictions as a means to get attention and can’t accomplish that at an actual vegetarian restaurant, which is where I should have gone in the first place.

“The ______ was terrible” I lack a basic understanding of the concept of personal preference.

 

 

Happier Podcast: The Challenges of Being Distracted by Your Phone

This episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier Podcast recently had an interesting discussion of the misinterpretations of people’s behaviours based on mobile device usage. Starting around the 15 minute mark, they share stories like: someone thought another parent was being rude at a presentation because they kept looking at their phone, but that person was actually using it to take notes. Or another person kept looking at their watch, but they weren’t checking to see how the time was dragging; instead they were waiting for an important message via their Apple Watch. They recommend warning someone if you’re expecting a call, “my babysitter might be calling me, so excuse me if I glance at my phone.”

 

 

I Used to Be a Human Being

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In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

…I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living.

By the last few months, I realized I had been engaging — like most addicts — in a form of denial. I’d long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life, an add-on, as it were. Yes, I spent many hours communicating with others as a disembodied voice, but my real life and body were still here. But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.

And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.