The Ghosts in Our Machines

A friend calls unexpected connections with lost loved ones “winks,” and finding Google Maps photos of my mother felt like a wink of monumental proportions.

Excerpt from this poignant article in The New Yorker, where the writer describes spotting an image of his deceased mother on Google Street View:

Every now and again, when I’ve been working for too many hours without a break or have spent an entire day writing something, I jump on Google Maps Street View and get lost in my past.

The images on Street View, taken by fancy cameras that are usually—though not always—strapped to the tops of cars, are a boon for basement-dwelling architecture buffs and those who want to see the world without going broke. I use the site for far less cosmopolitan purposes. I track down baseball diamonds and bike trails I played on as a kid. I locate comic-book shops from back in the day, old college dorms, hotels my family stayed in during summer vacations back when we took summer vacations as a family. I plop down in places I’ve been, places that have meant something to me, and look around. Then I compare the contemporary to what’s in my memory. It’s a way to unwind, a respite from more taxing laptop-based endeavors.

At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.

That feeling passed quickly. Because it was her. In the photo, my mom is wearing a pair of black slacks and a floral-print blouse. Her hair is exactly as I always remember it. She’s carrying what appears to be a small grocery bag.

The confluence of emotions, when I registered what I was looking at, was unlike anything I had ever experienced—something akin to the simultaneous rush of a million overlapping feelings. There was joy, certainly—“Mom! I found you! Can you believe it?”—but also deep, deep sadness. There was heartbreak and hurt, curiosity and wonder, and everything, seemingly, in between.

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Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection

Excerpt from this article:

Classmates seemed to have it all together. Every morning, the administration sent out an email blast highlighting faculty and student accomplishments. Some women attended class wearing full makeup. Ms. DeWitt had acne. They talked about their fantastic internships. She was still focused on the week’s homework. Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious.

In 2003, Duke jolted academe with a report describing how its female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort. At Stanford, it’s called the Duck Syndrome. A duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.

“Nobody wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great,” said KahaariKenyatta, a Penn senior who once worked as an orientation counselor. “Despite whatever’s going on — if you’re stressed, a bit depressed, if you’re overwhelmed — you want to put up this positive front.”

Citing a “perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, cocurricular and social endeavor,” the task force report described how students feel enormous pressure that “can manifest as demoralization, alienation or conditions like anxiety or depression.”

In the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a screen with carefully curated depictions that don’t provide the full picture. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to nearly constant.

The danger of too many selfies: We’re striving for perfection that won’t come

Argentina

Excerpt from this article:

…Many selfies are driven by the twin forces of arrogance and anxiety. Like a dog chasing its tail, this is how much of our society now works. One group – arrogant, narcissistic and self-promoting – starts a trend. The other group – anxious and wanting to fit in – follows.

People who are narcissistic report sending the most selfies. This gets them attention and probably feels good – it you think you are hot, seeing your hotness broadcast to your social network is a positive experience. And this isn’t too surprising; it is the same pattern that appears in other social media, with narcissism predicting self-enhancing Facebook photos and number of Twitter posts.

The greater dangers from selfies are found on the anxiety side. For decades research psychologists have put mirrors and cameras in laboratories to understand what happens psychologically when we look at ourselves. The first experience is self-consciousness – we become aware of ourselves as objects. The second is comparison – we compare ourselves to our ideal standards. We think: Am I all that I should be? And the answer for many of us is no – with the result being anxiety.

This can be a problem with real consequences.

Twitter Can Predict Heart Disease, Says Study

Twitter Can Predict Heart Disease, Says Study

Except from this article:

A new study has found that Twitter can predict rates of coronary heart disease better than traditional methods.

…Negative emotional language and topics, such as words like “hate” or expletives, remained strongly correlated with heart disease mortality, even after variables like income and education were taken into account. Positive emotional language showed the opposite correlation, suggesting that optimism and positive experiences, words like “wonderful” or “friends,” may be protective against heart disease.

 …With billions of users writing daily about their daily experiences, thoughts and feelings, the world of social media represents a new frontier for psychological research. Such data could be an invaluable public health tool if able to be tied to real-world outcomes.