Put Down Your Laptops, Pick Up Your Pencils

Silicon Valley may find this all too hard to believe, but researchers are now finding that bringing your laptop to class and typing your notes verbatim as the professor speaks, may actually undermine the learning process. Typing out your handwritten notes later on your preferred digital device may be the better practice to reinforce your retention of material that has been presented in class.

“But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings and in all kinds of workplaces (Dynarski, University of Michigan, 2017).”

I guess it’s time to sharpen our pencils, and put our “thinking caps” back on!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be posting again on next Wednesday, December 6. In the meantime, please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India.

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Tips to Get Teens to Put Down Smartphones

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I know it’s still three days away, but I will not be posting a blog message again until next Monday. Please have safe travels and enjoy your time with family and friends. Last Friday I did blog about some recent findings on the possible detrimental effects of too much time on smartphones for our preschool and school-age children. Now for some more helpful tips from child developmental researchers.

Keep Devices Out of Kids Bedrooms Kids need more more sleep than grown ups. Taking away a child’s phone at bedtime can be a battle, but it’s worth the fight.

Set Online Firewalls and Data Cutoffs A young person’s brain is wired for exploration and, to some extent, thrill-seeking – not restraint. Most devices and internet providers, as well as some apps, offer parenting tools and restrict access to problematic content and curb data use. Take advantage of them.

Create a Device Contract These rules could include no Smartphones at the dinner table or no more than a hour of social media use after school. If a child violates the rules, he or she should lose the phone for a period of time.

Model Healthy Device Behaviors Just as kids struggle to stay off of their phones, so do parents. And if you are a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different. Apart from putting you own phone away while driving or during mealtimes (Thanksgiving!), it’s important to recognize that your kids also see what you put online.

Consider Old-school Flip Phones Kids can always access social media or video from home computers or tablets during their free time. But when they’re out in the world, they won’t be tempted with all-the-time access to screen-based distractions.

Have a happy, text-free Thanksgiving dinner. Will be back next Monday. Enjoy!

Ray Myers

Kids and Smartphones

We really don’t know what the long-term effects of “mobile technology” will be on our current school-age and under school-age generations in America (and the world?). Unfortunately, much of the preliminary data suggest that we have to do something to control its indiscriminate and obsessive use. “What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment (Jensen, University of Pennsylvania).”

As researchers debate appropriate public health messaging, kids are receiving their first smartphones at even younger ages – the average is 10, according to one recent estimate – and they’re spending more and more time on their devices. “I am probably on my phone 10 hours a day,” says Santiago Potocnik Senarahi, a 16-year-old 11th grader in Denver. Even when he’s not using his phone, it’s always with him, and he never considers taking a break. “This is part of my life and part of my work, and [that] means I need to be in constant contact.” “The more we learn about kids and Smartphones, the more we’re going to see that limiting their exposure is a good idea (Twenge, San Diego State University).”

I will be back on Monday with a list of some “Tips the Get Teens to Put Down Their Smartphones.” And maybe these tips will also help some of us in the “older generations?”

Ray Myers

iPhones in China – Oh My!

Maybe mobile phones will finally bring the dawning on the new Age of Aquarius.  We used to think that transcendental meditation would do that for all of us, but the answer may be literally in the palm of our hands.  Who would have ever thought that Communist China would now be opening its economic doors and welcoming America’s iPhones to compete in their domestic marketplace.  I guess we can all thank the Beijing Intellectual Property Court for revoking a ban that prohibited such sales.  LET THE SUNSHINE IN!

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court ruled that the regulator, the Beijing Intellectual Property Office, had not properly followed procedures in ordering the ban while there was no sufficient proof to claim that the designs constituted a violation of intellectual property rights.  Those required procedures will get you every time.  I guess we all have to wait until a legal battle between some high-powered attorneys from both sides settles this issue in court.  But I am not sure how this all happens in China when, in this case, the government’ s Intellectual Property Court has ruled that its own government’s Intellectual Property Office had “not properly followed procedures”?

Soon there will be Apple Stores all over China, and there may even be some stores selling iPhone copies.  Just a guess on my part. )

Ray Myers

From Samsung With Love – Galaxy Note 7, Playing with Fire!

Maybe this is all good news for you pyromaniacs out there, but most people that I know are not amused.  I have been traveling a lot by plane over the past few weeks and noticed that the boarding calls for the different flights had some additional information that I was not paying much attention to.  They were telling passengers that they could not bring their new Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on the plane.  I was not sure what the problem could be, but I do not own one, so I was a little blasé, as they say.  HOLY SMOKE!  Now that I know why, I am going to begin to listen more carefully.  

Here is some background information on Samsung that will explain what a great economic shock this will be to the company and perhaps the whole Korean economy.  “Samsung is the best-known brand name South Korea has ever produced, ranking seventh in the 100 best global brands compiled by Interbrand, a brand consultancy.  It’s Galaxy smartphones have lifted its – and by extension South Korea’s – high tech image more than any other Korean product.”  Ouch!  This is going to hurt their export-driven economy dependent so heavily on Samsung and a handful of other family-controlled conglomerates.

So this is surely more ominous than the old “buyer beware” warning.  In this transaction the consumer may literally get “burned” in more ways than one!

Ray Myers


Da Nang’s People’s Committee Got Facebook

I think this is big news in this part of the world, but I could be wrong, so I’ll give you the Party “line.”  “Da Nang’s authorities have taken a viral approach to tackling environmental problems and other issues in the city: a Facebook page.  It has proven to be a popular avenue for citizens to report their concerns.”  “We can hear opinions from local people on any public construction project or plan .  .  . ”  Now I haven’t been to Da Nang’s, so I will just have to take their word for it.

Maybe the difference is that Da Nang’s is a tourist destination located on Vietnam’s central coast and is very eager to benefit from the social networking and advertising that Facebook creates in a viral way.  All you need is the connectivity that comes with your mobile device.  And that seems to be the “coin of the realm” these days.  It’s all in the palm of your hand.

I am not sure that this is all about citizen empowerment as much as commercial benefit for businesses in Da Nang.  But either way, it sounds a little like social and political (?) change.

Ray Myers

Driverless Cars and Safer Streers

Maybe this is really the answer: just take the steering well away from the human driver and our roads will be safer.  Now you will be free to text your heart away on any mobile device and not worry about your safety or the safety of others in their cars or walking the streets – you won’t be driving the car!  Google has formed a coalition with Ford in trying to make this all technologically and legally possible.  Volvo has also joined this group as well as ride-sharing firms Lyft and Uber.  They call themselves th Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.  But I am not quite sure how Lyft and Uber fit into this self-driving initiative.  Do they just send out driverless cars when you call them for a ride?

I still think I will miss seeing a “flesh and blood” person sitting behind the steering wheel when I ask Uber to send a car to help me get somewhere.  But maybe I am overreacting.  You’ve got to trust the technology after all.  Right!  Experts have already testified before the U.S. Congress stating that ninety percent of vehicle accidents every year (32,625 deaths in 2014) were the result of decisions made by drivers at the wheel – and self-driving technology has the potential to prevent “at least” some of those accidents. 

So I am grateful that self-driving cars can be instrumental in reducing the number of fatalities on American roads.  But I guess I still have to keep an eye open for those with human beings behind the wheels!

Ray Myers


No Tech Like Old Tech

Some people just like to keep things working for a long time.  But I guess if you are into having the latest in personal tech, you’ve just got to be the first to have it.  Some might even say that this is all about “conspicuous consumption” to borrow a term from past decades that was often used to describe consumers who were obsessed with having the latest or newest for obvious display to their peers.  Could this be something happening in the tech world today?  Early signs seem to be that there might be a “used tech”market that is finding some traction in more urban centers around the U.S.  

At the same time many tech companies are trying to train people to constantly upgrade their gadgets as soon as something newer and faster comes along.  One Apple executive recently remarked at a product event last month that it was “really sad” that more than 600 million computers in use are more than five years old.  I guess he was thinking about people like me, but he can be assured that our family does have an assortment of old and new mobile devices.  And he should be happy that most of them are Apple products.  But from a business standpoint this is not really good news.  Industry data suggests that consumers are waiting longer to upgrade to new phones than they have in the past.

As a result the used tech industry is growing, and if you choose not be a consumer of the latest personal tech innovation, you can be as “techie” as you want.  Join a Fixers Collective, or find a repair shop like the NYC iPod Doctor, or find a local Geek Squad.  You might even come to form a more sentimental bond with the older technology and the people who fix it.  

Ray Myers


Facebook for Everyone Everywhere, We are the World

Remember that old Michael Jackson and company song, “We are the World.”  Well, it just might have been the inspiration for Mark Zuckerberg’s latest initiative he likes to call TIP, Telecom Infra Project.  Just mix in a lot of open source resources, including an urban wireless network that checks its performance at 125,000 times a second, and a long-range wireless system that can send a gigabit of data a second, about ten times the rate of today’s good-performing networks and enough for virtual reality.  Ultimately, Zuckerberg wants to triple the size of his social network over the next ten years  which now has 1.6 billion.  Let’s see, that would make 4.8 billion Facebook followers out of a current world population of 7.125 billion, and growing.  And cheaper open source technology might help make this all possible in the future.

I can hardly wait.  But how am I going to keep up with all my friends and followers?  I really don’t have that many right now, but I spend a lot of time reading newspapers, a few books, and put in some travel time to visit with friends and family in different parts of the country.  I guess I just have to get more with the Facebook program, and save myself all that time and costs of travel.

Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend at a nearby restaurant and really enjoyed catching up with him in person.  Neither one of us had a smartphone in his hand, but at some other tables, lunch-goers were multi-tasking, eating and presumably keeping up with their social networks.  Conversation with each other at their tables was non-existent.  They obviously enjoyed being more in touch virtually (with people or other activities?) than in reality with those at their table?

Ray Myers


Put Me In Coach, I’m All Caught Up On My eMail!

It’s half-time of the big game at the NBA finals and each coach must be delivering a fiery exhortation to his team about how victory will be theirs at the end of the second half.  Now if he could just get them to put down their cell phones and hear his inspiring words.  Social media has obviously invaded the sports world, but in this case we are talking about the athletes and how many feel has become a powerful distraction in their efforts to perform in an optimum way.  Not to mention the millions of dollars that are being spent to support their players’ efforts to be competitive and build a winning franchise.

Some players have readily recognized these distractions in more philosophical terms.  New York Knicks’ Lou Amundson, a philosophy major in college, observes that society’s collective phone addiction hinders “pure interaction” and “intention-filled relationships.”  He thinks texting and social media divide a person’s energy in negative ways, and rues how the dopamine-loop associated with devices obliterates a person’s attention span.  I think that he has certainly gained a unique perspective on his life in professional sports and, by the way, he is 6’9″ tall (what they call a power forward(.

Perhaps the basic lesson here (and I am not trying to philosophize too much) is to live in the moment.  Halftime for a professional athlete at an NBA basketball game is not a time to forget about the game.  It can help you get a second wind both physically and mentally, if you put down your cell phone

Ray Myers


Billboards That Look Back at You

I never thought much about looking at billboards along the highways, or in the cities where they would light up the nightime sky. Now I have found out that they may be looking back too, thanks to the mobile technology we may be carrying in our pockets or purses.”  And while nearly all of these advertising companies claim that the data they collect is anonymous and aggregated – and that consumers can opt out of tracking at any time – privacy advocates are skeptical.”  So maybe we should be too?  I think that we would all like the right to know who is “tracking” us.  

But not to worry.  Remember, we have been assured that all these data are anonymous and aggregated.  Still, people have no idea that they are being tracked and targeted.  In addition, some of the collectors of these data have been sharing (selling?) location information with interested third parties like commercial advertisers.  In addition, many consumers feel they have been misled about what opt-out options there really are.

Maybe the next President and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission can figure this all out when we have new federal leadership in 2017.  Unfortunately, I am not as hopeful as I should be when I look at the unfolding political scene.

Ray Myers

Read the Classics on Your Cell Phone

Twenty minutes at a time on a daily basis will be your limit however.  All you need to do is download this handy app on your cell phone (free on iOS devices). There is a small selection of these classics (e.g. “Moby Dick”) right now but the library is expanding daily.  It’s called Serial Reader, and I’m thinking this will be taking reading the classics to a whole new level that maybe some of us may not want?

You will not have to buy a book to treasure and read at your leisure.  You will only have to check your phone daily to read the latest installment.  No skipping ahead here.  You will become, what I will call, a programmed reader, unencumbered by hardbound or paperback copies of any classic you might want to read.  Lighten your load.  All you need is internet connectivity to make it so. No need to browse those bookstores and libraries any more.  It can all be in the palm of your hand. 

But let’s not forget that we do not all have to be Serial Readers.  It’s still your choice, and the reading of books now seems to come in a variety of ways.  According to a New York Times survey of subscribers  in July and August of last year: 38% only read physical books; 4% only read books on electronic devices; and 58% only read physical books and books on electronic devices. Read on, Macduff!

Ray Myers

Social Media Wants to Make Your Connectivity More Commercial

Remember the days when you could go to a social media site like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and not have to worry about scrolling through online sales pitches.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective and financial resources, you will now be seeing more “buy buttons” as you try to keep current in your social media world.  Pinterest calls them “buyable pins,” while Instagram prefers “shop now.”  What’s in a name anyway?

Social media experts estimate that one out of every five minutes spent on a mobile phone in the United States is devoted to Facebook or Instagram.  What a marketing opportunity!  But data collected so far does not support the commercial effectiveness of this social media strategy.  For this past holiday season, social channels accounted for 1.8 percent of overall online sales.  Over the same period in 2014, social media led to 1.9 percent of online sales.  One of the explanations offered by retailers is that there is a “conversion gap” on mobile devices, meaning that there has been a surge in the number of people browsing sites from mobile devices, but only a small share of them making purchases.  The biggest impediment appears to be the small screen size of the mobile device itself.  The checkout process has often been described as an inconvenient hassle.

So I guess that size really does matter when trying to make a purchasing decision digitally.  Who knows, you might even want to walk into a retail store and see the “real thing,” and have an unmediated social shopping experience?

Ray Myers




Instagram in the Art Gallery

“Every artwork is an Instagrammer’s dream come true.”  Now you can have your picture taken with you favorite work of art.  Well, at least at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Please have a look at #renwickgallery on your Instagram account.  Sorry, selfies are discouraged since the museum curator has declared them to be “kind of obnoxious.”  He wants you to be immersed in the work rather promoting this exhibit as a personal photo op.  

Renwick is now encouraging photography and believes that this policy is here to stay with possibly a few exceptions.  There are still museumgoers who like to see art the old-fashioned way, wanting to absorb the experience itself in real time rather than living through the camera.  They are concerned that the photographers are just cataloging the experience like “checking a box.”

So now you can choose whatever kind of museum experience you would like.  The only anecdotal data available to date suggests that when you take more detailed photos of the artwork, you actually remember more about it than if you take a more expansive zoomed-out shot.  Or you can still just look at the art and put your phone away?

Ray Myers



Facebook in Egypt

Last week I posted some commentary on Facebook being shut down in India because the government is planning to require additional information from the Facebook provider there.   I didn’t actually talk so much about the shut down itself as much as I reacted to the overwhelming challenges in that country to making mobile connectivity available to the vast majority of the Indian population.  Good luck again, Mark Zuckerberg.  Now the Egyptian government is shutting down Facebook access for its citizens just prior to the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising on January 25th.  Another challenge for Facebook in a different kind of economy and cultural system.

The Free Basics Facebook program in Egypt is similar to that being offered in India.  More than three million Egyptians have signed up for the service.  It offers cell phone users free access to limited services including Facebook’s social network and messaging, news, health and job information.  As was similarly expressed by Facebook in India, they also hoped to “resolve the situation soon.”

I remember being told early in my life that nothing is ever free.  In this case it seems that this may be especially true when hearing offers of free Internet and free elections!

Ray Myers



Facebook in India?

Over a billion people connected to each other in India (and beyond?) on Facebook.  All I can say is good luck, Mark Zuckerberg!  Or maybe not!  Let’s face it, is this really going to help the vast majority of Indians living in rural villages with minimal access to reliable human and social service infrastructures.  Maybe that is why this Facebook project is targeted to the larger numbers of mobile phone users in more urban settings.  Mobile phone ownership and usage in India remains a privilege for the more economically empowered.

I think the reality of Indian history and the persisting disparity of resources between the “haves and have nots” presents a daunting challenge to anyone trying to use social media for real social and political change in such an ancient culture and economy.  Perhaps I should be more optimistic as we approach a new year, and I stand ready to admit the error of my pessimism if things turn out the other way.   Please believe me that I will gladly welcome any impact that results in new opportunities for upward mobility for those who have historically been told there is no upward path.

Gandhi led a peaceful revolution against foreign domination and freed his countrymen in the last century.  I believe that the economic and social challenges ahead for India in this century and beyond can not be overcome by social media alone.  True political leadership must seek to empower all Indians, regardless of their economic or social status.

Ray Myers



Warning – iPhones May  be Hazardous to Your Posture and Mood!

 I am not talking here about what you might be doing with your iPhones, but more about how you are using them physically.  The two biggest areas of impact seem to be in your basic posture and your mood.  Let’s talk about posture first because it apparently relates to a number of unintended consequences that your mother always warned you about.  Remember “stand up straight and stop slouching.”  Well it turns out she may have been right after all, and when I was young (don’t ask how long ago) it had nothing to do with using an iPhone.  

So today’s warning about not slouching when looking at your iPhones comes with an additional advisory: it’s bad for your self-esteem.  Now how could that be?  Experts tell us that there are some collateral areas that may be effected in ways that you may have never considered.  Slouching may also result in poorer memories when compared with those individuals who sit upright.  Slouches may also be less assertive, not “standing up for ourselves.”  We may even become less productive because of all the time we spend interacting with these small mobile devices in place of engaging in real-time experiences around us.

Something to think about over the holiday season when we all gather with friends and family.  Hopefully they will all be sitting up straight and looking at each other and not at their iPhones when gathered around for holiday celebrations.

Ray Myers

Cell Phones Help Fight Polio in Pakistan

Talk about your unintended consequences in the midst of fighting the Taliban in Pakistan.   When displaced residents from Northern Waziristan were given free SIM cards for their mobile phones when they registered at refugee camps in other parts of the country, they did not realize that these cards would be one of the most powerful technologies in helping to eradicate polio in their country.  When more than 100,000 families were evacuated from the area, health officials used the SIM cards to track them as they resettled in other parts of Pakistan.

Their locations were mapped in new polio-eradication command centers located throughout the country.  When clusters of residents resettled from North Waziristan were identified, teams were sent out to administer the vaccine.  These same teams unfortunately were not welcome in North Waziristan when the families resided there.  In the course of one year, the new cases of polio were reduced from 240 to 40 in 2015.  

So these little SIM cards can not be credited with saving lives in some of the most remote parts of the world.  These cards may not represent the most “cutting edge” technology in the struggle to save lives.  In Pakistan they have now reached out to roughly a half million children who were out of reach two years ago.  Just to think, cell phones can help fight polio!

Ray Myers

“Huddled Masses (with Smartphones) Yearning to be Free.”

So we are not talking about the good old days when European immigrants crossed the Atlantic to start a new life in the United States.  Today’s migrants from the Middle East (predominantly Syrian) are going overland through the Balkans hoping to arrive safely in Hungary, their gateway for other destinations in Europe.   Thanks to their GPS-equipped smartphones they are also able to avoid the expense of paying traffickers who have traditionally provided that such “travel”services for a fee.  And then there is Facebook.

This renowned global social networking site has now become host to such groups as “Smuggling Yourself to Europe Withoit a Trafficker” and providing analytics reports on safe water distribution centers in Aleppo as well as real-time accounts of mortar rounds falling on Damascus.  This is not your grandmother’s Facebook (if she is using social media).  This is about real time, real war and real tragedy in a war-torn part of the world.

Tragically, many people have lost everything, but those fortunate enough to possess a smartphone can still cling to memories of their past.  One man lost his wife, but still had her photographs on his smartphone.

Ray Myers




Internet Slang – a New Code

It all started with YouTube and an abbreviated use of English to create a new jargon that only a few million followers would understand. Of course, you can now begin using this new vocabularly on the Internet and become much more popular more rapidly, transcending space and time to become much cooler (not sure what the right term might be now?) much faster. Born too long ago I guess to be part of this new phenomenon? But wait, there is always Twitter!

Now that is something I can usually keep up with as long as the abbreviations and hashtags don’t get too truncated. At the same time the “social media” nature of Twitter Can also be co-opted into a more “commercial media” for those clever enough to use the new Internet slang in its Twitter advertising. Just take a look at some of the tweets you might be getting from MYV, Cap’n Crunch, Pepsi, Taco Bell, just to name a few.

I think that in the advertising world this is called “partnering with brands.” Some older social media users may call this “selling out.”

Ray Myers