Thumbs Up! Texting May be Hazardous to Your Health.

And I am not talking about Trump’s salutary greeting of his adoring throngs. I am offering some unsolicited, nonprofessional medical advice to all our consummate “texters” out there who use their thumbs to send messages all day. Take a break! Now here is some advice from an experienced acupuncturist, Michelle Kuroda.

“We’re not meant to just use our thumbs all the time, she says. We’re meant to use our fingers. That’s what our grip is for.” Now please don’t worry about Mr. Trump. He really does not do all of the actual texting on a little digital device (no pun intended). He is definitely the “idea man,” but one lucky presidential staff member sends it out there for all to enjoy or not. No fact-checking needed.

Maybe we should start talking on our smartphones more? 👍👍👍👍👍👍👍

Ray Myers

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Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network (continued)

“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the Internet. If it is spent with people who are ‘remote,’ whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.” As with many millennials, talking on the phone is not a big part of social interaction and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions.

“If a high school friend posts frequently about her life, it’s almost like celebrity gossip, or it’s akin to watching a reality show about her. Our brains get confused about whether we know celebrities; if we see someone a lot, our brain thinks we know them.” There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture posture unconsciously.”

Maybe we call them “cyber friends.”

Ray Myers

Empowering Everyone With Technology

Microsoft is now trying on the role as moral leader in a tech world now facing increasing public criticism. I think you all know who they are, so let’s just say that Facebook is leading the pack. Microsoft is the only one to avoid sustained public criticism about contributing to the social ills of the last couple of years..

At the same time, Microsoft has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates in the industry for protecting user privacy and establishing ethical guidelines for new technology like artificial intelligence (A.I.). They have launched a new program. A.I. for Accessibility that will award $25 million over five years to researchers, nonprofits and developers who use artificial intelligence to help people with disabilities.

Echoing a theme he talked about at Microsoft’s conference last year, Satya Nadella, its chief, said that the industry has a responsibility to build technology that empowered everyone.

Ray Myers

Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Goodbye Cambridge Analytica, Your Work is Done (for now?)

The London based firm blamed “unfairly negative media coverage” and said it has been “vilified” for actions it says both legal and widely accepted as part of online advertising. As most Americans know by now, its actions included the spreading of false news in support of the election of Mr. Trump, and to the denigration of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said it has filed papers to begin insolvency proceedings in the U.K. And will seek bankruptcy protection in a federal court in New York. “The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.”

“So sad” as Mr. Trump would say.

Ray Myers

Mark Zuckerberg Threatened With “Formal Summons” by UK Parliament

The UK may issue a formal summons to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that would require him to appear in front of British lawmakers the next time he enters the country, according to a letter sent to the company Tuesday.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer “failed to answer fully” 39 questions when he appeared before Parliament last week, according to the letter from the Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As a result, lawmakers are requesting the presence of the company’s boss. Schroepfer went to London in place of Zuckerberg to give evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal and the impact of fake news on the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Committee chair Damian Collins has repeatedly asked Zuckerberg to appear and answer questions, as the CEO did last month before Congress. Instead, Zuckerberg has twice sent other executives in his place.

Collins reiterated his request for Zuckerberg to appear in front of the committee in the Tuesday letter, asking that he do so before May 24 when the Facebook chief will reportedly visit Europe to give evidence to the European Parliament.

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so next time he enters the country,” according to the letter. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins listed the 39 questions that the committee believes Schroepfer failed to sufficiently answer, including ones about dark ads that can only be seen by the target audience, foreign spending on election-related ads, third-party app developers, and the storage and privacy of Facebook user data.

The committee’s inquiry began last July, but doubled down on investigating Facebook’s activities following revelations in March that data consultancy Cambridge Analytica had accessed Facebook data of 87 million users.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. I think Mark Zuckerberg may have had enough of “parliamentary” inquiries for now.

Ray Myers

Help Individual Teachers in U.S.

Yes, this title is correct. Perhaps some readers will remember a blog that I posted eleven days ago about the deteriorating infrastructure of U.S. schools. TodayI am going to post some information about how individual schools can be helped by contributions through one online organization, DonorsChoose.org.

“Teachers across the United States use DonorsChoose.org to raise money for individual projects that they wouldn’t otherwise be funded by their schools. Some have sought money for technology upgrades, classroom basics (like notebooks and paper), and creative ideas you most likely wouldn’t have thought of. The website allows you to find projects in your area.”

Make America Great Again!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be back blogging next week, on May 2. Have a great weekend!

Save Us From Cyberattacks, Somebody?

Have you ever heard about the “Cyber-security Tech Accord?” It has been described as a ” digital Geneva Convention” that would set norms of behavior for cyberspace. Unfortunately, most of us are probably not that familiar with it since the principles it espouses can run headlong into individual governments’ efforts to develop cyber weapons in secrecy.

Microsoft is playing a central role in advancing this accord. Some of their officials have said they briefed the Trump administration on this new agreement and heard no objections. But that may not mean much. Mr. Trump’s adviser, Thomas P. Bosser, who oversees cyber security security, was dismissed last week after John R. Bolton took over as national security adviser.

The cybersecurity coordinator at the White House, Rob Joyce, is widely rumored to be considering leaving his post and returning to the National Security Agency, where he ran the most elite of the cyberforces that attack foreign networks. If Mr. Joyce departs, the White House will have lost its two most senior, and most knowledgeable, cybersecurity policy makers in the span of a few weeks. “You’re fired!” says the former star of the “Celebrity Apprentice.” Now he is playing the part of “President.”

Ray Myers

Too Much Screen Time in School?

Digital tools can enrich, but is there a downside to too much screen time? Some pediatricians and parents are now raising concerns about the classroom laptops, tablets and apps, partly because school districts are adopting digital tools in droves.

Last year, primary and secondary schools in the United States spent $5.4 billion on 12.4 million laptop and tablet computers, according to International Data Corporation, a market research firm known as IDC. “The concern is that many programs students use in school are entertainment and gamified,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, a pediatrician in Baltimore County, who supported recently proposed state legislation that would develop optimum health and safety practices for the use of digital devices in schools. “We felt these are things that should be tracked and monitored.”

Baltimore County Schools also recommended that students take activity breaks from computer tasks every 20 minutes and leave their devices inside during recess. They may even have to play and talk with each other. Hmmm, old school, I guess?

Ray Myers

How About U.S. Schools’ Infrastructure!

So here’s another challenge to Make America Great Again. Make all our schools physically sound and safe. I know that from the federal level, and in some states, we have been focusing on the importance of bringing technology into our classrooms. This is critically important in the twenty-first century, but we also have to ensure that our schools are not crumbling around our students and teachers. The current White House resident has talked about improving our highways (still waiting?), but I hope that he can also add improving America’s schools to his “to do” list. Time may be getting very short.

Please have a look at this article from yesterday’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/reader-center/us-public-schools-conditions.html, which depicts some of the most egregious conditions from around the country. Our students and teachers deserve better. Can this President help?

Ray Myers

“Facebook Envy” – More Bad News for Mark Zuckerberg

Are all your Facebook friends happy and doing well? Probably not, and how would you really know anyway. Recently some researchers have attempted to evaluate Facebook’s impact on a sampling of its users in Denmark (1,097).

The experiment had half of its subjects continue their Facebook rituals and the other half abstain from them. Thirteen percent of the abstained could not keep away and wound up succumbing to their addiction. In the end, those who has no contact with Facebook during the course of a week rated their general sense of satisfaction higher than those who retained their habit. But apart from envy, Facebook seems to energize profound feelings of dread, perhaps especially for those in middle age, because it serves to to remind us over and over how many ways life can go horribly and dramatically wrong when we continuously hear the “bad news” about our friends’ lives. Maybe making our lives an “open book” has more negative consequences than we realize.

“The news is a delivery system for misery of course, especially now, but Facebook brings us news we might otherwise never encounter, supplying in bulk and elevating our relationship to it. The value of this remains dubious (Bellafante, NY Times, 4/15/18).”

Ray Myers

Daydreaming While Driving – Not a Technological Problem

The biggest distraction in your car might not be the smartphone in your hand. It could be the biochemical circuitry between your ears. On Wednesday I know I talked about the dangers of too many technological diversions that lead to distracted driving and its often deadly consequences. Your brain, however, may be one more thing that you have to keep in check or under control. The brain’s habit of drifting off into daydreams is still the biggest cause of distracted driving crashes, according to an insurance company’s recent analysis of federal traffic safety data.

Yet one of the best ways to keep the mind on task is to find it something else to do that offers some stimulation — but just not too much, said Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Simple word games can help, and tuning into a radio program or a podcast is better than nothing — but both are much less distracting than a telephone conversation, even with a hands-free device, he said. Some researchers say the phone itself — all that entertainment and connectedness in a single tool in one’s fist — is to blame. Others wonder whether the ubiquitous cellphone and the Web have even shaped the way we think, making a whole generation intolerant of boredom and ever in search of distraction.

Talking with someone on a phone is much more distracting to a driver than even talking to someone in the car. When conversing inside the vehicle, a passenger will generally vary the conversation’s level of intensity and engagement in sync with traffic conditions the driver faces. Carpools, anyone?

Ray Myers

Hands on the Wheel, Eyes on the Road

If you’re driving right now, it’s far more likely you are reading this on your phone than you would have been a year ago. Despite a harrowing surge in traffic fatalities, American drivers appear to be getting worse at avoiding Instagram, e-mail and other mobile-phone distractions while driving. More people are using their phones at the wheel, and for longer periods of time, according to a study published Tuesday from Zendrive, a San Francisco-based startup that tracks phone use for auto insurers and ride-hailing fleets.

“As you have more young drivers on the road, and as people increasingly become addicted to their smartphones, it will continue being a major health issue—almost an epidemic—in this country,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus. From December through February, Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of three of those people used a mobile phone at least once.”

One of the few bright spots of the study is that drivers tend to use their phone as they first start out on a trip, perhaps ending a message thread before settling in for the journey. While that window of time isn’t any safer than any other moment behind the wheel, Matus believes it may present an opportunity for changing behavior. A publicity campaign urging drivers to finish screen work, or just catch up on Instagram, before setting out could produce results. “Legislation, by itself, is clearly not enough,” he explained.

Ray Myers

Bridging the Language Gaps in U.S. Schools

“About five million K-11 students in the United States do not speak English fluently and their numbers are growing fast. While these students currently make up 10 percent of the total student population, researchers estimate that they could make up as much as 40 percent by 2030.

Schools around the country are turning to technology to help them better serve these students (and their parents) – whose success will increasingly drive graduation rates, test scores and other school-quality metrics – and to help connect with their families. In the classroom, computer-based programs can give students additional support as they work to master the vocabulary and mechanics of English. ELLoquence, IStation and PreK12Plaza are among those that let students move through lessons at their own pace (this is not an endorsement from TechtoExpress).

Many more schools serve immigrants now than ever before, and digital technology can offer effective ways to reach them (Tara Garcia Mathewson, NY Times, 4/8/18).”

Ray Myers

Cyberattacks on U.S. Natural-gas Pipelines/Electric Grid

A cyberattack on a shared data network forced four of the natural-gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down computer communications with their customers over the last week. I know this is not a cheery thought to start the weekend but, unfortunately, it is a reality of how vulnerable we have become in our interconnected world.

The motivation for such an effort appeared to be the increase in exports of liquified natural gas from the United States, a challenge to Russian dominance in European markets. The Department of Homeland Security was investigating the attack, and no suspect has been publicly identified . But the attack came shortly after the Department and the F.B.I. issued a report alleging that Russia was taking aim at the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructure with cyber probes.

And I thought that Putin and Trump were the best of friends?

Ray Myers

Reclaiming Conversation – Time Out from Tech

Let’s talk! It appears that in our growing technologically interconnected world, we really do have to make time for face-to-face conversation. Sherry Turkle has written extensively about this subject, recently in her book, “Reclaiming Conversation” and shared some of her thoughts in a recent interview with Sean Iling of Vox.

“We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. . . But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.”

Sean Illing: You’ve written a lot about empathy and how these technologies are making it harder for us to be empathic. I wonder if you think they’re encouraging us to treat other people as objects or as actors in our own personal drama. As you say, we’re always living through our screens, always performing, always projecting our image and our story.

“That’s an interesting way to put it — that we become actors in our own personal drama. I think, over time, the so-called “internet of things” emerges and then we sort of become things on the internet. We talk a lot about authenticity, but actually what we’re doing is curating the self, and that’s what I worry about in terms of empathy. Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. Yes, there are many things about the internet that are amazing, like the fact that we’re having this (online) conversation right now. But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.

Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.”

Ray Myers

Youthful Choices – Organized Sports and/or Video Games

It seems to becoming increasingly difficult and challenging just to be a kid anymore without parents making all the choices about what you should be doing in you non-school hours (perhaps in hope of collegiate athletic scholarships). Organized sports with travel teams, scrimmages, and weekly practices seem to be primary examples. So what’s a kid to do in her/his spare time? Video games maybe one answer, but I am sure there are many other choices. Here is a description about what a young girl named Grace decided to do.

As for Grace, she recently switched from the intense travel team demands to a recreational basketball program offered by the local recreation department that emphasizes enjoyment of sports. “This year,” she says “I got to have fun and got to handle the ball, shoot and use my skills.” The result? She isn’t saying goodbye to sports and/or video games. Yet. With video games, there’s lots of action, they can play with their friends and there are no parents critiquing every move.

I guess you can just get to be a kid again.

Ray Myers

No More Fake News – We Can Only Hope!

Google recently announced that it will be offering online tools and funding for journalists ($300 million over the next three years). It will be known as the Google News Initiative. I am not sure that I completely understand how all of this is going to work, but hey, who really reads newspapers anymore? Maybe Google can bring them all back, if that’s really the goal? Or perhaps we all should pledge to read more news in “reliable” print format everyday, but I think it may be too late. Some experts have already proposed that young minds are already “flickering” because of all the technology tools surrounding them. But let’s give Google its due and highlight a couple of their efforts.

As part of its Initiative, Google is creating a Disinfo Lab in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School’s First Draft, which will attempt to identify false news during breaking news situations. Google and YouTube, the video site owned by Google’s parent company, have been criticized for allowing conspiracy theories and unreliable partisan sources to filter to the top of their search results for breaking news and for having failed to stop the spread of false news during the 2016 presidential election (have a look at my blog post on Wednesday about YouTube and Wikipedia joining forces, sort of). In addition, Google.org, Google’s nonprofit arm, also announced a $10 million media literacy project to help America’a teenagers learn skills to identify fake news (maybe it will also help parents!).

So watch out kids! Your days will be getting busier and busier. No time for all those “extracurricular” activities that might be the most “real” part of your day.

Ray Myers

Fact-checking on YouTube – You’ve Got a Friend in Wikipedia?

Whether one party wants the friendship or not! This seems to be a very confusing turn of events. It also appears to be about the “little people” helping a Goliath of the tech world, but why? It must be the money, but no one seems to know how much and for how long? Here’s what has been reported to date.

The plan was presented as just one of many ways that YouTube, which is owned by Google, would address mounting concerns about its content. But it highlighted a jarring dynamic: Here was Google, a company with revenues in excess of $100 billion last year, calling on a volunteer-built, donation-funded nonprofit organization to help it solve a crisis. The main problem with YouTube’s presumptuous announcement is being criticized by some because Wikipedia is not necessarily geared toward breaking news – and conspiracy theories tend to move at lightning speed during times of crisis.

Is this all simply a case of “breaking news” being scrutinized by some form of journalistic review. Or perhaps it just doesn’t matter any more on the age of Trump.

Ray Myers

NCAA Tournament Prognostication Looks to the Cloud

The new high-tech approach follows the growing use of big data to track and address players’ health and prevent injury in professional sports. Now in the world of college basketball, your team’s mascot may be the most critical piece of data in predicting whether they can pull an upset victory in the NCAA tournament. As promoted by Google Cloud services: “Decades of NCAA data tells us that teams with feline mascots have caused the most tournament upsets. Meow! The NCAA is using Google Cloud to turn data into insights – just like this one – and imagine what it could do for your business.”

As posted in Wednesday’s blog: “Until recently, Major League Baseball had used such information technology to evaluate players, not necessarily to keep them fit. The Mets now hope not only to right the ship but to eventually become one of the more advanced teams in analyzing and improving players’ health.”

I really have no idea what the Cloud can actually do for your business or sport, and I am not “pussy-footing” around.🐈

Ray Myers