“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

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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

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

Texting While Walking – Living Dangerously

It will kill you! But just don’t take my word for it. I am not even going to get into pot-smoking or drunken-driving, but let’s just say that human judgements become flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned. Let’s take a look at some recent statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Perhaps most alarming is the dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths on our streets where you may have thought was the safest place to be.

The increase in pedestrian deaths, which account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities, may be the most discouraging news of all. There were 5,987 of them in 2016 according to the NHTSA. Expectations are that 2017 will end up with a toll at least that high. That’s a rise of 22 percent from the 4,910 registered in 2014. Maybe it’s time for every municipality to get serious about distracted walking, as it is called, even though distracted driving is plainly a bigger concern.

Put away your mobile technology devices while walking (or driving). Heads up, everyone!

Ray Myers

Sex-Trafficking on the Internet

“Pressure has been mounting for social media companies and other internet giants to be better stewards of their powerful platforms (NY Times, 2/28/18).” A bill to force these companies to better monitor their online content passed the House earlier this week.” A similar bill in the Senate is expected to pass soon.

Facebook, in particular, has come under pressure over the spread of misinformation and the exertion of foreign interference during the 2016 presidential election. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for regulations, including disclosures on political advertising, but those efforts have been slow to gain wide support. Some experts have concluded that there is clearly not a willingness for the government to pursue fundamental business model changes.

Sex, politics, and profits, in any order you choose.

Ray Myers

Less is More, Tommy Hilfiger

“But what Mr. Hilfiger’s four-season cycle demonstrates is that when the social-media friendly smoke and mirrors clear, it’s still about clothes, and if the clothes aren’t very good — aren’t original or interesting or desirable — then it doesn’t matter how revved up you get (NY Times, 2/27/18).” Social media and the “web surfing” mentality that technology has made possible may all be contributing to this accelerated marketing cycle.

It sounds like a cautionary tale for the world of fashion, but it may apply to many fields of human endeavor as well. Maybe you can become “overexposed” in the world of social media and the effects may wear (no pun intended) on your audience as much as yourself. The human creativity “machine” can literally run out of gas if you keep it running continuously. We can continue making things at a faster pace, but there seems to be a loss of originality if it becomes more like an assembly line process than an inspirational one. I know we are only talking about clothing, but I think there should be more appreciation for the time it takes to be creative in all fields.

Faster is not always better.

Ray Myers

Taking a Break from Social Media

Try being a monk for a month or two. Well, not exactly, but it almost seems like taking a vow of silence if you really want to minimize your digital output for a certain period of time. Are you really ready to take a break from texting, emailing or participating in social media? “A big part of being silent is being the recipient, not the broadcaster (John Francis, 2018).”

After not speaking for 17 years, Francis now reflects on his experiment in relative silence. Expect some measure of personal transformation. “It helped me find myself.” Within a few silent weeks he began to realize that previously he only ever listened to people long enough to start formulating what he was going to say next; but, he says, his mind didn’t need to be filled with endless chatter. An intricate, hitherto, undiscovered soundscape was all around him.

“You’re going to hear more if you are not talking.”

Ray Myers

Visual Artists Shift from Galleries to Social Media

Now female artists see a marketplace online that is more profitable than the traditional bricks-and- mortar art gallery. “An online presence using an art e-commerce platform is therefore likely to be a more attractive option for sales for females, who have more to gain by circumventing the traditional channels of the dealer and gallery, and hence my intuition that female artists are more prone to move online (Powell, Maastricht University, 2018).”

Given the growth in online art sales globally, making such a shift would be a smart move for the artists. A report last year by the insurer Hiscox showed sales on the online art market in 2016 were up 15 percent over the previous year, reaching $3.75 billion. In 2015, sales were at $3.27 billion, a 24 percent increase from 2014. For now, the two business models, off and online, coexist.

What a change the virtual world has made. Online art, anyone?

Ray Myers

The New Anti-social Media – #TechtoAbuse

Thanks to Maureen Dowd at The NY Times (2/11/18) we now have a litany of anti-social remarks and behavior by the current White House resident who has twisted his presidential prerogatives into weapons for use against his political enemies, real and imagined. And in many cases, for his own personal and private business profitability. Twitter attacks are just part of his arsenal. Below is a sampling of what she captured in her Sunday commentary.

“We don’t want a president who’s bends over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to neo-Nazis, wife beaters, pedophiles and sexual predators – or who is a sexual predator himself. We don’t want a president who thinks #me is more important than #metoo.”

“We don’t want a president who flips the ordinary equation, out of some puerile sense of grievance to honor Russia and dishonor the F.B.I.”

“We don’t want a president who is on a sugar high of ego, whose demented tweets about nukes and crowd size scare even Omarosa.”

“And finally, we surely don’t want a president who seeks advice on foreign affairs from Henry Kissinger. Ever. Again.”

Ray Myers

Leaping Lizards, The Truth About Tech!

So what do technology usage and lizards have to do with your brain? Maybe more than you think? Roger McNamee with the Center for Humane Technology has put it his way: “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you every waking moment.” He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm. He sees his association with the Center for Humane Technology as an opportunity for him to correct a wrong.

Sort of reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein who tried to kill the monster he created, but this is not really like a horror novel/movie. Or is it? Is too much technology addicting our children (and adults?) to habits that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The Center for Humane Technology, along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States. It is titled “The Truth About Tech.”

Can we stand the truth? I hope so.

Ray Myers

Gorging on Social Media

My apologies for not posting on Monday of this week. Let’s just say that I was “in transit” and had a “tech-free day” which leads me to the to the message of today’s post and the one that you will see on Friday as well. It’s all about limiting our daily digital diets. Or as those scholarly Jesuits used to teach us: “Moderation in all things.”

Social media’s “role in your life has grown without your permission. No one had that in mind when they signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with their college roommate . . . There is a lot of complexity and uncertainty in the role that these technologies should play in personal and professional life. We’re past the stage where they’re novel, but not to the point where they’re stable (Cal Newport, Georgetown University, 2018).” A common complaint seems to be that there is too much news: I need a break. And fewer tweets from the White House might help (maybe none, remember those days)!

We have gone from “TechtoExpress” (sound familiar?) to “TechtoConsume.”

Ray Myers

Googling and Spending in Washington, D.C.

Maybe a better title for this post would be: “Technology Companies are Now Biggest Spenders in Lobbying Congress.” It just all seems to make sense when you consider how wealthy all these companies have become, i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc. “These are companies that are touching so many parts of the economy . . . So it’s inevitable that they are going to engage in a host of political and policy issues (Washington Post, 1/24/18).”

Amazon, for example, spent nearly $13 million in lobbying last year, a 16 percent increase from 2016. The tech industry’s ballooning lobbying budgets may also be an indication that the companies will fight hard to protect the data they collect on Americans. Some experts now worry that the government will struggle to pass new and meaningful consumer protection laws. Others say that the increase in lobbying simply coincides with the tech sector’s rapid growth and larger role in society. Any way you look at it, the tech industry is now the biggest lobbying machine in Washington.

I just worry about whose lobbying for the technology consumers?

Ray Myers

P.S.

I will be taking a “winter break” next week. Back on Monday, February 5th

Happy Teens Have More In-Person Interactions

Please allow me to explain. A long-awaited report with a lengthy title that tries to say it all has finally been published: “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.” I hope that clears things up, but let me quote a paragraph from Tuesday’s Washington Post that might also help.

“Adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness, having risen since the early 1990s, plunged after 2012, the year smartphone ownership reached the 50 percent mark in the United States, the report said. It also found that adolescents’ psychological well-being decreased with the more hours a week they spent on screens, including the Internet, social media, texting, gaming and video chats . . . The report’s findings were not all dire: Teenagers who get a small amount of exposure to screen time, between one to five hours per week, are happier then those who get none at all. The least happy ones were those who used screens for 20 or more hours per week.”

Looks like face time is back, and I don’t mean the FaceTime on your computer screen.

Ray Myers

We Still Have Football!

As we all know, Trump and company have shut down the federal government, but we still have Super Bowl football and all its hype to entertain us over the next few weeks. I am not sure which is more entertaining over the long run, but we shall find out. But what can I say about all the technological tools involved in informing us about these “winter spectacles.”

Will we all be better informed this time around? Will Twitter be overloaded with barbs and updates about our political and football fanaticisms? I am afraid so. Depending on your personal or political view, are we now headed for a “winter of our discontent” or content for some?

I am sure there are parts of New England where there are many people happier to be watching Tom Brady on the football field than follow all the tweets from the so-called president in the Oval Office, when he is not in Mar-a-Lago.

Ray Myers

Fake News in Print and Online – a Threat to Democracy

So the title of this post may be a little misleading, but let’s face it, we now have a president who has learned to use the power of our digital media to propagandize his agenda and belittle those who dare to oppose him. And this has all happened over the course of his first year in office.  He has apparently raised a very successful anti-press campaign.  He has recently issued “fake news” awards.

“The buzz around the president’s latest anti-press stunt has contributed to a shift in American attitudes towards the press.  In a study released this week by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, 66 percent of Americans who were surveyed  said most news organizations blurred opinion and fact, up from 42 percent in 1984.  ‘Fake news’ was deemed a threat to democracy by a majority of the respondents (NY Times, 1/18/18).” Now who are the real fake news purveyors?

Senator John McCain has risen to the occasion: “We cannot afford to abdicate America’s longstanding role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to opinion and expression.”

Ray Myers

Cyber Security – Mueller Learning on the Job

This is not meant to be a critique of the Special Counsel’s performance in his investigation of the Russian involvement in the election of the so-called President. It’s more a commentary on “why did it take so long? “Some in the legal world have wondered why Mueller had not previously tapped a cyber prosecutor to join his team.”

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump’s team conspired in Russia’ s hacking efforts to influence the election. So now we have gone long past the days of scrutinizing “hanging chads” in efforts to determine the intentions of American voters. Those were the “good old days.” Now we are probing those dark corners of cyber space controlled by international “evil doers.”

From Russia with Love?

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be back on Wednesday, January 17th. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Just Deserts: Fire and Fury in the White House!

I have been waiting and hoping to write this blog for nearly a year. How sweet it is! The “fake news” Master himself is now accusing others (Michael Wolff, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”) of writing falsified accounts of the inner workings of his White House during his first year in office. He has continually maintained that he can post anything he wants to say on Twitter with impunity – no need for fact-checking or censorship when he wants to go on the attack. So far he has been able to hide behind a tortured definition of “newsworthiness.” Twitter, please stop this madness. Let’s take a look at the Twitter official explanation.

“In this latest incident with Trump’s tweets, Twitter doesn’t believe that the tweet Tuesday night about the size and effectiveness of the President’s “Nuclear Button” broke its rules. In a statement to Business Insider, Twitter said the tweet was not a “specific threat” and therefore wasn’t banned by its rule against “specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people.”

I just can’t wait to read all the “fake news” in Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” I don’t think it contains any “specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people.” It just might be “real news.”

Ray Myers

Expanding Power of Social Media #metoo

I know that the so-called President likes to use social media to advance his own agenda, but most of the time he is lying. Unfortunately, his true believers don’t really care. Other people can play this game as well and actually tell the truth. They are the women of #metoo. They are not hiding in the shadows tweeting out their grievances against powerful Hollywood magnates. They are famous, media-savvy and mostly white actors with collectively more star power than the accused. Now women from all walks of life are joining this crusade.

Maybe it’s reflective of a specific period in American history, in which working women of a new generation – those who had grown up with working mothers – decided that enough was enough. Certainly the endlessly expanding power of social media plays a role: The #metoo hashtag has been used in millions of post over the past few weeks; been translated into Italian (#Quella-Voltache, or “that time when”) and French (#BalanceTonPorc, or “out your pig”); and inspired a congressional spin-off.

Social media has now grown into a powerful politically liberating force.

Ray Myers