Challenge to Designers: Keep Drivers Focused – Too Many Distractions, Technology Apps Too

By Eric A. Taub

Sept. 27, 2018, NY Times

The large rubber strip that I was speeding toward on the Ventura Freeway near. Los Angeles looked easy enough to avoid. I swerved, but not enough.

That strip was actually metal, however, and it ripped through my right front tire, which went spinning across four lanes of the freeway. Moments later, I was driving 80 miles an hour with one bare metal wheel, sparks flying. I pulled onto a median to await a tow truck, worried for our safety as cars screamed past.

I had been looking at my wife for about four seconds before glancing back at the road. Had I just become a victim of distracted driving? The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration would probably say yes.

Drivers should never take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time, the agency says. The Auto Alliance, a manufacturers’ trade group, agrees. “The odds of a crash double if your eyes are off the road for more than two seconds,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman.

(Excerpt from NYTimes article)

Ray Myers

Screen Time as a Stress Reducer

“Device addiction is as likely a symptom of anxiety as a cause.”  Every teenager seems to have a device that is at their disposal any time of night or day.  It can help you to always be connected on your own terms with whomever you want to be, and feel you have established your own independence.

“But this may really be only an uncertain independence, many having been raised under the whirring of helicopter parents, over-involved and trying to fix every problem for their children. This suffocates independence at a time when teenagers should be exploring autonomy, limits the development of self-reliance and grit and may even directly produce anxiety and depression . . .

Yes, we should devote resources to making smartphones less addictive, but we should devote even more resources to address the public health crisis of anxiety that is causing teenagers so much suffering and driving them to seek relief in the ultimate escape machines (NY Times, 7/15/18).”

Ray Myers

Limiting Use of Apps – Dark Side of Technology?

Is there a dark side to technology? I am sure we can all agree that technology can be addictive and can diminish the development of our interpersonal and social skills if it takes the place of real time exchanges with family and friends. But what is the best way to monitor or change behavior that may be harming us? At a recent conference Apple announced an iPhone tool that can limit the use of certain apps, if that is what the user really wants?

“We aim to put the customer at the center of everything we do,” Timothy D.Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive, said several times on Monday. That seemed like a promise as well as a backhanded defense. Apple will give you the world. What you do with it is your problem.

Fair enough, but didn’t we use to talk about corporate responsibility? Or is that an outdated term in our technology-driven world?

Ray Myers

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

Social Media Wealthy, but Lonely at Home

The United States and other countries might have been successful at connecting young citizens to the wonders of the Internet but there also seems to have been a price to pay in terms of interpersonal relationships with their peers. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens,and the greater the screen time, the greater their unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.

“But the big issue around social media is not privacy alone. These companies are feeding the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not that the heavy social media users are sadder. It’s not only that online life seems to heighten painful comparisons and both inflate and threaten the ego. It’s that heavy internet users are much less likely to have contact with their proximate neighbors to exchange favors and extend care. There’s something big happening to the social structures of neighborhoods (Brooks, NYTimes, 4/20/18).”

Many of us who are socially wealthy don’t really know how the other half lives.

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

The Artificial Audioscape

Bombastic, attention-grabbing inorganic noises are becoming the norm. No, I am not talking about the political debates in Washington, D.C. I am talking about the cacophony produced by today’s technology gadgets and “personal assistants” that everyone seems to have. We are now sufficiently habituated to these sound effects that their presence on TV shows is no longer a novelty; it is stranger to hear a landline ring in a contemporary show than to hear the default iPhone marimba beat.

Many digital sound effects, such as the camera shutter can be classified as “skeuo-morphs,” or imitation objects that unnecessarily use ornamental design features of the originals (such as false stitching on pleather seats). Their ubiquity suggests a postmodern aural backdrop in which the artificial is increasingly replacing the real. For people who grew up hearing only the real sounds, the new distinctions are likely clearer. “Someone who’s 80 and someone who’s 12 are going to have different responses to a sound (Mason, Oberlin University).”

Do you hear what I hear?

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

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

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.

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