App That Changes Selfie Age, Gender, Skintone – Creator Apologises For ‘Racist’ Filter

“The creator of an app which changes your selfies using artificial intelligence has apologised because its “hot” filter automatically lightened people’s skin.
FaceApp is touted as an app which uses “neural networks” to change facial characteristics, adding smiles or making users look older or younger. But users noticed one of the options, initially labelled as “hot” made people look whiter.
Yaroslav Goncharov, the creator and CEO of FaceApp, apologised for the feature, which he said was a side-effect of the “neural network”.
He said: “We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue.
“It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behaviour.”
The feature is still available but has now been renamed “spark”, in an attempt to “exclude any positive connotation associated with it”, Goncharov said.
He added: “We are also working on the complete fix that should arrive soon.”
In previous interviews Goncharov, who is a former Microsoft and Yandex engineer, said FaceApp differs from other face-tuning software, which usually adds filters, because it uses deep learning technology to alter the photo itself.”

– from ‘FaceApp apologises for ‘racist’ filter that lightens users’ skintone’, Elena Cresci, The Guardian, 25 April 2017

“I Changed My Hairstyle So Many Times Now I Don’t Know What I Look Like!” – from ‘Life During Wartime’, Talking Heads, from the essential ‘Fear Of Music’ album (1979).

Smartphones A Pain In The Neck

Spine surgeons are noticing an increase in patients with neck and upper back pain, likely related to poor posture during prolonged smartphone use, according to a recent report.
Some patients, particularly young patients who shouldn’t yet have back and neck issues, are reporting disk hernias and alignment problems, the study authors write in The Spine Journal.

In an X-ray, the neck typically curves backward, and what we’re seeing is that the curve is being reversed as people look down at their phones for hours each day, said study coauthor Dr. Todd Lanman, a spinal neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles.
“By the time patients get to me, they’re already in bad pain and have disc issues,” he told Reuters Health.

The real concern is that we don’t know what this means down the road for kids today who use phones all day. …

While in a neutral position looking forward, the head weighs 4.5 to 5.5 kilograms. At a 15-degree flex, it feels like 12 kilograms. The stress on the spine increases by degree, and at 60 degrees, it’s 27 kilograms.

“For today’s users, will an eight-year-old need surgery at age 28?” Lanman said.

“In kids who have spines that are still growing and not developed, we’re not sure what to expect or if this could change normal anatomies,” he told Reuters Health. …

– excerpt and image from ‘Smartphone-related neck pain on the increase’, CBC, 14 April 2017

The article goes on to suggest ways of improving posture while texting … Texting less (or not at all) gets no mention! – AS

Look Around – “Read not the Times, Read the Eternities.”

“I have a theory — not a very good one — that the reason Google is so hot to develop self-driving cars is that time behind the wheel is the last significant part of our waking lives in which it’s inconvenient to use the internet. But that’s exactly why I prize long road trips, especially lately, in this era of gruesome political news and ceaseless social-media conflict: ambitious drives are a good excuse for being disconnected. Though it’s funny that “disconnected” is the word we use, since paying attention to what’s in front of you in the here and now used to be thought of as enlightening.

A few weeks back it fell to me to deliver a carful of books and household items to my wife, who was teaching in Las Vegas. From our home in western Montana, it’s a journey of almost nine hundred miles, most of them on I-15, a thinly populated north–south route that passes through only one major urban area, Salt Lake City. I’ve done the drive at least a dozen times, usually with my satellite radio playing and my phone turned on, but this time I decided to banish all distractions. “Read not the Times, Read the Eternities,” wrote Thoreau. Look around, I think he meant.”

– from ‘You Can Run…’, Walter Kirn, Harper’s, April 2017

Dangerous Selfies

Recent CNN headlines:
Teen accidentally kills self taking selfie
Suspects take selfies in epic high speed chase
Bride snaps selfie, dies 8 mins. later
Man fatally shot while taking selfie with gun
This selfie cost pilot his life

This story today:
Woman falls off California’s highest bridge while taking selfie
Police in a California county have a warning for camera-toting thrill seekers: “You can lose your life and none of that is worth a selfie!”
The message was posted on the Placer County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page after a woman fell 60 feet off the Foresthill Bridge on Tuesday. The 730-foot-tall bridge is the highest in California and one of the highest in the United States.
The Sheriff’s Office said the unidentified woman from Sacramento and a group of friends were walking on the bridge’s girders when she “attempted to take a selfie and fell. Landing on a trail below.”
The woman had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital. Paul Goncharuk, a friend, told CNN affiliate KOVR that “she was knocked unconscious, suffered a deep gash to her arm and fractured bones that will require surgery.”
Goncharuk, who told KOVR that he was there, also confirmed the police information, telling the affiliate that “they were taking a picture on the bridge, and then the big bolts that are holding the beams together, she stepped on them kind of weirdly and lost balance and fell backwards.”
The bridge’s off-limits underbelly seems to be a popular, but dangerous spot for social media posting.
Police have started patrolling the area after a series of pictures and videos of people dangling from walkways under the bridge.
“It’s a cool place to take pictures, but obviously not worth the risk,” Goncharuk told KOVR.
CNN 6 April 2017

People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the ground

Bodegraven, a town in the Netherlands, has installed LED light strips on the sidewalk that synchronize with traffic signals and turn red or green at pedestrian crossings, so that people can’t miss them even if their eyes are cast down toward their smartphone screens.
– image and excerpt from article in Quartz, March 25, 2017 [hat-tip to Clive W.; thanks!]

Screen Time Associated With Obesity And Diabetes In Children

“A survey of 4495 children aged 9–10 years who had fasting cardiometabolic risk marker assessments, anthropometry measurements and reported daily screen time; objective physical activity was measured in a subset of 2031 children.
Results: Compared with an hour or less screen time daily, those reporting screen time over 3 hours had higher ponderal index (1.9%, 95% CI 0.5% to 3.4%), skinfold thickness (4.5%, 0.2% to 8.8%), fat mass index (3.3%, 0.0% to 6.7%), leptin (9.2%, 1.1% to 18.0%) and insulin resistance (10.5%, 4.9% to 16.4%); associations with glucose, HbA1c, physical activity and cardiovascular risk markers were weak or absent. Associations with insulin resistance remained after adjustment for adiposity, socioeconomic markers and physical activity.”

– from ‘Screen time is associated with adiposity and insulin resistance in children’, Claire Nightingale et al, British Medical Journal, March 2017

Man claims GPS led him to drive 800m into Toronto transit tunnel

The man drove 800m into the tunnel.

“A man who allegedly drove his SUV into a streetcar tunnel on Thursday, bringing traffic in downtown Toronto to a halt for several hours, reportedly told transit officials he was following his GPS instructions when his vehicle got stuck.

Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Brad Ross had no information on where the man was travelling when he drove into the tunnel at one of the city’s main downtown transit hubs in the middle of the night.

A streetcar came across the SUV jammed in the tunnel shortly before 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning, he said.

He said stuck cars are not unheard of, but said this one stood out as unusual due to the nature of the tunnel and the distance the vehicle travelled.

“That part of the network, only streetcars use it,” Ross said of the tunnel in which the track is raised rather than being embedded in the road. “The fact that this car made it almost 800 metres to the Union Station platform is very unusual. Cars have gone down there in the past, but typically they get stuck far sooner than that.”

– excerpt and image from ‘Man claims GPS led him to drive into Toronto transit tunnel’, Michelle McQuigge, Globe and Mail, 23 Feb 2017

43% Of Americans Are ‘Constant Checkers’ Of Mobile Devices; Most Know They Have A Problem But Can’t Stop

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“If you pull out your phone to check Twitter while waiting for the light to change, or read e-mails while brushing your teeth, you might be what the American Psychological Association calls a “constant checker.” And chances are, it’s hurting your mental health.” …

Social media use has skyrocketed from 7 percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a remarkable 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their e-mails, texts, or social media accounts constantly. And their stress levels are paying for it: On a 10-point scale, constant checkers reported an average stress level of 5.3. For the rest of Americans, the average level is a 4.4.” …

“About 42 percent of constant checkers specifically point to political and cultural discussions as causing stress. And the impacts play out in real life—35 percent of constant checkers say they are less likely to spend time with family and friends because of social media.
If the first step toward recovery, however, is admitting there is a problem, Americans are on their way. Some 65 percent of respondents said “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important. But alas, knowing you have a problem is not the same as fixing it: Only 28 percent of those Americans say they take their own advice.

– excerpts from ‘Social Media Are Driving Americans Insane – Almost half say they are “constant checkers.’, Deena Shanker, Bloomberg, February 23, 2017

‘Dysconnected’ Longlisted For The George Ryga Award

George Ryga [image from]

We are pleased to announce that ‘Dysconnected’ has been long listed for the George Ryga Award. Ten books are on the long list, from a record 47 entries.
The award is ‘an annual literary prize for a B.C. writer who has achieved an outstanding degree of social awareness in a new book published in the preceding calendar year.’ It is administered by BC Bookworld.
George Ryga (1931-1987) was a playwright and novelist, probably best known for his play ‘The Ecstasy of Rita Joe’. A biographical sketch and appreciation by Alan Twigg can be found here. Much of his work demonstrated his strong politics, and his “abiding sympathy for the downtrodden”.
We are honoured that ‘Dysconnected’ is being associated with George Ryga in this way.

This excerpt from ‘In the Face of the Status Quo’ by Ken Smedley, a friend of Ryga’s:
“It’s time to re-evaluate the theatre of Ryga, just as we’ve been re-evaluating our values vis-a-vis the forces of globalization and technology and their dehumanizing effect, which inevitably impacts our sense of identity. It’s imperative that we do so before we become any further detached from who we are, who we might have been, and who we might still be, in exchange for becoming further co-opted by the faceless drummers and relegated to the no-man’s land of the virtual insignificant other.”

Playing A Musical Instrument As ‘Digital Detox’ – “We’ve lost sight of just doing something quiet for ourselves.”

The deep concentration required by piano practice offers perhaps the ultimate digital detox (photo: Davide Ferreri / Alamy)

“Learning a musical instrument can unlock the door to a new dimension that many of us have forgotten even exists,” Rhodes begins in his opening chapter, and there is no denying the immense appeal of laying aside technology to engage one’s fingers and brain and soul in a pursuit that has nothing to do with email, texting, or social media.

His project offers perhaps the ultimate digital detox. Reading the book, I had fantasies of lighting a few candles of an evening, pouring a large glass of wine and getting stuck in to my piano practice: an alluring act of hygge, artistic self-improvement and self-care all in one. If you’d told me as a kid that I’d one day actually look forward to practising the piano, I would have laughed in disbelief. But in Rhodes’ witty, engaging, unpretentious hands, the prospect of daily piano-practice and its requirement of deep concentration becomes both meditation and medication.

“We live in an age of such instant gratification, we’re always looking outside of ourselves, and I think we’ve lost sight of just doing something quiet for ourselves,” he offers, when I suggest that the book is also a timely reflection of a modern Western aspiration not to material wealth but to spiritual and emotional enrichment…

– image and excerpt from ‘Why it’s never to late to learn an instrument’, Clemency Burton-Hill on the pianist James Rhodes,, 10 Jan 2017

‘Dysconnected’ Q&A With Stuart Derdeyn, The Vancouver Sun

‘Vancouver author’s mind roams on how we have become Dysconnected’
Stuart Derdeyn, The Vancouver Sun, 29 Dec 2016

Do you check your cellphone before you get out of bed in the morning? That’s the first question posed in Dysconnected Isolated By Our Mobile Devices (AJKS Press). The book by Vancouver-based UBC neuropsychiatry clinical associate professor, artist and author Anton Scamvougeras combines his definitive illustrations of humans with heads designed like isolation helmets connecting them to their devices but not the outside world.

Select quotes from philosophers, pop culture stars, scientists and others are included throughout as well. It is available at, and good local bookstores in B.C. and beyond.

The resulting text is one of the more powerful, prescient and — ironically — morbidly funny books to breach the oft-debated subject of humans and high-tech. Plus, the larger format print copy makes for a fine coffee table tome as well as one of the best gifts you could give to that special someone this year that won’t involve pushing send.

Scamvougeras took time to answer some questions about his witty, wise and unique world view as expressed in his book. We’ve chosen to run the piece in length as the topic is one that is increasingly becoming tied to the health of our society and institutions.

There is a reason that “less screen time” is one of the more commonly cited New Year’s Eve resolutions and this book supports that with intellectually stimulating content.

Of all the books I’ve encountered in 2016, Dysconnected Isolated By Our Mobile Devices, is easily the one that opened up more topics to contemplate in those “gap” times when I wasn’t glued to a screen.

Question: Dysconnected is a powerful text. Was there a specific moment that inspired you to create it?

Answer: I observed what many of us have seen: smartphones are changing our behaviours, and much of this change doesn’t seem good. The actual moment of inspiration for the central Dysconnected image came to me completely non-verbally, while I was sketching — a picture emerged of a person ‘boxed-in’ and isolated by their cellphone use. Its effect was powerful. I created the series using old pen, ink and wash techniques. I think some of us have ‘seen’ this image in our mind’s eye; and many people have an ‘of course!’ response to the pictures. The passages of text are from readings, experiences and research. The book came together naturally, with interwoven images and text, each informing the other. As I say in the book, in the future, the happiest, most content and satisfied people will be those of us who learn to best manage our relationships with our devices. I hope Dysconnected helps make us wiser users of our technology.

Q: Is the dominant image throughout the book of humans with screen focused heads a peek into a possible evolution? The quote from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield on technology changing our brains suggests this.

A: If we were to study the brain function of a person who uses their phone five to six hours per day, sending or receiving 225 texts per day (if these sound like high numbers, then you’ll be surprised to hear they were the averages for a group of U.S. university students in a recent study), we would expect to find the kind of changes you’d also see in the brains of people with other compulsive behaviours — like problem gamblers, or substance addicts. It’s not a coincidence that some refer to their phones as ‘the slot-machine in my pocket.’ So, yes, intense mobile device use does change our brains.

But we haven’t had time to adapt to smartphones in an evolutionary sense. Quite soon, many people will likely be living with ‘wearable’ technology, and may even look different as a consequence. But we will still essentially be the same human animal that we have been for tens of thousands of years.

The rate of increase in information has been so rapid, and new mobile technologies are so powerful, and so seductive, that they challenge us more profoundly than earlier technological advances. And this is about to step up a big notch with the widespread availability of Virtual Reality applications.

Q: The quotes from everyone from Adele to Marcus Aurelius all appear to appeal to humans to separate from themselves and participate. Is that Dysconnected’s message?

A: Yes, it is. The message is to try to thoroughly engage with the world around you. Use your smartphone, but use it knowingly. Take pause when you find yourself reaching for it automatically for no good reason. Not so long ago, we would all regularly have brief periods in the day where nothing particular was happening — small breaks while waiting for a friend, sitting on a bus, walking from one place to another. During these periods we would daydream, or observe the world, or feel bored, or play with ideas. And these ‘gap times’ are arguably very important … it’s where we may be creative, solve dilemmas or allow important decisions to brew.

Joe Kraus, a tech sector entrepreneur said “If I let it, my phone easily takes up every gap in my day.” This often happens at a ‘pre-cognitive’ motor level, you find your hand reaching for your phone before thought has even kicked in. Smartphones are interfering with our ability to reflect quietly on our lives.

Q: Perhaps the most powerful quote of all is from the late Steve Jobs about limiting his children’s use of technology. Do you advocate that?

A: Jobs was obviously aware that his technology was a double-edged sword. Smartphones are so useful they are clearly here to stay, but, like any other tool, you can use them for good things or bad. You can use a hammer to build a barn, but you can also use it to bash yourself on the head repeatedly.

I do advocate for using mobile devices more wisely, and, for most of us, that also means less often. If we decide we want to help ourselves or our children ‘cut down,’ how do we do that? The first, and most commonly used method is through external restrictions. This entails setting rules such as ‘no cellphones in the bedroom’, or forced weekly ‘digital vacations’ (Sunday dawn to dusk?). Or limiting daily ‘screen-time’ for children.

There are even apps to limit one’s smartphone use. But humans are resourceful, and, if the urge is great enough, we find a way around rules. For instance, more than 90 per cent of Canadian children aged 11-15 use screens of some sort for more than the recommended limit of two hours per day. So, perhaps more important than using external guidelines, is for us to gain internal insight into how phone use affects our quality of life. That, I suspect, is key.

People who see what they’re doing, understand the risks, and use that insight to moderate their mobile device use, will have better lives. Extending that to children, wise parents will probably want to use external guidelines but also, simultaneously, educate children about the downside of overuse of mobile technology, and the upside of life away from too many technological intrusions.

Q: Is there an electronic version of the book?

A: Haha (that’s an old way of saying ‘LOL’). There isn’t but there could be. Dysconnected, the book, probably wouldn’t exist without the Internet. The images were initially posted to a daily blog, which determined the rhythm of their creation. Some of the text research was done on the Web. The book was designed on computer and printed with the help of lots of online communication. The ironies of all this are not lost on us!

But, no, there is no electronic version of the book. I consciously made it a relatively large format paper and ink object, and I like to imagine people taking it into a garden or a park or a quiet corner, and spending time reading it, undisturbed and undistracted. It’s ultimately designed to encourage quiet reflection on life’s priorities. The message is best suited to hard copy.

I’m reminded of Patti Smith saying: ‘Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.’

Obituary For An iPhone


“Zachary’s unlocked iPhone 4 died suddenly on May 18, 2014, after he downloaded files infected with a virus from a Moldovan Web site with bootleg Disney classics. Zachary and his phone spent virtually every waking minute together. They often snuck off to the bathroom at his office for twenty-minute Candy Crush breaks. In fact, Zachary’s supervisor noticed his close relationship with his phone and mentioned it at more than one performance review. Zachary has suffered some physical withdrawal symptoms since the loss, and will be staying at his mother’s place in Connecticut until he is able to face the world again (or until the new phone arrives in the mail—so possibly until tomorrow). His family is planning an intervention. Please contact Aunt Patricia if you’re interested in participating.”
– excerpt and image from ‘Cell-Phone Obituaries’, Molly Roth, Daily Shouts, The New Yorker 19 Dec 2016

‘Digital Heroin’

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“He would refuse to do anything unless I would let him play his game,” she said. Barbara, who had discarded her TV 25 years ago, made the mistake of using the game as a bargaining tool.
Her son became increasingly explosive if she didn’t acquiesce. And then he got physical. It started with a push here, then a punch there. Frightened, she tried to take the device away. And that’s when it happened: “He beat the s–t out of me,” she told me.
When she tried to take his computer away, he attacked her “with a dazed look on his face — his eyes were not his.” She called the police. Shocked, they asked if the 9-year-old was on drugs.
He was — only his drugs weren’t pharmaceutical, they were digital.”

Over 200 peer-reviewed studies correlate excessive screen usage with a whole host of clinical disorders, including addiction. Recent brain-imaging research confirms that glowing screens affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that drugs like cocaine and heroin do. Thanks to research from the US military, we also know that screens and video games can literally affect the brain like digital morphine.

– from ‘Kids turn violent as parents battle ‘digital heroin’ addiction’, New York Post, 17 Dec 2016

Martin Scorsese: ‘Words and images don’t mean anything anymore’


“We’re just completely saturated with images that don’t mean anything. Words certainly don’t mean anything anymore, they’re twisted and turned. So where’s the meaning? Where’s the truth? So we have to strip away everything. It goes back to that question I had in ‘Means Streets’, how do you live a good life? A life which is good, meaning compassion, and respect for others, in a world like today?”

Scorsese’s complaints have been echoed by many directors, critics and cinephiles recently, but it’s a tricky topic. The explosion of filmed content onto phones, tablets and laptops may have subjected it to the law of diminishing returns, but it has also made it much easier for aspiring filmmakers to create.

– image and excerpt from Martin Scorsese: ‘Words and images don’t mean anything anymore’, Christopher Hooton, The Independent, 13 Dec 2016

Sindr – Catholic Church Launches Confession-Finder App [no, not a joke…]

For those Catholics itching to be absolved, a Scottish Archbishop may have just revolutionized the search for a confessional — with a new smartphone and tablet app launched at the Vatican on Tuesday.
The Catholic app, which has inevitably been dubbed “Sindr” by some media and online commentators, is expected to go live in early 2017, according to Vatican Radio.
“The idea was really inspired by the Holy Father himself,” Edinburgh’s Archbishop Leo Cushley, who announced the launch, told Vatican Radio. “He said to be imaginative about what to do for the Holy Year of Mercy.”
The app, which lets users search for the nearest Holy Mass, confessional or diocesanal statistics, reportedly uses technology by software firm Musemantik to guide the faithful from their current location to the nearest Catholic Church.

– from TIME magazine, 22 Nov 2016

Next up, cut out the middle-man and develop an app that speaks directly to the Big Guy -ed.

Your Brain On Texting

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When neurologist William Tatum and his team stuck scalp electrodes on people undergoing video EEG monitoring for epilepsy, they stumbled upon what might be the first biological evidence that texting physically messes with the brain. Tatum’s chief technician at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., noticed odd brain waveforms when some people texted. The brain patterns caught her attention because they were weirdly similar to what she was looking for: potential seizure activity. The findings, reproduced in a recently published study involving 129 people, monitored 24 hours a day over 16 months, add tantalizing new insights into smartphone-brain “interfaces.”

– from ‘New brain wave discovered among texters’, Sharon Kirkey, National Post, 27 Nov 2016

App To Delete Yourself From The Internet – “It’s the quickest way to get back to a state of tranquility.”

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Swedish developers Wille Dahlbo and Linus Unnebäck created, which offers a way to wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks.
When logging into the website with a Google account it scans for apps and services you’ve created an account for, and creates a list of them with easy delete links.

If you’re getting tired of social media and internet-induced stress in general, it’s the quickest way to get back to a state of tranquility — and to be honest, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
– from Delete yourself from the internet by pressing this button, Juan Buis, TNW, 24 Nov 2016

Man Climbs Onto Broadway Theater Stage To Charge His Cellphone – In A Fake Outlet


“ audience member at Thursday’s performance of Hand to God … startled crew and fellow theater-goers by climbing on to the stage of the Booth Theatre before the show started.
Once on stage, he tried to plug a cellphone charger into a power point on the show’s set which, it turns out, was fake.
Chris York, who was sitting in the mezzanine section on 2 July, recounted what happened on his Facebook page, and news of the audience member’s behavior was getting wider attention on Tuesday.
York told the Guardian the incident occurred about two minutes before the show was set to begin, and that the man who jumped to the stage was in his early 20s.
There were no stairs to the stage, York said, so to get to it the man had to leap and then walk about 15 feet to the outlet that, York said, was “clearly fake”.
“The whole time it was very bizarre,” York said.
At first, people thought it was a part of the show, he said, but once they realized the truth, the audience started laughing and heckling the man. The crew stopped the pre-show music, removed the charger and made an announcement to the audience prohibiting them from charging their phones on stage.”

– from ‘Broadway theater-goer jumps on stage to charge phone – in fake outlet’, The Guardian, 7 July 2015

Kevin Hart: Tweeting or texting will get you kicked out


“Kevin Hart may be one of the top comedians in North America, but he has no sense of humour when it comes to cellphones at his show.
In advance of his show at Regina’s Evraz Place next Wednesday, the facility is sending out warnings to ticket holders: Texting, tweeting or talking on cellphones is completely forbidden.”

– from ‘Kevin Hart to Regina fans: Tweeting or texting will get you kicked out’, CBC, 13 Nov 2016

Marimba Cellphone Ring Stops Orchestra Performance Of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9


“A conductor with the New York Philharmonic halted a performance due to a ringing cellphone, a rare occurrence that has sparked much talk about proper phone protocol.
As the orchestra was hitting the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 during a Tuesday night performance at New York’s Lincoln Center, the distinct sounds of marimba music emanating from the first row was floating out.
After a hard glare from music director Alan Gilbert, the phone kept ringing, at which point Gilbert stopped the performance altogether.”

– from ‘Cellphone ring stops orchestra performance’, CBC, 13 Jan 2012

Locking cellphone pouch puts focus back on the live show


“Patrons place their phones (on vibrate mode) in the lockable pouches in the lobby of the venue and take them into the performance. If they get a call, they can return to the lobby to have their phone unlocked.
When everyone at a concert is preoccupied with their phone, “you’ve taken little nicks and cut out of the experience in a way that doesn’t allow the event to build into something, which is why people go to live experiences in the first place: to be swept up into a shared mood in a physical space in real time with everyone there,” Dugoni says.”

– from ‘Put that phone away! Locking cellphone pouch puts focus back on the live show’, CBC, 14 Nov 2016

Technology That Gives People The False Sense Of Being In Control


Pressing the door-close button on an elevator might make you feel better, but it will do nothing to hasten your trip.
Karen W. Penafiel, executive director of National Elevator Industry Inc., a trade group, said the close-door feature faded into obsolescence a few years after the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
The legislation required that elevator doors remain open long enough for anyone who uses crutches, a cane or wheelchair to get on board, Ms. Penafiel said in an interview on Tuesday. “The riding public would not be able to make those doors close any faster,” she said.

Though these buttons may not function, they do serve a function for our mental health, Ellen J. Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University who has studied the illusion of control, said in an email.
“Perceived control is very important,” she said. “It diminishes stress and promotes well being.”
John Kounios, a psychology professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in an email there was no harm in the “white lie” that these buttons present. Referring to the door-close button on an elevator, he said, “A perceived lack of control is associated with depression, so perhaps this is mildly therapeutic.”

– image and excerpt from ‘Pushing That Crosswalk Button May Make You Feel Better, but …’ By Christopher Mele, NYT, OCT. 27, 2016

Hi-tech mobile device equivalents will emerge.
It’s interesting that the NYTimes wasn’t tempted to name the most obvious button giving citizens a false sense of control… the one they press in the voting booth!
– AS

“All I want is for technology to stop trying to be my friend, and to give me a bit of personal space.”

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“I would love to find the core truth about my own relationship to technology within these modern moral fables, but ultimately, I have realised that my issues are far more basic. All I want is for technology to stop trying to be my friend, and to give me a bit of personal space.”
– from ‘Dear technology, please could you stop being so needy’, Rebecca Nicholson, The Guardian, 26 Oct 2016, in part a review of technology-subject tv programs like ‘Black Mirror’

What To Suggest To People Who Say That Bob Dylan “Can’t Sing”….


If somebody you know offers the opinion that “Bob Dylan Can’t Sing”, suggest that they listen to these two recordings of the same song, and compare their experiences:

Elvis Presley singing Bob Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’
from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Spinout’, released 1966

Bob Dylan singing his own composition, ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’
from April 12, 1963, concert at New York’s Town Hall, released on Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1971)

Yes, Elvis has the ‘sweeter’ voice, and his version is very pure and smooth. ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ becomes a soaring love song. It is luscious, and confident. Elvis is in complete control. He floats off and luxuriates in the comfort.
Dylan himself, in a 1969 interview with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, called Elvis’s cover “the one recording I treasure the most”, and he may still feel that way.

The experience of hearing Dylan’s own version is something else entirely. Vulnerable, plaintive, complex. It sounds like he’s singing about loss, about something that’s actually unlikely to happen “once again”. (When Elvis says “If..”, it sounds like he’s already there.) Dylan’s version is human, and imperfect. We feel far less confident that we know what’s going on; it’s enigmatic. The song is ‘delivered’ as much as it is ‘sung’. Every word “trembles”.

To paraphrase the other Elvis (Costello), “you don’t listen to Dylan to hear sweet voice singing, you listen to experience the feeling he is singing about.”
Christopher Ricks points out that “song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more “important”: the voice, or the music, or the words..”.
With Dylan, the ‘compound’ becomes more than the sum of the parts, and we experience something that combines emotions and intellect and spirit; something that transmutes, and transcends.

Of course, the experience is very personal, and subjective, and we have to respect that this does not resonate with every listener.
In part, the difference may be because some people prefer their art, prefer their experience of the world, to be as apparently ‘perfect’ as possible. They seek fantasies of purity and perfection, and they like their art to do the same.
Others embrace the imperfection of the world, and prefer art that rolls up its sleeves, immerses itself, and gets dirty in the uncertainty and muddiness of it all.

Regardless of all this, the above example, contrasting Elvis’s fine performance with Dylan’s perfectly imperfect one, may show a few who don’t get it why so many do.
It’s about the humanness in Dylan’s voice.

Anton Scamvougeras
October 2016

There is a special beautiful, symmetrical bonus, about this performance comparison, for those who care to read on:

Note how the written version of the first four lines of this song (confirmed as the current definitive version on now read:

If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all

Yet, in the recorded versions above

Elvis sings

If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not an endless trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all

and Dylan sings

If today was not a crooked highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all

Elvis has the ‘endless’ voice, and Dylan the ‘crooked’, and they consciously or unconsciously changed the lyrics to reflect that.

Image credit: Dylan performing in Germany 1984 – Istvan Bajzat – EPA

“This is life, this is what is happening. We can’t switch to another channel.”


cartoon by Robert Day, New Yorker, 1970
Many thanks to Barabara Stowe for sending it along and drawing our attention to it.

Technology has always been distracting, but, arguably, the latest mobile devices with high speed internet connectivity are more seductive and offer more of a challenge to attentiveness than anything else that has ever come along.
If this cartoon were to reflect a 2016 scenario, the girl and boy would likely be hunkered away on their tablets or cellphones, unaware of the weather, the predicament, the solution to the problem, or their father’s technical and emotional response. Of course, they may also be able to text for help, or search for technical advice. As the prior post headlined: “What matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking…”
– AS

“What matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking…”


“As Tim Wu writes in what might be the central thesis of ‘The Attention Merchants’, “Where the human gaze goes, business soon follows.” When that gaze eventually shifted to the smartphone — portable, social, location-aware, always on — whatever last reserves of human attention were still left unexploited were suddenly on the table. The smartphone would become “the undisputed new frontier of attention harvesting in the twenty-first century, the attention merchants’ manifest destiny.”

Picture Thoreau now, on his obligation-shedding saunter through the Massachusetts woods. There are unanswered emails from the morning’s business a twitchy finger away. Facebook notifications fall upon him like leaves. The babbling brook is not only lovely, but demands to be shared via Instagram, once the correct filter (“Walden,” natch) has been applied. Perhaps a quick glance at the Health app to track his steps, or a browse of the TripAdvisor reviews of Walden Pond (“serene and peaceful”). There may be Pokémon Go baubles to collect—the app may have even compelled his walk in the first place.

One question that Wu never really resolves is what exactly constitutes a meaningful use of one’s attention. He laments that we have taken our attention and parted with it “cheaply and unthinkingly,” but at one point, he seems to hold up cable shows like House of Cards and Game of Thrones as harbingers of “deep engagement.” Exactly why ten hours of binge-watching is qualitatively better or more life-affirming than ten hours of pursuing one’s active interests online, he does not convincingly say, but it speaks to the reflexive distrust of time spent, as Goldsmith terms it, “clicking around.” But, as a journalist, clicking around virtually defines my job these days; what matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking.

– excerpt and image from ‘The Perils of Peak Attention’, a review of two new books by Tom Vanderbilt, New Republic, 17 Oct 2016

‘Tricks When You’re Trying To Be So Quiet’ – Bob Dylan Esoterica, 9/11, and the Birthday Problem

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Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is a joyous occurrence. While the world celebrates, we share this piece of Dylan esoterica, about the unintentional and arcane ‘prediction’ of a fateful day…

Humans are prediction machines. We look for patterns in the world, and we can’t help but try to guess what comes next. We do this because thousands of years of selection rewarded those of us who anticipated best. We instinctively seek out arrangements… in clouds, in images, in words, in the behaviour of others, in events in our lives… whether they prove to be vital to our survival or not. Sometimes the patterns are completely meaningless, but we notice them nonetheless.

In the early summer of 2001, Margot and I were living in Vancouver and preparing for the arrival of our first child. Our nest preparation included polling friends on subjects such as diaper change tables and optimum baby nutrition. For me, parental preparation was accompanied by an inexplicable compulsion to organize, and add to, my collection of Bob Dylan recordings. Why? Displacement activity, perhaps – when an animal disguises fear by picking away in the sand in a meaningless fashion, busying itself with trivia when facing a terrifying predator. Or, maybe a more complex mechanism: an attempt to preserve a soon to be lost “long lonesome road”? Oblivious to the exact cause, I found myself making wish-lists of sought after concerts, searching websites, emailing fellow collectors, burning discs, sometimes late into the night; tippy-toeing about our apartment, as my wife slept and her belly steadily swelled.

Two months earlier I had been contacted by ‘arlo’, over the web. My e-mail address, attached to a whimsical posting at an online Dylan site, identified me as being from Vancouver. Would I like to get together with a small group of local fans to celebrate Bob’s 60th? Sure I would, I replied. ‘Arlo’ turned out to be Arthur Louie, born in Winnipeg, now living in Vancouver. Connoisseurs of ‘handles’ will appreciate arlo’s; a contraction of his name, as well as the first name of the son of Dylan’s own hero, Woody Guthrie. Neat. At our first meeting, an enjoyable gathering of a handful of friends and a few guitars, I discovered that in early 2001 Arthur had started a website called the ‘Dylan Pool’, based on the fantasy pools enjoyed by sports fans. Dylan had been touring frequently since 1988, playing 3 to 6 tour ‘legs’ a year, about 100 shows per annum, an endeavour that aficionados had hopefully dubbed ‘The Neverending Tour’. Prior to each tour leg, the one thousand members of the ‘Dylan Pool’ would each chose a ‘team’ of songs from Dylan’s immense 500 song catalogue, hoping to best foresee which of these he would choose to play in the upcoming shows. Dylan famously keeps himself and his audience guessing as to what he’ll play each night, and he is one of the very few performers you can see two or three nights in a row with confidence that a large percentage of the material is not repeated each show. The contest was to predict the set lists as closely as possible.

Part of the culture from which the Pool had emerged was that of sharing ‘bootlegs’ – surreptitiously produced, and strictly speaking illegal, recordings of Dylan’s live performances. Unlike the Grateful Dead, who had encouraged recording at their concerts, Dylan had fought for decades to deter tapers at his shows, but he also later sent a message, in verse, that was interpreted by many to be an endorsement of the archivists: “Some of these bootleggers/ they make pretty good stuff”. Most scholars agree that the existence of these recordings is a very good thing indeed. With Dylan frequently changing the interpretation and delivery of his material, the detailed record is an invaluable trace. What better homage than to have everything you have ever sang or said on stage recorded for posterity? The bootleggers are arguably Boswells to Dylan’s Johnson.

As you may guess, the Pool ‘skeleton’ that was the sport of song prediction served to support the arguably more important ‘flesh’ of online discussion and camaraderie. While waiting for tour legs to commence, or set-lists to be phoned in (sometimes live from the mosh pit at the very feet of the Man), ‘poolers’ would share their anticipation, and expand their knowledge of Dylan minutiae: When did Bob first play ‘- – -’ ? What does he mean when he says “- – – ”? Will he ever play ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ live? Is ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ really about Sara? Is that his real hair? Does anybody have a recording of the second 1988 Radio City show?

An etymologist once said that an understanding of the roots of the word ‘apricot’ make the fruit taste “that much sweeter”. Dylanologists argue that knowledge of the trivia improves one’s enjoyment of the songs. As ‘poolers’ prepared for a new tour leg, participants would volunteer to donate prizes for various achievements in the coming contest. Awards for first and second places, obviously, but also for achieving more playful and inventive targets, or answering arcane challenges. It was in this milieu that I found myself organizing my collection, reading the trivia, all while listening to awe-inspiring live versions of songs such as ‘Watchtower’ (fans refer to the songs in shorthand). I became curious as to whether Dylan had ever played any songs live prior to releasing them on albums, and this led to me arranging my recordings chronologically, and that led to me making a ridiculously esoteric observation, which I then could not resist presenting to the pool in the form of a prize challenge, which read as follows:
“If Dylan’s new album, ‘Love and Theft’ is indeed released as described in the recent press releases, it will achieve a feat that, against odds, no other Dylan album has ever achieved. What feat?”

The winning respondent would get their choice of a handful of discs from my growing collection of ‘boots’. Moderator Arthur, ever the Canadian egalitarian, suggested that I allow a 24 hour window for correct responses, as it’d be unfair for a pooler in India to answer over morning tea while an adversary in Argentina was still asleep. We awaited replies.

They came, in many forms, testimony to the breadth of Dylan fandom. Ideas concerning almost every know aspect of the coming album, but none anywhere close to the answer I had in mind.

Thirty-six hours after the start of the contest, just when I began doubting the sanity of the exercise (was I being too esoteric, even for this gang?), along came this response from James Wilson of the U.K. : “If ‘Love and Theft’ is, as advertised, released on September 11, 2001, it will be released on the same day of the year as was ‘Under the Red Sky’, which was released on September 11, 1990.  This will mark the first time that two Bob Dylan albums will share a release date.” About twenty hours thereafter Stewart Garrish, of Boston, answered in a similar fashion. These two got it.

The observation involves the same principle as the intriguing probability phenomenon known as the ‘Birthday Problem’. One needs to gather only 23 people in a room for the chances to be more than 50% that two of them will have a birthday that falls on the same day of the year. This is fewer than most of us would guess. As more people are added, the chances rise. By the time you get to 42 people, the chance that two will share the same birthday is already over 90%. To translate this to the puzzle at hand, consider album release dates as ‘birthdays’ (which they are, of course). The chances that none of Dylan’s 42 albums had the same release date is low, less than ten percent. And thus it was ‘against odds’, that no other Dylan album had ever achieved the feat that ‘Love and Theft’ would now achieve.

Both Jimmy and Stewart received prizes for their astute observations, and I posted a summary of the various fan responses and a discussion to the Dylan Pool on July 27, 2001.

Two days later, our son Adam was born; a fine, healthy baby, with a cowlick.

Six weeks thereafter, Bob Dylan’s 42nd album, ‘Love and Theft’ was released, as promised. In the months following it received deserved critical acclaim, but on the day, September 11, 2001, nobody noticed. We were all transfixed by the horrific events in New York City that very same morning. The release of the first Bob Dylan album ever released on the same day as another Bob Dylan album had also coincided with the 9/11 attacks; another kind of birthday entirely, that of an unwelcome new era.

Now, I am not prone to magical thinking. When my mother accidentally spilled salt, she would throw some over her shoulder. If I spill salt, the extent of my superstitious thinking is that I am reminded of my mother. I know, as much as I know anything, that Dylan’s numerically ‘special’ album coming out on 9/11 was nothing more than random coincidence; the kind of statistical trick that the world plays on us frequently. It doesn’t mean anything; yet I feel the desire to report the facts of it, nonetheless.

How does one respond to this? Dylan himself questions “minds that multiply the smallest matter”, yet he also points to the limitless meaning contained “in every grain of sand”. He also finds magic in numbers*. Our minds play with patterns in the world, and there may be resonance in some of the things that emerge. The apricot is sweeter, the song more emotive, and the universe that much more electric.

Anton Scamvougeras, October 2016
dysconnected1 (at)

Comments made by Dylan in a Q&A with Bill Flanagan, posted 22 Mar 2017 at, confirms that Bob finds magic in numbers, and thus we would imagine he’d be very much interested in the numeric co-incidence described in the above piece:

“BF: Each disc is 32 minutes long – you could have put it all on 2 CDs. Is there something about the 10 song, 32 minute length that appeals to you?

BD: Sure, it’s the number of completion. It’s a lucky number, and it’s symbolic of light. As far as the 32 minutes, that’s about the limit to the number of minutes on a long playing record where the sound is most powerful, 15 minutes to a side.”

Striving To Break With “The Slot Machine In My Pocket”

“Tristan Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” …
Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”

– from The Binge Breaker, Bianca Bosker, The Atlantic, 8 Oct 2016

Never Mind Future Virtual Reality, Here’s An Argument That We’re ALREADY Living In A Game !

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The chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is ‘one in billions’ – Elon Musk

Philosophers have long been concerned about how we can know that our world isn’t just a very believable simulation of a real one. But concern about that has become ever more active in recent years, as computers and artificial intelligence have advanced.
That has led some tech billionaires to speculate that the chances we are not living in such a simulation is “billions to one”. Even Bank of America analysts wrote last month that the chances we are living in a Matrix-style fictional world is as high as 50 per cent.

– from ‘Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it’, Andrew Griffin, The Independent, 7 Oct 2016

Watch video of discussion HERE

US University Students Send HUNDREDS of Texts PER DAY

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Researchers at Kent State surveyed 493 students, ranging in age from 18-29
Female students reported spending an average of 365 minutes per day using their cell phones, sending and receiving an average of 265 texts per day, and making and receiving six calls per day.
Male students reported spending less time on their phone (287 minutes), sending and receiving fewer texts (190), and making and receiving the same amount of calls as the female students.

Study: Andrew Lepp, Jian Li, Jacob E. Barkley. College students’ cell phone use and attachment to parents and peers. Computers in Human Behavior, 2016; 64: 401 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.07.021

– from Science Digest, 17 Aug 2016

That average of 265 texts per day for female students means that, assuming the student sleeps for 8 hours per night, they are sending or receiving a text on average about once every 3.6 minutes throughout their waking hours.

‘Curiously Grotesque Images’ – Selfies With Celebrities


“It is a curiously grotesque image. While a tightly packed crowd all took selfies with the Democratic party’s US presidential candidate, a sly photographer slipped around the side. The resulting view is unflattering – not only to Hillary Clinton but the crowd. They all have their backs turned to her while they hold up phones to take pictures of … themselves, with the blue-suited HRC in the background. No one seems to want a picture just of the candidate. It’s a selfie or nothing. Meanwhile, waving and smiling, Clinton cuts an eerily isolated figure on her little stage, up against the wall, separated from the selfie-shooters by a railing, like a Francis Bacon Pope in his glass booth.”
– from The Guardian, 26 Sept 2016

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Imagine meeting somebody you’ve always wanted to meet, and then turning your back on him or her!

‘I feel less anxious and less like a failure’ – Young People Quitting Social Media

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‘I feel less anxious and less like a failure’- Daisy, 23, Manchester

After a romance ended with a guy I really liked, I kept trying to avoid Facebook so I wouldn’t have to see him. It was after this that I gradually switched off from it, but before that I’d been wanting to quit for a while.

Facebook made me feel anxious, depressed and like a failure. When I went online it seemed like everyone was in Australia or Thailand, and if they weren’t travelling they were getting engaged or landing great jobs. I felt like everyone was living the dream and I was still at home with my parents, with debt from my student loan hanging over me.

I also felt that if I wasn’t tagging myself at restaurants or uploading photos from nights out, people would assume I wasn’t living. I remember a friend from uni said to me once, “Yeah, but you’re still going out having fun, I’ve seen on Facebook.” I tried to present myself as always having a great time. If my status didn’t get more than five likes, I’d delete it.

My life has changed for the better since deleting social media. I now enjoy catching up with my friends, and when they tell me new plans my response isn’t just, “Yeah, I saw on Facebook.” It makes you realise who your real friends are and how social media takes the joy out of sharing news with people. I also feel less anxious and less of a failure.

I’m planning to visit a friend in Australia next month, and she and my mum and a couple of other friends want me to go back on Facebook to share my pictures. I’d really prefer not to, though. I’m on Instagram, but I mostly follow sarcastic quote pages. I’ve never had a Twitter account.

from ‘Does quitting social media make you happier? Yes, say young people doing it’, Sarah Marsh, The Guardian, 21 Sep 2016

Entrepreneurs promote‘NoPhone Air’ for people tired of being glued to their devices


“We are very proud to introduce the least-advanced NoPhone ever,” he said at a technology conference in Canada this month. The NoPhone is a plastic rectangle that looks like a smartphone but does absolutely nothing. More than 10,000 have been sold in the past two years for about $10 each.

The latest model is simply a plastic package with nothing but air inside. Mr. Sheldon and his business partner, Van Gould, call it the NoPhone Air.

“We took away the headphone jack. And then we took away everything else,” Mr. Gould said to the crowd. “It may look like nothing is in this packaging. But that’s what’s so beautiful about it.”

As millions of people around the world race to buy Apple Inc. ’s new iPhone 7 and wireless AirPods headphones, Messrs. Sheldon and Gould are part of the growing smartphone-resistant counterculture. They were inspired to make the NoPhone, pitched as “a fake phone for people addicted to real phones,” after seeing everyone at a rooftop bar in New York glued to their smartphones.

– from ‘Hey, Check Out My New Phone! It Does Nothing.’, by Ryan Knutson, WSJ, 20 Sep 2016

‘Dysconnected’ on CBC Radio’s BC Almanac with Gloria Macarenko (20.Feb.2016)

It was a very pleasant experience, visiting the CBC building in Vancouver for the first time, and meeting Gloria Macarenko, a very gracious and skilled host who Canadians have been listening to on-air for 25 years. I enjoyed the discussion: I’m sure it could have gone on and on, as there are so many facets to this issue. Take a listen to the ‘Dysconnected’ interview, it starts at 24:28 in the mp3:

You can also find the audio for the interview HERE.
And the CBC released a news article based on the interview, HERE.

Do You Know Yourself Better Than The Data Algorithms Know You?


We are already becoming tiny chips inside a giant system that nobody really understands. Every day I absorb countless data bits through emails, phone calls and articles; process the data; and transmit back new bits through more emails, phone calls and articles. I don’t really know where I fit into the great scheme of things, and how my bits of data connect with the bits produced by billions of other humans and computers. I don’t have time to find out, because I am too busy answering emails. This relentless dataflow sparks new inventions and disruptions that nobody plans, controls or comprehends.

But no one needs to understand. All you need to do is answer your emails faster. Just as free-market capitalists believe in the invisible hand of the market, so Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the dataflow. As the global data-processing system becomes all-knowing and all-powerful, so connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning. The new motto says: “If you experience something — record it. If you record something — upload it. If you upload something — share it.”

Dataists further believe that given enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once that happens, humans will lose their authority, and humanist practices such as democratic elections will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives.

Even though humanists were wrong to think that our feelings reflected some mysterious “free will”, up until now humanism still made very good practical sense. For although there was nothing magical about our feelings, they were nevertheless the best method in the universe for making decisions — and no outside system could hope to understand my feelings better than me. Even if the Catholic Church or the Soviet KGB spied on me every minute of every day, they lacked the biological knowledge and the computing power necessary to calculate the biochemical processes shaping my desires and choices. Hence, humanism was correct in telling people to follow their own heart. If you had to choose between listening to the Bible and listening to your feelings, it was much better to listen to your feelings. The Bible represented the opinions and biases of a few priests in ancient Jerusalem. Your feelings, in contrast, represented the accumulated wisdom of millions of years of evolution that have passed the most rigorous quality-control tests of natural selection.

However, as the Church and the KGB give way to Google and Facebook, humanism loses its practical advantages. For we are now at the confluence of two scientific tidal waves. On the one hand, biologists are deciphering the mysteries of the human body and, in particular, of the brain and of human feelings. At the same time, computer scientists are giving us unprecedented data-processing power. When you put the two together, you get external systems that can monitor and understand my feelings much better than I can.

Google won’t have to be perfect. It won’t have to be correct all the time. It will just have to be better on average than me. And that is not so difficult, because most people don’t know themselves very well, and most people often make terrible mistakes in the most important decisions of their lives.

If you don’t like this, and you want to stay beyond the reach of the algorithms, there is probably just one piece of advice to give you, the oldest in the book: know thyself. In the end, it’s a simple empirical question. As long as you have greater insight and self-knowledge than the algorithms, your choices will still be superior and you will keep at least some authority in your hands. If the algorithms nevertheless seem poised to take over, it is mainly because most human beings hardly know themselves at all.

– excerpts and image from ‘Big data, Google and the end of free will’, Yuval Noah Harari, Financial Times, 26 August 2016

‘Are Kids Who Reject Social Media Missing Out?’ – WSJ

[Illustration Carmen Segovia; WSJ]

…Such abstention from social media places him in a small minority in his peer group. According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 92% of American teenagers (ages 13-17) go online daily, including 24% who say they are on their devices “almost constantly.” Seventy-one percent use Facebook, half are on Instagram, and 41% are Snapchat users. And nearly three-quarters of teens use more than one social-networking site. A typical teen, according to Pew, has 145 Facebook friends and 150 Instagram followers.
But what if a teen doesn’t want to live in that networked world? In a culture where prosocial behavior happens increasingly online, it can seem antisocial to refuse to participate. Are kids who reject social media missing out?

Jacqueline Nesi, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies teens and social media, says, “Based on survey data from our lab as well as national statistics, I would estimate that only between 5% and 15% of teens abstain from social-media use.”

In a study published this spring in the journal Psychological Science, researchers created an Instagram-like program and then used fMRI scans to measure teens’ reactions to the photos that received more or fewer likes. What they discovered was a process of “quantifiable social endorsement,” with teens using what received likes on social media “to learn how to navigate their social world.” But such cues can be adaptive or maladaptive. The researchers found that adolescents “were more likely to like a photo—even one portraying risky behaviors, such as smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol—if that photo had received more likes from peers.”
Such peer pressure is hardly new. What is new, with social media, is the speed with which peers can comment on each other’s lives, as well as the assumption that they should. “There’s a kind of bipolar effect that social media has on girls her age,” Marnie Kenney said of her daughter. “They’re constantly being judged. Their self-worth is constantly measured by other people’s response to every single thing they put online.”

– excerpt from ‘Teens Who Say No to Social Media’, Christine Rosen, WSJ, 25 Aug 2016

How To Future-Proof Our Lives: Author Yuval Harari’s Guide To Surviving The Modern Age

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  • Don’t let technology take over: Look at the day-to-day decisions you make, the amount of time you spend online or on your phone, and the way technology is merging with and controlling your life. Use technology for your purposes and do not allow yourself to be used by it
  • Bring tech to the table: Industrial agriculture damages the environment and causes suffering to billions of animals each year. Instead of giving up dairy or meat, there may be a technological solution — meat cells grown in cultures, 3D-printed meat and dairy products. Research in this area is vital
  • Don’t get left behind: The technological revolution is like the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. China missed out then and took 150 years to catch up. Those who lead the way with biotechnology and computer science today will be the rulers of tomorrow
  • Don’t panic, think big: Remain curious and open about the future — the minute you become emotional, scared or pessimistic about it, you lose some of the ability to see what’s happening and what the possibilities are
  • Know yourself: Real happiness is not feeling pleasant sensations all the time or searching for meaning (there is none). It is knowing the truth about yourself, so that you are no longer enslaved by illusions, myths and your body’s biochemical cravings
  • Think globally: We live in a global community and need our visions for the future to match this. Too much of our education is narrow and parochial
  • You can’t fake zen: Meditation and mindfulness have become very trendy, but we must be extremely careful how we use these techniques. The point is to stop the rat race, not to use meditation to run even faster

– from ‘The seer of Silicon Valley: Yuval Noah Harari’, Josh Glancy, The Sunday Times, 21 Aug 2016

UK Bar Owner Blocks Mobile Signals To His Customers – “I want people to socialize with the people they are with, rather than the people they are not with.”

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A landlord in Sussex [UK] has built a “Faraday cage” around his bar to block mobile phone signals, in an attempt to encourage face-to-face conversation.
Steve Tyler put silver foil in the walls and copper wire mesh in the ceiling of the Gin Tub in Hove.
He said he was tired of people coming in and not socialising with each other or with anyone else in the building.
“I’ve seen it progressively get worse and worse and I thought, ‘I want to stop this,'” Mr Tyler told BBC Sussex.
“I want people to socialise with the people they are with, rather than the people they are not with.
“I took the bold decision by not blocking the signal with a jammer but doing as best as I could with a Faraday cage and make people talk to each other, and to be honest it has worked very well.
“I had quite a lot of copper mesh and thought, ‘I could put this in the ceiling.’
“I was mucking about with it to see if it would block a signal, and it does when you put your phone in it.”
Mr Tyler plans to have a mobile phone area outside similar to a smoking area.

– from ‘Hove bar blocks mobile phone signal to be more social’, BBC, 2 Aug 2016

The Positive Effects Of Silence

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In recent years researchers have highlighted the peculiar power of silence to calm our bodies, turn up the volume on our inner thoughts, and attune our connection to the world.

In 1859, the British nurse and social reformer Florence Nightingale wrote, “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on sick or well.” Every careless clatter or banal bit of banter, Nightingale argued, can be a source of alarm, distress, and loss of sleep for recovering patients.

Surprisingly, recent research supports some of Nightingale’s zealous claims. In the mid 20th century, epidemiologists discovered correlations between high blood pressure and chronic noise sources like highways and airports. Later research seemed to link noise to increased rates of sleep loss, heart disease, and tinnitus. (It’s this line of research that hatched the 1960s-era notion of “noise pollution,” a name that implicitly refashions transitory noises as toxic and long-lasting.)
Studies of human physiology help explain how an invisible phenomenon can have such a pronounced physical effect. Sound waves vibrate the bones of the ear, which transmit movement to the snail-shaped cochlea. The cochlea converts physical vibrations into electrical signals that the brain receives. The body reacts immediately and powerfully to these signals, even in the middle of deep sleep. Neurophysiological research suggests that noises first activate the amygdalae, clusters of neurons located in the temporal lobes of the brain, associated with memory formation and emotion. The activation prompts an immediate release of stress hormones like cortisol. People who live in consistently loud environments often experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

In 2011, the World Health Organization tried to quantify its health burden in Europe. It concluded that the 340 million residents of western Europe—roughly the same population as that of the United States—annually lost a million years of healthy life because of noise. It even argued that 3,000 heart disease deaths were, at their root, the result of excessive noise.

Silence first began to appear in scientific research as a control or baseline, against which scientists compare the effects of noise or music. Researchers have mainly studied it by accident, as physician Luciano Bernardi did in a 2006 study of the physiological effects of music. “We didn’t think about the effect of silence,” he says. “That was not meant to be studied specifically.”  He was in for a quiet surprise. Bernardi observed physiological metrics for two dozen test subjects while they listened to six musical tracks. He found that the impacts of music could be read directly in the bloodstream, via changes in blood pressure, carbon dioxide, and circulation in the brain. (Bernardi and his son are both amateur musicians, and they wanted to explore a shared interest.) “During almost all sorts of music, there was a physiological change compatible with a condition of arousal,” he explains.
This effect made sense, given that active listening requires alertness and attention. But the more striking finding appeared between musical tracks. Bernardi and his colleagues discovered that randomly inserted stretches of silence also had a drastic effect, but in the opposite direction. In fact, two-minute silent pauses proved far more relaxing than either “relaxing” music or a longer silence played before the experiment started.
The blank pauses that Bernardi considered irrelevant, in other words, became the most interesting object of study.
– excerpts from ‘This Is Your Brain on Silence’, Daniel A Gross, Nautilus, 7 July 2016

Illustrations and quotes in the book ‘Dysconnected‘ encourage us to consider the ways in which mobile devices have interfered with our capacity to sit silently. See here.

Paddling 1800 km To Get Away From iPads

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“Two young families from Vancouver found an extreme way to get their kids to unplug this summer — paddling 1,800 kilometres down the Mackenzie River.
Kevin Vallely, his wife, and their two young daughters left their lives and iPads behind to paddle from Hay River to Inuvik, N.W.T., this summer. They teamed up with another couple and their nine-year-old son to make the epic journey.”

Arianna hasn’t forgotten about her screen.
“Yeah, I kinda wish I had an iPad, but we’re out here now so…” she trails off, as her father laughs in the background. But she admits it’s gotten easier to unplug as the trip goes on.

“The wonderful thing I’m discovering with the people here is that they’re generous with their time and they’re generous with what they have. They share,” he says.
“These are the values I want my kids to understand and hold dear.”
Despite going “unplugged,” Vallely is blogging about their adventure and updating an Instagram account along the way.

– from ‘Extreme unplugging: B.C. families paddle Mackenzie River to get kids away from screens’, Katherine Barton, CBC, 23 Jul 2016

Walking Under The Influence Of Texting

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Texting on your phone while walking alters posture and balance:
Scientists studied the effect of mobile phone use on body movement while walking in 26 healthy individuals. Each person walked at a comfortable pace in a straight line over a distance of approximately 8.5 m while doing one of three tasks: walking without the use of a phone, reading text on a mobile phone, or typing text on a mobile phone. The body’s movement was evaluated using a three-dimensional movement analysis system. … The results show that, not surprisingly, texting, and to a lesser extent reading, modified the body’s movement while walking. In comparison with normal walking, when participants were writing text, participants walked slower, deviated more from a straight line and moved their neck less than when reading text. … This may impact the safety of people who text and walk at the same time.
– from ‘Texting changes the way we walk’,, 22 Jan 2014
Similar findings in another study the following year:
People walk slower, swerve when texting while distracted,, 29 July 2015

Texting on your phone while walking increases risk of injury:
A study from Ohio State University found that the number of pedestrian ER visits for injuries related to cell phones tripled between 2004 and 2010 — even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period. The study also found that the age group most at risk for cell-phone related injuries while walking are adults under 30 — chiefly those between the ages of 16 and 25. …
Texting and walking is a known danger, but Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo, says distracted walking results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving.
Consequences include bumping into walls, falling down stairs, tripping over clutter or stepping into traffic. The issue is so common that in London, bumpers were placed onto light posts along a frequented avenue to prevent people from slamming into them.
“When texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking,” says Jehle, MD, who is also an attending physician at Erie County Medical Center, a regional trauma center in Western New York. “While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you.”
Though injuries from car accidents involving texting are often more severe, physical harm resulting from texting and walking occurs more frequently, Jehle says.
Jehle explains that pedestrians face three types of distraction: manual, in which they are doing something else; visual, where they see something else; and cognitive, in which their mind is somewhere else.
Tens of thousands of pedestrians are treated in emergency rooms across the nation each year, and Jehle believes as many as 10 percent of those visits result from accidents involving cell phones. He says the number of mishaps involving texting and walking is likely higher than official statistics suggest, as patients tend to underreport information about themselves when it involves a behavior that is embarrassing.

– from University at Buffalo. “Think it’s safe to type a quick text while walking? Think again.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2014.

“Is the internet making us ill?” – The Guardian

Selfie with Bull

The following excerpts from ‘Is the internet making us ill?’, Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, 11 July 2016:

A study from Swansea and Milan universities finds that frequent internet use (“mild internet addiction”) can make us 30% more susceptible to the flu. …

The recorded number of selfie-related deaths in 2015 reached 12. This included: teenagers who perished when snapping a pic with a grenade (the picture was discovered saved to the camera roll) and the man who was gored to death by a bull attempting to get the animal in shot. …

43% of us admit to having walked into something while looking at our phones. And 60% of us have dropped our phone on our faces while texting or duck-facing in bed. …

Pokémon Go has already led to bizarre incidents. To wit, this amazing sentence in a BBC report: “Nineteen-year-old Shayla Wiggins, from Wyoming, was told to find a Pokemon in a natural water source but instead found a man’s corpse.”

Reliving One’s Memories In Virtual Reality – “Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy.”


Virtual Reality [VR] capture and replay devices have the potential to allow one to relive one’s memories in a way that is far more vivid than looking through the family photo album. But what of the downside? Could people get addicted to ‘living’ periods from their past?
The following excerpt (and the image) from ‘Is Virtual Reality for Our Own Memories Really Such a Great Idea?’, by G. Clay Whittaker at The Daily Beast, 4 July 2016:

“At a recent Cannes Lions Festival appearance, Google VR vice president Clay Bavor said some interesting things about the future of VR, as a way for users to start reliving their own life experiences. It starts with the close connection between memory and experience. “When you look at your brain under an fMRI,” he said, “remembering and experiencing look very similar.”

Bavor talked about how, if your home was on fire, you’d be saving photo albums and hard drives with photos because of their value: the experience. “You can remember someone you love” is how he phrased it, someone “who might be far away or who you’ve lost.”

And for him and the many others writing and developing the VR world, that’s the primary goal: to step back into that memory years later.

Bavor went on to discuss his own experiences with a new prototype camera for recording VR.

“I’ve recorded similar things too, little fleeting moments,” he said. “Sitting with my grandmother in her home. Having breakfast with my son. Here’s the thing: A few years from now, when my grandmother is gone, I’ll be able to sit with her. Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy.”

Recreating the past is what we do. It’s how we remember what we lost, what we had. It’s how we find inspiration to get through bad times. But being able to call up an experience with the push of a button carries some dangers that memories don’t. We could get lost in the experiences, in an addictive way.

I know that sounds like science fiction, and yes, here’s where the Matrix reference would go. Feel free to make your own associations. But as a counterpoint to the skepticism, the more apt comparison isn’t with that film so much as Vanilla Sky, or perhaps Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You know, tales of a virtual world people want to stay inside of.

VR could be a good thing. There are benefits to stepping back in time: One can think of many ways this sort of research can help Alzheimer’s patients or those with some form of brain damage to regain their possession of their own mind. It’s not a big leap to think that creating a virtual space to experience the past would help jar someone to access those moments. Plenty of anecdotal cases have shown music and pictures to help.

But what about the recreational side? What happens when flipping through a photo album becomes a multi-hour lounge on the couch? It’s even easier to picture a grieving parent plugging in a headset on the nightstand and never leaving bed—we’ve all known someone who probably wouldn’t have gotten out of a bout of depression had they had access to this kind of technology. Addiction, dependence: The past could easily become the new drug of choice for self-medication.

And say what you will about how technology has affected interpersonal communications—how youth and adolescence have been harmed by an unforgiving internet that remembers everything you do—but imagine how much more embarrassing and difficult life could become to navigate when your peers can literally step into that moment you were embarrassed and relive it over and over for amusement.

Opposing Opinions: “When information overloads us, most people are still wise enough to use the power of the ‘Off’ button to gain some peace, or perhaps they take a beach walk or tend their gardens.”


Alvin Toffler died June 27 2016.
In his book ‘Future Shock’ (1970), he warned of the dangers of technology delivering too much information. Some disagreed:

“Like millions of people I was profoundly disturbed when I read Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. He looked at media and technology of 1970, thought about where it was going and painted a bleak future.
He coined the term “information overload,” and painted a picture of people who were isolated and depressed, cut off from human intimacy by a relentless fire hose of messages and data barraging us relentlessly.
The future he was looking at in 1970 is now. And yes, we live in an era of data fire hoses and sometimes we all feel either overwhelmed or trapped. Technology is far more ubiquitous than Toffler could possibly have imagined. Hell, it’s probably more ubiquitous than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs ever imagined.
But we are not isolated by it. And when the information overloads us, most people are still wise enough to use the power of the ‘Off’ button to gain some peace, or perhaps they take a beach walk or tend their gardens.”

– from ‘Future Shock: Why Alvin Toffler Was Wrong’, Shel Israel, Forbes, 21 Jun 2012[thanks to Rick for the link]

Who was more correct, Alvin Toffler or Shel Israel ?

Pen and Ink and Dysconnected

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A one-liner head (Speedball Black, Hunt #101, on 20lb cartridge)

Almost all of the images in ‘Dysconnected: Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’, are rendered in pen and ink. This ‘lo-tech’ way of making an image in 2016 may, to some, seem tedious and archaic, and perhaps it is. But it does arguably have its advantages. There is the tactile experience of the scratching and running of the nib against the paper. You get to observe and attempt to manipulate the dozens of subtle variations in the way the nib gives up the ink, and the way in which the ink interacts with the nature of the paper. The necessary rhythm of the dip-draw, dip-draw, requires the artist to reflect on and respect the limits of the physical world. Time is a necessary part of the process. You can’t shade large swatches with a single button push, and then reverse the process with another button push, as you can when you’re using an electronic graphic tablet (wonderful, magical devices). So you have to give more thought to the plan. When mistakes occur, you have to destroy the drawing or incorporate the result. The latter is always my preferred option, and not uncommonly results in the most enjoyable outcomes. When one makes mistakes on a tablet, of course, one simply hits ‘undo’. When you finish a pen and ink drawing you have an object in your hands. An artifact, a trace of where you’ve spent time and thought. If you use a thicker ink, like Speedball Super Black India Ink, you can run your fingers over the surface of the dry drawing and feel the contours of the ink actually standing up off the paper. Each line is an object.


Lo-tech lovers can be accused of fetishism, and there may be some truth in that observation. The idea of being part of a procession reaching back hundreds of years, of feeling links to scribes and parchment and illuminated manuscripts, is, after all, complete mental fantasy and romance. But, one would counter, there is still something valid that can be gained from the details, and satisfaction from the minutiae. When I read the great Richard Thompson, waxing lyrically about the Hunt #101 and Leonardt EF Principal nibs, I enjoy the presence in this world of one who has carefully observed the universe, at the granular level.

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Lo-lo-tech: a pen constructed from a plastic drinking straw, a wooden chopstick, an elastic band, and a Hunt #101 nib.

Of course, the whole idea of talking about the beauty of lo-tech pen and ink, and then using devices like scanners and computers and the internet to share the drawings, is rich with irony. More so given that the drawings in ‘Dysconnected’ critique the very devices on which they up to now have been viewed. And the added irony that, were it not for the daily rhythm that is begged by blogging, the series of drawings (which were posted daily for 4 months in early 2016) would likely not have propagated at such speed. All of this back and forth is delicious. To bring it all back to concrete objects, the drawings will now be available back on paper again, with the publication of the book late this month.

‘Dysconnected: Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’, a collection of over 75 illustrations with brief passages of interwoven quotes and text, all encouraging us to reflect on the way our phones and tablets have affected our behaviour, will soon be available on and

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Devotion (from the ‘Dysconnected’ series)

Our Runaway Infatuation With The Sleek Toys As Powerful Narcotics – “Aldous Huxley’s nightmare was that we would be undone by the things that delight us.”


Orwell feared that we would be destroyed by the things we fear – the state surveillance apparatus so vividly evoked in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley’s nightmare, set out in Brave New World, his great dystopian novel, was that we would be undone by the things that delight us. —

Brave New World was published in 1932. The title comes from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Oh, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world, / That has such people in’t.”

It is set in the London of the distant future – AD 2540 – and describes a fictional society inspired by two things: Huxley’s imaginative extrapolation of scientific and social trends; and his first visit to the US, in which he was struck by how a population could apparently be rendered docile by advertising and retail therapy. As an intellectual who was fascinated by science, he guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that scientific advances would eventually give humans powers that had hitherto been regarded as the exclusive preserve of the gods. And his encounters with industrialists like Alfred Mond led him to think that societies would eventually be run on lines inspired by the managerial rationalism of mass production (“Fordism”) – which is why the year 2540 AD in the novel is “the Year of Our Ford 632”.

In the novel Huxley describes the mass production of children by what we would now call in vitro fertilisation; interference in the development process of infants to produce a number of “castes” with carefully modulated levels of capacities to enable them to fit without complaining into the various societal and industrial roles assigned to them; and Pavlovian conditioning of children from birth.

In this world nobody falls ill, everyone has the same lifespan, there is no warfare, and institutions and marriage and sexual fidelity are dispensed with. Huxley’s dystopia is a totalitarian society, ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictatorship whose subjects have been programmed to enjoy their subjugation through conditioning and the use of a narcotic drug – soma – that is less damaging and more pleasurable than any narcotic known to us. The rulers of Brave New World have solved the problem of making people love their servitude. —

…our runaway infatuation with the sleek toys produced by the likes of Apple and Samsung – allied to our apparently insatiable appetite for Facebook, Google and other companies that provide us with “free” services in exchange for the intimate details of our daily lives – might well turn out to be as powerful a narcotic as soma was for the inhabitants of Brave New World.

– excerpt from ‘Aldous Huxley: the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia’, John Naughton, The Guardian, 22 Nov 2013

‘Transient Smartphone Blindness’ After Checking Phones In The Dark


Warning: Looking at your smartphone while lying in bed at night could wreak havoc on your vision.

Two women went temporarily blind from constantly checking their phones in the dark, say doctors who are now alerting others to the unusual phenomenon.
Fomo, stress and sleeplessness: are smartphones bad for students?
Read more

The solution: Make sure to use both eyes when looking at your smartphone screen in the dark.

In Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, doctors detailed the cases of the two women, ages 22 and 40, who experienced “transient smartphone blindness” for months.

The women complained of recurring episodes of temporary vision loss for up to 15 minutes. They were subjected to variety of medical exams, MRI scans and heart tests. Yet doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with them to explain the problem.

But minutes after walking into an eye specialist’s office, the mystery was solved.

“I simply asked them, ’What exactly were you doing when this happened?’” recalled Dr. Gordon Plant of Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London.

He explained that both women typically looked at their smartphones with only one eye while resting on their side in bed in the dark — their other eye was covered by the pillow.

“So you have one eye adapted to the light because it’s looking at the phone and the other eye is adapted to the dark,” he said.

When they put their phone down, they couldn’t see with the phone eye. That’s because “it’s taking many minutes to catch up to the other eye that’s adapted to the dark,” Plant said.

– from ‘Smartphone users temporarily blinded after looking at screen in bed’, The Guardian, 23 Jun 2016

Giant Hands Artwork Moved Because ‘Bumped Into By Texters’


An artwork consisting of a massive pair of clasped hands has had to be moved away from a cathedral path due to people “bumping” into them.
The 20ft tall (6m) sculpture, called The Kiss, was positioned at Salisbury Cathedral, inviting people to walk in-between the wrists.
Artist Sophie Ryder wrote online that people were “walking through texting”. Some had “bumped their heads”, she said.

– excerpt and image from BBC UK, 19 Feb 2016

“These teens were experiencing for the first time what it is like to be cut off from some of the most sophisticated distraction methods ever devised.”

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The Guardian asked a group of teenage volunteers to stop using social media for as long as they could manage. They all found it extremely difficult, but they also all noted benefits from the experience. In the end, none could imagine living without their mobile devices. The article is worth the read. Here are some excerpts:

“Two-thirds of 12- to 15-year-olds in the UK now own a smartphone. For older teens, the figure is 90%. Under-16s spend an average of three hours a day online, which overtook time spent watching television for the first time this year. They watch videos on YouTube, scroll through Instagram (400 million users worldwide), post on Facebook (1.5 billion) and hang out on Snapchat (100 million). Their adolescence will be shaped in ways that are significantly different from the experiences of their parents, most of whom will wonder about the impact of so much screen time.

In 2001, the US author Marc Prensky invented the term “digital native” to describe the post-millennial generation who would grow up in an online world. “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet,” he wrote. The term quickly became shorthand for describing the experience of children and adolescents, but it also became open to misinterpretation.

“It concerns me when you hear people in government or education throwing that term around,” says Emma Cooper, of digital media agency Rocket and The Children’s Media Conference. “There’s an implication that they have an inherent understanding of technology. But while they might understand what buttons to press, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to use it. My nine-year-old has hacked our Netflix account, but that doesn’t mean he’s emotionally ready to watch something that’s certified 12.”

“This generation of teenagers may have agile thumbs, but most have no memory of life before the internet was constantly available in the palm of your hand. Spending two to three hours a day on social media has become the new normal; what would life be without it? We asked a group of teenage volunteers to go on a social media fast for as long as they could manage.

Some of the changes they noticed were physical. “I got to sleep earlier,” Esther Laver, 16, says. “It was nice having more time – but then there were times when I felt like I couldn’t unwind, because I wasn’t using social media to relax.” Most of the teens said their sleep habits changed, although some also reported reaching for their phones in the middle of the night, before realising what they were doing. A study of Welsh secondary school pupils published last year found that a fifth of the 12- to 15-year-olds analysed woke almost every night to use social media.

We asked our group to map their moods, scoring how they felt throughout the day, with one being very negative and 10 being very positive. Several reported that, for the first few evenings, their scores were around two or three. “Even though I was able to catch up on some revision, the anxiety of being without social media really got to me,” says Janice Da Costa, 18, from London. “Everything moves so fast – I hated not knowing what was going on.”

Being bored and feeling isolated were mentioned over and over again; these teens were experiencing for the first time what it is like to be cut off from some of the most sophisticated distraction methods ever devised. “We live in an attention economy,” says Elsa Bartley, a user experience designer for a large social media platform for adults. “People in my industry are constantly talking about engagement: how do we keep people engaged, what info do they need? How do we give it to them at the right time?” Everything about platforms such as Facebook is designed to keep you coming back. They tap into our very basic needs – the desire for social bonding, the fascination with information that is relevant to us. “It’s very powerful, that feeling that everything you’re seeing on social media is basically connected to you,” Bartley says.

Several of our teenagers said that after the initial adjustment, they felt happier without social media; but when they were given the option to switch back on, they took it. “I can’t imagine life without it,” Da Costa. For this generation, social media is where they make sense of the world. It is increasingly where everything that is important to them is taking place. Going online is no longer the thing you do to take a break from real life. It is real life.

Further quotes from the article:

“I sleep with my phone on my pillow. It’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up in the morning… if I got a brain tumour, I’d have something to tweet about!” – Henry, 16

“I told my friends I was turning off my social media on Tuesday, then I switched it off on Wednesday after school. I was really worried about getting bored, so I asked my mum if we could go out shopping. On Thursday, I went out after school, and again on Friday, just to keep myself distracted. On Saturday morning, my mates had to come round and knock on my door to get me. It was funny being out without my phone, because I don’t have a watch, so I had to keep asking my friends what the time was. My notifications were going off all the time, but I couldn’t look at them. It was pretty hard. Then on Sunday, I could see that they were all about playing football and I just thought, “I can’t not look”, so I turned everything back on. – Sam, 14

“Getting rid of social media made me feel more positive, more optimistic, but it’s still hard to do without it. When you’re bored, it’s the easy option. You just open it up and it’s there. For a few weeks after I finished the experiment, I would sometimes delete my apps for an hour or so. I guess that improvement is better than nothing.” – Anna, 13

“I wouldn’t turn it off again. Even though I was more productive, I felt a lot more isolated. I’ve always seen myself as someone who can hold a good conversation, but I didn’t realise how much I relied on Messenger, and that shocked me. Without it, I just couldn’t connect with people.” – Henry, 16, again

“For the first couple of days, I was grumpy, but the more I did it, the happier I felt. I think maybe because I wasn’t worrying as much about what I looked like in selfies and things like that. I was pleased to get it back, though, because I missed my old routine. I still want it in my life.” – Leah, 14

All excerpts from ‘I worried people would forget about me’: can teenagers survive without social media?, Rosie Ifould, The Guardian, 18 Jun 2016

If you found this article of interest, you likely will enjoy ‘Dysconnected’, a book of illustrations and quotes that encourages one to be mindful about how we are using our cellphones:

dysc cover


The average Canadian child gets too much screen time, too little sleep, too little exercise, and is fatigued as a result.

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ParticipAction‘, a ‘national non-profit organization whose mission is to help Canadians sit less and move more’ has released its ‘2016 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth‘. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it finds that the average Canadian child gets too much screen time, too little sleep, too little exercise, and is fatigued as a result.

From the survey:
The average 5-17-year-old Canadian spends 8.5 hours being sedentary each day
Only 10% of 11-15 year olds in Canada meet the screen time recommendation of no more than two hours per day
31 per cent of school-aged kids and 26 per cent of teens in Canada are sleep-deprived

“As parents, we need to set good examples and be good role models,” said Elio Antunes, president and CEO of Participaction. “We need to put down our screens, we need to ensure we’re getting adequate sleep, we need to ensure that we’re active with our family and so we need to build in routines that support physical activity on a daily basis.”
– as quoted in ‘Many Canadian kids ‘aren’t moving enough to be tired, and they may also be too tired to move’: report, Amina Zafar, CBC News, 16 Jun 2016

So, what does ParticipAction recommend?:
“Children and youth need a combination of high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior and sufficient sleep each day to be healthy. A healthy 24 hours includes:
– Uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5 to 13 years, and 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14 to 17 years, with consistent bed and wake-up times.
– An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities. Vigorous physical activities and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities should each be incorporated at least 3 days per week.
– Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities.
– No more than 2 hours per day of recreational screen time.
– Limited sitting for extended periods.”

Welcome to DYSCONNECTED, the Blog

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Hi! Welcome to ‘Dysconnected’, the Blog.

With the June 2016 publication of ‘Dysconnected – Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’ (the Book!), this blog will change in format. For the first six months, it solely focused on the ‘Dysconnected’ series of images. It will now also incorporate ideas and discussion, designed to encourage us to reflect on all matters regarding the state of our relationships with our mobile devices.

In future, the happiest, most content and satisfied people will be those of us who figure out how to best manage our relationships with our own technological devices. Stories about people successfully or unsuccessfully navigating these waters helps us become more mindful of how we spend time with our mobiles. The images themselves sensitize us to the risks of isolation through tech use, and opinions, ideas and facts even more so.

We will be posting excerpts and links from articles of interest, at times with discussion or illustration. Please add your thoughts to the comments below each article, and also please send us any interesting related links that pertain to humans and their mobile tech.