School Without Phones – “I do have a phone, but I leave it at home and don’t really think about it much”


“La Gautrais middle school in the village of Plouasne banned the use of mobile phone on its grounds four years ago, long before the French president, Emmanuel Macron, made an election promise to outlaw children’s phones in schools in an attempt to “detox” teenagers increasingly addicted to screens.
From September, all nursery, primary and middle schools will ban mobile phone use. More than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds are believed to own a mobile phone in France, and children were already banned from unauthorised use in class. But , as in the UK, it was left to headteachers to decide whether to limit phones in breaktime.
La Gautrais’s 290 pupils between the ages of 12 and 16 come from surrounding villages in this farming area. Since the ban, staff have noticed more social interaction between children, more empathy and a readiness to learn at the start of lessons. There is less “switching-off anger” at having to move from breaktime gaming on smartphones to focusing in class.
“No phone use at school gives pupils a moment’s peace from social networks and some children tell us they appreciate that,” said the headteacher, Yves Koziel. “On social networks there’s an acceleration and extreme simplification of group relationships which can create conflict, even bullying. We’re freeing them from that – at least during the day. We’re cutting the umbilical cord and offering some respite from it.”
Koziel said he was pleased to see children returning to “ordinary things”, such as chatting, games and breaktime clubs and activities including dance and knitting. “I think children are more available for social interaction when they’re obliged to really speak to each other,” he said.
Policing the ban has not been difficult. Pupils switch off phones and leave them in schoolbags and there are fewer than 10 confiscations a year. …
“I do have a phone, but I leave it at home and don’t really think about it much,” shrugged one 14-year-old girl in a denim jacket. “I don’t rush to check it after school. When I get home, first I’ll have a snack, I’ll chat to my mum, do some homework, then I might look at my phone. But only if I’m waiting for an important message.”
Two of her friends don’t have mobile phones at all. “We don’t really need phones because we’re always chatting to each other in person, we chat the whole time – too much probably – and we’re really good friends,” one said.
– image and excerpt from ‘We don’t really need phones’: the French school that banned mobiles’, Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 22 Jun 2018

People Giving Up Their Phones – “It’s a very strange experience but it really is good for you and it has absolutely made me happier.”


Simon Cowell has revealed that he has not used his mobile phone for 10 months in an attempt to boost his mental health and happiness.
The music mogul said the move had paid off in terms of his quality of life.

“I literally have not been on my phone for 10 months,” he told the Mail on Sunday. “The difference it made was that I became more aware of the people around me and way more focused.“The thing I get irritated with is when you have a meeting everyone’s on their phone – and I was probably in that place too. You can’t concentrate.” … “It has been so good for my mental health. It’s a very strange experience but it really is good for you and it has absolutely made me happier.” … The X Factor creator also said he limited the time his four-year-old son was allowed to spend on his iPad and instead sat with him to watch TV shows.

Cowell’s revelation comes amid mounting concerns about the effects of overuse of smartphones and a burgeoning offline movement.

A survey of 4,150 British adults by Deloitte last year found that 38% said they thought they were using their smartphones too much. Among those aged 16-24 that rose to more than half. There have been fears that habits such as checking apps in the hour before going to sleep (79% of us do this, according to the study) or within 15 minutes of waking up (55%) may be taking their toll on people’s mental health.

– from ‘Simon Cowell says giving up mobile phone has made him happier’, Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, 3 Jun 2018

Numb Thumb: Tech, Texts and Tendons

“It took me a few months to accept that I had given myself tendinosis in my phone thumb. It is a depressingly modern condition in which the tendons around the thumb inflame as a result of repetitive strain — in my case because I had, for hours a day over years of a life, tapped that right-hand digit onto the glass of my smartphone. …
Eventually, my right thumb just stopped working. It could not muster the strength to press down on my phone. It was both numb and achy. And the pain that had started in my hand was now shooting down my arm. I had a problem, one I later learned was becoming common.
Suddenly, friends and co-workers all seemed to have similar stories about their thumbs, plus wrist braces I could borrow. And experts told me that although there is plenty of discussion about how teenagers are addicted to technology, adults are actually hit the hardest.”
– excerpt and gif (by Kimberly Salt) from ‘Me and My Numb Thumb: A Tale of Tech, Texts and Tendons’, Nellie Bowles, NYT, 19 May 2018

“Although we are connected technologically like never before there’s a definite feeling of loneliness.”

‘Social media has poisoned young people’: Joe, 24, self-employed, East Midlands
“The whole text generation has taken a lot of character out of young people’s communication and left a lot of them strangers to themselves. The influence of social media has poisoned the generations that have only ever known that life too.”

‘Every single stupid decision is forever saved online’: Theo, 17, student, Kent
“People say we are lucky to have phones and all this technology when in reality it’s having a negative effect. People can’t make mistakes anymore because it will always come back to haunt them; every single stupid decision is forever saved online which makes growing up harder as you have learn and grow from these embarrassing things.”

‘There’s a definite feeling of loneliness’: Harry, 21, student, Reading
“Although we are connected technologically like never before there’s a definite feeling of loneliness. I think much of this stems from a lack of community. The loneliness, constant competition and the feeling of not being listened to or taken advantage of takes a toll. I think we need a change in what we value as a society. Instead of focusing so much on what we produce we should instead look at what actually matters in life.”

– image and excerpts from ‘Social media has poisoned us’: young Britons on why they are unhappy, Rachel Obordo and Guardian readers, The Guardian, 9 April 2018

“Nobody’s looking at each other. Everybody’s glued to their phones.”


“In the 60s and 70s you could look at my street photographs and trace lines from the eyes of people connecting with other people’s eyes, setting up these force fields. ”
Today, what entranced Joel Meyerowitz about the street is all but dead. “Nobody’s looking at each other. Everybody’s glued to their phones.”
– from ‘Photography legend Joel Meyerowitz: phones killed the sexiness of the street’, Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, 7 Mar 2018

“We are bombarded with a technology that has been used to serve lies and post-truths and which could become deeply destructive, corrupting civilization, progress and democratic truth.” – Mario Vargas Llosa


“What we’ve got is a technological revolution that is perverting the course of democracy rather than strengthening it. It’s technology that could be used for different ends but which the enemies of democracy and freedom are using for their own ends. It’s a reality we need to face up to but unfortunately I believe we still have very limited means of doing so. We are bombarded with a technology that has been used to serve lies and post-truths and which could become, if we don’t rein in the phenomenon, deeply destructive, corrupting civilization, progress and democratic truth.”
– Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Literature prize laureate, 2010), in interview with Maite Rico, El Pais, 2 Mar 2018

Social Media, Dopamine, & Habit – “Products Laced With Hijacking Techniques”

“Even a year or two before the scene about persuasive tech grew up, dopamine was a molecule that had a certain edge and sexiness to it in the cultural zeitgeist,” explains Ramsay Brown, the 28-year-old cofounder of Dopamine Labs, a controversial California startup that promises to significantly increase the rate at which people use any running, diet or game app. “It is the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll molecule. While there are many important and fascinating questions that sit at the base of this molecule, when you say ‘dopamine’, people’s ears prick up in a way they don’t when you say ‘encephalin’ or ‘glutamate’. It’s the known fun transmitter.”

Fun, perhaps, but as with Kardashian, dopamine’s press is not entirely favourable. In a 2017 article titled “How evil is tech?”, the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops’.” Most social media sites create irregularly timed rewards, Brooks wrote, a technique long employed by the makers of slot machines, based on the work of the American psychologist BF Skinner, who found that the strongest way to reinforce a learned behaviour in rats is to reward it on a random schedule. “When a gambler feels favoured by luck, dopamine is released,” says Natasha Schüll, a professor at New York University and author of Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. This is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.

Randomness is at the heart of Dopamine Labs’ service, a system that can be implemented into any app designed to build habitual behaviour. In a running app, for example, this means only issuing encouragement – a high-five badge, or a shower of digital confetti – at random intervals, rather than every time the user completes a run. “When you finish a run, the app communicates with our system and asks whether it would be surprising to him if we congratulated him a little more enthusiastically,” explains Brown. Dopamine Labs’ proprietary AI uses machine learning to tailor the schedule of rewards to an individual. “It might say: actually, right now he’d see it coming, so don’t give it to him now. Or it might say: GO!”

While the sell seems preposterously flimsy (with a slot machine, for example, at least the random reward is money, a much more compelling prize than any digital badge), Brown says that the running app company has seen significant positive results. “If you do this properly, we see an average 30% improvement in the frequency of how often a person goes for a run.” Dopamine Labs, which currently has 10 clients, has seen similar positive results with many other kinds of app. In one dieting service, which encourages people to track the food they eat, the company saw an 11% increase in food-tracking after integrating Dopamine Labs’ system. A microloan service saw a 14% improvement in how frequently people would pay back their loans on time or early. “An anti-cyberbullying app saw a 167% improvement in how often young people sent encouraging messages to one another by controlling when and how often and when we sent them an animated gif reward,” claims Brown.

The capacity for so-called “persuasive technology” to influence behaviour in this way is only just becoming understood, but the power of the dopamine system to alter habits is already familiar to drug addicts and smokers. Every habit-forming drug, from amphetamines to cocaine, from nicotine to alcohol, affects the dopamine system by dispersing many times more dopamine than usual. The use of these drugs overruns the neural pathways connecting the reward circuit to the prefrontal cortex, which helps people to tame impulses. The more an addict uses a drug, the harder it becomes to stop.

– illustration and excerpt from ‘Has dopamine got us hooked on tech?’, Simon Parkin, The Observer, 4 Mar 2018

Fighting Back : The Center for Humane Technology – “With smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.”

“A group of Silicon Valley technologists who were early employees at Facebook and Google, alarmed over the ill effects of social networks and smartphones, are banding together to challenge the companies they helped build.

The cohort is creating a union of concerned experts called the Center for Humane Technology. Along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, it also plans an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States.

The campaign, titled The Truth About Tech, will be funded with $7 million from Common Sense and capital raised by the Center for Humane Technology. Common Sense also has $50 million in donated media and airtime from partners including Comcast and DirecTV. It will be aimed at educating students, parents and teachers about the dangers of technology, including the depression that can come from heavy use of social media.

“We were on the inside,” said Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google who is heading the new group. “We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.”

The effect of technology, especially on younger minds, has become hotly debated in recent months. In January, two big Wall Street investors asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier to limit children’s use of iPhones and iPads. Pediatric and mental health experts called on Facebook last week to abandon a messaging service the company had introduced for children as young as 6. Parenting groups have also sounded the alarm about YouTube Kids, a product aimed at childrenthat sometimes features disturbing content.

“The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”
….

The new group also plans to begin lobbying for laws to curtail the power of big tech companies. It will initially focus on two pieces of legislation: a bill being introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would commission research on technology’s impact on children’s health, and a bill in California by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, which would prohibit the use of digital bots without identification.

Mr. McNamee said he had joined the Center for Humane Technology because he was horrified by what he had helped enable as an early Facebook investor.

“Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,” he said. “And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.”

– excerpts from ‘Early Facebook and Google employees form coalition to fight what they built’,Nellie Bowles, The New York Times, 3 Feb 2018 (via CNBC)

Professors Give Up On Classroom Smartphone Regulation – “In a meeting with a senior administrator, I was advised to drop the no-electronic devises in class policy”


climate_change adwh2833 • 19 days ago
You know, if I could keep students awake in class, or get them to spare me a minute from looking at their cell phones, I might actually worry about how I am influencing them. I think young people are a lot less fragile than everyone thinks.

professornot climate_change • 19 days ago
The second a student pulls out a phone in class, they’re counted absent. Fall asleep? You’re counted absent. 3 absences, 1/2 a letter grade lost. Tough but it works.

withnailandi professornot • 19 days ago
… I tried that with my classes, and one of my students screamed and complained from my chair to the dean to the provost and back. I got strictly forbidden to do that stuff.
Our hands are tied about the iPhone issue. It really stinks.

dgoss withnailandi • 14 days ago
… When I started teaching at university 20 years ago, I was told by the department head that he had my back. If it came to a dispute with students, he would go to bat for me in such cases as the one withnailandi mentioned. But about 10 years ago all of that changed. Since then, my department has had 3 different department heads, and all of them have made it clear that students are not to be confronted about anything. They must be kept happy.
I adopted the same policy of no electronics in class as professornot did a few years ago, counting as absent anyone who raised the screen on their laptop or pulled out a cell phone during discussions. The result was the lowest course evaluations in years, and a department that hauled me in and basically (politely) threatened me with being fired if it happened again. In a meeting with a senior administrator, I was advised to drop the no-electronic devises in class policy, even though I had made it plain to students that it only applied to discussion group sessions, not during lectures or any other part of the course.
But in this day of corporate universities, students must be appeased at every turn, including never raising a discouraging word in the classroom, or making them uncomfortable in any way.

raym5888 withnailandi • 15 days ago
Depressing but true. What I resent is students playing with their iphones when you are giving them safety instructions in the lab. If they swallow an earthworm or swallow the cane toad eggs or put one tube in the centrifuge or pour water into the conc H2SO4 what is your legal position?

– excerpts from exchanges in the comments section of ‘Higher Education Is Drowning in BS’, Christian Smith, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 Jan 2018

“We Are About Five Years Away From Never Having To Leave Our Homes Again”

“We are about five years away from never having to leave our homes again…
You don’t have to leave your home to buy…ANYTHING
You can sit on your couch and you can be.. like… I want bananas.. and I want hammers… and I want an eagle’s beak.. and then amazon’s like… it’s on your doorstep.. how about that? Isn’t that insane to you?… You don’t have to leave your home to see people… you
should, but you don’t have to… just hold up the same device, and be like “hi” (waves)… “bye” (waves)…”
– Tom Segura, comedian.
‘Tom Segura: Disgraceful’, Netflix.

An Excerpt From Sebald’s ‘Austerlitz’ – Inexorable Spread Of Processed Data; To Exclude The Reader; To Break With Everything That Still Has Some Living Connection To The Past


“As I was tormenting myself with such thoughts, distinctly aware, so Austerlitz continued, that my face was being marked by the signs of that anguish which so often assails me, I was approached by one of the library staff called Henri Lemoine, who had recognized me from those early years of mine in Paris when I went daily to the rue Richelieu. Jacques Austerlitz, inquired Lemoine, stopping by my desk and leaning slightly down to me, and so, said Austerlitz, we began a long, whispered conversation in the Haut-de-jardin reading room, which was gradually emptying now, about the dissolution, in line with the inexorable spread of processed data, of our capacity to remember, and about the collapse, l’effondrement, as Lemoine put it, of the Bibliothèque Nationale which is already under way. The new library building, which in both its entire layout and its near-ludicrous internal regulation seeks to exclude the reader as a potential enemy, might be described, so Lemoine thought, said Austerlitz, as the official manifestation of the increasingly importunate urge to break with everything which still has some living connection to the past.”

– excerpt from: W.G. Sebald. “Austerlitz.” 2001. p286, Vintage Canada, paperback edition

Lights On A Plane – “Every seat had a screen on it and almost every passenger had 1 or 2 other digital devices – like laptops, tablets or phones – running as well.”



“This was from a cross country flight after CES 2017 [the 2017 International Consumer Electronics Show]. The colorful glow is from many digital devices running all at once in a dimly lit cabin. Every seat had a screen on it and almost every passenger had 1 or 2 other digital devices running as well, like laptops and/or tablets and/or phones as well. I found it an interesting and beautiful byproduct of flying in the tech infused, 21st Century.”

– image and excerpt from “This was a popular photo of mine that I took last year. A plane I flew on had so many electronics on it that it created an interesting light effect on the walls.”, fantomknight1 at imgur, 1 Jan 2018

French Government To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools

The French government is to ban students from using mobile phones in the country’s primary, junior and middle schools. Children will be allowed to bring their phones to school, but not allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks.

A proposed ban was included in Emmanuel Macron’s successful presidential election campaign this year.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six – up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles.

“Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons … for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled,” he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a “public health message to families”, adding: “It’s good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven.”

The French headteachers’ union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced. “This new announcement from the [education] ministry leaves us dubious because we’re having trouble understanding what is the real issue here. In general, we’re used to them being logical and pragmatic about things, and here, we can’t find the logic or the pragmatism in the announcements,” said Philippe Vincent, the union’s deputy general secretary.

Outside one middle school in the centre of Paris, pupils asked about the measure seemed unimpressed. “I don’t understand how it will work. Who will take the phones, where will they put them … how will we get them back?” said one 13-year-old boy.

– excerpt and image from ‘France to ban mobile phones in schools from September’, Kim Willsher, The Guardian, 11 Dec 2017

“Tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”

A former Facebook executive has said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”, joining a growing chorus of critics of the social media giant.

Chamath Palihapitiya, who was vice-president for user growth at Facebook before he left the company in 2011, said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.” The remarks, which were made at a Stanford Business School event in November, were just surfaced by tech website the Verge on Monday.

“This is not about Russian ads,” he added. “This is a global problem … It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

Palihapitiya’s comments last month were made one day after Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, criticized the way that the company “exploit[s] a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a “social-validation feedback loop” during an interview at an Axios event.

Parker had said that he was “something of a conscientious objector” to using social media, a stance echoed by Palihapitaya who said that he was now hoping to use the money he made at Facebook to do good in the world.

“I can’t control them,” Palihapitaya said of his former employer. “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.”

He also called on his audience to “soul search” about their own relationship to social media. “Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he said. “It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re going to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.”

– excerpt from ‘Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart’, Julia Carrie Wong, The Guardian, 12 Dec 2017

Three Choices If You Want To Use The Technology: 1. Delete Your Social Media Accounts, 2. Learn How They Work, or 3. Become A Drone.

“People have to take responsibility to become literate in a new way, if they’re going to use the technology at all. If you just can’t find it in yourself to delete all your social media accounts, then you must take it upon yourself to really learn how it works… learn how the addiction cycle works, learn how the manipulation works, become more aware of it. If you can’t make one of those two choices then you’re becoming a drone, and you’re not fully functioning as a citizen in the new world.”

– Jaron Lanier, ‘digital visionary’, on ‘The Future of Our Digital Lives’, Intelligence Squared podcast (21:00), 17 Nov 2017

Dysconnected, the Show

We are pleased to announce the upcoming ‘Dysconnected’ gallery show, featuring 64 pen & ink drawings from the ‘Dysconnected’ series.

Please join us for the opening:

When: Wednesday 15th November, 2017, from 6:30pm onwards.

Where: hfa contemporary gallery, 320 – 1000 Parker Street, Vancouver BC
[map]

Come and have a glass of wine and take a look at the work.

If you can’t make the opening, see the show at the same time as the East Side Culture Crawl (16 Nov – 19 Nov 2017), or later (by arrangement with the gallery).

Is Technology Causing Us To Retreat From The Truth?


Advertising hoardings in Piccadilly Circus, which will soon ‘shape-shift’, depending on who is viewing them. The appearance of a famous landmark will be different according to who you are.

“Loads of the data our ocular nerves are getting hold of these days comes via various screens which are themselves imperfectly connected to, and flawed reflections of, the things that are really happening. So I totally accept that no one actually knows anything and, for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as objective truth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth searching for… For millennia it’s been a sort of given that humans are always, in various ways, trying to work out what’s up….

Then last week I suddenly felt like we might be giving up the struggle. The new electric hoarding at Piccadilly Circus is going to have targeted advertising. There are hidden cameras within it that can apparently identify the age of passers-by or what make of car they’re driving and will change the sign’s marketing messages accordingly. This has been happening online for some time, but now it’s moving off the computer screen on to a tennis court-sized expanse of iconic central London wall. The wall will also offer localised wifi with which people will be encouraged to interact so their experience of that part of town can be further personalised.
Essentially, then, the appearance of a famous landmark will be different according to who you are. There will be no “true” version. The writing on the wall will be different for you than it is for someone else. Reality will be warped by subjectivity before it even hits the optic nerve….

But at least we’re all looking at the same world. For now. More or less. We can agree on the theoretical existence somewhere of a definitive truth. Are we still up for seeking that truth or are we happy to compound our own subjectivity by being ever more protected from views we oppose and only exposed to advertising designed exclusively for our particular tribe? It’s ironic that the advent of a technology facilitating unprecedented communication and understanding of the paradoxes and complexity of global events, and of billions of people’s reactions to them, is causing us to retreat from such knowledge.”

– from ‘The trouble with getting lost in your own world’, David Mitchell, The Guardian 22 Oct 2017

Further in this vein: facial expression in photos can now be manipulated.

The Selfie Is More Important Than The Experience


“When the whale breached right behind him, Gage quickly turned and flashed a smile for the camera… Brian Gage, Dawson’s dad, said his son was over the moon after seeing the breach… they see whales all the time in the area in late August and through September, but rarely do they get to watch a full breach.

– from CBC, 5 Oct 2017

Actually (see the video), the whale breached right in front of him, but he turned for the photo.

“Look at people on their phones. The machines have already won.”

CAMERON: Technology has always scared me, and it’s always seduced me. People ask me: “Will the machines ever win against humanity?” I say: “Look around in any airport or restaurant and see how many people are on their phones. The machines have already won.” It’s just [that] they’ve won in a different way. We are co-evolving with our technology. We’re merging. The technology is becoming a mirror to us as we start to build humanoid robots and as we start to seriously build AGI — general intelligence — that’s our equal. Some of the top scientists in artificial intelligence say that’s 10 to 30 years from now. We need to get the damn movies done before that actually happens! And when you talk to these guys, they remind me a lot of that excited optimism that nuclear scientists had in the ’30s and ’40s when they were thinking about how they could power the world. And taking zero responsibility for the idea that it would instantly be weaponized. The first manifestation of nuclear power on our planet was the destruction of two cities and hundreds of thousands of people. So the idea that it can’t happen now is not the case. It can happen, and it may even happen.

MILLER: Jim is a more positive guy [than I am] in the present and more cynical about the future. I know Hawking and Musk think we can put some roadblocks in there. I’m not so sure we can. I can’t imagine what a truly artificial intelligence will make of us. Jim’s brought some experts in to talk to us, and it’s really interesting to hear their perspective. Generally, they’re scared as shit, which makes me scared.

CAMERON: One of the scientists we just met with recently, she said: “I used to be really, really optimistic, but now I’m just scared.” Her position on it is probably that we can’t control this. It has more to do with human nature. Putin recently said that the nation that perfects AI will dominate or conquer the world. So that pretty much sets the stage for “We wouldn’t have done it, but now those guys are doing it, so now we have to do it and beat them to the punch.” So now everybody’s got the justification to essentially weaponize AI. I think you can draw your own conclusions from that.

– from a discussion between James Cameron and Deadpool director Tim Miller, by Matthew Belloni & Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter, 27 Sep 2017

“In The Privacy Of My Heart And Mind” – Zadie Smith says using social media would threaten her writing


Zadie Smith has spoken of how staying away from social media gives her “the right to be wrong” without fearing other people’s reactions, saying that if she knew readers’ reactions to her work, she wouldn’t be able to write.

At a live event with the New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino in New York, the British novelist said: “Because I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Instagram, I’m not on the internet, I never hear people shouting at me.”

Giving her analysis of how discussions play out on social media, Smith said: “I have seen on Twitter, I’ve seen it at a distance, people have a feeling at 9am quite strongly, and then by 11 have been shouted out of it and can have a completely opposite feeling four hours later. That part, I find really unfortunate.

“I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it,” she said, according to a report of the event by the Huffington Post.

The award-winning author of novels including White Teeth and Swing Time is not the only writer to stay away from social media. Jonathan Franzen has made clear in the past his feelings on the issue, while Salman Rushdie recently quit Twitter, telling the Guardian: “I began to really dislike the tone of voice of Twitter. This kind of snarky, discourteous, increasingly aggressive tone of voice. I just thought, ‘I don’t like this.’ These people would not speak like this if they were sitting in a room with you. I had planned to stop earlier and then it was the election campaign and I got into it, and the last thing I tweeted was this pathetic tweet, having just voted: “Looking forward to President Hillary” … after which total silence. And I thought, just stop, and I did and I haven’t missed it for one second.”

– image and excerpt from ‘Zadie Smith says using social media would threaten her writing’, Alison Flood, The Guardian, 21 Sep 2017

“I fear your next iPhone will make things worse”

“…I have been wondering whether all those little black rectangles – with their alerts, updates, atrocious battery life and absurd centrality to everyday life – might be more trouble than they’re worth. Given that the fundamental challenges of mobile telephony, email, good-quality photographs and GPS navigation have been solved, are the developers and engineers now in the realm of innovation for innovation’s sake, even as they claim that their latest leaps might take us all to new heights of enlightenment and “functionality”? We know what it’s all about, surely: the eternal tendency of a certain kind of clever person to sell the rest of us things we don’t really need, and the way today’s great leap forward can easily become tomorrow’s yawn.

In that sense, the hype of Tuesday’s iPhone X launch put me in mind not of the hippy dreams conjured by the Beatles, but the Smiths, and a line from their anti-consumerist anthem Shoplifters of the World Unite, which might resonate with an increasingly large army of Apple users: “I was bored before I even began.”

– from ‘Life’s complex enough. I fear your next iPhone will make things worse’, John Harris, The Guardian, 14 Sep 2017

Making ‘Distracted Walking’ A Crime

Texting or even talking on an electronic device [while walking] may soon be illegal in Stamford, Connecticut, if a proposal to outlaw ‘distracted walking’ is approved.
“They’re oblivious to cars,” Stamford City representative, John Zelinsky said.
Zelinsky said the Pedestrian Safety Ordinance is modeled after one approved in Honolulu late last month, and would carry a $30 fine if police catch you in the act.
“I don’t want any more injuries or deaths as a result of pedestrians getting hit. We’ve had about four or five within the past three or four years,” he said.

– from ‘Stamford Officials Eye Legislation That Would Outlaw ‘Distracted Walking’, CBSNewYork, 16 Aug 2017

Selfies That Tell The Truth – Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman, the American photographer, has been capturing images of herself since the 1970’s.
Her most recent series of images are manipulated ‘selfies’, shared via her instagram account, and despite the filters and the distortions, are striking for the truths they reveal.

– from ‘Cindy Sherman’s Instagram Account Goes Public, Revealing 600 New Photos & Many Strange Self-Portraits’, Open Culture, 4 Aug 2017

Man Stuck In Trash Chute After Lunging For Dropped Cellphone


A Washington man lunging for his dropped cellphone found himself stuck in a unique place early Sunday morning: his apartment building’s trash chute.
The man, who was able to use his phone to call police from within the chute around 3 a.m., stood atop a pile of trash as firefighters discussed the best way to remove him, said Vito Maggiolo, a D.C. fire department spokesman.
Firefighters used a hose to pump fresh air into the chute in an apartment building in the 700 block of Seventh Street, near Verizon Center, video from the department shows.
After about an hour, firefighters used a harness to pull the man out. The man, whose identity was not released, had no injuries from the incident.

– excerpt and image from ‘D.C. firefighters rescue man stuck in trash chute’, Rachel Chason, Washington Post, 23 July 2017

No Cellphones At My Concert, Thanks…

A newish and very welcome trend.
This sign from the Bob Dylan concert in Vancouver, 25 July 2017.
Whether being used for taking photos or videos, or used to relay pictures or thoughts via social media, cellphones can cripple live performances. They distract the user, those around the user, and the performers. Bono of U2 has referred to how mobile devices interfere with the ‘shared experience’ that a crowd has of being at a concert, and we think he has an excellent point.

Marshall McLuhan Predicts That Electronic Media Will Displace the Book & Create Sweeping Changes in Our Everyday Lives (1960)



“McLuhan, one of the most idiosyncratic and wide-ranging thinkers of the twentieth century, would go on to become world famous (to the point of making a cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) as a prophetic media theorist. He saw clearer than many how the introduction of mass media like radio and television had changed us, and spoke with more confidence than most about how the media to come would change us. He understood what he understood about these processes in no small part because he’d learned their history, going all the way back to the development of writing itself.


Though McLuhan died in 1980, long before the appearance of the modern internet, many of his readers have seen recent technological developments validate his notion of the global village — and his view of its perils as well as its benefits — more and more with time. At this point in history, mankind can seem less united than ever than ever, possibly because technology now allows us to join any number of global “tribes.” But don’t we feel more pressure than ever to know just what those tribes know and feel just what they feel?”

– excerpts from ‘Marshall McLuhan Predicts That Electronic Media Will Displace the Book & Create Sweeping Changes in Our Everyday Lives (1960)’, Colin Marshall, Open Culture 24 July 2017

“Just You In Your Body” – ‘Before The Internet’, Emma Rathbone, The New Yorker


image by Luci Guterrez, The New Yorker

“Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being.”

“You’d be in some kind of arts center, wearing roomy overalls, looking at a tray of precious gems, and you’d say, “That’s cat’s-eye,” and your friend would say, “Nope. That’s opal.” And you’d say, “That’s definitely cat’s-eye.” And there would be no way to look it up, no way to prove who was right, except if someone had a little booklet. “Anyone got a little booklet?” you’d ask, looking around. “Is there a booklet on this shit?”

“Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight.”

“Before the Internet, you could move to a new state and no one at school would know anything about you. You’d have no online history. You could be anyone. You would lean against the lockers with a faraway expression on your face and let people assume whatever they wanted. …

Before the Internet, you could laze around on a park bench in Chicago reading some Dean Koontz, and that would be a legit thing to do and no one would ever know you had done it unless you told them.

Before the Internet, if you were in need of some facts you might actually decide to consult an old person, like the one living in your finished basement. But then you’d find yourself watching “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” which you agreed to do because the old person asked in such a fragile way that you couldn’t say no.

– excerpts from ‘Before The Internet’, by Emma Rathbone, The New Yorker, 26 June 2017

“Phubbing” – Snubbing By Using Your Phone In Company

“Coined about 5 years ago, phubbing is an obvious mash up of phone + snubbing, and it refers to the nonverbal insult we transmit when our eyes drop and we must text or scroll through (insert most addictive app here) updates despite being in polite company. At its worst, it happens mid-conversation with dialogue halted by status-dropping silence and direct questions answered by a mute display of our scalps. Irony lovers will appreciate that the silent message sent to the people or person with us screams something along the lines of: “sorry guys, I really want to hear about your baby but I need to heart these Instagram Poke Bowls.”
“That’s not fair!” you say without looking up from your phone, “I have work texts and emails to tend to”. Yup, you do. And, to be fair, technological advancements of the last 15 years have introduced legitimate “phone addiction” to our lexicon along with “phubbing”, it’s most blatant symptom. But, addicted or productive, you’re still broadcasting the message that your friend/lover/grandma isn’t as important (or as interesting) as your device is in that moment.

Most absorbed by phubbing’s addictive allure? Predictably, it’s young people. Few generations have taken to technology like millennials but even within that demographic, one sub group is much more prone to behavioural dependence on devices: extroverted women.

A recent study done at Baylor University exploring smartphone use in couples found that almost half of those surveyed reported way too much phubbing during quality time. Partners who phubbed or were phubbed upon regularly admitted to a marked dissatisfaction with their relationship and an increase in depressive feelings.

– from “Phubbing” is the rudest of all phone behaviour. Are you guilty of it?, CBC Life, 15 June 2017

Cartoons More Persuasive Than Photographs?

A new study suggests if you’re trying to convince the public to change their stance on a topic such as wind energy, you may be more successful if you use a cartoon rather than a photograph.

“Photographs were shown to be more credible, but cartoons were more likely to change behavior,” says U of I agricultural communications professor Lulu Rodriguez who led the study. “A cartoon grabs people’s attention long enough to deliver the message. That’s what you need in today’s message-heavy atmosphere. Why not use a tool that has proven ability to cut through the others and inform people in a way that actually works?”

In the study, participants were shown one of two versions of the same set of brochures. Each set was designed to debunk a myth about wind energy, the intent being to give readers scientific information about wind energy and assuage their fears. Each pair of brochures was identical in design, text, color, size, etc. The only difference was that the originally designed brochures featured a beautiful, professional photograph of wind turbines, while the look-alike brochures created for the study swapped out the photograph with a cartoon.

“You have to spend more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation,” Rodriguez says. “People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humor and people work hard at figuring out the punch line. The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long.”

Interestingly, the respondents said the content was better in the cartoon brochures (even though the text was identical), but the credibility was lower than the brochures using photographs.

“It may be because of the more light-hearted approach of cartoons,” Rodriquez says. “Cartoons make a topic like wind energy, which may be a bit scary to people, more accessible. But this notion of credibility is a different issue. We teach students to be conversational in writing. Don’t put on your ‘tuxedo’ language. And yet, people associate big words with credibility.”

The article, “The impact of comics on knowledge, attitude and behavioural intentions related to wind energy,” is published in an issue of the Journal of Visual Literacy.

– from ‘Photos more credible, cartoons more persuasive, study shows’, Science Daily, 11 May 2017

Eggs Are Being Laid In The Temple Of Your Mind – Ads Targeted To You Based On Images You Post On Social Media

Many marketing experts are touting ads that are targeted to you based on the images you post on social media as the next big thing in advertising.
In her anticipated annual trends report, technology forecaster Mary Meeker noted that just as Google uses Adwords to deliver users ads based on what they type, companies such as Snap are now seeing success with ads based on what images users share.
For instance, if you post images from a beach vacation, you might be targeted with advertisements for bathing suits. If you post photos of your kitchen renovation, you might see ads for new appliances.
As image recognition continues to advance, new apps that utilize your smartphone’s camera will only propel this trend forward, by being able to recognize what you’re looking at and pair you with the most relevant ads, no searching necessary.

In the not-too-distant future, companies clamouring to sell us their wares won’t even need ads — or rather, we won’t notice them, because everything we interact with using our smartphone cameras will be selling us something, and often times, available for purchase with one simple tap or click.

Ads as we know them could soon be a thing of the past — but advertisers could very well end up selling us more stuff than ever.
– from ‘The end of online ads is probably coming, but it’s not what you think’, Ramona Pringle, CBC News, 10 Jun 2017

All part of a steady stream of frighteningly intrusive developments that are occurring under the radar of the vast majority of mobile device users.
There are such massive profits to be made from successful marketing, and there are no financial incentives for any forces of resistance. Thus, given human nature, there is almost no related public debate, and the changes will steamroll ahead.
The best a consumer can do is to remain as mindful as possible of what it is they are consuming. Especially what they are unconsciously consuming. See the challenge?
– AS

“Your mind is your temple, keep it beautiful and free. Don’t let an egg get laid in it by something you can’t see.” [Bob Dylan, ‘T.V. Talkin’ Song (1990)]

One In Five Youth Wake Up In Middle Of Night To Check Messages

Our addictive feeds of fitness models, exotic travel, and photo-perfect moments don’t often match with our comparatively humdrum and badly lit lives. The discontent caused by that disconnect is enough that a growing body of research suggests social media is contributing to mental-health problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and body-image issues in young people, who are the heaviest users of social media.
Instagram, which now has 700 million users globally, appears to be the social network having the greatest negative effect, according to a new report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity focused on health education.
The report combines previously published research on the health impacts of social media with its own UK-wide survey of nearly 1,500 people between the ages of 14-24. To discover how respondents felt different social networks—Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter—affected their health, both positively and negatively, it asked them about their feelings of anxiety, connection to a community, sense of identity, sleep, body image, and more.


…recent research published in the Journal of Youth Studies found that one in five young people say they wake up during the night to check messages, causing them to feel exhausted during the day.

– excerpts and image from ‘Instagram is the most harmful social network for your mental health’, Marc Bain, Quartz 22 may 2017

Cabal Is Not Too Strong A Word – “Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook are running our lives”

“Let’s say you woke up this morning and after stopping your alarm clock, asked it to play some get-up-and-go music. You go to make breakfast and see that you’re out of butter, but it doesn’t matter, because a delivery is on its way. On your commute, you catch up with friends from back home. You turn to news across the Atlantic, read an interesting article on Trump. You go to a new spot for lunch and pay using your phone – and also for the train, and then for the last stretch, a cab. Once home, dinner is by app, and you settle down to watch the latest TV show, except, it’s not actually shown on a TV.
It’s possible that this entire day is delineated by a handful of technology companies. Google Home wakes you up in the morning and later, Google recommends a lunch spot – it even gives you live information on how busy it is. It is partly responsible for your cab home, as Google is an investor in Uber. You checked in with friends on Facebook on that morning commute (you might have also used the Facebook “check-in” feature at your lunch spot). The Trump piece you read is courtesy of the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon. Amazon is also responsible for recognising that your fridge is out of butter, and the TV show you watch? Even if you are watching Netflix and not Amazon Prime, Netflix would not exist without Amazon, as Amazon owns the web cloud services its rival uses. With an 18% share of the smartphone market, it’s likely the apps you use are running on an iPhone. No? Well, maybe you have an Android device – owned by Google.
Cabal is not too strong a word.”

– excerpt and image from ‘Wake up! Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook are running our lives’, Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, 12 May 2017

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

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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

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George Ryga [image from bcbookawards.ca]

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.”

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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, BBC.com, 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 dysconnected.com, amazon.com 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

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“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’

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“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 Deseat.me, 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

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“..one 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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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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”….

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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


Appendix:
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 bobdylan.com) 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.

dysconnected.com

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.”

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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…”

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“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) gmail.com

dysconnected.com

*UPDATE:
Comments made by Dylan in a Q&A with Bill Flanagan, posted 22 Mar 2017 at bobdylan.com, 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