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

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

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

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

Watch video of discussion HERE

US University Students Send HUNDREDS of Texts PER DAY

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

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

– from Science Digest, 17 Aug 2016

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

‘Curiously Grotesque Images’ – Selfies With Celebrities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Illustration Carmen Segovia; WSJ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Positive Effects Of Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddling 1800 km To Get Away From iPads

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


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


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

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

Walking Under The Influence Of Texting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was more correct, Alvin Toffler or Shel Israel ?

Pen and Ink and Dysconnected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Devotion (from the ‘Dysconnected’ series)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Transient Smartphone Blindness’ After Checking Phones In The Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Hands Artwork Moved Because ‘Bumped Into By Texters’

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

– excerpt and image from BBC UK, 19 Feb 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further quotes from the article:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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see: http://dysconnected.com

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to DYSCONNECTED, the Blog

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Hi! Welcome to ‘Dysconnected’, the Blog.

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

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

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