mfioretti: digital life*

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  1. Children who are cyberbullied are three times more likely to contemplate suicide, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014. With such facts and figures, who could argue that there’s something to worry about. Throw in the increased unease within big technology companies such as Facebook about the corrosive effects of rumor and fake news in its feeds, and among executives such as former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya that they’ve unleashed a potentially destructive force, and the argument would seem airtight.

    Except that it’s not. Widespread parental apprehension combined with studies lasting only a few years, with few data points, and few controls do not make an unequivocal case. Is there, for instance, a control group of teens who spent an equivalent amount of time watching TV in the 70s or playing arcade video games in the 80s or in internet chat rooms in the 90s? There is not. We may fear the effects of the smartphone, but it would seem that we fear massive uncertainty about the effects of the smartphone at least as much.

    Any new technology whose effects are unknown bears careful study, but that study should start with a blank slate and an open mind. The question should not be framed by what harm these devices and technologies cause but rather by an open-ended question about their long-term effects.

    Take the frequently cited link between isolation, cyber-bullying, depression and suicide. Yes, suicide rates in the U.S. have been on the rise, but that has been true since the early 1990s, and prevalence is highest among middle-aged men, who are most disrupted by the changing nature and demographics of employment but are not the teens spending so many hours glued to their devices. Cyber-bullying is an issue, but no one kept rigorous data about physical and psychological bullying in the 20th century, so it’s impossible to know if the rate and effects of bullying have grown or diminished in a cyber age. As for depression, there too, no one looked at the syndrome until late in the 20th century, and it remains a very fuzzy term when used in mainstream surveys. It’s impossible to say with any certainty what the effects of technology and depression are, especially without considering other factors such as income, diet, age, and family circumstances.

    Some might say that until we know more, it’s prudent, especially with children, to err on the side of caution and concern. There certainly are risks. Maybe we’re rewiring our brains for the worse; maybe we’re creating a generation of detached drones. But there also may be benefits of the technology that we can’t (yet) measure.

    Consider even an anodyne prescription such as “everything in moderation.” Information is not like drugs or alcohol; its effects are neither simple nor straightforward. As a society, we still don’t strike the right balance between risk and reward for those substances. It will be a long time before we fully grapple with the pros and cons of smartphone technology.
    https://www.wired.com/story/demonized...logical-scapegoat?mbid=social_twitter
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  2. I do believe that this time is different, the beginning of a massive shift, and I believe it’s the fault of these social networks.

    One of the problems is that these platforms act, in many ways, like drugs. Facebook, and every other social-media outlet, knows that all too well. Your phone vibrates a dozen times an hour with alerts about likes and comments and retweets and faves. The combined effect is one of just trying to suck you back in, so their numbers look better for their next quarterly earnings report. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s earliest investors and the company’s first president, came right out and said what we all know: the whole intention of Facebook is to act like a drug, by “ giving » you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.” That, Parker said, was by design. These companies are “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has echoed this, too. “Do I feel guilty?” he asked rhetorically on CNN about the role Facebook is playing in society. “Absolutely I feel guilt.”

    And then, there’s the biggest reason why people are abandoning the platforms: the promise of connection has turned out to be a reality of division. We’ve all watched the way Donald J. Trump used social media to drive a wedge between us all, the way he tweets his sad and pathetic insecurities out to the world, without a care for how calling an equally insecure rogue leader a childish name might put us all on the brink of nuclear war. There’s a point that watching it all happen in real time makes you question what you’re doing with your life. As for conversing with our fellow Americans, we’ve all tried, unsuccessfully, to have a conversation on these platforms, which has so quickly devolved into a shouting match, or pile-on from perfect strangers because your belief isn’t the same as theirs. Years ago, a Facebook executive told me that the biggest reason people unfriend each other is because they disagree on an issue. The executive jokingly said, “Who knows, if this keeps up, maybe we’ll end up with people only having a few friends on Facebook.” Perhaps, worse of all, we’ve all watched as Russia has taken these platforms and used them against us in ways no one could have comprehended a decade ago.
    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/...-social-era-twitter-facebook-snapchat
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  3. At first, the Internet seemed to push against this trend. When it emerged towards the end of the 80s as a purely text-based medium, it was seen as a tool to pursue knowledge, not pleasure. Reason and thought were most valued in this garden—all derived from the project of Enlightenment. Universities around the world were among the first to connect to this new medium, which hosted discussion groups, informative personal or group blogs, electronic magazines, and academic mailing lists and forums. It was an intellectual project, not about commerce or control, created in a scientific research center in Switzerland.

    Wikipedia was a fruit of this garden. So was Google search and its text-based advertising model. And so were blogs, which valued text, hypertext (links), knowledge, and literature. They effectively democratized the ability to contribute to the global corpus of knowledge. For more than a decade, the web created an alternative space that threatened television’s grip on society.

    Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

    It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.

    Now the challenge is to save Wikipedia and its promise of a free and open collection of all human knowledge amid the conquest of new and old television—how to collect and preserve knowledge when nobody cares to know. Television has even infected Wikipedia itself—today many of the most popular entries tend to revolve around television series or their cast.

    This doesn’t mean it is time to give up. But we need to understand that the decline of the web and thereby of the Wikipedia is part of a much larger civilizational shift which has just started to unfold.
    https://www.wired.com/story/wikipedia...shows-how-the-web-endangers-knowledge
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  4. some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

    Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.

    Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

    Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

    Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.

    The medium didn't matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).

    But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

    If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they're reading, there's no benefit in selecting one medium over another.

    But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students' judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/studen...-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10?IR=T
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-19)
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  5. It has been ten years since a turtle-necked Steve Jobs first held up a now ubiquitous white object exclaiming that it was a music player, a cell phone, and an internet communicator all in one. Charmingly — and uncharacteristically — shortsighted about his hopes for the device, Jobs was most effusive about how easily the iPhone would allow people to talk to one another.

    Flash forward to the present, 2017. When people say they’ve talked to someone, they rarely mean in person. And they almost never mean on the phone. An anecdote derived from having “spoken” with somebody is usually accompanied by a fluttering of fingers to indicate that the conversation was carried out over text. Or Facebook messenger. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. When is the last time you saw someone extend their pinky toward their chin and their thumb to the right eardrum in the ancient sign for “phone?”

    We can’t get much more cell-phone addicted than we are now. With few exceptions, we use our cell phones to tell us what to eat, whether or not our bodies need more sleep or exercise (yes, both), how to get where we are going…we even trust the secret guru buried inside of our SMS cards to tell us who to date. And with the progress being made in virtual reality, we can use our phones to have sex.

    The tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s unveiling came flanked with frantic articles about what could possibly come next — what could be around the corner when our smartphones already accomplish so damn much? Google Glass was superfluous and smartwatches a bit desperate, and as for everyone signing up for nanobot implants to be permanently connected to the Internet, thankfully, we’re not there yet.

    In a new book I have coming out, called Touch, a noted trend forecaster is tasked with answering just this question for a major tech company: what’s up next, in tech? Her answer is a disappointing one in respect to her employer’s bottom line. She’s convinced the world is on the threshold of a resurgence in face-to-face interactions that don’t require any technology at all.

    This premise is one that’s near and dear to my Luddite heart, but it’s also one that the former trend forecaster in me firmly believes. You see, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I worked as a consultant for boutique trend forecasting agencies, most of them in France. In an industry that prizes intuition, no one sits you down and tells you how to spot trends, but it only takes scrutinizing the past year’s “Best-Of” listicles to learn that trend forecasting, on a basic level, is a game of opposites and apexes. Take literature, for example: If 2015 was big in bleak dystopians, you can probably count on seeing the return of epic family sagas that pack a lot of hope. If the seven figure advances were going to the doorstoppers last year, next year, they’ll go to the novels that end at forty-thousand words.

    This see-saw pattern can hold true in tech, too. The key is to look for peaks and saturation points. Sophisticated entertainment systems and MP3 players paved the way for the return of the vinyl record. The seeming futility of smartphones (which were so instrumental in electing Obama) to prevent a nation from needling toward The Orange One led many of the disillusioned to leave the echo chambers of social media for the brick and mortar streets.

    It would seem we’ve reached an apex in mobile phones as well, which is an exciting place to be. 2016 was the first time that Apple’s sales for cell phones waned. The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t have much more to offer, in terms of versioning, than the iPhone 7, or, for that matter, the 6S or the SE. Plus, in the wake of an unforeseen election helmed by a hatemonger who’s physically incapable of putting down his phone, it’s really not that cool to be addicted to your cell. So yes. Indeed, the question begs. What in the world is next?

    I haven’t donned my trend forecaster fascinator in years now — its feathers are ragged, the beads have fallen off. A mother to a three year-old, I mostly use my intuition to divine whether or not my toddler is going to pee her pants. But I haven’t been out of the game so long that I can’t spot something around the corner: I think we’re about to see the rise of slow communication, heralded by the return of the dumb phone.

    I think we’re about to see the rise of slow communication, heralded by the return of the dumb phone.

    Because, let’s face it — sure, maybe the aesthete literary critic who roasts his own espresso beans has the time and willpower to flat out cancel his cell phone contract, but most of us do not have such bravura. What many of us do have, however, is the desire to maintain a healthier balance with our cell phones, which, weirdly, I think is going to be accomplished by the trend setters purchasing a secondary phone — a dumb phone — that only calls or texts.

    Just as smokers sometimes suck on straws or alcoholics survive cocktail parties with a death-grip on their seltzer, cell phone addicts need a replacement habit, too. But in order to top the fathomless bright connectivity of our touch-screens, it’s gonna have to be something super cool. And as hipsters on one-speeds the world over have proven, what’s cooler than something kind of ugly that doesn’t really work?

    Sure, Jasper Morrison has had a very sleek and overpriced dumb phone on the market, sitting stagnantly, for years, but I’m nevertheless convinced that secondary cell phones are about to trend. New-to-the-market The Light Phone is out to make the telecommunications downgrade easier with slim-as-hotel-card companion phones that let you keep your own phone number. Light Phones necessitate that their early-adopters go cold turkey on digital communication. At the time of writing, they can take calls, but they can’t text. The idea of changing our communication patterns so drastically is both overwhelming, and immensely appealing. With it becoming all too easy to know what others are thinking and doing at all times, (and eating, and wearing, and even evacuating in the case of certain over-sharers), it could become the height of sophistication to be unfindable again. Aspirational, even, to literally get lost because your dumb phone doesn’t have a GPS.

    It will also be a status symbol, a way to instantly communicate to others that you’re digitally detoxing. Likewise, secondary dumb phones can be used to accord a certain hierarchy to relationships: imagine what it signals to a potential partner if you show up with a dumb phone on a first date. Leaving your smartphone behind tells the people you’re engaging with that they’re worth being fully present for.
    https://electricliterature.com/is-slo...communication-the-future-900fa7e415d4
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  6. notification technology also enabled a hundred unsolicited interruptions into millions of lives, accelerating the arms race for people’s attention. Santamaria, 36, who now runs a startup after a stint as the head of mobile at Airbnb, says the technology he developed at Apple was not “inherently good or bad”. “This is a larger discussion for society,” he says. “Is it OK to shut off my phone when I leave work? Is it OK if I don’t get right back to you? Is it OK that I’m not ‘liking’ everything that goes through my Instagram screen?”
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    His then colleague, Marcellino, agrees. “Honestly, at no point was I sitting there thinking: let’s hook people,” he says. “It was all about the positives: these apps connect people, they have all these uses – ESPN telling you the game has ended, or WhatsApp giving you a message for free from your family member in Iran who doesn’t have a message plan.”

    A few years ago Marcellino, 33, left the Bay Area, and is now in the final stages of retraining to be a neurosurgeon. He stresses he is no expert on addiction, but says he has picked up enough in his medical training to know that technologies can affect the same neurological pathways as gambling and drug use. “These are the same circuits that make people seek out food, comfort, heat, sex,” he says.

    All of it, he says, is reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways. He sometimes finds himself clicking on the red icons beside his apps “to make them go away”, but is conflicted about the ethics of exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities. “It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your product,” he says. “It’s capitalism.”

    That, perhaps, is the problem. Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who benefited from hugely profitable investments in Google and Facebook, has grown disenchanted with both companies, arguing that their early missions have been distorted by the fortunes they have been able to earn through advertising.

    It’s changing our democracy, and it's changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want
    Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google

    He identifies the advent of the smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”


    Williams and Harris left Google around the same time, and co-founded an advocacy group, Time Well Spent, that seeks to build public momentum for a change in the way big tech companies think about design. Williams finds it hard to comprehend why this issue is not “on the front page of every newspaper every day.

    “Eighty-seven percent of people wake up and go to sleep with their smartphones,” he says. The entire world now has a new prism through which to understand politics, and Williams worries the consequences are profound.

    The same forces that led tech firms to hook users with design tricks, he says, also encourage those companies to depict the world in a way that makes for compulsive, irresistible viewing. “The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our attention,” he says. “In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions.”

    That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage. The news media is increasingly working in service to tech companies, Williams adds, and must play by the rules of the attention economy to “sensationalise, bait and entertain in order to survive”.
    https://www.theguardian.com/technolog...icon-valley-dystopia?CMP=share_btn_fb
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  7. Se gli fai notare la loro incapacità di staccarsi dal telefono ti guardano sciocciati, ti rispondono male. E il loro modo di farti notare che sei out perché col tuo telefono giocattolo (del quale in fondo si vergognano) non puoi postare le foto delle vacanze, perché non sei raggiungibile tramite Whatsapp è la prova che non riuscirebbero mai e poi mai a farne a meno. E al pari di un alcolizzato o un cocainomane negano la propria dipendenza.

    Così ti rimetti in strada, eroe senz’armi, continuando a osservare il mondo scorrerti davanti, in attesa di incontrare un tuo simile o qualche converso del web con cui dare vita a una pratica ormai in via di estinzione: guardarsi negli occhi e intavolare una conversazione.
    http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2017/...martphone-vedo-voi-tutti-cosi/3909371
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-14)
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  8. That idea of efficiency through speed brought by the tech industry has consequences for society. First, the immediacy of the communications creates moments of intense information overload and distractions. Like other moments of major revolution in information technology, people are racing behind to adapt to the increasing pace of information exchange. In the Big Now, the pool of instantaneous information has dramatically increased, however the pool of available understanding of what that information means has not. People and organizations are still seeking new practices and means to filter, categorize and prioritize information in a world obsessed with the production and consumption of the freshest data points (see Social media at human pace). Doing so, they animate almost uniquely their capacity to fast-check status updates and leave their ability for reflection unstimulated (see, in French, L’écologie de l’attention). The Big Now is not designed for people to step back and understand information in a bigger context (e.g. poor debates in the recent US elections, inability to foresee the 2008 economic crisis). It is only recently that alternatives have started to emerge. For example, the recent strategic changes at Medium proposes to reverse the tendency:

    “We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention”.

    Secondly, the asynchronous Internet diminished the frontiers between work, family and leisure. In response, the tech world proposes to ‘hack’ time and to remove frictions (e.g. Soylent diet) to free up time. The flourishing personal productivity books and apps promise peace of mind with time-management advice tailored to the era of connected devices (see The global village and its discomfort). However, like building bigger roads make traffic worse, many of these solutions only provide a quick fix that induces even busier and more stressed lifestyles (see Why time management is ruining our lives). In the Big Now and its cybernetic loops, the more efficient we get at doing things and the more data we generate, the faster the Internet gets back to us, keeps us busy and grabs our limited amount of attention. Besides the promises of time-compression technologies to save us valuable time and free us for life’s important things, in the past half-century, leisure time has remained overall about the same (see Fast-world values).

    Try to imagine another version of the Internet in which the sense of simultaneity that Adam Greenfield described moves to the background of our lives and leaves stage for temporal depth and quality. Connecting people to share and collaborate has been a wonderful thing. Today, I believe that giving us the time to think will be even better (see The collaboration curse). As an illustration, regardless of current methodological trends, creativity rarely emerges rapidly. Many ideas need time to mature, they need different contexts or mindsets to get stronger. This does not often happen when teams are in ‘sprints’ or a young start-up feels under the gun in its ‘incubator’. I participated in ‘start-up accelerator’ mentoring sessions in which I advised young entrepreneurs to step back and consider if their objectives were about speed and scale. Many of them were lured by that Silicon Valley’s unicorn fantasy. Not surprisingly, the first startup decelerator program has now been created, and socratic design workshops are becoming a thing for tech executives to reconsider what’s important.
    https://medium.com/@girardin/after-the-big-now-f0a3f1857294
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  9. Now what can be done? Certainly the explanation for Trump’s rise cannot be reduced to a technology- or media-centered argument. The phenomenon is rooted in more than that; media or technology cannot create; they can merely twist, divert, or disrupt. Without the growing inequality, shrinking middle class, jobs threatened by globalization, etc. there would be no Trump or Berlusconi or Brexit. But we need to stop thinking that any evolution of technology is natural and inevitable and therefore good. For one thing, we need more text than videos in order to remain rational animals. Typography, as Postman describes, is in essence much more capable of communicating complex messages that provoke thinking. This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos—and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/60...iscourse-because-its-too-much-like-tv
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  10. La frequenza con cui le coppie hanno rapporti sessuali è in declino da trent’anni, essendo passata da cinque volte al mese negli anni ’90, a quattro volte al mese negli anni Duemila, a tre volte al mese nel decennio in corso. La sua spiegazione: “Penso che sia l’eccesso di sollecitazioni d’altro genere. Tipo, oddio devo guardare l’intera serie di Trono di Spade in tivù. Che fa parte del fenomeno di essere sempre connessi al proprio telefonino, tablet, computer, per cui possiamo continuare a controllare messaggi, post, video e quant’altro anche tutta la notte, mentre fino a non molto tempo fa alle 10 e mezza di sera non c’era praticamente più nulla da guardare alla televisione e non c’era altro da fare”. Nient’altro, sottintende lo studioso, che fare sesso.

    La sua non è l’unica indagine che sostiene questa tesi: nel 2014 un sondaggio fra 143 coppie eterosessuali riportava che la stragrande maggioranza veniva interrotta per così dire sul più bello dalle vibrazioni o scampanellate di smart phone e altri apparecchi digitali che segnalano una notizia, un sms, un email, una chiamata (bé, sì, qualcuno usa ancora i cellulari per telefonare, o almeno li usava fino a due anni fa, oggi probabilmente anche questo utilizzo è stato pressoché abbandonato per lasciare spazio a tutti gli altri). Al ritmo attuale di sviluppo tecnologico, e di assuefazione di massa al trend, il professor Spiegelhalter è convinto che tra meno di quindici anni, ovvero intorno al 2030, “le coppie non faranno più alcun sesso”,
    http://www.repubblica.it/rclub/piacer...s/sesso_2030_cambridge-152687365/?rss
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