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COVID-19 made our tech addiction worse: It’s time to do something about it 

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The coronavirus pandemic accelerated America’s addiction to technology, and it’s making us sad, anxious and unproductive.

Companies like Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat earn more advertising revenue the more frequently we use their products. These firms use push notifications and personalized feeds to capture our attention, manipulate our emotions and influence our actions.

Business is good. Americans now spend more than five hours each day on their devices.

So what? As discussed in Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” tech firms will continue to follow their profit motive to capture our attention. Governments are no more likely to help manage unhealthy tech consumption than consumption of sugar or illegal drugs. We need to take control.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated America’s addiction to technology, and it’s making us sad, anxious and unproductive.

My perspective is as a former tech CEO and technology addict. The marketing platform I founded raised over $100 million, grew to 350 employees and sold to a private equity firm last year. Along the way I picked up some terrible tech habits; I checked email constantly and allowed push notifications to interrupt every in-person interaction.

My tech use hit rock bottom last year on a visit with family. I resolved to put down my phone and garden with my mom, who has advanced Parkinson’s and moves slowly and with intention.

I felt like an addict in withdrawal. My phone was like a magnet pulling me to check for missed work emails or breaking news. Tech overuse had rewired my brain, lowered the quality of everyday consciousness and prevented me from being present.

I stepped down as CEO of my company earlier this year. I’ve spent my time off learning about mindfulness, neuroplasticity and technology addiction. Most importantly, I developed a strategy for managing my tech use that’s made me happier and more productive.

Here’s what I learned.

Tech firms exploit our brains to capture our attention

In their quest for our attention, some tech firms target the oldest parts of our brain, what UCLA psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls the downstairs brain. The downstairs brain includes your brainstem and limbic regions, which control innate reactions and impulses (fight or flight) and strong emotion (like anger and fear). In contrast, your upstairs brain, including your cerebral cortex, is where intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining and planning.

The downstairs brain is reactive. It’s designed to protect us in emergencies; it can make quick judgements, hijack our consciousness and drive action through strong emotion. The downstairs brain is what is targeted by attention-seeking products. Headlines that make us feel outraged and TikTok notifications that make us feel reactive appeal to our downstairs brain.

Spending time in a reactive state rewires our brains

Our brains change with training. Research has shown that our brains are reprogrammed with the firing patterns of neurons. Our nervous system can be rewired and transformed through repetitive, focused attention or activity in a process called neuroplasticity.

Repetitive device usage is a perfect example of neuroplasticity at work. The more time we spend responding to push notifications, watching videos in infinite scroll or looking for social validation from social media, the more our brains will rewire to want the same.

Our addiction will get worse as firms get better at capturing attention

While many tech firms acknowledge problems from overusing their products, none will make radical changes needed to decrease their share of the attention profit pool. If they did, someone else would eat their lunch.

These firms are selling us sugary drinks. The taste is improving exponentially and the sweetest drinks haven’t been invented yet. The more we drink, the harder it gets to stop. We need to take control of our consumption and habits — we need to follow a technology diet — or we will suffer the mental equivalent of morbid obesity.

We can can rewire our brains to be more productive and happier by changing our habits

If we think of technology consumption as an analog to food consumption, tech products fall into four food groups based on the quality of information and method of delivery. Content quality is important: Some content is valuable (e.g., MIT’s online courseware) or critical (work email), while most is not useful (TikTok) .

The delivery model is also important. Healthy platforms give agency to the user and allow us to pull content that’s useful when we need it. Conversely, harmful platforms often rely on push, sending us information that’s often not useful at a time when we’re doing something else. Based on my experience, here are three steps we can take to implement a tech diet:

1. Eliminate products that reinforce your downstairs brain (low-quality content pushed to you)

Willpower is finite. If we don’t want sugary drinks, don’t keep them in the house. We keep the most distracting applications ever developed within arms reach at all times. These applications prey on our downstairs brain, which hijacks our better intentions and delivers negative value for most people. I believe our best defense is abstinence; we shouldn’t use these apps.

Tip: I use Apple’s Content Restrictions on the iPhone and MacBook. I added the obvious offenders: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and some specific to me, which includes Zillow, StreetEasy and NYPost. My spouse has the override code. I can break it if needed, but the process is hard enough that it doesn’t enter everyday consciousness.

2. Consume more products that reinforce your upstairs brain (high-quality content that’s available when we need it)

Good content expands our knowledge and skills and may contribute to rewiring our upstairs brain in a way that adds to our empathy, imagination and mindfulness.

Consuming good content is rewarding but effortful. It requires uninterrupted focus. Unlike sugary beverages, which we’re wired to consume subconsciously, leafy greens have to be consumed intentionally.

Tip: Make a list of your favorite leafy greens. For me, this includes Kindle, Feedly, tech periodicals and my favorite curation platforms: HackerNews and Product Hunt. Calm, one of several booming mindfulness apps, also makes the list. These are the only apps on my home screen, which encourages me to use them more often. Like a food diet, I set attainable goals for “good” consumption and monitor my progress.

I recommend fasting on technology periodically; I leave my phone at home for walks with my son and dinner with friends. I also recommend nontech activities that promote upstairs brain rewiring like an outdoor hike or learning to play an instrument.

3. Redesign consumption patterns for productivity tools

Email is required for most people. It has the potential to make us productive. But the average message quality is low, and the always-on, high frequency, push-by-default design prevents us from doing our best work.

Tip: I’ve turned off notifications on everything that’s not meant for urgent or timely messages (e.g., texts, Lyft, Tovala oven). Boomerang’s Chrome Extension can be set up to deliver all of your emails every hour on the hour. Batch processing email every hour dramatically reduces the volume of interruption without impacting my responsiveness.

We live in relative abundance, with food, goods and security that would make even our recent ancestors envious. But abundance doesn’t make us happy; we’re the least happy on record. We seem to be living in a collective state of downstairs brain, a continuous adult temper tantrum focused on strong feelings, emotion and impulsiveness.

But there’s hope.

As individuals, I found that even a few months of technology dieting helped me become less impulsive and more mindful. As employees, we can stop working for companies that profit from the attention economy. As managers, we can insist that our teams turn off their devices at night, turn off their Slack notifications and take real vacations. As parents, we can help our children develop healthy consumption patterns.

Collective action — and rewiring of our brains — could change the course of our politics and our ability to collaborate and solve the most important challenges of the 21st century.

American innovation dominates the attention economy. It’s time for American innovation to dominate the way we use technology.

TechCrunch

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

(Credits: Far Out / Press / A24)

Film

Oscar nominee Ke Huy Quan’s acting career has come in two parts, several decades distanced from one another. Having played Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and also performed in The GooniesEncino Man and Head of the Class, Quan took the decision to quit acting in 1992 as he struggled to make the significant progress he was hoping for.

Fast forward to 2021, and Quan secured the role in one of the most celebrated films of last year, Everything Everywhere All at Once, for which he won a Golden Globe and was this week nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Asked how the two Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) came to cast Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once during a Hollywood Reporter Actor’s Roundtable, Quan responded: “I decided to get back to acting. It was when the Daniels saw somebody did a joke on Facebook, and it was a picture of Andrew Yang running for President. The caption said Short Round is all grown up and he’s running for President, which triggered him to go, ‘Oh, I wonder what Khe is doing?’”

Thankfully for Quan, somebody online made that stupid meme. He added: “[Daniel] started searching, and he was doing the calculations, ‘Oh, he’s about the same age as his character’. It was at the same time that I called an agent friend of mine – I didn’t have an agent for decades – so I was practically begging him to represent me. He said yes.”

Fortunately, the two Daniels were looking for someone of Quan’s ilk just as he had decided to give acting another shot – some 30 years later. Quan went on: “Literally two weeks later, I got a call about the script, and I read it, and I was blown away by the script. Not only was it beautifully written, but it was a script I wanted to read. I was so hungry, so eager for a script like this, for a role like this.”

In fact, the script was so good that Quan remembers staying up all night “reading it until like 5am”. He added: “I sat there, and in my head, I had all these ideas that I wanted to do with this role, and I was watching out the window, the sun was rising, and I said, ‘Oh, I have to go to sleep’, because my audition was in the afternoon.”

However, despite his desire to secure the part, a wave of doubt overcame Quan. “Right before I went to bed, I go, ‘There’s no way they would offer me this.’ It was like impossible; it stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis,” he said. But Quan’s wife reassured him of his abilities and “kept encouraging” him.

Quan noted that it had been 25 years since he last auditioned for a part, so naturally, he was nervous. However, he was made comfortable by the Daniels and the film’s casting director, whom he called “amazing” and “so sweet”. Yet he must have feared the worst when he did not hear back for two months. I auditioned and didn’t hear from them for two months. 

The long wait left Quan feeling “miserable” because he “wanted this role so bad.” Then, the call suddenly came in. “I went in to audition for the second time,” he said, which laid the foundations for one of the most important phone calls Quan would ever receive. He added: “You hear those three words, ‘We want you’, and I was screaming so loud, I was jumping up so high, and to this day, I cannot believe how everything came to be.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

For the second time this month, residents across southern New Jersey have been reporting long periods of shaking inside their homes Thursday afternoon, with windows and walls rattling. And just like before, there have been no earthquakes reported anywhere in the eastern United States.

There also have been no thunderstorms reported in or near New Jersey on Thursday, but some residents are speculating the rattling inside their homes — along with some reports of loud booms — may be linked to military planes and helicopters flying over the Garden State.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a U.S. naval station based in St. Mary’s County in Maryland, issued a noise advisory on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying it would be conducting “noise-generating testing events” between Tuesday and Friday.

“Pilots at NAS Patuxent River will be conducting Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs). FCLPs are simulated carrier landings conducted to prepare the pilot to land safely on an aircraft carrier,” the agency said in its Facebook post.

“The practices consist of series of touch-and-go maneuvers, called ‘bounces.’ Airspeed, altitude and power are all precisely choreographed in order for a pilot to approach the ship within an acceptable window to land on the deck safely,” the post added.

“Residents may notice increased noise levels due to these operations,” the post said.

It wasn’t immediately known how far away the noise would carry. But Facebook has been packed with reports of shaking in homes and businesses across South Jersey Thursday afternoon. The first was around 11 a.m. and the second about two hours later.

Several residents noted they have felt some shaking or heard some loud booms in the past, but they said they never felt the rattling become as intense as it was on Thursday.

Among the towns or sections of towns where rattling was reported were Erma, Cape May, Galloway, Middle Township, North Cape May, Rio Grande and Smithville. Some residents said they felt their houses shake but heard no booms, while others said they heard loud booms.

“My whole house shook. Windows rattle(d), bed moved back and forth. And it was long,” one resident wrote on the Facebook page of South Jersey weather forecaster “Nor’easter Nick” Pittman. “I do hear the jets as I’m in Galloway near the airport, but this just seemed different. No boom, just steady shaking. At first I thought it was the wind but it got stronger.”

Another Facebook user in Atlantic County said: “In Smithville we just shook for a good 45-60 seconds with a small pause, but the dog and cats did not like it, this time was more than the sonic boom or break that we feel at 2 p.m. It was freaky!!”

On Friday, Jan. 13, residents from as far south as Cape May and up to Manahawkin along the coast and as far west as Glassboro in Gloucester County reported feeling shaking in their homes. They said the rattling lasted at least 10 seconds.

A supersonic military airplane was flying a few miles off the coast that day, and could have been the cause of the rumbling, the Press of Atlantic City reported at the time. The military has an Atlantic test track for flights about 3 miles off the eastern seaboard, and a sonic boom would occur if a plane was flying fast enough to break the sound barrier.

South Jersey isn’t alone when it comes to feeling and hearing loud noises. In early January, a loud boom — which some described as being as loud as an explosion — was reported by many people in northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania.

The cause of that boom was not immediately determined.

___

© 2023 Advance Local Media LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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How much do we shape-shift across social media?

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How much do we shape-shift across social media?

Like the spaces we frequent in the physical world, each social app serves a different, fairly obvious purpose. If LinkedIn is a job fair of some sort, Instagram is a playground, or a party — both of which can be simultaneously bright, loud, and exhausting. The distinctions between these platforms are very much known.

But these are places we go to everyday, and in each, we shift. We flick through a handful apps everyday, the more prominent ones arguably being TikTok, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. On some, our tone may be nonchalant; on another, indignant. These are emotions expressed daily, sometimes concurrently, with different interfaces displaying alternative views, moods, even personas.

How much do we actually do shape-shift across social media? Turns out, a lot.

Samara Madhvani, who owns a boutique social media consultancy(Opens in a new window), says that what she shares on TikTok is vastly different from her posts on Instagram.

“Most of my friends don’t use [TikTok], so I feel like I can post more freely without being judged,” she tells Mashable. “It’s a great space to experiment with different kinds of content, that I would probably never share on Instagram.”

Similarly, brand management and development specialist MaryKate tells Mashable that she shows her “full authentic self” solely on Snapchat.

“Snapchat is for [my] innermost thoughts,” she says. Meanwhile, she uses Instagram to post “photos of things, travel and the occasional selfie”. TikTok is for more niche interests, where she posts “drone footage or animal footage”. Twitter is a point of conflict, where she feels more filtered.

“I feel like each social media platform is a different part of me,” she says.

At their core, these apps are intending for users to be on display, in whatever curated form they desire. Apps like BeReal have attempted to offer a different side to social media, with the premise that users can be their most authentic selves. Yet, it’s another platform that is, in reality, asking something of the user: who are you in this moment? What do you and to show?


“When you look at our behaviour on social media as a whole, our personality on a platform depends on how we perceive its usage.”

– Ria Chopra

Ria Chopra(Opens in a new window), a writer and journalist, says that she is guarded about her personal life and selective when it comes to posting across all platforms.

“The sides of my personality I choose to show differ from platform to platform,” she says. “When you look at our behaviour on social media as a whole, our personality on a platform depends on how we perceive its usage. LinkedIn is perceived by me to be a professional space, so I’m professional there. Instagram is for personal connections, so I’m more likely to put up birthday posts there, while Twitter is more stream-of-consciousness, simply because of that’s the kind of stuff I see there and believe it’s for.”

Being human means having to change, situationally and socially, on the daily. This isn’t news to any adult. Who you are at work may be a far cry from who you are at home. What you show to your closest friends can be deviation from who are you with your siblings. For Black people and people of color, code switching is even more habitual(Opens in a new window), particularly in the workplace where bias based on factors like speech(Opens in a new window) has long had a negative impact. These ever-so-subtle shifts that take place are near instinctive for most. But when this applies to the internet, too, identity can be in constant flux.

For many users, this is a natural aspect to having more than one social media account. It’s almost a given: an exercise in construction and curation(Opens in a new window), for numerous reasons.

Being a woman or a marginalized person on social media comes with its own set of complications, for instance. These are ones that can largely hinder what a person chooses to share and speak about on public platforms. Seyi Akiwowo(Opens in a new window), author of How to Stay Safe Online(Opens in a new window), addressed this extensively in her guidebook to the internet. “The idea that online platforms are neutral is a fairy tale. It’s not a few bad apples ruining the experience for the rest of us. The very DNA of these platforms is in conflict with the best interests of a large number of their users,” Akiwowo writes. “Women and girls across the globe are walking on eggshells because of the fear of online abuse.”

Research by Plan International in 2017(Opens in a new window), which Akiwowo cites, found that 43 percent of girls aged 11 to 18 admitted to holding back their opinions on social media for fear of being criticized. Self-censorship, while admittedly an issue for all on social apps, is heightened when it comes to young girls who are doing so for their own safety online.

“Women can post on almost any topic — animal rights, climate change, healthcare — and abuse usually follows,” writes Akiwowo.

Then there are the lesser but significant factors everyone faces – like who your followers are and whether your account is private. These will also play a natural role in choosing how to behave on a certain platform. This is perhaps what led to the surge of “finstas” — which now seem near extinct — a few years ago. These “fake” Instagram accounts allowed for privacy and exclusivity, but are now a dated concept, shadowed by integrated features like Instagram’s Close Friends and Twitter Circle. The demand for these also alludes to the greater desire to post and interact in different ways, even in the space of a singular app.

Madhvani believes that total, complete authenticity is a far reach on any platform. “Even a comment or a like on someone else’s content will leave a digital footprint,” she says. “Today, everything that people post is somewhat curated. At the end of the day, you’re posting and sharing for a purpose whether it’s to look a certain way or to get more followers or even sell a product.”

Alex Quicho, head of futures at trends agency Canvas8(Opens in a new window), suggests there is a positive side to the transformations we undergo on apps, saying that social media can play a role in “trying out different facets of one’s persona”.

“Today’s crop of users are less concerned about projecting a stable image or personal brand,” says Quicho. “We’re seeing many Gen Zers adopt an exploratory attitude to how they appear on social platforms: seeing these false personas as creative and constructive.”

In this vein, having different sorts of social media can provide paths to traverse identity and to explore different interests. The possible trouble is not in utilizing these purpose-driven platforms. Instead, there is potential for burnout in these spaces(Opens in a new window), which is already a dangling possibility(Opens in a new window) for anyone who uses social media.

Chopra says that she is increasingly “cross-posting” across platforms, in an endeavor to integrate content and show her comprehensive self.

“It’s unconscious, but maybe that’s my bid to be more ‘me’ everywhere. So I’ve posted my tweets on LinkedIn, my Instagram posts on Twitter, if I want to. And it’s paying off — I feel more authentic knowing that I’m reflecting a more holistic sense of my personality everywhere,” she explains.

Let’s face it: authenticity and social media are hardly interconnected. Some social media users are increasingly pursuing this concept, seeking to be themselves on platforms designed to allow the opposite. But living in the digital age — with an influx of apps at our disposal — means having to have more than one public face: a near constant metamorphosis.



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