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.
Facebook fighting against disinformation: Launch new options
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has dismantled new malicious networks that used vaccine debates to harass professionals or sow division in some countries, a sign that disinformation about the pandemic, spread for political ends, is on the wane not.
“They insulted doctors, journalists and elected officials, calling them supporters of the Nazis because they were promoting vaccines against the Covid, ensuring that compulsory vaccination would lead to a dictatorship of health,” explained Mike Dvilyanski, director investigations into emerging threats, at a press conference on Wednesday.
He was referring to a network linked to an anti-vaccination movement called “V_V”, which the Californian group accuses of having carried out a campaign of intimidation and mass harassment in Italy and France, against health figures, media and politics.
The authors of this operation coordinated in particular via the Telegram messaging system, where the volunteers had access to lists of people to target and to “training” to avoid automatic detection by Facebook.
Their tactics included leaving comments under victims’ messages rather than posting content, and using slightly changed spellings like “vaxcinati” instead of “vaccinati”, meaning “people vaccinated” in Italian.
The social media giant said it was difficult to assess the reach and impact of the campaign, which took place across different platforms.
This is a “psychological war” against people in favor of vaccines, according to Graphika, a company specializing in the analysis of social networks, which published Wednesday a report on the movement “V_V”, whose name comes from the Italian verb “vivere” (“to live”).
“We have observed what appears to be a sprawling populist movement that combines existing conspiratorial theories with anti-authoritarian narratives, and a torrent of health disinformation,” experts detail.
They estimate that “V_V” brings together some 20,000 supporters, some of whom have taken part in acts of vandalism against hospitals and operations to interfere with vaccinations, by making medical appointments without honoring them, for example.
Change on Facebook
Facebook announces news that will facilitate your sales and purchases on the social network.
Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, announced that the parent company would now be called Meta, to better represent all of its activities, from social networks to virtual reality, but the names of the different services will remain unchanged. A month later, Meta is already announcing news for the social network.
The first is the launch of online stores in Facebook groups. A “Shop” tab will appear and will allow members to buy products directly through the group in question.
Other features have been communicated with the aim of facilitating e-commerce within the social network, such as the display of recommendations and a better mention of products or even Live Shopping. At this time, no date has been announced regarding the launch of these new options.
In the light of recent features, the company wants to know the feedback from its users through the survey same like what Tesco doing to get its customers feedback via Tesco Views Survey. However, the company is still about this feedback will announce sooner than later in this regard.
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Facebook AI Hunts & Removes Harmful Content
Facebook announced a new AI technology that can rapidly identify harmful content in order to make Facebook safer. Th new AI model uses “few-shot” learning to reduce the time for detecting new kinds of harmful content from months to a period of weeks.
Few-shot learning has similarities to Zero-shot learning. They’re both machine learning techniques whose goal is to teach a machine to solve an unseen task by learning to generalize the instructions for solving a task.
Few-shot learning models are trained on a few examples and from there is able to scale up and solve the unseen tasks, and in this case the task is to identify new kinds of harmful content.
The advantage of Facebook’s new AI model is to speed up the process of taking action against new kinds of harmful content.
The Facebook announcement stated:
“Harmful content continues to evolve rapidly — whether fueled by current events or by people looking for new ways to evade our systems — and it’s crucial for AI systems to evolve alongside it.
But it typically takes several months to collect and label thousands, if not millions, of examples necessary to train each individual AI system to spot a new type of content.
…This new AI system uses a method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer — or sometimes zero — labeled examples to learn new tasks.”
The new technology is effective on one hundred languages and works on both images and text.
Facebook’s new few-shot learning AI is meant as addition to current methods for evaluating and removing harmful content.
Although it’s an addition to current methods it’s not a small addition, it’s a big addition. The impact of the new AI is one of scale as well as speed.
“This new AI system uses a relatively new method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a large, general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer, and in some cases zero, labeled examples to learn new tasks.
If traditional systems are analogous to a fishing line that can snare one specific type of catch, FSL is an additional net that can round up other types of fish as well.”
New Facebook AI Live
Facebook revealed that the new system is currently deployed and live on Facebook. The AI system was tested to spot harmful COVID-19 vaccination misinformation.
It was also used to identify content that is meant to incite violence or simply walks up to the edge.
Facebook used the following example of harmful content that stops just short of inciting violence:
“Does that guy need all of his teeth?”
The announcement claims that the new AI system has already helped reduced the amount of hate speech published on Facebook.
Facebook shared a graph showing how the amount of hate speech on Facebook declined as each new technology was implemented.
Graph Shows Success Of Facebook Hate Speech Detection
Entailment Few-Shot Learning
Facebook calls their new technology, Entailment Few-Shot Learning.
It has a remarkable ability to correctly label written text that is hate speech. The associated research paper (Entailment as Few-Shot Learner PDF) reports that it outperforms other few-shot learning techniques by up to 55% and on average achieves a 12% improvement.
Facebook’s article about the research used this example:
“…we can reformulate an apparent sentiment classification input and label pair:
[x : “I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be six feet underground” y : positive] as following textual entailment sample:
[x : I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be 6 feet underground. This is hate speech. y : entailment].”
Facebook Working To Develop Humanlike AI
The announcement of this new technology made it clear that the goal is a humanlike “learning flexibility and efficiency” that will allow it to evolve with trends and enforce new Facebook content policies in a rapid space of time, just like a human.
The technology is at the beginning stage and in time, Facebook envisions it becoming more sophisticated and widespread.
“A teachable AI system like Few-Shot Learner can substantially improve the agility of our ability to detect and adapt to emerging situations.
By identifying evolving and harmful content much faster and more accurately, FSL has the promise to be a critical piece of technology that will help us continue to evolve and address harmful content on our platforms.”
Read Facebook’s Announcement Of New AI
Article About Facebook’s New Technology
Read Facebook’s Research Paper
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.
New Facebook Groups Features For Building Strong Communities
Meta launches new features for Facebook Groups to improve communication between members, strengthen communities, and give admins more ways to customize the look and feel.
In addition, the company shares its vision for the future of communities on Facebook, which brings features from Groups and Pages together in one place.
Here’s an overview of everything that was announced at the recent Facebook Communities Summit.
More Options For Facebook Group Admins
Admins can utilize these new features to make their Groups feel more unique :
- Customization: Colors, post backgrounds, fonts, and emoji reactions used in groups can now be customized.
- Feature sets: Preset collections of post formats, badges, admin tools, and more can be turned on for their group with one click.
- Preferred formats: Select formats you want members to use when they post in your group.
- Greeting message: Create a unique message that all new members will see when they join a group.
Stronger Connections For Members
Members of Facebook Groups can build stronger connections by taking advantage of the following new features:
- Subgroups: Meta is testing the ability for Facebook Group admins to create subgroups around specific topics.
- Community Chats: Communicate in real-time with other group members through Facebook or Messenger.
- Recurring Events: Set up regular events for member to get together either online or in person.
- Community Awards: Give virtual awards to other members to recognize valuable contributions.
New Ways To Manage Communities
New tools will make it easier for admins to manage their groups:
- Pinned Announcements: Admins can pin announcements at the top of groups and choose the order in which they appear.
- Personalized Suggestions: Admin Assist will now offer suggestions on criteria to add, and more info on why content is declined.
- Internal Chats: Admins can now create create group chats exclusively for themselves and other moderators.
Monetization & Fundraisers
A new suite of tools will help Group admins sustain their communities through fundraisers and monetization:
- Raising Funds: Admins can create community fundraisers for group projects to cover the costs of running the group.
- Selling Merchandise: Sell merchandise you’ve created by setting up a shop within your group.
- Paid Memberships: Create paid subgroups that members can subscribe to for a fee.
Bringing Together Groups & Pages
Facebook is introducing a new experience that brings elements of Pages and Groups together in one place.
This will allow Group admins to use an official voice when interacting with their community.
Currently, Admins post to a Facebook Group it shows that it’s published by the individual user behind the account.
When this new experience rolls out, posts from Admins will show up as official announcements posted by the group. Just like how a post from a Facebook Page shows that it’s published by the Page.
Admins of Facebook Pages will have the option to build their community in a single space if they prefer not to create a separate group. When this change rolls out, Page admins can utilize moderation tools accessible to Group admins.
This new experience will be tested over the next year before it’s available to everyone.
Source: Meta Newsroom
Featured Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a degree in communications, Matt has an uncanny ability to make the most complex subject matter easy to understand. When he’s not ferociously following and covering the search industry, he’s busy writing SEO-friendly copy that converts.
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