Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why You Should #DeleteFacebook from Your Phone

(Image: steptohealth.com)

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
Dalai Lama

Larry Page the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, famously told the New York Times that when he looks to purchase a company, he asks whether it passes the toothbrush test; Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better? 

At first glance the statement seems perfectly innocuous and almost noble when you think about technology making your life better, but the reality is far more pernicious. Unlike brushing your teeth, something we are taught to do from early child hood, in order to preserve our gums and have healthy teeth, for internet companies the equivalent is finding ways to ensure we get fixated with and completely addicted to their products.

This type of addiction to Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn or Netflix has nothing to do with making us healthier or better human beings; in fact it is having exactly the opposite effect on our brains, mental well-being and state of happiness.

Merriam-Webster describes addiction as;
1: the quality or state of being addicted
2: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

There is a reason Silicon Valley does not use traditional business metrics like earnings, sales or revenue to measure an acquisition target, instead they look at ‘stickiness’ or addiction in terms of how often users interact with the app on a daily basis.

Until now we thought about harmful addictions primarily in terms of substance abuse because it is easier to see the visible and physical effects on someone addicted to drugs, alcohol or sex; with the internet and social media, the addiction is more disarming and harder to see. We can all agree that most addictions are bad for human beings, and scientists and researchers are just now starting to see the detrimental effect smart phones are having on our intelligence, social skills and declining levels of happiness.

I understand that this is a hard thing to get your head around because few people will be able to imagine navigating daily life without a smartphone. It is how we stay in touch with friends, share kid’s milestones with family, communicate with co-workers, stay on top of breaking news, search for answers and even solve complex work problems, as well as what we turn to for entertainment during commutes and down-time. Nobody is suggesting we power down our phones and move back into caves, but it is important to understand the harm of constant use and without conscious boundaries.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cites a number of independent research studies reaching the same dangerous conclusion that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.”

To keep us addicted, each service needs to constantly invent new ways to get us to spend time within their apps and to do it many times a day. This is how Facebook, BuzzFeed, Instagram, Reditt and every other similar service make money - the more often we use it, the more likely we are to see an ad, and thus the more valuable their service becomes to an advertiser.

There are only so many baby pictures and cat videos one can watch. After a while the bit of content vying for our attention needs to become more and more outrageous and sensational to command our repeated attention. It is this vicious cycle in a race to become the most addictive that is driving all their content into the gutter, as we saw with the mass proliferation of fake news across all news and social media platforms in the last US election.

People will argue that we have dealt with many captive and unhealthy mediums over the centuries and mankind has not only survived, but thrived, and this is true; but unlike cinema, radio, television or computers, we have never before been able to immerse ourselves in these things twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and have them within our reach from the moment we wake up to when we sleep.

The same WSJ article explains this fundamental difference with a mobile phone in this way: “Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.”

Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found a direct connection between increased Facebook usage and decreased well-being; “And the team says their findings show that "well-being declines are also a matter of quantity of use rather than only quality of use." Even if we were to argue that adults are generally more capable of dealing with this type of addiction, which the data says is not true, we must consider the devastating effect it is having on younger minds.

Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has been studying generational differences for 25 years, recently wrote an article in The Atlantic on this issue. She found that “there is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.” She concludes that “there’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.”

I am not suggesting that Facebook, LinkedIn or Google are evil; in fact in the grand scheme of life they have done much more good than bad. The issue is the frequency with which we engage with our apps based on having our mobile phones tethered to us 24x7, and the incessant and constant need to consume information via the built in alerts and notifications, which are designed to distract us from life and encroach on our minds in unhealthy ways.

I understand that it is not possible to live without Facebook and Google or a mobile phone today, but there is no reason why we need to have access to and distraction by these services twenty-four hours a day. My suggestion (and this is what I have done) is to delete Facebook from your phone, because it is the MOST distracting and harmful social platform of the lot and then turn OFF your notifications on all the other apps barring maybe two or three news sites.

This way you will still have access to everything but will be in total command of when and where you do, and no longer be a slave to their alerts and notifications.

I promise you that you will be much happier and science says your mind will be much healthier.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wake Up America

(Image: iStock/Getty Images)


Removing Steve Bannon will not change Donald Trump.

And removing Donald Trump from office will not fix what is broken with America.

That Trump is a shameless opportunist, a man without honour or a shred of decency is not in question. His actions and words are neither defensible nor warrant defending. That is not the issue.

The issue is that men like Trump thrive and live in the political, social and ideological divisions we have created; both real and imagined. As our divisions fester and grow deeper, they will only give birth to more men like Trump.

Until we start to fix these divisions, America cannot heal.

And the time has come to fix them, before we have more blood of innocents on our hands.

It begins with looking within and spending an honest moment reflecting, acknowledging that each and every one of us has had a part to play in our country's reaching this nadir.

In small, vociferous or silent ways, it does not matter. This is not about apportioning blame (there is enough to go around) but about taking responsibility, before it is too late.

Republicans are not the enemy. Democrats are not the villain. Wall Street is not evil. Liberals and Socialists and Conservatives and Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and gays and lesbians and illegal immigrants and transgender can all agree that the enemies of civilized society are the men and women who marched through the streets wearing Nazi regalia, chanting vile and hate-filled slogans.

We must remember that irrespective of whether people vote Republican or Democrat, they care about the same things that we do. To give their children access to education and opportunities that enable the next generation to have a better and healthier life than they did. That’s it.

Now we do and will always vehemently disagree with each other on how to provide those opportunities and the healthier and better life, but that does not make us enemies. No the enemies reared their ugly symbols on the streets of Charlottesville.

Only our divisions can give them the oxygen they need to survive and only our unity can deprive them of it.

As an immigrant, I have always marveled at the greatness of America. Not the country, but her people; they made America great. It is not that I thought that Americans were wiser or more intelligent than people anywhere else, but that every time it really mattered – unlike most other nations, Americans of all colours, viewpoints, religious and political affiliations, consistently managed to rise above ideological differences, petty politics and cable news divisions to unite under one flag - in pursuit of a higher ideal.

E pluribus unum. Now more than ever we need to become one again.

America’s future depends on it. Our childrens' futures depend on it.

God Bless America.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trump Assisted Suicide of Liberalism



“If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress.”
-Barack Obama 

November 7th 2016. 9pm EST
Obama won two terms and now Hillary is set to take the mantle from him. After electing the first black President, we are on the verge of making history with the first woman to occupy the Oval Office.

She will continue his legacy in this post-racial, post misogynist America. An America where success means “rethinking conventional ideas about masculinity.” And one where “men must resign themselves to working in “pink collar jobs”. An America where climate change is considered a far greater threat to life than Muslim terrorists mowing down nightclub revelers.

In this new America, we don’t take issue with the President circumventing Congress to pass far reaching legislation using executive power, or pushing it through the Senate without any bi-partisan support, because we know the President is a good man.

We justify these overreaches because the evil Republican Party has repeatedly dug in and refused to co-operate with him, simply because of the colour of his skin. And we have no concern with the Democratic Party's ignoring of long-held House and Senate conventions because they will always have a majority.

Who needs debate, discussion, diverse viewpoints and going through the hard work of consensus building to convince ardent and vocal opponents? These quaint and old-fashioned notions of democracy are no longer needed because it is clear to that the good people are in power and in their hands government must be trusted blindly.

We now trust our leaders with opaque domestic surveillance programs, increasingly frequent extra-judicial killings and the use of drones in Muslim majority and sovereign nations. The collateral damage caused by drone strikes is no longer reported or discussed in the media because the civilians being killed are being murdered in the name of good. Bush and Cheney’s drone operations were killing civilians in the name of evil.

We are laughing at the golden maned reality TV star who is upending the Republican Party. The media cannot get enough of Trump. They cover everything he says and does, every second of every minute, of every day - at the expense of all other news and world events.

Can you blame them? It is Trump’s fault for making it so easy for us to stand on our liberal-utopian pedestals and look down mockingly at the ignorance and stupidity of his followers.

Every off-colour comment and misogynistic statement is covered, scrutinised and analysed by panels of pundits on every TV channel, and then made available on the internet for a lifetime of public display. What harm could come of this – we know that nobody will actually vote for this buffoon. The mainstream media can have their clicks and eat it too.

The media are reveling in the fact that they can garner reality TV ratings for “news”. There is no longer need to waste money and precious resources on fact checking, or even verify sources before publishing stories. The media’s singular focus on Trump means they cannot waste ink on less important issues, such as the Obama administration's statement about the Russian government hacking the Democratic National Committees’ email servers.

No, “grabbing pussy” is a far more serious and weighty issue - more important than Putin trying to circumvent American democracy. We all know that Russian hacking stories cannot deliver the same clicks that grabbing pussy does – c’mon!

There is no need to waste energy dispatching reporters to investigate allegations of wrongdoing within the Clinton foundation because we know that they are good people. Unlike Trump, they save lives and have championed women’s rights. As for Bill’s minor transgressions, all those years ago, does anyone even remember the names of the women whose lives were so publicly destroyed?

Turn on any TV channel and Trump is on 24 hours a day. He also graces the front page of every respected newspaper and magazine; why not make hay while the mane shines!

It is fun to see Trump make Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio squirm and get into uncivil shouting matches and arguments about their manhood on the debate stage. This will be doubly priceless because Trump will destroy what is left of the evil Republicans by the time he is done. Not even Hollywood could have scripted this election.

This is so easy that Hillary doesn’t even need to waste time and energy crafting a campaign platform or coherent message for the electorate. There is no need for her to traverse the country shaking sweaty palms and hugging working class folks. She can simply stand on her coastal pedestal and reach out to connect with Americans by just simply bashing Trump. He has made Hillary’s long overdue coronation all but certain. 

American liberals are on a righteous path, and we already know that population trends favour our enlightened way of life. We would be remiss not proclaim that we are within touching distance of the land John Lennon imagined, right before he was so violently murdered. As for the small, ignorant minority of Americans who reside in the heartlands and support Trump – well, once Hillary wins they will fall into line, be drowned out, or will naturally die out.

In any case, nobody wants to listen to uneducated and ignorant bigots; especially since erudite and intellectually endowed minds on both the coasts are now in charge of the mainstream media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and are firmly leading the enlightened Americans to the Promised Land.

Just look at how well Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea have done by quashing all debate, discussion and alternate points of view. Just imagine an America without conservative viewpoints, religious backwardness or diverse and competing ideas.

We are on the brink of a golden age of liberalism. Tonight we shall sleep like babies and wake up on the morning of 8th November with a big smile on our faces.

Bill Clinton is a genius for having convinced Donald Trump to run…sleep tight.