Money ≠ happiness

Wired’s review of a new book has a somewhat click-baity headline.

Social media has totally warped how you think about happiness
That higher-status jobs lead to more happiness is only one of the social narratives that Dolan’s book surgically dismantles. Happy Ever After may sound like a cheap self-improvement guide to positive thinking; in reality, it is a pragmatic inspection by an LSE-qualified behavioural scientist.

And it’s not just about securing a good job. Dolan also tears apart the myth of monogamous marriage and of long-lasting marriage; the myth of having children, of going to university or of earning a lot of money. Of owning your own property. Of donating to charity (and not bragging about it). Even of being healthy.

It may sound like a blow to what you have always been taught – but the link between all of these things and happiness is, according to research, extremely loose.

He’s done his research, so has the numbers to back that up, but he talks about social narratives being to blame for our unrealistic expectations and harsh judgements of ourselves and others, not social media. That’s just the mechanism by which these narratives are being magnified.

It all sounds a little Stoic.

Five minutes?

Via Laughing Squid, a video from the BBC on the correct-according-to-science way of making a cup of tea. Yes, getting rid of the styrofoam cup makes sense, as does filtering the water first, but waiting five minutes? Really?

How to prepare a proper cuppa using a tea bag
“It is a long time but it’s gonna be too hot to drink anyway, so you’ve got to leave it. There’s more (of) the flavor coming out and also the more caffeine comes out, the stronger the tea will be. There’s also more (of) the antioxidants coming out. Tea is a great source of antioxidants and these are natural substances that our body uses to help fight disease. So it is important that you leave it to brew.”

How you’ve been making tea wrong your entire life – BBC

Let me just check with the proper authorities…

How to make a proper brew
Wait patiently. Tea needs time to unlock all its flavour, so give it 4-5 minutes to do its thing. This is a perfect time to munch a sneaky biscuit or daydream about holidays.

Hmm. OK then, you win. Now get that kettle on.

Art-adjacent

I’ve never thought of myself as an art snob but, after reading this piece about a Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, perhaps I am?

Exit through the novelty exhibition: Winnie the Pooh, destroyer of art museums
Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago may reasonably expect to enjoy millennia-old fiber arts or Jeff Koons ego trips—a fully encompassing assemblage of artworks, in other words. And in recent years, the encyclopedic mandate of global art institutions has become still more generous, such that it now includes not just art, but the art-adjacent.

Perhaps it all began with the inclusion of high fashion, as typified by the hit Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier retrospectives that won over New York City earlier this decade. Next came pop culture, with, for example, the traveling exhibition “David Bowie is,” which garnered some two million visitors globally. And now, with the arrival of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the novelty exhibition trend has cynically bottomed out into outright mania for triviality. […]

The deepening entrenchment of exhibitions like “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic” in the art world’s consciousness has brought with it a sense of malaise. While Klaus Biesenbach’s infamous 2015 Björk spectacle at the Museum of Modern Art led even Jerry Saltz to warn that MoMA was on “a suicidal slide into becoming a box-office-driven carnival,” this Pooh exhibition has been received with ambivalence.

Social media’s biggest challenge

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has issued a challenge to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others that I think may be beyond them.

Social media urged to take ‘moment to reflect’ after girl’s death
In an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat, Anne Longfield said the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell has highlighted the “horrific” material that children were able to easily access online.

Here’s the letter, on the Children’s Commissioner website.

A public call for online platforms to do more to tackle social media content which is harmful to children
I do not think it is going too far to question whether even you, the owners, any longer have any control over their content. If that is the case, then younger children should not be accessing your services at all, and parents should be aware that the idea of any authority overseeing algorithms and content is a mirage. […]

The potential disruption to all user experiences should no longer be a brake on making the safety and wellbeing of young people a top priority. Neither should hiding behind servers and apparatus in other jurisdictions be an acceptable way of avoiding responsibility.

The recent tragic cases of young people who had accessed and drawn from sites that post deeply troubling content around suicide and self-harm, and who in the end took their own lives, should be a moment of reflection. I would appeal to you to accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them – or admit publicly that you are unable to. […]

It is your responsibility to support measures that give children the information and tools they need growing up in this digital world – or to admit that you cannot control what anyone sees on your platforms.

I really hope something comes of this. The social media companies say they’re working hard to create safe spaces, free from harmful content and disinformation, but where’s the evidence of that? Imagine if they did publicly admit they were unable to “accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them.”

Update 05/02/2019 A response from Instagram.

Instagram to launch ‘sensitivity screens’ after Molly Russell’s death
Adam Mosseri, who took over Instagram after the app’s founders departed suddenly in 2018, has promised a series of changes following the death of the British teenager Molly Russell, whose parents believe she took her own life after being exposed to graphic images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram and Pinterest.

 

Just my type

Jesse Simon continues to pay attention to the details of his built environment.

The colours of Berlin: yellow
The colours of Berlin is a new bi-monthly series that will run throughout 2019. Where other posts on this blog have attempted to describe typographic trends and phenomena in Berlin, the entries in this series will focus on a particular colour by presenting a collection of images without additional text. Every city has its full spectrum on display; this is the one that belongs to Berlin.

just-my-type

It’s hard not to feel down about the ugly state of my city, when I compare it with those examples of considered design. So here’s something quirky to lift my mood.

“Something illegible still has something to say”: Eliott Grunewald on his type designs
“I’ve been more interested in display typefaces, for their expressiveness and ‘voices’; like type as an image more than the design of a text typeface,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I guess, sometimes, it does result in letterings which are formally too intense or even illegible. But something illegible still has something to say, to show or to promote, I don’t feel that even if you cannot read the word, you cannot get anything from it.”

just-my-type-2

And, for a full account of what goes into good typeface design, take a look at this.

Why San Francisco
We got our first glimpse of Apple’s new sans-serif typeface, San Francisco, when the Apple Watch was unveiled in September of 2014—a new typeface designed specifically for legibility at small sizes on a tiny, high-resolution screen. Big news for type nerds and Apple fans alike.

It’s very thorough, and I don’t pretend to understand half of it, but it’s nice to see someone paying such close attention to the details.

Sketchy city portraits

I can’t decide if these drawings are portraits of cities, or just portraits of maps. The scale of each drawing, and of the project as a whole, is impressive though.

Large-scale drawings of the United Kingdom’s 69 cities by Carl Lavia
Self-taught artist Carl Lavia, who goes by the nickname “Sketch,” has been drawing intricate cities and architecturally-minded illustrations since he was the age of five. Although his early works were imaginative renderings of fictionalized cities, his practice has grown into immensely detailed depictions of large cities from an aerial point of view. Lavia uses ink and archival paper to produce each drawing, which appear like maps from a distance, but have a loose, almost Impressionist style when viewed up close.

city-portraits-1

Perhaps he could convert these sketches into a Google maps layer, letting you take a stroll through his drawings as you walk round the city in real life, comparing one with the other.

Bringing back postcards

Postcards are such simple things, really – just small rectangular pieces of thin card. No technology required. Perhaps that’s why they don’t seem as popular these days? But thanks to the Postcrossing project, I’ve been sending and receiving more and more — and from all over the world.

Postcrossing history
The Postcrossing project was created in 2005 by Paulo Magalhães as a side project when he was a student in Portugal. Paulo loves to receive mail and postcards in particular; from friends, family — or from anyone in the world. Finding a postcard in the mailbox always makes his day!

He knew more people shared the same interest, but there was no good way yet to connect everyone. And that’s how he got the initial idea of creating the online platform for this which he called Postcrossing. Its goal: to connect people across the world through postcards, independently of their country, age, gender, race or beliefs.

Here are some more postcard-related links.

Wish you were here? Postcards from the art world
“It’s possible to form a significant collection of extremely good and important works of art without being wealthy,” he says. “Anyone could decide to form a collection very close to mine with most of the same things – and I like that. It’s anti-exclusive.”

bringing-back-postcards-1

A postcard writing Rube Goldberg machine in a suitcase
As the sun regrettably sets on the art of letter writing, the inventive folks at design studio HEYHEYHEY have pieced together a clever contraption that promises to keep the art of travel postcards a thing of the present. Kind of. Melvin the Traveling Mini Machine is an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that fits in a pair of suitcases that executes the simple task of “writing” and stamping a postcard of your choice, that is, if the absurdly elaborate sequence of steps goes off without a hitch.

bringing-back-postcards-2

Two women leading parallel lives are getting to know each other through data
Giorgia Lupi, who lives in New York, and Stefanie Posavec, who lives in London, are engaged in a long-distance, postcard-based data exchange in order to get to know each other better: “Dear Data.” They’ve only met in person twice, and they’re both interested in data, so they’re sending each other postcard drawings of data about their day-to-day lives.

Four Corners Books announces its next publication
Four Corners Books has just announced the next book in its Irregulars series titled, Leeds Postcards, a celebration of the independent postcard press. For the past four decades, independent postcard press Leeds Postcards has been making oppositional, inspiring images; activism by design. The cards are not of Leeds; the name represents a defiant rejection of the hegemony of London. The images cover a fascinating range of domestic and international politics, causes and campaigns, creating, in their own unique and graphically inventive way a record of the struggles as well as the progressive political triumphs from 1979 to the present day.

Pictures under glass

Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.

First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.

Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.

Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.

Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.

How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.

A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.

Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it

Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.

The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.

China’s fear of losing control

This isn’t quite the brave new world we were hoping these new technologies would enable.

Davos: George Soros calls Xi Jinping a “dangerous opponent” of open societies
Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.” Echoing recent concerns raised about China’s use of facial-recognition technology, Soros asked: “How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That’s the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.”

Tracing his critique of authoritarian governments to his own childhood under Nazi occupation in Hungary, Soros, who is now 88, urged the Trump administration to take a harder stance on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China,” he said

The complicated truth about China’s social credit system
What’s troubling is when those private systems link up to the government rankings — which is already happening with some pilots, she says. “You’ll have sort of memorandum of understanding like arrangements between the city and, say, Alibaba and Tencent about data exchanges and including that in assessments of citizens,” Ohlberg adds. That’s a lot of data being collected with little protection, and no algorithmic transparency about how it’s analysed to spit out a score or ranking[.]

[…]

The criteria that go into a social credit ranking depends on where you are, notes Ohlberg. “It’s according to which place you’re in, because they have their own catalogs,” she says. It can range from not paying fines when you’re deemed fully able to, misbehaving on a train, standing up a taxi, or driving through a red light. One city, Rongcheng, gives all residents 1,000 points to start. Authorities make deductions for bad behaviour like traffic violations, and add points for good behaviour such as donating to charity.

Running a red light is one thing, but what if you’re a journalist investigating corruption and misconduct?

Chinese blacklist an early glimpse of sweeping new social-credit control
What it meant for Mr. Liu is that when he tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system refused his purchase, saying he was “not qualified.” Other restrictions soon became apparent: He has been barred from buying property, taking out a loan or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to,” he said. “What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In China, facial recognition tech is watching you
Megvii, meanwhile, supports the state’s nationwide surveillance program, which China, with troubling inferences, calls Skynet. Launched in 2005, Skynet aims to create a nationwide panopticon by blanketing the country with CCTV. Thanks to Face++, it now incorporates millions of A.I.-enhanced cameras that have been used to apprehend some 2,000 suspects since 2016, according to a Workers’ Daily report.

[…]

Jeffrey Ding, an Oxford University researcher focused on Chinese A.I., believes there is more pushback in the West against deploying facial recognition technology for security purposes. “There’s more willingness in China to adopt it,” he says, “or at least to trial it.”

But there’s also less freedom to oppose the onslaught. “The intention of these systems is to weave a tighter net of social control that makes it harder for people to plan action or push the government to reform,” explains Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The line from Soros about the danger from “the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes” chimes with what I’m reading in James Bridle’s new book, New Dark Age.

May we live in interesting times.

E-mail’s down, but that’s good, right?

Hot on the heels of Microsoft’s trouble with the law (courts) earlier this week, comes more bad news.

Office 365 down: Microsoft not working leaving people without email and other crucial internet services
The exact cause of the problem remains unclear, as Microsoft continues to seek a solution. The trouble has been particularly frustrating for businesses unable to carry out day-to-day communication, with issues emerging as many people started work this morning.

A coincidence that it comes within a day or two of this government speech calling for less e-mail?

Damian Hinds: School leaders should ditch email culture to cut workload
Teachers should not have to email outside of office hours and should instead embrace innovative technology such as AI to help to reduce their workload, the Education Secretary said in a speech today.

He makes it sound so easy.

Trim Trump touch-ups?

The BBC have a couple of before-and-after images of President Trump that raised a smile this morning.

Trump team accused of posting edited images on social media
Social media users were quick to point out the possible tweaks to this image, which was shared on Mr Trump’s official Instagram and Facebook accounts. […]

The ruffles in the president’s suit have been smoothed out near his shoulder and he looks trimmer, specifically around his neck. His hair also seems tidier, although this could be a result of the image being superimposed on a different background, and his face has been brightened.

One of the more unusual differences is that Mr Trump’s fingers seem to have been made longer.

How vain! I can’t replicate it properly here, but you must check out the interactive slider they have on their website, to see for yourself.

trim-trump

Stop neglecting the users

This is a great breakdown from Joe Clark — not quite tipping over into a rant — of all the iPhone user interface issues Apple is happily ignoring.

iPhones are hard to use
Observing what are dismissively called “normal people” (or “users”) for more than a decade, the one thing iPhone owners are proud they know how to do is force-quit apps. They also know how to set a ringtone and choose atrocious wallpaper. And that’s it. But they aren’t to blame.

People kind of don’t know that they can swipe up or down from top or bottom of screen. As an example, I certainly almost never see anybody turn wifi on or off that way (it’s almost always through Settings). They certainly don’t know what Control Center and Notification Center are by name. (They also don’t know what their iSight camera is. They don’t know what Springboard is, and shouldn’t have to. But do they know what the home screen is?)

It’s not just an issue with iPhones, I don’t think. It certainly frustrates me too, when I see people struggle unnecessarily with a task on any smartphone, though no fault of their own.

Seniors love iPads, but seniors and unhealthy people in general have a serious pressing need to fill out the Medical ID section (not obvious) in the Health app (also not obvious). Exactly the people who need this function are the least likely to use it. We cannot, and should not, rely on these seniors’ grandkids or caregivers to do it for them.

Fill out these fields and not only could a paramedic, or just a bystander, learn what medical conditions you have if you’re unconscious, they can phone your emergency contacts (and also call an ambulance via 911 or local equivalent).

Ok, I admit that’s something I hadn’t done until reading this. We’re really not making full use of these devices. And Apple (and I’m sure all the others) aren’t really, either.

You really need to tell the phone, and/or Siri, who you are and who your family members are. This involves creating a contact card (what’s that?) for yourself and linking to it. Then all your family members need their own cards, and you have to laboriously specify their relationships to you.

I insist this is not an optional or nice-to-have feature. If you have chest pain, you have to be able to hold the button down and say “Call Charlie” or “Call my wife.” (God help us if Siri asks which Charlie to call.)

Another friend really did have chest pain in a foreign country and it never occurred to him to call anybody. So in fact, Apple, a trillion-dollar corporation, has to put considerably greater resources into telling people how to set up their phones for emergencies so they will actually use those phones then. Again, this means forcing people to do it upon setup and making it exceedingly clear, in writing and in video, what their phones can do for them when they need their phones the most.

This is obvious, when you think about it. I hope someone from Apple reads Joe’s blog.

I’m still quite reluctant to talk to my phone (rather than talk with) but I gave it a go after reading this article, with mixed results. I just wanted to know what was in my calendar later on.

Doing what?

What? Let’s try again.

Doing what?

OK, never mind.

IT in the dock

Things aren’t going well in the courts at the moment.

HMCTS suffers major IT issues
Significant IT issues at the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) have caused chaos across the UK’s courts as users have been unable to connect to the network and use IT systems that require access to it.

The issues began last week and are mainly affecting devices trying to connect to the main Ministry of Justice (MoJ) network, which is used by the department as well as all its agencies and several arm’s-length bodies.

Law courts in chaos as IT meltdown disrupts thousands of cases
The communication failures, which started last week, are a significant embarrassment for the Ministry of Justice, which is investing £1.2bn in a high-profile programme promoting online hearings which aims to replace the legal profession’s traditional reliance on mountains of paperwork.

The IT breakdown meant that staff at the MoJ were unable to send emails, wireless connections went down, jurors could not be enrolled and barristers could not register for attendance payments. Courts were left unsure of when some defendants were due to appear and some court files could not be retrieved, leading to prosecutions being adjourned.

The Register had reported on this a few days before, when the problem seemed to be restricted to just their CJSM (Criminal Justice Secure eMail) system.

Lawyers’ secure email network goes down, firm says it’ll take 2 weeks to restore
For reasons that were not immediately clear, Egress Technologies, provider of CJSM, said in an emailed update to users seen by The Register that restoring CJSM would involve wiping their mailboxes for up to two weeks.

It’s now more serious than that.

Nationwide UK court IT failure farce ‘not the result of a cyber attack’ – Justice Ministry
The Ministry of Justice has said a data centre outage was responsible for the widespread collapse of the UK’s civil and criminal court IT infrastructure over the past days.

In a statement to Parliament today, justice minister Lucy Frazer pinned the fault on Atos and Microsoft, saying there had been an “infrastructure failure in our suppliers’ data centre”.

Here’s a report from 2016, highlighting the issues the department was facing…

Ministry of Justice IT systems are ‘fragile and precarious’, say MPs
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) must get to grips with its poor IT systems or risk “further demoralising essential staff”, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned. […]

“ICT systems in probation are inefficient, unreliable and hard to use,” the PAC said. “In a service that relies on successful joint working between multiple partners, it is essential that ICT supports, rather than frustrates, effective and efficient collaboration. This is far from the case for probation.”

… which led to the £1,000,000,000 plan to “transform courts with better use of technology”.

UK justice system set for ‘wholesale shift’ to digital
The reform programme foresees “a wholesale shift to accessing justice digitally” and flags up two “significant developments” that will affect the way courts and tribunals operate: “The first is our aim for all cases to be started online, whether or not they are scheduled for the traditional system or for online resolution. The second will be the completion of some cases entirely online, which will be much more convenient for everyone involved.”

How was that received? With not much confidence, it seems.

PAC doubts justice system transformation programme will be a success
Public Accounts Committee says it’s difficult to see how the government’s “extremely challenging” £1.2bn project to overhaul courts through use of technology “will ever work”.

I don’t know if that’s related to today’s IT breakdowns there, but it makes you wonder.

GDPR is still a thing, right?

Some recent data protection stories that have caught my eye.

French data watchdog dishes out largest GDPR fine yet: Google ordered to hand over €50m
The French agency, CNIL, ruled today that the search giant had offered users inadequate information, spreading it across multiple pages, and had failed to gain valid consent for ads personalisation. […] The CNIL concluded that Google had breached the General Data Protection Regulation in two ways: by failing to meet transparency and information requirements, and failing to obtain a legal basis for processing.

Amazon, Apple and Google face data complaints
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules say EU customers have the right to access a copy of the personal data companies hold about them. However, privacy group noyb said it found that most of the big streaming companies did not fully comply. It has filed formal complaints, which if upheld could result in large fines.

Google accused of GDPR privacy violations by seven countries
Consumer groups across seven European countries have filed GDPR complaints against Google’s location tracking (via Reuters). The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), of which each of the groups are a member, claims that Google’s “deceptive practices” around location tracking don’t give users a real choice about whether to enable it, and that Google doesn’t properly inform them about what this tracking entails. If upheld, the complaints could mean a hefty fine for the search giant.

The NOYB organisation gets mentioned a number of times there.

Max Schrems: The privacy bubble needs to start ‘getting sh*t done’
After years locked in numerous long, drawn-out and often bitter legal battles, Schrems decided to launch a nonprofit aiming to help people bring their own consumer privacy cases to court.

The plan is for NOYB (None Of Your Business) to take advantage of the incoming European Union General Data Protection Regulation, which offers more options for collective redress across the bloc, and harness the momentum Schrems has built up with various high-profile court cases.

Seems to be working. (Via)

How much is too much?

Screentime, I mean.

I know I’ve asked this more than once or twice before, but the answer still seems to be ‘it depends’. Take this article, for example, on the trend for music concerts to impose a no phones rule. It sounds eminently sensible.

The simple joy of “No Phones Allowed”
The no-phones policy illuminated something about smartphone use that’s hard to see when it’s so ubiquitous: our phones drain the life out of a room. They give everyone a push-button way to completely disengage their mind from their surroundings, while their body remains in the room, only minimally aware of itself. Essentially, we all have a risk-free ripcord we can pull at the first pang of boredom or desire for novelty, and of course those pangs occur constantly.

Every time someone in a group of people deploys a screen, the whole group is affected. Each disengaged person in a crowd is like a little black hole, a dead zone for social energy, radiating a noticeable field of apathy towards the rest of the room and what’s happening there. […]

I imagine that in another decade or two we’ll look at 2010s-era device use something like we do now with cigarette smoking. I was born in 1980, and I remember smoking sections on planes, which is unthinkable today. I wonder if today’s kids will one day vaguely remember the brief, bizarre time when people didn’t think twice about lighting up a screen in the middle of a darkened concert hall.

Yes, but what about the children, I hear you cry. How much screen time should we let them have?

A philosophy professor argues kids should use more technology, not less
Kids aren’t losing themselves in their devices, but potentially finding themselves. What’s more, they’re doing exactly what generations of kids have long done: Immersing themselves in the toys and objects of the moment that reflect the society they inhabit, and which will help prepare them for the future.

Shapiro, an assistant professor of philosophy at Temple University and a respected thinker on education, childhood and technology, presents his case in the new book The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World.

Ok well never mind the philosophy professors, what do the real experts say?

Screen time not intrinsically bad for children, say doctors
Spending time looking at screens is not intrinsically bad for children’s health, say the UK’s leading children’s doctors, who are advising parents to focus on ensuring their children get enough sleep, exercise and family interaction rather than clamping down on phones and laptops.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has produced the first guidance for parents on how long children should spend on their laptops and phones, which throws the ball firmly back into the parents’ court.

Worry less about children’s screen use, parents told
It said there was no good evidence that time in front of a screen is “toxic” to health, as is sometimes claimed. The review of evidence found associations between higher screen use and obesity and depression. But the college looked at this and said it was not clear from the evidence if higher screen use was causing these problems or if people with these issues were more likely to spend more time on screens. […]

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the RCPCH, said phones, computers and tablets were a “great way to explore the world”, but parents were often made to feel that there was something “indefinably wrong” about them. He said: “We want to cut through that and say ‘actually if you’re doing OK and you’ve answered these questions of yourselves and you’re happy, get on and live your life and stop worrying’.

Stop worrying? That’s not a phrase you come across in the news very often.

Stop scaremongering about kids spending time on their phones
Still, the screen time scaremongering continues. Partly it’s the fault of scientists and journals, for doing and encouraging shoddy, shocking science; and partly it’s the media’s fault for overhyping weak and uncertain results. “It’s a lot easier,” says David Ellis, a psychologist at Lancaster who specialises in the psychological impacts of technology, “to get the press to cover something about how tech is having a bad effect, than something which says it’s having very little effect.” The RCPCH’s guidelines are a refreshing change.

So we need more research on the quality of the research?

Screens might be as bad for mental health as … potatoes
“Researchers will essentially torture the data until it gives them a statistically significant result that they can publish,” Przybylski says. (Not all researchers who report such results do so with the intention to deceive. But researchers are people; science as an institution may strive for objectivity, but scientists are nevertheless susceptible to biases that can blind them to their misuse of data.) “We wanted to move past this kind of statistical cherry-picking. So we decided to look for a data-driven method to collect the whole orchard, all at once.” […]

To put it in perspective, the researchers compared the link between technology use and adolescent well-being to that of other factors examined by the large-scale data sets. “Using technology is about as associated with well-being as eating potatoes,” Przybylski says. In other words: hardly at all. By the same logic, bullying had an effect size four times greater than screen use. Smoking cigarettes? 18 times. Conversely, getting enough sleep and eating breakfast were positively associated with adolescent well-being at a magnitude 44 and 30 times that of technology use, respectively.

The kids (who use tech) seem to be all right
“This is an incredibly important paper,” says Candice Odgers, a psychologist studying adolescent health and technology at the University of California, Irvine, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It provides a sophisticated set of analyses and is one of the most comprehensive and careful accountings of the associations between digital technologies and well-being to date. And the message from the paper is painstakingly clear: The size of the association documented across these studies is not sufficient or measurable enough to warrant the current levels of panic and fear around this issue.”

I know it’s not strictly screen time that us parents worry about, but will all this stop the scaremongering in the media about too much of it being bad for us and our children? I’ll certainly be glued to my phone, waiting to find out.

Size matters

How long is the perfect book?
British novelist E.M. Forster once complained that long books “are usually overpraised” because “the reader wishes to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.” To test his theory we collected reader ratings for 737 books tagged as “classic literature” on Goodreads.com, a review aggregator with 80m members. The bias towards chunky tomes was substantial. Slim volumes of 100 to 200 pages scored only 3.87 out of 5, whereas those over 1,000 pages scored 4.19. Longer is better, say the readers.

The phenomenon that Forster describes, akin to literary “Stockholm syndrome”, is only one possible explanation, as the article goes on to explain.

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I like that phrase, ‘literary Stockholm syndrome’. I wonder, though, if the age of the reader is relevant — I certainly feel less patient with these longer books as I grow older. (And less patient generally, if my family is to be believed!)

Futuristic authors, bored readers?

Whilst television seems to be rushing towards its future, can the same be said of books? In this essay for Wired, Craig Mod answers with a ‘yes, kinda’.

The ‘future book’ is here, but it’s not what we expected
In the 1990s, Future Bookism hit a kind of beautiful fever pitch. We were so close. Brown University professor Robert Coover, in a 1992 New York Times op-ed titled “The End of Books,” wrote of the future of writing: “Fluidity, contingency, indeterminacy, plurality, discontinuity are the hypertext buzzwords of the day, and they seem to be fast becoming principles, in the same way that relativity not so long ago displaced the falling apple.”

Things didn’t quite work out that way; Amazon swallowed up pretty much all the burgeoning e-book market, with Kindles that are “as interactive as a potato”.

Yet here’s the surprise: We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve—I think we can agree that, in an age of infinite distraction, one of the strongest assets of a “book” as a book is its singular, sustained, distraction-free, blissfully immutable voice. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. Perhaps the form and interactivity of what we consider a “standard book” will change in the future, as screens become as cheap and durable as paper. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem.

It’s an interesting take, for sure, but I can’t help but think this publishing revolution is marvellous for authors but, as a reader, I’m still pining for that promised interactivity. I don’t think it’s enough to say we’ve got Wikipedia and YouTube videos and e-mail newsletters and somehow we can bundle them all up and consider the resulting unstructured, messy, unvalidated heap a Future Book.

Tim Carmody responds to Craig’s essay with a call to pursue an older approach.

Towards the Future Book
I think the utopian moment for the future of the book ended not when Amazon routed its vendors and competitors, although the Obama DOJ deserves some blame in retrospect for handing them that win. I think it ended when the Google Books settlement died, leading to Google Books becoming, basically abandonware, when it was initially supposed to be the true Library of Babel.

For Tim, that goal — “the digitization of all printed matter, available for full-text search and full-image browsing on any device” — is where the future of the book should lie.

Will Self, meanwhile, is in a less positive mood.

The printed world in peril
As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

I’ve been a fan of his for many years now, his lack of optimism notwithstanding.

At the end of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the exiled hoboes return to the cities, which have been destroyed by the nuclear conflicts of the illiterate, bringing with them their head-borne texts, ready to restart civilization. And it’s this that seems to me the most prescient part of Bradbury’s menacing vision. For I see no future for the words printed on paper, or the art forms they enacted, if our civilization continues on this digital trajectory: there’s no way back to the future—especially not through the portal of a printed text.

Look again

I’ve got the art degree, I know all about the male gaze, but here’s something I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not really considered before.

How black women were whitewashed by art
All it takes is a few minutes of searching ‘Queen of Sheba painting’ on Google Images to see a litany of reclining, exoticised white women glancing languorously either at the viewer or King Solomon. There were once some depictions of the Queen of Sheba as dark-skinned, but the Renaissance saw her whitewashing and sexualisation on a grand scale. For Ohajuru it jars with earlier depictions of her, such as that seen at the altarpiece of Klosterneuburg in Austria, which portrays her visiting the king next to an image of the Adoration of the Magi. “She was used as a prefiguration, a foreteller, a prophesiser, that a king would visit the baby Jesus, just as a queen visited Solomon.” By the 18th Century she is no longer a queen meeting a king to have a healthy debate – she is an idolatrous seductress.

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Of blackness and ‘beauty’
Unlike his predecessor, Bazille does not capture a black woman as a servant to a naked, white prostitute as Manet does in his famous Olympia painting, but rather as a human being who exists outside of deference to a white woman. Peonies, symbols of riches, honor, and prosperity, surround her. She extends one flower out toward the frame as if a potential patron has approached her station. Like Manet’s black model Laure, she wears a headscarf and white outfit, but this peony-possessing woman’s features are much more defined. One cannot lose the connection of her curved lips from top to bottom, or the shape of her eyebrows. In contrast, Olympia, which many art historians call a modernist update to Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534), has inspired much study of Victorine Meurent, the naked white model who is staring directly at the spectator, instead of her servant Laure, whose history is sparsely documented. Her last name is not on record. It is another example of how a black model’s humanity is not given the same recognition as that of her white female counterpart.

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Don’t just sit there

I blogged ages ago about Colin McSwiggen’s loathing of chairs: “Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism.”

According to Guardian, they’re going to be the death of us.

Sit less and move more to reduce risk of early death, study says
Previous research from the same team found people should move at least every 30 minutes to reduce the chance of premature death, but now the researchers say simply breaking up sedentary periods is not enough – overall time spent seated must be cut to lower the risk.

Here’s the Independent’s write-up of that previous research from 2017.

Desk jobs double the risk of premature death, finds new study
Whether you sit down all day long or prefer to put you feet up periodically, racking up prolonged inactive time increases your risk of early death, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

I like to go for a walk during my lunch break, but what about those of us tied to our desks all day? Not a problem!

I’m old, sedentary and slouch a lot – will standing up at my desk help me live longer?
The posture and physical ergonomics need fine-tuning. I have got my screen balancing on one pile of books, keyboard on another, mouse on a third. I’m going to find out who’s in charge of desks, and then I’m going to actually physically go and see them about getting one of those proper standy-uppy ones. Don’t forget that movement, remember?

But this is just about what it’s like to not sit down all day. And, you know what? It’s really not so hard. A touch of the museum/art gallery squirms creep in after two hours. But I’m finding I can shake them off by thinking of all the extra time I’ll be getting at the end.

Or you could try some of these exercises from the oddly-named Art of Manliness website.

7 simple exercises that undo the damage of sitting
These dynamic stretches and exercises are designed for loosening tight hips that come from sitting too much. I try to incorporate a few of them in my daily workout warm-ups or even sneak some in when I’m hanging out with the kids (who think their dad is pretty odd). Every now and then I also dedicate an hour on Saturdays to just hip and glute work, along with some intense foam rolling.

I don’t know what that means.

If you’re really tight, take it nice and easy. As physical therapist Kelly Starrett says, “Don’t go into the pain cave. Your animal totem won’t be there to help you.”

I don’t know what that means, either. But I like the illustrations, so why not give it a go?

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The right time of day

Rushing to leave for work in the dark, fighting through the traffic coming home in the dark — dawn and dusk can be a little depressing in these winter months. But perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Thankfully, artist Chloe Wilson is here to show us the beauty and stillness of these times of day.

Skyscapes
This body of work is inspired by the particular quality of light that the sky possesses during the transition from day to night. I find these brief, daily moments interesting because of how they precipitate both perception and introspection. … I collect reference photos from my daily commute and then transcribe these moments into paint.

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(Via)

I love the atmosphere she’s captured here, all very calming. Those telegraph wires remind me of Robert Crumb’s drawings.

R. Crumb’s snapshots: Source material of the legendary comic artist
What his focus on such unsightly minutia in this anthology suggests, is that as outlandish, garish, or other-worldly as Crumb’s cartoons get, their lasting affect comes from always being firmly grounded to the banal referents of our real world.

“People don’t draw it, all this crap, people don’t focus attention on it because it’s ugly, it’s bleak, it’s depressing,” he says, “The stuff is not created to be visually pleasing and you can’t remember exactly what it looks like. But, this is the world we live in; I wanted my work to reflect that, the background reality of urban life.”

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