Everything is out to get us

Following on from that post about how technology is deliberately addictive and seemingly out to get us, here’s a wider view of the problems we face and “the price we have to pay for being born in modern times”.

How the modern world makes us mentally ill
The modern world is wonderful in many ways (dentistry is good, cars are reliable, we can so easily keep in touch from Mexico with our grandmother in Scotland) – but it’s also powerfully and tragically geared to causing a high background level of anxiety and widespread low-level depression.

Thankfully, for each area of concern there’s a solution of sorts. For instance:

The media has immense prestige and a huge place in our lives – but routinely directs our attention to things that scare, worry, panic and enrage us, while denying us agency or any chance for effective personal action. It typically attends to the least admirable sides of human nature, without a balancing exposure to normal good intentions, responsibility and decency. At its worst, it edges us towards mob justice.

The cure would be news that concentrated on presenting solutions rather than generating outrage, that was alive to systemic problems rather than gleefully emphasizing scapegoats and emblematic monsters – and that would regularly remind us that the news we most need to focus on comes from our own lives and direct experiences.

It can all seem quite overwhelming, but we need to stay positive.

The forces of psychological distress in our world are – currently – much wealthier and more active than the needed cures. We deserve tender pity for the price we have to pay for being born in modern times. But more hopefully, cures are now open to us individually and collectively if only we recognise, with sufficient clarity, the sources of our true anxieties and sorrows.

The trick is remembering all this when we’re caught up in the moment and wrapped up in our day-to-day troubles. They ought to produce and sell a little cheatsheet we can carry around in our wallets or something.

Our phones and (are?) us

If I’m reading this right, a mobile phone manufacturer is saying less than positive things about their mobile phones. (Not for the first time?)

Phones should be ‘slaves, not masters’, says Samsung UK mobile chief
… Following increasing unease from technology insiders and development experts that young and old alike are becoming increasingly addicted to smartphones, social media and the constant need for messaging, Samsung’s head of mobile in the UK says that something needs to change to stop the constant heads-down relationship we have with our devices.

“Ultimately what we want to try and do is create more of a heads-up lifestyle,” Conor Pierce, Samsung’s vice president of mobile and IT in the UK and Ireland, told the Guardian at the launch of the company’s new Galaxy S9 smartphone.

“Let’s not spend our life looking at these devices. You look around and everyone is doing it, leaning over [their] phones. Let’s make the device be the slave and we’ll be the master – let’s turn the roles completely on their head.”

And the problem of all this distracting technology can be resolved through more technology?

“What I’m really looking forward to is making sure that not only customers have the best mobile experience, but also the best connectivity experience,” said Pierce. “Through our SmartThings open alliance, we’re bringing a ubiquitous, convenient experience in which users can control their privacy, as they need to be able to do, regardless of brand, to make it all a really joyful, easy, trusted experience for real people.”

Combine that with this discussion on the ‘extended mind’ thesis:

Are ‘you’ just inside your skin or is your smartphone part of you?
After all, your smartphone is much more than just a phone. It can tell a more intimate story about you than your best friend. No other piece of hardware in history, not even your brain, contains the quality or quantity of information held on your phone: it ‘knows’ whom you speak to, when you speak to them, what you said, where you have been, your purchases, photos, biometric data, even your notes to yourself – and all this dating back years.

It’s cold outside

A photographer took a thermal camera out onto the cold streets of London to document the what it’s like to be homeless this time of year.

Traces of warmth: thermal images of London’s homeless
Photographer Grey Hutton has spent the winter photographing homeless people with a thermal imaging camera, offering a new perspective to the growing problem of homelessness in the UK, and highlighting the hardship that so many face on the streets of London in winter.

And more locally, a number of Leeds schoolchildren tried to see for themselves what it’s like to sleep rough.

‘It was awful, it was freezing cold and I was hungry’
40 kids from a school in Leeds spent the night sleeping without their home comforts. The aim was to give them an understanding of what it’s like to sleep rough in cold weather. They slept in an old office building and had no heating, no beds to sleep on and no luxuries like mobile phones.

Rethinking colour and country

I liked the synchronicity of these stories. (And yes, I’m deliberately linking to the Mail’s version of the first one.)

First ancient Britons had black skin and blue eyes
Dr Tom Booth, a scientist from the museum said that the findings that there was a 76 per cent chance that Cheddar Man was ‘dark to black’ – was ‘extraordinary’. He said in the documentary: ‘If a human with that colour skin wandered around now, we’d call him black, and a lot darker than we’d expect for Europe as well. He added: ‘It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions that are really not applicable to the past at all.’ Dr Rick Schulting, an archaeology professor at Oxford University said: ‘It may be that we may have to rethink some of our notions of what it is to be British, what we expect a Briton to look like at this time.’

Do the limbo! How the Windrush brought a dance revolution to Britain
Windrush: Movement of the People is based partly on Watson’s own parents’ journey from Jamaica to Leeds in the 1950s, emphasising the loyalty that motivated them to go through such an upheaval. It felt horribly poignant to Watson that, having set out for the UK with such high-minded hopes, her parents encountered so much cruelty. The racism of 1950s Britain was brutal, Watson says. “My mother wept and wept once she started telling me about it: ‘When the call came out we answered it. But we arrived to all these notices saying: No dogs, no blacks, no Irish. That really hurt.’”

And here’s a photo of my grandad on the cover of the Windrush 65th Anniversary edition of The Voice.

Pernicious Facebook

There’s a Pernicious Anaemia page on Facebook, but not an actual Pernicious Facebook page. Perhaps I should start one. I’m sure George Soros would give me a like.

George Soros: Facebook and Google a menace to society
“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment,” said the Hungarian-American businessman, according to a transcript of his speech. “This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.”

There’s more from him on his webpage. (I’m guessing he doesn’t have a Facebook page.)

George Soros: Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum
Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated.

You wouldn’t think those in charge of these social media companies would agree, but perhaps they do?

‘Never get high on your own supply’ – why social media bosses don’t use social media
“It’s possible that in 20 years we’ll look back at the current generation of children and say: ‘Look, they are socially different from every other generation of humans that came before and as a result this is a huge problem and maybe we need to regulate these behaviours.’ Or perhaps we’ll look back and say: ‘I don’t know what the fuss was – I’m not sure why we were so concerned.’ Until we have some evidence, until there’s something that seems tangible, I think it’s going to be very hard to get people en masse to change how they behave.”

Ambivalent, to say the least.

Tackling loneliness

Steps from the government, as well as research from the Co-op Group.

May appoints minister to tackle loneliness issues raised by Jo Cox
“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.” May paid tribute to Cox’s work, saying she hoped the initiative would aim “to see that, in Jo’s memory, we bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good”.

Loneliness is harming our society. Your kindness is the best cure
The commission will be outlining its thinking at the end of the year with requests for government and business. But we’ll also be explaining how we all have a role to play. Jo knew this. She said that tackling loneliness is “something many of us could easily help with – whether looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend”.

What loneliness costs UK employers
Our latest research shows 4 key ways that loneliness is a financial cost to employers. 1. Sickness absence associated with ill health effects of loneliness costs £20 million. 2. Lost working days caring for someone suffering from the ill health effects of loneliness costs £220 million. 3. Reduced productivity costs related to lower wellbeing from loneliness are £665 million. 4. Costs associated with increased voluntary staff ‘turnover’ are £1.62 billion.

Local tragedy

Teenager dies in Leeds Harehills barber shop shooting
The teenager was at Too Sharp’s The Barber Shop on Gathorne Terrace, in the Harehills area, when he was shot shortly before 13.20 GMT on Thursday. West Yorkshire Police said the man was found seriously injured and taken to hospital by ambulance for treatment, but later died. A 49-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

A little unsettling when it’s so close like that.

Digital good?

Interesting publications on design, technology and change for ‘good’
“I’m pulling together a list of interesting, thought-provoking reading on how design, technology and change (the three things that, for me, define ‘digital’) can help organisations that work in the community, voluntary, charity, non-profit, social enterprise type space.”

There are some interesting people in the non-profit and public sectors, with some great ideas about how technology and a more digital outlook can improve organisations and help people. Hopefully Dave’s reading list is a growing resource.

Digital bad?

We are hopelessly hooked
What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn’t be always clutching smartphones if we didn’t believe they made us safer, more productive, less bored, and were useful in all of the ways that a computer in your pocket can be useful.

As ever, with this subject as with many others, a simplistic modern-life-is-rubbish attitude falls short. Things are more complicated than that.​​