Archive for September, 2013

Be Calm

September 29, 2013

The second of eight steps to contemplative computing1 is to be calm. Contemplation involves a special kind of calm. It’s active rather than passive. It’s disciplined and self-aware. It’s like the placidity of the samurai. Or the coolness under pressure exhibited by an experienced pilot. It’s the product of masterful engagement that fills one’s attention and leaves no room for distraction.

Training and discipline are required for this type of calm. It involves a deep understanding of both devices and the self. This calm does not require getting away from the world. Rather it allows for fluid quick action in the world. The goal is not to escape, but rather to engage. We need to set the stage on which we can bring our entanglement with devices and media under our control so that we can more effectively engage with the world and extend ourselves.

Remember that technology affords the opportunity to be calm, if only we make use of it. There is voice mail, so phone messages can be answered, or not answered, when we decide to answer them. Similarly, email awaits our attention. Always remember that it is our attention. We can decide if and when to devote our attention to it.

Also remember, that meditation is a practice that can help us be calm. You will find many posts on meditation in the healthymemory blog.

Zenware, which assists us in being calm, is discussed in The Distraction Addiction. Writeroom and Ommwriter are two examples of Zenware. Try going to http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/.

The remaining six principles of contemplative computing will be discussed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts. The first principle, Be Human, was discussed in the preceding blog post.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

Be Human

September 25, 2013

Be human is the first of eight steps to contemplative computing.1 Perhaps, this could be rephrased, remember what it means to be human. It means doing two things.

First, it means appreciating entanglement is a big part of us. Entanglement refers to our being entangled with our technology. This goes back to the first tools and weapons developed by the early humans. There is a misconception that technology refers to something new. The term technology really refers to any systematic application of knowledge to fashion the artifacts, materials, and procedures of our lives. It applies to any artificial tool or method. We use technologies so well that they become invisible. We incorporate them into our body schema, and employ them to extend our mental and physical capabilities, our human potential. Our species has honed this capability for more than a million years. It includes the domestication of plants and animals for food and clothing, the invention of language and writing. Moreover, concerns about our entanglement with technology are not new. Socrates objected to the development of the Greek alphabet. In the 1850’s Thoreau wrote in Walden, “But lo! Men have become tools of their tools.” Nevertheless, all of these have made us more human and more entangled with technology. Information technology is no different. We should insist on devices that serve and deserve us.

Second, it means recognizing how computers affect the way we see ourselves. Information technologies are developing so quickly, vastly increasing in power and sophistication. Computer power has a thousandfold increase every ten years, a millionfold increase every twenty years. They invade every corner of our lives and threaten to not only match, but also exceed our own intelligence. Consequently, we can easily feel stupid and feel a sense of resignation about our approaching cognitive obsolescence as computer overlords surpass human intelligence and memory. We need to realize that human intelligence and memory are biological and different from silicon counterparts. Real time is not human time, but the speed of commercial and financial transactions can continually be ratcheted upward. Although the lag between events and reporting on events can be reduced to virtually zero, we do not have to take less time to read, decide and respond to changes in the world and workplace. Our biological brains complement digital silicon brains. We need to be users, not victims, of technology.

The remaining seven steps to contemplative computing will be addressed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contemplative Computing

September 22, 2013

According to Nielsen and the Pew Research Center, Americans spend an average of 60 hours a month online. That’s 729 hours a year, which is the equivalent of 90 eight-hour days per year. Twenty of these days are spent in social networking sites, 38 viewing content on news sites, YouTube, blogs, and so on, and 32 doing email. Remember, these numbers of averages, so numbers for individuals can be considerably higher or lower. The usual response to this is that we are being overwhelmed by technology.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that this blog is not sympathetic to articles and books complaining that we are suffering victims of our technology. The Distraction Addiction, in spite of its title, is not one of these books. Its author, Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is a senior business consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Silicon Valley-based think tank, and a visiting scholar at Stanford and Oxford universities. He has also been a Microsoft Research fellow. Dr. Pang is an advocate of contemplative computing, of not letting technology rule our lives, but instead of using this technology and interacting with our fellow humans to extend and grown our capabilities. Using technology and interacting with our fellow humans is referred to in the healthymemory blog as transactive memory. Contemplative computing aligns directly with what is being advocated in the healthymemory blog. Transactive memory, mindfulness, and meditation are central to the message of the healthymemory blog.

There are four big ideas, or principles in The Distraction Addiction.

The first big idea is our relationships with information technologies are incredibly deep and express unique human capacities.

The second big idea is the world has become a more distracting place—and there are solutions for bringing the extended mind back under control.

The third big idea is it’s necessary to be contemplative about technology.

And the fourth big idea is you can redesign your extended mind.

Were I to assign a text for the healthymemory blog, it would be The Distraction Addiction. Although it would not be appropriate for me to assign a text, I certainly do recommend your reading The Distraction Addiction. Given its relevance, I shall be basing many healthymemory blog posts on this book, but I can never do justice to the original.

In the meantime, you can visit www.contemplativecomputing.org

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Comments on an Article Titled Now is The Time for Young People to Face Alzheimer’s

September 18, 2013

First of all, let me state that I am in strong agreement with the title of the article. The author includes both personal experiences and statistics in the article. It begins with the story of the grandfather who has succumbed to Alzheimer’s and needs to be taken care of by the author and her mother. He requires around-the-clock care. Her grandfather is not alone as are over 5 million Americans suffering with this incurable and life-altering disease. “Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Those with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to do things that were once routine. As the disease progresses, patients forget their loved ones’ faces, where they live and much more.

The stress of this disease, though, largely falls on the patient’s caregiver. An elderly adult caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s has a 60 percent chance of dying before the patient, and this past June, my family saw this firsthand. My grandma Margaret died suddenly of an aneurism after caring for her husband of 60 years. Her death left our family lamenting the stress she lived with in her final years.

Stepping into my grandmother’s shoes has been a difficult experience for my mom and me. Trying to get through normal grief is hard enough, but simultaneously caring for my grandpa challenged us on many emotional levels. Slowly but surely, time eases the pain of grieving a loved one, but there remains a hole in our heart that will never be healed.

As a 19-year-old helping to take care of an 81-year-old with Alzheimer’s, I began to reflect on how this disease will affect future lives. As of now, someone develops Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds. That’s scary enough, but by 2050 people could develop the disease every 33 seconds.

The segment of the population over age 65 is also expected to double by 2030. While the number of older folks increases, the rate of those with Alzheimer’s will also increase. Millennials like myself need to acknowledge the fact that we will become the manifestations of these horrifying statistics. The five million Americans currently with Alzheimer’s are only a third of the 15 million projected to have the disease in 2050. I’m terrified to think what life will look like for the elderly when I turn 65 in 2058, and others in my generation should share that fear.

Young people tend to have an invincibility complex, through which the health issues of the elderly are the farthest thing from their minds. With such a serious health threat to our society, millennials simply cannot afford to only think about me me me. The problem of Alzheimer’s in America grows greater by the year, and we cannot wait until 2050 to start and look for solutions.

While I help with my grandpa’s care, I hope my family’s story will help others reflect on the devastating future of Alzheimer’s. Though the statistics don’t look bright, I remain optimistic my fellow millennials will try and think more about our collective health.”1

What is conspicuously missing from this articles is what millennials can do about Alzheimer’s. And that is what the healthymemory blog is about. See previous healthymemory blog posts, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”, and “Sigmund Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease.” The individual who discovered Alzheimer’s disease, Alois Alzheimer, had serious doubts as to whether he had discovered a disease. And there are serious doubts as to whether there will be drugs developed that can either cure of provide an immunity to a disease. Current drugs slow the progression, and, in my view, prolong the suffering.

To this point, drugs have been primarily targeting the amyloid plaque and the neurofibrillary tangles that have been found in autopsies done on sufferers of Alzheimer’s. At one time, and this is perhaps still the case, this was regarded as the only definitive diagnosis of the disease. But these same plaques and tangles have been found in autopsies of people who exhibited none of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s . The explanation for this is that these individuals have developed a cognitive reserve that protected them from exhibited the symptoms.

So what should millennials do about Alzheimer’s? The same things that everyone else should do. Maintain physical and dental health and consume a healthy diet. Engage in mental activities that build cognitive reserve. Included here are mnemonic techniques, meditation, and mindfulness. Also use technology to extend your knowledge and to communicate with others. Maintaining and growing social relationships throughout one’s life is important. But “friending” on Facebook should not be regarded as building healthy relationships. And finally, read the healthymemoryblog.

1From the article.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are Facebook Users More Satisfied with Life?

September 15, 2013

This question has been answered in a study published in the Public Library of Science by Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan and Phillipe Verduyn of Leueven University in Belgium. They recruited 82 Facebook users in their late teens or early twenties. Their Facebook activity was monitored for two weeks and each participant had to report five times a day on their state of mind, and their direct social contacts (phone calls and meetings with other people).

The results showed that the more a participant used Facebook in the period between the two questionnaires, the worse she reported feeling the next time she filled in a questionnaire. The participants rated their satisfaction with life at the beginning and again at the end of the study. Participants who used Facebook frequently were more likely to report a decline in satisfaction than those who visited the site infrequently. However, there was a positive association between the amount of direct social contact a volunteer had and how positive she felt. So socialization in the real, as opposed to the virtual or cyber world, did increase positive feelings.

So why was socialization in the cyber world making people feel worse? This question was addressed in another study at Humboldt University and Darmstadt Technical, both of which are located in Germany. They surveyed 584 Facebook users in their twenties. They found that the most common emotion aroused in Facebook is envy. Comparing themselves with peers who have doctored their photographs, amplified, if not lied about, their achievements resulted in envy in the readers.

The question remains whether the same results would be found in older Facebook users. In other words, does age make us wiser?1

1Get a Life! The Economist, April 17, 2013, p.68.

A 9/11 Message

September 10, 2013

 

For most people, 9/11 started a war on terrorism. This is unfortunate as terrorism is a tactic for conducting war, not an enemy to be attacked. In my view, the message of 9/11 is that in this age of technology we are all vulnerable to any wacko group or individual. Even a single individual could assemble a dirty bomb, perhaps even a primitive nuclear device.

 

Let’s review what happened on 9/11. Four planes were hijacked. Two of them brought down the twin towers in New York, and one struck the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. The fourth plane did not reach its intended target, because by that time passengers revolted because they knew if they did not try, their fate was certain death. Actually, from this point forward, it was highly unlikely that a hijacking would be successful, even if one were attempted. Nevertheless a fortune is being spent on airport security when there are many, many points of vulnerability remaining. To name just two, our ports and our malls.

 

After the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid failed to blow up a commercial airline in flight, all airline passengers departing an airport in the United States were made to walk through security checks in socks or bare feet while our shoes were scanned for bombs. After British police foiled a plot to detonate liquid explosives on board airlines in 2006, passengers at UK airport were not allowed to take liquids on board. When a passenger tried to set off plastic explosives sewn to his underwear, the US government announced plans to spend about$1 billion on full-body scanners and other security technology such as bomb detectors. The security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed many of these measures “security theater” on the grounds that they serve merely to create the impression that the authorities are doing something, but do nothing to reduce the actual risk of terrorist attack. Instead, it was intelligence tip-offs, not airport checkpoints, that have foiled the vast majority of attempted attacks. We really cannot know of all of the intelligence tip-offs that have precluded these tragedies as acknowledging them risks compromising ways and means that might preclude future tip-offs.

 

I would argue that the real war on wackos began on April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This also calls attentions that our enemies are not necessarily foreign. There are the recent bombings that took place at the Boston, Marathon. Although the perpetrators were radical Islamists, no evidence has been linked to foreigners supporting them. If you are skeptical that there are not abundant wackos within the United States that are potential sources of danger go to http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map

 

The recent disclosure by the macro leaker Snowden, and he is most definitely a leaker and not a whistle blower, have called into question U.S. Policy on what is called domestic spying. My concern is not that there is too much, but rather that there is too little of this so-called domestic spying. My concern is based on the abundant supply of domestic wackos.

 

I definitely think that the protection of civil rights and personal privacy is important. But I think that the laws should be on how this information is used, not collected. If the information is used to embarrass someone, or is used in any unauthorized manner with the exception of planning or executing criminal or terrorist acts, severe penalties should be enforced. Otherwise the law protects criminals and terrorists. Under current laws, criminals and terrorists can be set free on the basis of legal technicalities. I can also envision a so-called terrorist attack being executed while the permission to conduct surveillance was under review. I am concerned about my personal security, but my primary concerns are with criminal hackers and businesses, not the government. At some point, one needs to have faith in one’s government. It is not difficult to find countries whose written laws and policies are not followed. Laws can be set up and not followed by an unethical government.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

The Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress

September 7, 2013

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve. It connects our brains to our lungs, digestive tracts, heart, and the parasympathetic nervous system. Remember that our sympathetic nervous system alerts us to new things and danger. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for helping us relax and calm down. The stronger the activity of our vagus nerve, the more readily we can assume a feed and enjoy state rather than being stressed out. The strength of this vagal activity is known as vagal tone.

The vagus nerve’s interplay with the heart rate as we breathe can be used to infer vagal tone. Inhaling temporarily suppresses vagal nerve activity. This increases heart rate that helps oxygenated blood circulate. When we breathe out, our heart rate slows. The larger the difference between our heart rate when breathing in compared with breathing out, the higher our vagal tone.

An article in the New Scientist1 explains why we should care about vagal tone, and what we can do to improve it. There are physical health benefits. The vagus nerve plays a role in stimulating insulin production. Consequently, people with low tone are not as good as those with high tone at regulating their blood glucose levels. They also have difficulty suppressing inflammation. These factors are association with heart failure, stroke, and diabetes, so it is not surprising that thee is a strong link between low vagal tone and dying from cardiovascular disease. There are also mental benefits. People with higher vagal tone tend to be intellectually sparkier. They are better able to focus their attention and have better working memories.

Naturally, the question is how can vagal tone be improved. Loving kindness meditation was highlighted in the New Scientist article. Buddhist monks will spend hours in this type of meditation. Given the state of the world, one might conclude that their efforts are ineffective. However, regardless of the state of the world, these monks should be in superb physical and mental health. Fortunately, it does not appear that lengthy meditations are needed . Here is the protocol described in the article:

Find a position that makes you feel relaxed, yet alert. With your eyes closed, try to envisage your heartbeat, and then consciously concentrate on your breathing. Now visualize someone—it can be yourself, a loved one, or someone you barely know—and think of their good qualities. Once you are feeling positive towards them, repeat these traditional phrases of loving kindness meditation: May X feel safe: May X feel happy: May X feel healthy: May X live at ease. After a few minutes, let go of X’s image and start thinking nice thoughts about someone else.

The article mentions people mentally wishing happy thoughts to strangers they are passing. Research into this area is fairly new. It does not seem that loving kindness meditation, although certainly worthwhile, is necessary to increase vagal tone. However, it is quite likely that positive thoughts and some type of meditation are important. Some unpublished research has shown that just reflecting on positive social experiences during the day boosts vagal tone. Physical exercise is also likely to be beneficial

1Young, E. (2013.Wishful Thinking, July, 46-49.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dental Health and Alzheimer’s

September 4, 2013

I never thought I would be writing about dental prophylaxes, but relevant research relating dental prophylaxes to the prevention of Alzheimer’s requires me to do so. Hence this post. A very good friend, and healthymemory blog reader, sent me the link1 to a Yahoo Health Article on how taking care of our teeth may prevent Alzheimer’s/

According to the article, there is a rapidly growing body of evidence strongly linking periodontal disease to a greatly increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possibly other types of dementia. In the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, British scientists reported finding signs of gum-disease bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Byproducts of this bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivitis (P. gingivitas) were found in brain samples of four out of ten Alzheimer’s patients, but not in the samples from ten people of similar age without dementia. Although this sample is too small for statistical conclusions, it is suggestive.

P. gingivitis is commonly found in in people with chronic periodontal disease. It can enter the bloodstream through everyday activities such as eating, brushing, and invasive dental treatments. From there, it can potentially travel to the brain. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It affects nearly 50% of American adults over age 30, and 70% of people age 65 or older.

In a study done in 2010 involving 152 people, researchers linked inflammed gums to greatly increased risk for cognitive impairment. The study compared mental function at ages 50 and 70 and found people with gum inflammation nine times more likely to score in the lowest category of mental function compared to those with little or no inflammation. This finding held true even when risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and tooth loss unrelated to gum disease were taken into account. Gum disease made the situation even worse for people who already had impaired cognitive function at age 50.

One theory explaining the link between oral bacteria and memory loss posits that these pathogens might generate inflammation in brain cells involved in Alzheimer’s, such as the glial cells. Dr, Bale, the medical director of the Heart Health Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas says that”One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is activated glial cells, with high levels of inflammatory molecules that lead to nerve cell damage and destruction.”

Here are Dr. Bale’s recommendation for keeping your teeth, and likely your brain, in excellent health.

  • Brush at least twice a day, in the morning and at bedtime. He also recommends using an electric tooth brush for two minutes and fluoride toothpaste.

  • Be sure to brush the back and front of each tooth, along with your gums and tongue.

  • Floss at least once a day, being sure to wrap the floss around each tooth to remove debris and bacteria. An oral irrigator , such as Waterpik, can also be helpful for cleaning between the teeth.

  • Know the symptoms of gum disease and alert your dentist if you have any of them. The leading warning sign is bleeding when you brush or floss. Others include red, puffy, or tender gums, loose teeth. Puss between your gums and teeth, and a change in your bite (how your teeth fit together), any of which should warrant a quick dental checkup.

  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a checkup and professional cleaning. Even if you don’t have any symptoms of gum disease, the checkup should include measuring the pockets between your teeth, which is done painlessly with a dental probe. In the early stages gum disease may not cause any obvious symptoms.

  • Avoid smoking, which greatly increases risk for gum disease.

Something to Think About on Labor Day

September 1, 2013

When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school. And it’s getting worse. Americans now work for eight-and-a-half hours more a week than they did in 1979.

I would ask further what, exactly, are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work? What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%. So what is going on here?

Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. We are finding that exceedingly hard to achieve. But is this a realistically achievable unemployment rate? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet, only the path to these riches remained unspecified. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment?

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the results of the following study.1 It found that being poor, is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000.00 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. And this was for experienced well being. Emotional well being might have carried additional therapeutic costs. So it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

Part of the reason might be that the creation of technology sometimes results in more work. This phenomenon was analyzed for housework in a book by Ruth Schwartz Cohen titled More Work for Mother. Household appliances such as washing machines and vacuum cleaner produced higher cleaning standards but not less work. The seasonal work of spring cleaning that had been done by the entire family was replaced by year-round vacuum cleaning and dusting. Clothes that had been word for several days or until they were sweaty and soiled went into the hamper on a daily basis for washing.

There is also the Jevons paradox named after the economist William Stanley Jevons. He noticed in 1865 that the demand for coal was not decreasing with technological innovation and better energy efficiency. Instead , factory and mine operators had access to new, more efficient coal-fired engines increased production or installed engines in parts of their facilities where previously the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive. Thus, increased efficiency resulted in an increased use of technology, which led to an overall increase in energy consumption. Sometimes labor-saving technologies lead people to choose to do things that consume more labor, as well as more time and energy

Another reason might be the that the economic theorists who currently formulate policy are classical economists using the rational theory of man. Behavioral economists have debunked this theory. Moreover, computing GNP in terms of hard dollars might smack of objectivity, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking lot where he dropped his keys. Economic measures should include such subjective, but relevant, measures as happiness and life satisfaction. But they do not. Perhaps this is due in part to the extreme economics supermeme that plagues us and has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Perhaps with the appropriate measures and appropriate philosophies regarding self fulfillment and self actualization we can get off the treadmill and enjoy the fruits of technology and our lives.

You also might visit or revisit the Healthymemory Blog post “Gross National Happiness (GNH).

1Kahneman, D., & Angus, D. (2010). High Income Improves the Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well Being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 16489-93

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.