Archive for April, 2019

Are We Getting Dumber?

April 30, 2019

This post is based on statistics from a column by Max Boot in the 18 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. His column begins, “Only 36% of Americans could pass a multiple-choice civics test of the kind that is administered to immigrants seeking to become citizens. 60% don’t know which countries the United States fought with in World War II. 57% don’t know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. Only 24% know what Benjamin Franklin was famous for? Some respondents thought he had invented the light bulb.

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship foundation conducted a survey confirming that there is a national emergency of civics illiteracy and it is getting worse. 74% of those over age 65 could pass the citizenship exam (which requires correctly just 6 out of 10 questions), but only 19% of those under 45 could do so. And a college degree does not guarantee a minimal knowledge of U.S. history. In surveys of college graduates commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, fewer than 20% could identify the Emancipation Proclamation, only 42% knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II (this is spite of the many movies made about this battle), and one-third were unaware that Franklin D. Roosevelt had introduced the New Deal.

Boot concludes “We are a democracy at risk of being too ignorant to govern ourselves.” HM would argue that we have already demonstrated that we are too ignorant to govern ourselves. The election of Trump as President and a Republican Party that continues to support him make this point. HM would like to know how Trump would do on this citizenship exam. Trump only recently learned, and was surprised to learn, that Lincoln was a Republican!

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Advertisements

2019 NFL Draft

April 29, 2019

This post is based on an article by Sally Jenkins titled, “Smart teams trade down, but most teams just aren’t smart,” in the 27 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. There have been previous posts on this topic. Behavioral economics which grew from Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize (unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed on and was ineligible for the prize when it was awarded) can be used to guide NFL Draft Picks. The basic strategy is to trade down rather than trade up. Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton school and Nobel Prize winner produced papers in 2005 and 2012 that showed that teams profoundly overvalue first-round picks and simply don’t have the ability they think they do to discern between a great player and a good one.

Jenkins writes, “How often is a team right in picking a high-first rounder” What will be the quantifiable difference between the top choice at a position in the 2019 draft and the next available player, or even the third or fourth, in terms of games started and potential Pro Bowl success? The difference would need to be large given the amount of their investments. But their expenditures prove right only 52% of the time, which is effectively a coin toss.

Massey who does consulting for NFL teams says, “History suggests you do better by trading down from the top, using multiple lesser picks than one high pick.” The Patriots have done this with obvious success. From the article, “As of 2018, Bill Belichick had traded down fully 21 times on draft day to acquire more picks. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have chosen 39 players in the second and third rounds, the highest number of any team in the AFC. And they won Super Bowls with them.”

Massey says, “If you recognize the uncertainty rather than throwing up your hands, you say, ‘We want as many draws as possible from the lottery. We can’t influence one ticket, but we can get as many tickets as possible.”

Andrew Brandt, a sports business analyst and former vice-president of the Green Bay Packers says, “It take a lot of willpower to trade out of that first-round pick, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of gravitas goes with that.”

Teams often do the dead opposite of what they should: give away fistfuls of picks to move up and grab a single star prospect. According to Massey overconfidence in their own judgment clouds their thinking. Brandt says, “Or sometimes it’s just a simple case of seeing a player ‘you lust after.’”

There is also extreme pressure coming from fans. There are many males who might not be about to tell you who their representatives to Congress or their senators are, who have definite strong picks for the NFL draft.

Massey says, “The quants are wrong to think you can quantify every single player. But you also can’t be right without the quantifications.”

The Random Act of Choosing a College Major

April 28, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Van Dam in the 30 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. This post provides a neat follow up to the immediately preceding post “Missing Healthymemory Themes.” The article begins by stating that this potentially life altering decision is often made based on something as trivial as what time of day you took a particular class, or what you happened to be studying when the deadline for picking a major arrived. Even when students are doing well in a course, perhaps even in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic (STEM) discipline, they will switch majors to be with others who share genre or background. This has been suggested as a possible explanation for lower participation of females in these disciplines.

Economists like to study U.S. Military Academy Cadets because they are assigned schedules, and some classes at random creating a data set that allows them to answer questions such as what’s causing a student to pick one major over another. The author writes, “The answer, it turns out, is dumb luck. Students who happen to be assigned classes in one of four required subjects during the semester when they’re supposed to pick a major are twice as likely to major in the assigned subject, according to University of Maryland economist Nolan Pope, and Richard Patterson and Aaron Feudo of the U.S. Military Academy. This held true regardless of how well a student performed or how much they liked the course according to the analysis of class data from 2001 to 2015. Their database included grades, class times and students opinion about the course. Pope said, “Small and seemingly unimportant things can really have a large impact. Often students cite a specific class or teacher for a choice of major.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor Karem Haggag, showed students are about 10% less likely to major in a subject if they took a class at 7:30 a.m. Likewise. as students grown more fatigued during the day they grow about 10% less likely to major in the subject covered by each successive class.

Given these data it is not surprising that 37% of students eventually switch according to a paper from University of Memphis economists Carmen Astorne-Fiagari and Jamin D. Speer. These economists conducted a long-running survey of almost 9,000 students born between 1980 and 1984. Not surprisingly, students with lower GPAs are more likely to leave their major. But women of all ability levels are likely to change majors. However, men are more likely to drop out instead of trying a different major according to a study by Astorne-Figari and Speer.

Students doing poorly tend to switch majors, which makes perfect sense. Business, social sciences and economics tend to gain the most from students major switching, while biology, computer science and medicine (medical and health services) lost the most.

About a third of the men and a fifth of the women start out in STEM, and about 30% of those men and 43% of those women switch out of the subject area. Women who leave STEM tend to go to majors that cover similar subjects but are less competitive and less male, such as nursing. Speer said, “There are a lot of women who are very competent in math and science. They typically go to other fields that use science or other fields that use science but are less dominated by men.

Just because one has difficulty with a subject, does not necessarily mean that one cannot be successful in that area. The case of Barbara Oakley is instructive here.
Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.
When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

There are several posts on Dr. Oakley. She has also written a book “MIndshift.”
She writes that a “mindshift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning, and that is what this book is about. She relates true and inspirational stories of how people change themselves through learning—and who bring seemingly obsolete extraneous knowledge with them that has enabled our world to grow in fantastically creative and uplifting ways.

Missing Healthymemory Themes

April 26, 2019

HM was disappointed that Dr. Twenge did not at least touch upon healthy memory themes in “iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” One of these themes was alluded to in the posts about spirituality and religion. There seems to have been a loss in empathy among iGen-ers. Given the exorbitant college costs along with other economic demands, the iGen-ers are living in a dog eat dog world. Spiritual activities including meditation can increase sensitivity to and caring for our fellow human beings.

There was no evidence of passion, grit, or growth mindsets. People go to college to get a job. Education is an instrumental act, not a goal in itself. Of course, they are not unusual in this respect. This certainly is nothing new. When HM taught in college, that certainly was the most common response. But students who actually had an intellectual interest in a subject were dearly appreciated. This blog has advocated growth mindsets and lifelong learning as primary goals not only for a fulfilling life, but also as a means of decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even if they develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, they might well die with these defining symptoms without ever evidencing the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The key here is the System 2 processes engaged during learning or critical thinking. Unfortunately, too many people manage to minimize use of System 2 processes even during college. The hope is that at least they engage in activities such as Bridge or Chess, read some books, and stay off Facebook and similar online activities.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Missing Data

April 25, 2019

There are many changes in the behavior and thinking of iGen’ers. The question is which changes are due to the iPhone and which to general changes in society. Dr. Twenge has offered her opinions in “iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” Unfortunately, all her data comes from the United States. If she had included data from other advanced countries, then one would have a better idea regarding the effects from specific cultural contributions.

Income insecurity is a key problem for iGen-ers, and it is obvious why. Just consider the ridiculous college costs. They also need to be concerned about medical costs and the costs of medical insurance. The United States is unique in being the only advanced country that does not supply government funded health insurance. Specific forms may differ, but the bottom line is that medical costs are not a concern to residents of these countries. Moreover, not only are medical costs lower in these countries than in the United States, but the results, the overall health of these countries is better. It is also the case that colleges costs are much, much lower, and free in some cases. It should also be noted that in worldwide surveys of happiness, the United States does not fare that well. Not surprisingly, they fall behind the other advanced countries in these surveys.

There is a chapter on politics in the book, but HM did not bother to review it because it seemed that both Dr. Twenge and the iGen-ers were completely oblivious to the problem. Free medical and free or low cost college educations should be the primary concerns for them. But they were not mentioned. iGen-ers are not unique to being oblivious what is happening in the rest of the world, this seems to be the problem with the vast majority of Americans.

There is a word that is uttered and once uttered, closes down discussion. That word is “socialism.” It is generally ignored that there is no precise definition for socialism. Communist countries called themselves socialists, but by having a Social Security System, the United States could also be called a socialist country.

The term is used to elicit fear and to shut down further consideration. It’s goal is to shut down further discussion and thinking. But you need to consider what conditions are like in these advanced counties with free medical care and low cost college educations. One will likely find that many of these countries have more freedom that the United States. That is not to say that these countries are problem free, although many might appear to be. But they do have the priorities correct, with education and health at the top.

So realize what the cry “socialism” is intended to engender fear and to shut down further discussion. Basically, they are trying to screw you. Don’t accept it and demand that the United States needs to be comparable on these issues with the remainder of the advanced world. This will be difficult, It will likely require tax increases, but tax increases with cost effective benefits, and massive reallocation of government expenditures. But the United States needs to have its priorities ordered correctly. Ask why we are treated differently from citizens of the other advanced countries.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Understanding—and—Saving—iGen

April 24, 2019

The final chapter of iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. offers some suggestions for saving iGen.

Not surprisingly, the first is to put down the phone. She recommends parents putting off giving their children a cell phone as long as possible. There really is no reason for an elementary school child to have a cell phone. By middle school, with kids in more activities and more likely to ride a bus, many parents buy phones for their kids convenience and safety. Here she recommends providing the child with a phone with limited functions such as an old-school flip phone without Internet access or a touch screen.

She reminds readers that many tech CEOs strictly regulate their own children’s technology use. Steve Jobs’ children didn’t use the iPad. He limits how much technology their children use as home. This restriction was common around tech CEOs from the cofounder of Twitter to a former editor of Wired magazine. So the people who love technology and made a living of it are cautious about their children using it too much. Adam Alter wrote in his book “Irrestible,” “It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: Never get high on your own supply.”

The same goes for social media and electronic device use. They are linked to higher rates of loneliness, unhappiness, depression, and suicide risk, in both correlational and experimental data. Any readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware of the dangers of social media.

A key rule she provides is that no one, adults included, should sleep within ten feet of a phone.

Dr, Twenge also argues that given the benefits of in-person social interaction, parents should stop thinking that teens hanging out together are wasting their time. Electronic communications are a poor substitute for the emotional connections and social skills gained in face-to-face communication.

Physical exercise is a natural antidepressant.

In the conclusion she writes, “The devices they hold in their hands have both extended their childhoods and isolated them from true human interaction. As a result, they re both the physically safest generation and the most mentally fragile. They are more focused on work and more realistic than Millenials, grasping the certainty that they’ll need to fight hard to make it. They’re exquisitely tolerant and have brought a new awareness of equality, mental health, and LGBT rights, leaving behind traditional structures such as religion. iGEN’ers have a solid basis for success, with their practical nature and they inherent caution. It they can shake themselves out of the constant clutch of their phone and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly. And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”

Inclusive: LGBT, Gender, and Race Issues in the New Age

April 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Dr. Twenge writes, “From LGBT identities to genre to race, iGen’ers expect equality and are often surprised, even shocked, to still encounter prejudice. At the same time, equality issues are far from resolved, creating divisions within iGen as well as generation gaps that can seem like unbridgeable gulfs. The equality revolution has been breathtaking but incomplete, leaving iGen to come of age after 2017, when issues around LGBT rights, genre, and race were suddenly back in contention.

Television might have had some effect on iGen’ers’ attitudes on these topics. The oldest iGeners were starting preschool when “Will & Grace” (the first sitcom with a gay man as a central character) premiered in 1998 and in elementary school when shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” made being gay not just mainstream but fashionable. iGen teems grew up watching “Glee,” which featured several gay, lesbian, and transgender teen characters, and they saw numerous celebrities come out.

Dr Twenge writes, “The 2000s and 2010s ushered in a sea change in attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. These are some of the largest and most rapid generational and time-period differences in existence. Even many conservative Republican iGen’ers now support same-sex marriage. Anthony Liveris, the vice-president of the University of Pennsylvania College Republicans said in 2013, ‘A true conservative should endorse empower American to marry whom they love, not limit them.’ The vast majority of iGen’ers see no reason why two people of the same sex can’t get married.”

One iGen’er said, “My view of LGBT is the same as on other people having sex before marriage: I don’t particularly care. I wouldn’t do it, but it has nothing to do with me, it doesn’t affect me in the slightest, and I have no right to tell other people what to believe…I wouldn’t go to a protest for it or anything, but they can do what they want.”

In spite of these large changes in attitudes, a third of iGen’ers still have issues with same-sex sexuality. One in four questions same-sex marriage. These young people often struggle to reconcile their iguana upbringing with their religion’s viewpoint that homosexuality is wrong.

Not only attitudes, but actual behavior has changed. The number of young women who have had sex with at least one other woman has nearly tripled since the early 1990s. More men now report having had a male sexual partner as well.

Olympic marathon champion Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female in 2015 likely made iGen the first generation to understand what the term transgender means. Transgender is a new term for popular understanding. Perhaps, the simplest means of describing iGen’ers’ attitudes towards transgender people is confused.
Dr.Twenge writes, “Issues around race are particularly salient for iGen’ers, who have been surrounded by racial diversity their entire lives. In 2015, most 12h graders said their high school was at least half another race, double the number in 1980. Three times more said their close friends were of other races.”

So although there has been a vast improvement in attitudes toward race and sexual orientation, there remain problems. Particularly in the awarding of scholarships in this time of enormous costs, white students can feel than they lost possible support because it has gone to a minority student instead. There are still racial incidents on campus, although some of these originate off campus.

There are also microaggressions. Dr. Twenge writes that these are usually defined as unintentionally hurtful things said to people of color. But she notes that aggression is intentional, so the label is a misnomer. Nevertheless, it is possible to commit a microagression unintentionally. Actually, a microagression is defined by the receiver.

Moreover, microaggessions are not restricted to race. Telling a female that she is doing well for a girl is a clear microaggression. But again, it is possible for someone to do this with good intentions.

Unfortunately, racial and cultural sensitivities can impinge upon the free speech, which is assumed to be guaranteed in the constitution. The Pew Research Center found that 40% of Millennials and iGen’ers agreed that the government should be able to prevent people from making offensive statements about minority groups, compared to only 12% of the Silent generation, 24% of Boomers, and 27% of GenX’ers. Of course, the limits of free speech can be broached, but Dr. Twenge notes that more and more statements are deemed racist or sexist and more and more speakers are deemed “extreme.”

Some speakers are being disinvited from speaking. This is especially bad on college campuses. President Obama offered the following statement on the disinvitation issue by saying, “I think it’s a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice…Feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just to shut them up…What I don’t want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down.”

As was mentioned in a previous post, this proclivity to avoid disagreement or alternative arguments does not augur well for either education or democracy.

Income Insecurity

April 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title of Chapter 7 is “Working to Earn—but Not to Shop.”

Dr. Twenge writes, “iGen’ers are practical, forward looking, and safe, a far cry from the ‘You can be anything’ and ‘Follow your dreams” Millenials.” iGen’ers make up the majority of traditional-age college graduates and will soon dominate the pool of entry-level talent. Dr. Twenge writes, “Given the key differences between iGen’ers and Millenials, the strategies that recruiters have been using to recruit and retain young employees may no longer work. The same is true for marketing to iGen’ers, with a decidedly different psychological profile selling to iGen’ers varies considerably from selling to Millenials. Businesses and managers need to take note: a new generation is arriving on your doorstep, and its members might not be what you expect.”

Interesting work and friends, the things that many Boomers and GenX’ers like the most about their jobs are not as important iGen’ers. They just want a job. An iGen’er wrote, “We should all be less interested in jobs that are interesting or encourage creativity because they don’t pay anything. That’s why you see so many people my age 100k in debt working at a Starbucks.”

iGen’ers also think that work should not crowd out the rest of life. There is a declining belief that work will be central to their lives. They do not want to have jobs that “take over my life.” Still 55% of 2015 high school seniors agree that they are willing to work overtime, up from 22% in 2004. And fewer iGen’ers said they would want to stop working if they had enough money. But iGen’ers have continued the Millenials ‘trend toward saying they don’t want to work hard. So, iGen’ers know that they may have to work overtime, but they believe that many of the jobs they’d want would require too much effort. They seem to be saying, it’s just too hard to succeed today.

The iGen’ers feel pressure to get a college degree. When Dr. Twenge asked her students at San Diego State University how their lives differed from their parent’s, most mentioned the necessity of a college degree. Many of their parents were immigrants who had worked at low-level jobs, but still had been able to buy houses and provide for their families. Her students tell her that they have to get a college education to get the same things that their parents got with a high school diploma or less. One iGen’er said, “My generation is stressed beyond belief because of college. When you graduate from high school, you are pushed to then go into a college, get your masters then have this awesome job. My father’s generation was different. He was born in the 70’s and despite never going to college he has a great paying job. That is not a reality for my generation. You are not even guaranteed a job after going to college. And once we graduate we are in deb to up to our ears.”

The wages of Americans with just a high school education declined by 13% between 1990 and 2013, making a college education more crucial for staying middle class. At the same time, college has become more expensive. Due to cutbacks in state funds for education and other factors college tuition has skyrocketed, forcing many students to take out loans. The average student graduating in 2016 carried $37,173 in debt upon graduation, up from $22, 575 in 2005 and $9,727 in 1993.

The escalation, this unbelievable increase in college costs present a clearly understandable obstacle to iGen’ers, but there are alternatives that are not mentioned.
These alternative are discussed in the healthy memory blog post “Mindshift Resources’. Universities and colleges offer Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS). These offer an alternative that has certain advantages over typical coursework. Often these courses are free. Usually to get college credits payments are required. However, autodidacts do not necessarily want or desire college credits. There is a website nopaymba.com by Laura Pickard who writes, “I started the No-Pay MBA website as a way of documenting my studies, keeping myself accountable, and providing a resource for other aspiring business students. The resources on this site are for anyone seeking a world-class business education using the free and low-cost tools of the internet.  I hope you find them useful!” She explains how she got an business education equivalent to an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA. Even without a degree HM would be impressed by a student who had acquired course knowledge in this manner. Autodidacts are devoted to their area of expertise. The have a true interest, they are probably not doing this as an instrumental act just to get a job.

Many young men apparently have a strong aversion to work. So what are they doing? They are playing video games. 25% played video games three or more hours a day, and 10% played at least six hours a day. Video games take up an increasing amount of young men’s time, about eleven hours a week on average in 2015. So the question is are young men playing video games because they are not working or are they not working because they are playing video games? The latter might well be the case. Why work when you can live at home and play video games. Technological innovations have made leisure time more enjoyable. For lower skilled workers, with low market wages, it is now more attractive to take leisure.

Dr. Twenge writes, “Some iGen’ers might be staying away from work because they are convinced that what they do matters little in a rigged system. One iGen-er writes “If we want to have a successful life, we have to go to college, but college is really expensive and we need to either take out loans, that is just going to make our future more complicated and stressful so we try to get a job, but most well paying jobs you want need experience or an educational background, so we are often stuck in a minimum wage position, with part time hours because our employers don’t want to give us benefits, which means we still have to take out loans.”

Dr. Twenge writes that even with their doubts about themselves and their prospects, iGen’ers are still fairly confident about their eventual standard of living.

60% of 2015 high school seniors expected to earn more than their parents. Somehow, most iGen’ers think they will make it. HM was also please to learn that iGen’ers were less impressed by consumer goods, and were less prone to buy consumer goods to impress their neighbors.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

More Safety and Less Community

April 20, 2019

We now return to iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The title of this post is the second part of the title of Chapter 6.

The chapter begins with a discussion about a student who has just finished her first year of community college that she attended from home living with her parents. She has a part time job and isn’t taking any classes over the summer. She says,”I need my summer. If I didn’t have it, I’d go crazy. Just as many of her fellow iGen-ers she doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and has had limited experience with romantic relationships. She doesn’t think these things are safe. She says, “Going out and partying when you’re drunk, you’re in such an altered state of mind, you behave in ways that you never would when sober. There’s drunk driving—and people take advantage of you when you’re drunk. It’s not safe. You’re going to hurt yourself, or someone’s going to hurt you. It’s not my thing.”

Dr. Twenge notes that this iGener’s interest in safety extends beyond physical safety to a term she only recently learned from iGen: emotional safety. For example some iGen-ers believe that high school is too young to have a romantic relationship, especially a sexual one. This iGen-er points to scientific research to back up her conclusions. With the release of oxytocin (during sex), you form emotional connections to someone whether you like it or not. She thinks it dangerous to become emotionally reliant on someone, but especially at that age, when your brain is still developing. She is correct in that the prefrontal lobe, which is responsive for reasoning and executing control, continues to mature until the mid-twenties. There are probably people from earlier generations who might wish they had this knowledge that this iGen-er has at this age.

Statistics bear out this point. iGen teens are safer drivers. Fewer high school seniors get into car accidents, and fewer get tickets. This is a recent trend, beginning only in the early 2000s for tickets and in the mid-2000s for accidents. As recently as 2002, more than one out of three 12th graders had already gotten a ticket. By 2015 only one in five had.

A 2016 survey asked iGen teens what they wanted most out of a car, comparing them to Millennial young adults who recalled their preferences as teens. The feature iGen wanted much more than Millennials is safety.

iGen teens are also less likely to get into a car driven by some who’s been drinking; the number who did so was cut in half from 40% in 1991 to 20% in 2015.

Although iGen-ers tend to eschew alcohol, they are just as likely to use marijuana as Millennials were. The reason is that they tend to believe that marijuana is safe. Some iGen-ers believe that marijuana is not just safe, but beneficial. One iGen-er wrote, “Weed has been proven to provide many health benefits. It helps with pain, cancer, and many other illnesses. It can prevent people from getting addicted to other drugs that are way more harmful.” Nevertheless, iGen’ers remain cautious. Even though they are more likely to see marijuana as safe, use hasn’t gone up.

There has also been a decline in fighting and a waning of sexual assault. In 1991, half of 9th graders had been in a physical fight in the last twelve months, but by 2015 only one in four had. The homicide rate among teens and young adults reached a forty-year low in 2014. The number of teens who carry a weapon to school is now only a third of what it was in the early 1990s. From 1992 to 2015 the rate of rape was nearly cut in half in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

iGen’ers’ risk aversion goes beyond their behaviors toward a general attitude of avoiding risk and danger. Eighth and tenth graders are now less likely to answer positively to “I like to test myself every now and then by doing something a little risky.” Nearly half of teens found that appealing in the early 1990s, but by 2015 less than 40% did. They are also less likely to agree that “I get a real kick out of doing things that are a little dangerous.” In 2011, the majority of teens agreed that they got a jolt out of danger, but within a few years only a minority shared this view.

For the most part these changes can be regarded as improvements in attitudes and behavior. But Dr. Twenge notes that the flip side of iGen’s interest in safety is the idea that one should be safe not just from car accidents and sexual assaults, but from people who disagree with you. She provides as an example the most recent version of the “safe space” now known as a place where people can go to protect themselves from ideas they find offensive. She writes, “In recent years, safe spaces have become popular on college campuses as responses to visits by controversial speakers: if students are upset by a speakers message, they can come together in a separate location to console one another.

A 2015 “Atlantic” piece by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s on safe spaces and other campus controversies was titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” and was illustrated with a picture of a confused-looking toddler wearing a shirt that said “College.” Josh Zeits wrote in “Poilitico Magazine,” “Yesterday’s student activists wanted to be treated like adults. Today’s want to be cheated like children.”

Such an attitude precludes a full education. It also precludes an effective democracy.

The trend in iGen’ers is not to take an interest in education. They attend college because they feel they have to to get a better job. Dr. Twenge writes, “Teen’s interest in school took a sudden plunge beginning around 2012, with fewer students saying they found school interesting, enjoyable, or meaningful. The strong push for technology in the classroom seems to have assuaged students’ boredom during the 2000s, but by the 2010s little in the classroom could compete with the allure of the ever-tempting smartphone.

Arguments for a Belief in God

April 19, 2019

Given a decrease in religious beliefs and a decline in spirituality, please excuse a brief indulgence into arguments for a belief in God. This decline in spirituality has an adverse effect on iGen’ers empathy for their fellow humans. As will be seen in subsequent posts, this lack of empathy and caring has a negative effect on iGen’ers.

For many years, HM thought that the only accurate philosophical position on God was one of agnosticism. The question is what is the benefit in being an atheist, besides intellectual snobbery. Belief is a matter of faith, and one should not deny the faith of another. HM has also observed that the problem many, if not most, have with a belief in God really stems from their contempt of religion. Justified or not, there is a tendency to regard religions as hypocritical entities that trample on the beliefs of others.

Fairly recently HM has come to an argument that he finds compelling. Understand, there can be no logical proofs regarding the existence of God. Only closed mathematical or logical systems can produce proofs.

HM’s argument is based on a philosophical argument and a psychological effect.
The philosophical argument comes from the famed mathematician, Blaise Pascal. It is called Pascal’s wager. It is a philosophical argument based on cost/benefit analysis. Bear in mind that his words were different because he live in a different time. However, his fundamental argument is based on cost benefit analysis.

So what are the costs of believing in God? If he exists, then one is correct and might have taken some preparation for an afterlife. And should God not exist, one would never know that her belief was wrong as dead people are absent this capacity. However, even if wrong, one would have had the comfort of life continuing and of the possibility of finding people who had previously deceased.

But if one does not believe in God, she lives with no such comforts, and should she be wrong, perhaps some unpleasant surprises.

The psychological phenomenon is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect appears in fifteen previous healthy memory blog posts. The Dunning part of the effect comes from studies documenting that the more people think they know, the less the actually know. An example of this Dunning part of the effect can be found among physicists as the entered the twentieth century. Many thought that they knew practically all that could be known about physics. Perhaps computations could be done with some more precision, but on the whole, major matters had been figured out. But in 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity. And in 1915 he published his general theory of relativity. Both of these theories constituted giant advances in physics. But quantum physics had yet to appear in the twenties and with probabilistic effects and entanglement (remote effects), physics was truly revolutionized.

The Kruger part of the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to the tendency of true experts, to be aware of possible problems and tend to hedge their answers. Hence Truman’s fatal quest for a one-handed economist. When he asked an economist a question, they would typically respond on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.

And personally, HM thought he knew much more than he did when he was young. Getting a Ph.D. and a lifelong pursuit of learning has only convinced him of his own ignorance and of how much he does not know.

So as a species, we must be aware of this effect before making any unqualified statements about the existence of God.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

God & Religion

April 18, 2019

It is important to maintain a distinction between religion and God. Typically, the two concepts are conflated. A previous healthy memory post, God & Homo Sapiens, drew from a book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

It is reasonable to assume that there were humans who believed in God that predated religions. There are even data that support the notion that neanderthals had religious beliefs. It is likely that the earliest groups of humans had religious leaders. HM has wondered about the souls of people who existed before organized religions. What happens to them? HM is impressed that the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has its members try to find their ancestors before the Church was founded so that they can be married and brought into the church in the temple. Unlike the tabernacle only Mormons can enter the temple.

Given that the size of our universe is still unknown as we are still waiting for light to reach us, it is likely that there are other species in this universe who are more intelligent than homo sapiens. It is unlikely that man has been made in God’s image. God is a spiritual entity of unknown form. Indeed, in pantheism God is omnipresent throughout the universe.

HM always wanted to believe in God, but he could never join a church because his thinking is governed by the law of Parsimony, and that law says to take the simplest explanation that explains the phenomena. What he disliked was that religions required one to believe. HM thinks that God gave us brains for thinking. not believing. It is men who tell us to believe so that they can govern us.

HM finds the Dalai Lama as the most impressive religious individual alive on earth. He is a Buddhist, but like other religions, there are different sects. The Buddhists who are attacking the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh are the antithesis of Buddhism. Although reincarnation is a central tenet in Buddhism, when asked if one needed to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama answered “no.” All that was required is that one should love fellow humans and provide service to them. The Dalai Lama sends his priests to study science. He uses science to inform his religion. Unfortunately, too many religions are at war with science and fight science.

HM believes that we can communicate directly with God. During meditation there is a blissful state where one feels that he is in contact with his creator. So via meditation and contemplative prayer religions can be circumvented.

Understand that HM is not arguing against religions. If one has comfort in a religion that person should follow that religion, but not uncritically. Christians need to see if the preachings are in accordance with the gospels, rather than the old testament or parts of the new testament that are not gospels.

To learn more about meditation, begin with the relaxation response. You need to go to the main page of the healthy memory blog (by entering
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com into your browser.) Search for “relaxation response”. The next topic to search for is “loving kindness meditation”.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Irreligious

April 17, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fifth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title is “Losing My Religion (and Spirituality).

In the early 1980s, more than 90% of high school seniors identified as part of one religious group or another. Only one out of ten chose “none” for religious affiliation. Beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s, fewer and fewer people affiliated with a religion. The shift was largest for young adults, with religiously affiliations dipping to 66% by 2016. So a full third of young adults did not affiliate with any organized religion.

Of course, there is no need to affiliate with a religion to attend religious services. Dr. Twenge writes that attendance at services declined slowly until around 1997 and then began to plummet. In 2015, 22% of 12th graders said they “never” attended religious services. This is a pretty low bar; going to a service even once a year would still count as going. She continues, “iGen’ers and the Millennials are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age. The recent data on Millennials, who are now in their family-building years, indicate that they’re less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age, in fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years indicates that they are less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age. In fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years has been just as steep as that for young adults ages 18 to 24. Millennials have not been returning to religious institutions during their twenties and thirties, making it unlikely that iGen’ers will, either.”

“For twenty years, headlines and academic articles declared that yes, fewer Americans affiliated with a religion, but just as many were praying and just as many believed in God. Americans weren’t less religious, they said, just less likely to practice religion publicly. That was true for several decades: the percentage of young adults who believed in God changed little between 1989 and 2000. Then it fell of a cliff. By 2016, one out of three 18- 24-year olds said that they did not believe in God. Prayer followed a similar steep downward trajectory. In 2004, 84% of young adults prayed at least sometimes, but by 2016 more than one out of four said they “never” prayed.”

Note that the numbers do not indicate by any means that religions are disappearing. Rather they indicate that religious beliefs have been declining rapidly.

A common narrative about trends in religious belief says that spirituality has replaced religion. In 2001 Robert Fuller published a book titled “Spiritual but Not Religious” arguing that most Americans who eschew organized religion still have deep dynamic spiritual lives. This led the assumption that young people who are distrustful of traditional religion are still willing to explore spiritual questions. Data do not seem to support this narrative. In 2014 to 2016 slightly fewer 18- to 24-year-olds (48%) described themselves as moderately or very spiritual than in 2006 to 2008 (56%).

The reasons iGen-ers are leaving religions is in some part due to anti-science attitudes and anti-gay attitudes. A 2012 survey of 18- to 24-year olds found that most believed that Christianity was antigay (64%), judgmental (62%), and hypocritical (58%). Of course there are Christian churches who are not guilty of these criticisms. Moreover, one can find no basis for these criticisms in the gospels about Jesus. Jesus loved all, was nonviolent and forgiving. So these criticisms are deserved criticisms of too many ostensible Christian churches who are not only promoting grossly incorrect religious beliefs, and who are also trying to impose their beliefs on others through the process of legislation. Given the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, these churches are not only hypocritical, but also unAmerican. Unfortunately, this glaring hypocrisy is widely ignored.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Insecure: The New Mental Health Crisis

April 16, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fourth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The problems discussed in previous posts are important. The critical question is whether this use increases feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety also been accompanied by changes in diagnosable depression and its most extreme outcome, suicide?

Since 2004 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which is conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services has screened US teens for clinical-level depression. The project uses trained interviewers to assess a nationally representative sample of more than 17,000 teens (ages 10 to 17) across the country every year. Participants hear questions through headphones and enter their answers directly into a laptop computer, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. The questions rely on the criteria for major depressive disorders documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) or the American Psychiatric Association. It is the gold standard for diagnosing mental health issues. The criteria include experiencing depressed mood, insomnia, fatigue, or markedly diminished pleasure in life every day for at least two weeks. This study is specifically designed to provide a benchmark for rates of mental illness among Americans, regardless of whether they’ve ever sought treatment.

The screening test showed a shocking rise in depression between 2010 and 2015 in which 56% of teens experienced a major depressive episode and 60% more experienced severe impairment.

So more people are expressing more than just symptoms and depression, and feelings of anxiety, but clinically diagnosable major depression. This is not a small issue with more than one in nine teens and one in eleven young adults suffering from major depression. This strongly suggests that something is seriously wrong in the lives of American teens.

This increase in major depressive episodes is far steeper among girls, which is the gender more likely to overuse social media. By 2015, one in five teen girls had experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.

Major depression, especially if its severe, is the primary risk factor for suicide. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of high school girls who seriously considered suicide increased 43%. The number of college students who seriously considered suicide jumped 60% between 2011 and 2016.

Dr Twenge mentions that a contributing factor is a shortfall in needed sleep. Many iGen’ers are so addicted to social media that they find it difficult to put down their phones and go to sleep when they should. More teens now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night, so a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. 57% more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the three years between 2012 and 2016, 22% more teens failed to get seven hours sleep.

So one way of improving mental health is to get more sleep. Dr. Twenge concludes the chapter as follows: “In other words, there is a simple, free way, to improve mental health: put down the phone and do something else.

In Person No More

April 15, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the third chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. There is a second part to this title which is “I’m with You, but Only Virtually.

When Dr. Twenge asked one of her iGen teens what makes his generation different, he doesn’t hesitate to answer: I feel like we don’t party as much. People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person—they don’t have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay at home.”

College students were asked how many hours a week they spend at parties during their senior year in high school. In 2016, they said two hours a week, which is only a third of the time GenX students spent at parties in 1987. Perhaps iGen-ers just don’t like partying; perhaps they just like to hang out. This is not the case. The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently.

College students in 2016 when compared against college students in the late 1980s spent four fewer hours a week socializing with their friends and three fewer hours a week partying. So seven hours a week less on in-person social interaction. This severe drop in getting out and getting together with friends occurred right when smartphones became popular and social media use really took off. Time spent with friends in person has been replaced by time spent with friends (and virtual friends) online.

Many malls across the country have closed. In activity after activity, iGen-ers are less social than Millenials, GenX’ers, and Boomers at the same age. This change in activities outside the home doesn’t mean teens are always staying at home having wholesome family time. So iGen’ers spend more leisure time alone. Dr. Twenge writes “Although we can’t say for sure, it’s a good guess that this alone time is being spend online, on social media, streaming video, and texting. In short, iGen teens are less likely to take part in every singe face-to-face social activity measured across four data sets of three different age groups. These fading interactions include everything from small-group or one-on-one activities, such as getting together with friends to larger group activities such as partying. “

Instead, they are communicating electronically. The internet has taken over. Teens are Instagramming, Snapchatting, and texting with friends more, and seeing them in person less. She concludes, “For IGen’ers, online friendship has replaced offline friendship.”

Unfortunately, these trends are leading to decreases in mental health and happiness. Among 8th graders here are the activities that decrease happiness among 8th graders (according to Monitoring the Future, 2013 to 2015). Video chat, computer games, texting, Social networking websites, and Internet. But there has been a decrease in the following activities that increase happiness: Sports or exercise, religious services, print media, and in-person social interaction.

One study with college students asked students with Facebook pages to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks—they’d get a text message with a link five times a day and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they used Facebook, the unhappier they later felt. Dr. Twenge concludes, “feeling unhappy did not not lead to more Facebook use. Facebook use caused unhappiness, but unhappiness did not cause Facebook use.

She reports that another study of adults fond the same thing: the more people used Facebook, the lower their mental health and life satisfaction on the next assessment. But after they interacted with their friends in person, their mental health and life satisfaction improved.

In a third study that randomly assigned 1,095 Danish adults to stop using Facebook for a week or to continue to use Facebook. At the end of the week, those who had taken a break from Facebook were happier, less lonely, and less depressed than those who had used Facebook as usual. These differences were sizable. 36% fewer were lonely, 33% fewer were depressed, and 9% more were happy. Those who stayed off Facebook were also less likely to feel sad, angry, or worried.

The risk of unhappiness due to social media is the highest for the youngest teens. Eighth graders who spent ten or more hours a week on social networking sites were 56% more likely to be unhappy, compared to 39% for 10th graders and 14% for 12th graders.

A commercial for Facebook suggests that social media will help you feel less alone and surround you with friends every moment. Unfortunately, this is not true for the always online iGEN. Teens who visit social networking sites every day are actually more likely to agree “I often feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Research has also revealed that teens who spend a lot of time looking at their phones aren’t just at a higher risk of depression, they re also at an alarmingly higher risk for suicide. This is not to suggest that there is an alarming suicide epidemic, but there will likely be increasing in suicide rates.

Internet: Online Time—Oh, and Other Media, Too

April 14, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the second chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

iGen-ers sleep with their phones. They put them under their pillows, on the mattress, or at least within arm’s reach of the bed. They check social media websites and watch videos right before they go to bed, and reach for their phones again as soon as they wake up in the morning. So their phone is the last thing they see before they go to sleep, and the first thing they see when they wake up. If they wake up in the middle of the night, they usually look at their phones.

Dr. Twenge notes, “Smartphones are unlike any other previous form of media, infiltrating nearly every minute of our lives, even when we are unconscious with sleep. While we are awake, the phone entertains, communicates, and glamorizes. She writes, “It seems that teens (and the rest of us) spend a lot of time on phones—not talking but texting, on social media, online, and gaming (togther, these are labeled ‘new media’). Sometime around 2011, we arrived at the day when we looked up, maybe from our own phones, and realized that everyone around us had a phone in his or her hands.”

Dr, Twenge reports, “iGen high school seniors spent an average of 2.25 hours a day texting on their cell phone, about 2 hours a day on the Internet, 1.5 hours a day on electronic gaming , and about a half hour on video chat. This sums to a total of 5 hours a day with new media, This varies little based on family background; disadvantaged teens spent just as much or more time online as those with more resources. The smartphone era has meant the effective end of the Internet access gap.

Here’s a breakdown of how 12th graders are spending their screen time from Monitoring the Future, 2013-2015:
Texting 28%
Internet 24%
Gaming 18%
TV 24%
Video Chat 5%

Dr. Twenge reports that in seven years (2008 to 2015) social media sites went from being a daily activity for half of teens, to almost all of them. In 2015 87% of 12th grade girls used social media sites almost every day in 2015 compared to 77% of boys.
HM was happy to see that eventually many iGen’ers see through the veneer of chasing likes—but usually only once they are past their teen years.

She writes that “social media sites go into and out of fashion, and by the time you read this book several new ones will probably be on the scene. Among 14 year olds Instagram and Snapchat are much more popular than Facebook.“ She notes that recently group video chat apps such as Houseparty were catching on with iGEN, allowing them to do what they call ‘live chilling.”

Unfortunately, it appears that books are dead. In the late 1970s, a clear majority of teens read a book or a magazine nearly every day, but by 2015, only 16% did. e-book readers briefly seemed to rescue books: the number who said they read two or more books for pleasure bounced back in the late 2000s, but they sank again as iGEN (and smartphones) entered the scene in the 2010. By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976.

iGEN teens are much less likely to read books than their Millennial, GenX, and Boomer predecessors. Dr. Twenge speculates that a reason for this is because books aren’t fast enough. For a generation raised to click on the next link or scroll to the next page within seconds, books just don’t hold their attention. There are also declines for iGen-ers with respect to magazines and newspapers.

SAT scores have declined since the mid-2000s, especially in writing (a 13-point decline since 2006) and critical reading ( a 13-point decline since 2005).

Dr, Twenge raises the fear that with iGen and the next generations never learning the patience necessary to delve deeply into a topic, and the US economy falling behind as a result.

In No Hurry: Growing Up Slowly

April 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the first chapter in iGEN: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Excerpts from this chapter follow.

iGEN teens are less likely to go out without their parents. Dr. Twenge writes that this trend began with Millennials and then accelerated at a rapid clip with iGen’ers. 12th graders in 2015 are going out less often than 8th graders did as recently as 2009. 18-year-olds are now going out less often than 14-year-olds did just six years prior.

Dr. Twenge writes that iGEN’ers are less likely to do adult things such as going out without their parents and having sex, and whether this trend of growing up more slowly is a good thing or a bad thing. She uses the approach called life history theory to provide insights. Life history theory states that how fast teens grow up depends on where and when they are raised. So developmental speed is an adaptation to a cultural context.

She writes, “Today’s teens follow a slow life strategy, common in times and places where families have fewer children and cultivate each child longer and more intensely. “ Life history theory explicitly notes that slow or fast life strategies are not necessarily good or bad; they just are. Nearly all of the generational shifts in this chapter and the rest appear across different demographic groups. The studies we’re drawing from here are nationally representative, meaning the teens reflect the demographics of the United States. Every group is included. Even within specific groups, the trends consistently appear; they are present in working-class homes as well as upper-middle-class ones, among minorities as well as whites, among girls as well as boys, in big cities, suburbs, and small towns, and all across the country. That means they are not isolated to the white, upper-middle-class teens whom journalists often wring heir hands over. Youths of every racial group, region, and class are growing up more slowly.”

When HM was a teen, one of the major milestones on the way to adulthood was getting a driver’s license. All boomer high school students had their driver’s license by spring of their senior year, by 2015 only 72% did. So more than one out of four iGen’ers did not have a driver’s license by the time they graduated from high school.

Another GenX memory is being a latchkey kid. They walked home from school and used their key to enter an empty house, because parents were still at work.

iGen’ers are also less likely to have jobs. In the late 1970s only 22% of high school seniors didn’t work for pay at all during the school year. By the early 2010s, twice as many (44%) didn’t. The number of 8th graders who work for pay has been cut in half.

With fewer teens one might think that more would get an allowance to buy the things they want. However, fewer iGen’ers get an allowance. When they need money, they just ask for it from their parents. It’s another example of 18-year-olds being like 15-year-olds: just like children and young adolescents, one out of five iGen high school seniors ask they parents for what they want instead of managing their own cash flow.

A positive fact about the iGen’ers is that they are much less likely to drink. This is especially true of binge drinking. However, iGen’ers smoke pot more often than the Millenials that preceded them.

Some have concluded that iGen’ers are more responsible. A 2016 Post article trumpeted that “Today’s Teens are Way Better Behaved than You Were.” Dr. Twenge thinks that it’s more informative to employ the terms of life history theory: ‘teens have adopted a slow life strategy, perhaps due to smaller families and the demands wrought by increasing income inequality. Parents have the time to cultivate each child to succeed in the newly competitive economic environment which might take twenty-one years when it once took sixteen. The cultural shift toward individualism may also play a role: childhood and adolescence are uniquely self-focused stages, so staying in them longer allows more cultivation of he individual self. With fewer children and more time spent with each, each child is noticed and celebrated. Cultural individualism is connected to slower developmental speeds.”

Perhaps this slower pace of development results in the 2014 emergence of he neologism “adulting”, which means taking care of one’s responsibilities. An Adulting School in Maine offers classes for young adults teaching the how to perform tasks such as managing finances and folding laundry.

Dr. Twenge ends this chapter as follows: “No matter what the reason. teens are growing up more slowly, eschewing adult activities until they are older. This creates a logical question” If teens are working less, spending less time on homework, going out less, and drinking less, what are they doing? For a generation called iGen, the answer is obvious: look no further than the smartphones in their hands.”

To which we turn in the next post.

Regardless of your age, how iGEN are you?

April 12, 2019

This post is taken from iGEN: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

Take this `15-item quiz to find out how “iGEN” you are. Answer each question with a “yes” or “no.”

_____1. In the past 24 hours, did you spend at least an hour total texting on a cell phone?
_____2. Do you have a Snapchat account?
_____3. Do you consider yourself a religious person?
_____4. Did you get your driver’s license by the time you turned 17?
_____5. Do you think same-sex marriage should be legal?
_____6. Did you ever drink alcohol (more than a few sips) by the time you turned 16?
_____7. Did you fight with your parents a lot when you were a teen?
_____8. Were more than one-third of the other students at your high school a different race than you?
_____9. When you were in high school, did you spend nearly every weekend night out with your friends?
_____10. Did you have a job during the school year when you were in high school?
_____11. Do you agree that safe spaces and trigger warnings are good ideas and that efforts should be made to reduce microaggression?
_____12. Are you a political independent?
_____13. Do you support the legalization of marijuana?
_____14. Is having sex without much emotion involved desirable?
_____15. When you were in high schoool, did you feel left out ad lonely fairly often?

SCORING: Give yourself 1 point answering “yes” to questions 1,2,5,8,11,12,13,14.
and 15. Give yourself 1 point for answering “no” to questions 3,4,6,7,9, and 10. The higher your score, the more iGEN you are in your behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs.

iGEN

April 11, 2019

iGEN is the title of a new book by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. iGEN is the smartphone generation. HM is a member of the Boomer generation. Generation X followed the Boomers around 1964. The Millenials were the generation born in the 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Twenge noted around 2012 seeing large abrupt shifts in teens behavior and emotional states.

This iGEN generation was born in 1995 and later. They grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and could not remember a time before the internet. The oldest member of iGEN were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and high school students when the iPad was introduced in 2010. The i in the names of these devices stands for Internet. The internet was commercialized in 1995. So this generation is named after the iPhone. According to a fall 2015 marketing survey, two out of three US teens owned an iPhone. A 17-year old interviewed in American Girls said, “You have to have an iPhone. It’s like Apple has a monopoly on adolescence.

The iGEN is the first generation for whom internet access has been constantly available, right there in their hands. Whether their smartphone is a Samsung and their tablet a Kindle, these young people are all iGen’ers. Even lower income teens from disadvantaged backgrounds spend just as much time online as those with more resources. The average teen checks her phone more than eighty times a day.

Dr. Twenge writes, “technology is not the only change shaping this generation. The i in iGEN represents the individualism its members take for granted, a broad trend that grounds their bedrock sense of equality as well as their reaction to traditional social rules. It captures the income inequality that is creating a deep insecurity among iGEN’ers, who worry about doing the right things, to become financially successful, to become a “have” rather than a “have not.” Due to these influences and many others, iGEN is distinct from every previous generation in how its members spend their time, how they behave, and their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures, and they have no patience for inequality based on gender, race or sexual orientation, They are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011. Contrary to the prevalent idea that children are growing up faster than previous generations did, iGENers are growing up more slowly: 18-year olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.”

Dr Twenge draws from four large, nationally representative surveys of 11 million Americans since the 1960s and identifies ten important trends shaping iGEN’ers:

The extension of childhood into adolescence.

The amount of time they are really spending on their phones—and what that has replaced.

The decline in in-person social interaction.

The sharp rise in mental health issues.

The decline in religion.

The interest in safety and the decline in civic involvement

New attitudes towards work.

New attitudes toward sex, relationships, and children.

Acceptance, equality and free speech debates.

Independent political views.

Not all these changes are the result of the new technology. It is interesting to look at which changes and to what extent they are the result of new technology, and what is responsible for other changes.

Future posts on these issues will follow.

Get A Life!

April 9, 2019

This is the final post of a series of posts based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Perhaps the best way of thinking about Facebook and related problems is via Nobel Winning Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1 is fast and emotional. Beliefs are usually the result of System 1 processing. System 2 is slow, and what we commonly regard as thinking.

The typical Facebook user is using System 1 processing almost exclusively. He is handing his life over to Facebook. The solution is to Get a Life and take your life back from Facebook.

The easiest way to do this is to get off from Facebook cold turkey. However, many users have personal reasons for using Facebook. They should take back their lives by minimizing their use of Facebook.

First of all, ignore individual users unless you know who they are. Ignore likes and individual opinions unless you know and can evaluate the individual. Remember what they say about opinions, “they’e like a—h—-s, everybody has one.” The only opinions you should care about are from responsible polls done by well known pollsters.

You should be able to find useful sources on your own without Facebook. Similarly you can find journalists and authors on your own without Facebook. Spend time and think about what you read. Is the article emotional? Is the author knowledgeable?

If you take a suggestion from Facebook, regard that source skeptically.

Try to communicate primarily via email and avoid Facebook as much as possible.

When possible, in person meetings are to be preferred.

In closing, it needs to be said that Facebook use leads to unhealthy memories. And perhaps, just as in the case of Trump voters, HM predicts an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia among heavy Facebook users.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

What’s Being Done

April 8, 2019

This is the twelfth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” The remainder of the book, and that remainder is large, discusses what is being done to remedy these problems. So people are concerned. One approach is to break up monopolies. But that approach ignores the basic problem. Facebook is taking certain actions, one of which is encryption is definitely bad Encryption would simply allow Facebook to hide its crimes.

One idea, which is not likely but has received undeserved attention, is to monetize users’ data so the Facebook would have to pay for its use. Unfortunately, this has likely provided users with hopes of future riches for their Facebook use. Although this is indeed how Facebook makes it money, it is unlikely to want to share it with users. Advertisements are pervasive in the world. Although we can try to ignore them in print media, advertisements need to be sat through on television unless one wants to record everything and fast forward through the ads later.

Moreover, there are users, and HM is one of them, who want ads presented on the basis of online behavior. Shopping online is much more efficient than conventional shopping, and ads taken from interests users shown online, provide more useful information. Amazon’s suggestions are frequently very helpful.

The central problem with Facebook is the artificial intelligence and algorithms that bring users of like mind together, and foster hate and negative emotions. This increases polarization and hatred that accompanies polarization.

Does Facebook need to be transparent and ask if users want to be sent off to these destinations the algorithms and AI have chosen? Even when explanations are provided polarization might still be enhanced as birds of a feather do tend to flock together on their own, but perhaps with less hate and extremism. There are serious legal and freedom of speech problems that need to be addressed.

Tomorrow’s post provides a definitive answer to this problem.

Damaging Effects on Public Discourse

April 7, 2019

This is the eleventh post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” In the MIT Technology Review professor Zeynep Tufekci explained why the impact on internet platforms is so damaging and hard to fix. “The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we’re connected with our communities and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans on the other one. In sociology terms, we strengthen our feeling of ‘in-group’ belonging by increasing our distance from and tension with the ‘out-group’—us versus them. Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. That is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts.” To this HM would add “beliefs are stronger than facts.” Belonging leads to believing what the group believes. As has been written in previous healthymemory blog posts, believing is a System One Process in Kahneman’s Two-process view of cognition. And System One processing is largely emotional. It shuts out System Two thinking and promotes stupidity.

Facebook’s scale presents unique threats for democracy. These threats are both internal and external. Although Zuck’s vision of connecting the world and bringing it together may be laudable in intent, the company’s execution has had much the opposite effect. Facebook needs to learn how to identify emotional contagion and contain it before there is significant harm. If it wants to be viewed as a socially responsible company, it may have to abandon its current policy of openness to all voices, no matter how damaging. Being socially responsible may also require the company to compromise its growth targets. In other words, being socially responsible will adversely affect the bottom line.

Are you in Control?

April 6, 2019

This is the tenth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Facebook wants you to believe that you are in control. But this control is an illusion. Maintaining this illusion is central to every platform’s success, but with Facebook, it is especially disingenuous. Menu choices limit user actions to things that serve Facebook’s interest. Facebook’s design teams exploit what are known as “dark patterns” in order to produce desired outcomes. Wikipedia defines a dark pattern as “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things.” Facebook tests every pixel to ensure it produces the desired response. For example: which shade of red best leads people to check their notifications? for how many milliseconds should notifications bubbles appear in the bottom left before fading away to most effectively keep users on site? what measures of closeness should we recommend new friends of you to “add”?

With two billion users the cost for testing every possible configuration is small. And Facebook has taken care to make its terms of service and privacy headings hard to find and nearly impossible to understand. Facebook does place a button on the landing page to provide access to the terms of service, but few people click on it. The button is positioned so that hardly anyone even sees it. And those who do see it have learned since the early days of the internet to believe that terms or service are long and incomprehensible, so they don’t press it either.

They also use bottomless bowls. News Feeds are endless. In movies and television, scrolling credits signal to the audience that it is time to move on. They provide a “stopping cue.” Platforms with endless news feeds and autoplay remove that signal to ensure that users maximize their time on site for every visit. They also use autoplay on their videos. Consequently, millions of people are sleep deprived from binging on videos, checking Instagram, or browsing on Facebook.

Notifications exploit one of the weaker elements of human psychology. They exploit an old sales technique, called the “foot in the door” strategy,” that lures the prospect with an action that appears to be low cost, but sets in motion a process leading to bigger costs. We are not good at forecasting the true cost of engaging with a foot-in-door strategy. We behave as though notifications are personal to us, completely missing that they are automatically generated, often by an algorithm tied to an artificial intelligence that has concluded that the notification is just the thing to provoke an action that will serve Facebook’s economic interests.

We humans have a need for approval. Everyone wants to feel approved of by others. We want our posts to be liked. We want people to respond to our texts, emails, tags, and shares. This need for social approval is what what made Facebook’s Like button so powerful. By controlling how often an entry experiences social approval, as evaluated by others, Facebook can get that user to do things that generate billions of dollars in economic value. This makes sense because the currency of Facebook is attention.

Social reciprocity is a twin of social approval. When we do something for someone else, we expect them to respond in kind. Similarly, when when a person does something for us, we feel obligated to reciprocate. So when someone follows us, we feel obligated to follow them. If w receive an invitation to connect from a friend we may feel guilty it we do not reciprocate the gesture and accept it.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is another emotional trigger. This is why people check their smart phone every free moment, perhaps even when they are driving. FOMO also prevents users from deactivating their accounts. And when users do come to the decision to deactivate, the process is difficult with frequent attempts to keep the user from deactivating.

Facebook along with other platforms work very hard to grow their user count but operate with little, if any, regard for users as individuals. The customer service department is reserved for advertisers. Users are the product, at best, so there is no one for them to call.

It Gets Even Worse

April 5, 2019

This is the ninth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” This post picks up where the immediately preceding post, “Amplifying the Worse Social Behavior” stopped. Users sometimes adopt an idea suggested by Facebook or by others on Facebook as their own. For example, if someone is active in a Facebook Group associated with a conspiracy theory and then stop using the platform for a time, Facebook will do something surprising when they return. It might suggest other conspiracy theory Groups to join because they share members with the first conspiracy Group. Because conspiracy theory Groups are highly engaging, they are likely to encourage reengagement with the platform. If you join the Group, the choice appears to be yours, but the reality is that Facebook planted the seed. This is because conspiracy theories are good for them, not for you.

Research indicates that people who accept one conspiracy theory have a high likelihood of accepting a second one. The same is true of inflammatory disinformation. Roger accepts the fact that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have created systems that modify user behavior. Roger writes, “They should have realized that global scale would have an impact on the way people use their products and would raise the stakes for society. They should have anticipated violations of their terms of service and taken steps to prevent them. Once made aware of the interference, they should have cooperated with investigators. I could no longer pretend that Facebook was a victim. I cannot overstate my disappointment. The situation was much worse than I realized.”

Apparently, the people at Facebook live in their own preference bubble. Roger writes, “Convinced of the nobility of their mission, Zuck and his employees reject criticism. They respond to every problem with the same approach that created the problem in the first place: more AI, more code, more short-term fixes. They do not do this because they are bad people. They do this because success has warped their perception of reality. To them, connecting 2.2 billion people is so obviously a good thing, and continued growth so important, that they cannot imagine that the problems that have resulted could be in any way linked to their designs or business decisions. As a result, when confronted with evidence that disinformation and fake news spread over Facebook influenced the Brexit referendum and the election of Putin’s choice in the United States, Facebook took steps that spoke volumes about the company’s world view. They demoted publishers in favor of family, friends, and Groups on the theory that information from those sources would be more trustworthy. The problem is that family, friends, and Groups are the foundational elements of filter and preference bubbles. Whether by design or by accident, they share the very disinformation and fake news that Facebook should suppress.

Amplifying the Worst Social Behavior

April 4, 2019

This is the eighth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “The competition for attention across the media and technology spectrum rewards the worst social behavior. Extreme views attract more attention, so platforms recommend them. News Feeds with filter bubbles do better at holding attention than News Feeds that don’t have them. If the worst thing that happened with filter bubbles was that they reinforced preexisting beliefs, they would be no worse than many other things in society. Unfortunately, people in a filter bubble become increasingly tribal, isolated, and extreme. They seek out people and ideas that make them comfortable.”

Roger continues, “Social media has enabled personal views that had previously been kept in check by social pressure—white nationalism is an example- to find an outlet.” This leads one to ask the question whether Trump would have been elected via the Electoral College if it weren’t for social media. Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists and constitutes more than a third of the citizens. Prior to the election, HM would never have believed that this was the case. Now he believes and is close to being clinically depressed.

Continuing on, “Before the platforms arrived, extreme views were often moderated because it was hard for adherents to find one another. Expressing extreme views in the real world can lead to social stigma, which also keeps them in check. By enabling anonymity and/or private Groups, the platforms removed the stigma, enabling like-minded people, including extremists, to find one another, communicate, and, eventually, to lose the fear of social stigma.”

Once a person identifies with an extreme position on an internet platform, that person will be subject to both filter bubbles and human nature. There are two types of bubbles. Filter bubbles are imposed by others, whereas a preference bubble is a choice, although the user might be unaware of this choice. By definition, a preference bubble takes users to a bad place, and they may not even be conscious of the change. Both filter bubbles and preference bubbles increase time on site, which is a driver of revenue. Roger notes that in a preference bubble, users create an alternative reality, built around values shared with a tribe, which can focus on politics, religion, or something else. “They stop interacting with people with whom they disagree, reinforcing the power of the bubble. They go to war against any threat to their bubble, which for some users means going to war against democracy and legal norms, They disregard expertise in favor of voices from their tribe. They refuse to accept uncomfortable facts, even ones that are incontrovertible. This is how a large minority of Americans abandoned newspapers in favor of talk radio and websites that peddle conspiracy theories. Filter bubbles and preference bubbles undermine democracy by eliminating the last vestiges of common ground among a huge percentage of Americans. The tribe is all that matters, and anything that advances the tribe is legitimate. You see this effect today among people whose embrace of Donald Trump has required them to abandon beliefs they held deeply only a few years earlier. Once again, this is a problem that internet platforms did not invent. Existing issues in society created a business opportunity that platforms exploited. They created a feedback loop that reinforces and amplifies ideas with a speed and at a scale that are unprecedented.”

Clint Watts in his book, “Messing with the Enemy” makes the case that in a preference bubble, facts and expertise can be the core of a hostile system, an enemy that must be defeated. “Whoever gets the most likes is in charge; whoever gets the most shares is an expert. Preference bubbles, once they’ve destroyed the core, seek to use their preference to create a core more to their liking, specially selecting information, sources, and experts that support their alternative reality rather than the real physical world.” Roger writes, “The shared values that form the foundation of our democracy proved to be powerless against the preference bubbles that have evolved over the past decade. Facebook does not create preference bubbles, but it is the ideal incubator for them. The algorithms that users who like one piece of disinformation will be fed more disinformation. Fed enough disinformation, users will eventually wind up first in a filter bubble and then in a preference bubble. if you are a bad actor and you want to manipulate people in a preference bubble, all you have to do is infiltrate the tribe, deploy the appropriate dog whistles, and you are good to go. That is what the Russians did in 2016 and what many are doing now.

The Effects Facebook Has on Users

April 3, 2019

This is the seventh post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “It turns out that connecting 2.2 billion people on a single network does not naturally produce happiness at all. It puts pressure on users, first to present a desirable image, then to command attention in the form of Likes or shares from others. In such an environment, the loudest voices dominate.” This can be intimidating. Consequently, we follow the human tendency to organize into clusters and tribes. This begins with people who share our beliefs. Most often this consists of family, friends, and Facebook Groups to which we belong. Facebook’s news feed encourages every user to surround him- or herself with like-minded people. Notionally, Facebook allows us to extend our friends network to include a highly diverse community, but many users stop following people with whom they disagree. Usually it feels good when we cut off someone who provokes us and lots of people do so. Consequently friends lists become more homogeneous over time. Facebook amplifies this effect with its approach to curating the News Feed. Roger writes, “When content is coming from like-minded family, friends, or Groups, we tend to relax our vigilance, which is one of the reasons why disinformation spreads so effectively on Facebook.

An unfortunate by-product of giving users what they want are filter bubbles. And unfortunately, there is a high correlation between the presence of filter bubbles and polarization. Roger writes, “I am not suggesting that filter bubbles create polarization, but I believe they have a negative impact on public discourse and political because filter bubbles isolate the people stuck in them. Filter bubbles exist outside Facebook and Google, but gains in attention for Facebook and Google are increasing the influence of their filter bubbles relative to others.”

Although practically everyone on Facebook has friends and family, many also are members of Groups. Facebook allows Groups on just about anything, including hobbies, entertainment, teams, communities, churches, and celebrities. Many groups are devoted to politics and they cross the full spectrum. Groups enables easy targeting by advertisers so Facebook loves them. And bad actors like them for the same reason. Case Sunstein, who was the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the first Obama administration conducted research indicating that when like-minded people discuss issues, their views tend to get more extreme over time. Jonathan Morgan of Data for Democracy has found that as few as 1 to 2 percent of a group can steer the conversation if they are well-coordinated. Roger writes, “That means a human troll with a small army of digital bots—software robots—can control a large, emotional Group, which is what the Russians did when they persuaded Groups on opposite sides of the same issue—like pro-Muslim groups and anti-Muslim groups—to simultaneously host Facebook events in the same place at the same time hoping for a confrontation.

Roger notes that Facebook asserts that users control their experience by picking the friends and sources that populate their News Feed when in reality an artificial intelligence, algorithms, and menus created by Facebook engineers control every aspect of that experience. Roger continues, “With nearly as many monthly users are there are notional Christians in the world, and nearly as many daily users as there are notional Muslims, Facebook cannot pretend its business model does not have a profound effect. Facebook’s notion that a platform with more than two billion users can and should police itself also seems both naive and self-serving, especially given the now plentiful evidence to the contrary. Even if it were “just a platform,” Facebook has a responsibility for protecting users from harm. Deflection of responsibility has serious consequences.”

Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks

April 2, 2019

This is the sixth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” In 2014, Facebook published a study called “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks.” “This experiment entailed manipulating the balance of positive and negative messages in News Feeds of nearly seven hundred thousand users to measure the influence of social networks on mood. The internal report claimed the experiment provided evidence that emotions can spread over its platform. Facebook did not get prior informed consent or provide any warning. Facebook made people sad just to see if it could be done. Facebook was faced with strong criticism for this experiment. Zack’s right hand lady, Sheryl Sandberg said: “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

Note that she did not apologize for running a giant psychological experiment on users. Rather, she claimed that experiments like this are normal “for companies.” So she apologized only for the communication. Apparently running experiments on users without prior consent is a standard practice at Facebook.

Filter Bubbles

April 1, 2019

This is the fiftth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Adults get locked into filter bubbles. Wikipedia defines filter bubbles as “a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the users, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.

Filter bubbles are not unique to internet platforms. They can also be found on any journalistic medium that reinforces preexisting beliefs of its audience, while surprising any stories that might contradict them, such as Fox News, In the context of Facebook, filter bubbles have several elements. In Facebook’s endless pursuit of engagement, Facebook’s AI and algorithms feed users a steady diet of content similar to what has engaged us most in the past. Usually that is content that we “like.” Each click, share, and comment helps Facebook refine its AI. With 2.2 billion people clicking, sharing, and commenting every month—1.47 billion every day—Facebook’s AI knows more about users than the users can possibly imagine. All that data in one place is a target for bad actors, even if it were well-protected. But Roger writes that Facebook’s business model is to give the opportunity to exploit that data to just about anyone who is willing to pay for the privilege.

One can make the case that these platforms compete in a race to the bottom of the brain stem—where AIs present content that appeals to the low-level emotions of the lizard brain, such things as immediate rewards, outrage, and fear. Roger writes, “Short videos perform better than longer ones. Animated GIFs work better than static photos. Sensational headlines work better than calm descriptions of events. Although the space of true things is fixed, the space of falsehoods can expand freely in any direction. False outcompetes true. Inflammatory posts work better at reaching large audiences within Facebook and other platforms.”

Roger continues, “Getting a user outraged, anxious, or afraid is a powerful way to increase engagement. Anxious and fearful users check the site more frequently. Outraged users start more content to let other people know what they should also be outraged about. Best of all from Facebook’s perspective, outraged or fearful users in an emotionally hijacked state become more reactive to further emotionally charge content. It is easy to imagine how inflammatory content would accelerate the heart rate and trigger dopamine hits. Facebook knows so much about each user that they can often tune News Feed to promote emotional responses. They cannot do this all the time for every user, but they do it far more than users realize. And they do it subtly in very small increments. On a platform like Facebook, where most users check the site every day small nudges over long periods of time can eventually produce big changes.”