2. Social media is a set of common platforms to draw out our worst tendencies

(note: this is a continuation of a rant from a couple weeks ago)

I know it's absurd for me to be talking about "social media" as though it's some homogenous monolith. I'm sure aficionados could tell me the subtle differences between platforms the way a sommelier could tell me the difference between a Malbec and a Cabernet. But at the end of the day, those are just two varieties of red wines, and like them, Instagram and Twitter are more similar than they are different. And one of their similarities is they tend to bring out the worst in us.

Before my departure from social media, I saw people on Facebook joining or "liking" pages devoted to searing hatred of immigrants. These same people in some cases had testified at deportation hearings for undocumented family friends. What was it about the choice architecture of that "like" button that made the sort-of-evil decision the easy one? 

This isn't that different from the other happiness-draining things our consumerist society throws at us with the promise that we'll be happier if we use them. Tobacco, junk food, and social media all want the same thing from you: they want to take away your control over your life, health, and happiness. But while we've made strides to combat tobacco and junk food, like smoke-free laws and taxes on bug juice, we seem stuck in a self-sustaining vortex that tells us that more connection, more technology, will solve our problems instead of creating new ones. If a drug hit the market and prompted some of the behaviors that we see with social media, would we applaud it?

And the children. The children. We're training our kids to avoid boredom at all costs. How many kids have you seen dialed into a phone at a restaurant? How many staring into a screen at a playground? How many being beseeched to turn down their phones while at a restaurant or basketball game?

These are not behaviors that any of us are proud of. Were you to point them out to the very people exhibiting them, they would be ashamed, right after they got done telling you off and posting on Facebook about what a jerk they just ran into at the restaurant. But pride aside, there is probably real harm being done here. I'm frankly suspicious of any claim that the fake news on social media swayed the last US Presidential election, but it certainly didn't lead to a more erudite, informed electorate, either. But a kid who sits at a restaurant with earbuds in, staring at a screen, is being trained that boredom is unacceptable. What will happen to this person the first time he's confronted with a situation that requires delayed gratification or an attention span? 

So even though I'm a bit of an anti-incrementalist, I'm hoping to see just a series of small ticks in mobile/social media use. Comedian Chris Rock is having fans lock up their phones at his shows. Jack White has been doing it for a while now. I don't think these guys are doing it out of general fuddy-duddyness; they're trying to bring out the best in their audiences and to make sure everyone has a shared experience. Schools, historically afraid of parent backlash to less-than-100-percent-available kids, are even in on the act, establishing "phone free zones" with the same technology Chris Rock is using. 

Link dump - March 8, 2017

Fewer and fewer Americans report trying to lose weight. We may be settling into our role as the one of the fattest countries on earth (we're coming for you, Tonga...). I can't help but think this is because of the many, many, many shitty options that people have had pushed on them that didn't work. Now they've given up. *sigh*

The search for the perfect artificial sweetener continues

"Let us pause here to acknowledge the sugar-frosted codependent embrace of Big Food and the American consumer. You could rightly fault consumers for their insistence on an oxymoronic product. But who has been indulging their fantasies for decades now, promising sweet, satisfying taste and no calories? Big Food, of course. Now customers are upping the stakes—and it’s not at all clear that companies can pass the test."

In what seems like a just reversal of a law that had the unintended consequence of highlighting the law of unintended consequences, after 60 years, street hockey will once again be legal in Hamilton, Ontario, under the following conditions:

  • The roadway has a speed limit of 40 km/h or less and is a local road.
  • Play happens in a place that is "safe and suitable."
  • People play no earlier than 9 a.m. and no later than 8 p.m.
  • No one plays during periods of limited visibility from fog, snow or rain.
  • Play is stopped for any vehicles. ("Car!")

Having robot minions control the lights for them may be turning kids into a bunch of lazy, entitled monsters.

No one can get you to take your medicines but you. Three reminder devices to take your medications were no better than no notification or device in a randomized controlled trial

Go. To. Bed. People who get out of bed in the morning tend to eat better and earlier in the day than night owls. Original paper here.

"We found that night owls had postponed timing of food intake, and less favorable eating patterns with higher intakes of sucrose, fat and saturated fat in the evening hours than early birds," said Maukonen, a doctoral candidate in the department of public health solutions. 

Link dump - March 3, 2017

People who cook real food and eat it at the table like human beings instead of eating processed garbage in front of a screen like drooling automatons have a lower risk of obesity. Good to know.

Wichita roads are friendlier to cyclists. I've experienced this myself, and I've meant to write a letter to the Eagle thanking the city and its drivers for not killing me, but now it's taken care of. *washes hands*

Obese people who "self stigmatize" may be at higher metabolic risk. This is an interesting hypothesis. Intuitively, I believe it; there's so much undeserved self-hatred out there among people who weigh more than they want to. But the sample size of this paper makes me suspicious. It has the smell of p-value hunting.

Aggressive treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism with levothyroxine in pregnancy probably doesn't result in smarter kids. This is disappointing.

Taxing sugared drinks makes people drink less insect bait. Go figure.

Have a good weekend

Have a good weekend