Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Netiquette for the digital generation (and parents)

It seems schools are now teaching children “netiquette”. A company called Digital Awareness UK is working with schools to raise awareness of what is considered rude behaviour around digital platform use.

Schools have a role to play to model good behaviour and teach children what is not socially appropriate“.

Sorry but isn’t that the parents’ job?

Anyway here are some of the rules:

  • Don’t text at mealtimes
  • Don’t check your phone during a meal
  • Don’t announce deaths on Facebook (only jihadists or murderers are “allowed” to do that)
  • Don’t dump your partner via WhatsApp
  • Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation because you’ve just had a message (how many children understand what a face-to-face conversation actually is?)

And back to parents; a third of children surveyed recently (by Digital Awareness UK) said that their parents were terrible role models – always checking their devices. Even when the children asked them to stop it made no difference.

These were kids from top private schools whose parents obviously had terribly important jobs. But I think it’s the same everywhere among parents of young children. You see them out for a family meals with the kids given tablets to play on while the parents have grown up talk.

And the survey revealed that parents have no idea what the kids get up to on online putting themselves at risk of sexting, grooming, addiction and sleep deprivation. Given that almost 10% of kids spend 10-15 hours a day online when not at school is it any wonder. And 10% of 11-18 year olds admit to checking their mobile phones at least 10 times a night.

Many children have said they would like firmer rules and for their parents to be better role models and half said they wouldn’t mind if their devices were taken off them for a weekend. Really?

I’ve posted before about how addictive social media can be and its detrimental effect on children.


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Social media really is bad for kids (as if you didn’t already know this)

It only takes one hour a day on social media to make children unhappy, whether it’s Facebook or Snapchat or any other platform.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield asked 4,000 10-15 year-olds to rate how happy they were with different aspects of their lives.

They found that the more time children spent chatting online the less happy they were about their school and work, their appearance, their family and their life in general.

Spending only 1 hour a day on social networks reduced the probability of a child being completely happy with his or her life by 14%.

This is three times higher than the impact of being in a single-parent household and greater than the effect of playing truant.

However they did feel happier about their friendships. They just haven’t realised that social media friends are not real friends as previous research has shown. Spending time on social networks can actually make you feel more lonely.

Some experts argue that spending time on social networks diverse children from risky behaviours such as smoking and under-age drinking (but what about sexting?) while other studies show that it contributes to poor mental health, especially among girls. And in this study it was also the girls who felt worse about their appearance and their school.

90% of 16-24 year-olds use online social networks and younger users routinely get round the 13 year threshold for users. More than three-quarters of 10-12 year-olds have social media accounts. According to Ofcom children aged 8-11 send 11 hours a week on social media and 12-15 year-olds almost 19 hours, both figures double what they were 10 years ago.

But do the social network providers care? Of course not, it’s all about advertising revenue for them and the earlier they catch people the better as far as they’re concerned. You only have to look at the resistance of Google/YouTube to doing anything about the hate videos and pornography to realise what drives them. $$$$…

And it’s interesting that the likes of the late Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley techno-billionaires didn’t allow their own kids to access social networks.


Social media is NOT always a good thing

What do HSBC, Lloyds Bank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Marks & Spencer have in common? Well they’re the latest businesses to pull their advertising from Googlea global tech giant which controls 35% of the digital advertising market.

Why? Because terrorists, jihadists, hate preachers, holocaust deniers, rape apologists, and all manner of bad guys, are making money out of adverts appearing next to their videos. And the tech giants are doing little about it. They are more interested in making money.

As a result, and probably because of embarrassment and concerns about reputational damage, companies are starting to react. Havas, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, which spends about £175 million in the UK on digital advertising of which Google receives £35 million, has pulled all its 240 UK clients from Google, including O2, EDF, and the Royal Mail.

Its UK CEO said “Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platforms and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect“.

Vodafone, Sky and Barclays Bank are also said to be considering withdrawing their advertising unless Google sorts itself out. Sky is said to be concerned about the lax controls and wants assurances that their ads will not appear on hate sites. YouTube posters typical get just under £7 for every thousand views. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Google’s websites, which includes YouTube, have been paying out  hundreds of thousands of pounds to hate preachers and jihadists for displaying ads next to their videos which have included Argos, Sandals, Visit Scotland, The RAF, Nissan,  and other companies, some of which have now withdrawn their ads.

Companies which have pulled ads from YouTube include the Cabinet Office, Sainsburys, The Gurdian, Audi, the BBC, Transport for London, the Financial Services Authority, Channel 4, L’Oreal, and McDonalds.

Audi said “YouTube safeguards have not proven as robust as they need to be” and McDonalds said it was disappointed that safeguards to protect its advertising had fallen through. Channel 4 said it was not satisfied that the platform was a ‘safe environment’.

We should have seen it coming when Google dropped its famous mantradon’t be evil“. Its UK MD Roman Harris, said that the company had “begun a thorough review of our ads policies an brand controls’. Not before time.

They claim to receive 200,000 flags a day about inappropriate content and review 98% within 24 hours, although some offensive videos have remained on the platform for several years.

They also claim to have removed nearly two billion “bad ads” last year and prevented ads on more than 300 million YouTube videos. Doesn’t the scale of it suggest there is a systemic problem with these platforms?

They admit that they rely on the public to report offensive YouTube content because it cannot police the site proactively because of the quantity of material it hosts. This is ludicrous, get more staff! You can afford it. But that is not under consideration by Google. They say that user notification and technology is a better way of dealing with it. In other words let users do their job for them, at no cost to the company. So in addition to avoiding tax they avoid payroll costs as well!

It’s clear that it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously and critics says its ‘notification and takedown’ system isn’t ‘fit for purpose’. I suggest the whole platform is not fit for purpose if it can’t be policed effectively.

If the Sunday Times and Times hadn’t publicised the fact that online adverts were funding terrorists, holocaust deniers, racists, rape apologists and hate preachers would this have been even considered in the boardrooms?

Surely advertising agencies knew what was happening and they must be complicit in this, raking in their generous fees.

Last week Google had to apologise to Whitehall officials when a government advert appeared next to hate content. “It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content. That message was conveyed very clearly to Google” a government spokesman said.

How about charging Google with assisting or conspiring with the bad guys to incite or promote hatred? After all Google is facilitating them.

The Commons home affairs committee has warned Google it must take ‘proactive steps’ to remove extremist material or face regulation and large fines. As other commentators have said, they can’t go on pretending just to be tech companies given the amount of media content they promulgate and they should be covered by the same tight regulations as other forms of media.

Perhaps if more companies stopped advertising on digital media and used print media instead we might have more newspapers and less fake news as well.

In Germany a draft law is proposing fines of up to £47 million if hate content is not quickly removed. If they can do it why can’t we? Let’s get to grips with this insidious problem.


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Social media makes you more lonely

I’ve been saying it for years (see my first post about it in 2010), social media is bad for you.

It lowers your self-esteem, makes you depressed, more narcissistic, makes you more stupid, and I could go on, especially about Facebook (See here).

Do the social media giants care? of course not. All they care about is large numbers, your personal data, and advertising.

The truth is that social media apps designed to help you communicate with other people actually make you feel more lonely.

The more time young adults spend on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and similar sites the more likely they are to feel cutoff. More than two hours a day of social media use doubles the chance of a person experiencing social isolation.

Both higher numbers of visits and the total time spent online have negative effects according to the American research, carried out in 2014 on almost 1800 people aged 19-32 years of age, by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The researchers said “we are inherently social creatures but modern life tends to compartmentalise us instead of bringing us together”.

They believe that social media use displaces more authentic experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time is left for real-life contacts. Obvious really.


Police catching up with drivers using mobile phones – at last!

texting_behind_the_wheel_1600_wht_10007

Today’s the start of the new police campaign. Covert filming from unmarked cars. 6 points (enough to take a novice driver off the road) and £200 fine.

I look forward to seeing the results.

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Original post from 23/01/17

The promised crackdown on irresponsible drivers who use mobile phones began in earnest last November when a week-long campaign by 36 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (but not Scotland for some reason) resulted in 8,000 fixed penalty notices given at the rate of 40 an hour.

This followed the tragic deaths of Tracy Houghton and her family members when they were crushed by Tomasz Kroker who was scrolling through his music on his phone when driving his lorry. He received a 10-year prison sentence.

The campaign stopped 10,000 vehicles, detecting almost 8,000 mobile phone offences plus other distraction offences. These figures are four times that in previous month-long campaigns in 2015 (twice) and last year.

The good news for safety conscious drivers and pedestrians is that the police are doing it again this week!

They are running targeted operations and education campaigns. And ministers are still planning to double the fines to £200 and the penalty points to six (which means for new drivers it will be one strike in your first two years of driving and you’re off the road).

I’d go further and introduce an iSBO – take the phones away, recycle them or crush them, burn them in a public bonfire (probably a health & safety issue with that). You get my point. It’s stupid and irresponsible and causes accidents.


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Should we dumb down our smartphones to stop us becoming more stupid?

Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?

aansyq1I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.

It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?

Well in the Times Body & Soul section last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.

41-epxoutyl-_sx309_bo1204203200_They thought it was – if you count a fleeting attention span, a poorer memory, and a more passive intellect as signs of increasing stupidity.

Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life” made similar points referring to the downside of online life as poor sleep, low attention span, diminishing empathy, not to mention wasted time.

And in Adam Alter‘s new book “Irresistible. The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked” or in the UK edition “Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching” the author , an associate professor of marketing at New York University’s school of business, describes how the internet changes your brain.

41xdmdoe5wl-_sx336_bo1204203200_Or as he says “Once your cucumber brain is pickled it can never go back to being a cucumber”. Tech companies manipulate you in all sorts of ways using random reinforcement methods (like slot machines), where the unexpected win increases the level of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain e.g. using “likes” – you have to check your post because you’re not sure how it will be received.

A company designed an app, Lovematically, that automatically liked everything you posted . It was banned within two hours. Instagram (owned by Facebook) wanted to remain the dealer not have the “online crack” given away for free.

And he’s not the only one writing about this. Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows: what the internet is doing to your brain” was listed for a Pulitzer prize in 2011 so he’s been making his points for a few years now.

41gwbs8qckl-_sx327_bo1204203200_He thinks “We’ve never had a technology so intrusive into our moment by moment thinking, perception and attention. … it hijacks our attention faculty. Instead of choosing what we focus on we begin to focus the newest thing on our smartphone, whether it’s important or not”.

He points out that our short-term memory has a limited capacity but the contents can be transferred to our long-term memory through making associations and connections. He says “everyone who has a smartphone and is honest with themselves knows that it is shaping their consciousness and the way they think or don’t think

He cites research at Stanford University which found that media multi-taskers (never a good idea) i.e. those who jump from one social media app to another, browsing or posting, had a weakened anterior cingulate cortex, that part of the brain area involved in high level information and emotion processing. They had smaller grey matter density and decreased cognitive control. 

So  a shrunken brain, more impulsive, and less empathetic?

Larry Rosen, a professor in psychology at California State University, agrees about the effect of smartphones and says “We don’t process information as deeply any more. Our brains are wired to process it just enough to get it through the moment, knowing full well that if we need it, we know where to find it again because we have this great external memory called Mr Google“.

41qm9rez-wl-_ac_us218_ 41r7ybyxnjl-_ac_us218_Author of “iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us”  and co-author of “Distracted Minds: Ancient Brains in a high tech world“, he believes the short attention span we now have is linked to smartphone technology.

The smartphone “stimulated this concept of ‘do it and get out’. We’re very task driven and categorise every action as a task.”

Now that we don’t have to rely on our recall as much we’ll see less of the taxi-driver effect where their hippcampuses, the part of the brain associated with long-term memory and spatial awareness, became more developed than normal because of learning “the knowledge.

Tech companies like to promote intelligence based on the idea that the more information we take in the smarter we get. Carr believes the opposite is true. “We don’t get smart, we don’t become knowledgeable through the speed with which we take in information, but through our ability to synthesise information into context, into some broader understanding of the world”.

He argues that feeding us information like feeding babies milk makes us more dependent, lazier and more accepting. We become less able to apply intellectual or critical analyses to the information.

Acquiring true knowledge takes time and “requires us to think without interruption or distraction. All higher forms of thought, reasoning, critical thinking, require control over our attention; require the ability to turn off the flow of information and think deeply and over an extended period of time about things.

To develop common sense we need to think for ourselves says Richard Graham, a psychiatrist and technology addiction specialist in London. “Otherwise we become passive recipients of all sorts of information – one would file fake news into that category. One absolutely needs to have that mental agility and critical thinking to not become passive to information and judgement”.

So not looking good is it? And there’s more. What about its impact on our creativity? Well smartphones and social media might enable collaboration but being “always on” doesn’t allow much time for daydreaming which, according to neuroscientists at the University of California, leads to the brain engaging in a default mode of neural processing linked to “positive mental health  and cognitive abilities like reading, comprehension, and divergent thinking“.

While bouncing ideas off people can lead to creativity “original individual thinking does require an ability to be contemplative and reflective and introspective. None of these things can happen when you’re completely bombarded with information” says Carr.

And talking of collaboration, social media users might believe that they’re being thoughtful sending messages to their “friends” but it’s a fairly shallow and primitive method. Is sending someone a text message as meaningful as writing a letter or sending a card? “Online empathy is weak empathy and not as good as real-world empathy”. 

Sending a text message is often an emotional response without any thought going into it because it’s too easy. That lack of time for reflection makes us less human. No matter how many friends you think you have online the sad truth is that most of them aren’t real friends.

And part of this is due to the fact that we hate being bored. Students would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly in a room for 15 minutes (University of Virginia). It seems we’d rather play mindless games that reward us with flashing lights or different levels than sit and reflect.

Have you noticed that when you watch a TV series on Amazon or a film on Netflix it automatically moves to the next episode? Its default setting is opting in not out and given our predilection for generally not changing things (Brexit being a rare counter example) its easy to see how viewers get sucked in.

Alter says silicon valley leaders are hypocrites who know the damage they are doing to people’s lives. Steve Jobs banned his kids from having iPads and many restrict screen time. He says games designers avoid playing World of Warcraft because they’ve seen how immersive socially interactive games can turn intelligent but lonely young men into overweight college dropouts.

The designer of Flappy Bird actually took the game app down because he feared the effect it was having on people.

So what’s to be done if we are not to succumb to smartphone induced mediocrity? Alter suggests the usual such as parental restraints, stopping programmes before the end so you can resist the next instalment (bloody annoying if you ask me) , or punishing yourself.

One tech entrepreneur apparently hired a woman from Craigslist to slap him across the face ever time he opened his Facebook account. You can use a program called WastenoTime which blocks you accessing youTube or Facebook between certain hours. Or if you use your smartphone more than an agreed number of hours you can pledge to donate to a cause you hate.

Or you can just leave your phone at home and go out for some fresh air.

I’ve posted before about nomophobia and trying to overcome anxiety from FOMO or FOBO? Research shows that half of smartphone owners are spending two to four  hours on our phones every day and say they couldn’t live without it, and a quarter of them more than that.

If you’re in denial about how much time you spend on your phone you can get an app called Moment which tracks how much time you spend on it. Try it, it might be a wake-up call to get a life!