Archives February 12, 2018

Is social media causing childhood depression?

Rangan Chatterjee is a GP and says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in youngsters and their use of social media.

One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E.

“The first thought was to put him on anti-depressants but I chatted to him and it sounded like his use of social media was having a negative impact on his health.”

So Dr Chatterjee suggested a simple solution – the teenager should attempt to wean himself off social media, restricting himself to just an hour before he went to bed. Over the course of a few weeks, he should extend this to two hours at night and two in the morning.

“He reported a significant improvement in his wellbeing and, after six months, I had a letter from his mother saying he was happier at school and integrated into the local community.”

That and similar cases have led him to question the role social media plays in the lives of young people.

“Social media is having a negative impact on mental health,” he said. “I do think it is a big problem and that we need some rules. How do we educate society to use technology so it helps us rather than harms us?”

A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites.

It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence.

Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

Consultant psychiatrist Louise Theodosiou says one of the clearest indications children are spending too long on their phones is their behaviour during a session with a psychiatrist.

“Two or three years ago, it was very unusual for a child to answer their phone or text during an appointment. But now it is common,” said the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital doctor.

She has seen a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging – from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people’s lives, to cyber-bullying.

Often such children will refuse to travel to psychiatrist appointments, so a range of professionals have to make home visits to deal with the issue. It can take months to persuade them to leave their bedrooms.

“These kids are living in a fictional world, sometimes to the detriment of their physical health. They might have physical ill-health, like toothache, but they are still not wanting to leave their virtual worlds,” she said.

Dr Theodosiou has seen first-hand how difficult it can be for parents. She has heard of some sleeping with the home router to make sure the children cannot connect to the wi-fi in the middle of the night.

Even for those children whose social media use may be judged normal, there are still dangers in the way the internet has become a conduit into the lives of friends and celebrities.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Energy riches fuel bitcoin craze for speculation-shy Iceland

Iceland is expected to use more energy ‘mining’ bitcoins and other virtual currencies this year than it uses to power its homes.

With massive amounts of electricity needed to run the computers that create bitcoins, large virtual currency companies have established a base in the North Atlantic island nation blessed with an abundance of ‘renewable energy.’

The energy demand has developed because of the soaring cost of producing and collecting virtual currencies. Computers are used to make the complex calculations that verify a running ledger of all the transactions in virtual currencies around the world.

Among the main attractions of setting up bitcoin mines at the edge of the Arctic Circle is the natural cooling for computer servers and the competitive prices for Iceland’s abundance of renewable energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a business development manager at the energy company Hitaveita Sudurnesja, said he expected Iceland’s virtual currency mining to double its energy consumption to about 100 megawatts this year. That is more than households use on the island nation of 340,000, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

Pirate Party legislator McCarthy has questioned the value of bitcoin mining for Icelandic society, saying residents should consider regulating and taxing the emerging industry.

“We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,” he said. “That can’t be good.”

Researchers create simulation of a worm’s neural network

Researchers at the Technische Universitat Wein have created a simulation of a simple worm’s neural network, and have been able to replicate its natural behavior to completely mimic the worm’s natural reflexive behavior. According to the article, using a simple neural network of 300 neurons, the simulation of “the worm can find its way, eat bacteria and react to certain external stimuli. It can, for example, react to a touch on its body. A reflexive response is triggered and the worm squirms away. This behavior is determined by the worm’s nerve cells and the strength of the connections between them. When this simple reflex network is recreated on a computer, the simulated worm reacts in exactly the same way to a virtual stimulation — not because anybody programmed it to do so, but because this kind of behavior is hard-wired in its neural network.” Using the same neural network without adding any additional nerve cells, Mathias Lechner, Radu Grosu, and Ramin Hasani were able to have the nematode simulation learn to balance a pole “just by tuning the strength of the synaptic connections. This basic idea (tuning the connections between nerve cells) is also the characteristic feature of any natural learning process.”