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Killing tourist destinations for an Instagram photo

Overtourism is taking a toll across the globe, with closures of popular destinations in Thailand and the Philippines, and backlash from residents in cities like Venice and Barcelona. Closer to home, places like Bali, Byron Bay and parts of Tasmania have also been feeling pressure from skyrocketing visitors.

“The problem we’ve got is that we’re all congregating on the same places at the same time of the year,” says Justin Francis, CEO of the UK-based Responsible Travel.

Mr Francis says part of the problem is that the “ethos of travel” is changing: in the social media era, it’s now more about “where you want to be seen”. “Getting the photo and getting it on Instagram or Facebook is becoming the purpose of the trip — it’s the reason for going,” he says.

Travellers have also been drawn to places from their favourite films or TV shows, in a trend known as “set jetting”.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

Link Between Social Media and Depression Stronger In Teen Girls Than Boys, Study Says

According to a new study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, the link between social media use and depressive symptoms in 14-year-olds may be much stronger for girls than boys. CNN reports:
Among teens who use social media the most — more than five hours a day — the study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys, when their symptoms were compared with those who use social media for only one to three hours daily. Yet the study, conducted in the UK, showed only an association between social media use and symptoms of depression, which can include feelings of unhappiness, restlessness or loneliness. The findings cannot prove that frequent social media use caused depressive symptoms, or vice versa. The study also described other factors, such as lack of sleep and cyberbullying, that could help explain this association.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 10,904 14-year-olds who were born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom. The data, which came from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, included information from questionnaires on the teens’ depressive symptoms and social media use. Depressive symptoms were recorded as scores, and the researchers looked at which teens had high or low scores. They found that on average, girls had higher depressive symptom scores compared with boys. The researchers also found that girls reported more social media use than boys; 43.1% of girls said they used social media for three or more hours per day, versus 21.9% of boys. The data showed that for teens using social media for three to five hours, 26% of girls and 21% of boys had depressive symptom scores higher than those who used social media for only about one to three hours a day.
As for the gender gap, Yvonne Kelly, first author of the study and professor of epidemiology and public health, believes it has to do with “the types of things that girls and boys do online.”

“In the UK, girls tend to more likely use things like Snapchat or Instagram, which is more based around physical appearance, taking photographs and commenting on those photographs,” she said. “I think it has to do with the nature of use.”

“How YouTube’s Year-in-Review ‘Rewind’ Video Set Off a Civil War”

You might guess that a surefire way to make a hit video on YouTube would be to gather a bunch of YouTube megastars, film them riffing on some of the year’s most popular YouTube themes and release it as a year-in-review spectacular. You would be wrong.

The issue that upset so many YouTube fans, it turns out, was what the Rewind video did not show. To many, it felt like evidence that YouTube the company was snubbing YouTube the community by featuring mainstream celebrities in addition to the platform’s homegrown creators, and by glossing over major moments in favor of advertiser-friendly scenes.

If YouTube had been trying to create an accurate picture of its platform’s most visible faces, it would need to include bigots, reactionaries and juvenile shock jocks. A YouTube recap that includes only displays of tolerance and pluralism is a little like a Weather Channel highlight reel featuring only footage of sunny days — it might be more pleasant to look at, but it doesn’t reflect the actual weather.

As smartphones and internet connections rise in Africa, so does entertainment streaming

Growing smartphone and internet penetration across many African countries saw global streaming companies make a deeper play for audiences here this year.

Netflix signaled its interest in Africa by hiring a content producer for the region and took on the MultiChoice, the continental satellite TV giant owned by Naspers, Africa’s most valuable company. The Los Gatos, California company spooked MultiChoice with everything from trolling online ads to billboards placed conspicuously close to their Johannesburg headquarters. MultiChoice has clearly taken notice and has called for Netflix to be regulated

“Influencers” Are Being Paid Big Sums To Pitch Products and Thrash Rivals on Instagram and YouTube

“Influencers” are being paid big sums to pitch products on Instagram and YouTube. If you’re trying to grow a product on social media, you either fork over cash or pay in another way. This is the murky world of influencing, reports Wired. Brands will pay influencers to position products on their desks, behind them, or anywhere else they can subtly appear on screen. Payouts increase if an influencer tags a brand in a post or includes a link, but silent endorsements are often preferred.

Marketers of literature, wellness, fashion, entertainment, and other wares are all hooked on influencers. As brands have warmed to social-media advertising, influencer marketing has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. Unlike traditional television or print ads, influencers have dedicated niche followings who take their word as gospel.

There’s another plus: Many users don’t view influencers as paid endorsers or salespeople—even though a significant percentage are—but as trusted experts, friends, and “real” people. This perceived authenticity is part of why brands shell out so much cash in exchange for a brief appearance in your Instagram feed.

What Your Phone is Telling Wall Street

Your phone knows where you shop, where you work and where you sleep. Hedge funds are very interested in such data, so they are buying it.

When Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the car maker would work around the clock to boost production of its Model 3 sedan, the number crunchers at Thasos Group decided to watch. They circled Tesla’s 370 acres in Fremont, Calif., on an online map, creating a digital corral to isolate smartphone location signals that emanated from within it. Thasos, which leases databases of trillions of geographic coordinates collected by smartphone apps, set its computers to find the pings created at Tesla’s factory, then shared the data with its hedge-fund clients [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], showing the overnight shift swelled 30% from June to October.

Last month, many on Wall Street were surprised when Tesla disclosed a rare quarterly profit, the result of Model 3 production that had nearly doubled in three months. Shares shot up 9.1% the next day. Thasos is at the vanguard of companies trying to help traders get ahead of stock moves like that using so-called alternative data. Such suppliers might examine mine slag heaps from outer space, analyze credit-card spending data or sort through construction permits. Thasos’s specialty is spewing out of your smartphone.

Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone’s location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps. Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.

When Tech Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself

Algorithms are kind of running where 2 billion people spend their time. Seventy percent of what people watch on YouTube is driven by recommendations from the algorithm. People think that what you’re watching on YouTube is a choice. People are sitting there, they sit there, they think, and then they choose. But that’s not true. Seventy percent of what people are watching is the recommended videos on the right hand side, which means 70 percent of 1.9 billion users, that’s more than the number of followers of Islam, about the number followers of Christianity, of what they’re looking at on YouTube for 60 minutes a day—that’s the average time people spend on YouTube. So you got 60 minutes, and 70 percent is populated by a computer. The machine is out of control.

What Children Want to Know About Computers

When visiting a series of eight primary school class rooms recently, I talked to children (aged 5 -12 years old) about how computers work. They drew pictures of what they thought is inside a computer, and then we discussed the drawings as a class. Many of the children knew the names of the components within a computer: a chip, memory, a disc, and they were often insistent that there should be a fan in there. They knew that there would be wires inside, and that it would need a battery to make it work. The child who created drawing 1 has made a nice job of piecing together a possible design from what they knew about computers – can you spot what is missing though?

Drawing 1.

Drawing 2.

The artist of drawing 2 knows there is a chip inside (made by HP in this case!) and to their credit they know there is code too. Notice that the code is not physically located on the memory or the chip but somewhere in the wires. In general there was some puzzlement about how code related to the computer, as exemplified by the artist of drawing 3 who confessed “I know a computer is full of code and all devices. I am not sure what it looked like so I just scribbled.”

Drawing 3. 

Often, the children spent a while thinking about what is outside the computer and how information might get inside. It was quite common to see pictures in which the artist had folded the page to show this distinction but it was often a mystery how pressing a key or touching the screen might make something happen in the computer. Children who had spent time tinkering with computers at home had an advantage here: “I broke my keyboard once and I saw what was inside. It would send a signal from key to computer to the monitor”.

What the pictures, and subsequent classroom discussions told me is that the children know names of components within a computer, and possibly some isolated facts about them. None of the pictures showed accurately how the components work together to perform computation, although the children were ready and willing to reason about this with their classmates. Although some of the children had programmed in the visual programming language, none of them knew how the commands they wrote in Scratch would be executed in the hardware inside a computer. One boy, who had been learning about variables in Scratch the previous day wanted to know whether if he looked in his computer he would really see apps with boxes full of variables in them. I love that question because it reveals the mysterious boundary between intangible, invisible information and the small lump of silicon which processes it.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the children, who were curious, interested and made perfectly reasonable inferences based on the facts they picked up in their everyday lives. But I think that computer science educators can do better here. Our discipline is built upon the remarkable fact that we can write instructions in a representation which makes sense to humans and then automatically translate them into an equivalent representation which can be followed by a machine dumbly switching electrical pulses on and off. Children are not going to be able to figure that out for themselves by dissecting old computers or by making the Scratch cat dance. We need to get better at explicitly explaining this in interesting ways.

Children are currently piecing together their everyday experiences with technology with facts that adults tell them to try to make sense of how computers work. This can lead to some confusion, particularly if the adults in their lives are also unsure. One child thought, for example, that if you paid more money, then it would make Wi-Fi stronger. Others were curious about how Wi-Fi works on a train, and whether you really need to stop using your phone on a plane. A student advised the class that if we needed to save space on our phones, then we should delete videos from YouTube. The children, like most Windows users, wanted to know why their computers “freeze”, speculating that it could be because the chip is asleep or that too many people are using Wi-Fi. There was also a sense of wonderment and curiosity. A young boy was fascinated when he read about super computers and wanted to know more: do super computers have really big chips in them? A class of eleven-year-olds gravely debated whether people would be more or less clever if the computer had never been invented. These are the sorts of questions about computers which children want to explore. It’s our job as computer scientists, and as educators, to help them.

Brazil: Hit YouTubers become politicans, and win

Kim Kataguiri is known in Brazil for a lot of things. He’s been called a fascist. He’s been called a fake news kingpin. His organization, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) — the Free Brazil Movement — is like the Brazilian Breitbart. Or maybe it’s like the American tea party. Maybe it’s both. Is it a news network? Kataguiri says it isn’t. But it’s not a political party, either. He says MBL is just a bunch of young people who love free market economics and memes.

One thing is very clear: His YouTube channel, the memes, the fake news, and MBL’s army of supporters have helped Kataguiri, 22, become the youngest person ever elected to Congress in Brazil. He’s also trying to become Brazil’s equivalent of speaker of the House.

As the world panicked over whether Brazil’s far-right presidential frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, is more of a Trump or a Duterte, MBL pushed forward 16 of its own candidates. Six of them won on the federal level. More at the state and local levels. MBL’s YouTube channel has grown from zero to 1 million subscribers this year. MBL was on the front page of YouTube every day in the month leading up to the election. The plan is to have all of the group’s elected members start their own YouTube channels. Forty percent of MBL’s funding already comes from YouTube ads. MBL-affiliated YouTuber and newly elected state representative Arthur Mamãe Falei personally made $12,000 off his solo channel in October.

As Mamãe Falei simply puts it, “I guarantee YouTubers in Brazil are more influential than politicians.”

Kataguiri’s political awakening is a textbook example of the way algorithms beget more algorithms. During his last year of high school, his teacher started a debate about welfare programs in Brazil. So Kataguiri started googling. He discovered Ron Paul and the Brazilian libertarian YouTuber Daniel Fraga.

“Then I did a video to my teacher and my friends at school to talk about what I had found out,” Kataguiri says. “There was one problem: I posted this video on YouTube. So it was public and it went viral.”

He says people kept asking for more videos, but he didn’t know anything. So he went back to googling, and then made more videos about what he learned. His channel got bigger. He started connecting with other far-right and libertarian YouTubers. Brazil’s libertarian community started connecting on Facebook. Then, in 2013, Ron Paul visited a conference in Brazil, and suddenly the online community became a real-life one.

That’s when MBL started to form. He says the emphasis on economic theory within the libertarian movement was uninspiring. He wanted to start a group that got young people excited. By 2015, his videos were starting to draw a huge audience.

The main MBL Facebook page has about 3 million followers. Since 2014, it’s functioned more or less as the group’s main hub. But Kataguiri says that due to concerns over News Feed algorithm changes and Facebook’s banning of its pages this summer, MBL has begun to diversify. It has about 300,000 Twitter followers and about a half million on Instagram. Kataguiri says he doesn’t know anything about the American far-right Twitter clone Gab, which has recently become big in Brazil. But MBL does have a page there. The real crown jewels of MBL’s digital operation right now are YouTube and WhatsApp.

“First, we get news from somewhere,” he says. “There’s news from Folha de São Paulo, there’s news from Globo, there’s news from anywhere, but we choose the news that the public wants to read. We basically curate.”

Then, he says, they decide how to manipulate that news to fit their message.

“Nowadays, people only read the headline, and they already want to have an opinion before reading the news. Basically, what we offer them is, ‘This is the news, in two phrases — this is what we think about it.’”

And finally, the third step: “Basically something to make people laugh and have an incentive to share it with their friends,” he says.

[…]

Brazil has a history of unorthodox candidates running for office: porn stars, footballers, a guy dressed up like Batman. A TV clown has been reelected a few times. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a YouTuber who works at a scrap metal yard and gets beat up at protests could be elected to local office in Brazil. The key difference with do Val is that he got half a million votes. That’s a fourth of his YouTube audience and an absurd number for a state election.

Universal Basic Income, Silicon Valley’s push for our further enslavement

Douglas Rushkoff, long-time open source advocate (and currently a professor of Digital Economics at the City University of New York, Queens College), is calling Universal Basic Incomes “no gift to the masses, but a tool for our further enslavement.”

Uber’s business plan, like that of so many other digital unicorns, is based on extracting all the value from the markets it enters. This ultimately means squeezing employees, customers, and suppliers alike in the name of continued growth. When people eventually become too poor to continue working as drivers or paying for rides, UBI supplies the required cash infusion for the business to keep operating. When it’s looked at the way a software developer would, it’s clear that UBI is really little more than a patch to a program that’s fundamentally flawed. The real purpose of digital capitalism is to extract value from the economy and deliver it to those at the top. If consumers find a way to retain some of that value for themselves, the thinking goes, you’re doing something wrong or “leaving money on the table.”

Walmart perfected the softer version of this model in the 20th century. Move into a town, undercut the local merchants by selling items below cost, and put everyone else out of business. Then, as sole retailer and sole employer, set the prices and wages you want. So what if your workers have to go on welfare and food stamps. Now, digital companies are accomplishing the same thing, only faster and more completely…. Soon, consumers simply can’t consume enough to keep the revenues flowing in. Even the prospect of stockpiling everyone’s data, like Facebook or Google do, begins to lose its allure if none of the people behind the data have any money to spend. To the rescue comes UBI.

The policy was once thought of as a way of taking extreme poverty off the table. In this new incarnation, however, it merely serves as a way to keep the wealthiest people (and their loyal vassals, the software developers) entrenched at the very top of the economic operating system. Because of course, the cash doled out to citizens by the government will inevitably flow to them… Under the guise of compassion, UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers. Once the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us, all we can do with every consumptive act is deliver more power to people who can finally, without any exaggeration, be called our corporate overlords… if Silicon Valley’s UBI fans really wanted to repair the economic operating system, they should be looking not to universal basic income but universal basic assets, first proposed by Institute for the Future’s Marina Gorbis… As appealing as it may sound, UBI is nothing more than a way for corporations to increase their power over us, all under the pretense of putting us on the payroll. It’s the candy that a creep offers a kid to get into the car or the raise a sleazy employer gives a staff member who they’ve sexually harassed. It’s hush money.

Rushkoff’s conclusion? “Whether its proponents are cynical or simply naive, UBI is not the patch we need.”

We hold people with power to account. Why not algorithms?

Robert Jones was driving home through the pretty town of Todmorden, in West Yorkshire, when he noticed the fuel light flashing on the dashboard of his car. He had just a few miles to find a petrol station, which was cutting things rather fine, but thankfully his GPS seemed to have found a short cut – sending him on a narrow winding path up the side of the valley.

Robert followed the machine’s instructions, but as he drove, the road got steeper and narrower. After a couple of miles, it turned into a dirt track, but Robert wasn’t fazed. After all, he thought, he had “no reason not to trust the satnav”.

Just a short while later, anyone who happened to be looking up from the valley below would have seen the nose of Robert’s BMW appearing over the brink of the cliff above, saved from the 100ft drop only by the flimsy wooden fence at the edge he had just crashed into. “It kept insisting the path was a road,” he told the Halifax Courier after the incident. “So I just trusted it. You don’t expect to be taken nearly over a cliff.”

I can imagine Robert was left red-faced by his blunder, but in a way, I think he’s in good company. When it comes to placing blind faith in a piece of software, his mistake was one we’re almost all capable of making. In our urge to automate, in our eagerness to adopt the latest innovations, we appear to have developed a habit of unthinkingly handing over power to machines.

All around us, algorithms provide a kind of convenient source of authority: an easy way to delegate responsibility, a short cut we take without thinking. Who is really going to click through to the second page of Google results every time and think critically about the information that has been served up? Or go to every airline to check if a comparison site is listing the cheapest deals? Or get out a ruler and a road map to confirm that their GPS is offering the shortest route?

But already in our hospitals, our schools, our shops, our courtrooms and our police stations, artificial intelligence is silently working behind the scenes, feeding on our data and making decisions on our behalf. Sure, this technology has the capacity for enormous social good – it can help us diagnose breast cancer, catch serial killers, avoid plane crashes and, as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has proposed, potentially save lives using NHS data and genomics. Unless we know when to trust our own instincts over the output of a piece of software, however, it also brings the potential for disruption, injustice and unfairness.

If we permit flawed machines to make life-changing decisions on our behalf – by allowing them to pinpoint a murder suspect, to diagnose a condition or take over the wheel of a car – we have to think carefully about what happens when things go wrong.

Back in 2012, a group of 16 Idaho residents with disabilities received some unexpected bad news. The Department of Health and Welfare had just invested in a “budget tool” – a swish piece of software, built by a private company, that automatically calculated their entitlement to state support. It had declared that their care budgets should be slashed by several thousand dollars each, a decision that would put them at serious risk of being institutionalised.

The problem was that the budget tool’s logic didn’t seem to make much sense. While this particular group of people had deep cuts to their allowance, others in a similar position actually had their benefits increased by the machine. As far as anyone could tell from the outside, the computer was essentially plucking numbers out of thin air.

From the inside, this wasn’t far from the truth. It would take four years and a class-action lawsuit to get to the bottom of what was going on, but when the budget tool was eventually handed over for scrutiny, a hint of what we all have to fear from the unrestricted power of machine decision-making was revealed.

The algorithm was junk. The data was riddled with errors. The calculations were so bad that the court would eventually rule its determinations unconstitutional. It had, effectively, been awarding benefits at random. And yet, when dressed up as a slick and glossy new computer programme, the algorithm brought with it an air of authority that was difficult to argue against.

In the days before proper regulation of medicines, you used to be able to bottle up any coloured liquid and make a small fortune selling it as a cure-all. Today, in the still largely unfettered world of AI and algorithms, we’re seeing people make bold, unsubstantiated and sometimes irresponsible claims about their inventions.

There’s only one way to prevent this. I think it’s time we started treating machines as we would any other source of power. I would like to propose a system of regulation for algorithms, and perhaps a good place to start would be with Tony Benn’s five simple questions, designed for powerful people, but equally applicable to modern AI:

“What power have you got?
“Where did you get it from?
“In whose interests do you use it?
“To whom are you accountable?
“How do we get rid of you?”

Because, ultimately, we can’t just think of algorithms in isolation. We have to think of the failings of the people who design them – and the danger to those they are supposedly designed to serve.

A Look at the Dark Side of the Lives of Some Prominent YouTubers, Who Are Increasingly Saying They’re Stressed, Depressed, Lonely, and Exhausted

Many YouTubers are finding themselves stressed, lonely and exhausted. For years, YouTubers have believed that they are loved most by their audience when they project a chirpy, grateful image. But what happens when the mask slips? This year there has been a wave of videos by prominent YouTubers talking about their burnout, chronic fatigue and depression. “This is all I ever wanted,” said Elle Mills, a 20-year-old Filipino-Canadian YouTuber in a (monetised) video entitled Burnt Out At 19, posted in May. “And why the fuck am I so unfucking unhappy? It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean? Because, like, this is literally my fucking dream. And I’m fucking so un-fucking-happy.”

… The anxieties are tied up with the relentless nature of their work. Tyler Blevins, AKA Ninja, makes an estimated $500,000 every month via live broadcasts of him playing the video game Fortnite on Twitch, a service for livestreaming video games that is owned by Amazon. Most of Blevins’ revenue comes from Twitch subscribers or viewers who provide one-off donations (often in the hope that he will thank them by name “on air”). Blevins recently took to Twitter to complain that he didn’t feel he could stop streaming. “Wanna know the struggles of streaming over other jobs?” he wrote, perhaps ill-advisedly for someone with such a stratospheric income. “I left for less than 48 hours and lost 40,000 subscribers on Twitch. I’ll be back today… grinding again.” There was little sympathy on Twitter for the millionaire. But the pressure he described is felt at every level of success, from the titans of the content landscape all the way down to the people with channels with just a few thousand subscribers, all of whom feel they must be constantly creating, always available and responding to their fans.

At the end of the month he was pale, gaunt and tired in a way that, he recalls, seemed “impervious to rest”. His work, he noticed, had become increasingly rushed and harsh in tone. Yet the angry, provocative quality of his videos seemed only to be making them more popular. “Divisive content is the king of online media today, and YouTube heavily boosts anything that riles people up,” he says. “It’s one of the most toxic things: the point at which you’re breaking down is the point at which the algorithm loves you the most.”

“Constant releases build audience loyalty,” says Austin Hourigan, who runs ShoddyCast, a YouTube channel with 1.2 million subscribers. “The more loyalty you build, the more likely your viewers are to come back, which gives you the closest thing to a financial safety net in what is otherwise a capricious space.” When a YouTuber passes the 1 million subscribers mark, they are presented with a gold plaque to mark the event. Many of these plaques can be seen on shelves and walls in the background of presenters’ rooms. In this way, the size of viewership and quantity of uploads become the main markers of value.

Teens Would Rather Text Their Friends Than Talk To Them In Person, Poll Shows

A new poll of 1,141 teenagers shows that teenagers prefer to text their friends than talk in person. The findings come from Common Sense Media’s 2018 Social Media, Social Life survey. Fortune reports:
Only 15% of teens said Facebook was their main social media site, down from 68% in 2012. Snapchat is now the main site for 41% of teenagers, followed by Instagram at 22%. In addition, this year’s survey saw texting (35%) surpass in-person (32%) as teens’ favorite way to communicate with friends. In 2012, 49% preferred to communicate in person, versus 33% who preferred texting.

[M]ore teens said that social media had a positive effect on their levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety than those who said it had a negative one, but it seems to have the opposite effect on teens who score low on the authors’ social-emotional well-being scale. Of those, 70% said they sometimes feel left out when using social media, 43% feel bad if no one likes or comments on their posts, and 35% said they had been cyberbullied. They were also more likely to say that social media was “extremely” or “every” important, compared to their peers who score high on the scale.

Phone and internet use: Calls drop, screen time increases

Two in five adults look at their phone within five minutes of waking, while a third check their phones just before falling asleep, according to Ofcom.

A high percentage (71%) say they never turn off their phones and 78% say they could not live without it.

The average daily time spent on a smartphone is two hours 28 minutes, rising to three hours 14 minutes for 18 to 24-year-olds, the report indicates.

Most people expect a constant internet connection, with the majority of adults saying the internet is an essential part of their lives, and one in five spending more than 40 hours a week online.

Our obsession with our phones is good news for advertisers. Nearly a quarter of all advertising spend is now on mobiles, and if mobile advertising was stripped away, ad revenue would be in decline for the first time.

Other findings from the report include:

  • 42% of houses now own a smart TV – with Ofcom predicting this will rise substantially in coming years
  • the average household spends £124 on communication services each month
  • 40% of households subscribe to Netflix
  • one in eight homes now has a smart speaker
Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping

Amazon has changed the way Americans shop. This year, the e-commerce giant said its annual Prime Day sale was “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” During the 36-hour event, people bought over 100 million products, crashed the website, and signed up for more Prime memberships than ever before. The behavior is indicative of the buying culture Amazon created. The company’s ease, speed, and savings — underscored by killer perks like free, expedited shipping and simple returns — has encouraged more people to shop online, more often.

But these free benefits come with a hidden environmental cost that doesn’t show up on the checkout page, experts say. Expedited shipping means your packages may not be as consolidated as they could be, leading to more cars and trucks required to deliver them, and an increase in packaging waste, which researchers have found is adding more congestion to our cities, pollutants to our air, and cardboard to our landfills.

“People are consuming more. There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options.”

How Smart TVs in Millions of US Homes Track More Than What’s on Tonight

The growing concern over online data and user privacy has been focused on tech giants like Facebook and devices like smartphones. But people’s data is also increasingly being vacuumed right out of their living rooms via their televisions, sometimes without their knowledge. From a report:

In recent years, data companies have harnessed new technology to immediately identify what people are watching on internet-connected TVs, then using that information to send targeted advertisements to other devices in their homes. Marketers, forever hungry to get their products in front of the people most likely to buy them, have eagerly embraced such practices. But the companies watching what people watch have also faced scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates over how transparent they are being with users.

Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40 million in venture funding from investors including Time Warner, the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban. Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations…. Once enabled, Samba TV can track nearly everything that appears on the TV on a second-by-second basis, essentially reading pixels to identify network shows and ads, as well as programs on Netflix and HBO and even video games played on the TV.

We’ve Reached ‘Peak Screen,’ voice next

We’ve hit what I call Peak Screen. For much of the last decade, a technology industry ruled by smartphones has pursued a singular goal of completely conquering our eyes. It has given us phones with ever-bigger screens and phones with unbelievable cameras, not to mention virtual reality goggles and several attempts at camera-glasses. Tech has now captured pretty much all visual capacity. Americans spend three to four hours a day looking at their phones and about 11 hours a day looking at screens of any kind.

So tech giants are building the beginning of something new: a less insistently visual tech world, a digital landscape that relies on voice assistants, headphones, watches and other wearables to take some pressure off our eyes. This could be a nightmare; we may simply add these new devices to our screen-addled lives.” Google, Apple, Amazon voice assisants, etc.

Study finds “we’re all getting dumber”

Researchers at Norway’s Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research now have scientific proof of something we’ve long suspsected—we’re all getting dumber.

In their paper, “Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused,” which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg report that IQ scores have been steadily dropping since the 1970s.

The study consisted of analyzing 730,000 IQ test results gleaned from young men entering Norway’s compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009. They found that scores declined by an average of seven points per generation, a reversal of the so-called “Flynn effect” where IQ was seen to be rising during the first part of the 20th century.

The decline may be due to environmental factors, but because the researchers couldn’t find consistent trends among families, Bratsberg and Rogeberg discounted factors like parental education, family size, increased immigration, and genetics as significant causes. The more likely culprit is our Cheeto-eating, binge-watching, video game-playing, never-reading lifestyles.

Top YouTube creators burn out mentally

Three weeks ago, Bobby Burns, a YouTuber with just under one million subscribers, sat down on a rock in Central Park to talk about a recent mental health episode. One week ago, Elle Mills, a creator with more than 1.2 million subscribers, uploaded a video that included vulnerable footage during a breakdown. Six days ago, Rubén “El Rubius” Gundersen, the third most popular YouTuber in the world with just under 30 million subscribers, turned on his camera to talk to his viewers about the fear of an impending breakdown and his decision to take a break from YouTube.

Burns, Mills and Gundersen aren’t alone. Erik “M3RKMUS1C” Phillips (four million subscribers), Benjamin “Crainer” Vestergaard (2.7 million subscribers) and other top YouTubers have either announced brief hiatuses from the platform, or discussed their own struggles with burnout, in the past month. Everyone from PewDiePie (62 million subscribers) to Jake Paul (15.2 million subscribers) have dealt with burnout. Lately, however, it seems like more of YouTube’s top creators are coming forward with their mental health problems.

Constant changes to the platform’s algorithm, unhealthy obsessions with remaining relevant in a rapidly growing field and social media pressures are making it almost impossible for top creators to continue creating at the pace both the platform and audience want — and that can have a detrimental effect on the very ecosystem they belong to.