technology

"Microsoft Keyboard" by Felipe Micaroni Lalli is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (via Wikimedia Commons)

In a sting operation conducted by the FBI in 2015, over 8,000 IP addresses in 120 countries were collected in an effort to take down the website Playpen and its users. Playpen was a communal website that operates on the Dark Web through the Tor browser. Essentially, the site was used to collect images related to child pornography and extreme child abuse. At its peak, Playpen had a community of around 215,000 members and more than 117,000 posts, with 11,000 unique visitors a week.

"Drone-007" by Ville de Nevers is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

During the Super Bowl halftime show this past month, Lady Gaga masterfully demonstrated one of the most unique mass uses of drones to date. At the conclusion of her show, drones powered by Intel were used to form the American flag and then were rearranged to identify one of the main sponsors of the show, Pepsi. This demonstration represented the artistic side of drones and one of the more positive images of them.

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"Zoning at the office" by Simon Law is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

There’s no question that technology has caused Americans and others around the world to work more. It’s not uncommon for a typical white-collar job in the United States to come with a company phone, company iPad and company computer. All these devices contribute to increased work and work-related stress. Carol Olsby, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s expertise panel, states, “Technology allows us to work anywhere, anytime.” This culture of overworking is prominent in the United States and worldwide, and has detrimental effects for mental health.

"Healthcare Apps for Android Tablets" by Intel Free Press is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

I am not going to shock anyone by stating that we live in a time where distrust of government is high, where people believe that they need to ‘take back’ whatever they feel needs taking back. This opinion runs especially strong in matters surrounding healthcare, where people question a range of issues, including: universal insurance, low cost pharmaceuticals, the efficacy of particular medical tests, and autonomy as regards end of life (and other medical) decisions.

"Untitled" is licensed under CC0 (via Pexels.com)

A few months ago, the San Bernardino Shooting, the deadliest terror attack on American soil since 9/11, took place when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik burst into an office party at Farook’s job, armed with semi-automatic weapons and dressed in black ski masks and tactical gear. Sixty-five to seventy bullets ripped through the crowd, seriously injuring 22 civilians and leaving 14 dead. Before being killed in a shootout with the police, the couple posted a message to Facebook pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. In the suspects’ destroyed car, investigators found an iPhone belonging to Farook. The battle between the FBI and Apple over the decryption of this device has brought this incident back into the news.

The upcoming legal issue between Apple and the FBI could have the power to set a precedent concerning government involvement in business.

"iPhone 5C" by Karlis Dambrans is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Your birthday, a pet’s name, or the nostalgia of a high school sports number; the composition of our iPhone password can seem so simple. But a recent case levied by the FBI against Apple has led to a conflict over the integrity of these passwords and sparked debate concerning privacy and security. A California court ordered Apple to produce a feature that would circumvent software preventing the FBI from accessing the phone of Syed Farook, who, along with his wife, committed the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. The couple died in a shootout following their heinous assault, and their electronics were seized by the FBI. They had smashed their cell phones and tampered with their laptop hard drive, but Farook’s work phone, an iPhone 5c, was found undamaged in his car.

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"Coding" by StockSnap is licensed under Public Domain (via Pixabay)

The Chinese government announced in October that they are setting up a “social credit” system, designed to determine trustworthiness. Every citizen will be put into a database which uses fiscal and government information – including online purchases – to determine their trustworthiness ranking. Information in the ranking includes everything from traffic tickets to academic degrees to if women have taken birth control. Citizens currently treat it like a game, comparing their scores to others in attempts to get the highest score out of their social circle. Critics call the move “dystopian,” but this is only the latest algorithm designed to judge people without face to face interaction.

"The modern toddler iPad experience" by Wayan Vota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

This piece originally appeared in the Providence Journal on December 9, 2015.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advised parents to keep children under age 2 away from video screens, and to limit older children to two hours of screen time per day. The thinking has been that children deluged with video are less likely to get the proper cognitive, social and emotional development that comes from non-video play and interaction with real human beings.

Volumes of research support the need to keep kids from becoming video sponges, regardless of whether that video comes from a television, video game or computer screen. Children who spend the most time in front of screens are generally less socially capable, less physically fit and less successful in school than their low-media peers.

That’s why it is so puzzling to see the AAP indicate it is backing away from those long-held guidelines regarding screen time and kids. An essay published in a recent AAP newsletter promises new guidelines to be released in 2016. The essay, written by three AAP doctors, points out that current AAP advice was published before the proliferation of iPads and explosion of apps aimed at young children. It goes on to argue, “In a world where screen time is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete.” Another casual observation is that “media is just another environment.”

The AAP article further explains its planned updates, writing, “The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.” That all sounds quite lofty. But ample, rigorous research already demonstrates that heavy screen exposure for kids links with a variety of social and cognitive difficulties. Precautionary advice is even more imperative in today’s media-saturated environment.

Beyond what can be learned from science-driven research, just check in with any second grade teacher and ask that teacher which students have the most difficult time focusing in class. Odds are those struggling students get too much screen time at home. Ask high school guidance counselors which students are most depressed and anxious, and you will find those teens are more likely to be heavy users of social media and/or video games.

It is true that children are more saturated in media than ever, and parents have a near impossible task to control and referee media absorption by their kids. As the AAP reports, almost 30 percent of children “first play with a mobile device when they are still in diapers.” Teenagers, of course, are constantly absorbed in electronic devices.

It is also true, as the AAP points out, that the screen-time guidelines have been in place for many years. So, too, have been recommendations against teens smoking cigarettes, but nobody is suggesting teen smoking is now acceptable. Commonsense guidelines should not be considered “outdated,” no matter how old they are.

The AAP is a highly respected professional organization that surely wants what is best for children. The recent AAP essay correctly points out the importance of parents monitoring kids’ media consumption, keeping technology away from mealtime and out of bedrooms, along with other solid advice. But it is not helpful to suggest that the world is now so media driven that parents must concede defeat to the media tidal wave on kids. Instead, the AAP can give parents the backbone and rationale needed to limit screen time and, indeed, just turn the devices off. To say screen time is just “time” is a surrender to an “anything goes” mentality in which tough judgments are avoided.

Media use is, of course, only one of many factors that influence a child’s overall environment. It is clear, however, that media-created worlds don’t effectively replace healthy human interaction. Every minute a child is in front of a screen reduces time for more productive activities, such as playing with others, outdoor recreation, exercise or creative play. Thus, even when kids are consuming educational video content, they are missing out on more useful, human endeavors.

When the AAP issues its formal recommendations next year, here’s hoping the Academy doesn’t take a “What’s the use?” approach, and instead, gives parents the stern warnings needed to help raise well-adjusted kids who use media sensibly.

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" 'i saw you on tinder' Trastevere 2014" by Denis Bocquet is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Many are familiar with the popular dating app “Tinder,” best known for its quick “swiping” method of indicating interest in nearby users and creating “matches.” In an apparent effort to get away from its reputation of simply being a convenient “hook-up” app and get closer to its original dating purpose, Tinder recently announced that profiles will now feature work and education information. The change doesn’t go so far as to completely eliminate those with less education or a lower income, such as apps like Luxy, but it does bear possibly problematic consequences. Tinder has marketed this change as a response to user requests for these added profile details to help make more “informed choices”. Yet some are wary that this change comes with an ulterior motive.