Note to Self

From online dating to traveling to Mars, Note to Self explores how to be human as life becomes increasingly intertwined with technology. New episodes air on Wednesdays.


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February 22, 2017

When Graceann Bennett got married, she and her husband were terrible at communicating about sex. They were both virgins. They didn’t know how to explain what turned them on, or what turned them off. Over almost two decades, they never quite managed to talk about it. And then the marriage fizzled out.

Bennett decided to code her way out of the problem. If an app was too late to save her marriage, maybe it could help someone else.

In this repeat episode, Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli of The Heart take that app on a test drive. Pls Pls Me lets users share their secret desires with their partners. Who can respond with yes please, or… not so much.

Things we talk about in this episode include love, sex, spanking, and peeing on people. But also kissing, intimacy, and how to communicate. But you might not want to listen with your kids. Or parents. Or at work.

 

February 21, 2017

There are different approaches to digital privacy. Technologist and entrepreneur Anil Dash tries to flood the Internet with information about himself, not all correct. Reporter Julia Angwin tries to get as invisible as possible. But like Julia says, we’re all kind of losing. Just losing in different ways.

Manoush talked with Anil and Julia before a live audience at WNYC’s The Greene Space. We chatted about becoming an information prepper, heterogeneity as privacy, and the perennial question: should we all get off Gmail?

Also, a surprising amount of laughter. And hope.

February 15, 2017

This week, the results are in. Tens of thousands of people joined the Privacy Paradox challenge. And it changed you.

Before the project, we asked if you knew how to get more privacy into your life—43 percent said you did. After the project, that number went up to 80 percent. Almost 90 percent of you also said this project showed you privacy invasions you didn’t know existed.

When we asked you what this project made you want to do, only 7 percent of you said “give up.” Sorry guys! Don’t.

Fully 70 percent of you said you want to push for protection of our digital rights. We have ideas for that in our tip sheet. A third of you said you’ll delete a social media profile. Another third said this project made you want to meditate.

And just one more stat. We tallied your answers to our privacy personality quiz and gave you a personality profile. One-fifth of us were true believers in privacy before the project. Now half us are. Manoush says that includes her.

In this episode, we talk through the results, and look to the future of privacy. With Michal Kosinski, creator of Apply Magic Sauce, and Solon Barocas, who studies the ethics of machine learning at Microsoft Research. Plus, reports from our listeners on the good, the bad and the ugly of their digital data.

February 10, 2017

Many of you told us that the Privacy Paradox challenges freaked you out. But you were happy to take back even just a little control. Want to go further? Here’s what you can do to protect your personal information.

We also heard from you that this problem is bigger than you realized. Keep reading for our ideas on what we can all do, together, to create the web we want to see in the world. 

 

THE BASICS

Fun bonus:

GET SERIOUS

Okay, you have strong passwords. And two-factor on all your accounts. And you’re using Signal. Well, it’s on your phone. Right?

Then here are your next steps.

Fun bonus:

  • Take a break from any voice activated technology you have.  
  • Read the ten original amendments in the Bill of Rights. 
  • Peruse the report President Obama received from the bi-partisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. Manoush likes Principle #7: Because human behavior and technology are intertwined and vital to cybersecurity, technologies and products should make the secure action easy to do and the less secure action more difficult to do.  

GO HARDCORE

You’ve done the basics and then some. You have the stamina and want to take it to the next level.

Fun bonus:

 

Three Things You Can Do to Protect All Our Digital Rights

This isn’t all on you. These are society-level problems that require collective response. Here’s some ways to take action.

1. GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP

2. CHECK OUT THESE (NON-PARTISAN) GROUPS WORKING ON PRIVACY

3. TALK ABOUT PRIVACY OPENLY

  • At work
    Talk to your IT department what the protocol is if you get hacked or doxxed. Ask team members to check with whom they’ve shared documents outside the company. Have a team meeting out of the office or off-the-record to promote open discussion.
  • At home
    Show parents, kids, or grandparents how to put a password lock on their phone and change privacy settings. Consider getting everyone on the texting app Signal. Talk to kids especially about why having a private inner life is vital.
  • With all the other people in your life
    Ask your babysitters, doctors, teachers, accountants and anyone else relevant to be mindful of protecting your personal information. Have them ask you before they post pictures of your kids or tag you in photos. Just telling them you have privacy on the brain could make them more conscientious.

4. BONUS FOR TECHNOLOGISTS

 

This should go without saying, but just in case: We’re not suggesting that you use any of these tools or tips to hide illegal activity or nefarious deeds. We’re suggesting you use them because the U.S. Constitution affords us a right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects. And digital privacy is the 21st Century version of that.

February 10, 2017

This episode, coming out Friday, February 10th, is the last day of the 5-day Privacy Paradox challenge. We’ll hear from the one and only Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.  And we’ll be setting some terms for ourselves about how we want to live online, and what we – all of us, together – can do to create the web we really want. Sir Tim thinks we can do it. And hey, he already did it once, right? 

And if you haven’t already – sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day’s action step. 

February 9, 2017

In this episode, coming out Thursday, February 9th, we’ll hear from Elan Gale, executive producer of the Batchelor. Yes, that Batchelor, THE reality show, with a single guy, in a mansion, surrounded by a bevy of young women trying to get him to pick her as “the one.” It sounds so weird when you spell out the premise like that. He has a few things to say about our performance culture and what it means for our privacy.

And we’ll hear from Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Stanford University, where he runs the OCD clinic. He’s the author of Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality. And he’s worried that all our posting and sharing is making it hard for us to protect our true, inner self. Or even find it.

And if you haven’t already – sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day’s action step. 

February 8, 2017

In this episode, coming out Wednesday, February 8th, we’ll hear from Luciano Floridi, University of Oxford professor of philosophy and ethics of information. In 2014, he was appointed as Google’s in-house philosopher, advising the company on the right to be forgotten. Think you have nothing to hide? As Floridi says, a life without shadows is a flat life. 

And if you haven’t already – sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day’s action step. 

February 7, 2017

In this episode, coming out on Tuesday, February 7th, we’ll hear from Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s studied the marketing and advertising industries for decades, and recently wrote a new book called The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power.

And we’ll hear from our friend Julia Angwin at ProPublica, who’s been doing brilliant reporting on algorithms and how they’re being used online and off. Her series Breaking the Black Box lifted the lid on ad targeting at Facebook.

And if you haven’t already – sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day’s action step. 

 

February 6, 2017

What does your phone know about you? And what can you do about it?

In this episode, coming out on Monday, February 6th, we’ll hear from renowned security technologist and cryptographer Bruce Schneier. He’ll take us on a guided tour of our phones and the metadata they’re sharing. Data journalist Ashkan Soltani drops in to talk about how he handles the apps that track us.

And to get details on the day’s action step, sign up for the 5-day newsletter here.

January 30, 2017
Hello! If you don’t see an answer to your question here, you can get in touch at notetoself@wnyc.org. We’ll read all your emails and respond as best we can, even if it takes a few days. We’ll be updating this page as the questions come in.

 

1. Questions About the Privacy Paradox

2. Questions About the Team

3. Press Inquiries

 

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PRIVACY PARADOX

1. What is the Privacy Paradox?

It’s a five-day series of challenges, newsletters and mini-podcasts, that will help you take back control over your personal information and digital identity.

It’s also the term behavioral economists use to describe the disconnect between our feelings about digital privacy (we value it!) and how we act online (we give privacy away!).

 

2. Why should I sign up for the Privacy Paradox project?

Because you’ll be part of a community that also wants to know where their information goes, what the trade-offs involve, and how they can live a better life, online and off. Plus, privacy is right. Claim it before it drip, drip, drips away.

 

3. But I don’t have anything to hide! Tell me again why I should do this?

Because a life without shadows is a flat life. You don’t have to be subversive to want to live in a world where your every thought and action is not tracked and quantified. Free will, anyone? Also, what about people who DO have something to hide? Be a mensch. If everyone protects their privacy, it won’t be considered “suspicious.”

 

4. How will the project work?

It’s easy. Put in your email address at PrivacyParadox.org. And yes, we promise to protect it. Then, if you want a thought-provoking giggle, take our Privacy Personality Quiz. Find out if you are The Believer, The Realist, or The Shrugger.

Then, every morning, from Feb 6-10, you’ll get a special newsletter that includes mini-podcast with the experts behind that day’s challenge. And tips. Lots of tips.

 

5. What happens at the end?

Good stuff. We don’t want to ruin the surprise but you’ll get easy tip sheets to take with you and share. And we’ll measure how people want to move forward afterwards. We have some ideas. More soon.

 

5. I missed the launch date! You said it started February 6th – can I still join?

You bet. Just sign up for the newsletter, and you’ll get the launch newsletter. Then, for five days after that, you’ll get a challenge newsletter in your inbox.  

 

6. Do you really know what you’re doing?

Yes. Amazing people like inventor of the web and 4th Amendment legal experts have helped us create the Privacy Paradox. And we’ve done these big interactive projects before. Check out Bored and Brilliant and Infomagical. This is the new digital literacy, sugar.

 

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TEAM

7. What is Note to Self?

A ridiculously fun and smart podcast for anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age, if we do say so ourselves. We call it the tech show about being human. You can find us on Twitter @NoteToSelf and on Facebook at Note to Self Radio. We’re produced and distributed by WNYC Studios – home to Radiolab, On the Media, Freakonomics and more.

 

8. Who is Manoush Zomorodi?

Manoush is a hard-core journalist and also kind of a weird public radio mash-up between Morgan Spurlock and Tina Fey. She tweets @manoushz. You can learn more about her here.

 

9. You didn’t answer my question. How do I get in touch?

Feel free to send us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or email (notetoself[at]wnyc[dot]org.)

 

QUESTIONS FROM THE PRESS

10. I want to write about The Privacy Paradox/Infomagical/Note to Self/Bored and Brilliant/Manoush Zomorodi/WNYC Studios. Who do I talk to?

Awesome, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact Senior Director of Publicity Jennifer Houlihan at jhoulihan@nypublicradio.org.

January 30, 2017

We’ve heard so many stories from you, listeners. You love the convenience of living online. But you want more control over where your personal information goes and who can see it. Researchers call this the Privacy Paradox. 

Our 5-day plan, starting February 6th, is here to solve that digital dilemma.

This week, we’re laying the groundwork. What it’ll take to resolve the privacy paradox — and how it starts with you. In this episode, we’ll hear from behavioral economist Alessandro Acquisiti, retired Harvard professor Shoshanna Zuboff, who coined the term “Surveillance Capitalism,” and — of course — more of you, dear listeners. Stories of ex-wives hacking social media accounts, stolen social security numbers, and (from a lot of you) that vague creeped out feeling. 

Then, after you listen, join us and start resolving your paradox. 

Sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter here.

From February 6th to 10th, we’ll send you a daily newsletter, with an action step and a short podcast on the science, psychology, and technology behind that day’s challenge. You’ll learn where your digital information goes. You’ll weigh the tradeoffs you’re making with each new app or service. And you’ll learn how to make digital choices that are in line with your values.

We can do this. We can do it together. And it starts today. 

Learn a little more about our upcoming challenges: day one, two, three, four, and five

 

PS – If you’re already signed up for the Note to Self newsletter, (a) thank you and (b) you also need to sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter. They’re separate. The Privacy Paradox newsletter is time-limited and just for these challenges. 

January 25, 2017

In a room at The MIT Media Lab, you can find the dreamscape of small children everywhere. Giant cities, in perfect detail, constructed entirely from tiny white Lego.  

Sandy Pentland built them. These dioramas use all sorts of data, from foot traffic to investment dollars to tweets, so cities–and the people living in them–can be improved in ways they’ve never been before.

A few doors down is Rosalind Picard’s office. She met a young man who just could not tell if his boss was happy or furious. And it kept getting him fired. He was on his 20th job. So she built him a glasses-mounted camera that reads facial expressions, matching what it sees against a huge database of faces. Problem solved.

That’s the promise of big data. It can smooth social interactions. Solve sticky municipal problems. Cure cancer, slow climate change. But the data has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is us.

This week, as we get ready for our big project on privacy, Note to Self looks at the good that can come from all the data we share. IF people are good, and make good choices. Except we’re often not good. And we make bad choices. So, what then?

January 18, 2017

This week, Note to Self gets in our time machine, back to the court cases that brought privacy from the founding fathers to Google Docs. Stories of bookies on the Sunset Strip, microphones taped to phone booths, and a 1975 Monte Carlo. And where the Fourth Amendment needs to go, now that we’re living in the future.

The amendment doesn’t mention privacy once. But those 54 little words, written more than 200 years ago, are a crucial battleground in today’s fight over our digital rights. That one sentence is why the government can’t listen to your phone calls without a warrant. And it’s why they don’t need one to find out who you’re calling.

But now, we share our deepest thoughts with Google, through what we search for and what we email. And we share our most intimate conversations with Alexa, when we talk in its vicinity. So how does the Fourth Amendment apply when we’re surrounded by technology the Founding Fathers could never dream of?

With Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Supreme Court audio from the wonderful Oyez.org, under a Creative Commons license.

 

If you want to visit a phone booth, there are four left in New York City. They’re all on West End Avenue, and there’s even a kids book about them.

 

January 11, 2017

See more friends. Take more walks. Read more books. Get more sleep. Why don’t those intentions stick? You want to change. But it doesn’t seem to take. Maybe you just haven’t identified what house you’re in.

Gretchen Rubin says the key to long-term habit change is understanding how we respond to expectations. She names four broad categories of responders: the Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin of habit-changing. Figuring out your cognitive house might be the key to changing your bad habits for good. Including one habit we hear about a lot: clinging to the phone right up until our eyes drop closed.

If you want to know which house you’re in, there’s a handy quiz. An online sorting hat, if you will. Manoush is a Questioner. Obviously.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

January 4, 2017

New year, new you. That’s the idea, right? And 2016 in particular left a lot of people extra-eager to start fresh.

One problem. Our fitbits and apps and tracking tools all collect data on us. The slate isn’t clean – it’s full of digital permanent marker.

In an ideal world, all that information helps us become better people. More fit, healthier, rested, hydrated. And for some people, those stats are the motivational key to a better life. But what happens when the data just sabotages you? For some of us, data just isn’t the magic bullet for optimizing our quantified selves.

So instead of resolving to track every calorie, minute slept, and stair climbed, how about this: be gentle with yourself. This repeat episode can help.

This episode originally aired in 2016. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

December 28, 2016

It’s cold. Bed is so tempting. As is your sofa. But the siren song of your phone is calling you. According to Instagram and Facebook, every single person you know is looking gorgeous at the world’s best party, eating photogenic snacks.

Fear Of Missing Out. It’s so real. And social media amplifies it 1000x.

But maybe there’s another path. Another acronym to embrace. The Joy Of Missing Out. JOMO.

Caterina Fake popularized the term FOMO, with a blog post waaaay back in 2011. And her friend Anil Dash coined the term JOMO (after missing a Prince concert to attend his child’s birth). On this week’s (repeat) episode of Note to Self, the two talk about the role of acronyms, the importance of thoughtful software design, and the recent history of the Internet as we know it.

And if you want even more Anil Dash, he’ll be talking to Manoush on January 31st at the Greene Space in New York City. We’re teaming up with our friends at ProPublica for an event called Breaking the Black Box: How Algorithms Make Decisions About You. Anil, plus ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, and Microsoft Research’s Solon Barocas. Come!

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

December 21, 2016

Ginger Johnson is battling cancer. She’s also preparing her digital legacy.

Ginger has three amazing children, and she wants to stay in their lives, even after she’s gone. That’s why she’s using a service that helps her make messages and then schedules them for delivery in the future. Videos, audio recordings, emails and photos, pegged to specific days and personal milestones.

Moran Zur created this service, Safe Beyond, after his own father died of cancer. He wanted to give people a chance to be remembered as they choose, not through Google search results or in a hospital bed. As vibrant people, full of wisdom. Full of, well, life.

Can Silicon Valley really help us cheat death? And what does it mean for the people we leave behind?

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about messages from the afterlife, actually. If for some reason you want even more of this, check out our episode on voicemail from 2015.

 

 

December 14, 2016

We’ve been measuring drunk driving for years. Since the Drunk-o-Meter was invented back in the ’30s. But now, it’s distracted driving that’s killing people, and tracking that is just getting started. 

That’s what Ben Lieberman learned, when his teenage son was killed in a crash. Lieberman checked the driver’s phone records. And anyone who listened to Serial knows those are powerful documents. They can show what cell tower your phone was near, calls in and out. But what they can’t track is swipes, taps and clicks. 

So Lieberman created the Textalyzer. Like the Breathalyzer, but for your phone. It can reveal every touch – just the action, not the content. And the company behind it might be familiar, if you followed the saga of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.

 

SHARE YOUR PRIVATE THOUGHTS. WITH US, AT LEAST.  

If the idea of the Textalyzer sets off your privacy Spidey sense, we understand. We’re all figuring out where to draw the line on data sharing, and how to balance privacy, safety, and our modern lives. It’s something we’re going to be thinking about a lot more in the new year, and we want your help. 

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT PRIVACY, ONLINE AND OFF

Every year, Note to Self teams up with our listeners to take on a project together. We’ve tackled information overload and boredom. Next, we’re taking on privacy: the how, and the why. But we need to hear from you, about what matters and what you want to learn. 

Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey. The project won’t be the same without you.

 

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

 

 

 

December 7, 2016

When Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980, an estimated 25,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes each year in the U.S.

Then Frasier stepped in. 

We all know, now, that drinking and driving is a big no-no. But how do we all know that? In part, because shows like the Simpsons and Cheers dedicated plot lines to designated drivers. Growing Pains introduced a character (Matthew Perry!) just to kill him off in a collision.

TV producers didn’t just come up with this on their own. They did it because a team at the Harvard School of Public Health made a case for the message. Now, that team is taking on distracted driving. And it’s proving to be a much trickier problem. 

November 30, 2016

For Hillary Clinton, that private email server was an Achilles heel. For Donald Trump, late night tweet-storms and the echo chamber of the so-called alt-right were rocket fuel. For American voters, the power of technology was inescapable.

We’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of tech this election cycle. And we all have big feelings about it. So Manoush hosted a good old-fashioned call-in, for listeners to share their thoughts and fears about our digital lives under a Trump administration. 

Joining Manoush was Farhad ManjooNew York Times technology columnist, and Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.  They looked back at how social media shaped the Presidential race, and forward at privacy in the Trump era. We wish we could tell you it’s uplifting. But we don’t like to lie. 

The call-in show was part of the United States of Anxiety, a series from WNYC Studios. If you’re having big feelings about what the new administration means for the arts, women, the economy or just in general, they’ve got you covered. 

November 29, 2016

What does it really take to put more diversity – however you define it – into your news feeds?

We tend to click on things we agree with already. It makes us happy. And social media networks like it that way. Bumming out your customers is a bad business model. 

A while back, we got tips on escaping the echo chamber from Katie Notopoulos, co-host of BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer podcast, and Tracy Clayton, co-host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round. When we first talked, this felt like an important idea, a step towards an expanded mind. Now, post-election, it feels a lot less optional

Katie and Tracy joined Manoush to talk about how to get just the right amount uncomfortable online, and why the first step is to just try

 

November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving is here. The holidays are right around the corner. And with politics on everyone’s minds, dinner table conversations can feel like a minefield.

We have you covered. We’re bringing back an episode from the archive, with strategies on how to be calm, collected – and constructive – when faced with racism online, or IRL.

And if you’re doing a little Internet detox, like we talked about last week, don’t worry. We made you some printer-friendly tools for navigating your Facebook feed – or maybe just the Thanksgiving table. Deep breaths.  

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

November 16, 2016

It’s time to figure out how to be online in this post-election world. Note to Self listeners are wondering how we can stay well-informed without simultaneously bathing in a toxic stew. What do you do when going online makes you unhappy?

Here to help is Gretchen Rubin, author of mega-selling books that include “The Happiness Project” and “Better Than Before.” She’s a researcher, a journalist, and host of the podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” 

Didn’t hear last week’s special note from Manoush? Listen to it here.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

November 9, 2016

You probably didn’t vote for him, but Zoltan Istvan has been on a two-year quest to merge politics with the scientific and technological movement called Transhumanism. He’s been running as a 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, representing the party of those who believe humans will ultimately merge with machine. And once we merge, our superhuman selves could live forever. This is not your typical post-election analysis, people.  

“I would be very surprised if people are human beings,” Istvan explains to N2S Executive Producer Jen Poyant. “I think we’ll all be cyborgs at that point. I think there will be body shops where we’re replacing our limbs…all controlled by software, all working together. We’ll be able to run faster than cheetahs.”

Hear more about Istvan’s predictions about our impending future, the issues you’ll likely be voting on in 2040, and how he plans to do for Transhumanism what Al Gore did for global warming. Jen, however, has a soft spot for appreciating life as it is. It’s a political debate you’ll actually enjoy.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

November 9, 2016

Whoever you voted for, chances are you were surprised by the results.  

The fact that no one picks up their phone anymore meant pollsters were WAY off. And that the way we get our media and journalists do reporting contributed to one of the biggest political surprises in history.  

Donald Trump became our president. It would be weird to pretend things here in podcast land are just “business as usual.”

Yeah, we are grappling. Sure, we’re asking ourselves: “What does this election mean for the country?” But we’re also asking: “What does this election mean about me? About how I live my life? About how I connect to human beings and information?”

So, we curated a list from the archive…

7 Episodes For Your Post-Election Reality

There is no right way to deal with the election aftermath.


It’s time for me to get out of my social media echo chamber.

We click on things we agree with already. Here are some concrete steps to get out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to different people, opinions, and voices online. 


How can I deal with the hatred or racism in my social media feed?

There’s a formula for a productive conversation about tough topics.


Please. Get me some Zen. Kindness would be nice too.

Chade-Meng Tan, Silicon Valley’s mindfulness coach, is making meditation accessible and he’s got tips to incorporate it into our everyday lives.


I need to rethink my information intake.

Information overload. Enough said.


How can I deal with the confusion I’m feeling without hiding beneath a large duvet?

In a time of racial tension, how do you manage the storm of news online when paying attention is painful? Two friends find their answers.


Should I have paid closer attention to the nuances of the election?

We dive deep into the modern media diet with theSkimm co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, and John Herrman, media reporter at the New York Times


I need to escape to a galaxy far far away.

Failed 2016 presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan (convincingly) explains why you might live forever and vote for him in 2040.

November 2, 2016

Mindfulness is quite the buzzword these days. Especially within Silicon Valley, where many tech workers have been known to seek out guidance and spiritual direction in Eastern practices. HBO’s Silicon Valley parodied the trend with a tech company CEO who seems to be attached at the hip to his spiritual advisor. 

Putting fiction aside though, we’ve talked a lot about information overload and our addiction to our gadgets. We’re living in a world where it is challenging to be mindful. And, well, we all can’t afford to have a spiritual guru following us around non-stop.

So, we brought in an actual spiritual adviser from the actual Silicon Valley to help bring us more kindness, compassion, and happiness (especially during this election season). His name is Chade-Meng Tan and he’s a former Google software engineer where his job title was, “Jolly Good Fellow.

After retiring from Google in 2015, Chade-Meng began focusing on bringing mindfulness to the masses. “I’m calling it transformational philanthropy, which is to try to transform human beings. Make peace, joy, compassion the default state of all human beings,” he says. In his quest, he recently wrote Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within. 

And he stopped by N2S to share some simple exercises for us all to find more joy and happiness. Step one: take one very long inhale in and then slowly exhale, listening to the sound of your breath as you do so. Then hit “play” above to find some serenity now. 

 

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October 26, 2016

Legendary performance artist, Marina Abramović, got more than 750,000 people to slow down and wait in line at MoMA just to sit at a table across from her. She also convinced Manoush and N2S Executive Producer Jen Poyant (and hundreds of other New Yorkers) to lock away their phones, sit in silence for 30 minutes, and then listen to Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

She just published Walk Through Walls: A Memoir and she thinks that our over-caffeinated, hyper-productive society needs her now more than ever.  

With the everyday upkeep of our virtual selves on Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, many of us have become nearly as performative as Marina herself. And so, in response, she’s changed her work to become more about us. She is focusing on ways to help us put our phones down and to restore our overtaxed systems in a digital world.

Here are just a couple of her suggestions:

  • Find ways to truly be alone. Marina suggests things like: going to the desert, hiking to a waterfall, (and for the brave of heart) looking inside of a volcano. Find ways to be be with nature in any way you can. 
  • Re-channel your energies. As an experiment, instead of checking emails or immediately texting right after you wake up, take some time (a whole bunch of time) and sit by a window. Marina says that in the beginning you’ll feel restless, but push through it, you have to train your body to funnel that energy into other places.

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October 25, 2016

Artist Marina Abramović – the woman famous for staring into a record-breaking number of people’s eyes at MoMA, letting an audience point a gun at her head, and convincing the public to take performance art seriously – has some opinions about our phones. Namely: They are distracting us, and we need to stop pretending like they aren’t. 

Her 2015 project was called “Goldberg,” and it was a collaboration with celebrated pianist Igor Levit and the Park Avenue Armory. The team says it was designed to help audiences remember what full attention actually feels, looks, and sounds like. Through a performance of J.S. Bach’s notoriously difficult Goldberg Variations, they were attempting “a reimagining of the traditional concert experience,” in which attendees first trade their tickets for a key. Each key had a corresponding locker, in which they were instructed to put their phone, watch, computer, and any other personal belongings that tell time or receive a signal from outside.

Once they had locked the doors, they were given a pair of noise-canceling headphones. For the first thirty minutes of the performance, that’s it. The entire audience – and also Levit, the performer – sat together in complete silence. 

Levit then broke the silence by starting to play his version of the Goldberg Variations. 

Igor Levit at the piano.

 On this podcast extra, Abramović explains her “method” for really, truly listening:

Marina Abramović: You’re taking a taxi, you’re concerned you’re on time, you’re answering [a] last phone call and so on. And you’re arriving, and you sit down, and you hear the concert… but you’re not ready to hear anything. You’re just too busy. So I’m giving this time and space to the public to actually prepare themselves.

Manoush Zomorodi: But surely, I mean, we’re grown ups right? I’m coming to the concert. Can’t we just turn off our phone? Why does it have to be so heavy-handed?

Abramović: …If Igor has enormous discipline to learn by heart the Goldberg variations with 86 minutes, and play [them] in the most incredible magic way, we can have discipline to to honor this. And to just see, to have [a] new experience… the moment you don’t have your phone and you don’t have the watch to check if you’re sitting there for five minutes or ten, it just gives you a completely different state of mind.

Zomorodi: I’m concerned that my state of mind won’t be one of calm but rather one of agitation. That it’s going to be very difficult for me.

Abramović: Well this is where you have the real problem then. That you have to address the problem in your life. That is why it is good for you.

Listen above or anywhere you get your podcasts. Bonus points if you sit in total silence for 30 minutes first.

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October 19, 2016
The following essay was written for our episode, “If My Body is a Text,” which explores how to absorb and address the flood of images, video, and information online when paying attention can be painful and exhausting. Listen here.

 

THE PROBLEM OF CARING by Kim Brooks

Once, it was several years ago now, I decided to turn my back on the world. Not in an ascetic or monastic sort of way but in a very deliberate way, one designed to protect myself. I’m not proud of it but know that it was necessary.

I was twenty-eight at the time, married a few years, relatively aimless both geographically and professionally, wanting to find a way to support myself as a writer, but clueless about how to actually make this happen, when, a few weeks into the year, I learned that I was pregnant. My hormones surged. My insides shrunk. The thought of everything made me nauseous. Thankfully, my husband got a job that provided us with health insurance and enough money to live. But with our situation suddenly stable and the need to insert myself into the world less of a financial necessity, I indulged the lethargy that accompanied my pregnancy. I grew despondent. Some might call this perinatal depression. I think spiritual cocooning sounds nicer. Day after day, winter to spring, I sat on our sofa with our two small dogs, watching the snow fall, balancing my laptop on my growing belly, nibbling my way through packages of saltine crackers, telling people I was writing, but not really writing at all. What I did instead was read, occasionally books, but usually just news of the world. Usually, then as now, that news was terrible.

These were post-MySpace, pre-Facebook/Twitter days, and it seems very odd to think about seeing the news delivered in an uncurated, mostly commentless way. There was still slant and spin but the din of countless voices that accompanies our news now was largely absent. You picked your ideological flavor, and then you sat back and listened. And let it all pour over you.

I read the gory details of the overseas misadventures of George W. Bush’s second term— the blood baths in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read about melting polar ice caps and mega-climate-warming methane gas bubbling up from the sea floor. I read about deadly cyclones in Bangladesh, failing wheat crops in Australia, soaring food prices across the globe, bursting housing bubbles foundering banks and a surge in foreclosures. When Al-Qaeda set off bombs in Algiers, I read as many details as the Times could supply. When Sudanese troops attacked refugees in Darfur, I looked at the pictures. When a mentally ill student slaughtered thirty students on the campus of Virginia Tech, the school where my sister had been an undergraduate, I read the details and viewed the pictures. This was before the smartphone-Instagram-hashtag pipeline allowed for instant, scene of the carnage imagery, the pictures that arrive on our browsers blurred and with a warning that clicking is going to reveal something grisly or worse. All there was, was news. For most of my unemployed second trimester, I made myself a kind of morbid repository for all the documented horribleness humanity had to offer. It won’t come as much of a surprise that my depression worsened.

The urge to stop and look away was slow in arriving, the same way Spring and Summer take their time arriving in Chicago. I knew there was so much more that I could be doing, not even in a response to what I saw but just as a way of not feeling like such a tremendous lump. There were leaves on the trees now, and the wind rustled them. The dogs wanted to go outside. There was a novel I realized I had to write.    

I closed my computer. I stopped wallowing in the ceaseless stream of misery. I got off of the couch, got a part-time job, stopped reading the latest news and and started reading the news from a period in history that had always interested me, the years in America right before our entrance into World War II. I began writing a novel about people during this time period who were as angry and afraid and helpless as confused at their inability to help refugees in Europe as I was at my inability to help anyone today. I worked and I wrote and I became a mother.

But I found that this need to keep looking away had taken root. I was a content person on the North Side of Chicago, inching into the periphery of success, with children who did cute things, and a desire, something I hadn’t always had, to keep moving forward. If I moved my head a little too far in this direction there were flames in the distance and too far in the other direction I could see untold millions weeping. But as long as I kept my gaze forward and ignored whatever flared up in the corners of my eyes, I could see a relatively happy world. I didn’t want to look at it any other way.

It’s perhaps overstating the case to say I became a better person through this new willful ignorance, but I will say that I became a happier and higher functioning one. And yet now, eight years later, as we’re once again inundated with daily doses of awfulness— shootings in Minnesota, shootings in Louisiana, shootings in Dallas, the presidential candidacy of an actual Fascist (as opposed to all the pseudo and crypto and just-for-fun Fascists we’ve courted in the past), I have to wonder if I did the right thing in unplugging in order to stick my head in the sand. For the truth is, this wasn’t a one-off decision. I continue to do it regularly, and I know others who do the same.

Last Friday, for example, I emailed my editor some silly question about an upcoming event.

“Hey, Dan,” I began, “Happy Friday.”         

“Um,” he wrote back. “Only happy if you’re not reading the news.”

It so happened I wasn’t. I was in the middle of one of my regular news fasts. For five days, I hadn’t read a single report. And while I fasted, the rest of the country was watching their fellow citizens shot and killed at traffic stops, arrested at peaceful protests, murdered by snipers.

And while all this was going on, while most people were posting their expressions of outrage and sympathy, their thoughts and prayers, I was ploughing through work, taking my kids to the pool, trying out a new recipe for green gazpacho.

If I’d been paying attention, I would have been waving my fists and cowering under a chair like everyone else. But I wasn’t, and so I wasn’t. Did this make me a bad person? And if it did, what was the solution? In a world where news of the human consequences of injustice, racism, xenophobia, guns, and greed are always only a click away, what is the morally appropriate posture for a regular person? Do we have a responsibility to stay informed, even if being informed makes us feel  overwhelmed by the volume of bad news, even if it makes us feel embittered and hopeless? I didn’t know the answer, and so I did what I usually do when I’m plagued by uncertainty. I found someone else who was equally uncertain, a person struggling with the same dilemma. In this case, that someone was a historian named Daniel Greene.

I learned through a mutual friend that Greene was in the process of curating an exhibit at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum on the subject of America and the Holocaust, the same subject on which I’d based my novel. We met at a coffee shop in Evanston one morning after each dropping our kids off at camp. It was the kind of resplendent, June morning Chicagoans wait all year for— sunny, temperate, a light, Northerly breeze skimming in off the lake. All around us, people were chatting, reading, listening to music, smiling at contended babies over cups of very good coffee. And yet despite this idyll, Greene and I found ourselves talking almost immediately not about what a lovely morning it was but of the terrible news of both the present and of the past. In preparing to curate this exhibition, Greene tells me the museum conducted numerous polls of high school and college students throughout the country, trying to gauge their knowledge of Americans during this period. Many of them, they found, believed that Americans had little to no information of Nazi persecution until after the war. In reality, they had a great deal of information.

Even before Facebook and Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle, an interested, informed citizen in the late 1930’s had access to plenty of information about escalating discrimination, persecution, and violence across the sea. They didn’t have visual evidence, but they had headlines. They had news and information. “The problem,” Greene told me, “then as now, is that people didn’t know how to interpret the information they were reading. They didn’t know what we should do about it as individuals or as a country.”

This gap between information and insight, between awareness and empathic action, it turns out, is critical. Greene goes on to tell me how when people find out he’s working on the subject of the Holocaust, they always ask him why the Jews didn’t leave. “It’s a natural question,” he says, “But also an ignorant one.” Greene, and anyone who’s studied the period, understands that for years, Jews tried to leave Germany, were even encouraged by the Nazis to leave. All through the thirties, leaving wasn’t the problem. In his exhibition, he tells me that he’s trying to reframe the question from “why didn’t they leave” to “why didn’t we let them in.”

We both understand, of course, why people prefer not to ask such questions. Today, for example, it’s frightening to ask questions about our country’s escalating atmosphere of racial hatred, gun violence, class inequality and climate change— the answers aren’t pretty. They can be terrifying, in fact. And yet still, in talking to Greene, I’m reminded of how essential it is not simply to read and watch and feel appalled, but also to think, to question, to challenge received knowledge and accepted notions. Greene tells me about another poll he studied, this one taken after World War II had ended. Americans were shown the new visual evidence of atrocities they’d lacked before, photographs and news reels documenting the human corpses of Nazi carnage. Those polled were asked if, now, after seeing these images and this footage, they believed that America should accept more refugees. Ninety-five percent said no.

Of course I’d like to believe that I’m different. Wouldn’t we all? But I also know what it’s like to feel paralyzed by fear, to act and think from a place of anxiety. I know how easy it is to read the news and think how it hardly matters what any one person does, that we might as well put our feet up and call it a day. Because how can anything we say or do or learn or feel possibly matter? After the massacre at Sandy Hook, The Onion summed up the atmosphere of national despair with poetic brevity: “Fuck Everything, Nation Reports.”

I’ve felt this way a hundred times since. And yet now I’ve begun to feel as though appalled indifference is just another style of fearful evasion.

After so much time studying Americans and the Holocaust, one of the things both Greene and I found most disturbing was the ability of so many people to be undisturbed. “This should have been unbearable,” he says simply. “But for too many, it wasn’t. This should have been so unbearable that it upended your life.”

As he talks, I’m reminded of a line from Saul Bellow in 1973: “Our media make crisis chatter out of news and fill our minds with anxious phantoms of the real thing,” setting off “endless circuits of anxious calculation.” He was writing this in 1973.

For anyone with a serviceable internet connection— the phantoms have multiplied a million fold, the circuit expanded to new dimensions. When I read stories of suffering, I still feel something. It seems inhuman not to. At the same time, I’m more aware than ever of how little my feeling is worth, of how, if we are to truly keep alive the conditions that make ethical life possible— it is not empathy that’s needed, but insight, organization, and action.

A few days after sending that embarrassing email to my editor, I was driving back from a writing conference, thinking about all the terrible things that had happened during my week-long media fast. I was thinking about going home and reading the news, seeing the pictures, browsing the posts. But I decided to do something else. Instead of spending three hours ingesting information on-line, I spent ten minutes reading the essential facts, and then I called a friend I hadn’t talked to in a few months, a friend who never fails to be not just informed but also insightful and compassionate and intellectually brave.

“How about them Yankees,” I started out the conversation. She laughed, but it was the kind of laugh that is pretty damn close to a sob because in addition to being a friend and a teacher and a poet, she’s also an African American and a part of her now worries every time her mother gets in the car to go somewhere.

Laughter and sobbing and months of catching up ensued. And as we talked about what was happening to our country— I wondered if the sharing of stories and honest dialogue and saying the difficult thing, not just on Facebook but to actual other human beings, is a small but real antidote to fear.

“It’s so good to hear your voice,” I said. We talked for hours about all the awful news of the world; we talked and debated and wrestled with this information about what’s happening to people in our country, not just headlines and images but actual people.

Together, we struggled not just to know, but to understand.

October 19, 2016
The following poem was written for our episode, “If My Body is a Text,” which explores how to absorb and address the flood of images, video, and information online when paying attention can be painful and exhausting. Listen here.

 

LETTER BEGINNING, ‘IF MY BODY IS A TEXT’ by Kiki Petrosino

 
then you must learn to read. My hands, double book of them
the threat you think my hands become when they unfold, hello.
 
You find me in the cool of my car. Slim universe of my colored self, slim chance of saying what I need to say to turn my hands into a book
 
or turn me back into the child who memorized each rank of angels Thrones Dominions Virtues Thrones—
 
You, too, must learn to read.
There, in the lagoon of every book:
 
a body I pulled up
by the hand.
 
Another body I lift
beside mine, my thoughts
becoming
body of light
body of light
 
You, too, must learn to read.
 
How it feels for a colored child
to lean & loafe, to take her ease in a thought—
 
Like skimming across some blue wideness
the moon appearing in day-sky. You’ll say:
 
I didn’t know that was possible, didn’t know before
the possible—      
 
You, too, must learn to read.
 
At Monticello, once:
the 13th amendment hung
for three days, brown & spotted
as a lion’s muzzle, pale syllables
of Lincoln’s signature slowly
fraying under glass.
 
I wanted that warm
page of skin, its words
slanted alternatingly, as if
the pen had wished
to loafe against another body
endless field of work, America, endless
animal face in the work—  
 
You, too, must learn to read.
 
I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.
That ain’t no harm.
 
I drove my car this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.
               That ain’t no harm.
 
I held my hands at 10 & 2, my mind stayed on freedom.
That ain’t no harm.
 
I spun the warm wheel of my life so smooth this morning.
No harm.
 
I drove towards sunrise this morning, all morning
my mind stayed on freedom.
 
No harm, no harm.
No harm
 
You, too, must learn to read.
October 19, 2016

This episode features new writing from both Kim Brooks and Kiki Petrosino. Find Kim’s essay, “The Problem of Caring” here, and find the poem Kiki wrote for this project, entitled, “Letter Beginning: If My Body is a Text,” here.

Six years ago, Kim Brooks started going on “news fasts.” She was struggling with parinatal depression at the time and the news of the world was often too much—too terrible—for her to absorb. So she got into the habit of taking time away from headlines and her Twitter feed to turn her focus inward. 

During the week of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s deaths, Kim was on one of these fasts. When she returned to her screen, she realized her break from the news was possible because of the color of her skin. Kim is white. She doesn’t have to think about police brutality. According to Pew Research, there’s a significant difference in how black and white adults use social media to talk about race-related content. About two-thirds of black social media users (68%) say at least some of the posts they see are about race or race relations. One-third of whites agree. And there’s a similar racial gap when it comes to posting, too: among black social media users, 28% say most or some of what they post is about race or race relations. 8% of whites say the same.

“This is one of the ugliest manifestations of my privilege that I can envision: the luxury of ignorance.”

Kiki Petrosino, a poet, professor, and a friend of Kim’s, saw the internet as a necessary way to immerse herself in what was happening. Kiki is bi-racial, and while Kim was offline, Kiki noticed a striking paradox at the center of the storm of circulating images, video, and information on her feed.

“On the one hand we’re brought really front and center, because you can literally watch someone dying, which is probably the most intimate moment of a life. But we don’t know that person. We can’t touch them, we can’t talk to their family. It really throws into question how to participate in community given all these technological advancements that we’re making…”

Videos of police shooting young, black men and a troubling election cycle, played out on social media, have made racism in this country more visible. How do we balance being informed people with being healthy? Kim and Kiki come up with a strategy for absorbing, understanding, and addressing the news—from places of fear, exhaustion, and privilege.

October 12, 2016

“We have an opportunity to do what we want – choose our path instead of the teachers making a choice for us.” 

Meet Piper, a blond, freckled 9-year-old from Brooklyn who talks like a seasoned grownup. She used to go to public school with Manoush’s son but now – with the help of financial aid – she’s enrolled in a new experimental school in her neighborhood: AltSchool.

AltSchool is not your typical private school. Its founder is Max Ventilla, a former Google executive with a vision to reform education. Ventilla’s company, with over 100 million dollars from investors like Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreesen, uses tech to teach and track students’ social and academic skills. Ventilla’s idea is that over time, that data can build a more thorough picture of each student and determine how she is taught. This method of “personalized learning” (think Montessori 2.0) is being prototyped in eight “micro-schools” in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and New York City, with the goal of applying it to schools everywhere. Manoush went to visit one in Brooklyn.

NPR’s education reporter Anya Kamanetz is skeptical of Ventilla’s goal to optimize education for the masses, and she’s concerned about Silicon Valley’s foray into education. “They have a giant promise, which is that the right software system, the right operating system, is going to transform teaching and learning… and, what it ultimately means is that they have shareholders to satisfy.”

This week: can a tech startup engineer a better system for learning everywhere and make money doing it? And would these two tech reporters/mothers send their own kids there?

There are a lot of buzzwords in education technology — including the phrase “education technology!” We’ve rounded up some of the most common in this list. Consult it as you and your kids face more tech in the classroom. 

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October 5, 2016

Life is made up of gestures, sayings, emotions, and sounds. Note them one by one and you see them as individual elements, granular aspects of our day-to-day.

On a minute level, they may not say much. But look at them together, draw them out, and they can begin to tell a story. (When we say “draw” here, we mean literally draw.) 

That’s exactly what two whimsical data scientists did in a new book, Dear Data . It’s a collection of whimsical postcards Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec exchanged over the course of 52 weeks.  Each week, Giorgia and Stefanie would assign themselves a small-scale data collection project– to track their “thank yous,” or their desires, or their productivity, or the frequency with which they checked the time– and then exchanged their findings in hand-drawn postcards.

This week, Giorgia and Stefanie took us down the rabbit hole of three postcards: “thank yous,” “complaints,” and “sounds.” You can check out the images here along with the original music made by Hannis Brown featured in the episode.  

 

Now it’s your turn, dear Note to Self listener.  Have you been collecting data about your life? No topic is too small or too large. We want to see your homemade data visualizations.  Share with us a weekly visualization of the times you walk your dog, or boxes of mac and cheese your kids eat, or the strange sounds your car makes, or the times you text your spouse, or the places you daydream of visiting on vacation… or anything else.

We’d love to get a postcard from you; our snail mail address is: Note to Self c/o WNYC, 160 Varick St., New York, NY 10013. You can also email a photo of your postcard to notetoself@wnyc.org; or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

 

September 28, 2016

Algorithms operate everywhere in our daily lives. Using the information we give them, they’re constantly learning about who we are and what we’re more likely to buy. (Remember how that pricey coffee maker you looked at online showed up in your Facebook ads for the next two weeks?)

Most of the time, it’s no big deal. But in an era where more than 40% of Americans get their news from Facebook, these algorithms can have a real impact on how we see the world. They may even have the power to shape our democracy. (Cue ominous music.) 

So here’s the thing: every time you “like” something, share something, tag yourself in a photo, or click on an article on Facebook, the site collects data on you and files it away in their folder of YOU. And it’s not just your activity on Facebook that they’re keeping track of. They also track what device you used to log on, what other app you came from, other sites you’ve visited, and much more.

All that data helps Facebook paint a detailed picture of who you are and what you like for advertisers. The problem is that we don’t know how, exactly, that picture is formed. The algorithms at work are a “black box.” We don’t know how these algorithms decide whether we’re a “trendy mom” or a “frequent traveler.” And we don’t know how they decide which ads to show us. In short, no one is really accountable.  

On this week’s episode, we talk with ProPublica investigative journalist Julia Angwin about how Facebook collects data and uses it to categorize us.

And here’s where you come in, dear N2S listener. We are collaborating with ProPublica on their Black Box Data Project, which has just launched. You can take part in this important digital experiment. So go download the Google Chrome extension for your web browser at propublica.org/blackbox. Tell us what you find out and how it makes you feel. Reach out in the comments section below; email us notetoself@wnyc.org; holler at us on Twitter or Facebook; and fill in ProPublica and Julia Angwin too.   

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September 26, 2016

Who is probably the only person in the world who can talk about technology and global equality, breastfeeding, and how her kids’ Grandpa used to be president?

Yup, it’s Chelsea Clinton.  Manoush recently caught up with the daughter of the Democratic nominee for President at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.  

Chelsea has been collecting and analyzing data and stories about women, girls, and tech in developing countries to understand how learning to code and getting digital access can help them build better lives. And she’ll talk about why she’s so frustrated by the gender gap in tech, how she juggles time between her 3 month-old and the campaign trail, and why she’s passionate about policies that support parents in the workplace. 

 

 

September 21, 2016

Video games are the new self-help, and Jane McGonigal is here to tell us why.

She’s an all around gaming boss (see here and here) and she’s the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California where she’s spent years researching our brains during what she calls, “the state of play.” After wading through tons of research, she found that gaming is a wonderland of possibilities to make us smarter, happier, and more creative people. 

So game play isn’t just an escape? Nope, it doesn’t have to be. Jane says that the key to finding positive emotions and empowerment is to ground your gaming in real life. So when you’re trapped in Minecraft, don’t give up and walk away, trudge on. Fight. Or use creative problem-solving to get to to the next level. Those skills or resources will spill out from the virtual world and into the real one. 

In fact, gaming can help cope with depression and combat anxiety, but it’s all about the dosage (i.e. how much gaming you’re doing). And we didn’t want to leave you hanging when it comes to figuring out which games are best for what. Here are Jane’s prescriptions:

  • If you’re trying to lose weight: “When you feel a craving coming on, play a visual pattern-matching game on your phone — like Tetris or Candy Crush Saga – for ten minutes. These games have been shown in scientific studies to reduce cravings, by monopolizing your visual imagination and blocking your brain’s ability to picture the thing you crave. Research shows that players make healthier eating choices in the hour after they’ve played!”
  • If you need to reduce stress or combat anxiety: “Try the new game Reigns. It’s a simple and easy-to-learn game in the style of games known to activate the same blood flow patterns in the brain as meditation, creating a blissful state of mind known as “flow.” Research shows that twenty minutes of these flow-inducing games, three times a week, will help you focus your mind and calm yourself, and improve your mood for hours afterward. (Believe it or not, I’ve met many Buddhist monks who play Angry Birds!)”
  • If you could use a boost of extra energy and motivation: “Play a really tricky puzzle game, like Sudoku, Cut the Rope, or The Room. Research shows that trying to solve a difficult puzzle increases dopamine levels in your brain, which is the neurotransmitter that increases your work ethic and will power. It doesn’t matter if you successfully complete the game or not – just trying will do the trick, and the harder the better. So if you have a difficult project to tackle, or a complex problem to solve, prime your brain for success with fifteen minutes of puzzling first.”

Manoush is an old-school Tetris addict and she just downloaded it on her phone to play guilt-free. But what’s your jam? Tell us what you like playing and why. As per the usual,  get in touch at notetoself@wnyc.org, or the comments section below, or on Twitter or Facebook.  

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September 14, 2016

Come along with us… into the future. A place where there is a written record of everything you’ve said– ever.  We’re calling it the transcribed life, and our guide is Rose Eveleth, the host of the Flash Forward podcast. This week, Rose delves into the benefits and dangers of this not-so-distant future. 

The tech is coming. It’s just a question of getting past the “sheep and goats” hurdle according to Steve Renals, professor of speech technology at the University of Edinburgh. Sheep and goats? It’s a nerdy metaphor technologists in the field use.  Sheep are the voices the software can easily recognize. Goats are outliers. As the technology gets better, it’ll hear us all as sheep.

Once the machines can consistently recognize– and transcribe– our speech patterns, things get tricky.  Sara Watson, technology critic and research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, considers whether such technology could fundamentally change the way we communicate with each other.

Finally, we get a taste of the transcribed life with Heather Ratcliffe, who, because of a rare genetic disorder, wants a detailed log of her day to help her fill in gaps in her memory. Her experiment brings some unexpected results. 

As we consider the pros and cons of this technology, we want to hear from you, dear N2S listener. Does the transcribed life sound good to you? Or does this searchable record terrify you to your core? Tell us about it. Record a voice memo and email it to notetoself@wnyc.org, or tell us in the comments section below, or send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.  

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

September 7, 2016

It’s tough being a teenager these days.

This week, we head to Fayetteville, North Carolina where high school star quarterback, Cormega Copening, faced five felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor for exchanging racy (or romantic, depending on your point of view) photos with his girlfriend in 2015. Just half of states in the U.S. have proposed or implemented laws that address teen sexting directly.

Depending on where you live, teens who send or receive a sext to/from anyone under 18 can be charged with child pornography. In Fayetteville, things took a turn for the Kafkaesque because of a North Carolina law that treats 16-year-olds as adults if they are charged with a crime. Fayetteville Observer reporter, Paul Woolverton, explains, “We’re one of two states that say that if you are 16 or older, if you’re charged with a crime, you’re an adult. But if you’re the victim of a crime, you’re a minor. So in these cases, since they were under 18 but over 16, they were both the adult criminals who exploited their minor selves.” 

Click “listen” above to hear more about the case of two consenting teenagers who expressed themselves in sexts and became the center of a very public debate. 

Further listening: 

  • Last year, N2S spoke to Cañon City Schools superintendent the day after students were found trading nude photographs “like baseball cards.” 
  • Listener favorite: Manoush and Peggy Orenstein discuss what it’s like to be desired AND empowered as a young woman.
  • And don’t forget, 16-year-old Grace who schools Manoush on how cell phone envy is still a thing.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

August 24, 2016

“You go, ‘Damn, just it’s not my crazy person… it’s everyone’s crazy person!'”

– Elan Gale, creator of Texts From Your ExTinder NightmaresUnspirational and more

If you’re not one of Text From Your Ex’s 1.9 million followers already, here’s what you need to know: Elan Gale’s brainchild is an Instagram account with pages and pages of awkwardness captured in screenshots. They’re submitted by email, and Gale says he has a backlog of 40,000 “just sitting around.”

ROCK AND ROLLLLLL

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on Jun 9, 2016 at 10:16pm PDT

It turns out, reading through hundreds of thousands of other people’s emotionally loaded conversations gives you some pretty profound insight into relationships, technology, and privacy (or rather… the utter lack thereof).

“You’ve never had an interesting text conversation that hasn’t been sent to ten people. That’s just what people do,” Gale says. “Even though we treat relationships more casually because of text messages and the way we communicate, you have to actually trust people more to be open and honest with them because you have your entire personal life on their phone, or their watch, or their unguarded computer. And they’re irresponsible dicks… and at any moment anyone could just have a lapse of judgement for 45 seconds and leave their phone on a table without a passcode and your entire life is visible. So why pretend that it’s not?” 

 

Seems like a fair trade

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on Sep 9, 2015 at 2:06pm PDT

Elan Gale’s “Texts From Your Ex” book is available in paperback. This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

August 17, 2016

According to the internet security company AVG92% of children in the U.S. have a digital presence by the time they turn two. But a University of Michigan poll from March 2015 found that three-fourths of parents think another parent has shared too much information about their child online.

In this episode, we bring together three people with very different approaches for a conversation about ethics, photography, and the struggle of weighing future consequences in a world we can’t quite picture yet (no pun intended).

Here’s where our three moms stand on posting photos of their kids:

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

 

August 10, 2016

Reading this right now? 

Congratulations. You’re winning.

Yes, all of the usual corporate and government entities know you’re here. Google remembers everything you’ve ever searched, BuzzFeed knows how you’ve scored on all their quizzes, and your cell phone provider knows who you talk to and who you sleep with. Terms of Service agreements are an exercise in futility, encrypted email often takes more trouble than it’s worth, and yeah, sure, go ahead and give Facebook a fake name, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone. Companies are collecting your data from just about everywhere, storing it through time unknown, and using it however they want. Oh, and that’s where the FBI-and-friends find it.

But Bruce Schneier, author of the book, “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World,” says the fact that you’ve taken the time to read this far means you’ve got the one reliable protection available to us in year 2016: awareness.

Schneier also happens to be a security technologist and cryptographer and well, he’s kind of a tech hero – a Chuck Norris – of the digital sphere. His cause: privacy.

In fact, even before The Economist called Schneier a “security guru,” a different company tried to make him into an $100 dollar action figure (he didn’t like their price and proposed $40 instead). Go to the site, “Bruce Schneier Facts,” and you’ll find photos of Schneier’s face pasted onto different movie heroes’ bodies, bearing captions like: “Bruce Schneier watches Blu-ray movies by looking at the discs.

Click on listen above and hear Manoush and Schneier discuss ways we can feel less helpless when it comes to protecting our data and maintaining some online privacy. 

PLUS: We still want your feedback on N2S and we want YOU to help us decide what we should cover in our next big project. So please, fill out this short survey – it’s only 11 questions and won’t take you more than 3 minutes. 

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

August 3, 2016

Do we need to be worried about our phones tracking our every move? Because it sure seems like they are. Walter Kirn wants you to know that you’re NOT going crazy and maybe you should be a little paranoid with your phone. He covers privacy, tech and surveillance, and – unrelated – he wrote the book behind “Up in the Air” with George Clooney.

He answers some of your most pressing questions on phone privacy and how concerned we should be about what our phones are tracking. Here’s a sampling of one of the many questions we’ve received from listeners that captures a thought-to-be-private moment:

Between Me and My Dog
So, I get out of the shower and I’m getting dressed and of course my dog is over there on his chaise and I’m looking at him and I’m feeling all sad that I’m about to go to work for a couple hours. I’m humming to myself a song… my poor dog is tortured by this, but I start singing, ‘Every time we say goodbye I cry a little, I die a little,’ you know… that song. I get in the car, I put on the iPhone music. I have 6157 songs. I hit shuffle randomly, and the first song to play is the song that I was just humming… I haven’t heard this song in forever… So anyway, that’s my question… and make sure you sing to your dog whenever you can because they love it, they absolutely love it.” – Michael Grant

So… should we be paranoid? Do we know whether our gadgets are passively listening to us? No. We don’t know for sure, beyond what they tell us in their privacy policies. But we do know that voice recognition is what many major companies are trying to get us to start using. Google has OK Google, Apple has Siri, and Amazon has Echo, a home appliance that listens to you all the time. We know that many third party apps use location data services, and we know that personalization – especially personalized ads – rely on tracking.  

Listen to the our show to hear our interview with Walter Kirn and if you’re interested for more phone privacy discussions, be sure to read his article in The AtlanticIf You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy.”

Also, enjoy the picture below (from listener Michael Grant) if you’re feeling stressed out by all the privacy talk.

Bodhi the dog

One last thing: We want your feedback so Note to Self can get better and better. Please, fill out this survey. Your answers will help us make content that fits into your day-to-day and keeps us at the top of your playlist. 

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

July 27, 2016

We just wrapped up our four-part series “Taking the Lead.” It’s about two Brooklyn moms turned entrepreneurs with a big idea to revolutionize caretaking. It’s also about women, work, families, priorities and relationships… and how our listeners are juggling all those things. If you missed the series, start at the beginning and enjoy the ride.

It’s right here:

In this bonus episode, listen to Manoush’s full conversation with Andrew Moravcsik, the accomplished author, academic, and husband to Anne-Marie Slaughter (yeah, the one who literally wrote the book on women in the workplace.) Even if you listened to our “Taking the Lead” series, you’ll want to hear Andy’s insights into what being the lead parent has meant for his career, his psyche, and their marriage.  

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

July 26, 2016

It all comes down to this — we’ve arrived at the fourth and final episode of our month-long series about women and work: “Taking the Lead.”

And the timing couldn’t be better: Ivanka Trump took on equal pay and affordable childcare during her speech at the Republican National Convention last week, becoming the model mother/entrepreneur for her dad’s campaign. Hillary Clinton goes into the final stretch as the Democrat’s presidential candidate, breaking political glass ceilings no matter which way you vote.

Back in podcast land, a quick recap: our two Brooklyn moms turned tech entrepreneurs, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are co-founders of Need/Done, a service for backup childcare and household support. (It doesn’t exist yet but think Nextdoor meets Sittercity.)

If you missed the first three episodes of our four-part series, enjoy catching up here:

In the final chapter, the women face difficult choices: Should they drop the feminist mission behind the company when they make their pitch to investors? Does Rachael need to give up entrepreneurship so she can remain the kind of mom she wants to be?

 

Plus, we’ll end the suspense and talk about the seismic shift happening to our culture around women and work with Anne-Marie Slaughter, Hillary’s former advisor at the State Department. Anne-Marie is now the CEO of New America and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, which she wrote after detailing her struggles to combine her career with parenting in a hugely popular piece for The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

And yes, we’ll tackle the male perspective on caretaking and professional ambitions by speaking with Anne-Marie’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik. He’s a professor of Political Science at Princeton University and the “lead parent” at home. Andy explains how being his family’s primary caretaker has affected his career, psyche and marriage… and why he feels so strongly that the conversation about work/life balance is really about men and their role in society.

A special note to listeners: Your thoughts on these issues have been a hugely important part of this series. Thank you so much for being so honest and open with your stories and struggles. We want to continue to hear what you think — any/all of your reactions. Send them to us by recording a voice memo or emailing notetoself@wnyc.org.  

We’d also like to make a request: Please share this episode with one person whom you think needs to know more about this topic (or needs to know she’s/he’s not alone!). Share and talk about the series with a colleague, boss, spouse, or friend by cutting and pasting this link here [http://www.wnyc.org/story/work-life-balance-need-done-partnership] in a Facebook post or email.

Also, if you enjoyed the little bit of our conversation with father and lead-parent Andy Moravcsik, we’ve got great news: You can listen to his full conversation with Manoush in a bonus episode right here. For more Note to Self, and to get episodes like this one sent straight to your feed, make sure you’re subscribed in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

July 20, 2016

Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are two Brooklyn moms and the co-founders of Need/Done, a digital platform with a feminist mission to help more women make it to the corner office.

How does it work? Through a crowdsourced community of parents, the service provides backup childcare and household support. Think: Nextdoor meets Sittercity.

If you missed the first two episodes of our four-part series, catch up. They’re right here:

Faced with financial barriers, this week Rachael and Leslie join a startup accelerator and pitch their idea to investors. But while honing their pitch, the business partners’ different goals surface. Rachael is focused on the service’s potential for social change. Leslie sees the potential to create a giant female-led company.

This week the pressure is on: The pressure to deliver the perfect pitch; pressure from family; and — this is a big one — financial pressure. Under the strain, they make a strategic move that confounds Manoush.

Next week, on the fourth and final episode of “Taking the Lead,” Manoush shares what she learned from the investors with Rachael and Leslie. Plus, Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” returns — this time with her husband, Professor Andrew Moravcsik — for an intimate conversation about the professional and personal sacrifices they have made for their marriage.

Housekeeping

  • Several of you have asked us how to listen to podcasts. We’ve got you covered here: Look! I Taught My Dad To Download Podcasts.
  • We’re also making a master resource list of articles/books/podcasts for surviving the work/life balance struggle, so please continue to add your favorites to our growing list here.
  • In the beginning of this week’s episode, Manoush labels (in a fun way!) Rachael and Leslie with a personality test called the “Enneagram Test.” It’s a pseudoscientific survey that categorizes people into 9 groups that represent a person’s core qualities, or most primal selves. Rawr. Take it for yourself here.
  • If you have an opinion on our series, Rachael and Leslie’s strategy, or your own work/life balance story, please tell us by sending a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

July 13, 2016

Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are two working moms who hatched the idea for Need/Done, an app that they think could help get more working parents — especially working moms — into top-tier positions, while also being present at home. How does the app work? Through a crowdsourced community of parents, the service provides reliable childcare, meal planning suggestions, and groceries delivered to your door. Think: Nextdoor meets Sittercity.

In the second installment of our four-part series, the co-founders test out a prototype of the service on 20 Brooklyn moms, including one very eager and willing participant: Manoush. She wants to check dinner off her to-do-list… but things don’t go quite as planned. 

“They delivered sausages with pork casing which is a problem for my Jewish husband, so I took all the sausage meat out of the casings, and I’m cooking it now before he gets home so he doesn’t find out about it. Except now I’m telling you.”

Meanwhile, one of the founders discovers that she may be ready to swap in her corporate blazer for a Silicon Valley hoodie, but the other is beginning to question if she can maintain momentum with her current day job, lead-parenting, and starting a new company.

If you like this episode, you’ll want to check out the first episode in our month-long series,”Taking The Lead: The Pain Point.” We’re also making a master resource list of articles/books/podcasts for surviving the work/life balance struggle, so please continue to add your favorites to our growing list here.

Also, we’d like to thank those of you who reached out to tell us about your own experiences. We know that families come in all shapes and sizes and we love hearing your stories. If you have a work/life balance moment tell us about it by sending a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

July 6, 2016
All this month, we’re covering motherhood, entrepreneurship and work/life balance with our series “Taking the Lead.” 
 
What are your favorite stories and resources about finding/losing/lamenting over work/life balance? On those days when you feel SPENT, where have you found solace or just some good (or entertaining) information? 
 
Share with us in the comments below, and we’ll create a master list at the end of the month.
Manoush is getting the ball rolling by sharing a list of her ten things that she’s read and listened and have helped her through:

1. Brooke Shields, Recovering Daughter with Anna Sale on the Death, Sex & Money podcast

Anna talks with Brooke about the treatment that she received for postpartum depression.

2. Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Yost

“A comfortable work+life fit can be achieved through making small, consistent, everyday changes”

3. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Mom by Kim Brooks in New York Magazine 

Is domestic life the enemy of creative work?

4. The Milk Memos: How Real Moms Learned to Mix Business with Babies-and How You Can, Too by Cate Colburn-Smith

“Actual journals kept by a group of IBM women during their visits to the company’s employee lactation room.”

5. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott 

“Lamott struggles not only to support her little family by her wits and her writing.”

6. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

“A book about time pressure and modern life.”

7. The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage by Cathi Hanauer

“Women today have more choices than at any time in history, yet many smart, ambitious, contemporary women are finding themselves angry, dissatisfied, stressed out.”

8. When Women Decide with Ashley Milne-Tyte on The Broad Experience podcast

A conversation with Therese Huston, author of How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices.

9. The New You… It’ll Do with Hillary Frank on The Longest Shortest Time podcast

Postpartum body changes, and how you’re supposed to feel like YOU when those changes don’t change back. 

10. Of Creeps and Crèches in The Economist

French working women get universal child care — and universal harassment.

Share your favorite stories and resources for finding work/life balance in the comments below, and help us create the greatest resource possible over the next few weeks. We can do this… together.

July 6, 2016

Welcome to a very special month of Note to Self.

For the next four weeks, we’re telling the story of two Brooklyn women, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker, who have an idea (a tech idea) to help harried working mothers who still want to rise up in their professional ranks.

Why? Because of numbers like these:

  • 4.2 percent of S&P 500 companies have female CEO’s 
  • 43 percent of highly-skilled women with children leave their jobs voluntarily at some point in their careers
  • The U.S. is the only developing country that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act gives workers a maximum of 12 weeks off unpaid per year
  • Almost 70 percent of mothers and over 90 percent of fathers are in the workforce
  • Caregiving is projected to be the largest occupation in the U.S. by 2020
  • Only 7 percent of U.S. startups that received at least $20 million in funding have founders who are women 

Being a working parent can take its toll. Between school lunches, conference calls, soccer practices, quarterly reviews, sleepovers, and PowerPoint presentations, many of you told us that maintaining your sanity, succeeding professionally, and being a present parent feels nearly impossible.

Here’s what some of you said:

I am a freelancer and because of that don’t have paid maternity leave. Thanks, America. We ended up in this situation where I could only really take the day I gave birth off.

– Amy

 

I am a full time high school English teacher and I have two young sons. Last year, my younger son was sick. He had some sort of fever so he couldn’t go into preschool, and my husband had a meeting at work so he couldn’t take him in, and I couldn’t get a sub on short notice. So he came into school with me. And everything worked fine for a little while and suddenly I heard “mommy” said in the tone that all moms know is not a good sign. And it was followed by the sound of my poor child vomiting everywhere. 

– Serena

 

I was schlepping a breast pump into an old bathroom of a building I used to work in that was not remotely accommodated for nursing moms. And I had an extension chord coming out of the bathroom into the stall with my laptop while I was on a conference call and pumping and staying on mute and sending out an evite for a girls night reunion at my house.

– Rebecca

 

My daughter was about three or four and she was sick and had to stay home from school, but I didn’t have anyone to stay with her. So I took her to work with me. I was working in an office with cubicles, so I sort of stuffed her under my desk at the bottom of the cubicle where a couple of pairs of shoes and a lot of wires and my hard-drive were, and I kept her under the desk for the whole day.

– Julia

 

Even though we live in progressive times, some mothers still find themselves doing the heavy lifting at home. Enter Rachael and Leslie, who team up to create Need/Done, a service they think will help working mothers conquer their to-do list and concentrate on their professional ambitions. Think of it as the working mom’s command center.

This week, Rachael and Leslie leave their families behind in a snowstorm to visit Silicon Valley, meet the competition, and find out whether two Brooklyn moms have a shot at VC funding. We also talk to Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” and the book “Unfinished Business,” about why there’s still resistance to gender parity at the top of many corporations. 

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

June 30, 2016

Get ready to meet Rachael and Leslie, two working mothers in Brooklyn, who have a big idea (a tech idea) to help women “have it all.”

From Manoush: 

Hi lovely listener,

For the past two years, I’ve been following two newbie entrepreneurs as they try to build a service to solve all our work/life balance issues… but they end up struggling more and more with those issues themselves. (Oh, the irony of being a working mother in tech. #meta)

Their journey illustrates how tough it can be for women to reconcile their professional identities with their caretaking identities. The series also brings up so many broader questions: Can women find a place in the tech economy? Is society ready to radically redefine gender roles in the home? What has to change in our culture to get more women into the C-Suite? 

Note to Self listeners and I share our own parenting and professional horrors and triumphs. Plus, special guest Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” also stops by during the series to talk about work/life balance, lead parents, and the career advice every millennial needs.

Tell your partner, sibling, boss, employee, mom or dad to join you and us for Taking the Lead! 

Let’s have this conversation!

Manoush 

June 29, 2016

Bored and Brilliant is back.

This time, with a special announcement: The Bored and Brilliant book is coming in 2017!!! Manoush is spending a ton of time sorting through your feedback, listening to your experiences and getting super bored in order to make this book exceptionally useful.

So, now it’s time for a summer refresher. Last year, tens of thousands of you took part in our Bored and Brilliant Project, a week of challenges that pushed us to rethink our relationship with our phones and jumpstart our creativity.

We adapted the idea into a short, condensed version with three very doable, modifiable challenges for those of you on a beach (or stuck at the office wishing you were on a beach).

This is not a digital detox. This is not an edict to lock your phone away in a drawer. This is not an ode to mindfulness. It is a way to apply what we know about constant notifications, neuroscience, and productivity to our lives. Right now.

Listen above for the boot camp!

 

And for those of you who want all of the challenges at once, here’s the full, extended series:

One final note: Tomorrow we’re very excited to drop a preview episode of our upcoming series about work/life balance. So do us a favor — subscribe on iTunes and tell a friend. We’ve been working on this project for two years, and can’t wait to share it with you.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

June 22, 2016

You might personally aspire to leave work at the workplace, but in some parts of Europe there is actual legislation built around a worker’s “right to disconnect.” And in Korea, Wi-Fi is so strong and available that people watch hours-long live broadcasts of other people eating.

This week we’re taking you overseas to learn how people in other countries commune with tech. Consider this podcast your RTW ticket for the world’s tiniest, pocket-sized airplane.

Eleanor Beardsley, Elise Hu, Gregory Warner — if these names get you excited, you might be a nerd. They’re NPR international correspondents who live and report in France, Korea and East Africa. We asked them to share some of their insider knowledge about how tech functions differently in the lives of people abroad. For example, mukbong in Korea. See for yourself:

 

In the name of discovery, we hope this week’s episode inspires you to do some personal reflection. What how does your culture influence how you use technology? Also, look outside of yourself. Here’s a reading list to get you started:

France:

Korea:

East Africa:

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioPocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

June 15, 2016

Think about where you go to find news. Podcasts? WNYC? The New York Times? Facebook? Twitter? Newsletters? Do you want us to stop asking questions?

Welcome to the Attention Economy. There is fierce competition for your eyes and ears — (thank you for choosing correctly). Media companies know that a good way to find an audience is to write and speak like the people they’re trying to reach. It’s the reason Buzzfeed, Vice, Mashable and so many others are popular with Snake People.

Identity Media is a big part of why theSkimm — a newsletter that targets Millennial women by rounding up the day’s news from Kanye West to Ban Ki-moon — has over 3.5 million subscribers. You might be one of them. This week we talked to theSkimm co-founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg about how they go about presenting the news.

Identity Media is more than just a business model, it’s changing how we consume the news. To try and sort out why this “Skimm” approach to serious stories made her feel a little queasy, Manoush talked to John Herrman. He reports on the media for the New York Times. Together, Manoush and John embark on a mission to answer that age-old question: Do Justin Bieber and Hiroshima belong in the same sentence?

Here’s a rundown of links to supplement this week’s episode:

In a way, this whole conversation ties into — you guessed it — our Infomagical project. (Did you catch last week’s boot camp?) How we consume media and our goals for reading the news can influence our ability to think and communicate. If you want to get in on the project, it’s still around for a limited time.

For more Note to Self, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

June 8, 2016

You haven’t watched Lemonade all the way through yet, have you? 

Oh, you didn’t notice the extra twist of the knife in Sunday’s Game of Thrones?

Yes, Hillary just became the presumptive nominee. Yes, we know you haven’t been paying that much attention.

National Doughnut Day was last week. But you? You’re eating one today, aren’t you?

In sum: There’s a million things you haven’t done – but just you wait! Just you wait! 

It’s time for Infomagical BOOTCAMP.

Earlier this year, 30,000 of you participated in our Infomagical project, five days of challenges designed to fight information overload – that buzzy, anxious feeling of, there’s way too much out there to consume, I am not getting anything done all the way through, and I still have no idea what people are talking about. This week, we’ve made an extra special, super-charged challenge that only lasts one day. A very, very, very productive day.

Perhaps you participated in the first round, you’ve been very focused ever since and now you want to get something 100 percent DONE before you leave for a well-deserved summer vacation. Perhaps you participated, and you’ve fallen off the wagon. Perhaps you did not participate because you were overwhelmed by the idea of a week-long commitment. Perhaps you did not participate because you did not know about it.

This is your chance. ATTENTION! 

Listen to this week’s Note to Self wherever you listen to your podcasts for your challenge and instructions.

And if you want to do a full Infomagical week – or if you know anyone who could benefit from one – you can still sign up here for a few more weeks.

If you’re doing it? Or if you have big ideas for our next big project? Let us know @NoteToSelf (#infomagical) or Note to Self on Facebook.

June 1, 2016

Last week Brian Christian, co-author of the book “Algorithms to Live By,” taught us how algorithms can optimize how we live. They can help explain that messy pile of papers on your desk, or why you sometimes have a brain fart. If you missed that episode, it’s right here.

This week we’re raising the stakes (and steaks). We’re putting such algorithms to the test to see if they can actually help solve some of our daily inconveniences, like picking a place to eat or finding a date. Here’s what happened:

The Name’s Zomorodi, Gitta Zomorodi

Meet Gitta. She’s Manoush’s sister. Usually when Gitta and Manoush get together for a meal, they feel a lot of pressure to pick the perfect spot. But instead of settling, they wander around until they’re sufficiently hangry, and end up almost eating one another.

But this time out, the two decided to give “optimal stopping” a shot — that’s an algorithm that says if you evaluate 37 percent of your options and establish a baseline, the next option that comes along is the one you should pick. Since it wasn’t really practical for Manoush and Gitta to evaluate 37 percent of all the restaurants in New York, they pledged to make their decision 37 percent faster than they usually would, which, in this case, they calculated at about 11 minutes.

They made their decision and, guess what — they had a great time. And they weren’t even hangry, so their could enjoy each other’s company. Algorithms: 1. 

See Gitta (left) and Manoush (right) reveling in their new algorithmic lives:

Coffee Meets Kagel

Next, eligible bachelorette Jenna Kagel (who also happens to be one of the fine producers on this show) tried applying algorithms to online dating. She used the app Coffee Meets Bagel which, for those fortunate enough to be uninitiated, is like Tinder — you swipe “pass” or “like” on a series of profiles, and hope the other person reciprocates — but in this case you only have 24 hours to choose.

Jenna swiped away, but to no avail. She even connected with a bookstore owner in Brooklyn who didn’t respond when she asked him out to drinks. (Brooklyn book man: If you’re reading this, Jenna is out of your league and you don’t deserve her.) Algorithms: 0.

But that’s the thing: even algorithms have a margin for error. Maybe if Jenna tried again a different week, she might get a date. If Manoush and Gitta decide on restaurants using an algorithm every time, eventually they’re going to have a crappy meal. So, knowing that they’re fallible, how much trust should we place in algorithms to help make decisions?

Use the audio player above to hear move about Manoush, Gitta and Jenna’s adventures with algorithms, plus a super nerdy love story. And tell us if you’ve tried using an algorithm in real life. How did it go? We’d love to hear from you.

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May 25, 2016

There’s been a lot of negative press lately about algorithms (Facebook, Snapchat, the prison system). But this week we’re exploring ways that mathematical and scientific algorithms can actually help improve how we live.

Brian Christian co-wrote the book “Algorithms to Live By” with his friend, Tom Griffiths, a psychology and cognitive science professor at UC Berkeley. Brian is all about the intersection of technology and humanity, and figuring out how to use data to help people optimize their lives.

In their book, Brian and Tom offer really practical applications for scientific principles, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, here’s the catch: There’s no formula for perfection. Even if you apply these algorithms to your life, things will go wrong. But by trying out these algorithms, you can statistically give it your best shot.

In part one of this two-part series about practical applications for algorithms, Brian tells Manoush about six small changes anyone can try.

1. Temporal Locality

This algorithm posits that the paper you’re most likely to use next, is the last one you touched. So that pile of papers on your desk? You have a scientific reason to never organize them. The most relevant stuff will rise to the top.

2. The Search/Sort Trade-off

If you tag and file your emails, you might be wasting your time. Weigh the amount of time you spend organizing against the amount of time it takes to use the good ol’ search function.

3. Computational Kindness

The next time you try to plan a meeting, skip the classic line, “I’m totally free.” Brian calls this “Passing the computational buck.” Instead, ask a binary question like “Are you free for dinner at 5 p.m. on Thursday?” It may go against the rules of etiquette, but setting a specific window for availability should be more efficient.

4. Cache Miss

There’s a fundamental trade-off between size and speed. The more we know — the more data we collect in our minds — the more likely we are to have a brain fart. 

5. The Explore/Exploit Trade-off

The more experiences you have, the less likely it is that something will blow your mind. That’s why Manoush has such fond memories from a Squeeze concert she went to in ninth grade. It may not have actually been that incredible, but she had less to compare it to.

6. Radix Sort

You might be compelled to sort your kid’s Legos (or yours, this is a judgement-free zone) by color. But radix sort says efficiency trumps aesthetic. Try sorting by size instead.

Click the “Listen” button above to hear Brian and Manoush talk all about how to use these algorithms to live a better life.

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May 18, 2016

Girls who grow up with the Internet hear a lot of messed up cultural messages.

They’re led to believe that if they post sexy pictures, and get a lot of ‘likes,’ that is empowerment, and that taking revealing pictures is owning their bodies and sexuality.

There are also a lot of hilarious women in popular culture — Amy Schumer, Rachel Bloom, Lena Dunham, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson to name a few — who use their comedy to highlight the contradictions inherent in navigating this media saturated world, full of images that define feminine desirability and hotness.

But which messages are getting through to adolescent girls?

It’s a grab bag, according to Peggy Orenstein who noticed these, and a lot of other troubling trends when she interviewed 70 college-age girls about their personal lives. She wrote a book about it called “Girls & Sex,” and talked to us this week about some of the things she learned.

If you listen to this show a lot, you’ll hear fragments of ideas we’ve touched on before like sex, teens and interaction in this digital world. And if you’re new to the show, welcome to it! This is the kind of stuff we love talking about, so we hope you’ll get in on the conversation.

And one more thing:

We are working on a very special project for July and we need your voice. Tell us about an experience as a woman trying to achieve “Work-life balance.” It can be minor, major, catastrophic… anything. We’re here to listen. Record your voice memo and send it to notetoself@wnyc.org. We really appreciate it.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Pocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

May 11, 2016

We have a confession to make…

Virtual Reality? Oculus Rift? HTC Vive? Haven’t really given any of them much thought. We’re fascinated enough by, you know, actual reality.

But with Mark Zuckerberg recently calling VR the “next major computing and communication platform,” and Virtual Reality poised to be a $40 billion industry by 2020 (Wall Street Journal paywall), we decided it’s time to face the inevitable, and strap the inevitable to our face.

Who?

Max Read was our guide. He’s a senior editor at New York Magazine where he recently launched their new tech/culture vertical Select All. He’s been reporting on virtual reality for a while.

Where?

The Tribeca Film Festival’s “Storyscapes” program. It was a big showroom filled with cutting edge technology related to storytelling. Basically, a temporary VR convention. No non-nerds allowed.

Why?

It’s time for us to get a handle on this new wave of technology, and figure out how it could impact our lives. We had some reservations — like the cringe-y idea of shining a screen a few inches away from a child’s eyes — but with every technological innovation come unwarranted fears. Remember how parents always told their kids not to sit right in from of the TV?

In this episode we mention a few examples of VR technology:

Listen to the episode (player above) to hear what happened when Manoush and Max took VR off the lot for a tech drive (sorry). But minor spoiler: there’s a lot of grey area. Instead of learning about the Great Wall of China, students could actually go there. But what if they become so invested in these immersive, virtual worlds, they withdraw from the real world?

We weren’t really thinking about VR before… but we are now.

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May 4, 2016

Here’s the thing about social media; it’s supposed to be social. Right there in the name.

And yet, across the Internet there are millions of public videos, photos and posts that almost no one has watched, clicked or shared. Which begs the question: If a person puts a video on YouTube, and no one watches, did it even happen?

Joe Veix wrote for Fusion about what he calls the Lonely Web. “It lives in the murky space between the mainstream and the deep webs. The content is public and indexed by search engines, but broadcast to a tiny audience, algorithmically filtered out, and/or difficult to find using traditional search techniques.”

Just to focus on YouTube, the company reports that over 400 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Nobody can watch all this stuff. But it’s there… waiting. Joe tells Manoush that watching these videos can give you a refreshingly honest look into someone’s life, as opposed to the more edited and filtered versions that many of us share. “But is also emotionally exhausting,” he says. “Because on some level you are maybe not supposed to be watching these videos. It’s a little voyeuristic.”

In many ways, the present-day Internet caters to our laziness. The people who work at media companies are pros at understanding our expectations, finding buzzy content, slapping on the perfect headline and setting it right in front of our eyes. The Lonely Web offers something different — its headline might just be a string of numbers, and it doesn’t care about your expectations. It’s up to you to go out and find it.

But first, let Joe and Manoush be your guide by listening to this week’s episode. Here are the painfully ordinary, yet somehow wonderful videos they discuss:

If you’re looking for more Lonely Web videos, look no further: They’re right here.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Pocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.”

May 2, 2016

There are millions of pieces of content floating around the Internet with little or no views, clicks or shares. Maybe some of them are yours.

Welcome to the Lonely Web — a phrase coined by Joe Veix when he wrote about it for Fusion.

On one hand, some of these videos — family parties, business meetings, school projects — feel like they aren’t meant to be watched. It can feel exhausting, voyeuristic, even wrong. But at the same time, compared to the over-edited, over-hyped, parts of our lives that we’re used to seeing selectively plucked and placed in our feeds, watching videos and scrolling through tweets that no one has seen is exciting: They feel refreshing and honest.

With Joe’s help, we made a list of videos that we featured on this week’s show, plus a few more. But the real point of this whole shebang is personal exploration. See which parts make you a little uncomfortable, and which feel right. Find things that no one has ever cared about, or even seen before. And (no pressure, only if you want to) tell us about your experience on the Lonely Web.

Sports:

Dancing:

Karaoke:

School Projects:

House Tours:

Vlogs:

Stand Up:

Tanks:

Auditions:

Meetings:

Trainspotting:

April 27, 2016
We’re obsessed with getting more female voices in our podcast feeds. Thanks to your many recommendations over the past few weeks, we’ve compiled a long, long list of shows

But since it can be hard to know where to start, we asked you to endorse specific episodes that you love. Use this makeshift playlist as an entry-point, and please continue to give us recommended listens in the comments!
 

“Kelly McEvers did an hour long piece on being a Middle East war correspondent & her decision to leave that profession after the deaths of other journalists covering the wars…Gripping, emotional, well worth a listen.” – Al
 
– Endorsed by Maureen via Twitter
– Endorsed by Whitney on Twitter
“Without choosing an episode of Note To Self or all five episodes of Lena Dunham’s Women Of The Hour, I’ll make my choice this episode from Popaganda on writing about race.” – Victorio
– Endorsed by Paola via Twitter
“I had been trying to get my boyfriend into this podcast for a while… but it wasn’t until this episode that we rode in the car in total silence listening to this episode.” – Isabella

7. Death, Sex & Money – “Cheating Happens (Anna Sale)

– Endorsed by Nicole via Twitter
“The host is a very calming voice and she brings in (mostly) women who have done wonderful things in their life through sewing.” – Maura

– Endorsed by Fran via email
“Every time I hear [Formation], I remember how Crissle and Kid Fury broke down line by line how meaningful it was to them… It’s amazing.” – Sacha
April 27, 2016

There are two sides to every surveillance story. On one side, security; on the other, privacy.

Ross McNutt is an innovator in the field. During the Iraq War in 2004, McNutt and his team developed technology to use a plane and a cluster of cameras to capture an entire city, all day. So when a roadside bomb detonated, McNutt’s technology could zoom in and scroll back in time, and find out how it happened. In a way, McNutt had a superpower.

So back to the debate. For people who believe that security should be our top priority, having an eye in the sky can save lives. But for those worried about privacy, without regulation, surveillance could limit our freedom. Cue the Orwellian fear, panic and “What Ifs.” 

That’s the conversation that took place, and is still happening over McNutt’s superpower. Like a lot of technology, it might be developed for one purpose (in this case, the military), but what happens when it’s used in a different context?

Like Dayton, Ohio — that’s one of the many places where McNutt is trying to implement his surveillance technology to help fight crime, and save cities money. If only it could be that simple.

This week, we see how McNutt’s technology plays out in Juarez, Mexico vs. Dayton, and look at the Great Surveillance Debate from different angles. We tap into the how and why of using technology to live better as individuals and a society, which is exactly the kind of conversation that we think is important to have. 

This episode originally aired last year as part of a partnership with Radiolab (Heard of it?). We also did our own episode about surveillance, but realized that we never actually shared this one with you. So we gave it a face lift — including an update from McNutt — and are presenting it to you in all its glory. Better than ever.

Special thanks to Alex Goldmark, former Note to Self producer (now of Planet Money) who helped report this episode. Also, thanks to Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, Andy Mills and the whole team at Radiolab.

***UPDATE: After our episode first aired, the Baltimore Police Department contracted Ross McNutt’s company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, to conduct aerial surveillance over the city to help with criminal investigations. Read more about Baltimore’s Eye in the Sky in Bloomberg Businessweek.  

One last thing: For the past few weeks we’ve been compiling a list of female-hosted podcasts for you to check out and share with the Internet. [Insert whatever deity you do or don’t believe in here] knows there aren’t enough, but, as a show proudly hosted by a wonderful woman, we’re doing our part to help spread the word. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter here to get a weekly update from us sent straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

April 20, 2016

Listen up: On last week’s show we made the case that listening to podcasts hosted by women is a feminist act. We compiled a starter list of 40 or so female-hosted shows and asked for your endorsements. After sifting through many, many recommendations, our list is looking significantly more comprehensive.

But this still isn’t enough! Please continue to share as you make new discoveries, so we can all keep our feeds fresh with female voices.

We’re also ready to give you another challenge: recommend your favorite episode of a show hosted by a woman or another underrepresented group. We want to continue to diversify our listening habits. And with a list this long, it can be intimidating to find a place to start.

Next week we’ll put together a sort of playlist for you and share it in our newsletter. Until then, happy listening!

Comedy

Relationships

Pop Culture

News

Storytelling

History

Food

Being a Woman

Politics

Advice

Other things

 

April 20, 2016

Here are some things that we’ve had to come to terms with about the Internet: People watch us when we shop online; They collect data about our likes, dislikes, habits; They using that data to manipulate… err, guide us.

This type of design research is called User Experience or UX. And to find out exactly what these designers are looking for, and why they do it, we went to the room where it happens: Manoush volunteered herself as a guinea pig in Etsy’s Usability Testing Lab. But unlike most subjects in UX testing, Manoush got to step behind the curtain for a story about online seduction—how designers create an immersive experience that makes you relaxed or happy or excited, and makes you feel like spending time and money.

Here she is in the top right hand corner, getting excited about a scarf:

Etsy UX researchers watching Manoush shop for a gift.

Here is that scarf in all its winged glory:

Listen to the full episode to find out what we learned about UX, and how businesses use it to shape our experiences. This episode is one of our favorites—it originally aired back in August 2015, but we liked it so much, we’re sharing it again, better than ever.

In this week’s episode:

  • Mark Hurst, Founder and CEO of UX consulting firm Creative Good
  • Jill Fruchter, UX Research Manager at Etsy
  • Alex Wright, Director of Research at Etsy

More good background reading on UX:

And one last thing! If you heard last week’s episode, you know that we’re compiling a list of podcasts that are hosted by women. We asked and you gave us lots and lots of great recommendations.

So now let’s take things one step further. What’s the best podcast episode that you’ve heard lately, hosted by a woman, or another underrepresented group? Send us your endorsements and we’ll include some of your responses in next week’s newsletter.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

April 14, 2016

On this week’s episode Manoush talks to Phoebe Robinson (co-host of WNYC’s newest podcast, 2 Dope Queens) about being a woman behind the mic. And after hearing that episode, you now know that by listening to a female-hosted podcast, you are partaking in a feminist act. So if you’re inclined to continue making that feminist statement, we wanted to suggest just a few other podcasts to check out.

(And don’t worry, we will continue to update this list, so please let us know what other women-led shows you’re into right now.)

About laughing and jokes

About relationships

About pop culture

About news and culture

About storytelling

About Other Things

April 13, 2016

We have a theory: Listening to female-hosted podcasts is a feminist act. You, right now, if you listen to this show, you are making a feminist statement.

Need a little more explanation? When Note to Self started nearly three years ago, it was a little radio segment called New Tech City, and Manoush covered technology with the professional, authoritative, every-word-exists-for-a-reason gravitas that you can still hear on public radio. Also, she was working (almost exclusively) with men.

But then, that radio segment became a podcast, and everything changed.

Not right away—if you go back and listen to old shows in our archives, it’s painfully obvious that it took a while to figure out how our show should sound. But a huge part of that process—that transformation—stemmed from Manoush realizing that it’s OK to sound like herself. In fact, the show is better for it.

She realized that she can be vulnerable and uncertain, and not always find answers. Because that’s how the world works, and that’s how people work. Over the years we’ve grown, and we’re proud of our grown-up self. Best of all, you’ve come with us. You choose to download and listen to what we have to say.

But ours isn’t the only show that figured out that a podcast—that this digital medium—has a special kind of power. Participating in this format provides a special kind of platform to express different ideas and perspectives, and gives many different kinds of people a literal microphone. Take, for example, all the successful podcasts that have cropped up in the last few years: SerialAnother RoundDeath Sex & Money, Only HumanInvisibilia and Call Your Girlfriend. And new amazing hosts are popping up all the time.

Like Phoebe Robinson—a stand-up comedian and writer who now has something new to add to her multi-hyphenate title: podcast host. Along with her BFF, Jessica Williams, Phoebe is boldly entering the world of podcasts on WNYC’s new show 2 Dope Queens. So this week seems like an opportune time to ask Phoebe about how she plans to use the medium. Where does her voice and her show fit into this digital space?

If this episode suddenly compels you to listen to more of Phoebe, you should check out 2 Dope Queens. The first few episodes are live and ready for your ears. (It’s not super appropriate for the little ones, but if you don’t mind raunch and profanity, listen away.)

Also, remember that list of lady-helmed podcasts? Well, we want to hear what’s in your podcast feed right now. What podcasts do you listen to that feature people who don’t usually get a platform on media outlets? Why do you like them? Email us at notetoself@wnyc.org or send us a note on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll post some of your answers in next week’s newsletter

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioPocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

April 6, 2016

Welcome to Note to Self Cafe. Would you like cream and sugar with your coffee? How about… butter?

We’re on a mission to try and change our minds and bodies with data—first with fitness apps, then by strapping sh*t to our heads. Now we have arrived at act three: biohacking. 

If you’re not familiar with biohacking, there’s this group of guys (yes, mostly dudes) who look at data and experiment to optimize their minds and bodies.

Enter, biohacker Dave Asprey, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Bulletproof Coffee—a blended drink with grass-fed unsalted butter, Brain Octane Oil and puppy tears (two of those are actual ingredients). At this point Bulletproof is a huge operation that includes Bulletproof Radio, the best-selling book The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life, and a blog.

A lot of people who are part of this biohacking wave, frankly, seem ridiculous and self-centered. But in this case, we’ll admit it, we really do want to live long and happy lives. And so does Asprey.

“The goal is to die when I want,” he tells host Manoush Zomorodi in this week’s episode. “I’m planning to hit at least 180.”

A goal that Asprey says isn’t so far-fetched. How does he plan on getting there? By reaching a high-performing, altered state through whatever means are necessary—as long as he can track it.

“The only thing wrong that Lance Armstrong did is he didn’t tell everyone he was doing it. As a matter of fact, from what I hear, he wasn’t the only person in pro-cycling doing this, not by a long shot. And here’s what pisses me off about this: Do you know how much precious knowledge we would have as a species had Lance published what he was doing? And all of the other people there? So I say if these athletes want to do experiments like that, they just need to publish the data. Why hide it?”

If you like this episode (or just can’t stop thinking about buttery coffee), you’ll probably also enjoy a story from our friends at Only Human about a man who started a dieting trend before most present-day trendsters were even conceived. You can listen to that here.

And one last thing: We have a request for an upcoming show we are working on about death. Sounds ominous, but we could really use your help. Do you have a story about how technology has changed or helped you deal with death? Record a voice memo on your phone or send us an email at notetoselfradio@wnyc.org. We’re also here to listen on Facebook and Twitter.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioPocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

March 30, 2016

If you could, would you boost that mushy thing inside your head? Seems like a no-brainer. (Get it?)

Two weeks ago, Note to Self launched a potentially endless line of questioning about improving our bodies and lives with tech. We started with health trackers and the double-edged sword that is quantifying everything. But while there are a lot of tools out there that claim to train your brain, there are some now that their developers say will change it.

That’s right, Manoush plays lab rat just for you (and also to find out what happens when you combine a little bit of neuroscience with digital gadgetry). Warning: parts of this episode get weird. Like, didn’t-we-leave-these-days-behind-in-college weird. But in a good way, we promise.

via GIPHY

People use tons of methods to stimulate and relax their brains. Yes, coffee counts, and so does a glass of wine or prescription drugs. There are also meditation apps and biofeedback devices.

But what happens when such stimulants are considered “technology,” with all the funding and testing and marketing that entails? Maybe you’ve heard about the military testing trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), to increase target accuracy and focus. Or maybe you know someone who experiments with 9-volt batteries at home. Yes, people do this — including our friends at Radiolab who did a fun episode about this a little while back.

But Thync, the gadget that Manoush uses in this week’s episode, could be the first time tDCS goes mainstream (here’s the study we referenced in the podcast). It’s a little headset that wraps around your ear, and then you stick a white, potato chip-looking-thing to your forehead. You can buy it on Amazon right now. 

Still, even though you theoretically could buy a Thync for yourself, there is an important question to be asked: should you? Come on, this thing is strapped to your head—we’ve seen enough science fiction movies to know that can be a horrible idea.

via GIPHY

The FDA isn’t testing these things because they’re technically considered “lifestyle products,” but we got a medical assessment just to be safe. He said, sure, the brain is complex, and the device’s methods are pretty crude, but there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that something like Thync could have long-term adverse effects.

The real question here: Could your longstanding date night with that tall glass of Cabernet be over?

via GIPHY

On this week’s episode, you’ll meet Isy Goldwasser, the co-founder and Chief Thyncing Officer of Thync. You’ll also hear from Roy Hamilton, who directs the lab for cognition and neural stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania. And, as always, you’ll get the scoop from Manoush, who has some really special reactions to Thync’s technology.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Pocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

March 23, 2016

The debate over whether the government can access your phone is here. Hello!

You’ve probably been following along, but in case you need the tl;dr: The debate revved up last month when the FBI asked Apple to hack into a locked iPhone associated with one of the gunmen from the San Bernardino massacre last December. Since then, the conversation has evolved into a national debate over what the government should (and shouldn’t) be allowed to access. The conversation has officially moved outside the realm of tech and the government. With 90 percent of American adults owning a cell phone, the issue is hitting a lot closer to home than even the Edward Snowden revelations.

On this week’s episode, you’ll hear from Russell Banks, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and author of “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Affliction,” and “Cloudsplitter.” Banks was one of several prolific writers, including Gay Talese and Sandra Cisneros, who signed a letter last month calling for the FBI to stand down in their attempt to hack Apple. 

But why are authors so invested in the surveillance debate? Banks explains that when it comes to researching a taboo topic or writing about a sensitive matter, writers don’t want to self-censor just because the government may be watching (or even flagging) language and/or behavior. And this is no small matter for the nonfiction and fiction scribes of the world. The advocacy group PEN found that 75 percent of writers living in democracies are concerned about their privacy. 

In a California court, the F.B.I. is temporarily placing their legal battle with Apple on hold since an outside party is assisting the government in their efforts to unlock the phone. 

If this has you a little freaked out, you’re not alone. Follow this up by listening to Walter Kirn explain if our phones are eavesdropping on us.

via GIPHY

If you’re upset that this is isn’t the “sh*t you can put on your head” episode, fret not. Next week, Manoush will put stuff on her head and it gets weird. Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

March 16, 2016

One of the fastest-growing sectors of the tech industry involves turning all of the little details about our health into quantifiable data points. Millions of users have strapped heart-rate monitoring pieces of plastic to their wrists, scanned in the calories from their frozen dinner, and squinted at charts representing everything from the quality of a night’s sleep to the regularity of their menstrual cycle. And, according to a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost as many have stopped wearing them within the first six months.

To the many, many people who have tried these tools – not to mention the people who want to sell them – this raises a big, open, lucrative question: What role should health trackers actually play in our lives?

On this week’s episode, you’ll hear from Natasha Dow Schull, author of a forthcoming book called “Keeping Track,” and technology writer/early self-tracker and writer Paul Ford. Schull’s research has involved spending quite a bit of time in the aisles of Best Buy, listening in on the hopeful, aspirational purchases. However – as new research begins to bear out – respondents in the long run tend to fall in two camps: people who get turned off by the idea of self-tracking and need to be convinced of its value, or those who like the idea but want better technology. In both cases, the stalwarts of this billion-dollar industry are listening very, very closely to figure out what consumers really want from this trend.

We’re curious too, though for different reasons. We’ve spent the last few months asking a whole lot of people to speak to their experiences of quantifying themselves using technology. We wanted the story you can’t tell from the big tech conferences or even hanging out in the aisles of Best Buy. So we asked our audience to weigh in (figuratively, of course) on what makes for “useful” health technology – what different sorts of health hacking have really done to their health.

The responses have been fascinating, inspiring, and heartbreaking – and we have a feeling it will be pretty insightful for the industry and everyone who studies it.

Here are some of the major themes from the more than 100 voice memos, emails, and messages you’ve sent:

Don’t see an important point in here? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!

SEEING IT MAKES IT REAL 

When they’re tracking in the right direction, hard numbers and charts can feel like getting a good grade. For the good students out there, getting “keeping up the grades” is genuinely motivational for at least a little while.

“Starting a little over a year ago, I purchased a Microsoft band because it had more sensors than anything else on the market… It tracks my sleep, it tracks my steps, it tracks my galvantic skin response, it tracks my UV exposure, it tracks pretty much everything except my calories, which I happily do through another app. I got a WiFi connected scale. All of this data together has surprisingly benefited me, and I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last year. Part of this has been through concerted efforts, but part of it is just being more aware of how active I am and all of these devices motivate me, really truly motivate me, to get up and walk, to make sure I get my 10K steps a day, to improve my lifestyle, to make a slightly better choice for dinner.” – Christina in Virginia

TELL ME A STORY

Many of the people who love their trackers told us they try to combine data sets into a story about what they have been doing and how far they have come. This narrative gives them a sense of what should come next in their lives, prompting decisions that bear out the healthy arc.

I don’t know if it’s just the historian in me or what, but I love my data. From the morning to night I have a mood journal where I can track how I feel, what medications I’ve taken, how long I’ve slept… I track my food and points through Weight Watchers. There’s an app for everything, even for fun things, like Untapped to keep track of how many craft beers I’ve had.” – Alison from Charlotte 

I NEVER THOUGHT I CARED ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK, BUT…

Not everyone wants a social experience, but some people who thought they’d hate giving friends a glimpse into their pedometers found themselves competing to great, surprising, motivational effect.

I never thought I’d be the person walking around my kitchen island or doing laps in my bedroom because my friend Brittany is 2,000 steps ahead of me at 11 o’clock at night, but it has happened on more than one occasion.” – Jennifer Bertrand from Texas

HELP ME MOTIVATE MYSELF! 

For the non-fitness inclined, the most useful tech puts the promise of what, exactly, they’re hoping to achieve front and center. Most of the products on the market dive harder into stats they don’t already care about.

“I’m slightly round, and I never wanna be a human stick insect. But my joints… not so much, they’re not so happy with the situation. I feel like I’ve got to do something about it…. I’m like in buoyancy training… if I’m on a boat in the North Sea and it sinks, I have a competitive advantage for, like, 3 minutes because it’s gonna take me longer to sink. I gotta watch my husband go down, I gotta watch the people I was just having drinks with on the Lido deck get circled by whatever’s in the water… plucking them like grapes out of a fruit bowl… those three minutes are not gonna be high value ones. [But] I’ve come to this conclusion that I don’t lose weight [and] I don’t make better decisions because I guess I just don’t want to… So I would really appreciate it if you could identify some sort of technology that would make me make better decisions… Both for exercise and for food intake. So if you could just wave your magic wand and make that happen that would be awesome.” – Jennifer in Massachusetts 

ONE STEP ON MY PEDOMETER, TWO STEPS TOWARD COMPULSIVE

We heard from dozens of users who called themselves “addicted beyond the point of health,” who said having so much information about their bodies at their disposal made them hyper-fixate on small changes.

“As somebody recovering from an eating disorder it completely feeds into the obsessive habits and so there almost should be a warning sign that this can lead to triggering behaviors.” – Lauren in Minneapolis

TRY TO MATCH THE MESSAGE TO MY MOOD

Quite a few people said blanket “notifications” work once they’re already feeling inspired, but deepen guilt or frustrations when they come at a bad time. 

“My fitness tracker vibrates to tell me I haven’t moved in a long time… I don’t even feel it any more. But I did notice something the other day that seems to help….always says the same thing but one day the app sent a notification at the random time during the day and it said ‘we’ve noticed our reminders aren’t helping you…so we will stop them soon…no don’t stop them…I felt so guilty for letting the My Fitness people down… One app that I do use is the Headspace and I use it to establish a meditation habit. The app will send me a different mindfulness message a couple times a day and I do always pause to read and reflect on those and, I think it’s because there’s a variety of messages and that’s what helps.”

IF ONLY I DIDN’T HAVE TO ACTUALLY WEAR IT

A number of people said they were embarrassed to be seen with the visible, not-all-that-glamourous-looking pieces of plastic on their wrists – a complaint all too familiar to “wearable” designers who hoped the Apple Watch would come along and answer that design question once and for all. 

“Three years into [using] all of these trackers, I read the book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up‘ by Marie Kondo. This book asks you to think about one specific question when you’re deciding to keep an item… “does this spark joy?” … One day while putting on my FitBit, I thought ‘does this spark joy?’ and the answer was ‘no’. … It’s not even a beautiful item that I’m putting on my body. I might as well wear a toaster on my arm.. So fast forward 6 months and I have no ugly device or screen on my wrist. I’ve got no lights, no buzzes, no numbers and then yesterday at the doctors, my doctor told me that my blood pressure was the lowest it’s ever been, my favorite jeans fit and I’m happier.” – Allie Pilmer from Alameda

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March 9, 2016

You, friend, are productive. You work at all hours of the day and well into the night. Thank goodness for the email app on your phone that allows you to check in and schedule meetings and book conference rooms and passive-aggressively forward whenever you need to. Even Facebook has entered the “be social at work” vertical, for “companies who get things done.” You and your friends and your teammates are building, building, building enterprises that must disrupt and must multiply and – most important of all – grow.

It’s exciting and it’s exhausting. The catch: there might not be any more resources to exhaust.

On this election-season edition of Note to Self, author Douglas Rushkoff (“Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus“) joins Manoush to pose a big, hairy question: what does all of this new technology, wealth, and productivity have to do with serious income inequality? What are the larger social implications of an economy built on venture capital? Why has all of this “growth” made us feel less financially secure? 

More information about some of the companies mentioned in this episode:

  • Juno, a driver-owned competitor to Uber. (FastCompany)
  • IndieBound, a community of independent bookstores.
  • WinCo, an employee-owned grocery store often compared to Walmart. (Time)
  • Kickstarter’s CEO, Yancey Strickler, made the decision to become a public benefit corporation (PBC) to mitigate obligations to shareholders. (The Guardian)

If you’re still weighing your politics on this, our friends at Planet Money made this useful chart with economists’ insights into each candidate’s economic proposals.

If you’re interested in more of the mechanisms of tech-world economics, you might also enjoy our past episodes on the attention economy, the burgeoning field of user experience, and shaking up your social media-enabled echo chamber.

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March 2, 2016

We know, you use your phones everywhere. At work. When you’re with your kids. Underneath the table. In the bathroom (admit it – and special thanks to listener Andrew Conkling for the warning on that one). 

GraceAnn Bennett, the advertising executive turned tech entrepreneur behind a new app called PlsPlsMe, wants to give you an excuse to whip it out in the last sacred frontier: Bed. Well, sort of. 

As a 20-something virgin Mormon newlywed, Bennett expected her new husband to just get it. 

“I thought he was supposed to figure it out. Figure out sex… figure out how to unlock me in some kind of way without me giving any instructions. Because instructions, to me, were a turn off. I thought, ‘OK, well, if I tell him then it kind of kills it.’ Just like someone telling you, ‘Buy me this!’ and then wrapping it up for Christmas. Right? It’s like, OK, this is not, this isn’t sexy, this isn’t fun. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work.”

Nineteen years of marriage later, those primal instincts still hadn’t kicked in. The couple ultimately got divorced – and, unable to shake the feeling that this just wasn’t how sex was supposed to work, Bennett quit her job in advertising to focus on fixing sex lives. She asked the Kinsey Institute to help her answer the question: Is anyone out there really having good sex? If so, what does it take?

The results weren’t really that surprising: One out of three respondents in the 2,000 person sample said they wished it was easier for them to talk with partners about their sexual desires.

For the past few months, the Note to Self team has been collaborating with Kaitlin Prest, host of The Heart – an audio art project and podcast about intimacy and humanity. Prest got two couples to test the app and the premise: can technology disrupt your sex life? In a good way?

Listen above for some taboo, sometimes scary, and absolutely intimate stuff.

In this episode:

PlsPlsMe is available as of this week on iTunes. An Android version should be available later this year. If you try it – or something like it – let us know?

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February 24, 2016

How much would it take for someone to hack your life? And really, how worried do you actually need to be?

For most of us, this question stays in the realm of the hypothetical. For others, it only turns into a question after the worst has happened. For tech journalist Kevin Roose, co-host of Fusion’s new documentary series Real Future, it was a chance to be the human embodiment of a Fortune 500 company. On this week’s Note to Self, hear what happened when Roose asked some of the best hackers in the world to put him through a “penetration test,” or a “pen test.” 

As he explains it:

“Basically Coca Cola will bring in a hacker and say ‘I want you to spend a month trying as hard as you can  to get into our systems, exploit vulnerabilities, take advantage of weaknesses and report back to us what you found so we could fix it.’ And I thought, ‘What if I could do the personal version of that?'”

Using tactics from fake programs to remote desktop takeovers, to a simple YouTube video of some crying babies… Roose figured out exactly how much damage it’s possible to do.

Spoiler: This episode will make you want to put a PIN on your phone provider account. It’ll possibly make you want to download a security program like Little Snitch. At very least, it will probably make you want to cover up the camera on your computer.

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February 17, 2016

On this week’s episode of Note to Self, host Manoush Zomorodi and executive producer Jen Poyant team up with The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman to try to cut back on sugar, by using technology that promises to make them healthier.

You might remember Dan Pashman from the time he and Manoush cooked avocado at the instruction of IBM’s Chef Watson. That experiment was a success.

Spoiler: This one really wasn’t. 

By some estimates, health and fitness technology is a $200 billion industry. That includes the oh-so-romantic FitBit you got for Valentine’s Day, the dieting app you paid a dollar for on your phone, and even the sugar detox kit you may or may not have ordered online. But as we’ve heard from many of you, the promise of these magic wellness panaceas doesn’t always play out the way you expect when you put them in the real world.

Many of our listeners tell us their health apps and hacks have been a mixed bag. Early studies bear these experiences out. Inspired by the burbling questions we’re hearing, we’re working on a show that will look more closely into the claims various “we’re going to make you healthy!” apps and services and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs promise will fix us.

Help us take the story deeper. Tell us about the different ways you’ve tried to “quantify” or “bio-hack” yourselves. What happened? Are you still doing it? Why or why not? Has your employer asked you to buy a sleep tracker? Did you make your own optimized protein sludge? Did you lose a ton of weight calculating calories, or did you just lose your mind?

Send a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org with your experience. Put “self hack” in the subject line. Help us out by forwarding to anyone you know with a story. The more the better! 

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February 10, 2016

Let’s start with a quick recap:

  • Emailers took a follow-up survey each morning. 

This week, we’re taking a look at how well this experiment actually worked. Here is a quick look at some of the crazy – yes, let’s go ahead and call them crazy – stats:

  • We sent 300,000 messages via text.
  • We received over 1,100 voice messages. Taken all together, that’s over 15 hours of recorded audio.
  • We saw at least 300 Kondo’d phones.
  • We heard from people in all 50 American states and at least 10 different countries.

On this week’s show, we’ve invited Professors Gloria Mark of the University of California-Irvine (you might remember her from the first day of challenges and the infamous 23 minutes + 15 seconds to refocus rule) and Calvin Newport (author of “Deep Work“)  to help us put your Infomagical responses into a larger context of academic and industry studies. We’ve also asked WNYC’s Data News wizards to help us explain the key takeaways about what happened over the course of the week in the podcast and below:

The first thing we asked people to do when they signed up was pick an “information goal” – one of 5 – to keep them on track all week. The number one goal (31 percent of participants) was: “be more in tune with yourself.”

Every day, we asked participants to rate how well they stuck to their goal on a scale of one to five, with five as “awesome.” Over the course of the week, people’s responses indicated that they were in fact sticking more closely to their chosen goal. For the participants who did the project by text message, we’d then follow up with “and how overwhelmed do you feel now?”

According to senior editor John Keefe, scores went up steadily among the people who responded.

“Early on in the week, about 40 percent of the people said that they felt less overloaded, less overwhelmed with information [at the end of the evening]. Which is pretty good, but it’s still less than half. By the time we got to Day 5 on Friday, 71 percent of the folks who responded said that they felt less overloaded. So we went from 40 percent on Monday to 71 percent on Friday.”

There are definitely caveats here – it’s hard to keep a 25,000-volunteer sample group consistent, and we can only work with the data from people who responded. That said, our response rate stayed relatively high (around 50 percent) through all five challenges.

To that end, we also paid special attention to the reams of qualitative data participants sent our way. We’ve got a huge range of voices in the podcast this week. Some honestly made us choke up a little.

We also asked people to choose an emoji most representative of their 7-minute conversation. Talk about data:

A few more emoji response favorites:

  • 🍃 this may turn over a new leaf
  • 🏊 it went swimmingly
  • 🔩  I screwed up and forgot to converse by mouth

If you want to try the project by text or email, sign up for the series starting next Monday at wnyc.org/infomagical.

In the meantime… you can always turn off all of your devices, stop, and just take a few minutes listen to the original musical scoring from our colleague Hannis Brown.

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February 4, 2016

This is Challenge Four of Note to Self’s Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it’s going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here’s a link to our custom emoji.

Longtime listeners know Sherry Turkle – the social psychologist who studies what technology does to our relationships. If you heard our interview from a few months back, you’ll also be familiar with the seven minute conversation theory she discovered in the course of her most recent research. It goes like this: in a real, verbal, human conversation, it takes at least seven minutes to see whether or not a conversation will be interesting or not. 

Today, we’re going to test this theory.

Your instructions: Do something with all that wonderful goal-oriented information you’ve been consuming. Discuss something you’ve heard/read/watched with someone by phone or in person for at least seven minutes.  

Need some more ideas to start your conversation? We’ve asked the team behind the scenes here – a diverse group of artists, developers, editors, audio wizards, and more – to put together a collection of prompts they think can sustain seven minutes.

We’ve included their Twitter handles in case you’d like to report back!

Fix Something

“What are three products that you use? If you had to add one feature to them, what would it be and why?” 

– Marine Boudeau, Director of Design, @marineboudeau

Fix Something Edible

“Have you ever made something (or wanted to) you first tried at a restaurant? I just spent three, count ‘em, three! days recreating chef David Chang’s kimchi stew. It was a really fun experience that took a lot of focus and creativity. (I couldn’t find chicken backs so I had to get creative!) Many of my capable friends have recreated cocktails from favorite bars, and I’ve had a few fabulous versions of the Neiman Marcus cookies from talented home bakers.”

–   Mandy Naglich, Manager of Marketing and Audience Development, @MandyKN

Elephant Tears

“We read novels, watch movies and TV, gossip with friends, and follow politics all with the help of an assumed understanding of other people’s inner lives. Do you ever think about the inner lives of animals? What is their inner monologue? This is a clip from a longer documentary. You can hear Solomon articulate his feelings about Shirley. What might the animals be thinking/feeling/experiencing?”

–   Amy Pearl, Senior Producer, @sugarpond

The Demands of On Demand  

“What effect will on-demand content (Netflix, podcasts, etc.) have on the future of traditional broadcast media?” 

–   Joe Plourde, Sound Designer

A Conversation About Conversation

“Say someone you know travels somewhere interesting. What’s a better question to ask than ‘How was it?'” 

–   John Asante, Associate Producer, WNYC Newsroom, @jkbasante

When Was the Last Time You Discussed a Poem?

–  Jen Poyant, Executive Producer of Note to Self, @jpoyant

A Short Story

“Short Stories: Are they as satisfying to read as novels are?” 

–  Paula Szuchman, Vice President of On Demand Content, @Paula Szuchman

Salute the Superbowl Queen

“Ahead of Coldplay’s Superbowl half-time show this Sunday, reflect on the best: Beyoncé’s 2013 performance is 14 minutes long, so exactly double the length of a seven minute conversation. Beyond the clear value of talking Beyoncé, this feels like a sign.” 

– David Cotrone, Publicist, @DavidCotrone

Be Honest

“What was the last article you read to completion and thought about after the fact? Explain it to each other, and discuss!”

– Miranda Katz, former Note to Self intern-turned-Gothamist-writer-extraordinaire, @MirandaKatz

Be Critical

“Star Wars Episode VII: Plot too much like the original, or did it need to be nostalgic? And who is Rey’s father??? Oh, and are you on team R2D2 or BB8 on the cuteness factor?”

Additional reading: “The Nostalgia Debate Around The Force Awakens

– Valentina Powers, Director of Digital Operations, @valentinapowers

Yes/No/Why
“Remember Lisa Frank?”

 – inspired by Sahar Baharloo, graphic designer, @saharloo

Once you’ve had your conversation, we would love to know what you talked about. Tell us how it went on Facebook or Twitter

February 3, 2016

This is Challenge Three of Note to Self’s Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it’s going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here’s a link to our custom emoji.

No, you didn’t read it. No, you haven’t seen it. No, you somehow managed to miss that one.

Let’s practice: “I was spending my time doing something else.”

Your instructions: Today, you will avoid clicking on something “everyone is talking about” unless it contributes to your information goal. This might be trending topic or a “must read” or whichever article or video or .GIF everyone in your world is sharing. You’ve got a strict rule in place: “If this does not make me [insert your Infomagical week goal here], I won’t click.”

Even the woman who discovered the most memorable meme of all time (argue the point, we dare you) knows that she needs to take a break sometimes.  

“I definitely feel information overload,” says Cates Holderness, BuzzFeed’s Tumblr editor. “It’s both emotionally draining and psychologically stimulating in a really unsettling combination.”
However, today’s challenge extends beyond memes. It’s also an excuse to purge your reading list, rewatch a classic instead of an Oscar nominee, and just skip opening all of those tabs. You don’t need to read every think piece, or follow every Trump hashtag, or share every Bernie factoid – if your information goal isn’t “be 100 percent up to date on the election,” maybe you can be content with knowing the results and brushing up on the issues that matter to you.
If it starts to feel itchy, remember: Endless information does not make you better informed. According to historian Ann Blair, author of “Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age,” this is a lesson literate people have struggled to learn since the advent of the printed word.
Blair says our ambivalence would sound familiar to scholars in the thirteenth century. People felt both grateful for the new wealth of information at their fingertips, and so overwhelmed that they started creating cheat-sheets, “best of lists,” and signing their letters “in haste.” 

The settled-upon solution hundreds of years ago was to exercise a faculty called “judgment.” Back then, it meant the best Latin scholars didn’t copy everything out of Aristotle, they only chose the bits that meant the most for what they were working on. Today, Blair thinks the trick might be exactly the same: decide what you’re doing, commit to it, and make choices.

Listen above for more.

And judge away!

This dress is red.

 

  

P.S. The Lenny Letter Manoush mentions about endometriosis is divided up into articles here. Open only if reading 9,000 words about an under-diagnosed women’s health issue fits into your goal for the week. OK, back to judging!

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February 2, 2016

This is Challenge Two of Note to Self’s Infomagical project. To learn more, sign up, or catch up on Challenge One, visit wnyc.org/infomagical. If you want to hear how it’s going for the tens of thousands of people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. No, the irony does not escape us. 

Apple has said that the average iPhone user has somewhere around 80 apps per device. Today, we are going to arrange them into a joyful, tidy, information overload crushing bulldozer

Your instructions: Today, you will rearrange the apps on your phone. You do not necessarily need to delete anything. You just need to weigh the value of each one, delete the ones that you a) do not use or b) do not bring you joy. Pull all of your remaining apps into folders – ideally, just one folder. When you’ve finished, set your phone’s background wallpaper to an image that reminds you of your Infomagical week goal.

Pick something meaningful to you. Or, allow us to suggest one of these (click to download):

Phone backgrounds

For anyone feeling even more ambitious today, tackle your desktop browser too. Or de-clutter your photos. Or, you know, your actual house. 

If this “brings you joy” language sounds suspiciously like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” to you… well, that’s because author and organizational guru Marie Kondo herself is on this episode issuing your challenge instructions. She’s joined by Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims, whose article “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Digitally” inspired this exercise. 

“By putting all of [your] apps into folders, you can search for them by name. What happens is your device becomes task-oriented, instead of the place [where] you go to be like, ‘OK, what do I need to do next?'”

Here’s what his phone looks like:

And here’s how you can do it to yours (we’re modeling on an iPhone but this should work on almost any smartphone):

1) Hold down one of your apps until they all start to jiggle. If the app doesn’t bring you joy (however you define it), delete it. If it does, choose one and drag it over another app to create a folder. 

via GIPHY

2)  Do this with all of the apps on your phone. Put them all in folders. Ideally, put them all in one folder.

via GIPHY

3) Turn off notification badges – the little red dots with numbers inside of them. Go to “Settings” —> “Notifications.” and flip “Allow notifications” to the off position.

via GIPHY

4) To find your apps, open the spotlight search feature (touch and swipe down anywhere in the center of your phone or use your OK Google search field). Every time you want to use an app, search for it.

via GIPHY

We’d love to see yours when it’s done. Tweet or Instagram with the hashtag #Infomagical or post to our Facebook page here.

The whole Note to Self team wishes you a magical day.

 

 

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February 1, 2016

This is challenge one of Note to Self’s Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it’s going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here’s a link to our custom emoji.

Today we are focusing on our ability… to focus. Because we are nothing if not meta. Mind blown yet? OK, let’s go: 

Your instructions: All day long, do just one thing at a time. If you catch yourself doing two things, switch your focus back to one. Don’t read an article and Tweet about it – read it, then Tweet. Write an email until you’ve finished it and hit “send.” Perhaps even take a moment to just drink your coffee. Use your Infomagical week goal to prioritize which thing to do when. 

Why is this challenge number one? Because humans are incapable of doing multiple things at the same time. Study after study has shown that “multi-tasking” is a myth. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains that when we think we’re multi-tasking, we’re really only fooling ourselves.

“You’re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn’t work that way. Instead, you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.”

Rapid switching back and forth comes at a cost: it eats away at your glucose levels. Which, in turn, might make you want candy. Or… Candy Crush.

Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California-Irvine, says that this rapid switching isn’t a new affliction, but it is an intensifying one.

“About ten years ago, we found that people shifted their attention between online and offline activities about every three minutes on average. But now we’re looking at more recent data, and we’re finding that people are shifting every 45 seconds when they work online.”

Her lab has found a pretty clear relationship: The more that people switch their attention, the higher their stress level. That is especially concerning, she says, because the modern workplace feeds on interruptions. She calls the group of workers most affected “information workers.”

“‘Information workers’… have to respond to the demands of the workplace.They might have every intention of doing monochronic work, but if their boss sends them an email or they feel social pressure to keep up with their emails, they have to keep responding to their emails and being interrupted,” Mark said. “I think that if people were given the ability to signal to colleagues or just even to signal online ‘Hey I’m working on this task, don’t bother me, I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be interrupted.’”

We can’t change your boss, but we can make a suggestion. Tell your colleagues you are doing the Infomagical challenge. Post on Facebook or Slack or wherever to signal that you are trying to single-task all day. Ask people to schedule conversations with you. You can even use your custom emoji for a visual cue

Here’s the thing, however: You can’t blame your coworkers or your children or your gchat buddy for everything. Because the person who actually interrupts you the most? Yourself. Mark’s lab has a term for this – the “pattern of self-interruption.”

“From an observer’s perspective you’re watching a person [and] they’re typing in a word document. And then, for no apparent reason, they suddenly stop what they’re doing and they shift and look at email or check Facebook. These kinds of self-interruptions happen almost as frequently as people are interrupted from external sources,” Mark said. “So we find that when external interruptions are pretty high in any particular hour, then even if the level of external interruptions wane [in the next hour], then people self-interrupt.”

In other words, if you’ve had a hectic morning dealing with lots of email and people stopping by your desk, you are more likely to start interrupting yourself. Interruptions are self-perpetuating.

That’s why the most important signals are really the personal ones – remind yourself of your goal.  If you signed up for Infomagical via text, we’ll be checking in with you today. If you are doing Infomagical by email, check your inbox! You’ll get another one tomorrow morning.

That’s all for now. Single task, friends. Close this tab, decide what you are doing next, and THEN DO IT UNTIL IT’S DONE.

The whole Note to Self team wishes you a magical day.

For more Note to Self, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

January 27, 2016

So you’ve listened to “The Case for Infomagical,” signed up for the project, and picked a goal. Your questions have been answered.

Now on to the custom emoji!

Each challenge “goal” – the big, overarching thing you want to accomplish for the week – has a corresponding image we’d encourage you to put wherever you can. While these won’t show up in your emoji keyboard on iOS or Android, you’ll be seeing them in your text messages with us, and you can save them as an image and put them up anywhere.

Here are a few different ways to get ahold of them:

1) Download these full sized badges for on social media. Click “download” on Flickr, Facebook (under the “options” menu), or Pinterest.

2) Add them as custom emoji on Slack. We’ve resized them for you here.

3) If you’re on desktop, right click (control click on Mac) over the images below and “save as image.” If you’re on mobile, hold your finger and wait for the pop up menu to appear. 

 

 Got more ideas on how to use them? Show us! We’re on Twitter @NoteToSelf and Facebook at Note to Self Radio. The hashtag (yes, we see the irony) is #Infomagical.

January 25, 2016

On January 25, we’ll put out our podcast with all of the information we could find concerning information overload.

Yes, it’s meta. Yes, it’s a little bit of a paradox. Also: Yes, it’s a huge problem.

We’re taking information overload head on in this follow-up to Bored and Brilliant – our 2015 project inviting people to rethink their relationships with their phone and become more creative in the process. This time around, we’re taking on the other sentiment you know all too well: the “yeah, putting down my phone is nice and all, but I have a life to live. A job to do. A conversation to hold. A cat video to send to my mother.” This time it’s not about your gadgets per se, it’s about all the stuff on them, and all the stuff coming out of them.

It’s a collective FOMO course correction. Our plan is to turn all of your information portals into reminders about what you actually want out of life. We’re going to make your devices more useful.

And we know you need this. In a survey of nearly 2,000 Note to Self listeners:

  • 60 percent said they feel like the amount of effort they must exert to stay up-to-date on a daily basis is “taxing.” Another 15 percent said it’s downright “impossible.”
  • 4 out of 5 said information overload affects their ability to learn.
  • 1 out of 3 said information overload was affecting their close relationships. 

We’ve talked with neuroscientists, social psychologists, business professors, anthropologists, software designers, and many, many listeners as we’ve designed this project. Taking all that they’ve told us into account, here’s what we’ve come up with:

  1. From late January on, we’ll invite listeners to sign up. In the process, you’ll be asked to choose one of five information priorities as your “goal” for the week. This will serve as your touchstone – your personal filter to keep you from falling down information rabbit holes. If you sign up to do the project via text, you’ll become a part of our data set. We’ll be measuring what effect sticking to an information goal has on participants’ information overload, and seeing what different sorts of behaviorial modifications (“challenges”) do to our stress levels.
  2. During Challenge Week – February 1-5 – you will try to consume information that fits into your larger goal. You’ll get a daily assignment in the morning through our podcast. A few – just a few – times throughout the day, we’ll text with a “probe,” to check in on how it’s going and remind you of your goal. At the end of the day, we’ll text an easy question about how the day went. The more people who sign up, the more we’ll learn. It really is a live-action experiment – we don’t know what the results will look like!
  3. After challenge week ends, we’re going to take your feedback and present it to a round table of experts across different sectors. 

Sign up to participate at wnyc.org/infomagical. Challenge week starts February 1 and runs through February 5. 

Want to tell us why you’re taking part in Infomagical? Talk to us here. Got more questions? See if we’ve answered yours here

For more Note to Self in the meantime, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

January 20, 2016
Hello! If you don’t seen an answer to your question here, you can get in touch at notetoself@wnyc.org. We’ll read all of them and respond as best we can, even if it takes a few days. We’ll be updating this page as the questions come in. 

1. Questions About Infomagical

2. Questions About Texting

3. Questions About the Team

4. Press Inquiries


 

QUESTIONS ABOUT INFOMAGICAL

1. What is Infomagical?

Infomagical is a week of experiments designed to help you find focus and discover the magic of clear thinking. Think of it as a digital literacy campaign… on something that will maybe be legal in your state soon. 

2. What’s wrong with information?

Absolutely nothing. Information, learning, and curiosity are all great things – arguably the most important things for a functioning society/world/human race. But as studies are starting to show, new channels of information are messing with our ability to process what we consume. There’s pressure (social and personal) to make sure we never miss an email, status update, or that Netflix show that everyone is talking about. Eventually, we complain of feeling “maxed out” or say we “don’t have the bandwidth.” Infomagical is a project about being better informed. We’re fighting information overload, otherwise known as “infomania” – not information itself.

We’re also not here to judge which kinds of information you consider important. More on that later.

3. OK, but why should I sign up? 

A life spent skimming is sad. When we purposefully choose and focus on the right information, information overload disappears. You’ll know it when you feel it – maybe you’ll get in touch with an old friend, or learn a new language, or think through your experimental graphic novel. Or maybe you’ll watch a cute video that calms you down before you go to work in the morning. What’s “right” depends on your goal.

We don’t know if we can cure information overload/infomania, but it’s time to put our symptoms in check and a higher value on taking the time to synthesize, interpret, and reflect on the information we take in every day. This project puts what researchers do know to the test, and the larger our “sample group,” the better the, ahem, information we’ll have about the problem. 

4. How does Infomagical work?

Starting on January 20, you can sign up for the project at wnyc.org/infomagical. On January 25, we’ll drop our big launch episode explaining the research behind the project. Then, during Challenge Week (February 1-5), we’ll guide you through a series of challenges and exercises. 

If you sign up to do the project via text, you’ll be part of our data set; we’ll be measuring what effect sticking to an information goal has on participants’ information overload, and seeing what sorts of lifestyle changes do to our stress levels. The sign up process will ask you to choose one of five goals (“information priorities”) to serve as a touchstone throughout the week. You’ll get a daily assignment (“behavioral modification”) in the morning to keep you on track. Then a few – just a few – times throughout the day, we’ll be in touch with a “probe,” checking in on how it’s going. 


 

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TEXTING SYSTEM

5. I feel weird giving you my phone number. Is it safe?

This is a really fair question, and it’s one we take very seriously. It’s one of the values of our show. Here are our terms of use and privacy policy.

If you really don’t want to do this through text (or if you’re out of the country), we’re setting it up so that you can receive the challenges through newsletter as well. Just toggle over to that option in the sign up flow.

6. What are the five goals? Why do I have to choose one?

Your goal is a filter for the massive amounts of information out there. Decide what you want the content you consume to do for you. This goal will keep you from falling down information rabbit holes during Infomagical week. And yes, you have to choose one – that’s the definition of focusing! So go with your gut and decide on a priority. You can choose to be:

  1. More in touch with family and friends.
  2. More up-to-date on the news.
  3. More creative.
  4. More in tune with yourself.
  5. More knowledgeable about a specific subject.

7. When are the challenges? What are you going to ask me to do?

Challenge week starts Monday, February 1 and runs through Friday, February 5. We’re not going to give you any spoilers! FOMO, activate! (Just kidding: You can read more about it here and here). 

8. How will we know if Infomagical worked?

We’ll be checking in every day during Challenge Week with participants who sign up via text.

At the end of each day, we’ll text two questions:

  1. Were you successful in sticking to your information goal?
  2. How overloaded do you feel now?

We hope to be able to quantify how many participants stuck to their information goal and, of that percentage, how many felt less overloaded. As we saw with our Bored and Brilliant project, data only illuminates some results – so we’re also going to collect participants’ stories throughout the week. Afterwards, we’ll present both the data and stories to psychologists, technologists, and data scientists, in order to start a long term, cross-sector conversation about how we manage information and our gadgets going forward. If you have a good story for us, talk to us here.

9. Isn’t it ironic to use text messages/newsletters/podcasts for a project about digital information overload?

Yes. Technically, it’s a paradox. It’s also proven to be the only thing that works – turning your information portals into focusing powerhouses.

10. Why did you call it Infomagical?

Yes, we’re being a little bit tongue in cheek. We’re also paying homage to Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and all the people who told us it would take a miracle to clear out their heads during Bored and Brilliant. You’ll be hearing from Kondo during the series!

But we’re very serious about helping people become their own best filters, to find focus more easily, and discover what we are calling “the magic of clear thinking.” 

11. How does the texting system work? Who built this?

The texting system was built by Alan Palazzolo and the WNYC Data News team using the Twillo texting platform. 

12. Do I need to pay for texts?

Your carrier’s standard texting and MMS rates apply (we’ll be sending you some small images). There are no additional charges.

13. If I sign up and want to stop, what do I do?

Just reply to any Infomagical message with the word “Stop.”

14. When will I be getting texts?

You’ll get one in the morning, some time after 8 a.m. in your local timezone with your challenge and a mini podcast explaining it. There will be another one midday, and two questions in the evening. If you’re getting them at inconvenient times, send us an email and phone number and put “time change” in the subject line. 

15. If I miss a text or don’t respond, will I get the next one anyway? 

Yes. You don’t have to respond at all if you don’t want to (though we hope you will!).

16. Do I need a smartphone to do this?

You do not need a smartphone. Infomagical should work with anything that receives texts. We’ll also be sending small images and links. 

17. I didn’t get any text messages today. What’s up?

The challenges don’t start until February 1. After the launch, we want to hear about any problems – the system might not be perfect, so we’ll need your help fixing it. Let us know at notetoself@wnyc.org and we’ll check it out. 

18. If I text you, will you see it?

The answer is yes! But you’re talking to a robot. A very nice, very personable robot, but the fastest way to connect with a real human is through email. Facebook or Twitter also work.

19. I’m not seeing any graphics! Where are the emoji?

The images come as MMS. Different carriers handle these differently – some as an image, some as a link, some not at all. If you want to see what we’re sending, check out our Facebook or Twitter feeds. It’s almost as much fun.

20. Can I do this from outside the U.S.?

We’re pretty confident this will work with North American carriers. It’s hard to say what will or won’t work internationally, but give it a shot. If texting won’t work for you, you can sign up again with your email address at wnyc.org/infomagical.


 

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TEAM

21. I love, love, love the illustrations for this project. Where did they come from?

We love, love, love them too. The artist behind our banner illustration and our logo is John Hersey. You can find the rest of his work here.

Our custom emoji come from designer Kevin McCauley. His portfolio lives here.

22. The Infomagical website is gorgeous too. Who made it?

We worked with the wonderful people at Ronik Design + Development. You can learn more about them here.

23. Wasn’t there a similar project last year called Bored and Brilliant?

Yes! That was us too. Bored and Brilliant was a week of challenges to get people to rethink their relationship to their phone, let their minds wander, and jumpstart their creativity. We partnered with apps that measured how much time people spent on their phones. Over 20,000 people did it with us.

Collectively, we dropped 6 minutes of daily phone time. The greater impact, however, was what listeners said it did for their lives. Listen here for some of the incredibly moving stories about reconnecting with their inner selves and learning to be alone with their thoughts. If you want to try it, we made a mini-version here.

24. What is Note to Self?

A ridiculously fun and smart podcast for anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age, if we do say so ourselves. We call it the tech show about being human. You can find us on Twitter @NoteToSelf and on Facebook at Note to Self Radio. We’re produced and distributed by WNYC Studios – home to Radiolab, On the Media, Freakonomics and more.

On recent episodes, host Manoush Zomorodi confronted the maker of the game app that was making her crazy; learned how to deal with “friends” who are racist on Facebook; found out what happens when a school has a “sexting scandal”; and investigated whether an intimate relationship conducted solely through texting is possible.

Note to Self also did a Radiolab episode last year about how people change in a culture of surveillance.

The usual team is Jen Poyant, Ariana Tobin, Amy Eason, and Joe Plourde. Of course, there are lots of people at WNYC Studios making this happen, including the Data News team, the digital ops team, our excellent graphic designer, and more.

25. Who is Manoush Zomorodi? 

Manoush is a hard-core journalist and also kind of a weird public radio mash-up between Morgan Spurlock and Tina Fey. She tweets @manoushz. You can learn more about her here.

26. You didn’t answer my question. How do I get in touch?

Feel free to send us a message on FacebookTwitter, or email (notetoself[at]wnyc[dot]org.) 


QUESTIONS FROM THE PRESS

27. I want to write about Infomagical/Note to Self/Bored and Brilliant/Manoush Zomorodi/WNYC Studios. Who do I talk to?

You can contact Senior Director of Publicity Jennifer Houlihan at jhoulihan@nypublicradio.org.

January 20, 2016

If you haven’t heard of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) by now… well, no fear. There are cartoons to get you up to speed. There is a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are diagnostic quizzes. There is a heavily-annotated Wikipedia entry

There is also a meaningful counter-term: JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). And yes, the person behind FOMO and the person behind JOMO know each other – they are, in fact, old friends. Technologists Caterina Fake and Anil Dash – popularizers of FOMO and JOMO respectively – say they wish more had changed since they published their now-famous blog posts five years ago. On this week’s episode of Note to Self, the two talk about the utility of acronyms, the importance of thoughtful software design, and the recent history of the Internet as we know it. 

“I don’t think Silicon valley today, the technologists coming of age today who have always had access to the Internet and were born into it, understand that there are ethical choices to be reckoned with in the way that we build our apps and the way we build technology,” Dash says.

Fake agrees. She says that sense of “oh there is something I should be paying attention to” has been built into the platforms we use – our attention is the currency by which social networks are considered successful.

“It’s a lot of work to tilt the meters more towards the JOMO end of the spectrum,”  she says. “Software is good at exploiting those tendencies that we are unaware of or subject to. I think that a very conscious approach – media literacy, and ethics classes –are really where we need to be. As a culture, as a society, we know the software isn’t going to go away. All of this is going to be with us and we should take it for granted that it will remain.”

It’s a sentiment we know a little too well. Especially the certifiable digital junkies among us.

 

Read Caterina Fake’s 2011 post about FOMO here. Read Anil Dash’s 2012 post about JOMO here.

For more conversations like this one, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

January 13, 2016

Looking for our information overload survey? Take it here – and stay tuned for our big project launch on January 25!

David Hohusen, game director on the popular smartphone app Two Dots, is – at very least – brave.

As longtime listeners will remember, Hohusen joined us on the show last year for a conversation about the addictive game you see people playing on the subway. Note to Self host Manoush Zomorodi was once a Two Dots player, and an especially enthusiastic one at that. But after talking with behavioral engineer expert Nir Eyal and neuroscientist Zachary Hambrick, she had to admit something huge: She wasn’t paying Two Dots any money, but she was giving the game a whole lot of valuable time. She deleted the app. We turned it into an episode.  Hohusen was ambushed.

And yet… he came back. On this episode of Note to Self, Hohusen talks about the responsibility technologists have to their users. In his words:

I think as game designers, we’re incredibly mindful of the sort of tactics we use because we know… if we make a game that’s a little too underhanded, we’re not going to feel great. Because did we really make a great game, or did we just use the dirtiest strategies to trick people into playing?”

If you’re in the 49 percent of Americans who play games – even if you’re not one of the 10 percent who considers yourself a gamer – you’ll want to listen to this. Actually, you’ll want to listen either way: It’s a really great example of what can happen when we give thoughtful feedback to technologists about how their products affect our lives. Hohusen spent a year thinking about the role his game plays in peope’s mental health.

David Hohusen: Most people think of ‘addiction’ and ‘addicting’ as sort of a negative adjective. But, in the mobile game space, they show it off, they tout it. Candy Crush will say something about addiction or addictive as a positive.

Manoush Zomorodi: And what do you think about that?

DH: I think it is and it isn’t. Like for me, I’m really conflicted about it. Because I think that it’s a very accurate description and I think it’s… it’s true to Two Dots and it’s true to Candy Crush. We’re building experiences that really hook users and create this sense and this desire to play all the time.

MZ: Which I had.

DH: Absolutely. And you made the wise decision to delete the app, which I think was the right decision.

For more conversations like this one, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

 

January 6, 2016

If you had to guess, how many facts have you taken in today? How many factoids, dates, times, sale alerts, tweet-sized factoids, and other factual-or-at-least-pretending-to-be-factual pieces of information have passed across your screen? At this rate, how many more do you expect to take in by midnight? 

Let us present you with one more: According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, author of “The Organized Mind,” your brain can only fully absorb four. Four.

“[More] will compete for neural resources with what you’re really doing at the moment, what’s in front of you. Your brain will be narrating… all of this undone stuff,” Levitin says on this week’s show.

We’ll be hearing more from him later this month when we dig very, very deep into the phenomenon of “information overload” – and to get there, we need your help. Click here to take our quick survey on what information overload looks like for you. Your responses will help us build a project that actually matters to you.

In the meantime, you can hear Dr. Levitin’s explanation of where our neurological limits lie, either in the player above or on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, and anywhere else using our RSS feed.

He also gave us some tips on setting limits. Here’s a cheat sheet (in numerical order as he suggests!):

1. Write down everything you need to do. Everything! Then make sure you prioritize what really needs to be first. Basically: brain dump with bullet points, then go through and number in order of importance.

“You look at your list of things to do and there’s one that you’ve put there on top, you sit down to do that, and you really become immersed in it. Instead of wondering, like so many of us do, ‘Is there something else I should be doing? Is this really the thing I should be doing? Let me check my email, maybe there’s something more important…'”

2. Find a way of making all your digital stuff look different. You could create different email accounts for different parts of your life, or amp up your Gmail to do some real filtering for you.

“During the day when information comes in you’re not quite sure how important it is, or how important it’s going to be. [If] you have no system for it, you can’t attach it to anything on your priorities list. And so you put it in your brain and you kind of toss it and turn it around, and because it doesn’t attach to anything, it takes up neuro-resources.”

3. If paring down isn’t an option, communicate.  Need to keep up with everything at your demanding job? Then your challenge is one of communication: explain to those around you what’s on your plate in terms of priorities – i.e., “yes, I will read that, but after I put the finishing touches on this. It’s due at 3 p.m. See my list of priorities I wrote out right here? I can make changes if need be, but…” 

Levitin says these are conversations best handled in person.

4. Don’t beat yourself up about it. When you start to feel overwhelmed, that is the exact moment when you need to make your list of prioriites.

“Cortisol is released whenever we’re trying to do more than we can handle. Its part of the fight or flight response, which made a whole lot of sense in hunter-gatherer times but now it’s just toxic, it makes your stomach ache, it shuts down your immune system, you’re more likely to get sick when you’re stressed. All because of cortisol.”

Stay tuned for more from Dr. Levitin, and don’t forget to take our survey here!

December 30, 2015

To close out 2015, we want to leave you the way we started it: with one of our favorite Gizmodo stories from writer Leslie Horn (she’s now at Deadspin). It starts out like this:

“My mother is untrainable. At least, as far as voicemail is concerned. We’d repeat the same song and dance over and over. Me: Stop leaving me voicemails.Her: I don’t understand. This went on for years, until I figured out she was right all along.”

Listen above to hear a story of mourning, family, and a piece of technology that – love it or hate it – still has the capacity to connect us in ways texts, emails, and all the rest just can’t. It’s a podcast ode the humble voice recording.

After we aired this episode the first time, many of you said that you, too, have voicemails you’d like to save. Here’s an updated (and admittedly not comprehensive) guide on how to do that:

A really easy way:

  • Play your voicemail on speakerphone in front of a tape recorder, or recording software on your computer (Audacity is free to download), phone or tablet. Listen to make sure you can understand it. There. Done. (Pro: simple. Con: not the best quality.)

Some pretty easy way(s):

  • If you have a newer iPhone, you can save your voicemail as a voice memo or note. (Pro: easy, good sound quality. Con: takes up space on your phone.)
  • Treat your computer like a set of headphones for your phone. You’ll need a male-to-male cord auxiliary cable (available at most electronics stores). Plug that into your phone’s headphone jack on one end, and put the other end into the “line-in” outlet on your computer. Use whichever recording software you like (again, Audacity is free), hit play on the phone, and press “record” on the computer. (Pro: good sound quality. Con: you have to buy a cable.)
  • Use an app. There are several third-party apps (you can try iMazingPhoneViewecamm, or, straight to the point, Voicemails Forever or Everlasting Voice). They let you look at the device’s data on your computer desktop, then you can save whichever files you’d like. (Pro: Best sound quality possible. Cons: they cost money, it can be hard to find the exact file you want.)

For the future:

  • Set up a voicemail-to-email service like Google Voice or YouMail and sync it with your phone. Have all of your voicemails emailed to you as mp3s. 

We always want you to leave us a voicemail or a voice memo! Our number is (917) 924-2964.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed to make sure you know when we’re back with new stuff.

December 23, 2015

This week, we’re re-airing an episode that might make you think twice before buying that LEGO kit gift for the kid in your life. As we learned, sticking with the classic big bins of non-themed bricks can help kids’ creativity, as well as adults’. According to research by business professors Page Moreau and Marit Gundersen Engset, “free-building” from a pile of mismatched LEGO enhances creativity, while working from a pre-designed kit hinders it. That’s not to say working with a kit is necessarily a bad thing – it just prompts your brain to work more methodically, rather than imaginatively.That’s why the free-building vs. kit-based approaches to LEGO and beyond are important: Whether you’re making a wild creation out of little toy bricks or making a meal from a ready-to-cook kit, following a set of step-by-step directions will affect your thought processes. 

We got tons of feedback from listeners last time around. But perhaps the most enthusiastic response came from Robin Corry in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has a dedicated “LEGO Room” in his house where his two sons can play. Robin stores the LEGO in a bag and dumps them all out on the ground when it’s time to get building. Rather than buy his sons pre-made LEGO kits, Robin makes his own, sorting bricks by color or shape into Ziploc bags and instructing them to make something with them.

We could all use a little bit more creativity in our lives.

via GIPHY

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed to make sure you know when we’re back with new stuff.

December 22, 2015

Last week, we dedicated our newsletter to a subject we know our subscribers care about: Newsletters. Between our inboxes and yours, we’ve compiled a pretty comprehensive list of email lists that can, we hope, bring joy to our lives. Please keep sending suggestions!

About the Internet and the Digesting Thereof

  • Links I Would GChat You If We Were Friends (weekdays): Caitlin Dewey picks stories and memes with ramifications on broader culture. Occasional animal pics. 
  • Next Draft (weekdays): Ten stories of the day chosen from 75 different websites. In editor Dave Pell‘s words: “I am the algorithm.” 
  • Today in Tabs (weekdays): Rusty Foster gives you the news, the Twitter-snark, and the other news/gossip/etc. you want to know about but don’t necessarily want to spend time on yourself.
  • This. (daily): The email version of the social network that allows members to only submit one link per day. Recent guest editors have included Ann Friedman, Jenna Wortham, and Laura Olin.
  • MediaREDEF (your preference): Media analysis and interviews from Jason Hirschorn, who loves the golden age of television and stories about tech moguls.
  • Lorem Ipsum (daily-ish): Margot Boyer-Dry’s newsletter keeps you in the know on the things that keep you cool. Music, Instagram trends, lingo.
  • What Happened Last Week (Mondays): Exactly what it sounds like. (h/t Tom Unterkircher, who is a wealth of newsletter knowledge)
  • The Sunday Long Read (Sunday mornings): Two sports writers pick one long read (not usually about sports, but sometimes) and, yes, send it out on Sunday.
About the World Beyond the Internet
  • Quartz Daily Brief (daily): If you are an international business tycoon on your way to a mindfulness conference. Or if you just want to feel like one.
  • The Skimm (weekdays): A tl;dr for the day, at the beginning of the day. For people who like Taylor Swift references and birthday wishes sprinkled into their UN updates.
  • Vox Sentences (weekdays): A tl;dr for the day, at the end of the day. For people who like to have their big stories broken down into bullet points. 
  • On the Media (Thursdays): A tl;dr for the week, through the lens of truth and First Amendment rights.
  • Pulitzer Center (weekly): Stories and striking photos from reporters in the midst of global crises.
  • The Marshall Project (daily or weekly):  Beloved by the criminal justice-minded among us. “Opening Statement” goes out Monday through Friday and “Closing Argument” goes out Saturdays.

About Technology and the Future

  • Real Future (sporadic weekdays): Stories that will make you rethink just about everything, from privacy to video games to the way your nose works, as curated by Fusion’s Editor-in-chief Alexis Madrigal. 
  • Other Valleys (sporadic): Tech news from Other places (<–with “other” used intentionally and semi-tongue-in-cheek), about innovations happening beyond the US, UK, or EU. Written by Anjali Ramachandran.
  • Next City (daily): For people who not only hate their commute, but want to fix it with urban planning and inventive cities.
  • 6 by Charlie Loyd (weekends): To quote: “Recurring themes include psychogeography, space shuttles, food, and complaining.”
  • Metafoundry by Deb Chachra (sporadic): To quote: “Ingredients include: technology, systems, design, language, social justice, and geography. Less than 0.1% cats by volume.”

About Gender and Other Things Too

  • Ann Friedman Weekly (Fridays): The woman behind the world’s truestpie charts tells us what she’s been reading and writing over the course of her week.
  • #AwesomeWomen (Sunday nights): Editor, writer, and technologist Stacy-Marie Ishmael makes excellent recommendations for  people, articles, films, and other nouns that will get you excited.
  • Lenny Letter (twice weekly): Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and an editorial team put together articles, interviews, stories, fiction, photos, and personal writings of all kinds. Think deep dives into health issues like endometriosis and long riffs about why women wear certain Halloween costumes. 
  • Mater Mea (weekly): Beautiful profiles of mothers who also happen to have careers. Mothers of color especially.

About Meaning, Defined Broadly

  • Brain Pickings (Sundays): Gems from deep thinkers across the ages – writers, artists, scientists, inventors – chosen by intellectual omnivore Maria Popova.
  • Public Domain Review (biweekly): If you love looking at the old things available to the public on the Internet. A project of the Open Knowledge Foundation.
  • On Being (Sundays): Like a weekly check-in for your spirit with Krista Tippett and Trent Gilliss.
  • Pep Talk! (daily): Exactly what it sounds like, every day.
  • Daily Meditations (daily): Listener Eric Peltz likes this “bit of contemplation” from the Center for Action and Contemplation, “grounded in the Christian mythical tradition.”

About Your Friends (Who You Might Not Actually Know)

  • Mel’s Sandbox (sporadic): Melody Joy Kramer will often ask her audience a question (i.e. “how do you avoid burnout”) and send the answers back out to the list (“here is how you avoid burnout”).
  • Everything Changes (sporadic): Sometimes there are emoji talking to one another, sometimes there are massive crowd-sourced conversations about the decision to have children, sometimes it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure based on images from Wikipedia. It’s always a surprise from writer and digital strategist Laura Olin in partnership with The Awl.
  • Now I Know (daily): Dan Lewis – whose day job involves Elmo and Cookie Monster – drops pieces of knowledge like “Carrots used to be purple” and “a man once successfully flew away on his lawnchair –almost.” 

About Other Things

  • Well + Good (your preference): If kale could be a newsletter, it would be this one.
  • Cum Shots (weekly-ish; not currently accepting new subscribers): From your “friend” with benefits. It’s a beautiful, almost poetic letter about sex. But also about more than sex. Don’t forward to your grandmother.
  • The Lux Letter (weekly): Writer and comedian Lux Alptraum emails you sex news.
  • NerdFitness (your preference): Listener Cory Steeley says he actually clicks on this fitness newsletter when it shows up in his inbox.
  • Fluxblog (weekly): The Internet’s oldest .mp3 blog (according to writer and founder Matthew Perpetua) will send you write-ups of songs, artists, and performances – plus the audio.

About Words

  • Hello Prompt (daily, sort of: Get a writing prompt emailed to you. Respond within twelve hours, see submissions published anonymously. (amazing h/t from Edlyn Yuen)
  • A Word a Day (daily): Listener Daniel Ford hopes you already subscribe to this one, which is also exactly what it sounds like. 

About Podcasts

And finally… you can and should sign up for our newsletter if lists like this – and the logic behind them – are useful to you. We’ll send you something every Wednesday.

 

December 16, 2015

Spending just one day offline can make you feel like you missed 100 important stories. As you’re trying to stay abreast of the 100 even newer, as-important stories/memes/investigations/cute animal videos… well, it starts to feel like this:

Or, you know, this:

Luckily, there’s someone who devotes hours every day to helping us with that quandary. Caitlin Dewey is the Digital Culture Critic at the Washington Post. In addition to her regular column she also sends out a daily newsletter called “Links I would GChat you if we were friends.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: a couple dozen hand-picked links of the day’s top online stories, curated by someone whose job it is to have her finger on the pulse of the Internet world at all times. 

In this week’s episode, Manoush sits down with Caitlin to talk about the top five digital culture stories from the past year, so that you can end 2015 feeling up to date without having to sift through thousands of old links. 

5. The Zola Story

A 150-tweet story by Aziah “Zola” Wells trended for two straight days on Twitter (longer than the Paris attacks). If you missed it (or gave up on it), you weren’t alone. It was long and twisted – an account of a wild weekend in Florida involving sex work, suicide attempts, and murder. Then, in the following months, both Caitlin and a reporter at Rolling Stone produced reported pieces looking into which aspects of the story were true, why people responded the way they did, and why it all matters. You can check out the original tweets – which have since been deleted – here

4. The Dress

Back in February, it seemed for a moment like a civil war might break out between pretty much everyone on the Internet. In question “The Dress” as blue and black and those who saw it as white and gold. BuzzFeed writer Cate Holderness discovered the meme on Tumblr, and her initial post was so wildly popular that BuzzFeed put two editorial teams on The Dress beat, producing dozens of stories on the topic and garnering tens of millions of page views. (For the record, it was actually blue and black. Supposedly.)

3. This Novel-length Article About Code

We know, we know. You heard about Paul Ford’s 38,000-word magnum opus on code from this June and you totally had every intention of reading it… except that finding time for a book-length essay on a tricky topic isn’t always easy. It’s OK – this one is an evergreen. Consider this another opportunity to dig deep into a serious demystification of coding and the tech world that we all interact with every day, but don’t always know all that much about. On a plane home for the holidays six months later.

2. The Reddit Revolt

Known as the “front page of the internet,” Reddit has long been an incredible source of information and evolving news stories – but it’s also unfortunately been a place where harassment campaigns take root. That started to change this summer, when Reddit started cracking down on hate speech and harassment. Things really came to a head when the site fired Victoria Taylor, who ran the AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) section. Following her termination, Reddit’s moderators – unpaid individuals who help run the site’s various communities – organized a strike against the site for an entire week. The controversy and its fallout has fueled an ongoing debate about free speech, as well as the question of who benefits when users on sites like Reddit and Facebook effectively donate their labor. 

1. The Ashley Madison Hack

Online leaks are nothing new. But the Ashley Madison hack was the first high-profile privacy breach that threatened to destroy the relationships, personal lives, and careers of the 37 million people with accounts – most of whom never actually engaged in an extramarital affair, given that there were barely any women using the site at all. Caitlin describes this #1 tech story of the year as a watershed moment for digital privacy – listen to the podcast to hear why. 

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December 9, 2015

Artist Marina Abramović – the woman famous for staring into a record-breaking number of people’s eyes at the MOMA, letting an audience point a gun at her head, and convincing the public to take performance art seriously – has some opinions about our phones. Namely: They are distracting us, and we need to stop pretending like they aren’t. 

Her latest project is called “Goldberg,” and it is a collaboration with celebrated pianist Igor Levit and the Park Avenue Armory. The team says it’s designed to help audiences remember what full attention actually feels, looks, and sounds like. Through a performance of J.S. Bach’s notoriously difficult Goldberg Variations, they are attempting “a reimagining of the traditional concert experience,” in which attendees first trade their tickets for a key. Each key has a corresponding locker, in which they are instructed to put their phone, watch, computer, and any other personal belongings that tell time or receive a signal from outside.

Once they’ve locked the doors, they’re given a pair of noise-canceling headphones. For the first thirty minutes of the performance, that’s it. The entire audience – and also Levit, the performer – will sit together in complete silence. 

Levit then breaks the silence by starting to play his version of the Goldberg Variations. 

Igor Levit at the piano.

On this week’s show, Abramović explains her “method” for really, truly listening:

Marina Abramović: You’re taking a taxi, you’re concerned you’re on time, you’re answering [a] last phone call and so on. And you’re arriving, and you sit down, and you hear the concert… but you’re not ready to hear anything. You’re just too busy. So I’m giving this time and space to the public to actually prepare themselves.

Manoush Zomorodi: But surely, I mean, we’re grown ups right? I’m coming to the concert. Can’t we just turn off our phone? Why does it have to be so heavy-handed?

Abramović: …If Igor has enormous discipline to learn by heart the Goldberg variations with 86 minutes, and play [them] in the most incredible magic way, we can have discipline to to honor this. And to just see, to have [a] new experience… the moment you don’t have your phone and you don’t have the watch to check if you’re sitting there for five minutes or ten, it just gives you a completely different state of mind.

Zomorodi: I’m concerned that my state of mind won’t be one of calm but rather one of agitation. That it’s going to be very difficult for me.

Abramović: Well this is where you have the real problem then. That you have to address the problem in your life. That is why it is good for you.

Listen above or anywhere you get your podcasts. Bonus points if you sit in total silence for 30 minutes first.

In this week’s episode:

“Goldberg” runs from December 7-19 at the Park Avenue Armory. Tickets are available here.

  • Igor Levit, pianist and performer. His newest album is “Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski,” and it features the Goldberg Variations you’ll hear on today’s show. You can purchase on Amazon or iTunes.
  • Alex Poots, Artistic Director of the Park Avenue Armory. 
  • Marina Abramović, visual and performance artist.

Marina Abramovic on Rhythm 0 (1974) from Marina Abramovic Institute on Vimeo.

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December 2, 2015

In a world where it is considered appropriate to leave your phone face up at the dinner table, where one can find private text messages from an ex screen-captured and posted on Instagram for all to see, and where even Mary-Kate Olsen forces her wedding guests to forfeit their phones into a bowl… sometimes we just need a little bit of advice. 

Enter Mallory Ortberg, best known for writings such as an imagined dialogue with baby Foucault to unsolicited advice for Henry VIII’s wives to fan fic about Kristen Stewart-as-a-girlfriend. Her “Texts From…” series on The Toast, where she imagined text message conversations between historical and literary figures, became a book last year called Texts From Jane Eyre. And as of November, she’s becoming the newest Dear Prudence advice columnist at Slate. 

On this week’s episode of Note to Self, we asked Mallory to put on her Prudence hat to help us answer just a few of questions we’ve received from listeners desperately seeking tech advice.

We’re also taking this opportunity to test out a new app called Focus from our friend Kevin Holesh (the developer behind the Moment app, which tracks how much time you spend on your phone). It yells at you for walking and texting. Or, as we prefer to call it, “wexting.”

Listen in to hear what she has to say on these questions, and to learn what, exactly, “wexting” is*:

Why Won’t Anyone Respond to my Emails?

“I have noticed that it is often impossible to get people to respond to emails. Even to emails containing a direct question, even to work emails.  People may read them, but often don’t respond to them.  Do they forget to, or just not feel the need to respond? Should I be paranoid or is this an issue for other people as well?”

– Dulcie Arnold in New York

How Can I Avoid Social Media FOMO?

“I am constantly using Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and I do enjoy using them, so I don’t want to just flat out stop. However, I do often get bad cases of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I am constantly feeling left out (even if I wouldn’t even want to go if invited). I never feel content with what I’m doing myself. Even though I know most of these posts are taken to make it look like a really good time (even when it’s not), I still fall for it.” 

– Kynan in Australia

Is the “Wexting” Zombie Apocalypse Upon Us?

“I’d like to ask about… a phenomenon I call ‘cell phone zombies.’ It’s the people I have to be on the alert to avoid hitting because they’re walking the streets with their hands outstretched completely looking intently at their cell phones oblivious of their surroundings.”

– Liel Biran in Israel

In this episode:

  • Mallory Ortberg, Slate’s newest Dear Prudence
  • Kevin Holesh, the developer behind the anti-driving/walking and texting app Focus

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

December 1, 2015

Walking and texting: You’ve seen it. You’ve done it.

You’ve probably also eaten and texted. You’ve talked and texted. You’ve pulled your car over to the side of the road to send a text message (because of course you’d never text and drive). But what happens when you take the “[blank] and texting” formula to the next level? Manoush Zomorodi and Sean Rameswaram (plus a few very special guests) have something to show all the mere wexters of the world. 

As inspired by Note to Self host Manoush Zomorodi’s favorite Saturday Night Live sketch of all time.

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November 25, 2015

A few weeks ago, we did an episode on how to get a better range of perspectives in your digital life. BuzzFeed’s Tracy Clayton and Katie Notopoulos said the metric for success is to build a feed that’s “10 percent infuriating.” A lot of you had really strong reactions, and there was a theme: you wanted to know what to do when the opinions you’re seeing online are so different from your own that they border on offensive or even bigoted. 

At this tense moment of protests on college campuses, shootings in the Midwest and beyond, and violence in cities across the world, we’ve decided that the time is ripe to revisit our episode from last December called “Your Facebook Friend Said Something Racist. Now What?” 

It will help you navigate a particularly infuriating Facebook feed – or maybe just the Thanksgiving table:

 

 

November 18, 2015

A few weeks ago, we challenged you all to tackle that dreaded item on your to-do list: your photo clutter. Get those auto-uploads going; pull those photos off of that old laptop that’s been collecting dust on the bottom shelf for years; maybe even actually sort those photos into albums or let a program like Google Photos do it for you.

As we dug deep into this vicious breed of digital clutter, we realized there was a bigger philosophical question underlying it all: why do we take so many photos?

To start formulating an answer, we asked you to send us the photo you had taken most recently and tell us why you took it. Within these hundreds of submissions, we of course saw lots of fall foliage, lots of pictures of food, and yes, lots of cats (lots of cats – is there a correlation between podcast listeners and cat people? Seriously?). But we also got a real look at what’s going through your heads when you pull out your camera app. 

Here are the most common reasons we saw:

You Took It With a Text Message Recipient in Mind

Listener Derek Fields says he thinks photo mania is about staying connected to people in your lives who might be scattered around the globe. We think he has a point – many, many of the photos we saw were intended for a specific person to communicate a particular message…

…even if they aren’t all that far away:

You’re Imagining the Scene on Instagram or Facebook

Eric’s lazy cat reminded him of his son’s idea to colonize Mars while leaving all the slackers back on Earth… a theory he explained in more detail to his Instagram followers:

Slacker cat

Many of you said that your photo reels are filled with failed attempts at capturing a post-worthy picture – like Annie, who sent in one of many pictures she took in search of that perfect shot of her young daughter:

Photo Clutter - Annie

Annie wasn’t the only one caught up in the quest for Instagram perfection. There was also Sam, who decided that his picture of fall foliage wasn’t quite good enough for his followers:

Fall foliage

You Take Pictures as Notes to Self (ahem)

Your camera rolls are clogged with short term memory aids. Take Lina, who snapped a pic of trash bags to remind herself to get more. Or Cali, who took a picture of her concealer so she could buy the same kind later that day. Or Elana, who got all of her Post-Its in one shot. Not to mention Trisha, whose camera roll was full of pictures of her physical notes from medical school: 

Trisha photo clutter

You’re Thinking of History with a Capital “H”

Listener Donald Rallis, for example, lives and teaches at a university in Cambodia. He thinks a lot about taking photos of ordinary people and ordinary places who might one day not seem so ordinary. This one is of the Kandal Market in Phnom Penh:

  •  

 You Feel Kind of Like You’re Pushing a Personal Pause Button

 You’re Compiling a Therapeutic Highlight Reel

Google Photos compiled this .gif for listener Christina Yglesias –the result of many attempts to capture of him frolicking on the beach at sunset. She scrolls through them almost as a pocket-sized form of therapy.

See the rest of the #PhotoClutter submissions here. And if you want to take care of your personal photo clutter? Check out Deputy Editor of Lifehacker Alan Henry’s plan, which he designed just for you here

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November 17, 2015

European officials believe encryption software was instrumental in allowing the Paris attackers to coordinate their actions in secret. Manoush talked with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about the challenges of encrypted technology and national security.

We thought this would be useful as the terms swirl around, so we wanted to share it with the rest of you. We’ll be back with our usual Note to Self podcast tomorrow. 

November 11, 2015

Last week, Cañon City, Colorado discovered that dozens of students at the local high school had been taking and trading nude photographs “like baseball cards,” shaking up the parents, police, and schools. In a town best-known for one of the tallest suspension bridges in the world, this was – to put it mildly – big news. 

According to local reporter Sarah Rose, residents of the town have been pretty much unable to talk about anything else since. And the rest of the world has come knocking as well – media outlets from New York to Japan have shown up to chronicle the unfolding drama. It’s a whole lot of anxiety and it’s a compelling story: Through an anonymous tip, authorities discovered a system of nude photos hidden away in secret “vault” apps on students’ phones. The apps – disguised as calculators or media players – hid more than 400 revealing photos. According to Fremont County District Attorney Thom LeDoux, even some of the teens involved could face charges related to the production, possession and distribution of sexual exploitive material.

Yeah. It’s a dramatic story… but it’s also not the only one like it. In this story from Long Island, two teens were arrested and more were suspended from school over sharing a sexually explicit video involving two minors. And a 17-year-old in South Carolina is being charged as an adult for exchanging nude photos with his girlfriend.  We’ve decided we need to talk about it.

So this is where we’ll start: What do you think we really need to worry about when it comes to teens and sexts? Email us or send a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org with your thoughts.

In this week’s episode:

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November 4, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person (or people) to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

This week, we’re talking with the one and only Walter Kirn. He covers privacy, tech and surveillance, and – unrelated – he wrote the book behind “Up in the Air” with George Clooney. His most recent work lives in this month’s Atlantic Magazine, and it’s called “If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy.”

He’s here to give his personal answer to a question you’ve sent en masse: Do we need to be worried about our phones tracking our every move? Because it sure seems like they are. Here’s a sampling from our inbox alone:

Hey, Apple?

“This weekend I bought the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson at a yard sale for a steal at only 50 cents. I was pretty thrilled with my purchase and spent the next day at the beach diving into the first several chapters of the book. A few hours later, back at home, I was scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone when something weird happened. There on my screen was a sponsored ad in my feed for the upcoming Steve Jobs movie… WHAT?! How could this be?! …I hadn’t Googled the book or Steve Jobs (I checked my search history) and yet somehow Facebook had collected enough information about me to know to serve me up an ad at that moment. Am I just being paranoid or are they really eavesdropping on us?”– Mike Kaiser

These Lizards are Ripped
“…a couple days ago, I was sitting outside and watching three or four lizards dart around, taking in the heat. A couple of them kept doing push-ups…. I asked myself out loud, ‘Why in the world are the lizards doing push-ups?’ And then I realized I could just ask Google, so I started entering the question into the Google app… I got as far as ‘Why do lizards’ and it completed my sentence for me…with ‘Why do lizards do push-ups?’ …It popped up as the ‘personalized’ suggestion, right at the top in a different color. Did Google hear me ask my question? Or are there really so many people in the world asking about why lizards do push-ups?” – Rachel Watson

Things Come in Cycles 
“First, I should say that I’m not a cyclist and I’ve never researched bicycles on the Internet…. Several months ago, I was strolling around town with a friend who is an avid cyclist and we stopped in front of a high-end bike shop (it was closed, we just looked at the window display). I noticed an odd-looking tire that had no tread at all. My friend explained that it was some sort of performance tire… In any case, when I went on the Internet the next day, the targeted advertising was for one of these tires. I hadn’t looked it up anywhere, I hadn’t even thought about it after we’d left the shop window.” – Heather Kelley

That Was a Private Moment Between Me and My Dog
“So, I get out of the shower and I’m getting dressed and of course my dog is over there on his chaise and I’m looking at him and I’m feeling all sad that I’m about to go to work for a couple hours. I’m humming to myself a song… my poor dog is tortured by this, but I start singing,“Every time we say goodbye I cry a little, I die a little,” you know… that song. I get in the car, I put on the iPhone music. I have 6157 songs. I hit shuffle randomly, and the first song to play is the song that I was just humming… I haven’t heard this song in forever… So anyway, that’s my question… and make sure you sing to your dog whenever you can because they love it, they absolutely love it.” – Michael Grant

So… should we be paranoid? Do we know whether our gadgets are passively listening to us? No. We don’t know for sure, beyond what they tell us in their privacy policies. But we do know that voice recognition is what many major companies are trying to get us to start using. Google has OK Google, Apple has Siri, and Amazon has Echo, a home appliance that listens to you all the time. We know that many third party apps use location data services, and we know that personalization – especially personalized ads – rely on tracking.  

We also know that there is a report out this week from the New America Foundation called “Ranking Digital Rights.” Their team read all of the user agreements, privacy policies, and terms of service at major telecom and Internet companies, and then gave them scores on privacy and censorship. The best-scoring company was Google, with a 65 percent – a “D.” Facebook scored 41 percent –an F-.

Walter Kirn’s “this is a little bit too much of a coincidence” moment came in the kitchen, as he searched for a bag of walnuts. Listen to the show and read “If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy” for more. 

And re-listen to celebrity cryptologist Bruce Schneier.

Bodhi the dog

 

October 28, 2015

A few months ago, we sent out a survey on a topic that appears to be the bane of many listeners’ existence: digital clutter. Over one third of respondents told us that the thing that drives them MOST crazy – the biggest, worst, most frustrating clutter quagmire in their lives – is photos.

We promised you a podcast and a plan of attack, and our word was good (if a little bit, um, enthusiastic – listen above). With the help of organizational guru Alan Henry, Deputy Editor of Lifehacker, we’ve put together a customized step-by-step system to help you back up, sort, and organize your digital photo collection for the long haul. By then end of this process, you’re going to be scrolling through your pictures and contemplating the role photos really play in our lives.

But first, the time has come to get your photos in shape. Seriously. Now. It’ll be more fun than you think. Mostly.

The Note to Self System For Decluttering Your Photos and Coming to Terms With Your Mortality

I. The Basic Tools
II. Decide How Deep You Want to Go

III. Tell Us What You Found (Part Two!)


The Basic Tools

According to Alan, these are the terms, tools, and basic tricks you’ll need to get started – though how far you go with them is up to you. See: Deciding How Deep to Go.

Back-up services: This is a centralized place on the cloud where you can get to the raw files of your photos if you need to. Alan recommends Dropbox, but iCloudGoogle DriveOneDrive or the like could serve a similar function, so long as you’re willing to pay for extra storage. One work-around: sign up for an extra account just for photo storage purposes.

Auto-upload: You have two options with your back-up service. The first is turning on the auto-upload feature, which means you’ll be syncing the full-sized files to your computer. If you want to get these photos printed, use another service like Apple Photos or Picasa or Aperture, or plan to edit your photos with software such as Photoshop, this is a good idea. The other, more space-friendly option: leave that setting off, and instead be really judicious about how many of your photos you sync to your computer, or commit to going in and taking the ones you don’t want down. This is going to take some introspection, some cutting-of-your-losses, and also maybe some back-up hardware.

Back-up hardware: An external hard drive that can hold all of the files you don’t want taking up space on your devices. It’s the digital version of flossing your teeth. In this case, pick whatever works for you – if you’ve got less than 64 gigabytes of files you care about, a solid USB could work. If you’ve got a lot more than that (or if you just want to keep your options open), you should spring for an external hard drive.

Photo management services: This is the service you’ll use to help you categorize and sort through your pictures, whether that’s by date, location, or content. Alan’s favorite is Google Photos, which gives you unlimited space as long as your photos fall below a certain resolution (16 megapixels or 1080p HD video). You can set it so that Google will automatically reduce anything above that size to lower quality as well – for most people this should be just fine for organizing and digital-viewing purposes. From there, Google’s photo categorization technology will help you label and organize the photos into albums and galleries. You could also choose a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram, you just have to commit to making them more or less public.

Facial recognition: A type of deep learning used by such services as Google Photos to categorize and organize your photos. This comes with some very real caveats.

Scanner: The best way to collect all your old physical photos and store them with your digitla photos. Alan says you can go high tech and buy a picture scanner (he recommends the Doxie or the Doxie Go WiFi) to scan them at home, or send them out to get scanned. Or – if you’re OK with really low fidelity– you can just take a picture of the picture. Meta!

Privacy/sharing settings: Be sure to double check that you’re only sharing what you want to share, no matter which services you choose. That said, Alan Henry says his rule is to only upload the images he is OK with his friends and family seeing. The only way to absolutely ensure privacy (well, as much as we can possibly absolutely ensure privacy), is to avoid using the cloud altogether.

In Alan’s words:
As for what to snap and what not to snap – well, I’m not of the mindset that ‘if you don’t want it public you shouldn’t take it or store it on the Internet’ – that blames *people* for problems with *technology.* However, it’s important to be mindful when you snap, and maybe take it into your own hands to choose what to upload and what not to, then back up or encrypt anything you want to save but don’t want out of your reach to delete at any time. :)”

Decide How Deep You Want to Go

Alan thinks we all fit into one of three photo-taking categories: casual snapshooters, moderate snapshooters, and enthusiastic snapshooters. Figuring out which category you belong to will help you decide how far you really need to go in your personal photo-decluttering process. 


BUCKET 1: THE CASUAL SNAP SHOOTER

Characteristics:

  • You have a bunch of photos all over the place, but you’re not as concerned about organizing the past as you are setting up a solid system for the future.
  • You primarily take photos with your phone.
  • Your goal is to go from disorganized to organized, not necessarily to group all of your photos in the same place.

Your steps:

  1. Pick a system for automatic back-up. Download the app if you don’t have it already. Turn on auto-upload.

That’s it! Save your password somewhere safe. Invest in an external hard drive if you’re feeling really responsible. Digital hygiene, everybody.

Be sure to tell us what you’ve found.


BUCKET 2: THE MODERATE SNAP SHOOTER

Characteristics: 

  • For the most part, your photos are already digital – just in a billion different places.
  • You may have a few old phones, some SD cards from a DSLR or other high-end digital camera, but you’re not terribly concerned with really old physical photos.
  • You probably have hundreds (or maybe a couple thousand but no more than that) of photos you care about, and want them to be organized, both past and present.

Your Steps: 

  1. Turn on auto upload for your back-up system of choice (i.e., Dropbox).
  2. Choose your photo management service, and transfer the photos you care about the most into it (i.e. Google Photos.).
  3. Start hunting down the rest of the digital photos you really care about and pull them into your photo management service. Be judicious: What’s really worth    migrating off of, say, that Flickr account you started and never went back to? Which Facebook Photos do you want to make sure you’re saving in higher quality? Did you have a SmugMug account you need to check?
  4. Once you’ve uploaded the photos you care about most into this central service, look through the albums it has created for you. See where the system has sorted it correctly, and where it has gotten details wrong. Take over as the human here, and start adjusting into a system that will be meaningful to you.
  • This can be as intense of a process as you choose, just be sure to label with names that will be memorable. (I.e., not “August 2015,” but “Trip to Paris With Family.”)
  • This system should recognize dates and location at the very least. If they’re wonky – and older photos probably will be – pick and choose which ones you care about correcting.
  • Starting to sort through your photos will also help you jog your memory about any meaningful pictures you may have forgotten. Track them down, rinse, repeat.

BUCKET 3: THE ENTHUSIASTIC SNAP SHOOTER

Characteristics: 

  • You have thousands of photos — probably more than Dropbox or Google Photos’ drag-and-drop interfaces can handle in one go.
  • You use multiple devices, including cameras with SD cards and phones.
  • You’re looking for all of your memories to be organized, both past and present. You might even want to organize all of the photos from the whole family’s set of gadgets, like phones or tablets everyone uses.

Your Steps:

  1. Pick a back-up system. Turn on auto-upload for your current and future photos. Let the current batch upload. This could take a few minutes.
  2. Once you’re done uploading, drag and drop as many of your already-digital but easily-accessible photos from your back-up system to your photo management system. For now, draw the line at your primary devices—the laptops or computers you already use, the phone you already use, and the SD card currently in your favorite camera you’ve been meaning to back up. Aim to get the majority of your current and most recent photos centralized.
  3. Once the bulk of your current photos are on your two services, spend some time getting in touch with your memories again, building galleries and doing searches through your most recent upload. Look through the albums your photo management service has created for you, and see where the system has sorted it correctly, and where it has gotten details wrong.
  4. Start sorting into albums that will be meaningful to you. This can be as intense of a process as you choose, just be sure to label with names that will be memorable. You’re also teaching the system which details actually matter to you.
  5. From here, start hunting down old photos to add to the collection. Then, batch by batch, pull in old folders. Then, as you have the time, energy, or desire to centralize those old photos, you can power up that old laptop and upload them, or dump them to an external hard drive and upload them in batches (all of your old 2003 trip photos at once, for example.) This way you’re making continual progress without committing yourself to a week-long wrestling match with the tendrils of Google and Dropbox every time you want to back-up your memories. 

When you’re as far as you’re going to get for the moment… tell us what you’ve found!


Where to Look For Old Photos

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably stored your photos in all kinds of different places over the years. Here’s a not-at-allcomprehensive-but-hopefully-inspirational list of places to look:

  • Your phone’s built-in photos app
  • Your old phone’s built-in photos app
  • Photo apps on your laptop/PC Drive/ Desktop
  • Folders on your laptop/PC 
  • External harddrive
  • CDs/DVDs
  • USBs
  • Old cameras
  • Email
  • Text messages (these can take up a surprising amount of space!)
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Picasa
  • PhotoBucket
  • SnapFish
  • ShutterFly
  • Flickr
  • DropBox
  • Google Drive
  • Google +
  • Box
  • Google Photo
  • iCloud 
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Image Shack
  • SmugMug
  • EverNote
  • ShoeBox
  • Imgur 

Got more? Comment here, tell us on Twitter or Facebook, or email to notetoselfradio@wnyc.org. 

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October 21, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person (or people) to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how to record one

Some people call it the “echo chamber effect.” Others worry about filter bubbles or homophily. Every once in awhile you’ll hear hands wringing over birds of a feather.

Or you could just say it like listener Anid Chan in Portland:

“I have a concern about personalized feeds. There is so much information out there, but I know that most of what I see are opinions and voices like my own. I worry this makes us more judgmental about other people, because most of what we believe gets emphasized by people who think the same way. How do we break out of the bubble?”

Anid is right. We are more likely to have friends who are similar to us in age, education, occupation, and location. Channel that truth through the ever-present intersections of race, gender, nationality, ability, sex, and class, and, yes, it can get vulnerable and uncomfortable and even ugly. Cocoons form – comfortable and multi-platform cocoons, because we are also most likely to click on, like, or comment on things we already agree with. Then, because they want us to have positive experiences with their products, many of the social networks we use assume we want to see more of whatever it is we’ve chosen to click. The algorithms learn to reward opinions or people they think we’ll like. In a company-sponsored study of 10.1 million of the most partisan American users on Facebook, researchers found that people’s networks of friends and the stories they see are skewed toward their ideological preferences, though there are different interpretations as to why. Twitter too: an NYU political scientist found that about two-thirds of the people followed by the median Twitter user in the United States share the user’s political leanings. 

Happy almost-election season, right?

Which brings us back to Anid’s question. What does it really take to put more diversity – however you define it – into your news feeds?

We asked two people working to do this for BuzzFeed – yes, the news website known for cat video and listicles. But the reason you know about them is because Buzzfeed spends a ton of energy figuring out what gets shared, why, and in which communities. 

Katie Notopoulos is co-host of BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer podcast. She was the force behind #UnfollowAMan (which is exactly what it sounds like). Tracy Clayton is co-host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round, and one of the driving forces behind the CocoaButterBF initiative, designed to make BuzzFeed a little bit less monochromatic. They joined Manoush to talk about their work digging into the deepest corners of the Internet, thinking about their audiences, and figuring out what to elevate on one of the biggest platforms out there. 

And for the average Internet reader? Here are some tips from Tracy and Katie:

1. Try. Acknowledge that there is a problem. To quote:

“I… often come across the person who is like ‘hey, you know, can you help me find a black writer to write about this, or an Asian writer to write about this, like I just don’t know where to start,’ and in addition to just sort of general cluelessness, [it also suggests] just, like, laziness. You know this is something that you have to try to do. You don’t necessarily have to try really hard, but you do have to try. So start with trying, and then graduate to Google, and then see where you end up.”

2. Keep your not-quite-friends on your friends list. Look them up occasionally. Facebook says your “weak ties” are a good way to get range. According to the company, 23 percent of users’ friends are of an opposing political affiliation. If you look them up every once in awhile, the algorithm is more likely to filter a wider range of posts and updates into your feed. So go ahead and stalk your high school ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s mother you friended on a whim. It’ll be good for your worldview.

And on a more serious note? If they say something offensive, don’t necessarily unfriend. We made a flowchart for you here.

3. Click on one link you’re only semi-interested in once a week (or more). Katie says a good feed should be “10 percent infuriating.” But this doesn’t have to be a hate click. Just a conscious effort to convince the Facebook or Google algorithms into thinking your interests are broader than they perhaps even are. Make a game of it. See what happens. Report back.

4. Unfollow one person whose perspective you know a little too well. Follow someone else instead. Take Katie’s lead and #UnfollowAMan. Or a white person, or a Democrat, or a Republican, or a 30-something, or a New Yorker… whatever applies. The key is to replace him thoughtfully. 

Here are some of Katie and Tracy’s suggestions in a Twitter list

And here are a few more solid curation feeds we’ve been into these days. This is obviously not a comprehensive list and suggestions are always welcome:

5. When you sign up for a new service, choose broad categories. There’s always a new “it thing.” When you try them out, treat them all a little differently. Katie uses the example of Apple News:

“When you first sign up, it asks you ‘what categories of news do you want?’ And that’s a really daunting question, but it’s funny because I’m so used to like, ‘I follow these outlets already and these people,’ and so this was, ‘here’s a totally new app that’s going give me a totally different experience.’ Immediately I was seeing articles by outlets that I don’t normally read.”

Basically, this tip boils down to “when you try something new, really try something new. Even if you don’t stick with the service, you can discover new people in the process.

6. Join a public group. New perspectives on politics and the world don’t necessarily come from political websites or world commentary. Sometimes, joining a public group about a lighter, more social topic is the best way to see what people are really talking about, and to teach your social networks that your interests can encompass more types of people. Katie recommends Dogspotting. Which is also exactly what it sounds like. You’ll see new names, new people, new communities, and new languages. And dogs.

7. Embrace your inner fly on the wall. Sometimes, the metric of success here is finding conversations that allow you to just listen, and not say anything at all.

Tracy says one of the takeaways from hosting Another Round – a podcast in which she and her co-host Heben Nigatu talk about race pretty frequently – has been the reaction of white listeners:

“We get a lot of emails white listeners, that say, ‘you know what I’m just so glad to be able to sit in on these conversations… I’ve never had access to them before.’ And I think that Twitter allows you the same sort of distance from really intimate conversations. I feel like people on Twitter are more likely to talk more candidly [about things] that concern them and their lives and their own personal experiences with people who have a shared reality.”

Special thanks this week to Julia Furlan, Eleanor Kagan, and the rest of the team at BuzzFeed audio.

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October 14, 2015

We know text messages can be crazy. We know they can be cruel. We know they can be hilarious. And as at least 21 percent of Americans know, they can make us feel closer together. 

This week, we’re going to examine those moments of closeness — when texting encourages intimacy between us, and when those messages really just create the illusion of deeper connection. 

Case in point: We’re going to take a deeper look at a company called Invisible Girlfriend, fodder for countless Internet jokes. Users sign up for the service, create a bio for their “partner,” and buy a package of 100 texts, ten voicemails, and one handwritten note for $25. It was conceived as a means of “proving” a fake relationship status to nagging family members or sleazy coworkers who just won’t get the hint, and it runs off of a rotating workforce of actual humans behind the scenes, stepping in and out of different girlfriend and boyfriend characters.

However, even its founders have been surprised by the way people have started to use it: as a safe, anonymous, always-reliable sympathetic ear to confide in at any time of day. Take a look at their FAQ:

Sure, it’s the premise of the movie “Her.” But 80,000 people have signed up for an invisible partner – and it’s not the only sign that there is hunger for this kind of service. In China, millions of people are sending messages back and forth with Xiaoice, a “sympathetic ear” texting service powered by artificial intelligence. 

According to the experts, it’s a social phenomenon that matters for anyone who wields a phone. 

The people you’ll meet in this episode:

  • Kashmir Hill, editor of Fusion’s Real Future, who got a job as an Invisible Girlfriend for a month. She wrote a story about her experience, and followed up on it through some pretty eye-opening conversations with a user. 
  • “Quentin,” a 30-something former customer of Invisible Girlfriend. He named his invisible partner Margo Roth Spiegelman, after the character in John Green’s novel “Paper Towns.”

  • Kyle Tabor, CEO of Invisible Industries, who co-founded the company at a hackathon in St. Louis.
  • Sherry Turkle, author of “Reclaiming Conversation.” She says the desire for a sympathetic ear is growing, even though there are more and more places to “talk.”

EDITOR’S NOTE, 10/22/15: A number of listeners wrote in to say that our depiction of one of the main characters in this story – a man who uses a wheelchair – was not person first. They are all absolutely right. We are going to record a new version of the audio. Everyone should feel well-represented on our podcast. If you ever have a comment on one of our shows, please write to us. We’re notetoself@wnyc.org. 

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October 13, 2015

Sherry Turkle has spent the past 30 years studying the psychology of the relationship between people and technology  how giant technological advances change our communities, our relationships, and even our inner selves.  

Her 2011 book “Alone Together” topped the charts for months, and created all kinds of conversations about the more isolating, more problematic side of being glued to a screen. But as she remembers it: “It was like I was messing up the party… a lot of people were, like, angry with me. It was like I was destroying this [technological] love affair.”

Five years later, her new book “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age” explores similar themes about intimacy, relationships, and the difference between texting and talking. This time around however, she says the reception has been much warmer. 

“I think that there’s a lot in the culture that’s saying, ‘You know, we’re ready to think about what we’re like with our phones, and we’re ready to be purposeful and to use our technology with greater intention. My message now is still ‘Use the technology with greater intention.’ And I think that 5 years ago, it was like, ‘No!'”

When she stopped by to talk with us for our episode “Can You Have a Whole Relationship Through Texts?” we fell into a larger conversation about our partnerships, our phones, and this particular moment in history. So in this special bonus edition of Note to Self, we’ve decided to share a few more of her takeaways on the issues and feelings our listeners so often describe to us.

Listen above (or anywhere else you get your podcasts) to hear what she has to say to these questions and more:

There’s a Phone in the Middle of My Marriage

“For me, my phone is just a toolbox… for my wife, I think her phone is much much more than a tool – so much more that it is changing our marriage. Many days I feel that I am now an unwilling polygamist married to my wife of nearly 20 years and, more recently, her phone. I wonder how other couples are dealing with this transition to the smartphone age.”

— Luther Light

How Can Social Media Managers Socialize?

“What is the best way for social media managers to navigate their life at work and at home? I have a young son, and I’ve been a social media manager now for two years. And I think if you’re a young 20-something year old you can devote 24 hours a day to your social media and checking… but now with a young son, I find it difficult… How do social media managers navigate their notifications and that life balance? Because their job is to always be connected. How do we disconnect? What types of life hacks could really help the job?” 

— John Oles 

Do The Kids Even Know What They’re Missing?

“We honestly believe that children are missing out on the physical experiences of playing, wandering, and learning in these very developmental stages. Will [our children] feel the same way?”

— Brian Emerson

 

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October 7, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how to record one

Between our cell phones, wireless Internet networks, and all of the set-ups that let our devices communicate with one another wirelessly, we’re pretty much constantly bathing in low-level radiation.

This worries Martha, a listener in Santa Fe, whose mother asked her for a set of wireless headphones:

“I’ve been listening to your podcast for a few months and am glad to hear so many other people are concerned with the tech issues that bother me too. Right now I’m concerned about wireless (RF) and bluetooth radiation. Wireless devices have so quickly become a part of our lives, but it is looking more and more likely that they could also have potentially serious health effects.

My mom has trouble hearing, and wants me to get her a set of wireless headphones to watch TV without blasting the whole house. That sounds good, but the more research I do, the less I am happy about her having wireless (or wired) headphones next to her skull for hours each day. She just sees the convenience, and writes off the list of potential side effects (brain tumors, cancer, cataracts, headaches, skin problems, etc). I’d love to hear your take on this issue.”

To delve deeper into the question, we spoke with Mary Harris, host of WNYC’s new health podcast “Only Human.” 

Mary says the fact of the matter is that scientists haven’t yet found any conclusive evidence that suggests WiFi is dangerous. The waves involved in letting you use your cell phone, browse the web, or listen to the radio are much, much lower energy than X-rays or gamma rays  the kind that can actually break down DNA strands and cause mutations, which is why you have to protect yourself with a lead blanket when the dentist takes images of your teeth. Scientists have yet to prove that WiFi could lead to cancer.

When it comes to cell phones, there’s some evidence that suggests a link between cell phone usage and a slightly elevated rate of cancer — but because these weren’t experimental studies, there’s no way of knowing whether cell phones are the culprit, or whether that rate has gone up because diagnostic techniques have improved. Mary spoke about this with David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia, who pointed out that there are much bigger things to be worried about when it comes to cancer-causing radiation:

Even the most diligent consumer would have a hard — if not impossible — time avoiding every potential cancer-causing agent.

“If you tried to eliminate every possible carcinogen, you wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t breathe, wouldn’t go out in the sunshine  we have to be pragmatic about how to interpret these things,” Brenner says.

However, cancer isn’t the only concern with WiFi. In recent years, a number of people have reported suffering from what’s known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity, with symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and heart palpitations. In Massachusetts, a family is suing their son’s boarding school for causing him to experience this syndrome after the school boosted its WiFi signal in 2013; meanwhile, in France, a court recently ruled that a woman suffering from symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity could receive disability payments — and this comes on the heels of France banning WiFi in its nursery schools. Still, the science is hazy here, as well: though these people’s symptoms are real, there’s no proof that electromagnetic fields like WiFi are the cause. 

One thing we do know for sure, thanks to David Brenner: Those wireless headphones Martha’s mom wants? They’re perfectly safe. They don’t actually emit a wireless signal; they just receive it — so wearing them on her head for hours each day won’t expose her to much at all. 

As for the rest of us, we can rest assured that our WiFi probably isn’t giving us cancer, and we’d be better served by sticking to the basics: remembering to wear some SPF, laying off the cigarettes, and getting our heart rates up once and a while. But if it makes you feel better to use headphones with your cell phone or keep the WiFi away from your baby’s room, go for it — you certainly won’t be hurting anyone.

UPDATE: A lot of listeners were curious about the source of our statistic on the risk of developing cancer. That stat comes from the National Cancer Institute, which tells us that “approximately 39.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with all cancer sites at some point during their lifetime, based on 2010-2012 data.”

 Hear the first episode of Only Human here. It will make you cry. In a meaningful way. 

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September 30, 2015

This is a story about an incident that happened to 22-year-old freelance web developer Jacky Alciné, the racist slur that caught him off-guard, and the machines behind it.

You may have heard about it earlier this summer: On Sunday, June 28, Jacky sat relaxing, half-watching the BET awards and messing around on his computer. It was just a normal evening, until a selfie from his friend popped up in the Google photo app. As Jacky scrolled through his photos, he realized that Google has rolled out “photo categorization” – his pictures had automatically been labelled and organized based on what was in them.

His brother’s graduation? No problem, Google’s software totally figured it out. But as he kept scrolling, he came upon a series of photos of himself and a friend at a concert.  

But the label didn’t say “people” or “concert.”

“It says ‘gorilla,’ and I’m like ‘nah,'” Jacky says. “[It’s] a term that’s been used historically to describe black people in general. Like, ‘Oh, you look like an ape,’ or ‘you’ve been classified as a creature,'” Jacky said. “[B]ecause the closer they looked to a chimp… the more black, the more pure the blackness was supposed to be, so they were probably better for cropping, going back to the days of slavery and cattle selling… [and] of all terms, of all derogatory terms to use, that one came up.”

He tweeted at the company and they resolved it within 14 hours. 

But this isn’t the only example of a machine making a problematically human mistake. Flickr has been fielding complaints for auto-tagging people in photos as “animals,” and concentration camps as “jungle gyms.” According to computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, these stories are just going to keep making headlines.

Because to prevent a machine from drawing a offensive conclusion? You have to teach a machine how complex society is – and it just may be impossible to code around all of the deeply human social pitfalls. As he tells Manoush Zomorodi on this week’s Note to Self:

Yoshua Bengio: “We would have to have people tell the machine why it makes specific mistakes,” Bengio said. “But you would need not just like two or three examples, you would need thousands or millions of examples for the machine to catch all of the different types of errors that we think exists.”

Manoush Zomorodi: So should companies like Google be even using deep learning like this if there is the possibility that these really offensive mistakes can happen?

Bengio: Well, that’s a choice that they have to make. The system can make mistakes and you have to deal with the fact that there will be mistakes.

Google Photo uses a type of artificial intelligence called “machine learning.” Scientists give the machine millions of examples and teach it to start recognizing objects or words. Then, through an even more specific approach called “deep learning,” it trains machines to start seeing patterns in the data, to draw their own conclusions, and to, in a way, think for itself. This enables them to process huge reams of previously unmanageable data.

In many ways, it’s one of the most exciting advances in Artificial Intelligence to date. On this week’s show, however, we’re taking a closer look at how AI could get it so wrong in practice, and why mistakes like this one matter for big tech companies and those of us who use their products.

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September 29, 2015

Should we use ad blockers to protect our privacy and peace of mind online, even if it means taking money away from publishers that depend on ad revenue? Manoush sat down last week with journalist Casey Johnston to discuss the growing ethical dilemma, and tons of listeners chimed in with their own ad-blocking philosophies. 

We thought number of the responses were really useful – so useful, in fact, that we wanted to share them further. Here are just a handful of the many opinions out there.

Please, usher in a golden age of content:

Sometimes, the ads themselves aren’t the culprit:

“The most objectionable part of advertising is cross-site tracking. A while back the EFF released an ad[d]-on called Privacy Badger. It was not an ad blocker. Instead, it observed the behavior of the various services the web sites you visit use, and it only blocked a service if it detected that service tracking you across different domains. The effect after about a week of having this “ad” blocker installed? Almost all of my browsing was completely ad-free.” – Matt McMahon

“I have no problem with advertising. It’s the engine of our culture industry. I have a problem with a consumer surveillance industry that we have no basis to trust….Why can’t we review and correct our browsing history profile? Why can’t we have any agency with our identity and behavior data? Do we need the equivalent of a credit report for the adtech industry?” – Dave Carroll from Brooklyn, NY (read more from Dave here)

Until subscriptions mean you don’t see ads, ad blockers remain tempting:

“[M]ost sites that have fairly successful paywalls (NYTimes, WSJ, Washington Post, etc.) do not give you a different experience if you pay for them. You still get all the annoying ads despite your subscription. While I understand that subscriptions don’t pay for the full cost of running the site, for my most-used sites I would happily pay even more to get an ad-free experience. But, since that isn’t an option, I’ll pay what they let me pay for access and then use an ad blocker to get the experience I ultimately desire.” – Michael S. from Silver Spring, MD

Where Internet access is limited, ads are the first to go:

“Finally! Yes absolutely yes I will be using mobile ad blockers, especially since they help me not hit my data limits. Advertisers want me to unblock? Quit hogging the bandwidth. If you want to know what that’s like, come rural, where your internet options are limited and every byte you use is expensive. Not everyone lives in NYC.” – Justme from South Carolina

Maybe we should all take a look at Google Contributor:

“Google Contributor…is a system through which you can allot a certain amount of money on a monthly basis that will be used to pay the sites you visit for the ads you do not see. It is in beta (as are most Google products) and it only supports a specific ad network (Google’s). I think it’s a great way to support the sites you use.” – Matthew Fry from Salt Lake City, Utah

Or the ‘Ethical Ad Blocker’ blunt force:

And let’s all dream of a more targeted ad-blocking system:

“What I would like to see is an app that sets guidelines for responsible and non-invasive mobile ads that would whitelist every site that adheres to those standards…Eventually we would end up with a framework for advertising that doesn’t need to resort to annoying gimmicks to get eyeballs. Sites that met the requirements for white-listing would be able to assure advertisers that [their] ads were being seen by real people and end users would be able to passively support content providers.” – Jason Storey

Maybe advertisers just need to do better:

“I was using a browser without ad-blocker to catch up on some football highlights from the weekend, and EVERY SINGLE VIDEO had the EXACT SAME unskippable 30-second ad. I don’t mind most ads, but if the content provider isn’t even trying to avoid an awful user experience, it’s hard to sympathize with them.” – Richard from Ohio

“When done in a logical way that fits the overall layout of a site I usually don’t mind ads. But when someone starts screaming in my face with pop ups and video-ads on autoplay I block the heck out of them. And I don’t feel bad at all.” – Mats Nordström (read more on Facebook)

Or maybe the media is overreacting and bringing this upon themselves:

“Ad blockers have been around forever on the desktop and somehow advertising survived. I don’t think this is the end of the media industry as panicked as the media industry is about it.” – JP Bedell (on Facebook)

Got more thoughts? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Or, better yet, send us a voice memo – you could hear your voice in next week’s show.

September 23, 2015

The Internet runs on advertising. Everyone from huge tech companies to scrappy start-up websites rely on ads.

There’s just one problem: People hate advertising and the tracking that comes with it – and droves of us have started blocking them.

A report from Adobe and PageFair last month found that there are now 198 million active ad-block users worldwide, costing publishers nearly $22 billion. With the advent of iOS 9, app developers can now create ad blocking software for Safari’s mobile browser, giving the huge market of iPhone and iPad users the power to block ads on mobile. Within hours of iOS 9’s launch, ad blockers topped the App Store charts. And within hours of that, even the app’s creators started having second thoughts.

It’s the ethical quandary at the heart of the Internet as we know it. If we’re not paying for content, how does it generate a salary for the people producing it?

On this episode of Note to Self, Casey Johnston of WireCutter and The Awl helps us delve into the catch-22 of loving the scrappy start-up websites, and hating the way they’re funded.

Here’s some parting advice:

If you decide to take the ad-blocking plunge?

If you use Android or Apple, you have options. The most popular app for iOS right now is Crystal.

Once you’ve chosen the right app (list here), install it, go into “Settings” for Safari, and select that app as your content blocker. This way, content is blocked across all implementations of Safari, including the Safari app itself and within apps that use the Safari API.

Do the same on your desktop web browser.

If you want to use an ad-blocker, but really, really don’t want to hurt your favorite content creators?

Try “white-listing” that site under settings – you can pick and choose which sites show you ads.

In fact, you might not always have a choice. The Washington Post refuses to show content to people who use ad blockers. The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Mother Jones all show ad blocking users requests to disable or donate in place of ads.

And if you want to outsource this ethical quandary to an app?

Developer Darius Kazemi has been working on “The Ethical Ad Blocker,” a Chrome extension/ad blocker that will not let you see a website if it runs on advertising. Basically, you have to make the choice every single time

Let us know what you decide! 

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September 16, 2015

“You go, ‘Damn, just it’s not my crazy person… it’s everyone’s crazy person!'”

Elan Gale, creator of Texts From Your Ex, Tinder Nightmares, Unspirational and more

If you’re not one of Text From Your Ex’s 1.5 million followers already, here’s what you need to know: Elan Gale’s brainchild is an Instagram account with pages and pages of awkwardness captured in screenshots. They’re submitted by email, and, as he told producer Jen Poyant on this week’s show, he has a backlog of 40,000 “just sitting around.”

Turns out, reading through hundreds of thousands of other people’s emotionally loaded conversations gives you some pretty profound insight into relationships, technology, and privacy (or rather… the utter lack thereof).

“You’ve never had an interesting text conversation that hasn’t been sent to ten people. That’s just what people do,” Gale says. “Even though we treat relationships more casually because of text messages and the way we communicate, you have to actually trust people more to be open and honest with them because you have your entire personal life on their phone, or their watch, or their unguarded computer. And they’re irresponsible dicks… and at any moment anyone could just have a lapse of judgement for 45 seconds and leave their phone on a table without a passcode and your entire life is visible. So why pretend that it’s not?”

Seems like a fair trade

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on Sep 9, 2015 at 2:06pm PDT

Gale started Texts From Your Ex about a year ago with some ex-girlfriends who were all in on the joke. Once other people saw them, however, he realized he had stumbled onto something bigger. In the year since, he’s hired an assistant and signed a book deal. He says the conversations tend to fall into three categories: calling out the receiver for ignoring them, calling out the receiver for dating someone else (which they’ve often discovered through social media), or “telling you to go f**ck yourself.”

Oh, and:

MORE LIKE KEA-NO

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:48pm PDT

“What else is there, those are the conversations you have,” Gale says. “It’s really, really hard to have a relationship with a human being in a room with you. That’s it, that’s hard enough… it took us billions of years to get to a point where we had a common language and now we’ve developed all these new methods of communication but no one has learned how to do it yet. which is why everyone’s almost really bad at it.”

This is the subtext of EVERY text from your ex

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on Sep 8, 2015 at 9:52am PDT

 

Elan Gale’s “Texts From Your Ex” book will be released in the U.S. on October 13.  

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September 9, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how to record one

Listener Aaron Oesting, who describes himself as a “digital nomad,” moves around a lot. And in the process, he read a few articles (like these in LifeHacker and the Wall Street Journal) on a phenomenon that has him worried:

“I read a magazine article about how online retailers vary pricing based on the location of your IP address, so if you live in a more expensive community you might get more expensive pricing. And my question is: Is that practice right? And then second, am I really getting the best deal when I comparison shop online?” 

To answer Aaron’s question, we brought in Bob Phillips, a professor of business at Columbia University’s Business School.

So the answer to his Aaron’s question?

Yes, online retailers will set their prices based on how much they believe you’re willing to pay, and the technology keeps getting more sophisticated. Amazon changes prices all the time based on time of day. Most large retailers experiment with different prices and adjust accordingly minute by minute.

Dynamic pricing isn’t a new practice. In fact, haggling and adjusting price has been around much longer than the “fixed” prices we’re used to in most brick and mortar stores. But for the most part, consumers today really, really, really don’t like the idea that prices are going to shift on them, unless they’re thinking about airfares (though that didn’t go over so well at first either). Take the pushback against Coca-Cola’s proposed summertime price hike.

However, according to Phillips, it’s price discrimination that can present an actual problem: People being charged different prices based on a certain demographic factor, including location and/or socioeconomics.

“Price discrimination differentiation is simply put trying to charge different people, different prices for the same item, based on their willingness to pay.”

Robert J. Hunter, Director of Insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, has spent quite a bit of time over the past few years digging into what he calls insidious price discrimination in the insurance industry. Insurance companies have always set rates based on risk, including assumptions based on gender and age. That said, the heavily-regulated industry does not allow consumers with the same agreed-upon risk to pay substantially different rates. And that, he says, is exactly what he found happening. The people least likely to comparison shop — including, The Brookings Institute says, many lower-income consumers — actually found themselves paying higher rates than their contemporaries.  Consumer Reports calls this the ‘Schmo Tax.”

Thus, thanks to Aaron, we’re bringing you a story that was until recently buried in actuarial literature meant for insurance brokers. 

Hey, we do what we can.

Want to see whether you’re paying different prices for the same goods and services? Try setting up a proxy server or VPN to obfuscate your IP address

And if you want to get the best deal online? Shop around. Big Data will see you doing it and adjust your rates accordingly.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

September 2, 2015

Classrooms in 2015 are full of gadgets, apps and devices that their teachers (let alone parents), did not grow up using themselves. Kids learning on these tools will most likely be using different technology when they’re grown up. In the meantime, every click, swipe, grade, and decision feeds into a giant pool of data that will end up… yeah, who knows where.

So adults have a steep learning curve when it comes to kids in the digital age. The best way to start understanding what’s happening? Talk with them.

To that end, we’re revisiting a conversation from earlier this year that kicked off a series on education and technology. Meet 16-year-old Grace, who shared nine lessons about being a teenager with a smartphone

If you’ve ever known — or been!  a teenager, you should take a listen.

More Resources for a Critical, Thoughtful School Year

For Talking to Teens

Middle school teacher Dierdre Shetler took the conversation with Grace and adapted it for her own classrooms in Phoenix. She helped us write a curriculum you can use too, which we call: A Classroom Activity for Tweens and Teens Everywhere.

For Talking to Schools

A checklist of questions you should ask of your school as they introduce new technology into the classroom.

Some help cutting through the buzzwords.

A very, very popular app raises questions about student data and privacy.

For Philosophical Debates

Visually impaired students raise some important questions about reading, technology, and what it means to rely on a smartphone for literacy.

Anti-plagiarism software lets us test whether it’s even possible to have a unique thought.

For Those of You Who Listened to Grace

We hear teenagers, tweens, and the adults compare their experience to Grace’s in diverse classrooms around the country.

August 26, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how to record one

There is no better way to put this: Filling out online profiles  OKCupid, LinkedIn, Ashley Madison(…)  is terrible. For the vast majority of self-conscious humans, translating yourself into date-able, hire-able, searchable form really, really, really sucks.

As listener Katie Shepherd in Oakland, California says: 

“I feel like I have filled out so many online profiles – LinkedIn, OKCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel – and I really struggle with how much information to share about myself. On the one hand, I want to stand out. On the other, I don’t want to freak anyone out! How do you figure out the balance? Has anyone figured out any actual rules that can help?”

Turns out, the answer is… yes. And your 7th grade English teacher gave you a preview.

This week, we talk with Lisa Hoehn, founder of Profile Polish and author of the forthcoming “You Probably Shouldn’t Write That: Tips and Tricks for Creating an Online Dating Profile That Doesn’t Suck.” She has built a lucrative business on the premise of writing profiles for other people. 

“Pretty much everyone says a variation of the same thing: ‘I’m a really nice guy, I’m a really nice girl,but I can’t get myself to come across that way online.’ And then people will say things like ‘I’ll try to edit it and the more that I edit my profile, the more self-conscious I get,'” Hoehn says. “They’ll say ‘I just sit there for hours and can’t type a single word.'”

If you can’t afford to hire a professional ghost writer (or if you’d rather not), we got her to write some rules for the rest of us.

How to Write a Better Profile

1. Assume people will skim. Hoehn says 400-600 words total is a good ballpark estimate on length — any more, people won’t bother; any less, they’ll think you didn’t care enough to try. 

2. Show, don’t tell. Make your creative writing teachers proud. Instead of saying “I love my phone but it exhausts me,” try “I make a conscious effort to leave my phone in my pocket as I’m walking down the street.” Same point, but the reader gets to draw the conclusion for him-or-herself. This is where you should invest the majority of your writing energy. 

3. Don’t treat your profile like a biography. The chronology of your life is not inherently interesting until the reader knows you. So unless your move from New Jersey to Delaware to Connecticut was particularly formative to your character (“I taught myself to speak Klingon with a French accent on the drive between Hartford and Dover,”) save the specifics of where and when and why you moved until you meet in person. 

4. Stay positive. Obviously, you should tell the truth about yourself online. That said, you’re not under any obligation to share your deepest character flaws at first interaction. In fact, Hoehn tells her clients to stay positive “pretty much always.” People assume you’re showing them the best version of yourself. Therefore, negativity carries disproportionate weight on an online profile. 

5. Keep your expectations in check. An extension of rule five: People are not showing you their darker side, so it is up to you to remember that they have one. Don’t go in expecting perfection. The IRL version of your date (or job candidate, or partner in crime) will be a full-fledged, flawed human. Hopefully.

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August 19, 2015

Should you take web development classes? Or poetry writing? Is it more important to think like an engineer, or an artist?

Turns out the answer may be be found… in a pile of LEGO.

Some people use LEGO to build creations of their wildest imaginations. Others meticulously recreate the picture on the back of the box. According to new research by business professors Page Moreau and Marit Gundersen Engset, there is a serious, meaningful, and potentially long-term difference between those who “free build,” meaning they put the bricks together without a guide, and those who follow the instructions. In the lab, those who put together kits were less creative when they completed follow-up tasks. Researchers say instruction-following and free-building are two different “mindsets.” 

The way we use LEGO provides the perfect window into a growing challenge we face: how to encourage creative thinking not just for children, but employees and businesses who always have to come up with the next big thing. 

So the kit vs. pile debate matters even for adults whose feet have never been wounded by a stray brick. You can prime yourself to think more creatively or more methodically by consciously choosing to create a meal from a kit, or free-styling with the spices in your kitchen. Or, you know, kicking a ball around with your kid instead of taking him to a two-hour practice.

In this week’s episode:

And finally: fun facts! Since the Danish toymaker patented the blocks in 1958, the growth has been, in a word, explosive: the company estimates that on average, every person on Earth owns 86 blocks, and a computer says just six of those could be combined in 915,103,765 ways.

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August 18, 2015

Last week, Manoush sat down with The Longest Shortest Time’s Hillary Frank and Note to Self’s Jen Poyant to talk about the even-bigger-than-we’d-anticipated question: Do you post pictures of your kids online?

More than 1,000 people sent in feedback. Roughly half say they do; half say they don’t. 

Here are just some of the many, many thoughtful rationales out there:

Local Politics:

“It’s privacy and it’s consent. It’s also thinking about a child’s future potential employer, who might search for said child and find embarrassing things or reflections of the parents’ political or religious views, with which said employer might disagree…costing the kid a job, through no fault of the kid’s.” – Becky from New York

International Politics:

“About six years ago the then-President (or Prime Minister) of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, went to Washington to a meeting with president Obama. During this visit, a photo was taken of President Obama and [his] wife together with president Zapatero, his wife and their two daughters. In Spain [it] is illegal to publish pictures of minors in the newspapers so the pictures looked like this.. but of course on the internet there are no secrets… and these two girls were the target of jokes in two countries. And I’m sure that to this day, not a day passes by that they don’t think about it. When it comes to the privacy of your kids… one mistake can be expensive.” – A. Sanz from Spain
Workarounds:

The Power of Cute Kids:

“I can totally understand the reasons of parents who don’t post… but I want to say thanks to parents who DO post! Friends and family, and sometimes people I don’t even know — there have been many many times that my really bad day, really sad feelings, really depressed mood, have all been uplifted and my heart healed by sweet photos of kids. Those cute little cheeks, the funny things they do, the sweet smiles… so thank you!” – Gurukarm from Massachusetts

No One Cares As Much As You Think They Do:

“I think there is an argument to be made that not posting pictures of your kids can be narcissistic. Sometimes (and probably most of the time) people will see the picture you post in passing, they will hit the “like” button and move on… I think my kid is great, that does not mean that every picture I post of him is poured over by family and acquaintances and is analyzed to the point of creating a presumptive psychological profile of who he is. – Keith from Virginia Beach

No One Will Care As Much As Your Kid Will Think They Should:

“Everything your kid does is not special — the soccer game he didn’t win shouldn’t get a trophy, the first trip to the dentist/barber/whatever doesn’t need to be tweeted live, and photos do not need to be shared daily.” – Jil from Westchester

Privacy Is a Lost Cause:

“If you want online privacy for your children, stop naming them “Daxley”. Give them the most popular name possible. Lots harder to find Jenny Smith than it is to find Xanderly Pendergast.” – Stacey Coleman (on Facebook)

But Really. Nothing is Private:

“I work in technology at a large, well known, Redmond based company. There is face recognition, automatic tagging, and it is on the web forever! I know I sound like a lunatic but I have seen first hand what is possible. It is reasonable to be concerned about privacy.” – Joe from Seattle

NOTHING is Private:

Photo-napping Has Already Started:

“I just listened to this and was pretty surprised that literally no one mentioned [digital kidnapping] as a concern.. that #hashtagyourbabysname thing is basically lassoing up their whole online photographic narrative to make it easier for that to happen.” – Jessica Kia (on Facebook)

Kids Might Not Like It, Even the Adult Ones:

“I am a 30-year-old married woman… On a recent trip home to celebrate my birthday, I discovered that my mother and father have been posting photos of me on Facebook that I either send to them via text or that they take themselves when we are together. I have had mutual acquaintances ask me about my birthday party, a wedding I attended, etc. without ever having told them about these activities. When I ask how did they know about these events, they answered, ‘Oh, your parents posted it on Facebook.’ I find it disconcerting that my choice to distance myself from social media is not fully possible when my parents continue to post photos of my life without my permission.” – Meghan Gross from New York

Sometimes, It’s OK to Be a Chicken:

Got more thoughts? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Or, send us a voice memo – you could hear your voice in next week’s show.

August 12, 2015

This is the latest installment of “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person (or in this case… people) to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how to record one

There is a child among us who will live to be 150 years old. When this kid celebrates his centennial and a half, how is he going to feel about the picture you just posted of today’s playground disaster? 

This week’s question comes from a father whose social media profiles are covered in photos of his kid:

“I was wondering if it’s right of me to just blindly post pic after pic of my 3-year-old’s entire life all over social media. Should I start deleting every pic until he’s old enough to give consent? Or is this just what it’s like to grow up in a digital world?”

— Judd Wachstein, Atlanta, Georgia

According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of children in the U.S. have a digital presence by the time they turn two. But a University of Michigan poll earlier this year found that three-fourths of parents think that another parent has shared too much information about their child online.

So no matter what we do, there are some very strong opinions out there. We put three people with very different philosophies together for a conversation about ethics, photography, and the struggle of weighing future consequences in a world just can’t picture yet (no pun intended).

Take a listen and see who you agree with the most:

Oh, and take our poll?

You can listen to Hillary’s excellent show, The Longest Shortest Time, anywhere you get your podcasts on through their spiffy new app (which is also where many of the listener voices on this show came from).

We’re also pretty in love with the Longest Shortest Time Mamas group, a Facebook community and safe space for mothers to share their *real* experience of promulgating the human race. There’s one for Papas too.

And as always, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

August 5, 2015

Look at the headline on this page. See the little square above it that says “Note to Self,” with the words “published in” on top? That, according to our in-house User Experience (UX) team, was the product of a whole lot of surveys, interviews, research, and testing. They realized that people who made it to the story page (like you!) couldn’t tell it was part of a podcast. They added those words, and boom  you are now fully aware of what you’re looking at.  

Or at least… more aware.* Because UX research  one of the most explosive areas of growth over the past decade, and one of the most sought-after new tech industry jobs  is still in its infancy, and it’s based on herding a really frustrating, ever-shifting, not at all generalize-able data set: People.

To learn what’s going through these mind-analyzers’ minds, Manoush volunteered herself as a guinea pig in Etsy’s Usability Testing Lab for a story about online seduction  how designers create an immersive experience that makes you relaxed or happy or excited, and makes you feel like spending your time and money.

Here she is in the top right hand corner, getting excited about a scarf:

Etsy UX researchers watching Manoush shop for a gift.

Techies know that it can get emotional, frustrating, and personal when an app crashes, or you can’t figure out where to pay your damn credit card balance online, or you’re shopping and the links on the website don’t take you to where you think that they’re going to take you. They know they have a lot to lose and a lot to gain from your feelings about their products, and they are turning to people with degrees in the social sciences to help them analyze what’s going through our collective minds. Basically: there are more and more jobs for “feelings specialists” that have (almost) nothing to do with therapy.

 

So this week, we’re taking a look at the people who tell the developers that a confused user might need an extra text bubble to guide them through a frustrating moment… 

 

…make sure every icon makes sense…

…and decide how many menus, exactly, their users can handle at once…

 

Here’s what some of the big — and often opaque — tech companies say about their own UX research: Apple, Facebook, Twitter. We’re curious to hear about your experience as users of these sites. Let’s go meta?

In this week’s episode:

  • Mark Hurst, Founder and CEO of UX Consulting firm Creative Good
  • Jill Fruchter, UX Research Manager at Etsy
  • Alex Wright, Director of Research at Etsy

*Marine Boudeau and Fiona Carswell, our UX specialists at WNYC, are actually in the process of redesigning the site right now — and they would love your input on your, er, user experience here. Meta, right?

For more good background reading on UX/UI, Marine suggests:

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

July 29, 2015

Welcome to week three of our new segment “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question  your question!  and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Here for our Clutter survey? No? Want to help shape Note to Self’s next project? Find it here.

This week’s Question of Note is a “what if.” It comes from Manoush herself, and it all started with a reflection from various luminaries of western thought: Follow the money. 

Or, alternatively, “your time is money, and technology companies want to lay claim to as much of it as possible.” 

The reason so many of us feel like our devices monopolize our attention comes down to one fact, says techie and design entrepreneur Tristan Harris: The people behind our technologies need to make a living (or, you know, billions of dollars). And the money-making mechanism of Silicon Valley? They have to be able to say “we kept this person’s attention on our site/app/brand for a really long time.”

It works for advertisers, but there’s a cost to us. According to research from the University of California-Irvine, every time we get interrupted by something external, it takes us about 23 minutes to refocus after the interruption. Notifications are a huge hindrance to productivity.

So Manoush’s question:

What if there was another metric of success for technology companies? What would that look like?

Harris wants to turn this into a conversation for technologists everywhere. It’s going to be a massive project. But he has some ideas.

/

  • Create a hierarchy of distractions. Harris uses the example of chat: What if, he says, every time you sent a chat, you had to assign it a level of importance? So “hey, I was thinking about this project that’s due in two weeks and I wanted to tell you before I forgot” wasn’t processed as an interruption, but “hey, I’m ordering lunch RIGHT now and I need to know what you want!” is. In his words: let it be “a conscious choice as opposed to an accidental or mindless interruption.”
  • Build new metrics of success. As it stands, tech companies measure their success by the amount of time people spend using their services. Harris says that’s not the only option. He uses the example of Couchsurfing, a marketplace where people who had extra space could lend a couch to travelers who needed a place to crash. Back in 2007, they tried a system that rewarded the people who spent the least amount of time on their site. Harris explains: “If I was going to Paris and I was staying there for four days, they would estimate how many hours would happen in those four days between me and the person who hosts me in Paris. And then they would ask both people, ‘How positive were those hours? Did you have a good time together?’ So they’re getting kind of a count of the number of positive hours. And then what they do is subtract all of the time that both people spent on Couchsurfing’s website. They take that as a cost to people’s lives. ‘Cause having people search and send messages and look at profiles, they don’t view that as a contribution that’s positive to people’s lives. And what you’re left with is just these new net positive hours that would have never existed if Couchsurfing didn’t exist.”
  • Increase public pressure on tech investors. If the people who invest in start-ups believe users are sick of notifications, they will rethink what they choose to fund. That, says Harris, is the key: Getting people to put their money behind those new metrics of success.

Listen above for more.

As always, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

July 22, 2015

Want to help shape Note to Self’s next big project? We need to know what’s driving you absolutely nuts right now. Take our short survey here.

We’re going to get right to the point: No more sacrificing our precious vacation time to our phones!

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of you took part in our Bored and Brilliant Project, a week of challenges that pushed us to rethink our relationship with our phones and jumpstart our creativity. Now that it’s July, we’ve adapted the idea into a short, condensed bootcamp version with three very do-able, modifiable challenges for those of you on a beach (or stuck at the office wishing you were on a beach).

If you took part, consider this a seasonal tune-up (ahem those of you who deleted Candy Crush Soda but kept Candy Crush). If you missed it the first time around, welcome to the club. If you heard about it in January and, ah, chickened out, take a few deep breaths and consider this our belated gift to you.

This is not a digital detox. This is not an edict to lock your phone away in a drawer. This is not an ode to mindfulness.

It is a way to apply what we know about constant notifications, neuroscience, and productivity to our lives. Right now.

Listen above for the boot camp! And if you want to do the full week’s worth of challenges, sign up here for a new one in your inbox every day:

July 15, 2015

Welcome to week two of our new segment “Question of Note,” in which we take a listener’s question  your question!  and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how

A few weeks ago, we aired “There’s Something About Paper,” about how reading on paper is different than reading on a screen. Since then, we’ve gotten lots of emails, hand-written letters(!) and questions about writing. Like this one:

“How are we writing differently? If we know that people are only going to be skimming something because it’s appearing online, how are we writing? I think we still have to write with such a great degree of attention, because… you can’t skim write, right?”

— Marisa Goudy, New Paltz, New York

In answer to the question of whether the digital age has changed her process, novelist Margaret Atwood simply said, “Do chickens have beaks?”

But there’s plenty of (metaphorical) ink to be spilled on the subject of why writing has changed. To answer this question, we’ve decided to talk to a guy who wrote a pretty big deal book on the subject. Joshua Cohen’s “Book of Numbers” has been heralded by The New York Times as “more impressive than all but a few novels published so far this decade.” 

And the whole thing is about the written word in the digital age. 

Author Joshua Cohen

July 14, 2015

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about reading and writing. Is focusing more difficult when you have to cull through dozens of emails every day? Are writers worried about writing for the skimming massesWhat happens to our brains when we switch from paper to screens?

There’s a lot of thinking about how we read. But what this conversation has made us want more than anything: To actually sit down with a good book.

We asked our listeners to suggest books that have changed the way they think about the world at this moment of great technological change. 

Here’s a pretty good sampling of what you sent us:

  • Feed” by MT Anderson

Quite a few of you sent us this one, including listener Sami Peil. It’s one of those thought experiments rising out of the things that are pretty plausible in the near future, for those of you who want to add a little chill to your beach reading. In short, it’s a love story about as “an average kid on a weekend trip to the moon,” in a world where “internet connections feed directly into the consumer’s brain.” 

Imagine what the rise of the dot com empire looked like to a computer programmer who got her start in the ’90s, trying to establish herself against everything Silicon Valley was (er… is?). As a bisexual women with former Communist credentials, she explores what the technology she has helped to build actually means for its users and the world they live in. 

This one came to us by way of Lindy Humphreys.

A non-fiction meditation on the actual beauty of computer languages, and the real art behind technology. A good one for burnt-out techies who want to return from vacation inspired. Or, you know, your repressed inner art student. 

Listener Lindy Humphreys says: “I’ve read this one every year since third grade and learn more each time!”

An argument prophesizing that the rational, right-brained among us are taking over from their creative left-brained forbears. Listener Lisa Frankel sent this one with exclamation marks for emphasis. 

 

As Kavya Srinivasan put it: “The one technology book that really made me think… especially for the relationship between childhood and technology.” If you’ve ever had a kid completely school you when it comes to new technology, you’ll want to read this classic young adult adventure tale. Or reread, of course.

Gina Shelton wrote: “Although fictitious it was easy to see this text foreshadowing negative changes in our culture resulting from the Internet of things. This book prompted me to talk with others about my concerns for our tech obsessions.” Set at a not-so-thinly-veiled Facebook-like tech company, McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers also levels some not-so-thinly-veiled criticism of the tech world.

A British journalist traveled to America to meet people trying to live far, far away from the mainstream. He introduces them in a pretty great travel book.

Trish Salge says: “While not totally on the subject of technology, it really ties into recent discussions about privacy, independence, and how difficult it’s become to disconnect, both literally and figuratively, from everything from social pressures to utility companies.” 

 

As listener Jonathon put it:

“Not only did Bradbury foretell of wireless earbuds and televisions the size of walls, but he writes about how books, articles and other reading materials are broken down into smaller and smaller bite size pieces ready for consumption. This devolution ends with media consisting of imagery alone. I couldn’t help but think of Twitter and Tumblr and the like while reading this. This is definitely a good read for those living in our digital age.”

  • Any/everything in the giant oeuvre of Philip K. Dick. 

 

Listener Richard Goffman sent this one in. If you are looking for an entry into classic sci fi, this is where you’ll want to start. Dick has inspired 11 – yes, 11! – film adaptations, including “Blade Runner” (adapted from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“) and “A Scanner Darkly.” Reddit suggests starting with his short stories. 

 

Read any of these? Got thoughts/opinions? Would you like to suggest more for the list? Comment below and stay tuned for more!

And if you’re looking for the big, tech-and-culture book of the summer? Check out our conversation with Joshua Cohen, author of “Book of Numbers” here.

July 8, 2015

This week, we’re checking back in with two pioneers in space travel: super successful businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, the first woman space tourist, and longtime space-enthusiast Lina Borozdina, who holds one of the first tickets for one of the first sub-orbital commercial flights. 

We’re returning to their stories because commercial space travel is a high stakes proposition — one that has become even riskier and more expensive in the months since we originally spoke with them. Just two days after our emotional conference call last year, Sir Richard Branson’s space travel company Virgin Galactic suffered a pretty huge setback. The SpaceShipTwo was doing a routine test flight when the aircraft dropped, falling back to Earth over the Mojave Desert and breaking into pieces. Only one pilot made it out alive. The NTSB report into exactly what happened is expected later this summer.

Then, last week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 unmanned rocket loaded with supplies for the International Space Station exploded back down to Earth.

Few doubt that there will be more failures and tragedies. In the meantime, the rest of us — these two women especially — have to evaluate how we feel about the costs of venturing into outer space for leisure travel.

In this episode, hear them explain the powerful lure of space. And hear Anousheh explain the life-altering joy of seeing earth from above, tears of joy floating past the window. It’s pretty powerful stuff. 

Knowing what we know, would you do it?

If you’re in their camp… the big name space travel companies are:

Smaller ones popping up all the time, from those still in their Kickstarter days, to those presenting at the big SpaceCom in Houston this fall.

Special thanks this week to producer Jackie Snow.

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July 1, 2015

This week, we’re debuting a new segment called Question of Note. Every other week, we’ll take a listener’s question — your question! — and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.

Got a Question of Note you’d like answered? Email notetoself@wnyc.org with a voice memo. Here’s how

“On a recent weekend, I took a complete digital sabbatical, as in I locked my iPhone, iPad and MacBook in a drawer and completely disconnected. It was glorious.  I’m constantly torn between the speed and efficiency of digital tools and the quiet and relaxation of analog ones. So as a quiet person, how do you find quiet space to work and think in the digital era?”

— James Bedell, New York

James isn’t the only one asking this question. We get dozens of emails from people who feel drained by constant pressure to socialize online, and estimates say one half to one third of the population leans toward introverted. So, we took it to introvert advocate extraordinaire Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” and founder of Quiet Revolution.

“We live in a society that is telling everyone to be an extrovert,” Cain says on this week’s episode. “What that leads to is a colossal waste of energy, and talent, and ultimately, happiness.”

The digital version of our society is no exception. Listen above for Cain’s advice on recharging your batteries, proverbial and otherwise.

Here are three of her tips to feed your inner introvert:

1. Pick a number. If interacting with people on Facebook is important to you, do it. If networking matters for your job, do it. But put a cap on the amount of time you’re going to spend on that network and stick to it. 

2. No FOMO. There is too much information out there to process it all. This is a fact. So when you do set aside time for yourself, take it without guilt. In Cain’s words: “It’s basically setting boundaries and letting go of that fear of missing out on that stuff you’re not going to do.”

3. Explain to the extroverts among us. Sometimes, setting visible hard boundaries can help, even on a smaller scale than James’ full-weekend detox. Put an appointment on your Outlook calendar for time to think. Wear headphones at your desk so coworkers don’t interrupt you (<–old radio trick). Go on a Fauxcation for a few hours. 

 

What else would you tell James? How do you find quiet space in the world? Post on our Facebook or send us a tweet!

And, as always, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

June 30, 2015

Technology can be the absolute best thing.

There was the wheel, the ceiling fan, the electric tea kettle. And now, there are voice memos  ready-made, easy to use apps on your smartphone that create an almost-professional level recordings of your thoughts, reactions, feelings, and stories for us to incorporate into our podcast. We feel 0.0% technological ambivalence about this development in our history as a species… and we really hope you’ll send us one. 

Here’s how to record a voice memo on an iPhone:

Note to Android users: These steps will work for you as well, you’ll just have to download a voice memo app first. We like Smart Voice Recorder. Windows Phone? Try Creobe Voice Memos.

1. Get out your phone.

First, find the app on your phone. It’s often bucketed with “utilities.”

You should see this when it opens: 

3. Hold the mic close, but not not too close.

Hold the phone about four fingers away from your mouth, preferably at a bit of an angle (like at the end of Don Draper’s cigarette or this bunny’s carrot). Push the red button and wait a few seconds before you start speaking…

…and watch to make sure it’s recording (you’ll be able to tell when it starts counting down time). If the sound levels look really soft or really loud, move the phone closer or father away until they are mostly in the middle of the sound meter while you speak. 

3. Introduce yourself.

It always works to start with: “Hi my name is ______, and I live in _____.” 

It’s a good idea to decide what you want to say in advance, but don’t read off a script. The best voice memos sound natural, like you’re talking to a friend. Sometimes it helps to actually talk to a friend as you record. 

The best plan is to make a single point, and make it well. Many of our favorite voice memos come in under 15 seconds, and there’s almost no way we’ll be able to include anything longer than a minute. 

When you’re finished, wait a few seconds, and tap “Done.”

4. Save it with a name you’ll recognize.

You should see this:

It’s helpful on our end if you include your own name in the title of the recording. Tap save.

You should see your memo in the list of recordings. 

5. Email it to us.

Open up the file, and click the share button on the bottom left hand corner of the screen.

Choose “mail”:

And finally, send us an email at notetoself@wnyc.org. Be sure to include where you live and the correct spelling of your name. 

We can’t wait to hear from you!

June 24, 2015

When two people get married, the story can usually write itself: vows, a commitment, the promise of forever.

And then for not quite half of those married couples: Divorce. It sets off another set of plot points we know all too well  anger, bitterness, and scarring-of-the-children.

But according to Michelle Crosby, CEO of a start-up called Wevorce, divorce doesn’t have to end in tears, and many of Silicon Valley’s big tech investors believe she has the algorithm to prove it. 

Trained as a traditional family lawyer, Crosby couldn’t shake the sense that her work  stoking emotional legal disputes between divorcing parties  was frustrating and out of date. Why, she wondered, were separated parents fighting over their children’s haircuts through lawyers’ offices? What was the point of haggling over a birthday party in legalese? Why did the process have to be so expensive? Hadn’t the past 30 years of custody battles taught the profession anything?

It was a very techie way of thinking… and it appealed to the techie world. Crosby pitched investors at the prestigious tech incubator Y Combinator in 2013 on a system that works by attracting couples to the service, collecting data on them through an initial survey, and using their results to classify each person as a particular divorce “archetype.”

Then, the Wevorce team of counselors, family planners, and lawyers steps in. They use their research, data, and training to mediate at predictable moments of tension a processing system kind of like TurboTax or H&R Block. 

Crosby is adamant that Wevorce isn’t about about filing divorce papers on Facebook (though that’s also a thing) or downloading the latest custody planning apps. It’s about using tech to upend a system. This is an argument, according to historian Stephanie Coontz, rooted in the idea that divorce is an institution as embedded in history and culture as Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest tuxedo jumpsuit, and thus within society’s power to change. 

Plus, it should be said: divorce is a $30 billion market with very little competition. 

So, on this week’s show, we’re testing out the premise: Can tech solve this very emotional crossroads for people? Do cold-hearted data and algorithms have the power to make the human break-up less painful…and maybe even help us better understand love and commitment?

In this week’s episode:

  • Michelle Crosby, CEO and co-founder of Wevorce
  • Stephanie Coontz, Author and Professor of History and Family Studies at Evergreen State University
  • Andrew Olson, divorced father of 3

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June 19, 2015

Update: It’s live! Listen here or absolutely anywhere you get your podcasts (iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,RSS feed). Then, head over to Radiolab for a related and also eye-opening episode with Manoush and Alex. THEN, send us (notetoself@wnyc.org) a voice memo with your thoughts about surveillance, safety, and the vulnerability at the heart of these questions.

At this point, most Americans have acknowledged  and many have de facto accepted  that the government can access our personal data. And sometimes it takes a personal case to understand just how intimate that snooping can get. 

What we haven’t known  and couldn’t quite tell from the 2013 Snowden leak — are the technological details of that surveillance. Nor have we understand how pervasive that technology had become, at even the most local of levels.

Today, we understand quite a bit more thanks to one man in particular. His name is Daniel Rigmaiden, and while he’s not exactly the knight-in-shining-armor type (he’s a convicted felon who spent years building an almost-air-tight tax fraud scheme), he is the one who figured out how the government tracks us using our cell phones, despite their best efforts to keep it hidden: the Stingray.

This week, we’ll tell his story on our show. It’s the first full telling since the drama went down.

On a partner episode with Radiolab, we’re telling another, related story from a very different angle: the sky.

We think these podcasts will change the way you look at your phone, whether you’re an incredibly savvy tax fraudster or someone who just happens to notice when your phone mysteriously drops to the 2G network in the middle of a big city. Tell us what you think: on Facebook, on Twitter, or by email at notetoself@wnyc.org, .

And if you burn through those, we’d also suggest listening to:

Or (and!) sign up for our newsletter here.

Special thanks this week to Nate Wessler at the ACLUBuzz Bruner at ESD America, and ace reporter Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. Here’s a link to Daniel Rigmaiden’s website.

June 10, 2015

Reading on a screen is different from reading a book, and your brain can tell.

This week, we’ve got an update on one of our most popular episodes to date, about what all that skimming does to our ability to read deeply. 

Dozens of you have written in with similar frustrations: you feel like you can’t get through a novel, or even that excellent long article you meant to read a week ago. You’ve also commented on the difference between writing on paper and on a screen… and, yep, turns out there’s a disconnect there as well: researchers at Princeton and UCLA say taking notes by hand is actually better for retaining information. In three studies, they found that students who took notes on laptops had more trouble answering conceptual questions than those who took notes longhand in a class. Laptop note takers, it turns out, tend to transcribe lectures rather than processing the facts and reframing them in their own words.

It’s another example of a phenomenon we see over and over again: If you feel like a device or any technology has messed with you, you might be onto something… way before any researcher can prove it.

 In this episode:

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June 3, 2015

Welcome to the only site on the whole World Wide Web with the words: “They were friends forever and lived happily ever after.” At least, the only one as far as a giant database of student papers, online texts, and a Google search can tell. 

Full credit for originality goes to author Note to Self Producer Alex Goldmark, who spent the past few weeks on a quest to outsmart anti-plagiarism software Turnitin. Turnitin and programs like it are used in a third of high schools and half of colleges nationwide. A student submits their paper through the software, and then it’s compared against an ever-growing database of writing (400 million submitted essays to date!), and evaluated with an “originality report.” Teachers can see which sections set off warning bells, and a flashing red light goes off if big ideas clearly came from someone else.

It’s a pretty air-tight defense against copying and pasting culture, but young adults and their grade-wielding teachers have also learned a lesson of another sort in the process: Phrasing an idea in a completely new way? It’s pretty rare, especially when the assignments haven’t changed. Basically, plagiarism detection software confirms that sneaking suspicion in the back of your favorite English lit student’s mind: You’re working through ideas that have been thoroughly worked through, many times before. It has become just about impossible to have a truly new idea. 

So, on this week’s show, we’ll admit, we’re not the first to ask it: How important is originality, anyway? 

In this episode:

'Monkey-typing' by New York Zoological Society - Picture on Early Office Museum.

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Jason Chu’s first name. The text has been corrected. 

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June 1, 2015
Is there such a thing as a perfect email? Last week, we reported on Crystal Knows, a service that predicts people’s personality types just from their online writings and uses that to suggest an optimal email style for contacting them. But does an algorithm know better than us? 
So, in our newsletter, we asked you to weigh in on some of the controversies that play out in inboxes world wide.
Almost 50 of you have written back. We’ll share some of your collective wisdom below and we’re rolling all of it into research for an upcoming show. Because one thing has become clear here: Oh wow are we living in an etiquette minefields these days.
We also want to do a follow-up episode on particularly egregious examples of email passive aggression. Do you have one? Difficult coworkers? Snarky exes? “Well-intentioned” in-laws? Please email us (passive aggressively or otherwise) at notetoself@wnyc.org with a story or a voice memo. We can keep names and identifying information on the DL if need be.
In the meantime, here’s what you have had to say about:

1. Emails that consist exclusively of the word “thanks.”

 Ify Okoro, via email:

“I do this I must confess, but I think it is needed, and the assumed awkwardness is not worth the absence of expressed gratitude.”

Daniel Weiss, via email:

Thanks is basic etiquette and it’s OK to send an email with only that.”

2. “Thanks in advance” = passive aggressive or polite?

Richard Goffman, via email:

“Absolutely passive aggressive, manipulative and obnoxious. I used to work with someone who ended emails with “Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.” I think it is part of her signature, as if her main function and activity in life was to send out edicts. She probably included that in emails to her husband.”

Seymour Ella, via email:

“… ‘thanks in advance’ can be many things. It can be gracious, appreciative, it can be a form of light pressure, sincere or insincere, obnoxious, snide. I think it’s purely contextual… I find it sad that people think phrases like ‘thanks in advance’ or ‘you’re welcome’ are hostile. They aren’t in general.”

Angela Zito, via email, also hates…:

“…’this is just a friendly reminder’ from anyone and everyone, friends or not. It is not. It is a reminder and I am not so proud as to not know that, occasionally, I need a reminder. And I can even be grateful, though not so grateful as to reply ‘Thank you.’ Passive aggression at its finest. “

3. Spending the first line of an email introducing yourself, when the information is clear in both the “from” line and signature.

Dori Grinder, via email:

I’m OK with it. Probably still won’t read or respond, especially if you are trying to sell me something.”

Carrie Saxton, via email:

“I hate when work emails begin with “hope you had a great weekend” or something like that. I immediately know they want something. Just get to the point! It also drives me crazy when someone changes the subject line when replying to an email so it looks like a new conversation!”

4. “Sent from my iPhone” or “Sent from my Android.”

@NewTechCity – For me ‘Sent from my <insert mobile device> is shorthand for ‘I’m replying on the hop, probably in haste & likely with tpyos’

— Jocelyn Brewer (@JocelynBrewer) May 27, 2015

Stephen Feingold, via email:
“The iPhone footer is a way of trying to appease those who can’t abide by spelling errors by suggesting it’s a fiction of my big fingers on a little screen or something… You know what Andrew Jackson said about his own inability to spell? I pity the man whose imagination is so limited he can only think of one way to spell a word.”

Donald Masters, via email:

“Oh, BTW, I have an iPhone, and Apple wants you to know that! It’s, well, part of the overpriced, Chinese labor induced, secretly embedded, magnificently designed new Apple headquarters, that I helped pay for.”

5. Writing the entire email in the subject line, leaving the body blank.

Gloria Creech, via email:

“I hate this. Difficult to read. I also hate blank subject lines.”

Fedorov Kirrill, all the way from Russia: 

“Rude and incorrect. Looks like those ‘Nigerian letters’.”

Kate Farmer, via, well…:

 

May 27, 2015

Imagine if everyone who wrote you an email could see into the deepest core of your personality.

Yeah, it’s not that far away: We found a service called Crystal Knows that takes the trend toward “personalization” (think crazy-targeted Facebook ads and Amazon items that follow you from sidebar to sidebar) up a notch, turning your online data into a sort of all-purpose communication coach.

On this week’s episode of Note to Self the podcast formerly known as New Tech City! — we dive deep into Crystal, which claims to be able to read a person’s personality based on what they’ve written and shared online. It’s marketed as a tool for writing more personalized emails, catered toward the recipients’ particular communication style. 

Here’s more on how it works:

We had to test it. So we sent some Crystal Knows-optimized emails to public radio “personalities,” as they’re called, asking them to weigh on on Crystal’s assessment of their… personalities. 

Here’s what they said:

Brooke Gladstone, Co-Host of On the Media:

Crystal says:

“Brooke is very direct in verbalizing concerns and will not leave anything up for interpretation, so occasionally will say something too bluntly as a result.”

Brooke says:

Some of these things are so true it’s scary. I do tend to be blunt in a way that may accidentally offend people . I do tend to challenge bold claims.  I do ask lots of questions. But some things I don’t recognize at all.  For instance,  unlike the profile, I really do like metaphors, I do seek consensus, and I often do act  as a mediator. This may be good advice to a marketer, but it’s not a very accurate assessment of a person.” 

Jad Abumrad, Co-Host of Radiolab:

Crystal says:

 “Jad is social, creative, trusts feelings and gut instinct more than rules or logic, and loves talking about ideas.”

Jad says:

“Wha??  

I’m glad whatever algorithm this is incorrectly believes me to be social, but I hate ideas and feelings are the enemy.”

Ira Flatow, Host of Science Friday:

Crystal says:

“Ira is a creative influencer: forward-thinking, ambitious, easily distracted, and makes quick decisions that can seem unpredictable.”

Ira says:

“I think that the profile has merit. The qualities of my personality are flattering. I’d comment further but I’m being distracted…sorry, you want what?” 

Jeremy Hobson, Co-Host of Here & Now:

Crystal says:

“Jeremy is friendly but naturally skeptical, appreciates informal conversation and gets bored very easily.”  

Jeremy says:

“It’s not totally accurate but I’m pretty impressed. Friendly but naturally skeptical, check. I definitely appreciate informal conversation. And I do get bored by things I’ve heard before. One thing it’s wrong about is that I lose track of time while working – I’d never survive in the live radio business if that were the case! How it got all this information, I would love to know. It’s kind of spooky.”

Steve Henn, NPR’s Technology Correspondent, Planet Money:

Crystal says:

“Steve is social, creative, trusts feelings and gut instinct more than rules or logic, and loves talking about ideas.”

Steve says:

“I just started laughing at this line; “trusts feelings and gut instinct more than rules or logic.”  I hope that is not true…but now I am worried. I am going to run it by my wife, and maybe [Planet Money colleague] David Kestenbaum

The rest of it feels pretty spot on.”

John Hockenberry, host of The Takeaway:

Crystal says:

“John is very people-focused: supportive, friendly and naturally empathetic with a tendency to procrastinate.”

John says:

“People-focused, supportive, friendly = Sounds like me.

Naturally empathetic = my wife would say “No effing way, but with a lot of therapy he’s come around.”

Procrastination = Curious,  I have had a lifelong a case of selective P. Most things I get done way early, but some never come off the to do list. Hmmmm.” 

Want to try it out for yourself? Request a beta invitation at CrystalKnows.com

May 27, 2015

To introduce our new name — Note to Self — we’ve decided to bring you an episode that is about exactly that: the self.

We found a service that takes the “personalization trend”  think uncanny Facebook ads, targeted email campaigns, and that pair of shoes you Googled once that follows you from sidebar to sidebar  up a notch. Crystal Knows claims that it can use such knowledge to improve that dreaded time suck: email.

Here’s how it works: The app creates a digital profile on you through data it scrapes about you from the web, then filters what it finds through an algorithm. That algorithm sorts you into one of 64 personality types. Then, for anyone signed up for the service, it will act like an email writing coach and therapist rolled into one, from big picture advice (“Be interesting!”) to smaller-seeming details (“Say ‘Hi’ instead of ‘Hello’), giving tips based on what it knows about you. 

We were intrigued. To be quite honest, we were also a little freaked out about how much it can divine from public data alone. So, this week, we did some digging into how these kinds of profiles are made  listen above for that  and some testing on a few of our favorite public radio… personalities.

In this episode of Note to Self:

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May 26, 2015

Hello friends,

Consider this a big cyber squeeze and thank you! After reading through all of your thoughtful suggestions and feedback, we’re ready to announce our new name.

To recap: We have been on the hunt for a title that better aligns with our mission of exploring the human side of technology. We asked you to weigh in, and we got over 700 suggestions from listeners… including, but not limited to:

'Radio Manoush' and 'Summer Roadie' were among the contenders submitted by listeners.

 

As I went through all the suggestions, a theme emerged: we’re on a search for balance in the digital age. In no uncertain terms, you told me you listen to our show because you’re interested in “purposeful use of technology.” According to our survey, the shows that seem to have resonated with you include:

And so: We’re renaming this podcast “Note to Self.”

Let me explain: It’s not only this podcast’s new name. It’s something I do every day, as I think about my life, my responsibilities, and the sorts of stories I want to cover for all of you. For example:

Pinterest photos aren't reality.

 

 

This show is a place where we find solutions together, both high and low tech (see above!). We’re not just talking literal notes. We’re here to do more experiments, stories, and reminders about how we can live and think better in an era of information overload.

Listen above for more about our new name. Soon you’ll be able to find us at notetoselfpodcast.org. If you’re already a subscriber or a regular listener, you don’t have to do anything at all — you’ll just see a new logo and hear a new intro each week. We’ll be updating all of our social media profiles, and you shouldn’t have to do a thing.

If you don’t already, subscribe to our newsletter.

And in the spirit of note-writing, you can email us any time at notetoself@wnyc.org. Please do! If you’ve got a “note to self” you’d like to share that fits in with the show (digital freak outs! tough questions you need answered! things you’ve noticed that set you on edge!), record a voice memo and email it to us, or call from a landline and leave us a voicemail at 917-924-2964.

We’d love to hear what you think. You could find yourself in an upcoming episode.

For now, a big thank you for listening and for coming along on this ride.

Yours,

Manoush

May 20, 2015

Last fall, we ventured into a dark corner of the Internet where people bond over unhealthy behavior, trading tips on starving themselves. This is where sufferers of anorexia and bulimia share so-called “thinspiration” photos, framing eating disorders not as an illness, but as a lifestyle. This pro-eating disorder community has morphed and grown with the Internet, traveling from websites to Tumblrs to Pinterest. Joanna Kay, a 26-year-old who says she’s “grown up” with these sites, tells us what they’re like  and what makes them so hard to quit.

We’re re-airing this episode with an update from Joanna, who has since gotten married and started blogging under her real name at Middle Ground Musings. She’s now in grad school training to become a mental health counselor. At the same time, she says, she has relapsed, and returned to intensive outpatient treatment program. Listen to the full episode for more.

“I lost my voice for 12 years to this illness, and this is really the first time I’m actually getting to revive my voice and to talk back to my eating disorder, in a way.” 

— Joanna Kay

In the months since we first aired this show, we’ve heard from many of you that it changed the way you think about your life and the Internet.

If you need help in real life, there are people out there. Here are some resources we’ve collected (and let us know if you have more suggestions):

If you have an experience you’d like to share  whether it’s about eating disorders or another online community we should know about or that you’d like to hear about on our podcast  please do get in touch. 

 

Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

May 13, 2015
You pick up your phone to send an email. You see a notification for a text message. All of a sudden, you’re on Instagram debating whether or not to like an old high school classmate’s engagement picture, Pinterest-ing the photographer (aww, PUPPY!), and contemplating the ice cream options within range. An hour later, you realize you forgot to send your email. You pick up your phone again. Rinse, repeat.
For most of us, it’s normal. For some of us including Cynan Clucas, whom we spoke with for this week’s episode it’s a sign of adult onset ADHD, and it’s a problem that’s only exacerbated by tech.
In this week’s episode, we talk with Michael Pietrus, a psychologist who specializes in ADHD and the technological distractions all around us. We also hear from two digital marketing professionals — Lizz Pietrus (yes, related) and Clucas himself — debating the role that tech plays in their lives and how to master it.
That’s right: we talked with two different people who work in the digital marketing worlds, who are worried about the consequences of their attention-grabbing tactics. Give it a listen. See if you relate to either of them.
And be in touch. Because now we’re curious: Are there more of you ambivalent techies out there making tech that is just a little too addictive sometimes? How do you feel about it? What do you do when you feel knocked sideways by the very tools and content you create? Drop us a line! You might end up on a future episode of the show.  
May 6, 2015

This week, we bring you a story of video games and gender. Turns out, despite all of the angst, they can be be an inviting place for a very vulnerable and overlooked subset of young people to explore their gender identities. 

Playing Normal

We’ll start in Woodstock, Illinois: a small, rural town most famous for its ordinariness. In 1992, Woodstock played the role of wholesome, unchanging hamlet as the backdrop in “Groundhog Day.”

Rachel grew up there. She never felt quite ordinary enough for Woodstock. She didn’t want to wear dresses. She didn’t want to play fairy princess. She was bullied and picked on. Elementary school and middle school were, to put it lightly, kind of a nightmare.

Like countless solace-seeking children in countless ordinary towns, Rachel turned to some invisible friends. The difference, of course, was that her invisible friends really did exist — just far away, on the other side of a microphone. First came World of Warcraft, then League of Legends; she took up online games in which players see the same thing happening on screen and talk through headsets as they take down magical enemies.

Just about every night throughout high school, Rachel would get online and play. She was pretty good at it — and she got even better. Eventually, she was invited to joined a team of guys from all over the English-speaking world. 

At first it was a little weird having a girl on the team, Rachel says, but she was a good player, disciplined and hardworking. And after a while, her teammates saw her for who she was: a character on screen and a voice in the team voice chat. They actually forgot she was a girl at times, referring to her as “he”. That was just fine by Rachel — who was, by then, referring to herself as “Razur,” a childhood nickname-turned-gaming-handle.

“I’m like ‘you know, it’s OK guys if you want to call me ‘he.’ That’s OK! You can absolutely do that,'” Rachel says in this week’s show. One day, she decided to bring it up explicitly: “I’m like, ‘alright, so, I was playing with the idea that maybe I was transgender because, uh, I don’t like girly things.”

It was cathartic — and surprising to Razur, because some of her teammates even admitted to questioning their own certainties about their respective genders. Here was a community willing to let her literally play with a new identity online. 

Logging on to Another Self

Cross-gender play is an accessible, low-barrier way to dip a toe in the waters of identity exploration. Not everyone, however, finds the gaming world quite so welcoming, a problem dramatically encapsulated in the “GamerGate” debates last fall, centered around the treatment of women and minorities in gaming culture. On this week’s show, we asked Colleen Macklin, game designer and professor at Parsons School of Design, what this kind of controversy might mean for the Razurs of the gaming world, the people using games to figure out who they are. We also spoke with game designer and professor at New York University’s Game Center Naomi Clark, someone who not only designs and studies games, but used them decades ago to explore and establish her own gender identity.

You can listen to the full podcast above to hear what they have to say. And if you’re on a gaming kick, listen to the rest of New Tech City’s gamers and culture series here:

Razur, at least, is feeling out her possibilities now. She writes:

“I still feel unsure about whether or not I’d like to transition in the future but that’s OK! I’m really happy and comfortable being who I am right now. I want to work toward better representing women in video games, and I know I don’t need to be ‘girly’ to do that. I need to be the best at who I am and that path should lay itself.”

 

Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

April 29, 2015

Note from the New Tech City team: Hello! As you’ll hear above, we’re renaming our show, and we want your help! OK, on with the regularly scheduled podcasting… 

In 2014, only 30 percent of all Google employees were women. Break the numbers down farther, and only 21 percent of Google executives were female; in technical jobs, only 15 percent.  

The numbers are even worse for African Americans and Hispanics — and not just at Google, but all over the tech industry. Diversity is a big gaping hole for the companies who claim to be solving the world’s problems, and it affects user experience of their products for at least half of the planet’s population.

So we wanted to go beyond those pretty charts and mea culpas to find out: What are the people ingenious enough to optimize plate size in their company cafeterias actually doing to address the problem baked into our culture?

Laszlo Bock, head of Google’s People Operations (aka HR), and author of a new book called “Work Rules,” gave us three examples of tactics they’ve have been trying to shrink the gender gap. We’re very curious to see how well the new numbers bear them out. 

1. Unconscious Bias Training. 

Googlers have to go through a training about diversity that starts with optical illusions  two things that look the same, but measured separately, really aren’t — and moves on to more concrete workplace scenarios. The idea is, everyone has errors in their judgment. It’s not pointing fingers. 

“If you go to somebody and talk about diversity or gender issues, the typical reaction is ‘Well, I don’t have a problem,’ or ‘Well, I just disagree.’ And then there are a bunch of people in the middle who are like ‘Oh my God diversity training? Do I really have to spend time on this?'” Bock says, “If you talk about ‘we all have these biases,’ it totally short circuits this.” 

2. “The nudge.” 

Engineers at Google usually nominate themselves for promotion. Women  surprise, surprise — weren’t nominating themselves as often as the men around them. So Alan Eustace, the person who was in charge of engineering at that point, decided to send a little email saying simply, “We’ve noticed that women aren’t nominating themselves and, hey, you should be!”

It worked, Bock says, and way more women got promotions.

“We did that for about three six month periods and then Alan forgot to send the email. And the rates went back down,” Bock says.

Just call it nudging, not nagging.

3. Extend family leave.

Women were dropping out of Google at a much higher rate than men were after having a kid. So, Google extended its family leave policy from three months to five months. 

“This is one where we stumbled into it because it’s the right thing to do, and we were fortunate to find the data supported us afterward,” Bock says… and women who had been leaving at twice the rate of men before the change, started leaving at the same rate as men. The rate dropped by 50 percent.”

Another surprise? Paying more for maternity leave saves money. The cost of finding and replacing a good-to-average employee is much, much higher than two extra months of leave for a new parent, Bock says.

Google is, of course, the kind of company that can afford to run tests on happiness at the office. So we want to know: For those of you who work with fewer free snacks, what do you think needs to happen to solve gender issues at the office? Let us know in the comments below. 

Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

April 27, 2015

Hello friends,

I’ve got some exciting (and kind of nerve-wracking!) news for you.

We are going to change the name of this podcast. And we want your help.

In 2012, we launched as a short news update on New York City’s burgeoning tech scene. Now, because of the good feedback (thank you!), we’ve grown into a real podcast. 

And in the process, we’ve outgrown our name.We know “New Tech City” sounds like a show about infrastructure, subways, and start-ups. People who have never listened before expect urban designers who code. It feels a little funny coming out of my mouth after stories like this one. Or this one. Or this one

Now, this podcast has more to do with the ways our brains, relationships, and values are changing at a pace never seen before in human history — how so many of us feel overwhelmed by the incessant amount of information coming at us, yet too busy to stop and read the fine print. 

This is where you come in: What’s a name that fits this mission? I’m asking you because of a recent tipping point: that project called Bored and Brilliant that thousands of you did with me a few months ago (and some of you are still doing). You gave us tons of feedback, and you gave us hundreds of other ideas for topics you’d like to hear explored on the show.

So now, we want you to weigh in again. We’re looking for something clear, pithy, and meaningful — for example, I love the name of “Death, Sex & Money,” because my colleague talks about, yes, death, sex, and money. Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier”? It’s about how to be happier. “How to Do Everything?” Couldn’t get much clearer than that.

Please click through to answer some questions that will help us think through our new name, whether you have the perfect suggestion in mind or not. 

And believe me, your ideas can’t be any worse than mine:

Some of the not-so-great ideas for New Tech City's new name.

We’ll be unveiling our new name in a very special (and unusual) place. 

A big, big thank you from me and the team.

Yours,

Manoush Zomorodi, host of….?????

April 22, 2015

Can wearable technology solve a problem technology created?

Apple just had the best quarter yet  not just for Apple, but for any company ever. Sales of the iPhone 6 topped all expectations. A huge chunk of the world is walking around with a smartphone at the ready. 

And, as the company knows, a lot of those people are somewhat ambivalent about being that connected all the time. As David Pierce at Wired magazine writes:

“It came down to this: Your phone is ruining your life. Like the rest of us, [Senior Vice President of Design Jonathan] Ive, [Vice President of Technology Kevin] Lynch, [Creative Director Alan] Dye, and everyone at Apple are subject to the tyranny of the buzz—the constant checking, the long list of nagging notifications.”

The world’s biggest smartphone makers were fed up with their own smartphones. Kind of seems like they need a little Bored and Brilliant, right?

‘We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now,” Lynch says. ‘People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much.” They’ve glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz.”

So the story goes, they designed a device to help make that dinging and buzzing less intrusive: A watch that, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is meant to help wearers check their phones less frequently. This Watch.

On our show this week, we talk with the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo  a self-described addict   about his first few weeks with the Apple Watch, and whether more technology can solve dilemmas created by the devices we already have.

“In a weird way, having an ‘everything’s OK!’ alarm on your wrist… it’s comforting,” Manjoo says. 

For the most part, he’s sold. But will wearable tech solve the underlying issues of technology and distraction? Perhaps not.

'To have a device on your wrist is to agree that it's there and you're going to use it all the time. I think that's the bargain you make.'

 

Our listeners are also skeptical. Seventy-seven percent of you told us you do not believe that the Apple Watch could make technology less intrusive in our daily lives.

 

Of course, we’ll be here watching (Watch-ing?).

Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

April 20, 2015

Last week on our podcast, IBM’s super computer Watson played the role of chef-whisperer for us. It got a little weird. He/she/it instructed Manoush and the Sporkful’s Dan Pashman to cook an avocado. As in, put it in a pan and let it turn to mush.

They were skeptical. It was delicious. We wanted more.

Thank goodness for our listeners.

Ways to Use Cooked Avocado

In Eggs. Around Eggs. In the Presence of Eggs.

  • Avocado omelets with other accoutrements including, but not limited to, fried peppers, bacon, garlic, tomatoes, hummus, and more. Some argue the avocado functions like cheese. (h/t Ilya, Mike Ryan Simonovich, and others)
  • Scrambled in olive oil plus a dash of half and half. (h/t Leslie Divoll from Florida)
  • Eggs in an avocado toast basket. (h/t Esmaya & me)
  • Two words: “The Eggocado.” (h/t Moe Arora)

Around Chicken

  • British chef Delia Smith created a recipe for “Creamed Chicken with Avocado.” In her words: “It ends up tasting very classy.” (h/t Fiona McAndrew)
  • As NPH from Boston wrote:“When I first started cooking on my own, I experimented and made a hot corn relish where I threw diced corn, avocados, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and some teriyaki sauce into a sauce pan and let it simmer for a while before pouring it over roasted chicken. The avocado melted down to a bright green slop, but it made for a delicious, creamy sauce. Years later it became the first meal I ever cooked for my future husband, who loved it, and refers to it today as ‘That Corn Avocado Thing.'”

On the Grill

  • Cut in half and grill “just long enough to get some burn marks.” (h/t Orr from Brooklyn, who says “it tastes like popcorn.”)

In a Frying Pan

  • Avocado fries. This recipe concludes with the line, “Serve avocado fries immediately with hot sauce or mayo spiked with hot sauce.” (h/t Alex Stirck v L and J Gonzajas)
  • Then there are Texans deep frying and stuffing avocados, otherwise known as “edible geodes.” (h/t Matt Dickenson)

Inside of a Taco Wrap

  • The vegetarian fast casual Native Foods chain has a seasonal “Avocado Crunch” wrap featuring some battered-and-fried avocados. (h/t Annette M. Thomson)
  • At least the Hoboken location of the Taco Truck features the “Aquacate Tostado,” a taco filled with fried avocado. We will be investigating the New York options in 3… 2… (h/t Hoboken resident Brian Englishman). 

Baked Into Cupcakes

In Our Dreams

Warm in a Salad (Plus: Bonus!)

  • Suggested additions: asparagus, mushroom, and bacon. Because as listener Adrienne from Queens writes:

“Not only is the avocado really good cooked, the avocado doesn’t necessarily need to be fully ripe to be tasty when you cook it. And a bonus, somehow the avocado holds up reasonably well in the salad overnight in the fridge, and doesn’t turn to brown mush, so any leftovers are actually pretty good the next day.”

 

Got more? To put it mildly, our avocado kick continues. Please keep them coming in the comments below.

April 15, 2015

Special thanks this week to The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman and Anne Noyes Saini. Check out their version of events here.

This is a show where we look at how technology is changing our lives, right? Well, on this week’s episode: please, technology… feed us.

IBM’s Watson computing system beat two human Jeopardy champions in 2011, introducing the concept of “cognitive computing” to the game show watching masses. Since then, Watson has grown thousands of times smarter, and much, much smaller. IBM has also grown increasingly ambitious (see: some big news in the New York Times) — and the company is now on a PR mission to make this giant computer brain palatable to you and me. Literally.

So-called “Chef Watson” now lives as a cookbook and a cooking app meant to get humans thinking creatively about cooking. Developers built a system fluent in food chemistry, “hedonic psychophysics” (or “what we think tastes good”), and international cooking styles, then uploaded 9,000 recipes from the archives of Bon Appetit. They taught Watson to incorporate human feedback into its process, and worked with chefs from the International Culinary Institute to turn it into a viable product with a pretty strange set of recipes to its name

Basically, Watson takes everything scientists know about flavor and taste, and turns that knowledge into a recipe generator beyond the scope of human creativity. It’s built to consider the maximum number of possibilities available at a given time  and on this week’s show, Manoush and the Sporkful’s Dan Pashman test it out in her kitchen.

Even if you’re the type who prefers to order in (like, er, someone we know), Watson’s kitchen adventures make for a pretty good illustration of what can happen when we let a giant computer brain think for us. Listen to the results in the podcast above. And if you’re as intrigued by the concept of cooked avocado as they were, well, here’s Watson’s advice:

Chef Watson’s Spicy Avocado Brussels Sprouts

Also Called: “Irish Jalapeno Pepper Ginger Avocado Banana Sauté, Minus the Banana”

Adapted by Manoush Zomorodi and Dan Pashman

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lima beans
  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half
  • Jalapeno, chopped (to taste)
  • 1 avocado, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon candied ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • Crushed red pepper (to taste)
  • Cheese mix (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts and avocado and season with salt. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add ginger, jalapeno pepper, and garlic. Cook until brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in lima beans and red pepper.
  4. Remove Brussels sprouts from the pan.
  5. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.

      

     

 

 

 

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April 8, 2015

From the mouths of babes:

“You should only put limits on the amount of useless stuff you do on the Internet. If you’re doing something useful… keep going by all means. If you want to spend your time on Instagram, go outside.”

— Jake Lang, 12-year-old student at Quest to Learn School in New York

We’re at the end of our education and technology series, and we’ve talked with a whole lot of people: parents, special needs counselors, teachers, privacy advocates, and even an app maker

By now, we know a few things about kids and tech. For one, screen time is on the rise. Kids aged 5 to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours in front of a screen per day. That is a huge jump from 20 years ago when the average was three hours. We know 95 percent of teenagers use the Internet, and we know that as of summer 2014, 78 percent of teens have cell phones, and half of them are smartphones. We know suburban kids are most likely to have computers and phones. And we know even the most income-strapped families are starting to rely on mobile devices.

But we still don’t know how this massive change affects our kids’ futures. In fact, without yet-to-be-invented-crystal-ball-technology, we can’t.  

So what do we do with all of the uncertainty?

The best answer we could come up with: Actually talk to kids. 

This week, that’s exactly what we did. We share some takeaways from our New Tech City classroom survey with a guide to parenting, teaching, and anyone who’s going to come in contact with inhabitants of that new digital world.

Here are the big ones:

1. Don’t be alarmist.

Cyberbullying and sexting and all of that are real, but not universal, and it’s impossible to gauge the scope of the problems without doing some real, open-minded, first-person research. That’s what we believe in. That, and having their backs, technologically or otherwise. 

2. Kids and adults are in a new partnership. Embrace it.

Gone are the days of authoritarian “Father Knows Best.” Setting rules on Facebook or curtailing YikYak or banning Instagram can work, but chances are, the ones actually using those platforms will be able to get around it if they want to. 

But you also can’t think “oh, well they’re digital natives,” they’ll figure it out. The mere presence of a smartphone or laptop doesn’t mean a kid knows how to research, write, or communicate, or protect themselves on it. Don’t assume.

3. Remember, kids are seeing a different world than you did at this age.

This has surfaced in every story in our series (Braille! Data! Blended learning!). So it’s not just fun to talk to kids about their phones and their games, it’s important. We can’t decide what’s best for them without their input.
 
Dozens of listeners have opened the conversation, and hey, you can too. Let us know how it goes!

And finally, in case you missed it: 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

April 1, 2015

This story is part of New Tech City’s series on education and technology.

Do you remember how many gold stars you got in second grade? Can you recall how many times you were sent to the principal’s office, how many times you handed in your homework late, how many days passed between getting called out for talking in class? 

Today, one out of every two U.S. schools has a teacher tracking that kind of data with one extremely popular app, ClassDojo, the company says. It’s got points, demerits, and cute avatars at least one seven-year-old we know can’t get enough of:

It’s really, really popular  so popular that a late 2014 article by Natasha Singer in the New York Times took a whole lot of people aback: She reported that school districts were facing data breaches, and privacy policies were all over the place. The article specifically quoted critics of ClassDojo who had problems with the carrot-and stick approach to digital discipline and the idea of a behavior database being created without parental permission. Then, there were the unknowns: What happens when future employers find out little Johnny was flagged as a difficult kid? How might that sort of digital-paper-trail change the college application process? As a free service, what were the app developers receiving in return?

ClassDojo has since been thrust to the front of a conversation about student data and privacy stretching far beyond their little monster avatars. They’ve rewritten their privacy policies, started deleting data after a year passes, and even created a special “privacy center” for parents. Is it enough? And what about the thousands of other apps in our kids’ classrooms, measuring and documenting everything from their heart rate during gym class to academic performance to what they choose to eat for lunch?

On this week’s episode, Sam Chaudhary, co-founder of ClassDojo, tells us flatly “we are not a data company.” He explains how he plans to grow a tech company without harnessing user data. We also hear from Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, and a community of parents and teachers about the obligations  legal and otherwise  techies have to today’s kids. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

March 25, 2015

This story is part of New Tech City’s series on education and technology.

Today’s show has a lot to do with audio and sound, so we encourage you to listen to the full episode! Hear it in the player above and anywhere you get your podcasts (iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or RSS feed).

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been stocked with all kinds of gadgets: singing calculators, talking typewriters, even video games that you navigate using only sound. Most are specialized and expensive — the school can afford them, but a lot of families can’t.

There is one piece of tech, however, that almost every student has, and, according to 14-year-old student Demetria Ober, absolutely every student wants. It’s a status symbol, it’s a social media machine, it’s… yes, you know exactly what it is: the iPhone.

On this week’s New Tech City, reporter Ryan Kailath introduces us to Demetria, and poses the question gaining importance in both her life and broader society: Are iPads and iPhones rendering Braille obsolete? And if so, should advocates for the visually impaired be worried?

Demetria, who started losing her vision at an older age, has had a tough time with Braille class — it’s tied with algebra for her least favorite. Fluent Braille readers usually start around the age of 3 or 4, and catching up is an involved, often somewhat tedious process. So she prefers to read by enlarging the print or turning up the contrast on a screen. She can still see a little out of the corner of her eye. For the totally blind kids, smartphones will read text out loud. No raised dots involved. 

They’re reading through their ears  a skill unto itself.

Here’s what it’s like to read this post through Apple’s VoiceOver product: How fast can you go? 

Starting slow:

A “standard” rate for beginners:

Picking up a little speed:

This voice is named “Alex.” iOS can use multiple voices, languages, and accents. But once someone gets the hang of it, they can fly at rate 75….

The faster the setting, the quicker the “reader.” That said, there’s at least one skill set advocates worry kids will lose with this method: spelling.

“If you rely too much on technology instead of braille, then you get people who are functionally illiterate,” says Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind. “I have personally seen people with advanced degrees that are very bad at spelling, punctuation, structuring proper grammatical syntax… simply because they’ve never really read anything. They’ve never had to put their hands on words and sentences and find out how they’re spelled and constructed.”

Not everyone agrees. We’ve got all the sides — and more from the students — on our show this week (click “play “in the media player above).

And you can test the accessibility options using your own Apple products…

Other apps mentioned in this episode:

LookTel Money Identifier

Recognizes currency and speaks the denomination, to help people recognize bills. 

KNFB Reader App

Reads text from a digital photograph.

Tap Tap See

Photographs objects and identifies them out loud for the user.

March 18, 2015

There are a lot of buzzwords in education technology — including the phrase “education technology!

We’ve rounded up some of the most common, and we’d welcome your suggestions on what else we should include.

A disclaimer: Many of these words and concepts are pretty new, which means they’re also still up for interpretation. Let us know if you have more thoughts in the comments below.

  • 1:1: When an academic institution issues a laptop or tablet to every enrolled student.
  • Blended learning: A method of teaching formally combining online and face-to-face activities. Students usually have some control over time, place, and pace. The Innosight Institute says most schools use one of four models: rotation, flex, self-blend, and enriched-virtual. Also called “hybrid learning.”
  • Bring your own devices (BYOD): A model that allows and even encourages students to use their personal phones, laptops, or tablets to assist with classroom instruction.
  • Digital citizenship: An umbrella term for teaching students to use technology in public, including social media education. New York public schools use the term to incorporate multiple Common Core standards into lesson plans.
  • Early warning systems: Using data to determine which students are at risk of dropping out, based on benchmark indicators collected over a student’s educational career.
  • Flipped model: A form of blended learning in which teachers assign video lectures or other instructional content as homework, and use in-class time to practice or review.
  • Gamification: Involves using games to motivate and increase engagement in learning.
  • Khan academy: A website featuring free micro-video lectures and instructional exercises.
  • Learning environment: Refers to the physical space, context, and cultures in which students learn, which some argue include online spaces.
  • MOOCs: An abbreviation for “Massive Online Open Course,” such as those classes on edX, Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn. They are mostly free, and mostly geared toward older students.
  • Personalized learning: Tailoring lesson, assignments, and assessments to individual students using technology.
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII): Any data or information collected by an academic institution or partner that can be traced back to a specific student.
  • Rotation model: A form of blended learning in which students rotate between instructional platforms, at least one of which is online. The Christensen Institute breaks rotation out into four types.
  • Screen time: According to the American Association of Pediatrics, this includes any time children spend in front of televisions, computers, phones,video games, or other electronic devices.
  • Interactive whiteboard: A touch-sensitive writing surface that can be used to convey and save information across different local devices such as computers or tablets. Popular brands include “Smartboard” and Eno Board.

Got more suggestions? A different definition? Let us know in the comments below, on Twitter, or on Facebook

This post is a companion to our March 18 podcast episode. Listen to it here

Subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

 

March 18, 2015

This story is part of New Tech City’s series on education and technology.

A challenge for you: Ask a 4-year-old about their day in school. Ask what they did, who they played with, what they learned. When you’re done with your little interview, see what you’ve learned  and whether you have any idea why they were doing what they were doing. 

Quick case in point:

Most parents are sending their kids into classrooms that function radically differently from the ones they attended themselves, and many of you have told us you’re overwhelmed.

So, to that end, we brought Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s lead education blogger and author of “The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be,” and Adriene Hill, senior reporter for Marketplace’s LearningCurve project on education and technology, together to tell us what, exactly, happens in the schools of our 21st century children — and they gave us some good questions designed to cut through the buzzwords popping up everywhere:

Want an old-fashioned paper print out? We’ve got one for you here.

If your school says… 

“We’re raising money so we can put a tablet in the hands of every kid.”

    • What training and development resources are you providing to teachers so they can use the devices effectively?
    • What percentage of the money you’re raising will go toward evaluating the outcomes of the new systems?
    • Where are you getting the curriculum? 
    • What do we know about how successful this curriculum has been in the past?
    • Who’s reading the privacy policies on the apps my kids will be using?
    • What percentage of the money you’re raising will go toward evaluating the outcomes of the new systems?

“We’re moving toward a blended learning model.”

    • Walk me through what my kid’s day will look like.
    • How will expectations of my child change?
    • How will expectations of me as a parent change?
    • How will I be able to know what’s going on?
    • How will you use information collected outside of the classroom?

“We want to experiment with a flipped classroom.”

    • How are you going to use your in class time if you use video lectures as homework?
    • What are you going to assign out of class? 
    • What software and/or connectivity do I need at home to make sure my kids can complete assignments?

“We think games are the way forward. We’re going to be using lots of games.”

    • What kind of games? What’s the actual engagement for kids? 
    • What concepts are the games trying to evoke? What are the higher-order skills involved (memorization, delivering content, higher order skills)?
    • What if my kid doesn’t like games?

“We’re partnering with Google to get coding into our schools so kids can make, and not just use, tech.”

    • Which teachers will be working on this? What’s their background? Why are they interested?
    • Why is this right for my kid and this school?
    • What will coding classes do in terms of critical thinking skills that, say, a cooking class wouldn’t?

If you want a vocabulary lesson to get started, we’ve made a glossary of useful ed tech terms.

Let us know if you have more suggestions on Twitter or Facebook.

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March 11, 2015

This story is part of New Tech City’s series on education and technology.

A few weeks ago, we had a conversation with 16-year-old Grace about her smartphone. She inspired Dierdre Shetler, a middle school technology teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, to have a conversation with her 800-or-so middle school students about their phones. In turn, Dierdre inspired us to continue the cycle.

Because here’s what we’ve learned: Kids love when we ask them real questions about tech, and we love hearing what they have to say.

We love it so much, in fact, that we’re asking you to keep the conversation going.This is not meant to tell kids what to do, but to address honest questions they may have, so both adults and kids can learn from each other. 

With Dierdre’s help, we’ve launched a little project with classrooms across the country.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Find some kids who use technology.

We hear they’re out there.

We’re asking listeners to find a classroom  or an after school program, a Girl Scout troop, a group of parents who want an excuse to talk with their kids about tech in a constructive way  willing to set aside an hour for a good conversation.

2. Give them a survey. You can use our Google form as a template, or print it out. If you have any questions or you’d prefer another format, let us know (newtechcity[at]wnyc[dot]org).

The survey works best if they also read or listen to the episode “9 Things We Learned About Smartphones from a 16-Year-Old.”  

3. Talk about it as a group. 

  • We wrote up a sample lesson plan with follow-up questions (and Common Core standards for those of you who need them)
  • If you’re interested in recording the conversation or some particular answers for an upcoming follow-up episode of New Tech City, please do email atobin[at]wnyc[dot]org.

4. Report back and let us know how it went.

If you’re doing this, we want to hear about it! We’re newtechcity[at]wnyc[dot]org. We’re going to circle back in a few weeks with a look at what we’ve learned about talking to kids. It’ll be a collective effort.

Stay tuned for a follow-up show and Twitter chat in a few weeks. We’ll announce dates and details in our newsletter. 

 

Very, very special thanks to Dierdre Shetler.

Subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

March 11, 2015

This story is part of New Tech City’s series on education and technology.

In this episode of our podcast:

  • We kick off a month of podcasts on kids and technology! Exciting!
  • We talk with listener Dierdre Shetler, a middle school tech teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. Hear how she approaches technology with more than 800 kids in a lower-income, immigrant-heavy district.

…and… best for last…

Resources we mention (and a few more we just like):

Join Our Conversation

We’re going to be talking about kids, education and technology for the next few weeks of the podcast. Do you have specific questions? Thoughts? Comment below, or send them our way with a voice memo at newtechcity[at]wnyc[dot]org. And don’t forget to pass our classroom activity onto the teachers in your life! Post it on Facebook and tag a few parents, Little League coaches, or Girl Scout troop leaders, won’t you?

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

A look at 12-year-old Ayelle's phone.

March 4, 2015

Reading this right now? 

Congratulations. You’re winning.

Yes, all of the usual corporate and government entities know you’re here. Google remembers everything you’ve ever searched, BuzzFeed knows how you’ve scored on all their quizzes, and your cell phone provider knows who you talk to and who you sleep with. Terms of Service agreements are an exercise in futility, encrypted email often takes more trouble than it’s worth, and yeah, sure, go ahead and give Facebook a fake name, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone. Companies are collecting your data from just about everywhere, storing it through time unknown, and using it however they want. Oh, and that’s where the FBI-and-friends find it.

But Bruce Schneier, security technologist, cryptographer, and author of a new book called “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World,” says the fact that you’ve taken the time to read this far means you’ve got the one reliable protection available to us in year 2015: awareness.

“A lot of this happens because we’re not paying attention,” Schneier says on New Tech City. “If we understand what’s happening, we’ll see it and we’ll learn to object, to fight, to talk about it. Just the act of seeing the surveillance and pointing it out to others can help.”

Schneier named his book after David and Goliath. He sees the size of the problem. 

“It’s time to think about these things. Whether it’s OK. Whether it should be allowed. What are the limits of persuasion and manipulation?”

Without further ado, that’s what we’re here for. Here are things to think about every time you are in front of a piece of technology:

It’s not just your digital life that’s being tracked.

Signed up for health insurance over the phone? Your data is out there, and people are using it. Gave a store clerk your address at the check-out counter? That’s in your data dossier too. Boarded a subway? 

“[That’s] probably tied to your credit card,” Schneier says. “So there’s a record of when you enter the subways, what day, what time, what station. If you want to use a metro card, this is what you have to do. Now, you could put cash into a machine and buy an anonymous card. But that’s going to be harder and more annoying. For some systems, you can’t even do that.”

And your digital life? Um, yes, and all of it.

You know the flashlight app on your phone?

“Even something [that] innocuous… would collect location data and sell that to advertisers.”

Mind the metadata.

We interact with hundreds of computers every day, and all of them produce metadata. Even if the meat of your text messages isn’t being broadcast somewhere, interested parties can absolutely tell where, when, and to whom they were sent. 

Everything you do online gets tracked, not just what you actually post or buy.

Facebook saves the posts you write, delete and don’t post. Amazon notes where you stopped reading a book.

Innovations in surveillance come from really good marketing departments (a.k.a. “follow the money”).

Companies make money off advertising online… which makes surveillance the business model of the Internet. And the marketing industry is eager to capitalize on the very, very effective model of “personalized ads.”

Experiments have been done where researchers took a picture of your face and morphed it with another face, and turned it into a new face that you don’t recognize. It looks like you but you don’t realize it…. Your face is out there. Facebook has a picture of you they could morph it with another face to be a third face, and you’re more susceptible to that advertising [because it looks like you]. It’s manipulative, but is that OK? There’s no law against it.”

Government tracking piggybacks off of corporate tracking.

Most of the data collected on us can be requested by the government.

“You’ll remember the fact that we’re collecting cell phone metadata on every American. That was not the NSA… that was an FBI order to Verizon to turn data over to the NSA.”

Most of the data collected on you isn’t used by the government. The issue is that it could be.

“We’re not at the point where there’s wholesale surveillance against speech and organization, like there is in a country like China… But it will be used for people on the fringes of society. It is used against Muslim-Americans. It is used against black Americans. It is used in the drug war. It is used in other areas of crime… I worry about crises. If the data exists, it begs to be used.”

No one wants you to read the fine print.

Your iPhone comes with a 45-or-so page Terms of Service agreement in part because they don’t actually want you to read them.

“They’re designed to be long, they’re designed to be impenetrable… they can change at any moment without our knowledge or consent. The odds are really stacked against us here. This isn’t really an area where we can be an informed consumer.”

Opting out can’t be the answer.

The social problems at stake here can’t be fixed by deleting your Facebook account, because, well, not enough people want to do that. And Schneier says there has to be a place for Facebook (or whatever the teenagers are using these days) in our lives.

“Yes, you can choose to opt out. You could not use Facebook, you could not use Google, you could live in a tree and eat nuts and make your own power. But it’s really not the way we live. It’s hard for me to recommend that we unplug that way. It is so drastic. It is an answer. It can’t be the answer. If that’s the best answer we’ve got we’re not doing that.”

The NSA’s address is 9800 Savage Rd., Columbia Maryland.

Just in case you need a fake to give to a store clerk.

Subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

Manoush Zomorodi and Bruce Schneier, surveilling.

February 25, 2015

Watching TV  especially when it isn’t, strictly speaking, on TV  has gotten complicated. It’s not just “should I be staring at a screen for this many hours of the day?” or “I am having ‘House of Cards’ nightmares.” It’s that there are so many choices, content-related and otherwise. Sometimes it’s hard to sort through them. 

We want to help you watch online TV better: better shows to watch, better ways to watch, and, to offer up a little guidance on the thorny questions of what to pay for. Hopefully, this week’s podcast lightens the conscience of your inner couch potato. 

Our conversation with Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, the creators of “High Maintenance,” points the way. They’ve chosen to put their show exclusively online in a bargain that bestows artistic freedom but leaves them kinda broke. We also talk to our friend, Arwa Gunja, otherwise known as “The Streamstress.”  

One of the questions that came up: Is it OK to share log-in information with people outside of your household?

If you’re like 46 percent of HBO Go/Netflix/Hulu Plus/WatchESPN/Amazon Prime Instant Video watchers, you have too. The CEO of HBO Go may or may not care. There’s a shakycomplicated, really, really big debate out there. 

After we wrapped the taping of our show craving even more certainty, we posed the question to a whole bunch of people who think about the bright lines of acceptable behavior  a priest, an imam, a Supreme Court justice (she very politely declined), and more

Matt Kilmer, Music Coordinator and composer for ‘Louie’:

“…If you live with two roommates, it’s fine to have one account between you all, and likewise with family living under one roof. However, if you are sharing a password with your old best friend from high school who lives on the opposite coast as you, then that’s crossing the line IMO…$7.99/mo isn’t breaking the bank for anyone who owns a device capable of streaming from any of these services.

Marci Auld Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho:

“I personally share my Netflix and HBO account with my son who is at college. If any other family asked me, I would likely share with them too. I haven’t had friends ask me, but I would be less likely to do that, I think… I am not sure I have an objection to sharing digital media. I purchase my digital music and video, and am happy to do so. I understand why companies would put limits on how many “devices” can be used by one account. They need to make money.” 

Mitra Kaboli, senior producer of ‘The Heart‘:

“For the last few years, honestly more than I can remember, I’ve been using an old lover of mine’s Netflix account… Ethically, I have no problem with this. It’s such a small sum of money and I feel like Netflix acknowledges that accounts are shared so I don’t feel any moral qualms. The larger issue was if he got a new credit card, so I could no longer continue my ‘Orange is the New Black’ binge… Sometimes I got paranoid that these were passive aggressive messages aimed at me. Although, I’m certain they are not. He shared that account with seven or so people.”

Mustafa Umar, Director of Education and Outreach at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California:

“Sharing a password to copyrighted material is a gray area because it violates the intellectual property and copyright laws which you agreed to in the terms of service when signing up for the service. However, at the same time, it is not always directly harming anyone since that property is not transferred from one owner to the next. Given this circumstance, it comes down to the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law. I would only share a password if the person wanted to view the movie with the intention of buying it or renting it, since there would be potential benefit for the copyright holder.” 

We’re collecting more. What do you think? Where do you draw your moral lines in the digital sand?

Subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneIn, or via RSS feed

February 18, 2015

Last week, we gave you some numbers. But numbers don’t tell the whole story  or, in fact, any of your 19,100 stories.

By asking you to put some thought into the ways you use your phones, we stumbled upon a fact that is, perhaps, obvious: No two phones (or phone users) are alike. Turns out, teenagers in Florida get kind of excited when you ask them to turn their cameras off for the day. Slovakians over 35 aren’t smartphone crazy, but the younger set? At least one Bratislavan says she’s struggling. And so on. We were fascinated, and we were surprised.

To learn more, Manoush made some phone (well, Skype) calls. Listen in the audio player above, or anywhere you like to listen to podcasts (iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or RSS feed).

 

 

February 18, 2015

We’re pretty sure Bored and Brilliant week culminated in… brilliance.

To recap: Because research shows getting bored and daydreaming can boost creative thinking, we gave you an assignment. Artist Nina Katchadourian asked you to stare into a pot of water as it came to a boil. Then, thoroughly bored, she instructed you to create a dream house out of the contents of your wallet. 

We know there’s no objective way to measure wallet house wonderfulness, but, hey, it’s a dream house-eat-dream-house world out there, and Nina has chosen her favorites.

Click the audio player below to listen along to hear her announce the photos in this post. 

Listen to Nina Katchadourian pick the winning dream houses

 

Once the audio is playing, scroll through the winners below:

Honorable mentions:

Coolest Currency

Loveliest Description

Vanessa's 'lovely rumination'

Beach Houses (A Crowded Category!)

Lots of beach houses

 

 

Notable Rule-Breaker

Dioramas weren't technically allowed in the rules, but when it's this one...

 

Points for Photography

Columned house with rolling hills, next to Philip Johnson's Glass House

 

Best Multi-Purpose House

A dream house complex.

 

Credit for ‘Couldn’t Stop Thinking About It’

 

Terrific Tiny Houses

 

All in the details.

 

AND THE WINNER

“I stepped away from the computer. I waited to see what picture I just couldn’t stop returning to in my mind. And I have to say: The one I couldn’t stop thinking about was the…

Winner! Don't get upset about the plants, says Nina.

 

You can see all of the Dream Houses here (and if you haven’t made one yet? Go boil some water and send it in!)

February 14, 2015

Originally published on February 6, 2015

Kevin Holesh, the developer behind the Apple app Moment, and Mrigaen Kapadia, the developer of the Android app BreakFree, have been helping us keep track of our progress during the Bored and Brilliant challenge week. But it’s not an exact science. They’re working on different operating systems that allow different access to time-tracking apps. This likely explains why the averages for Apple devices have been so different from the Android ones.

Here they answer your questions about the apps:

BreakFree/Moment seems to be counting time when my screen is off.

Mrigaen with BreakFree: It’s understandable if this happens once in while, since Android could have killed BreakFree’s background service due to low resources. This could lead to a higher count.

Let’s say that you open your screen at 9:00 AM and BreakFree is running. The app records the time and starts the counter. But then while you are still working on your phone, your phone memory resources run low and Android needs to kill the BreakFree process. Now you switch off your screen at 9:10 AM. But because the BreakFree process was killed, it will not record the screen being turned off. Android or you restart the BreakFree process again. You open your screen at 9:15 AM and switch it off at 9:20 AM, the BreakFree process will record the 9:20 screen off against the 9:00 screen on since it missed the 9:10 screen off. So, instead of counting phone usage as two sessions of 10 (9:00 – 9:10) and 5 (9:15 – 9:20) minutes, it will be counted as one session of 20 (9:00 – 9:20) minutes. And that’s how you could get over counting.

This could also happen if you frequently kill BreakFree from the Task Manager, please avoid doing that.

BreakFree does not count phone usage based on apps running in the background, it uses the screen on and screen off times only.

Kevin with Moment: Sometimes Moment isn’t perfect at detecting your phone use. One thing you can do to make sure these weird results don’t happen again is to put your phone in your pocket upside down (top facing the ground) with the screen facing your leg when you’re not using it. Also, you can place your phone laying flat on a table with the screen down. Moment is designed to specifically ignore those two positions. That should really help eliminate any weird results you’re getting with Moment incorrectly detecting your phone use.

If you want Moment to be super accurate (and save a ton of battery), the best thing to do would be to set up a passcode or Touch ID to unlock your device. You can do that from your Settings app > Touch ID & Passcode. That will make Moment 100% accurate in tracking all of the time your phone is unlocked, and skip the entire calibration process Moment goes through at the beginning of using the app.

If you have a passcode or Touch ID set up and Moment still doesn’t seem correct, check out your Settings app > Touch ID & Passcode, and see the “Require Passcode” setting. If that’s anything other than “Immediately” your iPhone remains unlocked even after you turn the screen off with the power button. Moment counts all of the time your iPhone is unlocked, so it adds 5 (or so) minutes onto every time you unlock your iPhone. That setting needs to be set to “Immediately” in order for Moment to track your iPhone use accurately.

Moment doesn’t seem to be counting all of my time.

Kevin with Moment: Sometimes it takes a few days, and up to two weeks, for Moment to calibrate itself to how you specifically use your phone. It might not be 100% accurate at the beginning. Moment also requires access to the internet to count a person’s usage. 

BreakFree seems to be keeping my screen on longer. It doesn’t auto-close.

Mrigaen with BreakFree: Turning the screen off is a setting that the user sets in his phone settings. BreakFree does not have the permissions to change that. This could be a device specific issue. Can you write to us at support@breakfree-app.com? Mention the details of your device and a brief description of the problem, we’ll surely try to get this resolved as soon as possible.

 

 

February 14, 2015

Originally published February 2, 2015

Part of the Bored and Brilliant project is to put some hard numbers to what is normally just a vague impression we scrutinize too closely: our phone habits. Gathering the data though is an imperfect science. The usage numbers we’re getting for Android devices are significantly different from iPhone numbers. That’s our first interesting finding. 

Here’s how it works: We’re partnering with two apps, one for iPhone and one for Android. Thousands of participants have opted in to share their usage numbers with us through those apps. (The data get aggregated before we see it by the way.) During a 7-day period starting January 26th, the daily average of the total group was just about 120 minutes of phone use per day. 

Apple users, you might be breathing a sigh of relief. Android users, you’re starting to fret.

But wait.

We’ve noticed that the average minutes for folks using Android versus Apple varied considerably each day last week. Android users consistently averaged around 150 minutes, and Apple users logged in around 100 minutes, according to the apps, Moment for iPhone and BreakFree for Android. 

Are Android users just indulging almost an extra hour every day? We doubt it.

BreakFree and Moment both try to accurately keep track of your device use and screen opens. But they do this using different code on different operating systems that allow different permissions to time-tracking apps. We’re looking into why exactly they differ so much. And trying to sort out what the correct numbers should be. We can’t say for sure just yet. B&B participants, some of you are app developers, maybe you know? Share your wisdom in the comments section.

In the meantime, here’s a stat to contend with — both Android and Apple users averaged around 45 screen opens per day last week. So that seems to be counted the same in both apps. For the subset of folks who said in our survey that they spend “just the right amount of time” on their phones — and on the whole were less stressed by their phones — they averaged 32 checks a day.

 

February 13, 2015

We’ve been asking people why they’re signing up for New Tech City’s “Bored and Brilliant” project. Over 300 people have responded, and we’ve read every single word.

  • So far, 4 of you have told us you don’t want to die addicted to your phone.
  • 21 say you want to write more.
  • 3 people who don’t own a smartphone at all have signed up as a volunteer “control group.”
  • At least 1 person fears cellular device “dystopia.”
  • The largest team we’ve heard about clocks in around 30 people (a 9th grade English class).
  • There are 5 pastors and 1 rabbi who say they need a break from their tech. 
  • We’ve had people describe streets in Shanghai, Boise, Geneva, Tel Aviv, and Honolulu. 

To those of you who signed up to embrace the benefits of boredom, thanks! We’re gathering your stories, parsing the data, and hoping the collective insights will help us all figure out, together, the best way for tech to fit into our lives.

We’re grouping them into some common themes and pulling out some goals that keep coming up. 

Don’t see your reasons on here? Send it to us!

GOAL: FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH TIME I ACTUALLY SPEND ON THIS THING.
Words that came up a lot: actual, real, aware, time, curious.

“I think I use my phone less than my peers — I want to see if I’m right! I look at phone-addicted twenty-somethings with some degree of distaste, so I want to see if my perception is skewed and [if] I actually turn out to BE a phone-addicted twenty-something.”

“My phone is my assistant for work and probably my best friend… I use my phone a lot — I just don’t know how much, and I’d like to be able to measure that out before I decide to curb my usage.”

“What I’m hoping to discover is the winners and losers technology creates in my life. That is, where does it help? Where does it hinder?”

GOAL: HI, I’M ADDICTED. HELP! 
Words that came up a lot: habit, constant, conscious, break, check, Instagram, Facebook, email.

“I want to unshackle myself from my addiction to the ‘dopamine squirt.'”

“I feel like the frog in the pot of water brought to a slow boil… It hit me that I had started picking up my phone compulsively even when I knew for a fact there’s nothing to look at.”

“I don’t get good sleep, yet I love to read or watch my cell phone in bed until I fall asleep. I love it, in that warm welcoming huggy sort of way, that I’m pretty sure is the same part of my brain that likes chocolate and my boyfriend. So, I’d like to get myself to stop looking at it after 7:45 p.m. and not until like 8 a.m.

“My eyes just hurt. Please oh please give them a break.”

GOAL: TAKE MY TIME BACK. 
Words that came up a lot: time, check, productive, work, mindless, instead.

“I want to read more books, make more things, spend more time out in the world… and I want to model all of that for my kid, who is already spending too much time on Minecraft and not enough time drawing.”

“I’m tired of mindlessly consuming when I could be producing.”

“I’m very Type-A and have never in my life had a problem with procrastinating before now! And I feel the creep of low-level depression sneaking in — help!”

GOAL: FREE UP BRAIN SPACE FOR CREATIVITY.
Words that came up a lot: creative/creativity, boredom, write, think, work, ideas, project, thought.

“When I quit my job to pursue writing full-time, I did it because I wanted to have time to sit around and read books and walk around the neighborhood and visit art museums and THINK. I wanted to have long stretches of time to wonder, because without that time, your writing comes from your head or your hip rather than your soul. It becomes kiddie pool rather than ocean.”

“I want to have more time to think original thoughts and clear my head so that I may write that book I’ve been working on, that musical project I keep putting off, and start that podcast I’ve been dreaming of starting. I want to walk down the street and look at the things and the people around me, not at my phone.”

“I am trying to finish a play right now. And the phone (and the tablet) appear to be the chief culprits in two ways: they take me away from my writing (which, BTW, I begin with pen and paper), and when I do get to it, my brain feels…filled with static.”

GOAL: CONTRIBUTE FOR THE SAKE OF SCIENCE!
Words that came up a lot: Evidence, science, research, habits, data, experiment.

“I am willing to contribute to research about how we use these expensive gadgets, and maybe learning about my own habits.”

“I was hoping that I could be something of a control group for the experiment… I don’t have much time to spare to spend on my phone and when I have a little time to relax, I often refrain from using it.”

“I guess I feel pretty brilliant WHEN I’m using my phone — getting ideas from articles, stories, blogs, and pictures I see and bouncing those ideas off other people in a virtual environment (most of my friends live far away). I want to see the evidence that I’m actually more brilliant without.”

Don’t see yourself in any of these categories? Let us know — you can take our survey here. and if you haven’t signed up to take our week of challenges, we’ll be issuing them via podcast starting on Feb 2nd. Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. More Bored and Brilliant info here

Originally published January 20, 2015.

February 13, 2015

Originally published February 5, 2015.

Your participation in Bored and Brilliant has made it possible to do some really interesting — though admittedly unscientific — research.

Last week, we asked you to tell us about yourself and your phone habits. Over 1,000 of you responded. For those who were also using our partner apps, Moment and BreakFree, about 600 of you, we were able to look at how phone time and unlocks correlated with the survey results.

One tip we can give you from these results: if you want to cut down on overall time or checking, keep your phone in a bag.

The people who generally keep their phones stashed away off their bodies, average 18 fewer minutes and 11 fewer pickups per day compared to the rest of us. Now, this is correlation, not causation. But there is a connection here. The hand-holders, a small group in our bunch, logged in the most time and checks.

 

We’ve heard from quite a few parents who feel guilty about using their phones instead of playing with their kids or enjoying more meaningful personal time. On the whole, parents had more phone time than non-parents. But parents picked up their phones less often.

 

The correlation between parents and phone use might also be a reflection of another trend. People seem to change the way they use their phones as they age. Non-parents were generally younger than parents in our survey subgroup, and the older you are, the fewer pick-ups you have. But older people generally stay on longer each time they unlock their phones. And remember this isn’t generally counting phone calls – it’s screen time.

 

Have some ideas why the numbers came out this way? Tell us what you think in the comments. 

February 13, 2015

Originally published January 23, 2015.

You’ve been signing up for Bored and Brilliant because you say your phone follows you… everywhere. Endlessly. Mindlessly. In every single crack and crevice of your day. 

Friends, what follows after this colon is a spoiler: The first Bored and Brilliant Week challenge will be to keep your phone out of sight at a moment when you otherwise wouldn’t. We’ll explain the logic and the details with our the first podcast in the series on Monday, Feb. 2 (all of the challenges will be issued via podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, Overcast or RSS to make sure you get them first thing).

Until then, however, some suggestions:

Here are 18 places you could challenge yourself to keep your phone out of sight, and  just maybe  out of mind:

1. In bed.

But seriously: 44 percent of cell owners have slept with their phones in their beds and it’s bad for you. Really.

2. The train.

Half the time there’s no signal on an underground subway. It’s like the subway gods are sending us a message.

5. At a stoplight. 

RED LIGHT! RED LIGHT MEANS STOP!

6. In line for coffee.

Do you really want to read your email before you’re caffeinated, anyway?

7. While walking back to your office with that coffee.

#safetytips

8. At your desk.

It’ll be so comfortable in a drawer.

9. In a meeting.

There is always the chance that someone will maybe say something interesting and relevant to your job.

10. Before the lights go down in a movie theater.

There’s another screen to look at.

11. While the movie is playing in a movie theater.

This link contains explicit language.

12. After the lights come back up in a movie theater.

Keep it in your bag til you leave the premises. May the force be with you.

13. Bathroom

Hey. No judgment, here.

14. On a plane.

Sigh.

15. While watching TV.

There’s another screen to take the edge off things.

16. Under the table at dinner with real live people.

Everyone can tell.

17. When you want to take a picture at a party.

The moment will still exist. It will.

 18. Navigating home from said party.

This one’s more of a dare.

More ideas for other places phones flick on more than they have to? Send ’em along. As we said: Subscribe on iTunes, or on Stitcher, OvercastTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed to make sure you get the challenges first thing.

February 13, 2015
Originally published January 30, 2015
Hello!
One of the most exciting developments in our Bored and Brilliant project so far has been the influx of thoughtful suggested reads from listeners.

We figured we’d share the wealth. We’re fine-tuning how to do this (and if you have ideas, please let us know). But in the meantime, here are just some of the oh-so-counterituitively interesting reads about boredom (and beyond) you’ve been sending our way:

  • Author Neil Gaiman says boredom is what made him a writer: “But you also need the dead moments when you exhale and nothing’s coming in in order to stay alive. I hope today’s wired generation will learn to take its breaks and I especially hope our teenagers do too.” 
  • This child may or may not have survived this trip to the mall.
  • There is a conference in London called “The Boring Conference.” Is it more or less interesting than other conferences? Unclear.
  • April 11, 1954 was the “most boring day in history,” says a computer
  • Film critic Mahnola Dahrgis once wrote a heartfelt defense of dullness at the movies“Thinking is boring, of course (all that silence), which is why so many industrially made movies work so hard to entertain you. If you’re entertained, or so the logic seems to be, you won’t have the time and head space to think about how crummy, inane and familiar the movie looks, and how badly written, shoddily directed and indifferently acted it is.”
  • This artist in Texas put together a whole installation about what we look like staring at our phones all day.
  • “Told to devise a faux robot that believed it functioned better than a person, [Jim Henson] came up with a cocky, boxy, jittery, bleeping Muppet on wheels.”
  • Bertrand Russell was worried about over-stimulation back in the 1930s. He wrote an essay entitled “In Praise of Idleness,” forwarded along by listener Anthony Quinn. And Maria Popova of Brain Pickings pulled a treasure trove of Russell-on-boredom writing:  “We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that broedom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.”
  • A somewhat different tack: William Deresiewicz’s 2009 essay “The End of Solitude” argues that technology is not only taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone.”
Please keep them coming! We’re looking for reading suggestions  links, quotes, pertinent passages, videos, .gifs, books, handwritten treatises on recycled 17th century vellum, or whatever you so choose  about how technology is changing your life. 

Share the link in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or email (newtechcity[at]wnyc.org) if you’re shy.

We’ll read as fast as we can (don’t worry, we’re voracious), collect what we think is interesting for the group, and send it back out on our social media accounts, in our newsletter and on this page (for those of you choosing to cut down on social media because #BoredAndBrilliant).
February 13, 2015

Originally published January 29, 2015

In our podcast “The Case For Boredom,” we introduced researcher Sandi Mann’s hypothesis that boredom leads to creativity. She put it to the test with phone books and plastic cups.

We did another — admittedly less scientific — version with Post-It notes, sponges, plastic forks (and maybe a little bit of wine). 

This is what happens when you get 130 people really, really bored:

 

 

February 12, 2015

Originally published February 4, 2015.

As you probably heard this morning, deleting the game Two Dots was an emotional experience for me. To put it mildly.

A report: OK, so I’m still in mourning.

But I’m still here. I’m more productive. I’m not going to reinstall the app tomorrow.

Whew.

I want to answer three questions that have come up in various ways this morning:

Q1: Wait… are you getting me addicted to something else? Are you offering me heroin in place of cocaine?

A1: I’ll admit, this is a risk. I mean, look at the list below. Temptation comes in many many forms. We have to be able to live among the candy-soda-trivia-cocktails.

Which brings me to….

Q2: Which app should I delete?

A2: So, by that logic here’s the list (the links are to responses from Bored and Brilliant participants, don’t worry) as of Wednesday afternoon:

Q3: So how do you steel yourself against them?

A3: I’m gonna let you all answer this one. 

Batch delete

Don’t save your passwords 

Put Moment or BreakFree where that app used to sit

Meghan Powell Deleted FB but I had to come back to tell you that I put the Break Free app in FB’s spot on my homescreen. Ok that’s all… byeeeeeee!” 

Recruit some help

February 12, 2015

Originally published February 3, 2015.

[Each day New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi will discuss your questions and concerns about the Bored and Brilliant challenge of the day. Get in touch through FacebookTwitter, or email]

One question came up a lot today.

You’re all very dedicated:

I swear I took these photos before I even saw the email announcing today’s challenge!  But they were taken with an SLR and I am a photographer. Maybe in the podcast you give an out to photographers?” — Craig Williston, via email

A: Challenges start whenever you read them. Ideally, that’s close to the morning EST for our group data calculating purposes. But this isn’t a laboratory, and we don’t expect all 17,000 of you to start and finish your days at the same time (hi, Australia).

And if you’re a photographer? No, you don’t have to take the day off work (go ahead and blame us if you want to). This challenge is about reflexive photo-taking and contemplation. And about memories from being in the moment. Start from when you get the challenge, and adapt according to what will work in your life. See what happens when you look, just look. 

By the way, this isn’t win or lose. Try stuff and see what sticks.

 

February 12, 2015

Originally published February 2, 2015.

[Each day New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi will discuss your questions and concerns about the Bored and Brilliant challenge of the day. Get in touch through Facebook, Twitter, or email]

Challenge Day 1: In Your Pocket

Q: “Manoush, I’m psyched to start up New Tech City’s “Bored and Brilliant” project with the #NTpocket challenge, but what about listening while en route, say, to podcasts?

Rachel Ropeik @TheArtRopeik


A: Dear Rachel,

Thanks so much for your question! Here’s my short answer: It’s totally up to you.

We want everyone to choose a goal (minutes, pick ups, progress over time) that allows for the activities you consider important. I feel very strongly that this project should not be prescriptive; the goal is to get you thinking about when and how you use your gadgets and then decide to use them purposefully, rather than reflexively.

Forty percent of our participants (from the sample we surveyed) wanted to cut down on checking their phone so much as their biggest goal. For about 28 percent the top goal was to cut down on overall time spent. So, purposeful pick-ups are a big part this #BAB challenge.

So, Rachel, if you can space out while listening to podcasts, then go for it! I decided not to use my phone at all on the subway this morning. I wanted to experiment with zero smartphone interaction, podcasts or otherwise. Like #BAB participant Ken Cooper, I read the paper instead. He wanted to know whether or not that was kosher. He posted this feedback on our Facebook page:

“When I’m in the subway I typically read the newspaper on my phone. Today, I read via the original paper technology. I’m not sure what I accomplished.”

Ken, I’m curious to know if you felt any of the sensations that I did this morning? First, I felt anxious that I wasn’t scrolling through emails on my phone. Then, I settled into reading an article with far longer prolonged concentration than usual (I read about Tom Brady’s mindset in the New York Times Magazine… damn, I really want to be a quarter as “physically fit, emotionally stable and spiritually sound.”) Finally, I looked up and smelled the wet umbrellas and felt how fast the subway was actually going despite a snowy morning. I also contemplated the perception of bad weather versus real conditions. I mentally expressed gratitude to my husband for buying me new boots and reminded myself to plan better for seasonal changes in the future. I’m tired of being the mom whose kids are still wearing sneakers in January.

When I got to work, I was less frantic and, far more calmly than usual, checked my phone. For exactly three minutes. I didn’t surf around. Got down to work. And it felt good.  

Send me your questions, thoughts, feedback on Challenge #2!

Until then,

Manoush

February 11, 2015

We made it through a week of Bored and Brilliant challenges. We’ve struggled through withdrawal and reveled in release. We’ve learned about ourselves and our reflexes. And here, we crunch some numbers and start to figure out what we learned. 

After this project, it’s pretty clear: A subset of our society craves better harmony with technology. Unless we rethink how we make tech and how we use it, this subset will grow. We have pressure on tech companies into building apps and devices that fit into our lives, rather than taking them over.

On today’s New Tech City, we’ve called in the experts to talk about why over 18,000 people signed up for a project designed to rediscover quiet, reflective time undisturbed by the constant flash of gadgets. Manoush presented our findings (see below for more) to Malia Mason, a cognitive psychologist and Associate Professor at Columbia University, and Golden Krishna, a user experience designer with Samsung and Zappos on his resume, and author of “The Best Interface is No Interface.”

We gave them the data from our partner apps (Moment and BreakFree), your survey responses, and played them some audio testimonials from you. Listen to the podcast for more, of course, but here are some of our most intriguing findings:

A general note that these are all, of course, correlations and not necessarily causation – we don’t know what motivated each individual person’s stats, whether it was the Bored and Brilliant challenges, app reminders or something else.

  1. Total stats: The average decrease was 6 fewer minutes of phone use each day down from our baseline of two hours.
  2. The average decrease in phone checking was 1 fewer pickup per day. (See chart here).
  3. People felt like they made improvements: Over 90% of people who filled out our post-challenge survey felt they had cut down on their phone use, either “somewhat” or “a lot.” 
  4. Confidence went up: People also felt more certain that they could change their phone habits. Nothing to sniff at here! Ninety percent of our post-challenge survey respondents felt “somewhat” or “very” confident that they could change, compared to 80 percent in a survey before the challenge week.
  5. Gamers made the biggest strides: People who said gaming was one of the top three activities they did on their phones managed to drop the most minutes. They cut down 20 minutes every day. Possibly because of the “Delete That App” challenge.
  6. Parents made big changes: Before the challenge week, parents logged more phone time on average than participants who do not have children. During challenge week, however, parents dropped more minutes compared to non-parents (10 fewer minutes for parents compared to 4 for non-parents).
  7. The challenge most people said they plan to continue is keeping their phones in their pocket (88%). People also thought “In Your Pocket” was the most useful challenge (45%).
  8. The second most popular challenge respondents plan to continue (50%) was “Delete That App” (or, presumably, keeping that app deleted). Most people said that this was the most difficult challenge (32%). 

This isn’t over. We’re brainstorming lots of Bored and Brilliant next steps, so please do stay tuned. And the beauty of this? Challenge week can happen any time.

Keep talking about your personal dilemmas, your smartphone tips, and your somehow-riveting boredom reads on our newly created Bored and Brilliant-specific Facebook group

And for now, hit play on the audio above and dive in. 

To hear New Tech City every week, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

February 7, 2015
Welcome to the sixth and final day of our Bored and Brilliant challenge! If you’re here for the first time, you’ll want to catch up on The Case for Boredom, Challenge 1Challenge 2Challenge 3, Challenge 4, and Challenge 5
You’ve spent the week picking up your phone purposefully. You’ve kept it in your pocket, you’ve abstained from photo-taking, you’ve considered life beyond the screen. To take our project to its logical — and admittedly weird — conclusion, boredom artist Nina Katchadourian has assigned us a group project.
We want you to get really bored, and then make something creative, introspective, and personal. 

Your instructions today are multi-part: 

  • Put away your phone.
  • Put a generous pot of water on the stove and watch it come to a boil. 
    • If you don’t have a stove or a pot, find a small piece of paper and write “1,0,1,0” as small as you can until it’s full.
    • Either way, you should get bored. Keep it up as long as it takes to daydream. 
  • Next, take out your wallet and empty it of all its contents. Use them to construct your dream house. It could be the place you wish you lived in all the time or a getaway. Take as long as you need to build.
  • Give your house a descriptive name.
  • When you’re finished  and only when you’re finished  go get your phone. Take a picture of the house. (Careful with your credit card numbers.)
  • Email your picture to bored@wnyc.org, and tell us about your creation (put its name and location in the subject line, and tell us why it’s your dream house in the body). 
  • Then, high five a friend. Check out the submissions here. Share your favorites. They’ll be uploaded over the weekend.
February 6, 2015

Welcome to day five of our Bored and Brilliant challenge! If you’re here for the first time, you’ll want to catch up on The Case for Boredom, Challenge 1Challenge 2Challenge 3, and Challenge 4

Social networks help us stay connected. We love social media. But how often do we swipe past strangers’ selfies, baby pictures, and career updates in lieu of the actual humans around us?  

For our second-to-last challenge (yes, there’s a weekend project coming!), we want you to flex the creative muscles we’ve been freeing up all week. The first step is noticing. 
Your instructions: Today, go somewhere public. It could be a park, a mall, the gas station, the hallway at work or school. You pick.

Once you get there, hang out. Watch people, or objects, or anything that strikes you. Try not to be (too) creepy. Imagine what a single person is thinking, or zoom in on an uninventable detail. Just make one small observation you might have missed if your nose were glued to a screen.

If you feel inclined, and we hope you do, record that detail using a voice memo app on your phone (yes, yes, we know, but we think this is worth a pick-up). Two good ones are the built in voice memo app for iPhone or an Android one called Easy Voice Recorder. Then, email it to us at newtechcity@wnyc.org. We always love to hear from you. We’ll add it to our observation playlist below, and we might use it in an upcoming show. 

Or you can tell us about your observation in the comments below. What’d ya see? How’d it feel? 

Today’s hashtag is #NTCNotice.

 

February 5, 2015

Hello! Welcome to day three of our Bored and Brilliant challenge! If you’re here for the first time, you’ll want to catch up on The Case for Boredom, Challenge 1, Challenge 2, and Challenge 3

 

Today, you’re getting a break from email, texting, social media, or whatever means of digital communication interrupts you all day long. It’s a fauxcation (or “fake-cation” if you prefer).

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an “I’ll be back later” text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

Come up with your own. Or if you are feeling like a Bored and Brilliant Booster, use one of these badges we made for you. Whatever it’ll take to give you peace of mind while you focus.

Worried about being away from work? On our podcast today, that’s exactly what we take on: the role of boredom, downtime, and unplugging at the office.

Matthew Krentz is a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. Krentz and his company let the Harvard Business School take a small team of consultants to use as time management guinea pigs. They discovered that perpetual connectivity was good in the short term — not so much in the long term. Studies say we actually perform better when we have a chance to think. 

 

Look, we’re in media. We get it. Maybe there’s no way your boss will let you be off the grid for an hour today, and maybe not until the bigger, broader system changes. But perhaps you can make an hour for yourself tonight? That’s when more of you told us you want to reclaim time from your phone anyway. 

When you check back in, we’d love to hear how it went. Scroll through our gallery of away messages below, and let us know what you decided to go with! Our hashtag for the day is #NTCFauxcation.

February 4, 2015

Hello! Welcome to day three of our Bored and Brilliant challenge! If you’re here for the first time, you’ll want to catch up on The Case for Boredom, Challenge Number 1: Keep your phone in your pocket, and Challenge Number 2: Photo Free Day.

Flurry Analytics defines a “mobile addict” as someone who launches apps more than 60 times a day.  The average consumer launches apps 10 times a day, so to qualify as having an app dependency, you have to be pretty app crazy.

And the people most likely to be addicted? According to Flurry, teens, college students (skewing female) and middle-aged parents.

Even if you aren’t at 60 times a day, just about everyone has that one app — that one damn app — that steals away too much time. 

Your instructions for today: delete it. Delete that app. Think about which app you use too much, one that is the bad kind of phone time. You pick what that means. Delete said time-wasting, bad habit app. Uninstall it.

This will be difficult, because app designers are pretty smart. And they are pretty good at building things we want to just keep on using, over and over and over. In this episode, Manoush breaks her cycle. She deletes the seriously addictive game Two Dots. It wasn’t easy and it followed a pretty, er, dramatic confrontation with the game designer. It might be cathartic for you. 

If you need a little push to take the plunge, Dr. Zach Hambrick, professor of cognitive psychology at Michigan State University, says cell phone games do just about… nothing for your brain. You don’t get better at anything but playing the game, he says. And only that game.

“If you play Ms. PacMan a lot, you’ll get better at Mr. PacMan, and video games where you have to move through a maze. But you won’t get better at Space Invaders or some real task like filling out your tax forms,” Hambrick said.

Listen for more. And seriously… delete that app.

Today’s hashtag is: #NTCDelete. 

February 3, 2015

Hello! Welcome to day two of our Bored and Brilliant challenge! If you’re here for the first time, you’ll want to catch up on The Case for Boredom and then challenge number one: Keep your phone in your pocket.

Your instructions: See the world through your eyes, not your screen. Take absolutely no pictures today. Not of your lunch, not of your children, not of your cubicle mate, not of the beautiful sunset. No picture messages. No cat pics. 

We want you to start actually seeing that phone-free world around you. 

A recent study found Americans take more than 10 billion photos every month, and mostly on our phones. The thing is, each time we snap a quick pic of something, it could be harming our memory of it. This podcast is about psychology, creativity, and perception.   

Meet the man who inspired it here:

 

“They’re not even looking at the painting sometimes, they’re scrolling; they’re just scrolling away, looking at their phones… They’ll say I was checking and you can tell when they’re taking photos.”

— Greg Colon, security guard at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City

February 2, 2015

Your instructions: As you move from place to place, keep your phone in your pocket, out of your direct line of sight. Better yet, keep it in your bag.

While you’re boarding the train, walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in the passenger seat of a car, we’re asking you to look at your phone only when you have reached your destination. You can do it.

And when you do pick up your phone today: Here are five basic phone hygiene tips to make that screen time really count.

They come from the mind of Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of “The Distraction Addiction.” To hear more, listen to our challenge one podcast above.

Phone Freedom 101  

1. Remember to breathe

“When we check our email, wait for messages to load, we unconsciously hold our breath. And this matters because… holding your breath is something you do in moments of anxiety.”

2. Turn off non-vital notifications

I often think smartphones behave like children. When you first get them, you open them up with all their defaults, they’re set to alert you to absolutely everything. New message, pop up window. Text message, it comes up immediately… In this respect, smartphones behave like children. When they want your attention, they want it right now.”

3. Make sure you do get the notifications that matter to you

Knowing that you’ll hear about a sick kid or cancelled flight lets you rest easy about everything else.

“In an emergency, in the zombie apocalypse, who do you want to be able to reach?” Pang says. “Those people, I’ve given one ring tone. In my case it’s Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.” The whole rest of the world gets Brian Eno’s “Ambient Music for Airports.”

4. Fight “phantom phone syndrome:” Practice not answering messages right away

“We become so accustomed to extending our senses for the next call or next tweet, we begin to misinterpret other things. If [you’re] a medical resident you tend to have this an awful lot — if you’re on call and you miss your pager going off or you miss your phone, that’s a really, really bad thing, because that means someone’s in the ER and not getting your attention…  It is a small but subtle way in which your relationship between you and your phone has tipped in the phone’s favor.” 

For everyone else, you can get to that text later.

5. Carry your phone in a bag, rather than in your pocket or in your hand (this one’s extra credit!) 

“Not carrying your phone right against your body but carrying it in your bag can help ease some of that sense that you always need… to have a little of your attention turned toward your phone.”

Got more? Use the hashtags #BAB and #NTCPocket (yes, it’s kosher) to tell us about it, or add a comment below.

To make sure you hear every challenge, subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

January 29, 2015

Thousands of people are signed up to track their phone usage as they go through the Bored and Brilliant challenges to see what tech interventions can unlock creativity. The charts below show how many times we unlock our phones each day, and how many hours we spend looking at the glowing screens, according to our partner apps BreakFree and Moment

We started by setting our baseline. We took a 7-day period beginning on January 26 to February 1 to measure the typical phone habits of the group. 

As we go through the Challenge Week from February 2 through February 9, we’re watching what phone behavior changes in the group, and on which day it changes the most. 

The pink chart tracks total phone time per day. The gray chart tracks total pickups. These were the top two behaviors people told us they wanted to change in our survey.

Of course, this project is not just about the numbers. So we chose challenges that could get you thinking differently about where your phone, and your tech, fits in your life – and how your phone use affects your creativity. Let us know how it goes for you! Everyone will have their own right target numbers. 

January 28, 2015

Drumroll, please: It’s time to release some baseline Bored and Brilliant data. (If you missed our kickoff episode, listen to The Case for Boredom here).

To contextualize our numbers on this week’s podcast, we’ve got Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist and human development psychologist at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. They explain how our findings compare to the broader scientific research landscape. 

Here’s a hint at what we hear in the podcast:

Baseline stats

For the Bored and Brilliant participants using our partner Moment and BreakFree apps — and there are now more than 4,600 of you — these are the averages so far:

  • Average minutes per day: between 90 to 100
  • Average screen unlocks per day: between 40 to 50 times

That means you’re checking your phone about 2 to 3 times every waking hour. For comparison, the average non-Bored and Brilliant Moment user spends around 64 minutes on his phone per day. So our baseline is pretty high. 

You already knew this. Almost 84 percent of our participant survey respondents say they spend “too much time” or “way too much time” on their phones:

Demographics

According to Kaufman and Immordino, it’s not surprising that the subset of people signed up for our project feels that way. Here’s what we know about the 1,117 of you who took our survey:

  • 75 percent are female.
  • The average age is 36 years old.  
  • Half are married.
  • About 40 percent have kids.
  • 57 percent live what they would describe as an urban environment; 34 percent live in the suburbs.
  • Our participants tend to live in the biggest U.S. cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco), but we have people in almost every state and a number of countries around the world (Australia, the U.K. Germany, Israel, China, Japan, Switzerland, and more).

Motive

Anecdotally, we’ve heard from a lot of people with a creative bent, interested in writing books and screenplays and working on other big projects. One of the more striking takeaways from our survey? Respondents really, really want more time to just think:

Phone Behavior Miscellany 

It’s those pesky pickups! 

  • About 40 percent of respondents say the phone is adding stress to their lives.

  • Of the people who say they spend “way too much time on their phone,” 20 percent report the place they keep their phones is “in their hand.” As opposed to, say, their pocket.

  • Among the minority of respondents in our group who say they spend “just the right amount of time” on their phones, less than 1 percent say they keep their phone in their hand. Significantly more of these happy phone users are keeping their phones in their bags—out of sight, out of mind.
  • The most popular place for women to keep their phones was on their desks (47 percent). They’re doing this more than men, who are keeping their phones in their pocket (68 percent).

Loving these numbers, but want some more context? Click play on the audio player at the top of this post for the full podcast audio with more analysis and “intriguing correlations.” If you know someone who could use a little boredom and brilliance in their lives, there’s still timeget them on board (bored?) before challenges start Monday! 

You can sign up here:

We’ll issue all of our challenges via mini-podcasts starting Feb. 2. To hear them, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

January 21, 2015

High school is pretty much how you remember it, but the mean girls don’t have to look you in the eyes anymore.

There has been a lot of back and forth about how teenagers do and don’t use social media recently. The conclusions? Don’t generalize. Ask teenagers what they think. Listen. So, because phone behavior is endlessly fascinating to the New Tech City team, we decided to do just that.

On this week’s episode, 16-year-old Grace was kind enough to keep an audio diary of everything she does on her phone. Hear her navigate through endless app alerts, group messaging drama, clueless grown-ups, that bizarre old technology of email and even how she handles a sext request. Grace has some pretty good advice all around, even if you don’t know any teens:

1. Cyberbullying is, more often than not, minor burns.

“Of course people say like snotty things…or someone will unfollow someone on Instagram or something like that, but its not, like, awful awful like ‘Go kill yourself.’”

2. Not every picture goes on Snapchat or Instagram.

 

In fact, some get locked away. Grace uses the Photo Vault app, which puts pics behind a passcode. It’s free and can be downloaded here.

3. Anonymous Apps like Whisper and Yik Yak? Way over.

 

Grace did do a little Yakking on Yik Yak, but once too many people joined in on the anonymous posting, “it was just bizarre.” Like Tamagotchi and hairbands in Central New Jersey, anonymous apps have come in and out of style.

4.  There’s always one kid making everyone jealous.

In Grace’s town, getting a phone at the end of elementary school or beginning of middle school is the norm.

But: “There is always, like, one kid who gets it super early.” 

5. Sexting is not widespread (or, at least, not taken seriously).

 

6. There is still paper in school.

Besides essays (which are typed, 12-point font, and double-spaced) Grace’s assignments have her writing out her work by hand.

7. There’s a trick to recharging your phone faster during class.

Putting your phone on airplane mode before plugging it in speeds up charge times. You might not be able to get Internet or texts, but if you’re in a rush, this is the way to go. This video by CNET last year showed a phone charging a whole four minutes sooner in airplane mode.

Turning it off completely would go even faster. But then, you know, your phone is off.

8. Acronyms: so LOL.

Despite articles like this warning parents about all the acronyms kids use, Grace said it’s not the case. Out of the list, she says she only sees “THOT” and “420.”

“These rest are made up or weirdos use,” Grace said. She’s got some new ones though that she and friends make up as they go along. 

9. Trust your kids.

This is the most important. Grace advises parents to respect their kids’ phones, unless they have reason to believe their child needs help.

“Not every kid is sexting. Your kid is probably not sexting. Don’t go through their phones, that’s not good… even if you have good intentions, it’s going to backfire.”

It really is probably more innocent than you think.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

January 14, 2015

1. How do I get started with Bored and Brilliant?

You’ll want to download one of our partner apps to your phone (more information here) and sign up to receive a week of daily challenges in your inbox.

2. Moment only works on iPhones. BreakFree is only for Android. What if I’m a Windows phone user?

For Windows, we’ve heard RescueTime works in much the same way as the other apps, and it should let you set a baseline (how much you look at your phone to begin with), and then participate in all of the challenges.  

3. What if I have an iPhone, but don’t want to upgrade to iOS8?

No pressure. You can use another app — like Checky —  that doesn’t require an upgrade. It’ll give you your baseline stats to work with.

4. Isn’t it ironic to use a phone app for a project that’s all about decreasing phone usage?

Yes. Technically, it’s a paradox. Our thinking: We’re not suggesting anyone get rid of their phones. We don’t want to get rid of our phones. We want to learn to live with them in a healthy way. So what better tool than the phone itself? 

5. Do podcasts count as phone time?

Good question: That is your call to make. Kevin Holesh, the maker of Moment, decided that activities like listening to podcasts or talking on the phone don’t count — his app only measures active screen time. BreakFree lets you choose whether or not to count phone calls in daily minutes. That said, Manoush does consider podcast listening part of her personal total. Her goal is to make time that is completely phone-free to encourage spacing out. 

We feel the same way about ebooks, news, and listening to music: You get to decide what your goals are here. (We are curious though — please do tell us what you want to get out of this project.)

6. How do I take the challenges?

Challenges are issued via a mini-podcast episode for you over the course of the week. If you subscribe to the Note to Self podcast, you’ll see the challenges in your feed (the originals aired in February 2015). Subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or via RSS.  

Each of those mini-episodes will be short and sweet, explaining the logic behind the day’s challenge, along with some research and/or personal stories to help you achieve your goal in the challenge. We’ll send out an early morning email to keep you in the loop and on track each day that week, and you can (yes, we see the irony) follow along on social media as well.  

Until then, use Moment, BreakFree, or the app of your choice to get a baseline. Gotta start somewhere. 

You can listen to our first podcast in the series  A Case for Boredom  to learn more.

7. The Bored and Brilliant illustration is amazing. Where did it come from?

Right? The illustrator is named John Hersey. He lives in San Francisco. This is his website.

8. The music in these mini-podcasts is amazing. Where did it come from?

The Bored and Brilliant project features music by Broke for Free (brokeforfree.com).  A unique, daily remix of “The Gold Lining” from the album Gold Can Stay begins each show, while”Add And” from the album Petal concludes them.  

Other featured music from Bored and Brilliant comes from the excellent composers at BWN Music (bwn-music.com), minimalist composer Chris Zabriskie, (chriszabriskie.com) and Note to Self’s sound designer Andrew Dunn(soundsgrand.com).

9. What is Note to Self?

Glad you asked! We’re a podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi, taking on the questions of how technology is changing society, and changing us in personal ways. If you want to get to know us, may we suggest:

Subscribe to the Note to Self podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

10. I can’t find you on Facebook. Link please?

With pleasure.

11. I signed up, but I’m not seeing the newsletter in my inbox. Where are they?

Be sure to check your spam filter. We also send a Note to Self newsletter every Wednesdays. The sender is “Note to Self.”

12. Moment has a location tracker. What is their privacy policy?

You can find Moment’s privacy policy here. Here are some FAQs about Moment.

At WNYC, we promise we’ll only use your information as described in our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

13. I’m having a problem with Moment or BreakFree.

Unfortunately, we can’t do much to help with our partner apps beyond pass on feedback. Here’s the contact form for Moment. Here’s how to get in touch with BreakFree.

14. You didn’t answer my question. How do I get in touch?

Feel free to send us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or email (notetoself[at]wnyc[dot]org.)

January 12, 2015

Note to Self’s Bored and Brilliant project is a week of challenges that will guide you to less phone time and more creativity. You can start at any time. 

Here’s how to participate:

Opt-in for the challenges and let us know where to send Note to Self’s. This is how we’ll tell you what the daily challenge is. 

January 12, 2015

This episode kicks off the biggest project New Tech City has ever done: Bored and Brilliant. Our goal is to get you rethinking your relationship with technology. Sign-up for the NTC newsletter to get the challenges. 

 

Here’s the issue: It goes back to when Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007 — that’s less than a decade ago. Fifty-eight percent of American adults have a smartphone today. Sixty-seven percent of the time, people are looking at their phones without any sort of ring or vibration. Forty-four percent of Americans have slept with their phone next to their beds.

Statistics aside, all you really have to do is go outside and see how many people can’t even walk without staring at a screen. We counted them!

When we asked for your stories, many of you told us smartphones make you feel like you have the power to be connected all the time, organized beyond measure, and never, ever without entertainment while you’re waiting for coffee. But you’ve also told us they make you feel dependent, exhausted, and addicted — some of you say you’re actually relieved when you lose or break your phones for a day.

There’s a paradox here. But one thing is clear: Paying attention to our smartphones through so many of our waking moments means our minds don’t spend as much time idling.

And that matters! We talked to boredom researcher Sandi Mann of the University of Lancashire of the U.K.  

“You come up with really great stuff when you don’t have that easy lazy junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time,” says Sandi Mann. 

Mann’s research finds that idle minds lead to reflective, often creative thoughts (we discuss her projects in depth in this week’s show). Minds need to wander to reach their full potential. 

During bouts of boredom our brains can’t help but jump around in time, analyzing and re-analyzing the pieces of our lives, says Jonny Smallwood, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of York in the UK. He says inspiration strikes in the shower because it’s a moment when we’re not really looking at or focusing on anything else.

Researchers have only really started to understand the phenomena of “mind-wandering” — the activity our brains engage in when we’re doing nothing at all — over the past decade or so.

“There’s a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity… and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle,” Smallwood said.

But when mental stimulation is a touch of the phone away?

“That’s where daydreaming and boredom intersect,” Smallwood says. “What smartphones allow us to do is get rid of boredom in a very direct way because we can play games, phone people, we can check the Internet. It takes away the boredom, but it also denies us the chance to see and learn about where we truly are in terms of our goals.”

And that’s where Bored and Brilliant comes in. 

Let’s do it together. Sign up here:

 

Subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

January 7, 2015

Leslie Horn made the case for voicemail on New Tech City this week. She shared her story of how a saved message from her father helped her cope after his death —  and since we aired that piece, many of you have gotten in touch to say you, too, have precious personal moments in audio on your phone you want to safeguard from the next upgrade. 

So the logical follow up question is: How do you save a voicemail forever?

If you ask, we answer. This isn’t a comprehensive list of options — if you’ve found other systems that work for you, please let us know in the comments.

A really easy way:

  • Play your voicemail on speakerphone in front of a tape recorder, or recording software on your computer (Audacity is free to download), phone or tablet. Listen to make sure you can understand it. There. Done. (Pro: simple. Con: not the best quality.)

Some pretty easy way(s):

  • Treat your computer like a set of headphones for your phone. You’ll need a male-to-male cord auxiliary cable (available at most electronics stores). Plug that into your phone’s headphone jack on one end, and put the other end into the “line-in” outlet on your computer. Use whichever recording software you like (again, Audacity is free), hit play on the phone, and press “record” on the computer. (Pro: good sound quality. Con: you have to buy a cable.)
  • Use an app. There are several third-party apps (you can try iMazingPhoneView, ecamm, or, straight to the point, Voicemails Forever.) They let you look at the device’s data on your computer desktop, then you can save whichever files you’d like. (Pro: Best sound quality possible. Cons: They cost money, it can be hard to find the exact file you want.)

For the future:

  • Set up a voicemail-to-email service like Google Voice or YouMail and sync it with your phone. Have all of your voicemails emailed to you as mp3s. 

BONUS POINTS: Pick one of your favorite voicemails and email it to us (newtechcity@wnyc.org). We might use it on a future show. Just please be sure to get the speakers’ permission first! We can’t use it if you don’t. 

January 7, 2015

Find a 20-something, a 30-something and a 40-something. If you’re feeling especially experimental, add in a 70-something and a teenager. Say the word: “voicemail.” Watch what happens.

Voice messages — and the etiquette around them — are changing. Some people are rooting for voicemail to disappear completely from our communication repertoire.

“Typing and talking have an inverse relationship: as it’s gotten easier to write your feelings, it’s gotten more difficult to speak them.”

Gizmodo writer Leslie Horn makes a powerful case for voicemail in an essay last year that we just loved. It… well, it stuck with us, and we really wanted to hear the voices she described. Because those scratch recordings buried in her phone’s voicemail folder got her through the tough months after her father’s death. “Voicemail is a default archive of your life. You would miss it if it were gone,” she says. 

So this week’s show is about the way listening can jog memories and emotions like nothing else. To that point, we’d really encourage you to listen to this one above even if you have read her post already. (You can listen by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.)

And when you’re done, leave us a voicemail! Our number is (917) 924-2964. Don’t let our inbox look like this:

Don't let our inbox look like this! Give us a call and tell us your story.

December 31, 2014

This week, an encore of one of our favorite New Tech City episodes ever: The tale of David Joerg, self-professed tech addict.

David spent years living the life many kids can only dream of: video games at 3 a.m., Nutella from the jar, unlimited hours clicking from one piece of tech news to the next. 

Running on three hours of sleep per night, he became, in his words, “a zombie.” He decided it had to stop – so he put his techie mind to work, and built a system that totally cut him off. Spoiler: It involves his daughter’s piggy bank.

Listen above. And if you’re struggling too? You can request a copy of the program for yourself from David here

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

December 24, 2014

May we suggest a holiday activity for the family?

Sleep. Without screens. Get a lot of it. 

New research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that that bluish-glow from computers, smart phones and tablets is, in fact, keeping us up at night, and the impacts are worse than scientists previously suspected. Not only are our devices keeping us up later and later into the evenings, they’re actually making it more difficult for us to fall asleep at all. The consequences are psychological and biological.

So no, this isn’t an excuse to push the kids away on Christmas morning. It’s more of a long-term lifestyle plea, culled from a ton of data WNYC collected earlier this year. And in that spirit, we’re re-airing one of our favorite episodes from 2014, about something we do every day (or at least we try to do). Getting enough rest to stave off some pretty staggering screen-fueled sleep deficits. 

Give it a listen (or another, if you caught it earlier this year), and join us in getting some much-needed rest this winter.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

December 17, 2014

Somewhere hidden in the sleepy suburbs of New Jersey, there is a very small town. This all-American village boasts good public transit, its own reservoir, a coffee shop, a church, a bank… you name it. Their international airport rarely has delays. 

Where is this idyllic hideaway? That’s a military secret. 

CyberCity, as it’s called, serves as a training ground for a new class of specialized “cyber warriors,” capable of defending against cyber attack. Every day, soldiers plot to take over the town, by hacking into its schools, its water systems, its power grid, and its Internet, as colleagues and instructors watch on screens in the other room. It’s run by the SANS Institute’s Ed Skoudis, whom the military hired to design a new generation of training equipment –  and, as Skoudis said, your average digital simulator wasn’t going to cut it:

“If you tell them, ‘Hey, one of your folks was able to hack into a power grid and turn the lights back on,’ certain people in the military leadership would look at that and say, ‘You just showed me that my people can play a video game.’ Whereas we can say it was a real power grid. Admittedly controlling a city whose surface area was 48 square feet – but still.”

While we can’t disclose CyberCity’s precise location, we can say this: Skoudis’ souped-up model train set sits very near the center of innovation in military training, national security and technology-fueled warfare.

We sent radio producer Eric Molinsky (of the podcast “Imaginary Worlds“) to check it out in person. We were oohing and aahing right along with him (listen above). Because what Skoudis told him was simultaneously terrifying…

“Those people in CyberCity are not physical little people. What they are is, they’re data…. Most of the residents have birth records in the hospital, some of them are getting various medical treatments, they have prescription medications – all that stuff is in the hospital. We have social networking inside of Cyber City. We have something very like Facebook, we have something very much like Twitter. We have a newspaper in Cyber City. We call it the Cyber City Sentinel. So for example we’ll have a reporter who writes Cyber City Sentinel articles. That reporter also has a bank account. That reporter also has birth records. She has a family. So there’s really – I guess the way to describe it is there’s a fabric to the citizenry of Cyber City.”

…and kind of charming. Listen to the full story on this week’s episode of New Tech City, in the audio player above, on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

Cyber City by day. Everything has a specific purpose for cyber war scenarios – like the train that can get hijacked.

Skoudis is proud of the details within Cyber City like this house with a flowerpot. While he doesn’t want human figures in the model, those details reminds him that people’s livelihoods are at stake.

It feels like a hazy bright morning by the power plant in Cyber City.

There are some notes of whimsy on the model, like the DeLorean from Back to the Future.

During cyber war games, the school is often off-limits in the rules of engagement, which provides a challenge for the cyber warriors.

 

The power plant may be a plastic simulation, but the computer system that runs it underneath the model has to be realistically high tech.

Technicians monitor Cyber City through web cams. They can also use those laptops to make mayhem happen.

Ed Skoudis describes his Steampunk office as “a mad scientists’ lab from the 1880s.” There’s a model train that runs along the ceiling. He also has Edison bulbs, an Enigma machine, vintage radios from

 

This week, Manoush is up for a challenge: Come up with a topic you know you should care about, but it just sounds so boring. We’ll figure out a way to make it interesting, and we’ll convince you to care once and for all (well, first we’ll figure out if you need to care. That first.)  Email us (newtechcity@wnyc.org), tweet at us (@NewTechCity), or leave a comment on our New Tech City Facebook page. 

December 11, 2014

Ed. Note: The New Tech City intern took on a huge challenge. She taught her dad how to listen to podcasts, and lived to tell this tale. 

Unsurprisingly, I love podcasts. I listen to them on long runs, while walking to work, and getting around on the subway. My dad walks about two hours a day, so I introduced him to podcasts a while back, and he, too, fell in love. There was just one problem: He’d only listen when I presented him with a screen where all he had to do was hit play.

It’s understandable, I guess. Not all parents are technologically savvy enough to get the audio they want to hear.

But it’s really not that hard. So I decided it was time. I sat down with my dad and did not place a single one of my fingers on his screen. Yes parents, this post is for you. So grab your iPhone and follow along (Android users, you can go ahead and scroll to the bottom) . You’ll soon have more audio than your ears can handle.

STEP 1: The App       

Now it’s important to remember this was my dad’s first time doing this all by himself, so I kept things as simple as possible.

“Alright dad, go to the ‘Podcasts’ app. It’s purple,” I said, hoping this would be a task he could manage.

It took a bit – there was a lot of scrolling and a few not-so-pleasant grumbles of frustration – but finally he found the Podcasts app that comes automatically downloaded on the iPhone. He tapped it open.

STEP 2: The Choice     

“I don’t know what this means,” he said, a bit angry that it had taken him five minutes just to find the app.  

I tried to calm him down, and reminded him that if he just took the time now, he’d be able to listen to all his favorite shows whenever he wanted.

“This is your home screen, where all the shows you like will go,” I said. “This is the fun part, when you get to choose the episodes you want to listen to.”

I had him hit the search button and type in the shows he likes. I looked away for a minute, and he’d already found New Tech City and Radiolab. All I did was sit back to watch as he hit the cloud icon next to each episode he wanted to download (he didn’t want to commit to subscribing to any shows yet, despite my reassurance that he could always unsubscribe, and they’re free). The man is one of simplicity; he only wants a few options on his iPhone at a time.

 “This is great. I can search ESPN, get Mike and Mike, and any one I want. I just hit the cloud?”

“Yup.” I had to admit I was in shock. My dad had transformed from confused to conqueror with ease. And he was asking some really great questions.

“What if I want to find out what the episode is about before I start listening?”

“Just hit that “i” next to the title (it looks like this:) and it’ll tell you information about the episode. Just remember “i” for information.” 

 He was happy. And he’d done it all by himself, so I was too.

STEP 3: The Listen    

“Alright Hannah, now I just want to start the thing. How do I do that?”

I explained that all he had to do was click on the episode, and it would start playing. He could pause it, rewind it, and change the volume.

“Oh wow, look at that. This will be great. Very cool. Perfect for the gym or something. Instead of just walking I could be listening and learning.”

“Exactly Dad. And now you’ll never need my help again.”

He chuckled. But I was confident. I got up and we high-fived. I was about to leave my smiling, now somewhat tech-savvy dad to his listening when he stopped me.

“Hey Hann, how do I find out about other podcasts?”

What more could I have asked for. I sat back down. We were going to need a few more minutes.

Got an Android? 

There’s no need to fear; it’s still just as easy. Rather than using the Podcasts app, we recommend downloading Stitcher or WNYC’s app to listen to all your favorite podcasts. In no time, you’ll be streaming just as much audio as Hannah’s dad (We dare ya. He got through the first eight episodes of Serial in one day). 

Hannah is happy to report this activity really worked. Here’s a text she got from her dad the very next morning after their little session:

 

December 10, 2014

In this week’s show, we offer a humble helping hand through a messy digital dilemma. 

Your Facebook feed has become the new town square. The new water cooler. The new [insert your analogy of choice]. Sometimes your far off “friends” and relatives share views far out of step with your values. It can get ugly. 

“One of my elementary school friends who I grew up with posted a story about hair salons accepting EBT cards,” listener Tamika Cody tells us. “Some of her friends started to chime in. They poked fun at how African Americans spoke and how they were ‘gonna get their hair did.’ By the time they got to the whole ‘Chinamen’ and doing nails, I just said, ‘you know what, this is just too much for me.’”

Tamika quit Facebook. 

Before you go that far, scroll down (or click play). We’ve called in the experts. We’ve commissioned a survey; consulted a psychologist about how racism on Facebook slips by; collected some personal examples; and we’ve adapted a tool for healthy dialogue into this handy flow chart for you to pin on your wall, physical or digital.

 

Some Data for You

We commissioned a survey from the market research company Survata. Of the nearly 300 Facebook users polled, 46 percent have seen a discussion about race show up in their newsfeed in the past month. Almost a third of them say they’ve considered blocking or unfriending someone over offensive comments about the news.

The Bottom of the Barrel

Among those numbers are listeners like Vishavjit Singh, who wrote to tell us about the reaction to his 28-second Facebook video, which has been viewed over four million times. Singh, who has a beard and wears a turban, shared what people said to him:

Yeah.   

We’ve included a few other examples, and some smart, thoughtful, constructive ways to respond, in this week’s episode.

What are you seeing out there, New Tech City listeners? Please tell us (and like us!) on our newly-created… you guessed it… Facebook page. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed
December 5, 2014

Fact: Technology is changing our lives. But one thing that hasn’t changed: You still have to buy your people gifts for the holidays.

Here’s what we’re thinking:

slideshow_5.jpg (1200×800)

1. Nothing says “♥” like emoji swag – because, as we proved in our great text-only-in-Emoji experiment, it’ll be good for your relationship. Emoji stickers. Emoji masks.

 

Technology Savvy iPhone & iPod Case

2. Slow down a digital addiction with an artisanal iPhone protector. These Society6 cases snap around the front of the device, so it takes an extra step to check your phone. And they’re all designed by artists

 

Soviet Space Dogs cover

3. We were touched by the emotional power of space tourism, so we figure if you have the cash (and we mean a lot of it), maybe it actually makes sense to go for the splurge of a lifetime and get a special someone a ticket to outer space. Or, you know, a book about Soviet Space Dogs.

 

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4. Since we know reading on screens might be hurting our ability to focus, how about… an actual book? Like The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a good one.

 

 Pocket Share Options in iOS 8

5. For the die-hard screen-loyalists, how about a subscription to the app Pocket ? It’s for the unfocused online reader? (Plus: It’s free).

 

 Snow Set

6. Know a kid who loves Minecraft? Even the most anti-screen parents will be OK with the paper version: Papercraft.

 

7. Reward the loyalest public radio listeners with Sol Republic earbuds that won’t fall out of their ears.

 

 SparkFun Digital Sandbox

8. Give kids a Digital Sandbox from SparkFun – they’ll learn how to code the fun way, with their own tiny, unintimidating computer. It comes with special exercises that give real world feedback like blinking lights and spinning sens