In this second article on technology addiction at MercatorNet, I look at the data from Adam Alter’s book Irresistible: The rise of addictive technologies and the business of keeping us hooked.
This first of two articles I review Sharon Begley’s book Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation into Compulsions. Begley says that our need to check our cell phone every five minutes is not an addiction, but a compulsion. Begley is a science writer and has written on obsessive compulsive disorder. This current book shows that rather than an addiction, which comes with a high, we constantly turn to our cell phones to keep from feeling anxious.
I’ve written on our relationship to technology on several occasions for MercatorNet. It is a topic that reveals much about human nature. For example, since last October I have acquired a couple of new writing projects, including a new client. I have finished a short creative non-fiction piece and finished drafting a fiction piece. I have also socialized more in real life. What changed? My Facebook password. My husband knows it, but I don’t. It’s a small thing that has had big results.
I have a new article at MercatorNet on embargoes on scientific reporting and how they can go wrong. When journalists report on breaking science news, they actually receive the journal article information and press release a week before the research is published in a journal. This, in theory, allows journalists to digest the research and get comments from all sides of the story. However, embargoes can be mis-used by journals or organizations, like the FDA, to control how science is reported.
It has been a little while since I have posted a new article largely because I have been working on other projects lately. One of those larger projects is on time and technology. My newest article in MercatorNet is a short article on some research topics I came across while working on this project. It looks at how social media is both enticing and addictive.
I have a new article at MercatorNet on Facebook’s Trending feature and the controversy that just won’t go away. First Facebook came under fire for allegedly removing conservative outlets from their Trending news list. Then people were surprised to learn that Trending has news curators (i.e., journalists) who post the news. Finally, when Facebook fired their curators and made Trending more algorithm-based, some no-so-worthy news items slipped through the filter.
I have a new article in Salvo Magazine on Euthanasia. This is my second Casualty Report for Salvo and this time I provide the latest numbers on how many people have died as a result of euthanasia, where it is legal, and how physician-assisted suicide has changed over the years. The article is by subscription in Salvo Issue 38.
American female runner Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand collided during a 5,000m semi-final after Hamblin tripped to avoid the person in front of her causing D’Agostino to run into her. D’Agostino was first to get up and tried to encourage a disoriented Hamblin to finish the race. Hamblin said afterwards:
“I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?’…Then suddenly, there’s this hand on my shoulder [and D’Agostino saying], ‘Get up, get up, we have to finish this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.’”
Quartz writer Marc Bain says that these women embodied the Olympic Spirit that Pierre de Coubertin advocated. Coubertin was a humanist who wanted to counter nineteenth century spiritual and moral decline. Coubertin believed that the point of sport was to cultivate virtues. To him, it was how you compete more than whether you won that made you an Olympian.
We are schizophrenic when it comes to sports, professional or Olympic. Sometimes we are with Pierre de Coubertin in believing that the athlete is mind, body, and character and that he or she should be held to a higher standard of virtue than others. One of the arguments against doping is that athletes serve as role models to children.
At the same time, we want winners. We want our guy to be the best and to win at all costs. Winners write history.
The athlete is a race horse with a feeding and training regimen based on the best science, technology, and pseudoscience have to offer. Athletes try everything from sleeping in a hypobaric chamber to suction cups, cryotherapy, and electrode massages and any other ritual that may or may not involve visiting the witch at Endor and signing a waiver in blood with a phoenix feather.
In one view man is like a well-oiled machine. In the other view, he is like a god. Postmoderns like to make gods of their machines so it is no wonder that we have conflicting expectations from our athletes. And, for us, our gods must embody the highest good: progress. We need to know that we are progressing to be more godlike, whether that means more machine-like or immortal or both. This idea of progress is measured in broken World Records and impossible feats of prowess.
The problem with progress is that it has no time for the weak. We sit awestruck by the way that Simone Biles flies in the air or Usain Bolt leaves his competition in the dust or Michael Phelps glides through the water. They are almost inhuman in their abilities. But, it is D’Agostino and Hamblin’s humanness that, ironically, made them special. Biles, Bolt, and Phelps may stroke our pride, but D’Agostino and Hamblin touch our soul. They are mortals who fall, get mentally disoriented, and tear their ACL. And, unlike machines they somehow found within themselves the strength to cross the finish line in the midst of weakness.
Neither of them could remember D’Agostino going down and the last bit of the race. D’Agostino said in an interview that she prayed her way through the last lap and drew from the Bible verse written on her hand (“now to him who is able”). Hamblin pointed out that life is made up of these moments, and when all is said and done, it is the people you remember.
When asked why they have received such an outpouring of support from people, D’Agostino said that on a deeper level we know as humans that this is what we’re meant to do, to sacrifice for and serve each other.
It is in this sense that D’Agostino and Hamblin were like gods, though not one that resides on Mt. Olympus,
I wrote this article after Harvard’s George Church and several others published a proposal to make a synthetic human genome. They are calling their project HGP-Write. Prior to this proposal I had been researching some of the flaws in genetic testing for a fiction piece. I came across a fascinating article in The Atlantic on forensics and false positives in DNA matching. I also read a research paper on “genetic superheroes” that calls into question some of our assumptions about fully penetrant diseases.
Salvo Magazine has a section called “Casualty Report” where they will report on current trends and statistics. I wrote this quarter’s report on sex trafficking. While the report is factual in tone, it was a difficult topic to research. I had to work on the report in small chunks because some of the testimonials were hard to read, particularly the ones about using sex slavery as a war tactic. I said several prayers for these women and children during my research.
You can read the report online here.
I have a new article at MecatorNet on the rise of ransomware and hacking hospital networks. When I pitched this idea, I was thinking that this would be a medical data privacy issue, but as I was doing the research, I found that hospital hacking was not really about about data privacy, but is a tech-savvy way to commit an old fashioned crime.
Check out “Hacking Hospitals and Holding Data Hostage.”
I have a new article in Quartz, an online publication that hits a wide audience and is geared toward the global business community. Find my article here, “Pigs with human hearts, and other wild tales from the future of organ donation.”
I had been interested in writing an article about some of the weird alternatives to organ donation for a while. New research on xenotransplantation (organs from animals), gene editing, human-animal chimeras, 3D printing, and mechanical organs sounded both weird and hopeful that one day scientists may find an alternative to obtaining organs from cadavers. However, while these new technologies may solve one of bioethics’ classic dilemmas, too few organs for the people who need them, it brings up new and complex questions about life, death, and what it means to be human.
I have a new article at a new venue for me. MercatorNet is an international online publication that is dedicated to re-framing ethical and policy debates in terms of human dignity. My article is on bodyhackers, people who take a “hacker’s approach” to enhancing their bodies. Bodyhackers have made headlines for implanting magnets in their fingertips, headphones in their ears, or LED lights under their skin.
Check out my article here.
I have a new article in Christian Research Journal (by subscription only) that discusses the ethics of altruistic and commercial surrogacy. I look at Jennifer Lahl’s documentary, Breeders: A sub-class of women, where she interviews former surrogates. For this piece, I spoke to a couple of experts to get their insight on gestational surrogacy: Paige Cunningham, president of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity,* and C. Ben Mitchell, author and Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy Union University.
*I update bioethics.com, a website that is a project of CBHD, and write articles for CBHD’s newsletter.
In grad school I wrote a paper about Asimov’s three laws of robotics and whether they were analogous to an ethical system called divine command theory. I thought I was being clever since robots are programmed to do certain things, and a “good” robot does what it is programmed to do. The paper was a dud. I probably should have written about principlism, since pretty much all of Asimov’s robot stories are about what happens when his three laws conflict with each other. Live and learn.
Even though the paper flopped, my research for that paper was very helpful in looking at the various ways that people have tried to address the question of robot ethics. Robot ethics has become increasingly important as we automate complex activities that interface with humans.
The recent issue of Scientific American has an article by Carl Erik Fisher, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at Columbia University, in which he explores whether behavioral addictions are mental illnesses or just bad habits. His article, “Food, sex, gambling, the internet: When is it addiction?” is available by subscription.
Fisher defines behavioral addictions as “an overwhelming, repetitive and harmful pattern of behaviors apart from drug or alcohol abuse.” Behavioral addictions are things like an addiction to gambling or shopping or video games or sex. The DSM-5, the encyclopedia of mental disorders, has a category for gambling addiction, and “internet gaming disorder” was added to the appendix as needing further study.
Check out my latest post at Salvo’s blog, Signs of the Times. I look at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on how the words “natural,” “unnatural,” and “nature” are used in the media, journals, and in other venues. In other words, what does it mean when someone says, “Genetic modification is so unnatural” or “I only eat things that are natural”? The UK-based bioethics council is concerned about how this kind of value-laden language affects people’s acceptance of new technologies.
As I enter into my fifth year of trying my hand at this wild ride called freelance science writing, I’ve decided to make some changes to my business. Some of this is behind-the-scenes and some will be pretty apparent. I am still in the process of revamping my business plan, but here are few of the changes that are in store:
In light of other recent news, it was easy to ignore another star’s sordid life confessional. If you missed it, Charlie Sheen decided to disclose that he was diagnosed with HIV four years ago. His choice to go public was spurned by blackmail threats by one, or perhaps more, of his past partners. Sheen’s poor life choices aside, medical blackmail is a growing concern in a time when medical information is vulnerable to disclosure. It goes beyond an individual exploiting a juicy piece of gossip for personal gain. Now that electronic medical records are becoming more common, just how often does medical blackmail happen?
My latest post in Salvo’s Signs of the Times addresses a question posed by several researchers from Australia, The Netherlands, and the U.K. in a recent commentary in Nature Methods: What if stem cells turn into embryos in a dish?
While it is not yet possible to turn pluripotent stem cells into embryos, it may one day be.