Does Facebook Divide Us?

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“Social media platforms use algorithms that play to our need for stimulus, on our worries, our fears and, yes, our hates to keep us clicking so they can show us ads. Seattle Times, October 28, 2018 (Donna Grethen / Op-Art)

Readers of MillersTime may know that in January I stopped using Facebook. There were a number of reasons (see Goodbye Facebook), but an important one for me was my belief that FB was adding to the divisiveness in our country, in part because they could continue to build market share and make money from its usage.

A couple of days ago the Wall Street Journal posted an article that addressed this issue. The article began:

A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart.

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior?

The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.

If this issue and analysis interests you, read the WSJ’s entire analysis:

Facebook Executives Shut Down Efforts to Make the Site Less Divisive by Jeff Horwitz & Deepa Seetharaman, May 26, 2020, WSJ.

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Moving Forward, Dr. James Stein

A former colleague of Ellen’s sent this to her this morning, and Ellen sent it on to me. It’s a straight forward, up to date summary of how Dr. James Stein, cardiologist based at U-Wisconsin at Madison, sees where we are as parts of the country relax restrictions and how we individually can think about our personal decisions:

COVID-19 Update as We Start to Leave Our Cocoons

The purpose of this post is to provide a perspective on the intense but expected anxiety so many people are experiencing as they prepare to leave the shelter of their homes. My opinions are not those of my employers and are not meant to invalidate anyone else’s – they simply are my perspective on managing risk.

Key point #1: The COVID-19 we are facing now is the same disease it was 2 months ago. The “shelter at home” orders were the right step from a public health standpoint to make sure we flattened the curve and didn’t overrun the health care system which would have led to excess preventable deaths. It also bought us time to learn about the disease’s dynamics, preventive measures, and best treatment strategies – and we did.

For hospitalized patients, we have learned to avoid early intubation, to use prone ventilation, and that remdesivir probably reduces time to recovery. We have learned how to best use and preserve PPE. We also know that several therapies suggested early on probably don’t do much and may even cause harm (ie, azithromycin, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir). But all of our social distancing did not change the disease.

Take home: We flattened the curve and with it our economy and psyches, but the disease itself is still here.

Key point #2: COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal influenza (about 5-10x so), but not nearly as deadly as Ebola, Rabies, or Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever where 25-90% of people who get infected die. COVID-19’s case fatality rate is about 0.8-1.5% overall, but much higher if you are 60-69 years old (3-4%), 70-79 years old (7-9%), and especially so if you are over 80 years old (CFR 13-17%). It is much lower if you are under 50 years old (<0.6%). The infection fatality rate is about half of these numbers.

Take home: COVID-19 is dangerous, but the vast majority of people who get it, survive it. About 15% of people get very ill and could stay ill for a long time. We are going to be dealing with it for a long time.

Key point #3: SARS-CoV-2 is very contagious, but not as contagious as Measles, Mumps, or even certain strains of pandemic Influenza. It is spread by respiratory droplets and aerosols, not food and incidental contact.

Take home: social distancing, not touching our faces, and good hand hygiene are the key weapons to stop the spread. Masks could make a difference, too, especially in public places where people congregate. Incidental contact is not really an issue, nor is food.

What does this all mean as we return to work and public life? COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It may not go away for a year or two and may not be eradicated for many years, so we have to learn to live with it and do what we can to mitigate (reduce) risk. That means being willing to accept *some* level of risk to live our lives as we desire. I can’t decide that level of risk for you – only you can make that decision. There are few certainties in pandemic risk management other than that fact that some people will die, some people in low risk groups will die, and some people in high risk groups will survive. It’s about probability.

Here is some guidance – my point of view, not judging yours:

1. People over 60 years old are at higher risk of severe disease – people over 70 years old, even more so. They should be willing to tolerate less risk than people under 50 years old and should be extra careful. Some chronic diseases like heart disease and COPD increase risk, but it is not clear if other diseases like obesity, asthma, immune disorders, etc. increase risk appreciably. It looks like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease might not be as high risk as we thought, but we are not sure – their risks might be too small to pick up, or they might be associated with things that put them at higher risk.

People over 60-70 years old probably should continue to be very vigilant about limiting exposures if they can. However, not seeing family – especially children and grandchildren – can take a serious emotional toll, so I encourage people to be creative and flexible. For example, in-person visits are not crazy – consider one, especially if you have been isolated and have no symptoms. They are especially safe in the early days after restrictions are lifted in places like Madison or parts of major cities where there is very little community transmission. Families can decide how much mingling they are comfortable with – if they want to hug and eat together, distance together with masks, or just stay apart and continue using video-conferencing and the telephone to stay in contact. If you choose to intermingle, remember to practice good hand hygiene, don’t share plates/forks/spoons/cups, don’t share towels, and don’t sleep together.

2. Social distancing, not touching your face, and washing/sanitizing your hands are the key prevention interventions. They are vastly more important than anything else you do. Wearing a fabric mask is a good idea in crowded public place like a grocery store or public transportation, but you absolutely must distance, practice good hand hygiene, and don’t touch your face. Wearing gloves is not helpful (the virus does not get in through the skin) and may increase your risk because you likely won’t washing or sanitize your hands when they are on, you will drop things, and touch your face.

3. Be a good citizen. If you think you might be sick, stay home. If you are going to cough or sneeze, turn away from people, block it, and sanitize your hands immediately after.

4. Use common sense. Dial down the anxiety. If you are out taking a walk and someone walks past you, that brief (near) contact is so low risk that it doesn’t make sense to get scared. Smile at them as they approach, turn your head away as they pass, move on. The smile will be more therapeutic than the passing is dangerous. Similarly, if someone bumps into you at the grocery store or reaches past you for a loaf of bread, don’t stress – it is a very low risk encounter- as long as they didn’t cough in your face (one reason we wear cloth masks in public!).

5. Use common sense, part II. Dial down the obsessiveness. There really is no reason to go crazy sanitizing items that come into your house from outside, like groceries and packages. For it to be a risk, the delivery person would need to be infectious, cough or sneeze some droplets on your package, you touch the droplet, then touch your face, and then it invades your respiratory epithelium. There would need to be enough viral load and the virions would need to survive long enough for you to get infected. It could happen, but it’s pretty unlikely. If you want to have a staging station for 1-2 days before you put things away, sure, no problem. You also can simply wipe things off before they come in to your house – that is fine is fine too. For an isolated family, it makes no sense to obsessively wipe down every surface every day (or several times a day). Door knobs, toilet handles, commonly trafficked light switches could get a wipe off each day, but it takes a lot of time and emotional energy to do all those things and they have marginal benefits. We don’t need to create a sterile operating room-like living space. Compared to keeping your hands out of your mouth, good hand hygiene, and cleaning food before serving it, these behaviors might be more maladaptive than protective.

6. There are few absolutes, so please get comfortable accepting some calculated risks, otherwise you might be isolating yourself for a really, really long time. Figure out how you can be in public and interact with people without fear.

We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.

We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.


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A Warning We Should Not Ignore

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While I’ve cut back on how much time I am spending reading various articles, posts, news reports, and time spent on social media, tweets, etc. (Facebook is a thing of the past for me now), I continue to follow what for me are a few reliable sources of information.

In that vein, I came across something two days ago that I think is worthy of your time and consideration. It’s from The Atlantic magazine’s upcoming June 2020 publication, written by Franklin Foer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic. He clearly writes from a liberal perspective. Nevertheless, what he has to tell us in this somewhat lengthy article contains new and detailed information about the situation facing us vis-a-vis Russian interference in our elections, his view that it is going to happen again, and our lack of preparedness for it.

This article goes beyond anything I’ve read on this subject to date, and I hope you will spend the time to consider what he has uncovered and wants us to know:

The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Run, by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, June 2020

As always, I am open to your reactions, whether you agree or disagree. Use the Comment section of this post to let me and others know your reaction to what for me is a very disturbing account of where we are headed for the upcoming elections.

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Know the Rules – Follow the Rules

I know we’ve all heard, read, watched all sorts of advice, much of it good, some questionable, and some simply not up-to-date or just inaccurate.

Below you will find links to two videos/advice from Dr. David Price, a critical care pulmonologist caring for COVID-19 patients at NYC’s Weill Cornell Hospital. (Hat Tip to David P. Stang for alerting me to this information.)

He will tell you some of the things you know, some things you may not be sure about, and some things you may need to know in the days and weeks and months ahead.

What is outstanding about these two videos is the level of practical advice that comes from someone who is on the front lines of caring for people who come to one of our best hospitals. Dr. Price is clear, straight forward, and seems to have the very latest experiences and knowledge from the front lines.

I’m sure there is something in these two videos for everyone, no matter how much information you may know or where you live in this country or abroad, or what you already know that is valid or perhaps not valid.

He is positive and focuses his remarks for a wide range of people.

The first link, the first video is a 24.05 minute compilation of Dr. Price speaking to us all: Empowering & Protecting Your Family.

The second link, the second video is a 57:06 minute conversation from Dr. Price that includes much from the first video but also includes his answers to questions from people across the country: Empowering, Protecting Your Family and Responses to Questions about COVID-19.

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Goodbye Facebook

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I’m going on a diet.

Not the kind of diet I’ve been on for the last three years, with some success, despite some ‘give backs.’

But a diet from the two to three to four hours a day I spend between email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of websites that provide me with some form of input about things important and not so important.

I’m starting by withdrawing from Facebook, which is something I’ve been considering for a year or more, not just because of the amount of time I spend on it, but also for a number of other reasons.

There’s lots I like about FB, particularly for being in touch with friends (and some foes) with whom I otherwise might not have frequent contact. Certainly I enjoy posting photos (mine and Ellen’s) and links to my MillersTime.net blog. And there are a number of links that I follow from various FB posts that I might not know about otherwise.But I’m choosing to start this diet with FB because of what FB has become and what its leaders, particularly Mark Zuckerberg, have done with this once promising social networking website. I’ll spare reposting Lisa W’s list and explanation of Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Facebook NowSuffice it to say that I agree with at least eight of her 10 points.

(I have previously posted (on FB!) Sacha Baron Cohen’s powerful three minute video of how FB’s platform and policies are allowing the spread of hate and lies in our political and other discourse and, in fact, makes what is occurring there even worse by their unwillingness to intervene. If you haven’t listened to Cohen’s message, stop now and click on the link above.

I will continue, for now, with my Instagram and Twitter accounts knowing that Instagram is owned by FB. As with any diet, you can’t cut out everything at once, but you have to start somewhere. In order not to just transfer my FB time to one of the other social media time killers, I will also limit my total time spent using these (and other) social media platforms.

So by the end of January, I will no longer have a Facebook account. Between now and then, I will figure out alternative ways to stay in touch with some individuals abroad and with friends here in the US. I’m open to suggestions as how to do that.

And if you want to help me (having partners in dieting has proven valuable to me with my weight loss), you can let me know if you’d like to be on my MillersTime.net mailing list, which at no cost to you will get you three for four emails a month that describe my most recent blog post (on travel, photos, family, grand kids, books, films, baseball, and an occasional attempt at describing something that is on my alleged mind.) Just email me if you want to get those notifications about new blog posts.

Finally, for now, I will retain my two Instagram accounts (samesty84 and millerstimeblogger). So feel free to follow me there and send me your Instagram handle (if you want to stay in touch that way).

There’s always that old fashion way of communicating – email (Samesty84 at gmail dot com) and texting. I am diligent in responding to email (and snail mail) from friends…and texts, which seem to be my wife’s and daughters’ preferred way of reaching me.

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Six Articles of Interest

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“If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.” David Frum

For me, some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking writing about issues in our country today can be found in The Atlantic, the monthly magazine that focuses on contemporary political affairs and issues.

Four of the articles I link to in this post come from The Atlantic, and the first one cited is one I would say is an ‘important read.’ I rarely use the label ‘must read,’ but if as a country we are going to address the issue of immigration from a rational, factual basis and not largely from an emotional one, as is generally happening today, David Frum’s piece strikes me as a good starting point. I suspect you will learn from it, as did I. For those who are looking for a way to understand an important and divisive issue and looking for common ground to discuss it, do spend the time it will take to read this. Even though it’s lengthy, I’ve read it twice as there is so much to absorb. I suspect I will reread too.

How Much Immigration Is Too Much?, by David Frum, The Atlantic, April 2019. This Canadian America is a senior editor at The Atlantic, was a speech writer for George W. Bush, has published numerous books on politics in America, and is generally thought of as a conservative Republican.

Americans Remain Deeply Divided About Diversity, by Emma Green, The Atlantic, Feb. 2019. This Atlantic staff writer looks at our country and recent research about how and where we live and why sameness not difference is prized by many Americans.

We’re Losing the War on Corruption by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, March 13, 2019. Foer is another writer at The Atlantic and the author of the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

What the Crow Knows: A Journey into the Animal Mind by Ross Anderson, The Atlantic, March 2019. Something different from the three above as this writer explores “What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world.”

52 Books for 52 Places, from the editors of the NY Times, Feb. 14, 2019, wherein they present “some reading suggestions — fiction and nonfiction, essays, poems — that may help you to better explore cities, countries, regions and states” in connection with their series 52 Places to Go in 2019. I have read 10 of these and can vouch for the high quality of those 10 choices.

America’s Best Jewish Delis by the editors of Food & Wine, March 2019. Ten places around the country to satisfy those who know and value this sort of eating and want up-to-date information about where to find what you might remember from your childhood. Hat tip to Chuck Tilis for the link.-

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Recent Articles of Interest

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Here are links to a few articles that I’ve seen recently that I found of interest and suspect various readers of MillersTime might enjoy also.

You’re Using Your iPhone Wrong, by Cal Newport, NYT, 1/27/19 – wherein columnist writes that Steve Jobs never wanted smartphones to be our constant companions.

‘In the Feb. 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, there is an Oliver Sacks’ piece that he must have written shortly before his death as I have not seen it anywhere else: The Machine Stops, wherein he writes, among other things, about smart phones and fearing the future. I can’t link to it, but see if you can find it. I liked it (but then I like everything he has written).

The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives: On a Presidential Paper Trail by Robert Caro, New Yorker, 1/28/19. Caro takes some time out while working on his final LBJ book to give some insights into how he works. Caro is a national treasure imho.

Two Book Reviews of In My Mind’s Eye: A Thought Diary by Jan Morris – wherein she writes about being 91 and looks back on her earlier years:

In My Mind’s Eye, reviewed by Kate Kelleway, The Guardian, 9/9/18

In My Mind’s Eye, reviewed by Alexander McCall Smith, NYTimes, 1/24/19

And a couple from last year that struck me:

My Father’s Body, At Rest and in Motion by Siddhartha Mukherjee, New Yorker, 1/8/18. An author, doctor and son writes about his dealings and thoughts about end of life issues relating to his father.

The White Darkness: A Solitary Journey Across Antarctica by David Grann, New Yorker, Feb. 12 & 19, 2018. Another favorite writer of mine, this engaging story is now out in book form, but you can read it here.

Plus, one TED talk about how changing her reading focus opened up the world to her, a suggestion by a MillersTime reader Tiffany Lopez.:

My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World (https://www.ted.com/talks/ann_morgan_my_year_reading_a_book_from_every_country_in_the_world?language=en by Ann Morgan.

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“12 Rules for Living” – Antidote to Chaos

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A review and commentary by MillersTime reader and friend, David P. Stang.

Dave wrote in his email containing an early draft of this post:

“My intent is to present a case for Peterson’s views that reasonably educated people would find appealing irrespective of their political parties.”

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and had previously taught at Harvard. The New York Times stated that he is “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” Evidence of this claim can be found in the fact that his lectures recorded on and accessible through YouTube have attracted over 65 million viewers.

Peterson is also a clinical psychologist with a continuing active practice. He and his wife Tammy are parents of a daughter, Mikhaila and a son, Julian. Mikhaila has suffered enormous pain resulting from years of combating rheumatoid arthritis and enduring multiple surgeries. Her father fondly regards his daughter Mikhaila as a courageous hero.

Over the course of his life Peterson also has observed much suffering experienced by his patients who described their emotional pain problems during their psychotherapy sessions with him, and he learned about suffering experienced by many of his students over the years. He clearly feels great compassion for them and for others’ suffering which often results from tragedy and malevolence. So much so in fact that it drove him to write two books related to suffering.

In this new book he states, “The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine…. We can be damaged, even broken, emotionally and physically, and we are all subject to depredations of aging and loss… It is reasonable to wonder how we can expect to thrive and be happy (or even want to exist, sometimes) under such conditions.” In 1999 he published his first book, entitled Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief which Peterson stresses constitutes the conceptual foundations of his 12 Rules.

Throughout his 12 Rules and YouTube lectures, Peterson presents a mixture of the diverse classic literature and teachings of the past several thousand years emanating from pre-scientific cultures, the hypotheses and scholarship of modern-day science (including particularly neurological and psychological studies) and he constantly injects first-hand, real-life examples of human and animal behavior which illustrate the concepts he is propounding.

Understanding that one’s individual self as divine or sovereign, according to Peterson, reveals the pathway to meaning in life. A major foundational principle of his 12 Rules is that every human life is confronted by order and chaos. By order he means “the place where the behavior of our world matches our expectations and desires; the place where all things turn out the way we want them to.” Chaos, on the other hand, is the “domain of ignorance itself” and is “unexplored territory.” He tells us chaos is present when you feel despair and horror and is the place you end up when things fall totally apart. Order can be disrupted by chaos and chaos can be constrained by order. Within chaos potential exists. He informs us that your attitude toward potential confers on you a certain moral obligation: The challenge is to live up to one’s potential. The potential is in the future. Contending with chaos that disrupts order is like meeting the Dragon head on.

As part of his extensive tour this year Professor Jordan B. Peterson has been lecturing about his book. In his talks he stresses that his twelve rules can be comedic, but that they are really metaphors which point to a deeper philosophic and psychological meaning. In his book he urges his readers to focus on their individual patterns of thought, belief and behavior. He stresses that his rules are not injunctions meant to make life easier. They are injunctions to make life more difficult. He asks his readers and listeners to aim higher and to seek to become the very best they can be. Peterson stated that I hope that what I’m aiming at is to tell people stories and provide them with clinical information that is derived from the best literature and science that I know so they can be fortified in their ability to contend with tragedy and malevolence.”

These are his rules:

Rule 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”

Peterson emphasizes that standing up straight with one’s shoulders straight reveals not only self-confidence but also indicates vulnerability. When one is standing up straight (instead of crouching or cowering) one’s most vital spots are unprotected and exposed to danger, signifying through that confident stance that one has mastered order while simultaneously that one is courageously prepared to face chaos head-on.

Rule 2: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

Peterson’s main point here is that people tend to treat themselves more poorly than they treat others for whom they are responsible for caring. So he advises us to treat ourselves in the same way we would like our children to be treated.

Rule 3: “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”

One way of treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping is to make friends with people who want the best for you. Some people tear you down. Don’t put up with that, he instructs, find others who lift you up. Therefore you have an ethical responsibility to surround yourself with people who support you when you do good and criticize you when you misbehave.

Rule 4: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to who someone else istoday.”

This is also a rule about avoiding envy and avoiding excessive self-criticism or self-loathing. Peterson tells us that in life we face an eternal landscape of inequality. There will always be people more competent than we are. This should not lead us to despair but rather encourage us to become the best we are able. This requires setting high goals, but ensuring that we choose goals that are possible for us to attain.

Rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”

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Print vs Digital: Our Reading Brains Are Changing

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Image by Mobil Yazilar

Apparently, our reading brains are changing as we all move from a print medium to a digital one. More of our reading at all ages is being done not from print — newspapers, magazines, books, documents, etc. — but from digital platforms — screens, computers, email, iPads, Kindles etc.).

If you read the article below using this MillersTime website, you are not as likely to get as much from it as if you read it from The Guardian’s print edition. As Maryanne Wolf writes, the new norm in reading is “skimming, and while there are advantages to that, there are also costs (“unintended collateral damage”), for those just learning to read to those of us who have been reading from print formats for years, and to our society at large.

Check out the article below. I think it has important information and some things to consider for all of us.

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