Durable Human (2 book series)

Protect Yourself Online: Know the Terminology

A surveillance camera appears in front of an American flagmerican flag

Cross-referencing you through your phone and online data has become so easy, it’s never a waste of time to do more to protect yourself online. 

Case in point is the riot that happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. It may be even easier now for authorities to track down suspects than the day it happened. If it’s not a geotagged photo, it’s through a Facebook post, facial recognition image, or trip on Waze.

Most people know they leave a digital breadcrumb trail. Yet, many are shocked by how easily the New York Times found riot participants through their smartphone data.  

It’s not enough to maintain the durability of our bodies and minds in the physical world. We need to actively manage our digital lives so our best interests there are also served.

A good place to start is knowing how your data is generated online and the ways it may be tracked.

The Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma, gives a good taste of how we’re all at risk. If you read no further, here are 13 ways out of the dilemma

Another real eye-opener is a new report compiled by data researchers at BroadbandSearch, Internet Censorship in 2021: Where the World Stands Today.

Highlights from the report:

Terminology Matters

In order to discuss data privacy and protection, it’s important to know the meaning of common terms. There are big differences, for instance, between the terms “Content Moderation,” “Censorship,” and the less familiar “Reverse Censorship.” Continue reading

13 Ways Out of The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma logo

A new movie on Netflix exposes the outsized influence social media and invasive technology have on our psyches, culture, and political systems.

The Social Dilemma showcases a slew of disgruntled former tech executives who tell of impenetrable algorithms, persuasive design, and extractive economic models that many of them helped create.

We see in actual news footage how false or misleading Facebook ads have swayed voters and elections. A dramatization of a typical American family depicts how the teenage son, despite his mother’s efforts, is insidiously lured into jeopardy by the contents of his phone.   

The movie is directed by Jeff Orlowski, a Stanford classmate of Tristan Harris, whom I first reported on here in 2015. That’s when Harris began to pull back the curtain on Big Tech’s predatory practices, including by his then-employer, Google. Ever since, Harris has doggedly spread his message through TED talks, tech design meetups, and U.S. Congressional hearings.

Here at The Durable Human, we believe that products designed for people should always serve—and never impede or supersede—ourselves as human beings. Harris and his Center for Humane Technology hold the same tenet. 

The Social Dilemma is a call to action, especially for the Last Generation, B.C., whom I call in How to Be a Durable Human, “the vanishing cohort of humans who grew up Before Cellphones.” Or, as Harris says in the movie, “the last generation of people that are gonna know what [life] was like before this illusion took place.”

After you watch The Social Dilemma, consider using your wisdom and movie discussion guide to talk it over with friends and family.

Facebook is miffed by the movie’s portrayal, claiming in this 7-point rebuttal that it “gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work” and doesn’t convey the current reality.

While the movie was in production, for instance, the company says it gave users more control of their time spent and data collected on the platform. With new Facebook safeguards, the rebuttal reads, “we removed over 22 million pieces of hate speech in the second quarter of 2020, over 94% of which we found before someone reported it.”   

While some improvements are being made, here are 13 ways to take charge of your digital presence:     

1. Read posts and articles before sharing. 

By pausing to review the content, you’re less likely to inadvertently spread false or misleading information.   

Continue reading

12 Durable Tips for Better Distance Learning

Girl doing math on laptop

After a crushing disappointment, it became almost a miracle.

The broadcast journalism grad students from Syracuse University were supposed to spend the summer of 2020 in Washington, D.C. With media credentials dangling from their necks, they’d chase down interviews and comingle in our pop-up newsroom like network correspondents. Then, as for countless other students, their dreams were dashed. Because of the pandemic, the program would be all online.

But they rose to the challenge. Students pitched stories on Slack, did interviews on Zoom, and wrote scripts in Google Docs. We on the faculty fine-tuned the video and audio of their news reports with the powerful Frame.IO. We got the job done.  

Although I’ve been wary of digital fixes in the past, I’m the first to admit: our program was saved by technology.

As the world heads into the first full school year of the pandemic, digital teaching tools will be crucial, especially since more than half of U.S. K through 12 schools expect not to return to a physical classroom. “We have to demand that the internet is a public utility and that it is installed for families that don’t have access,” says Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Yet, last spring’s quick switch to online learning has largely been deemed a failure—and kids are still feeling the pain. Pediatricians across the U.S. report an unprecedented number of patients with anxiety and depression borne by disrupted school and home routines.  

So what’s a parent to do?

Luckily, we’ve learned from our mistakes. Based on the hard won experience served up on Zoom by boots-on-the-ground parents and education experts, here are 12 ways parents can help their kids do school better:

Continue reading

Don’t Freak Out About Screen Time, But Don’t Check Out Either

Child holds up reed basket he is weaving

Way back B.C. (Before Coronavirus), a chief complaint from kids about their parents went something like this: “All my mom cares about is her phone” or “My Dad doesn’t really talk to me.” For years, too many of us have been in a state of continuous partial attention. Even when someone was sobbing in front of us, we’d have one eye on our phones. But now, confined in the chaos, we have an opportunity: for a parenting Do Over.

First off, we need to know the difference between Us and Them—in mind and in body.

Our kids are worried and anxious, just as we are. But we’re the ones in charge—their Reassurers-in-Chief. They need to know we’re there for them, no matter what.

“Don’t wait for them to bring it up. Ask how they’re feeling,” advised Dr. Robin Gurwitch, psychiatry professor at Duke University School of Medicine, on a call with reporters about the virus and mental health. “That way, you can get a sense of their understanding, validate their feelings, and correct misperceptions.”

To ensure lots of reassuring face-to-face contact and hugs, we can take a tip from the helpful American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Planner: establish zones in the household and times of day (at least at meals and bedtime) that are free from distractions such as personal technology—theirs and ours.

When reading Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won (NYT March 31, 2020) by reporter Nellie Bowles, we need to consider the source: an adult with a fully formed brain.

Continue reading

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