The psychology of video game addiction

What turns a hobby into a sickness? Jack Flanagan at The Kernel investigates. "I would not inflict this game upon anyone" was the testimony of a gamer codenamed Leo as he looked into the camera, his left cheek illuminated, offscreen, by a computer monitor. He was speaking about World of Warcraft, the notorious poster boy of the gaming industry, and, later in the documentary, he'd reveal why: 12 hours a day at a computer screen, sometimes more.

No money, no education, no life. Leo gave everything to World of Warcraft and, unsurprisingly, it gave nothing back. But Leo's story is not unusual. Scan internet forums like Reddit or Olganon (On-line Gamers Anonymous) are replete with horror stories of lives lost — in some cases, literally. In 2005, a South Korean man died after a reported 50-hour video gaming session, and in 2012 a Taiwanese man was discovered dead in his gaming chair, arms outstretched for his computer even in the middle of a fatal cardiac arrest. No, you wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Video game addiction exists. It has all the features you need to classify an addiction: losing jobs and loved ones; withdrawal symptoms like cold sweats and anger; developing migraines and back problems and, very occasionally, death. And it's occurring around the globe, but especially in America, the UK, and parts of Asia (China, Korea, and Japan).

How many people are affected, no one knows, but two statistics stand out: Globally, this is a $66 billion dollar industry, and in 2007 a study found almost 12 percent of participants in a 7,000 person study were diagnosed as addicted to video games. If that trend even partially reflects numbers in the greater population, we're in trouble.

So why does video game addiction merit little more than a footnote in the latest DSM, the manual for understanding and diagnosing mental illness? Studies have been conducted which look at the source of the problem. We've moved past the wagging finger of maternal disapprobation, which tells us, "just switch it off, for God's sake," and are now just starting to take it seriously.

The right questions are at least now being asked: How can a video game become addictive? What is it in the brain that switches, or was always ready-to-go, which makes a person sit until their back aches and their eyes stream? What turns a hobby into a sickness?

A recent study looked into motivations in video gaming addiction: A questionnaire asked gamers found on video game websites what they got out of the gaming. They got a huge number of respondents: over 1,600. The survey justified stereotypes: Participants were 87 percent male, 79 percent white. Joseph Hilgard, one of the researchers, said he came to the study thinking they might learn more about the reward pathways in the brain — the "go-to" areas in addiction research.

When we do anything that triggers our brain's reward system, that information gets locked into our brains. A reward system is, basically, a system that governs how the brain feels when we do something — a chore, a job, anything — that results in reward at least some of the time. If we keep getting a reward for the same task, we start to understand the relationship between the two and our brain builds the appropriate connections. It means the next time we come across the chance to do that same task, we assume we're at least a bit likely to get a gift in return. How strong the reward system is in our brains depends on how often we get the reward and how big of a reward it is.

Video games are built to exploit this part of our brain. Kill monster, get points. Complete level, get happy music. Win game, feel satisfied. It's a very simple and primitive part of who we are. We react the same way to everything, from food to sex, in education and even in our relationship with our parents, who, if they are good parents, scold bad behaviour and reward good.

"[This is what] we expected to be the number one thing," Hilgard says, "Thinking that what makes Diablo so addictive is the small chance of getting treasure for every monster you kill." Diablo is a video game, produced by the same people as World of Warcraft. Psychologists call this PRE, or Partial Reinforcement Effect, in which the reward is only offered randomly, some of the time, such as in gambling. This leaves gamers hoping that just round the corner lies the suit of armour, gold, or some other reward they've been waiting for.

That "reward" plays a part in the psychology of addiction is certain: Plenty of gamers will be familiar with the phrase "just ten more minutes". But Hilgard and his researchers discovered other results from the survey, things they did not expect. First of all, a lot of people said they felt they were "duty bound" to go online, that "people were relying on them." Online games, like World of Warcraft or Eve Online, feature massive worlds. So massive that you're not very strong by yourself, and people aren't too strong without you. "All for one and one for all" counts double if you're a gamer.

So most people join guilds — in-games factions — in order to achieve more within their virtual life. But with that benefit comes a cost: social responsibility. Often, you need to play every day and often it means several hours per day. If you don't play, there are people (granted, somewhere else in the world) who will think badly of you. They'll slander you on the forums and blacklist you from future raids. And, anyway, people like to feel included, so aside from the threat of social gaming censure most people enjoy being part of a group.

You get benefits, such as better rewards and faster in-game advancement, but you inevitably have to give back to the community which has helped you. In World of Warcraft, "raids," in which groups of players dive into a monster-invested cavern for rewards, can take a couple of hours and require quite a bit of organization, and most take place with upward of five people, and at a prearranged time. In his confessional autobiography Unplugged, video-game addict Ryan Van Cleave remembers countless missed dinners and social occasions he instead spent "plugged in" to Warcraft conducting raids. He wasn't just enjoying himself: He had promises to keep.

Social obligation itself can't really be a true addiction; it's just guilt. Anyone with a shred of conscience would feel bad leaving a team to fend for themselves if you'd made a promise to them. And it is just that, guilt, which can tie people into a lifetime of gaming. Not just guilt about your community or your guild, but for your character, too. Ryan devotes a few paragraphs to remember his Warcraft characters, who he loved and nurtured. Unfortunately, in exclusion of his real children, whom he neglected.

The other factor, in fact the largest reported factor found in the study, was escapism. Many people in the study reported that they enjoyed games because games took them out of the real world. These same people were the most likely to develop addiction-like symptoms. Why be a landscape architect when you could be an invincible mage? Or, feeling doomed to unpopularity in real-life, why not join a guild online? This isn't the first study to find the relationship between video games and escapism: A study in 2009 found 41 percent of its participants said they played to escape the real world.

In a way, video games are the spiritual successors to fantasy literature. Like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, or Shizuku in Studio Ghibli's Whispers of the Heart, people are escaping from their humdrum lives into a world of invented magic and wonder. This is why games like World of Warcraft are a gamers' "drug of choice": they span massive worlds, across continents and with thousands of quests to join. If someone has a powerful imagination, the real world doesn't really cut it anymore.

The difference is, video games are personalized and meticulously tested experiences which, unlike books, are constantly tinkered with by their manufacturers to be as "sticky" — that is to say, addictive — as possible.

Hyperactive imaginations aside, there are a number of people with more serious conditions that might look to video games to escape from real problems. People with depression can find a temporary high in these virtual wonderlands. In one of the worst cases in video game addiction, a Korean couple suffering from depression played Prius, a game in which you raise a child, until their real baby daughter died from starvation.

True to stereotypes, those with social phobias, or just poor social skills in general, are more likely to turn to gaming. Not only do games offer them that elusive social affirmation — NPCs, or non-playable characters, telling you how wonderful you are, how brave and so on — but there is the opportunity with online games to speak with real people, who share your hobby and are likely to be less judgmental than the people they know in real life.

Social stigma toward video games and the nagging knowledge that you're neglecting your responsibilities lead people deeper down the rabbit hole. Hilgard calls these "bad coping strategies": he says, "just like refreshing my browser tabs because I'm nervous and want to keep my mind off of something, gamers are often playing to forget their real-life problems." The problem is: The problems get worse, and so the pull to gaming gets even stronger. It's a vicious, downward facing, spiral.

Van Cleave's Unplugged is a study in this cycle of destruction, 300 pages of twisting every way he could to escape how hard life had become for him. And it only got worse. At every checkpoint in his life he could for many hours a day escape to a world in which he wasn't overweight, underemployed, disliked and disenfranchised, but instead a legend.

There's a lot more work to be done before we truly understand this stuff. Indeed, the science of addiction itself is still hopelessly infantile. In the meantime, gaming addicts are more or less on their own, and have to fight their addiction by figuring out what makes the real world so unappealing when compared the bright lights of the computer screen. And the rest of us have to keep an eye on games manufacturers stepping over the line from entertainment to exploitation.

As seen in The Week ;-)
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The military is weaponizing video games

The Xbox Kinect can do a lot more than recognize your dance moves. According to Eugene K. Chow in The Week, the military has long been an object of the video game industry's fascination.

Titles like Call of Duty slavishly pore over the details of real-life weapons, technology, and terrain to create virtual battlefields for their users to wage war on. But in a case of reality mimicking art, the military has started to turn to the gaming industry for help — and not just for training, as one would expect, but for technology itself.

In the arms race for a better user experience, the $66 billion video game industry has become so advanced that in some areas it has outpaced the military. The gaming industry's state-of-the-art controllers, high-tech sensors, and processors have been co-opted, even weaponized, by the Pentagon.

Here, a few examples:

How Xbox Kinect can guard a border

In addition to interpreting dance moves and imaginary swings of a light saber, Xbox Kinect sensors are helping to guard the last remaining front of the Cold War, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea.

After a series of high-profile border mishaps, including a defecting soldier from the North who simply waltzed through the heavily fenced, mine-strewn, 2.5-mile-wide DMZ and knocked on a guard post, the South Korean military turned to the developer of the Xbox Kinect sensor for help.

While existing sensors along the DMZ were effective, they had difficulty distinguishing between animals and humans, resulting in frequent false alerts. Now thanks to Ko Jae-Kwan, who developed Microsoft's Kinect sensors that allow users to control games using their body movements, the DMZ's newest sensors are able to separate human and animal movement.

"For its price, the device is very accurate and effective in covering vulnerable areas," Ko said.

Planned upgrades include sensors capable of reading biometrics like heart rate and body temperature, features already included in Microsoft's Xbox One, which was released last year.

To succeed in the retail industry, video game makers must offer highly advanced technologies at affordable prices, which is partly why they are so attractive to the military.

In 2009, the Pentagon purchased thousands of PlayStation 3s to bolster its supercomputer clusters. According to Defense Department acquisition officers, the PlayStation's processor offered comparable performance to the world's most advanced chips but at one-tenth the price, making it the most viable option.

Using a Wii to disable a bomb

Meanwhile on the more hands-on side, several drone manufacturers have adapted video game controllers and interfaces to pilot drones as their designs have proven to be the best available.

It's no coincidence that Raytheon's Universal Control System, the complex command station that allows drone operators to fly, track targets, and launch death-dealing Hellfire missiles from thousands of miles away, closely resembles a hardcore gamer's ultimate setup.

In an effort to reduce accidents, Raytheon hired game developers to redesign drone "cockpits" by borrowing technology from the gaming industry including wrap-around wide-screen monitors, Xbox-based processors, and an array of familiar joysticks, switches, and thumb controls.

"Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs?" explained Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon's tactical intelligence systems. "The video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction."

That is exactly why engineers modified a Nintendo WiiMote to control the Packbot, a bomb disposal drone used by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, after they realized the existing "joypad" interface monopolized the user's attention.

"Our tests show 90 percent of the operator's workload goes into driving the robot rather than keeping an eye on the sensor data," said David Bruemmer, a U.S. Department of Energy engineer who helped design the modified controller.

With the Wiimote, troops are able to control the robots more instinctively as the new control directly translates the movements of the hand into the movements of the robot, Bruemmer added.

Other battle-tested controllers include the widely used Xbox 360's, which Lockheed Martin modified by removing the logo to help British troops fly UAVs. The U.S. Army has also been spotted using the same controller for ground-based drones.

How virtual reality can alleviate PTSD

Beyond controllers, video games themselves have become effective tools to help veterans struggling with PTSD or even recover from severe burns. Where powerful drugs and other therapeutic techniques have failed, video games have proven enormously effective.

In an experimental treatment, soldiers recovering from severe burns were given virtual reality goggles to play Snow World, a specially designed immersive game that kept their minds off the excruciating pain of having their wounds cleaned or skin stretched.

"Sometimes patients are crying or screaming or begging for you to stop or pleading to God for mercy," said clinical nurse specialist Morrow. "[Snow World] really changes the nature of what we do."

Patients reported that they felt less pain when playing the game, required less pain medication, and had a greater range of motion in their burned limbs as their muscles were more relaxed.

The game is fairly simple, consisting of a 3D environment where players travel along a snowy path and throw snowballs at non-moving targets. The virtual reality headsets keep patients from seeing what's happening to their bodies and the game keeps their mind focused on playing the game rather than the pain.

Other specially-designed virtual reality games like Beyond the Front as well as mobile apps are helping to treat and diagnose PTSD. A virtual first-person shooting game offers vets a chance to return to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but in safe way that allows patients to conquer their past traumas and habituate themselves to experiences of fear.

On the less therapeutic side of shoot-em-ups, the Pentagon uses America's Army, a military-style shooting game, as a subtle recruitment tool. And, taking its cues from the Pentagon, China's People's Liberation Army released the not-so-subtle first person shooter Glorious Mission, which inundates players with fiery nationalistic propaganda as they slog through boot camp and ultimately face off against America in a bloody showdown.

As the military is proving, video games are no longer child's play.

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Sex toys get social

And they're not a total waste of time... According to John Aziz of The Idea Factory, a new generation of sex toys is here.

Manipulatable by the actions of a far-away internet partner, these sex toys — called teledildonics — are internet-enabled devices that let long-distance partners feel each other in real-time. For men, there are vagina-shaped sex toys, and for women, penis-shaped ones. What one partner does is picked up by sensors in the toy, sent over the internet, and felt by the other partner, and vice versa. The toys can also sync up to the action in adult films, like the now-defunct RealTouch.

It’s easy to condemn such things as weird or bizarre.

And I’d say that’s for good reason: Hooking up via vibrating plastic accessories attached to an internet-connected computer is clearly not the most obvious way for two people to be intimate. It is rather like a Rube Goldberg machine: an extremely complicated solution to a simple problem. Why go to such trouble to create virtual sexual experiences when real-world sex is possible without all the technology getting in the way?

But as jarring as they may seem, these technologies may actually be useful for things outside of the domain of internet fetishism. They are a very primitive attempt to solve an extremely important problem in computing — how do you create convincing physical sensations in virtual environments?

Today, we have relatively underdeveloped virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift that immerse viewers in 360-degree digital environments where they can move their head to look up, down, and around. But integrating elements of reality beyond audio to create a fuller virtual reality experience presents difficult engineering challenges. Surround sound is possible, but the other senses — taste, smell, and touch — are much harder to fulfill.

Internet-connected sex toys are a tentative first step toward physical feedback in virtual reality, just as (say) Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was a first step toward the impressive virtual reality visuals possible with the Oculus Rift.

If the initial application (internet sex), seems weird, that’s probably just human nature. Humans like experimenting with sex so it shouldn't be too surprising that porn has been a big driver of technology adoption. The adult film industry has been at the forefront of technology for years, at least since it picked VHS over Betamax. Technological innovations pioneered by the porn industry include online payment systems, streaming video, video chat, and DVD and HD video formats.

The same logic probably applies to sex with robots. In creating convincing human-like robots, it seems inevitable that researchers will experiment with making robots sexually convincing, as well as capable of various human tasks such as lifting heavy objects, performing manual labor, performing housework, fighting in war zones, etc. Designing robots that are sexually attractive and sexually convincing will hold important lessons for designing robots to interact with humans in other ways.

As seen in The Week ;-)
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The online cookie has turned stale: Here's what advertisers are cooking up to replace it

Sorry, you're still being tracked. According to Robert W. Gehl in The Week, the $10 billion online advertising industry is in a state of crisis. That is, if we are to believe "Privacy and Tracking in a Post-Cookie World," a recent report from the advertising trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

As this IAB report details, the online marketing industry requires accurate, pervasive monitoring of our online habits. The data that results from this monitoring is turned into profiles, and these profiles get sold to advertisers in a hyperspeed auction that takes place in the milliseconds before your browser loads the next webpage. This practice of monitoring our habits, profiling us, and selling our eyes to the highest bidder is called Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA).

In order to work, however, OBA relies largely on a two-decade-old technology: The cookie, a small text file with a unique ID that is downloaded to your browser when you visit many websites. But just like any cookie would be after 20 years, the HTTP cookie is now stale.

The cookie, crumbled

Cookies are failing because internet users are increasingly blocking them. In fact, as you read this, many of you might have your browsers set to block third-party cookies, or you might be using privacy add-ons like Self-Destructing Cookies. You're not alone; as the IAB report notes, privacy-conscious internet users are now "churning" cookies by regularly deleting them, thus making it impossible to track these users over time.

Moreover, because cookies aren't persistent across browsers or devices, they don't allow marketers to track you as you browse the web first on a laptop, then on your phone, then on your Playstation. At best, multi-device browsing results in fragmented profiles, hardly the data gold mine the industry wants.

Finally, in 2011, the European Union and U.S. government began cracking down on cookies due to privacy concerns. The IAB and other trade groups consistently fight such regulation, but regulator tolerance of cookies has waned.

And when the cookie crumbles, the OBA industry does too. Without reliable data culled from constantly monitoring our online habits, the custom profiles data brokers make about us are far less valuable to advertisers.

After cookies: User IDs and security desks?

However, let's not celebrate the end of the cookie too soon. If the IAB report is any indication of where the online marketing industry wants to take the internet, I think we're going to be longing for the days when a visit to a site like resulted in 159 cookies downloaded onto our computers.

Why? Because, in a move resulting either from clumsiness or sheer hubris, the marketers who wrote the IAB report have tipped their hands about what they want the internet to look like in the post-cookie world.

To explain the need for new tracking technologies, they use an analogy of security desks:

Imagine you work in a building with a security desk on each floor. Think how frustrating it would be if every time you walked into the building or went to a different floor you had to provide your name, company, job title, and ID so security personnel could make sure you’re allowed to proceed. You would have to provide all of this information every time you left the building or went to another floor — even if you just went for a quick coffee break, or walked a guest to the elevator. To circumvent headaches such as these, security badges were invented. Now every time you enter your building or change floors you are able to swipe your badge at the security desk and that swipe provides information to quickly remind the system of all of your details and automatically gives you permission to proceed. Additionally, your security badge contains information about you that can only be read by the security desks in your building, [sic] it would not work if you swiped it anywhere else. [Privacy and Tracking in a Post-Cookie World]

As the report explains, cookies are like security badges, but badges that are now obsolete; they don't identify you consistently enough. The report authors suggest new ones by expanding the use of "advertising IDs," cloud-based ID systems, or statistical identification of users (for an example of how this last might work, see this EFF project).

These plans would require a centralized service to assign us unique online IDs on our devices. The report outlines a few different approaches: A cloud-based one would have us sign into an ID service and use the unique ID it gives us to connect to publishers. In a sense, this is happening with Facebook Connect (although Twitter's implementation of OAuth competes with Facebook to be an internet ID system), but in the IAB's ideal scenario, we'd pick just one service to be our online ID. The report also indicates a solution through your internet service provider: Every time you log on to the internet through Comcast or Verizon, for example, you'd be assigned a unique ID. Advertising IDs, like those used in Android and iPhones, would provide device-level identification; this would be far less centralized, but it would still be more concentrated than the free-for-all cookie system.

But I want to set aside the technical details of these ideas and instead focus on what the practical effects would be. Let's take the IAB's unfortunate analogy of the internet as a highly secured building to it's logical conclusion. (Seriously: The internet as a series of security desks? They wrote this report after Snowden's NSA leaks?)

1. We all work and live in the same building; call it "Les Interwebs." It used to be that you had to explain to the guards who you are every time you left and came back into the building, but the IAB has fixed this for us. Now you have an IAB-issued internet ID card you can use to get into Les Interwebs, and the guards greet you by name with a cheerful grin. (The IAB report acknowledges that post-cookie tracking technology will require "an authentication mechanism" — in other words, a persistent ID you use to identify yourself online.)

2. We each have our own special room in that building. The guards know when you're in your room and when you're not.

3. While you're in your special room, highly trained social scientists watch your every move, monitor what you read and watch, pore through your financial records, consult with your doctor about your health, study your sexual preferences, map your social networks, and divide you up into myriad categories. (This detailed monitoring is, of course, the dream that animates online behavioral advertising).

4. As a result, in your room, you only see what you want to see — or rather, you only see what marketers believe you want to see. You like "technology" and "sports?" That's all you see. You like liberal politics? You will only confront views that confirm your own. Don't worry about the opinions of others; you won't hear about them — except in sensational headlines. (This is what the IAB would call "personalization," and what others might call a "filter bubble.")

Of course, much of this is already reality, but if we take the IAB report at face value, the way in which this vision of the internet is currently being implemented is inefficient and clumsy. Cookies helped get us to an internet that tracked us, but now the time has come for even more precise and powerful tracking technologies.

The internet can certainly be a building with security desks on every floor. If you want personalized services everywhere you go — where "personalization" means you get what someone else says you want — then the IAB is your guide to the future of the internet. If you like to be watched as you lust, love, and live, if you like to give the marketing industry such infopower, please do help the IAB figure out the future of tracking after the cookie.

On the internet, no one should know you're not a dog

However, what if we take seriously other metaphors for the internet? For example, since so much of the IAB's work is to fix us as specific, identifiable people, perhaps we need to turn to the old metaphor of the internet as a place where, as the famous New Yorker cartoon put it, "no one knows you're a dog."

I would rather see an internet where you can be a dog one minute, a cat the next, a man the next, a woman the next. Where you can do things without a massive, highly sophisticated industry studying your every move. Where you can explore and learn based on whim and serendipity rather than the dictates of marketing (or, of course, government, but that's for another essay). Where when you can put your name on things one minute and be anonymous the next.

In other words, let's have a post-cookie internet without tracking. The IAB can keep their security desks.

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Can Facebook give free Internet access to the world?

Facebook Initiative

Dating: Is the Web getting in the way of love?

"Is technology ruining your relationships?" asked Jess Carbino in "Honestly? Yes," I thought. Apparently a study by my favorite research group, the Pew Research Center, has found that gadgets have “a pronounced effect” on dating and relationships. "Surprise, surprise" I thought. Here's the latest as seen in my favorite magazine The Week.

Almost one fifth of young people say they have argued with partners about how much time they spend online, compared with just 8 percent of older adults. Yet many young adults also find that technology provides “a forum to resolve conflicts.” Having “grown up revealing more about themselves in an online forum,” Millennials feel more at home with the medium.

But even some grown-up couples say tech can improve their relationships, said Sharon Gaudin in Overall, about 27 percent of the people surveyed said technology had an impact on their relationships, with most rating the impact as positive. “It gives people the ability to communicate in more and different ways,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. “Text messages make it easy to toss out those quick ‘I’m thinking about you’’’ or “‘I’m still mad about last night’ messages.’’ One out of four couples said they felt closer to their partner because of texts or online messages, and 9 percent have resolved disputes online or by text message when they were having trouble discussing it in person.

Certainly, “hyperconnectivity is a double-edged sword,” said Eliana Dockterman in “Young couples are operating in a competitive, geographically diffuse job market” that can separate them by continents. At first glance, that might make our connectedness seem like a good thing. But researchers have found that “the positive aspects of long-distance all seem to be based on how little couples see one another.” All that Skyping could just be “sabotaging your long-term relationship.” So as socializing online becomes easier, “consider the value of space.”

For singles, though, the web has been a real boon, said Julia Wood in “With so many fish in the sea, more singles are heading online to find their soul mate.” A survey by found that 31 percent of respondents said they met their last date online, compared with 33 percent who met dates through friends and or at work. That doesn’t mean online dating is without its own challenges: There are now so many dating sites and apps that “choosing one is almost as difficult as finding someone who matches your standards.”

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SIY: The mainstreaming of mindfulness

Stressed-out Americans from war veterans to Google workers are embracing meditation. Does it really work? My answer is YES. Thank goodness mindfulness is going mainstream. Here's a fabulous update from The Week.

Why is mindfulness so popular?

It appeals to people seeking an antidote to life in work-obsessed, tech-saturated, frantically busy Western culture. There is growing scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation has genuine health benefits—and can even alter the structure of the brain, so the technique is drawing some unlikely devotees. Pentagon leaders are experimenting with mindfulness to make soldiers more resilient, while General Mills has installed a meditation room in every building of its Minneapolis campus. Even tech-obsessed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are using it as a way to unplug from their hyperconnected lives. “Meditation always had bad branding for this culture,” says Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter. “But to me, it’s a way to think more clearly and to not feel so swept up.”

What is mindfulness, exactly?
It’s a meditation practice central to the Buddha’s teachings, which has now been adapted by Western teachers into a secular self-help technique. One of the pioneers in the field is Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT-educated molecular biologist who began teaching mindfulness in the 1970s to people suffering from chronic pain and disease. The core of mindfulness is quieting the mind’s constant chattering—thoughts, anxieties, and regrets. Practitioners are taught to keep their attention focused on whatever they’re doing at the present moment, whether it’s eating, exercising, or even working. The most basic mindfulness practice is sitting meditation: You sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus your awareness on your breath and other bodily sensations. When thoughts come, you gently let them go without judgment and return to the focus on the breath. Over time, this practice helps people connect with a deeper, calmer part of themselves, and retrain their brains not to get stuck in pointless, neurotic ruminations about the past and future that leave them constantly stressed, anxious, or depressed.

Does it work?
Scientific research has shown that mindfulness appears to make people both happier and healthier. Regular meditation can lower a person’s blood pressure and their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland and closely associated with anxiety. Meditation can also increase the body’s immune response, improve a person’s emotional stability and sleep quality, and even enhance creativity. When combining mindfulness with traditional forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, patients in one study saw a 10 to 20 percent improvement in the mild symptoms of their depression—the same progress produced by antidepressants. Other studies have found that up to 80 percent of trauma survivors and veterans with PTSD see a significant reduction in troubling symptoms. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is also teaching mindfulness as a form of treatment for patients with substance abuse problems.

Why does it work?
MRI scans have shown that mindfulness can alter meditators’ brain waves—and even cause lasting changes to the physical structure of their brains (see below). Meditation reduces electrical activity and blood flow in the amygdala, a brain structure involved in strong, primal emotions such as fear and anxiety, while boosting activity regions responsible for planning, decision-making, and empathy. These findings have helped attract the more skeptical-minded. “There is a swath of our culture who is not going to listen to someone in monk’s robes,” says Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, “but they are paying attention to scientific evidence.”

Who are these converted skeptics?
Ironically enough, Silicon Valley’s tech geeks are leading the way. “It seems counterintuitive, since technology is perhaps the biggest driver of mindlessness and distraction,” says Ann Mack, a director at marketing communications brand JWT Worldwide. Google now has an in-house mindfulness program called SIY “Search Inside Yourself,” and the company has even installed a labyrinth at its Mountain View complex so employees can practice walking meditation. Tech leaders flock annually to the Wisdom 2.0 conference, and there are now countless smartphone apps devoted to the subject. But these developments have led to a growing concern that mindfulness is being co-opted and corrupted.

Why is that?
Long-term adherents of mindfulness worry that what is fundamentally a spiritual practice is being appropriated by new age entrepreneurs seeking to profit off it. Others are concerned that Fortune 500 executives are pushing meditation so that overworked employees can be even more productive without melting down. But Westerners clearly need some sort of strategy to cope with a world now filled with the inescapable distractions of technology. The average American now consumes 63 gigabytes of content, or more than 150,000 words, over 13.6 hours of media use every single day—and all indications are that those numbers will keep climbing. For Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, mindfulness is not just a way of coping with the deluge of input; it’s a way of confronting the modern world head-on. “There is no life-work balance,” says Marturano. “We have one life. What’s most important is that you be awake for it.”

Rewiring the brain
Until recently, neurologists believed that a person’s brain stopped physically developing when they were 25 to 35 years old. From that point onward, the hardware was set. But a growing body of research points to the possibility of lifelong “neuroplasticity”—the ability of the brain to adapt to new input—and a 2011 Massachusetts General Hospital study found that those who meditate regularly for as little as eight weeks changed the very structure of their brains. MRI scans showed that by meditating daily for an average of 27 minutes, participants increased the density of the gray matter (which holds most of our brain cells) in an area that is essential for focus, memory, and compassion. Previous research had already shown that monks who had spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation had extraordinary growth and activity in this part of the brain. But it’s now clear that even relative beginners at mindfulness can quickly rewire their brains in a positive way.

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Amazon vs. Netflix: The Fight of the Century

Amazon vs Netflix

Don't Be Fooled: 2014's Top April Fools' Day Tech Jokes

As reported by Stephanie Mlot of PC Magazine, from Google and Hulu to HTC and Uber, check out the roundup of some of the day's best practical jokes.

The tech industry often produces what seem like farcical products, but turn out to be the next big thing. But on April 1, even the most enlightened must take the news with a grain of salt.

Don't be fooled this year. Google kicked things off early with a search for a Pokémon Master to officially join the company. That wasn't the only joke from the search giant. Check out a few more below, as well as PCMag's favorite April Fools' pranks from the past.

Selfiebot: Stop digging in your purse for your phone when the perfect selfie opportunity arises. Instead, reserve a Selfiebot—a photo-taking drone that follows you around, "always watching … for life's most precious moment."

Gmail Shelfies: Celebrate Gmail's 10th anniversary with custom selfie themes. Ditch the typical landscapes, starry skies, and close-up flower shots for a selfie of you and your pet hedgehog. Even better: Your family, friends, and that guy you've been stalking can also set your Shelfie (SHareable sELFIE) as their Gmail theme, reading and writing emails while staring at your face in the background.

Google's "The Magic Hand": Google Japan has developed a mechanical hand that makes operating touch-screen devices more accurate and convenient—via an arcade-game joystick.

YouTube viral video trends: YouTube unveils its plans for 2014's viral video trends, including Clocking, Butter Fails, the Glub Glub water dance, and baby shaming. Later this year, the video sharing site will roll out cake bumping, wolf-mask tee-ball, and the Harlem Shake—again. If you think you've got a great YouTube meme idea, tweet it now with the hashtag #newtrends.

Google+ Auto Awesome: Visiting the Grand Canyon on a nice family vacation when, what's that? David Hasselhoff photobombs you! Perk up any photo with Google+'s new celebrity photobomb feature, rolling out initially with support from The Hoff.

Emojify the Web: Can a word smile? Can it roll its eyes? That's the aim of Google Translate support for emoji. Using algorithms, the app can interpret the content and tone of words, and boils them down to a single, meaningful symbol.

Total Temperature Control by Nest: Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Nest CEO Tony Fadell team up to allow airline passengers to control their own climate. Want the warmth of a tropical paradise on your flight to Boston? Select "Cancun Afternoon," and don't forget the sunscreen. Or try "Chicago Polar Vortex" for that freezing-wind-in-your-face feeling.

SwiftKey Flow Hard: SwiftKey is expanding its easy-flow typing techniques from your touch-screen phone to your traditional PC keyboard. Flow Hard brings SwiftKey's predictive technology to your physical keyboard.

Hulu Spin-Off Season: TV streaming site Hulu is launching Spin-Off Season, which brings some of your favorite goofy sidekicks and ensemble characters to the forefront. Original content includes Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Sergeant Terry Jeffords back on the streets, a cooking show with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and childrens' Spanish lessons with Community's Señor Chang.

WazeDates: Having no luck with online dating sites? Try traffic crowdsourcing app Waze's new feature, WazeDates. Just turn on the mobile setting, fill out your preferences, and wait for mobile alerts when single Wazers are driving nearby.

HouzzPrintz 3D Printer: Forget the hassle of shipping costs and wait times. HouzzPrintz 3D printer allows you to reproduce anything you see on the site with your own printer—about the size of a small airstream trailer.

HTC Gluuv: Accessorize your new HTC One (M8) with the all-in-one HTC Gluuv, a silver-and-black mitt that works seamlessly with the smartphone to "unleash your imagination and communicate in ways you've always wanted." Give a physical thumbs-up to "like" a Facebook post or pound your fist to capture a beautiful sunset with the Gluuv's 87.2-megapixel camera.

Toshiba DiGit: The first all-in-one wearable, Toshiba's DiGit gloves offer the functionality of a smartphone, DSLR camera, media streaming box, gaming console, home theater system, MP3 player, and ultrasound machine. The pair also comes fully loaded with 64GB of storage and 1TB cloud storage, plus 4G wireless, and 12 hours of battery life.

Uber Second Avenue Subway: New York City commuters can hop on the "U line" today, riding the length of Second Avenue for only $2.50. (The April Fools' Day promotion actually allows riders to catch a cab up and down Second Avenue, between 128th and Houston streets, for a discounted price.)

Apple Acquires iFixit: The industry leader in repair guides, iFixit, has been acquired by Apple for an undisclosed amount that iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens said "we couldn't refuse." As part of the deal, Cupertino will produce the most replaceable electronic devices on the market.

FreshDirect Eagle-Caught Salmon: It's biked in daily from the banks of the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. And 41 percent off!

For videos and more, check out this article on PC Magazine!

NetLingo was voted as a "Top 100 Web Site" two years in a row by PC Magazine. They said NetLingo is "One of the 100 Best Web Sites, it is a living dictionary devoted to the often cryptic and comedic vocabulary of the Internet, which is evolving at record speed." -

And BTW they missed this one at ONTRAPORT: The fusion of software and wine ;-)

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Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of online jargon ;-)

Hi Everyone!
Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of online jargon ;-)  Not only has the Internet and texting changed the way we communicate, it has spawned an entirely new language that is growing every day.

In an age where everything from job searching to dating is interactive, knowing how to communicate in your online life is a must.  There are new technologies, new online services, and new lingo created every day. If you think it's tough to keep up with it all, you’re not alone.

That’s why there is NetLingo, to keep track of new terms and organize it in a way that is useful to you. Whether you're a professional who feels like you're on information overload, or a power user who wants more, or a parent who wants to keep up with your kids, NetLingo can help. is the leading Internet Dictionary that explains the online world of business, technology and communication. We offer products and services to help you stay up-to-date in your online world. Written by me, a woman using layman's language, my purpose is to educate, entertain, and empower you!

I'm excited to announce the updated release of our new book "NetLingo: The List - The Largest List of Text & Chat Acronyms!" Buy a few copies for your friends, it makes a great gift for guys, just sayin'. Buy "NetLingo: The List" on here!
This revised edition of NetLingo: The List defines the crazy array of letters, numbers and symbols that comprise our new conversations. Known as acronyms, abbreviations, SMS talk and leetspeak, these terms are used by millions of people in a variety of online settings.
Erin Jansen
Editor and Publisher, NetLingo

Product You: With free online services, you’re the product!

This is a special guest post by!
Product You

Product You:

With free online services, you’re the product.

How Google Sells You:

Adwords provides a link between you and products
Top Cost-Per-Click’s for adwords:
1.) Insurance: top CPC of $54.91
24% of keywords
2.) Loans: top CPC of $44.28
12.8% of keywords
3.) Mortgage:top CPC of $47.12
9% of keywords
4.) Attorney: top CPC of $47.07
3.6% of keywords
5.) Credit: top CPC of $36.06
3.2% of keywords
6.) Lawyer: top CPC of $42.51
3% of keywords
7.) Donate: top CPC of $42.02
2.5% of keywords
8.) Degree: top CPC of $40.61
2.2% of keywords
9.) Hosting: top CPC of $31.91
2.2% of keywords
10.) Claim: top CPC of $45.51
1.4% of keywords
11.) Conference Call: top CPC of $42.05
.9% of keywords
12.) Trading: top CPC of $33.19
.8% of keywords
13.) Software: top CPC of $35.29
.8% of keywords
14.) Recovery: top CPC of $42.03
.7% of keywords
15.) Transfer: top CPC of $29.86
.6% of keywords
16.) Gas/Electricty: top CPC of $54.62
.6% of keywords
17.) Classes: top CPC of $35.04
.5% of keywords
18.) Rehab: top CPC of $33.59
.5% of keywords
19.) Treatment: top CPC of $37.18
.4% of keywords
20.) Cord Blood: top CPC of $27.8
.4% of keywords
Turns out you’re worth a lot:
96% of Google’s revenue comes from online ads
$38.6 billion[3]
More than Panama’s GDP, and the 31 poorest countries in the world combined.
Or a third of all advertising revenue online.[3]

How Twitter Sells You:

The average Twitter user follows 5 or more brands.[4]
With Twitter mobile users likely to follow 11 or more brands.
With $316.9 million in revenue
($269 million in ad revenue, 85% of total)
Mobile users are 53% likelier to recall seeing an ad on Twitter than the average Twitter user.
How do you use Twitter?
You use Twitter for entertainment: $.63 per user
You use Twitter in search of deals, clicking on ads:$3.16
(based on revenue/active users)
With Chinese ads leading the way:
[twitter users by location][5]
China: 35.5 million
India: 33 million
U.S.: 22.9 million
Brazil: 19.6 million
Mexico: 11.7 million
With 77% of monthly active users coming from outside the U.S.
(Even though the Chinese government has blocked Twitter!)
With Twitter earning $200,000 per promoted trend:
Such as :
[from March 2013][6]
(3/8) #TheNextBigThing (Samsung)
(3/9) #TheBible (History Channel)
(3/11) #FeedTheBeat(Taco Bell)
(3/13) #BurtWonderstone (Warner Brothers)
(3/14) #501s (Levi’s)
(3/15) #TheCallMovie(Sony Pictures)
(3/16) #3dollarsub(Subway)
(3/18) #BatesMotel(A&E)
(3/19) #TheHobbit(The Hobbit Movie)
(3/20) #HotNSpicy(McDonald’s)
(3/21) #BracketBusters(University of Pheonix)
(3/20) #NickyFlash(AT&T)
(3/23) #RallyCry(Capital One)
(3/25) #Blackberry10 (Blackberry)
(3/26) #ItsNotComplicated (AT&T)
(3/27) #NYIAS (Toyota)
(3/28) #TheHost(Twilight Movie)
(3/29) #GiJoeRealiation(movie)
(3/30) #OrphanBlack(BBC America)
(3/31) #TheWalkingDead(AMC)
Adding up to $5.2 million that month in the U.S. alone.[8]

How Facebook Sells You:

Facebook has the largest database of personal information ever compiled.
With 1 billion Facebook profiles, a vast number of engaged users in a social graph becomes a real asset.[11]
If Facebook users were citizens of Facebook nation.
Facebook would be the 3rd most populous country in the world
After China, and India.[9]
88% of Facebook’s revenue is from ads
But Facebook is losing out on the ad’s game:
With marketing referrals from Facebook dropping 20% in 2013.[10]
While Pinterest and Twitter jumped substantially.
But Facebook makes money as a payment provider.
Facebook Credits, used to purchase virtual goods (like Farmville) [10]
Were 18% of Q1 profit in 2012: or $200 million[10]
With marketing targeted by free services, and data mining companies.
Building profiles of internet and spending behavior, as well as interests.
Acxiom Corp. is a “database marketing” corporation
- 23,000 servers in Conway, Arkansas
- Holds 1,500 data points on 500 million online consumers worldwide
- Reviews 50 trillion data “transactions” yearly
- Consumer rankings
- Categorizes consumers into
- 70 clusters, and
- 21 life stages
- You aren’t a number, you’re a pithy phrase, such as:
- Early Parents
- First Digs
- Collegiate Crowd
- Young Workboots
- Rolling Stones
- Married Sophisticates
- Children First
- Career Building
- Spouses & Houses
- Outward Bound
- Truckin’ & Stylin’
- Home Cooking
- First Mortgage
- Resolute Renters
- Mobile Mixers
- Cartoons & Carpools
- Cluster 62 Kids & Rent
- Urban Scramble
- Pennywise Mortgagees
- Resilient Renters
- Shooting Stars
- Hard Chargers
- Dynamic Duos
- Savvy Singles
- Kids & Clout
- Tots & Toys
- Country Comfort
- Soccer & SUVs
- City Mixers
- Solo and Stable
- Modest Wages
- Rural Parents
- Metro Parents
- Rural Rovers
- Summit Estates
- Skyboxes & Suburbans
- Lavish Lifestyles
- Solid Single Parents
- Apple Pie Families
- Midtown Minivanners
- Farmland Families
- Country Single
- Fun & Games
- Mid Americana
- Metro Mix
- Urban Tenants
- Established Elite
- Corporate Clout
- Career-Centered Singles
- Country Ways
- Acred Couples
- Work & Causes
- Community Singles
- Humble Homes
- Downtown Dwellers
- Pennywise Proprietors
- The Great Outdoors
- Rural Retirement
- Still Truckin’
- Sitting Pretty
- Full Steaming
- Platinum Oldies
- Clubs & Causes
- Suburban Seniors
- Raisin’ Grandkids
- Devoted Duos
- Family Matters
- Rural Everlasting
- Thrifty Elders
- Timeless Elders
And Rubicon, a competitor:
Crafting ads that 97% of internet users deal with in a month.
The Internet offers an unparalleled opportunity to monitor and mold user experience, pulling you towards purchases. If a product is free, you’re probably the product.

As seen on!
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The Largest List of Text & Chat Acronyms is now available as a book

Ever seen an acronym you didn’t know? Are you a parent or teacher with kids online? Are you a business professional trying to stay savvy? Or just someone who loves to get online…

In an age where everything from job searching to dating is interactive, knowing how to communicate in your online life is a must.  There are new technologies, new online services, and new lingo created every day. If you think it's tough to keep up with it all, you’re not alone.

Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of online jargon ;-) Not only has the Internet and texting changed the way we communicate, it has spawned an entirely new language that is growing every day.

That’s why there is NetLingo, to keep track of new terms and organize it in a way that is useful to you. Whether you're a professional who feels like you're on information overload, or a power user who wants more, or a parent who wants to keep up with your kids, can help.

NetLingo published a new book “NetLingo: The List - The Largest List of Text & Chat Acronyms” and it contains all of acronyms and abbreviations you’ll see in text messages, email, IM, social networks, websites, dating sites, job sites, auction sites, discussion forums, gaming sites, chat rooms, blogs… oh, and in the real world too.

This updated 2014 version of “NetLingo: The List” (136 pages) defines the crazy array of letters, numbers and symbols that comprise our new conversations. Known as acronyms, abbreviations, SMS talk and leetspeak, these terms are used by millions of people in a variety of online settings. This edition contains French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Welch, Czech and Chinese text terms too!

See if you know any of these popular acronyms and text codes
What are acronyms and why are they so popular?

With millions of people texting and instant messaging every day, it's no wonder you've seen this cryptic looking code. Acronyms are an integral part of computer culture and grew rapidly on the Internet. Now, along with an alphabet soup of abbreviations and symbolic messages, this online jargon has become a language of its own.

So what are acronyms? Shorthand? How do you begin to understand a new language?

Let’s start with the basics: An acronym is derived from the first letters of a phrase and is pronounced as a new word, for example POTATO stands for “People Over Thirty Acting Twenty One” and is pronounced "potato."

Shorthand refers to an abbreviation, or initialism, that is pronounced by saying the letters one-by-one, for example FYI is pronounced "F-Y-I" and BRB is pronounced "B-R-B".  There are, of course, exceptions. Some acronyms go both ways, such as FAQ, which can be pronounced "fak" or "F-A-Q".

It should also be noted that acronyms are generally typed IN ALL CAPS (not to be confused with SHOUTING) whereas shorthand is often typed in all lowercase.

Now let’s start to mix things up. Sometimes the shorthand isn't shorter than the original phrase, for example "dewd" means "dude" and "kewl" means "cool" and :::poof::: means "I'm gone".

Now let’s add some symbols and numbers! Leetspeak is the name for a type of symbolic jargon in which you replace regular letters with other keyboard characters to form words, for example:

·      backward and forward slashes create this shape "/\/\" to stand for the letter M;
·      numbers and symbols often replace the letters they resemble (for example the term "leetspeak" is written as "!337$p34k");
·      letters can be substituted for other letters that might sound alike (such as "ph" is transposed with "f" so "phear" is used instead of "fear"); and
·      common typing errors such as "teh" instead of "the" and “pwn” instead of “own” are left uncorrected.

The result is a dynamic written language that eludes conformity or consistency. In fact, the culture of online jargon encourages new forms of expression and users will often award each other's individual creativity.

So what makes texting and instant messaging so popular?

In short, it’s fast, cheap, and cool. itz hw 2 tlk w/o bng hrd ;-)

Texting lets you finalize last-minute plans, track down friends, send pictures, correspond while traveling, and pass on information with just a few clicks of the cell phone keypad. IM lets you have real-time conversations with friends or colleagues or several people at once on your computer screen. Texing and IM are popular because they are private: no one can hear you “talking.” Acronyms and smileys are popular because they’re short and they bring emotional expression into a written world. 

Face it, communication is changing. It’s becoming quicker and less formal, and while it’s impossible to capture every instance of every text message out there, this is the definitive list. Many people at some point will use or see a variation of a term in this book, often without the vowels so as to keep the text or IM short. Such as:
omw, meet me n frnt pls -or- got ur vm, thx 4 info, ttyl

Think it’s tough to understand? It’s not, take this test:

Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.
i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghi t pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh?

Like most new things, communicating in abbreviations may seem strange at first but then fun after awhile. Get copies of “NetLingo: The List” for anyone you know who loves to get online! Not recommended for children under 14 due to serious adult humor, it will entertain you as you look up and translate the chat acronyms and text symbols you come across in your life online. The one place to learn all of the online terms you’ll ever need to know is

Erin Jansen is founder of and author of “NetLingo: The Internet Dictionary” and “NetLingo: The List - The Largest List of Text & Chat Acronyms.” Sign up for the free Acronym of the Day!

Get the new NetLingo book - updated 2014!

The List - The Largest List of Text & Chat Acronyms     

NetLingo: The Largest List of Chat Acronyms & Text Shorthand
Get the new NetLingo book - updated 2014!
This handy book to every Internet acronym and text abbreviation you'll ever need to know is a great "gag" gift to have lying around. Not recommended for children under 14 due to serious adult content, it's a "coffee table meets toilet humor" book containing thousands of hilarious sayings used by millions of people around the world. Only $19.95, it's great for anyone you know who loves to get online!

Buy "The List" on CreateSpace
Buy NetLingo books on CreateSpace and Amazon.comBuy NetLingo books on CreateSpace, an Company

Buy "The List" on

Buy NetLingo books on

Or get "The List" on Kindle
NetLingo: The Largest List of Chat Acronyms & Text Shorthand
   Originally featured on "The Martha Stewart Show"
  • It's a great gift for adults ;-)
  • Contains crude humor, sexual content, alcohol and drug references, and profanity
  • Not appropriate for children under 14 due to mature themes!
  • It's funny, it's real, it's timely, it entertains
  • Acronyms, abbreviations, shorthand, initialisms, and leetspeak
  • The 2014 edition has International Text Terms too
  • French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and more!
  • Inside look at the dynamic language that eludes conformity or consistency!
  • Buy "The List" on CreateSpace
  • Buy "The List" on
  • Or get "The List" on Kindle

Subscribe to the NetLingo Blog via Email or RSS here!

Privacy: Going anonymous on the Internet

I personally like the fact that “ephemerality and anonymity" are now the rage on the Internet. I've been preaching for years to monitor your digital footprint, let's hope that awareness goes mainstream. In the meantime, there's a new trend going on and a backlash against images of perfect lives...
According to Kim-Mai Cutler in, social networks like Facebook have been all about parading your individuality, but that’s beginning to feel a bit passé. A new app called Secret, which launched last week, allows you to “share thoughts with friends without revealing who you are.” The app’s founder compares its appeal to that of “a masquerade ball”—“you know who’s on the guest list, but you don’t know who is saying what.” 

The anonymity encourages users to share things that “are a little bit more vulnerable, insecure, emotional, sad, goofy, or angry than what you might see on Facebook or Instagram, where people are trying to groom images of picture-perfect lives.” 

We seem to have somehow come full circle: “It is kind of absurd that people would need a mobile app to be more vulnerable or self-aware with their friends.”
The “theme of illicitness” that runs through Secret is part of its current allure, said John Herrman in The app’s promotion of anonymity is a direct response to today’s dominant Internet culture. Since Facebook became the big player, “real identity” has been the Internet’s default setting; now people are getting tired of that, and “anonymity is the deviation.” 

The rise of apps like Secret, Whisper, and Snapchat is clearly an outgrowth of the growing resentment over the way Facebook owns and exploits our online identities. They’re meant to challenge “the notion that the Internet should record and host everything that’s posted to it into perpetuity.”

Just don’t believe these apps will make you truly anonymous, said Selena Larson in “It’s more difficult than you’d think to completely erase yourself from the Internet.” There are steps you can take, however, to “remove yourself” from the incessant scrutiny of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. 

First, download all the data associated with your social networking accounts, including archives of your status updates or contacts, then track down the “Deactivate” or “Close” options. Facebook makes this trickier than other networks; the company “doesn’t want to lose your data,” so actually deleting your account requires you to fill out a form and tell Facebook why you’re leaving. 

If you have long-forgotten accounts, a browser extension called “Just Delete Me” can help jog your memory, providing a directory of account deletion links for more than 300 sites. But you should be aware that “parts of your digital life will be chiseled into eternity—and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

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Social media: Now, even babies tweet

Many parents feel it’s essential to snap up Twitter handles and Gmail accounts for their kids before someone grabs those names.

“Harper Estelle Wolfeld-Gosk has 6,282 Twitter followers,” said Joe Coscarelli in “She’s 2 weeks old.” The infant daughter of Today show correspondent Jenna Wolfe is just one of thousands of kids who have Twitter accounts that are written in their voices but are “set up, maintained, and authored by parents.” Here’s a sample of little Harper’s tweets: “Pooped AND pee’d on Dr’s changing table. Everyone laughed.”

Why bother with such twaddle? Blame both “everyday parental pride” and “tech-savvy paranoia.” Many parents feel it’s essential to snap up Twitter handles and Gmail accounts for their kids before someone grabs those names. Once those accounts are established, parents can’t resist the temptation to put wisecracks in their kids’ mouths. Some critics are calling this “oversharenting’’—sharing too much information about kids online, said Eliana Dockterman in One study found that 94 percent of parents post pictures of their kids on the Internet, with newborns uploaded to Facebook an average of 57.9 minutes after their birth.

You won’t find my daughter there, said Amy Webb in My husband and I have decided we will keep all photos of and references to her off the Internet until she’s mature enough to decide what to post. Exposing your child on social media poses huge issues for his or her “future self.” Do you really want photos of your 5-year-old in a bathing suit circulating permanently on the Internet? Do you want Google and Facebook to start compiling data about your kids before they can even crawl, to be shared with advertisers or intrusive government agencies or unknown searchers? “It’s inevitable that our daughter will become a public figure, because we’re all public figures in this new digital age.” But it should be her, not us, who decides what’s in that public identity.

So, parents, please spare us, said Mary Elizabeth Williams in All these babies tweeting and posting supposedly amusing observations on Facebook really is a bit much. “It’s like we all woke up one day in a mass version of Look Who’s Talking.” Children are not meant to be a “witty accessory” to your own online life. Besides, said Caity Weaver in, making sure your kid has the right handle on a Facebook and Instagram account 20 years from now is laughably shortsighted. It’s likely to be as useful as 1990s parents stockpiling “CompuServe screen names and laser disc players.”

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It's Time for Emojis to be More Diverse

"If these emoji are going to be the texting and Twitter standard, we think it'd be cool if they better reflected the diversity of the people using them" says Chris Gayomali. There are nine cat-face emotions, but not one black person.

Emojis have now fully embedded themselves into our digital vocabulary, showing up in everything from forgettable Katy Perry videos to comedians tapping rap lyrics into their iPhones. The sentiment behind emojis is nothing new, of course. It's why we started pairing colons with closed parentheses and cocking our heads to the side in the first place.

Now, should you find yourself in a situation in which words do not suffice, the iOS keyboard offers hundreds of emoji options for you to pick from. There are several pixelated yellow faces representing the full spectrum of boredom, for instance. There are at least 10 variations for hearts. There are emojis of gay couples holding hands, a smiling turd, demon masks, and a beaming cherub. There are white faces — both young and old — as well as tokenistic caricatures of what appear to be an Asian boy, an Indian man, and a family of Latinos.

What there aren't, however, are any emojis for black people. Not a single one.

It's an egregious omission, and one that's drawing the ire of a petition circulating on, as Fast Company initially reported. The petition is calling for Apple to update its iOS keyboard to more accurately reflect the multitude of people who use it. It states:

Of the more than 800 emojis, the only two resembling people of color are a guy who looks vaguely Asian and another in a turban. There's a white boy, girl, man, woman, elderly man, elderly woman, blonde boy, blonde girl and, we're pretty sure, Princess Peach. But when it comes to faces outside of yellow smileys, there's a staggering lack of minority representation.

The conspicuous absence of black faces on the emoji keyboard is both "deeply troubling and probably racist," says Andy Holdeman at PolicyMic. The "easy answer" is that emojis were developed in Japan, where there aren't very many black people. But that's a cop out, argues Holdeman, considering there are also two different icons for camels. Yep. Camels.

Emoji was originally developed by Shigetaka Kurita, who engineered the expressive reaction faces many years ago, around the time Windows 95 first began taking off in Japan. In 2010, they were added to the Unicode Standard in other countries, including the United States.

Calls for a more diverse emoji palette have been building in volume for a few months now. Even Miley Cyrus — whose recent indiscretions appropriating ratchet culture haven't exactly endeared her to the black community — rallied behind the cause back in December.

Support for better icon representation has been building steadily. Back in February during Black History month, users took to Twitter, Instagram, and other digital formats to call for more emoji diversity.

A lack of representation in something as inconsequential as dumb faces we text to each other is a firm reminder that racism isn't always explicit; more often, racism rears its head by marginalizing cultural influence in small, stubbornly ugly ways. "If these Emoji are going to be the texting and Twitter standard," write the petition's authors, "we think it'd be cool if they better reflected the diversity of the people using them." You can sign it over at

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