Tuesday, July 29, 2014

#Adolescence 2.0?

A few months ago, Slate published a review demolishing Stephanie Brown’s book, Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster—and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down. Here is a typical put-down: Brown “offers a portrait of a generation of teenagers 'holed up in dark, locked bedrooms, hooked to the computer, smoking dope and taking uppers and downers to regulate their attention and mood, when actual trends in teenage behavior are overwhelmingly positive. Today’s teenagers are less likely to smoke cigarettes, less likely to drink to excess, less likely to use cocaine, and less likely to get pregnant than previous cohorts.” It may be me, but I somehow fail to see the contradiction here. By the way, the cover of David Siegel’s latest book, Mindsight, suggests that “adolescence” now lasts until age 24. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The virtuous circle of #Narcissism

“Narcissism” has acquired a bad rap as a psychiatric term somehow capturing the #Zetgeist – a rhetorical trend which may not be entirely justified. A few weeks ago Anne Manne reviewed in #TheGuardian psychological research indicating “how wealth breeds narcissism” – generally speaking, the wealthier you become, the more likely you are to be a narcissistic prick. A recent study, on the other hand, has found that “companies led by narcissistic CEOs outperforming those helmed by non-narcissistic executives” (at least in the short run). Which means that giving top executives astronomical “compensation” packages should set off a virtuous psychofinancial circle: the more money CEOs get, the more narcissistic they become, the higher share price their company commands, the easier it becomes to justify even higher pay for the chief, the more narcissistic he become, and on, and on. Of course, the shoes of CEOs will need to be filled by ever more extreme narcissists as the overall personality syndrome becomes more widespread and accepted as “normal” in the age of the “selfie.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

The rescue of the drowning…

A recent epidemiological study has found “job loss linked with higher incidence of depression in Americans compared with Europeans.” The authors attribute this difference in mental health outcomes to the more generous benefits extended to the unemployed in West European countries. Part of the explanation, though, could lie in the stronger emotional and economic support the unemployed tend to receive from friends and family this side of the channel. The press release does not say if the authors think they have a solution – or “intervention” – up their sleeve to could help alleviate the plight of the laid-off. One colleague who commented on the study did venture a remedy, though.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The #singularity is near!

Last month, a computer program apparently passed the famous #TuringTest, convincingly presenting itself as a 13-year-old before a panel of judges – at least for a third of them. There has been much hoopla around this result – which should have been totally predictable. A few years ago #NicholasCarr sounded the alarm (based on his disturbing self-observations and some relevant research) that exposure to the incessant stream of cacophonous information related through the internet was inducing in users a kind of “artificial intelligence” – a mode of thinking marked by dampened emotional responsiveness and mechanical analysis. If this, indeed, is the case, then the thinking gap between human and machine is obviously shrunk, making it so much easier for a mega-app to reach over even without credibly mimicking a real human – and without Scarlett Johanson’s unmechanical, sexy voice.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pathological #optimism?

A recent pop-science article in the NYT says “debate continues on hazards of electromagnetic waves.” It points out that the first disturbing findings date back half a century, and it has been more recently established that kids living near high-voltage power lines have measurably higher rates of leukemia. There have also been some sporadic, potentially disturbing finding regarding cell phones and other equipment. So why hasn’t this become a burning public health concern? I would guess it’s the same reason which recently led a top military commander to testify to a US senate committee that things in Afghanistan were really, truly looking up, despite some apparent evidence to the contrary – chronic optimism, or what some psychologists call “positivity bias.” This is the mindset which can lead you to conquer the Aztec empire with a company of desperados, land a few men on the moon, and win some hot and a cold war. I would guess it can also lead you into Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and let you maintain confidence in a virtualized financial matrix (or, dare I say, fly a passenger airliner over a war zone).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You’ve got talent!

An article in the NYT revisits the old nature-vs.-nurture debate (“How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Talent”). It is related to a new meta-study which appears to debunk the 10,000-hours rule made famous by Michael Gladwell. The piece starts with the following observation: “The 8-year-old juggling a soccer ball and the 48-year-old jogging by, with Japanese lessons ringing from her earbuds, have something fundamental in common: At some level, both are wondering whether their investment of time and effort is worth it.

Yes, indeed. I have no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what someone like 8-year-old Diego Armando Maradona would think, kicking a ball in some South American shanty town – no matter how “weird” it may sound.