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Time for a Digital Fast? ‘Unplugging’ from Technology is Good for Your Mind & Body

justin brotton - Tuesday, December 01, 2015

By Staci Elder Hensley

We’ve all seen the viral videos. A woman pulls her cell phone out of her bra and answers it … during the middle of her wedding vows. Another woman, while texting and walking, falls into a fountain. Two joggers collide while both are absorbed in their phones. A group of friends are having lunch, and all are glued to their phones, absolutely ignoring each other. The documented examples of technology addiction go on and on.

Beginning early this century, Internet access, cell phones, social media and “apps” have taken their toll on our ability to connect as humans, and our ability to focus on personal and work-related tasks. As our usage of these technologies has increased, so have our overall rates of reported stress, anxiety, sleep problems and depression.

The way to counter this information overload is to make yourself “unplug” from your technology, ideally on a daily basis, say the experts.

 

“This is a time of great technological advances in communication, both from a local and global perspective,” says Charles H. Dukes, M.D., psychiatrist with OU Physicians. “However, this technology and the virtual world in which we have become immersed are limited in depth and dimension. They are not a substitute for being physically present and engaged in an authentic dialogue with another person, which stimulates the full range of human sensation and perception. If one is not fully present with others, it can cause significant barriers in communication, in addition to creating a source of resentment and tension in important interpersonal relationships.”

Leigh Steere, cofounder of Managing People Better, LLC, agrees.

 

“People whose eyes are constantly locked on a screen are missing out on vital in-person connections with other people,” she said. “Observation is a key to learning and to gaining new insights. If your head is always down, you are missing the world around you and what it might teach you.”

Why Unplugging is Critical

People these days usually are proud of their ability to multitask, and see it as the normal method of operation, at home and in the workplace. In reality, multitasking is the least effective way to get things done, and usually results in sub-par performance with everything you’re doing.

 

At some level, though, most of us know that doing three or more things at once, instead of focusing on one, isn’t helpful. If you’re trying to answer texts and email while writing a report, or texting while making dinner or talking to your children, you’re not going to do any of those things very effectively. When multitasking is done consistently, over months and years, it can damage or destroy a person’s ability to focus, to form healthy relationships, and to do well at their job.

In some cases, clinging to your technology can be downright insulting – such as if you’re at a holiday gathering and you’re texting friends rather than talking to family members whom you only see a couple of times a year. Technology addiction also can be deadly. Texting while driving, for instance, has become so dangerous and so widespread that national ad campaigns have been created to discourage the practice, which is now illegal in most states, including Oklahoma.

 

Scheduling time away from your technology is absolutely vital to boosting one’s quality of life and ability to interact. Many experts recommend disconnecting during family dinner and for at least an hour or two before bed.

“Without question, it is extremely valuable and necessary to unplug from technology on a daily basis,” Dukes said. “The virtual world is no substitute for the corporeal world of sensing and perception. In order to have an authentic dialogue with another person, one must be fully present.”

Activities that can help refresh and restore your mind can include everything from meditation, journaling and reading a book to exercising, exploring nature, and simply talking face-to-face with your family and friends.

 

“It is important to have a good balance between work and one’s personal life, and technology affects both,” Dukes said. “Most of us are creatures of habit, and it’s important to set boundaries with technology.

“In the same way we should set aside time in our busy lives for exercise, we should also set aside time when we are free from our computers or phones,” he added. “Just like with exercise, start with small steps, like one or two hours a day where you don’t check email or look at your phone, and then increase that gradually to maybe a four-hour block of time where you are free of technology. This does take work, but many people who have extended periods of time without the electronic distraction report that their overall mood, anxiety levels and peace of mind improve.”

For many people, that improved morale comes as a surprise. They don’t realize the effect it has on them when they see everyone on Facebook posting photos of their exotic vacations, gourmet meals or gorgeous new homes and cars, while they themselves are slogging through the daily grind of work and chores. Taking a break from that bombardment of images to talk with people or take a walk outside can literally restore the soul.

Many CEOs and others have found that unplugging on the weekends works like a mini-vacation or retreat, and allows them to regain perspective, restore their energy and motivation, and even come up with new ideas. It can be hard to do initially (especially if bosses, coworkers or clients are objecting), but you can counter with the statement that stepping back for breaks will actually boost your job performance. If it’s an option, you can go so far as to designate someone else to reply for you while you’re unavailable, and then return the favor.

The benefits of unplugging are even greater if you can summon the discipline to go on vacation without your phone, laptop or iPad. You may miss out on a few Instagram photos and Facebook postings, but it will allow you to live fully in the moment, experience a genuine break from your work and daily life, and reconnect with those around you.

What the Research Says

Lots of studies are underway to determine just what’s going on with people – physically and mentally – when they’re connected to their technology 24/7. There’s even debate among the experts about whether or not Internet addiction should be classified as an official mental disorder. Research has shown that receiving emails, texts and tweets can actually produce a dopamine rush. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical neurotransmitter produced by the brain, and it plays a prominent role in addiction.

“Studies have revealed that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to addictive behaviors or substance abuse disorders,” Dukes said. “However, addiction is a complex biological and physiological process, and we want to be careful [not to label someone incorrectly]. Certainly, a person who might be predisposed to addictive behaviors could become more preoccupied and/or obsessed with technology.”

A Swedish study found that the light put off by tablet computers reduces the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are linked to both sleep disorders and depression. Another study, conducted by TNS Research and Hewlett Packard, determined that employees who were distracted by emails and texts suffered a larger IQ drop than if they had been smoking marijuana. Ongoing studies are revealing that an obsession with technology and social media results in individuals becoming lonelier, jaded, jealous or otherwise mentally unhealthy.

The Connection Challenge

Recently, another Internet video made the rounds – this one located in the center of a big city – where a gentleman was inviting random individuals to sit in pairs, face to face, and stare into each other’s eyes for one minute. A few brave souls took part in the experiment and learned just how long a minute can be. Sixty seconds of solid, focused human contact, looking into our “windows to the soul.” At the end of the exchange, most of these random strangers ended up hugging each other. Something that was very hard for them to do initially turned into an overwhelming positive for everyone. It’s a vivid reminder of our need for human contact, and why disconnecting from our electronic “masters” should be an everyday event in our technology-obsessed society.


Troll Under the Bridge: The Evolution of Social Media and Digital Malice

justin brotton - Saturday, August 01, 2015

By Micah Berg


Social media provides an impactful part of news coverage. For every American news agency, social media provides an inexpensive way to reach more people, and also allows them to hear from citizens without performing formal interviews or polls. News agencies provided live news updates through social media during Baltimore's riots. However, Baltimore became a primary target for hacktivists as well as special interest groups.

According to Baltimore cyber-security firm ZeroFOX, agitators from outside the United States spread a substantial number of false tweets and Facebook posts during the incidents in Baltimore. They utilized fake accounts to post inflammatory, somewhat convincing material, and many of the posts included images that were edited or taken from old sources. These agitators spammed Twitter until searching 'Baltimore' returned #BALTIMORELOOTCREW – a hashtag containing most of the malarkey – as the second result.

Unfortunately, modern social media provides an excellent platform for misinformation. Facebook and Twitter users are encouraged to provide minimal amounts of text frequently. As a result, accurate information can be spammed into ambiguity, and misinformation can convince an uninformed audience to act for the wrong causes. Twitter and Facebook also break their monstrous communities into sub-communities, allowing fictitious groups and users to upset and disperse public opinion with more success. In other words, modern social media sites are vulnerable to the type of psychological manipulation seen during the Baltimore riots.


Forums

During the earliest years of the Internet, there were no 'chat' services or live-update social media sites. The closest that technology could bring people to ‘instant’ was an Internet forum. Internet forums still exist today and mainly serve as small community websites for very specific individuals. In fact, the Delphi Forums launched in 1982 continue to operate. Forums are categorized by topics. A user can create a 'thread' in one of the topics, which consists of the original post and any comments made. Most forums do not move or delete threads unless they violate the rules of the forum, so users tend to post or comment large amounts of text at once to avoid the tedious process of following up with a second post.

Although forums cater to long-winded, sophisticated conversations, they occasionally experience events known as 'flame wars' in which a majority of the forum's community begins rapidly posting passionate — often enraged — commentary on a thread. This poses less of an issue now than during the dial-up era, when text-based forums were considered heavy-traffic websites. Flame wars rendered forums unusable because of slow loading times and website crashes, some lasting for weeks.

As the popularity of the Internet grew, forums alone were too restrictive and vulnerable to keep up with popular demand. Old-style forums still operate for groups such as automotive enthusiasts, but administrators will delete any threads meant to incite public anger.


Bulletin Board System Sites

Alongside forums, bulletin board-style websites gained popularity in the early- and mid-‘90s. These websites consisted of a similar layout to forums (topics, threads and comments), but threads are moved to an archive after a certain number of comments are made, or after an amount of time has passed. The automated archival of old threads allowed administrators to find and delete rule-breaking threads faster. Additionally, these sites naturally dissolved flame wars faster than forums.

Originally created for office use, bulletin board websites tend to support more users and rapid commentary. Text and image-oriented bulletin board websites, or 'textboards' and 'imageboards,' eventually substituted user logins with a digital fingerprint that allowed site administrators to permanently ban users for breaking site rules.

Active and anonymous users of textboards and imageboards banded into the online group Anonymous, which has engaged in no small amount of activism.

In contrast to the popularized anonymous textboards, sites such as MySpace and Xanga combined the bulletin board-style thread and comment structure with personal profile pages. After logging in, a user could post on his or her wall, or visit the walls of other users. These journal-style imageboards paved the way to the social media sites used today and allowed users to extensively design their profile pages. Unfortunately, this resulted in patchy looking websites and the exploitation of user-created code.


Modern Social Media

After decades of progress, Facebook replaced MySpace as the world's most popular social media site. Profile pages were made uniform, and users could only access the profile pages of users on their ‘friends’ list. Twitter allowed users to access any public feed, but only allowed users to post 140 characters at a time. Both companies continually work against fraudulent accounts and spamming posters. In response, malicious groups are spawning massive amounts of false accounts. They spam friend requests to businesses and individuals for future phishing attempts and to incite civil unrest.

Whether these groups belong to foreign governments, extremist groups or general communities remains unknown. Maybe they belong to all three. Regardless, the social media industry will likely evolve again to tie names to the faces of these agitators.

Troll Under The Bridge: The Evolution of Social Media and Digital Malice

justin brotton - Monday, June 01, 2015

By Micah Berg


Social media provides an impactful part of news coverage. For every American news agency, social media provides an inexpensive way to reach more people, and also allows them to hear from citizens without performing formal interviews or polls. News agencies provided live news updates through social media during Baltimore's riots. However, Baltimore became a primary target for hacktivists as well as special interest groups.

According to Baltimore cyber-security firm ZeroFOX, agitators from outside the United States spread a substantial number of false tweets and Facebook posts during the incidents in Baltimore. They utilized fake accounts to post inflammatory, somewhat convincing material, and many of the posts included images that were edited or taken from old sources. These agitators spammed Twitter until searching 'Baltimore' returned #BALTIMORELOOTCREW – a hashtag containing most of the malarkey – as the second result.

Unfortunately, modern social media provides an excellent platform for misinformation. Facebook and Twitter users are encouraged to provide minimal amounts of text frequently. As a result, accurate information can be spammed into ambiguity, and misinformation can convince an uninformed audience to act for the wrong causes. Twitter and Facebook also break their monstrous communities into sub-communities, allowing fictitious groups and users to upset and disperse public opinion with more success. In other words, modern social media sites are vulnerable to the type of psychological manipulation seen during the Baltimore riots.


Forums

During the earliest years of the Internet, there were no 'chat' services or live-update social media sites. The closest that technology could bring people to ‘instant’ was an Internet forum. Internet forums still exist today and mainly serve as small community websites for very specific individuals. In fact, the Delphi Forums launched in 1982 continue to operate. Forums are categorized by topics. A user can create a 'thread' in one of the topics, which consists of the original post and any comments made. Most forums do not move or delete threads unless they violate the rules of the forum, so users tend to post or comment large amounts of text at once to avoid the tedious process of following up with a second post.

Although forums cater to long-winded, sophisticated conversations, they occasionally experience events known as 'flame wars' in which a majority of the forum's community begins rapidly posting passionate — often enraged — commentary on a thread. This poses less of an issue now than during the dial-up era, when text-based forums were considered heavy-traffic websites. Flame wars rendered forums unusable because of slow loading times and website crashes, some lasting for weeks.

As the popularity of the Internet grew, forums alone were too restrictive and vulnerable to keep up with popular demand. Old-style forums still operate for groups such as automotive enthusiasts, but administrators will delete any threads meant to incite public anger.


Bulletin Board System Sites

Alongside forums, bulletin board-style websites gained popularity in the early- and mid-‘90s. These websites consisted of a similar layout to forums (topics, threads and comments), but threads are moved to an archive after a certain number of comments are made, or after an amount of time has passed. The automated archival of old threads allowed administrators to find and delete rule-breaking threads faster. Additionally, these sites naturally dissolved flame wars faster than forums.

Originally created for office use, bulletin board websites tend to support more users and rapid commentary. Text and image-oriented bulletin board websites, or 'textboards' and 'imageboards,' eventually substituted user logins with a digital fingerprint that allowed site administrators to permanently ban users for breaking site rules.

Active and anonymous users of textboards and imageboards banded into the online group Anonymous, which has engaged in no small amount of activism.

In contrast to the popularized anonymous textboards, sites such as MySpace and Xanga combined the bulletin board-style thread and comment structure with personal profile pages. After logging in, a user could post on his or her wall, or visit the walls of other users. These journal-style imageboards paved the way to the social media sites used today and allowed users to extensively design their profile pages. Unfortunately, this resulted in patchy looking websites and the exploitation of user-created code.


Modern Social Media

After decades of progress, Facebook replaced MySpace as the world's most popular social media site. Profile pages were made uniform, and users could only access the profile pages of users on their ‘friends’ list. Twitter allowed users to access any public feed, but only allowed users to post 140 characters at a time. Both companies continually work against fraudulent accounts and spamming posters. In response, malicious groups are spawning massive amounts of false accounts. They spam friend requests to businesses and individuals for future phishing attempts and to incite civil unrest.

Whether these groups belong to foreign governments, extremist groups or general communities remains unknown. Maybe they belong to all three. Regardless, the social media industry will likely evolve again to tie names to the faces of these agitators. 

How to Spot and Handle Scams on Craigslist

justin brotton - Friday, May 01, 2015

By Micah Berg

Since the late ‘90s, people have bought and sold everything from trinkets to land titles on Craigslist – www.craigslist.org. Consider the number of repeat sellers on Craigslist these days, and anything is bound to be available somewhere, somehow on the website. Musical instruments, gardening equipment, vehicles and even job openings fill the 'for sale' and 'wanted' pages of Craigslist's web-based classifieds. Over the years, many people have risen to wealth through Craigslist. Unfortunately, many others have fallen prey to online scams or real-life tragedies caused by Craigslist scammers.

Considering the number of scams that successfully occur on Craigslist, the chance of a single buyer or seller getting scammed is relatively high. The website facilitates a massive number of daily transactions, and scammers reply to more listings than do individual users. To avoid a false sale or a stand-up purchase, one needs to understand how Craigslist functions and how scammers take advantage of it.

The Inner Workings of Craigslist

To the user, Craigslist is a barebones website. It has a plain white background and a load of links, but each of those links opens a similar page with a smaller scope of listings. Craigslist's index page allows you to select a region, and then a city in a given district or state, followed by a topic of interest. From there, listings appear chronologically.

Consequentially, the simple layout of Craigslist rests on an equally simple infrastructure. The site's staff maintains Craigslist from an office in San Francisco. In the United States, users with fraud complaints are directed to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. If a crime is committed in person, they direct the victim to their local police department. The staff at Craigslist's headquarters will investigate potential scams, but they claim no responsibility for scams that take place on their website. Instead, information is made available at the bottom of each page and to the left of all listings. Because Craigslist and its staff hold no responsibility for scams, the burden falls to the website's users. There is no PayPal guarantee or warranty for Craigslist listings. Sellers are responsible for their property, and buyers are responsible for their funds.

How Scammers Operate

Anonymity is a scammer's best friend. Buyers and sellers are complete strangers before meeting, which puts both parties at risk of theft or extortion. However, most scammers will avoid such scenarios at all costs. If a scammer can acquire the money or goods without meeting the other party face to face, they encounter little to no threat of getting caught. Instead of agreeing to a standard meet-and-trade agreement, scammers will often create a scenario of payment-and-pickup. For example, a false client might agree to purchase a couch for $50, but offers a check for $400 on the terms that you return $350 in the form of a personal check. If the scammer's $400 check bounces, then the seller might send the scammer a check that clears for $350 before the bank can react. If the scammer can convince three people in a week to do this, then the scammer has effectively made $1,050.

Most scammers are brilliant salespeople. They put on a friendly face as a means to an end. Simply stated, a successful scammer must be able to spin a believable story, and such stories follow a rigid process. First, they attempt to build a rapport with the client by making small talk or giving away large amounts of "personal information" to seem friendly and human. They show interest in the transaction, but also the other party. Next, they attempt to weave a complicated story around their intent. If scammers succeed in seeming innocent, then they can proceed to the final step: creating urgency. Typical scammers want a deal to close as soon as possible or within a very strict timeline, because urgency suppresses the honest client's ability to question the scammer. If the scammer succeeds in all three steps, then the transaction can be made. For instance, a scammer attempting to rent out a false beach resort may say they are leaving the country, and request a money order to be sent to a post office box before a certain date. Upon receiving the money, the scammer typically closes the corresponding email account or discards the prepaid phone that was used to set up the transaction. The client, without money and without a method of contact, cannot react.

Never rent a home from somebody who claims to be leaving the country shortly. If you do not personally know the individual, then the probability of a scam is high. Of course, this is only one of many scenarios in which scammers operate.

How To Spot and Handle Scams On Craigslist

In order to combat the seasoned con artists of any community, you need to have experience. Your first purchase on Craigslist shouldn't be a sports car. Instead, start out small. Buy a pair of shoes or a desk lamp. If you take the time to season yourself in the normal procedure on Craigslist, spotting a scam is easy. Also, never meet somebody in evening or nighttime hours. Not seeing someone's face is a good way to get mugged. Buying items in the dark may also make it harder to spot defects. Additionally, operate through your email address and be cautious when texting or calling. The less personal information you share on the Internet, the better. Last but not least, feel free to get friendly with those contacting you about an offer, but never get personally involved.

Craigslist provides people with an excellent, expedient way to buy and sell, and with a little caution and a load of ambition, you just might enjoy yourself.





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