Digit-al Overload

Nintendo, of course, was – and still is! – the games maker that popularised the game console offering multi-dimensional movement easily by the use of thumbs. Before Nintendo invented their games console, if you wanted a game character to make a diagonal movement, you would have to hold the Up arrow at the same time as you held the Left or Right arrow, depending on which direction you were aiming to go. Circular flowing movements were impossible. But the rotary joysticks on the top of the distinct console meant new movements were possible, bringing gameplay into a whole new era.

Much of the control of the Nintendo console is operated by the thumbs, forefinger and middle finger. The ring finger and pinkie are there to stabilise the console. The thumbs are responsible for most of the buttons; a large arrray of controls is slaved to them. The thumbs are responsible for movement and activating special functions, so during gameplay a large part of the time, the thumbs are engaged in active operation, unlike the other fingers that sit passively until recalled. And since Nintendo games are addictive, incentivising the user to stay playing for hours, many spend a lot of time over-using their thumbs without being aware of it – until the onset of pain.

Many people often speak of how the younger generation suffer from Nintendo thumb. They attribute it to the lack of awareness among the young. But adults are equally guilty too. The New York Times reports how adults are increasing seeking medical intervention for a kind of localised RSI, “texting thumb”, caused by the use of over texting. The world of technology has evolved and the pace of life has accelerated to the point where people are on their phones all their times, and phones are increasingly the choice of communication – whether texting, or responding to emails. You may blame the Blackberry, which popularised the texting and typing using thumbs. But thumb overuse is increasingly common and can become very debilitating.

Many people type as part of their job – it is hard to find someone who doesn’t, even on a subsidiary level – so the overuse of the thumb can lead for strain on the tendon, which may prove to be debilitating to the point of having to stop work. The cited report mentioned how some people couldn’t even use forks! An extreme case of a hand injury could be the pianist Robert Schumann, who after a hand injury, had to give up his performing career, and become more of a composer. Our hands are valuable assets – just ask the pianist Sergey Rachmaninov, who was said to have larger hands than the average pianist which he used to great effect in playing chords and show more technical skills. Who knows what these pianists would have done had they suffered from Texting Thumb or Nintendo Thumb?

Is the solution to phone addiction and thumb overuse a poorer phone? Hardly. Poorer phones have worse designs – remember having to press the “2” button three times to get a “c” character and stress digits even more. The solution to phone addiction is a conscious human being.

Diverting negative energies into positive gains

You’ve heard of Twitter. You’ve heard of trolling. And if you haven’t heard of the latter, you must be of the social media landscape, which may be a good thing for you. Trolling is the process – some may call it art now, unfortunately – of sending someone offensive messages in a bid to get them to respond. Some might liken it to baiting. It was a way of provoking conversation by say something to unsettle someone. I personally call it needling. It is like one of the silly things children used to do, to poke each other with a finger until someone got fed up and reacted. Over the years it has evolved into and art form, of saying something objectionable until someone “flames”. Unfortunately the development of such social terms only conveys how acceptable a practice it has become.

Twitter was a good medium for trolling – some say it still is – because it offered anonymity. And it was instantly responsive to news. Back in the days of the Arab Spring, and the London riots, people were using Twitter to communicate instant messages alongside Blackberry IM. It was almost as if these events opened the eyes of the authorities to the power of social media and how they needed to police it. To this effect, many have social media accounts to “communicate” with the public. Twitter may have had its twitterstorm, and while Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are having their turn in the news, Twitter remains an important feature of the social landscape nonetheless.

The responsiveness of Twitter and its immediacy mean that people can send anonymous messages to others and watch the impact as it unfolds Imagine receiving a message from someone who purports to know you somewhat like “The guy at the next table is watching you”. Immediately you would react to the sense of danger, and then feel a sense of embarrassment if it turns out to be a hoax and that you have been pranked. That’s what one form of trolling is. A cheap, inconveniencing laugh at someone else. And when you’ve been hoaxed, there is the embarrassment too that your hoaxer is in the vinicity observing you. But sometimes others troll (trawl) the Twitter landscape just to be objectionable, to say things to others without being physically around to be accountable for their words.

It’s not nice being trolled. It is akin to be digital bullying. A BBC report investigated some teens who had been trolled. But when they dug deeper, they had a nasty surprise. The ones responsible for the trolling, the cyber-bullies were the teens themselves.

Welcome to digital self-harm.

Why do people leave nasty online messages for themselves. One of those teens said that it was a way of getting attention and sympathy. When we are bullied online, we get some words of sympathy from others and a bit of their time and attention. Julian – not his real name – received the message “Nobody cares what you think. Just deactivate your account. No one likes your posts, and you’re a waste of everyone’s time.” Later it was discovered the digital hate mail originated from himself.

As he says of those who have been trolled, “they were quite popular so their followers would really support them through it and send them nice messages. I didn’t have many followers at the time so I thought sending myself a hate message might be a good way to get attention.”

Another girl, Sophie, sent herself hurtful comments in order to open up a discussion with herself, she said. She said she suffered from anxiety and to bring it out to the open, she penned a 1000-word response to her online hater – herself.

It may be useful, especially if you were concerned about an issue such as, say, one’s sexuality and needed to bring it out to the open. And one can perhaps understand that. But when a trolling comment is used only for the sake of generating attention, it really calls to mind the state of one’s mental health.

What kind of state is the mental health of someone who abuses themselves online to draw attention? Most would say “not good”. To that effect there are attempts to track those who do so. One of these methods involves checking the IP addresses of user accounts, to see if two have the same address – meaning they were sent from the same computer and individual.

What can you do if you are feeling down and need an outlet for your mental frustration? Sometimes it is useful to learn a new skill or do something to deflect your mental situation away briefly. You may find it useful to learn a new skill like learning the piano. And try to channel your frustration into a creative activity, because it will keep you from dwelling on your circumstances and the drive, directed correctly, will propel you to greater heights. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, by all accounts, had a difficult childhood, but as a Piano Teacher in Crouch End expounds, Beethoven managed to transcend the difficulties faced to become a skilled musician and composer.

Certainly it is better to do something self-fulfilling, rather than self-harming!

The social signal of music

If you look around you, on your daily travel to work, or perhaps just as you are moving through society, you will notice that many people are plugged in to their headphones, listening to music, trying to pass the time. And how headphones have evolved. They used to be merely a tiny pair of plugs to stuff into your ears, now they have become large ear mufflers that purport to cancel out exterior noise, and many of them are bluetooth enabled, meaning you are no longer limited by the length of a wire and can be unencumbered by its messiness.

Of course, this has meant that the music industry has taken advantage of it. Now that many people are listening to music, thousands and thousands of hours are devoted each week to producing music for listeners to devour. This has of course given rise to the number of people producing and recording their own music, and the number of apps and other music technology software for that kind of purpose. But what does the increasing popularity of music really tell us?

It doesn’t really tell us that music is increasingly popular on its own merit. That is to say, that the music nowadays is of good quality. What it does tell us, unfortunately, is that society is fragmenting socially.

You might be thinking that is a crazy thing to say, but if you examine what situations you see the use of headphones in use, it may shed some light on this viewpoint.

People use headphones to shut off one of their senses to the world. This means that on public transport for example, if they are hogging a seat that has been prioritised for a person that needs it more, for example, an elderly person or a pregnant lady, they may avert their gaze and pretend they have been so immersed in their music that they did not notice the need. One of the unwritten social contracts is to give up your seat for someone – a young child, a pregnant mother or an elderly person – who may need it, but using headphones means that one can break out and default on this without hearing the reprimand of the others.

The above is only an example. But what it highlights is that we use headphones not so much to enjoy music, but as a barrier to the social world around us. If you travel on a bus, and a group of youths are making a ruckus, no one dares to even utter a word for fear of retribution, being involved in a discussion with those out to get attention via argument, or lack of bother. The solution? Headphones. Pretend you never heard. Shut out one of your senses to the world.

It is a shame really because music was meant to be enjoyed, but now it is a shield to the world. Actually, not a shield, but a lance to say keep away. As a Crouch End piano teacher tells us, it could offer us such positive experiences. But it is somewhat disheartening that we use music to divide rather than to bind us. And it is not just merely the use of headphones. A noisy car blaring out noisy music, or a person playing loud music on public transport, is equally guilty of trying to impose some sort of social control on the people around that they do not like or want. We should try to use music more positively instead of as a divisive tool.

Balancing workplace success, aspiration and recognition

Research suggests that one of the greater signs of mental health is a poor sense of self-worth. The average individual, according to BBC news, is frequently evaluating himself or herself in comparison to others in order to gauge some sort of self-assessment on worth. The New York Times bestseller Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz claims that this is a kind of social data analysis, using a doppelganger or an imagined self, and we conduct a self evaluation to establish a perceived worth.

If we surround ourselves if an environment where everyone seems to be better than we are – for example, if they seem to be dressed in nicer clothes, drive nicer cars and we hence have a perceived impression that they are successful and what we would like to be – then if the gulf between them and us can be bridged, we are motivated to work hard and aspire towards that success, perhaps by aping the means and methods by which our models have achieved their success. If the gulf is too great, then we get discouraged and the continual trigger of this disparity causes us to feel slightly depressed and results in poor mental health.

In a workplace situation, envy and depression can develop when we evaluate our co-workers. Some of it can be subconscious, some of it can be deliberate. The proximity of the daily grind makes it inevitable. Imagine we are working on a team project. Various members contribute but one – perhaps the project manager, or someone on the same level as you that knows how to position themselves – takes the credit for the work and the accolades. We have all met someone like that, I’m sure. You can recognise these people by the way they talk; when there is work to be done, they say “We must … ” and assume the team mantle, but when there is a sniff of credit to be gotten, their talk turns too “I” and they start mentioning what they feel they have contributed to the project. I once worked with someone who mentioned “I” twenty-five times in a thirty-minute meeting, yet was careful to refer to “we” when the allocation of work section of the meeting approached.

We all work with these kinds of people. Perhaps we subtly realise too that this is how things are; if you want to be promoted to greater things it seems as if this is something we need to be doing from time to time. The problem with these kind of methods is that they make us uncomfortable; we experience the disconnect between having to use a social method of positioning we dislike, and detest when we see it in others, yet we have to resort to it, or else get left behind when everyone around us becomes more upwardly mobile.

What can you do if you find yourself in such a situation? While reading about the drifters from the
Piano Lessons N8 blog I realised that perhaps the success of the band and its interchanging personnel meant that not everyone was going to be credited accordingly. Sometimes true worth is only correctly evaluated years after the success is over. Perhaps the resolution in this matter is to accept that, like many parts of life, there are always going to be contradictory aspects. We may not like self promotion, but we may have to position ourselves from time to time to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise if we wait for our work to be recognised, it may take too long for our liking, and the unease it may cause us in the meantime might just be a little too much for us to accept.

Does exposure to violent scenes create violent teens?

Over the recent decades, film technology has increased significantly that we are able to recreate more exciting and fast-paced action scenes using better special effects. One only needs to look back to the 1970s to see the difference. Take for example, the film Battlestar Galactica. Spaceships were warring it out amongst themselves, but you could tell the laser beams of enemy ships and the good guys were merely light being reflected onto strings of model ships. Nowadays we have stunt doubles and pyrotechnics, and the improvements in CGI have meant that it is possible to create a scene without it actually having physically taken place.

Action movies and action scenes draw crowds and revenue. After all, we go to to the movies for some form of escapism – we wouldn’t if the film showed something we were already experincing in real life. In the last few decades, action movies have risen in number. They have always faced criticism about the level of violence inherent, and are often blamed for inciting anti-social behaviour, but is this accusation valid?

In the book Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a data scientist and writer, makes the point that during the run of a violent movie at local theatres, especially on opening night, crime actually goes down. The evidence is that young men, who have a propensity for violence, are actually at the movies. And late night movies actually see a proportionate decrease in violence and crime. Why is this so? The book again suggests that movies are an outlet, a form of distraction, and the fact that a lot of crime is alcohol-fuelled – and cinemas and theatres don’t serve alcohol – means that there is a form of aggression release that substitutes for crime.

But one should not get too eager about showing all the KilL Bill movies at the local cinema. There are many examples of life imitating art, with men hypnotised with what they had just seen on screen. A showing of the gang movie Colours was followed by violent shooting. The movie New Jack City incited riots. And four days after the film The Money Train was shown, men used lighter fluid to ignite a subway toll booth, as if to see if it would really work. In the movie, the operator escaped. The real life operator burned to death.

There is evidence from experiements that subjects exposed to a violent film show more anger and hostility, even if they do not imitate what they have seen.

We could say the same of alcohol. Alcohol may be a substitute for an anti-social evening. That is to say that men and women who might otherwise go out for a night of crime may be prevented so by staying in on a night of catching up over a glass of wine. But the same could be used to say that alcohol instead fuels crime outside of the immediate time frame.

Another useful area to examine is in the effect of music in the film. Does watching a film with “violent” music influence how we act in the aftermath? We know about the effects of music in a film, but it would be useful to see how music – especially since it is such a fabric of society – influences individuals.

Painkillers may have effect on your baby’s fertility

Nope, you read right.

Scientists have studied data and suggested that the use of painkillers by women during a pregnancy may have effect on their offspring when it comes to future generations’ intent to conceive.

Scientists studied foetal human tissue and the effects that these had under treatment of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Both are common generic medicines used to manage pain, and hence a common feature of them is the management of pain receptors – the dulling of pain to the point that receptors are less responsive so that the body adapts and is less affected. The scientists found that in both cases, when the foetal human tissue was exposed to pain relief drugs, the number of germ cells, which are the ones that develop into sperm and eggs, were reduced after a week.

Hence, the use of painkillers by women during their pregnancy could lead to these effects being transferred to their off spring.

In other words, their children could have difficulty conceiving.

The problem with this research, as with many other similar kinds, is that it was done not on humans but on tissue-compatible cases. Tests were done on mice and tissues grown in laboratory, and while they have similar bearing to humans, we cannot say for definite if this is what would happen. Unfortunately, it is unethical to prescribe high doses of pain-relief to women only to observe the effects on their offspring a generation later. That cannot happen.

Current pregnancy guidelines do state that it is safe to take paracetamol, but only at the lowest dose and for the shortest space of time.

It is best prescribed under the supervision of a doctor, but it is difficult to prevent pregnant women to walk into a supermarket and get some for themselves!

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Copenhagen University Hospital. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and a British Society of Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes Research Award. It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers did say their results suggested that painkillers have an effect on the level of germ cells, which may alter how DNA is formed and so could potentially affect future generations. But these results came from tests that were not performed in humans, and many other factors that contribute to fertility were also not accounted for.

And while these kinds of studies may never be fully conclusive, it is always better to be aware, than sorry!

One drink a day shortens your life

Ah, alcohol.

Some people don’t touch it for religious reasons.

Some people drink in moderation.

Some to excess.

Alcoholic drinks are classified by how many units of alcohol they contain. A recent study suggested that drinkers who consumed over 12.5 units (100g) of alcohol were more likely to die sooner than those who did not breach this amount.

If we follow current UK guidelines, this means that we should not drink more than 6 pints of average strength beer at 4%, or these might have serious repercussions for our health.

6 pints! Some people exceed that in a single day or two!

The limits established by the UK seem lower compared to those in the other countries, but nevertheless, each country sets its own guidelines based on lifestyle and economic factors.

The crux of this research was that adults over the age of 40 would lose between one or two years of their life is they exceeded the UK guidelines.

The somewhat irony of this research was that drinking alcohol was linked with higher incidences of cardiovascular symptoms, except for heart attacks, where it was lower.

How can these be so? How can drinking lead you to develop health problems, yet not cause you heart attacks?

This is where the “blind spot” of the research falls. It may not just be the drinking that is difficult to measure empirically.

You may argue that is not so much the level of alcohol that is the problem, but the lifestyle factors associated with the level of alcohol.

For example, those who exceed the UK threshold for alcohol consumption regularly may have lifestyle concerns or health worries that cause stress on the heart. Think of someone who is depressed and drowning himelf in sorrows. It is not necessarily the alcohol that he keeps swigging down, but more the stress that the depression is taking on him.

You may also argue that those who don’t exceed this limit have less stressful lifestyles. Or perhaps they have other outlets for stress, such as sport and exercise, and hence do not feel the need to drink as much.

It is like analysing football fans. You might find that the ardent supporters are more likely to have suffered the stresses, the highs and lows of their football team. They are also likelier to be older fans. Those who have not followed football teams as passionately or for as long are likely to be younger individuals. But you cannot say the number of football games watched cuts your life expectancy.

Why do drinking limits differ from place to place? I mentioned earlier that in some countries, this is due to economic interference. But how is this so? Imagine a country like, say, Spain, which produces various kinds of wines. As a higher percentage of the country’s economy depends on sales of alcohol, it is likely that Spain will have higher recommended guidelines. And Spain does. While UK men are told not to drink above 14 units of alcohol, this limit is 35 units in Spain. A staggering 2.5 times higher than in Britain!

The UK limit is also lower than Ireland (21.2). What does Ireland export? Guinness. It has been calculated that every day 10 million glasses of Guinness are sold all across the world and 1.8 billion points of Guinness are sold.

It is difficult to measure the health effect beyond the recommended threshold because it would be unethical to make someoe drink above that limit for a long time. But the results of the study suggest that consumption for many people is best reduced and monitored.