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!

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.

Going to bed with your smartphone is not a good idea

Okay, let’s be clear. When I say going to bed with your smartphone, what I really mean is you have your smartphone on a table by your bedside.

Research has shown that thee quality of sleep is affected for those who have smartphones nearby within arm’s reach.

Why should this research not surprise us? Firstly, those of us who have them nearby are more likely to be more responsive to emails, alerts and vibrations which all signify that more information for us to process has come in. Going to sleep with such a mindset, with work lingering in the mind, interferes with our restful periods when this happens for a long time.

Secondly, the backlight from your smartphone can cause you to waken up earlier than you intend to. While is good news for those of us who have problems waking up and keep having to hit the snooze button, perhaps we should consider that the reason we keep hitting the snooze button is we have not sleep well.

Imagine it is summer and gets light earlier. Even if you sleep in a dark room, the light from your phone will hit your visual sensors and trick you into thinking that it is already later than it is. Even if you glance at the phone and realise it is only 5am (I say only because most people are still asleep then, but maybe you are one of the early risers) you have difficulty going back to sleep now because your restful period has been disturbed and this affect your body clocks.

Do you notice how unseasonal temperatures affect wildlife? If you get a week of warmer weather in the winter, flowers and insects start to think that winter has passed and spring is here, and then emerge, only for the cold to hit again, leaving them vulnerable.

The smartphone provides unwanted stimulus in terms of light and sound. Even if it is fully muted and the screen is completely dark, its presence by the side of the bed means you can never fully switch off.

The solution, even is to go low-tech. Get an alarm clock, or a watch if you need to set an alarm as a wakeup call. Leave your phone in a different room like the living room. Try to keep your bedroom sacrosanct, as a place where work does not intrude. You will find it makes a difference to your restful periods.


Disconnect for a better quality of life

We live in a world that is more technologically advanced than our grandparents’ generation. For some, the gulf between generations is even closer. Those of us who have parents in their late forties and fifties will almost certainly find that their version of the twenties is much more different than ours. The difference can almost solely be put down to the impact that technology has had on our world.

When computers were rolled out en masse, and the influence of technology was making its way into daily life, we were told that they would simplify life. Computers would do the drudge work that humans used to do, giving us more free time to explore leisure pursuits. At least, that was how it was sold to us.


Has that happened? Not really. The average citizen found himself needing to be more computer literate. As the society became more dependent on things like emails, mobile phones, and computers, human beings found themselves needing to know how to work such devices and all their functions. Remember the days when all you had was a simple choice of a digital or traditional film camera? Nowadays the choices have exploded exponentially. Of course, unless you are a purist, you would say having digiital cameras isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t. But making the transition to using them as part of daily life has only increased the mental burden of information we hold in our heads, and that is making us actually less productive. And that arguably is one of the problems with technology. It has resulted in an explosion of information – the information overload that overtaxes our mental processes and leaves us mentally fatigued and less able to focus on important issues.

Social media is another area – touted to enhance links between people from your past, now the need to catch up with the latest social gossip, to promote yourself, to be on track with it all, to be in … all that has a bearing on one’s mind and mental health. It is no wonder that some people report being depressed after scrolling through social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Has technology enhanced our lives? It has made it easier for companies to push work that used to be done by employees onto users. For example, if Wikipedia existed in the 1980s, it would have had big offices and employees to research and type out the information on its databases. Now it encourages collaborative work – in short, it makes uses do it for them.

The problem is that information is endless and cannot be fully captured, and runs perpendicularly to our innate need to grasp everything. We want to box it all, yet it cannot be boxed. The human civilization generates terrabytes of data every year, and trying to keep on top of it all will leave us tired and fatigued and restless and depressed, an ever-insatiable need.

The solution? Disconnect. It would do you a (real) world of good. And if that is too drastic, trying limiting the amount of screen time you have.

Where dementia treatment meets your NEETS

A recent study has suggested that just ten minutes of social interaction is enough to mitigate the loss of quality of life in dementia sufferers.

A survey among care homes in south London, north London and Buckinghamshire found that dementia sufferers who had chats with care workers for a prolonged period of time – the average amount of interaction is estimated to be as little as two minutes a day in comparison – faired better when it came to measuring reduction in neuropsychotic symptoms and agitation. The chats were about areas of interest such as family, or the social interaction was extended to activity like sport.

Dementia sufferers in care home were divided into two groups – the first received conventional treatment while the second group received an hour of personal interaction over the week. Those in the second group demonstrated the benefits more prominently.

The difficulty with social interaction in many care homes is that the activities are limited to ones such as bingo, where people are together, but not really interacting, or that the interaction is on a one-to-many level, leaving many sufferers actually disengaged or bored, and more withdrawn in many respects. Interaction – if it can be called that – is very passive, and measured more by presence rather than participation. For example. sitting together in a bingo hall and doing “mental” activities such as bingo, or sitting with others to watch the soaps, occasionally piping up to say “What’s gawin on?” is unlikely to do much for one’s mental faculties.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This study shows that training to provide this type of individualised care, activities and social interactions can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of people living with dementia in care homes.

“It also shows that this kind of effective care can reduce costs, which the stretched social care system desperately needs.”

The problem is that while this interaction may be perceived as cost-saving, because it relies less on medication, having paid carers on minimum wage, paid “conversers” is actually more expensive. But it is a method that seems to work.

The unfortunate state of the healthcare is not that it is based on what works, but what is the cheapest. The base line is not the quality of care, but because it would exceed a threshold that the NHS cannot afford, the cost takes priority.

Perhaps what would be an effective method would be for NEETS – young persons not in education, employment or training to do such work. It would give dementia sufferers someone to talk to, and the NEETS could actually learn something from observing life experience, and it would keep government happy because their unemployment figures would go down. And with recent mental health studies suggesting that only 1 in 5 young people have someone to talk to when they are down, would it not be conceivable that at least getting young people who may be on the verge of being depressed due to lack of employment to talk with someone else, for a bit of wage, might actually be an intangible way of reducing their likelihood of depression?

Getting the young unemployed to be befrienders in care homes – is that worth a thought?

Why health articles in newspapers should be retired

What is it that people look forward to? Most want time to pursue their interests and doing things they love. Some people have managed to combine all this by the traditional interest-led approach, doing things they love, starting up a blog, gaining readership, and then selling advertising space on their blog, or affiliate marketing and other things associated with making money from a website. For others, this lure for things they like is compromised by the need of having to make a living, and hence this is shelved while having to earn a living and put off until retirement.

For most people, retirement would be when they would be able to have the time and money to indulge in things they put off earlier. Some people have combined the starting of a blog and retirement, and made a living by blogging (and gaining a readership) about how they have or intend to retire early.

Retirement. Out of the rat race. All the time in the world. For most people, retirement is the time to look forward to.

A recent study however suggests that retirement is not all that wonderful. Despite it being seen as the time of the life where financial freedom has been achieved and time is flexible, it has been suggested that the onset of mental decline starts with retirement.

The Daily Telegraph reported that retirement caused brain function to rapidly decline, and this information had been provided by scientists. It further cautions that those workers who anticipate leisurely post-work years may need to consider their options again because of this decline. Would you choose to stop work, if this meant your mental faculties would suffer and you would have all the free time in the world but not the mental acuity?

Retired civil servants were found to have a decline in their verbal memory function, the ability to recall spoken information such as words and names. It was found that verbal memory function deteriorated 38% faster after an individual had retired than before. Nevertheless, other areas of cognitive function such as the ability to think and formulate patterns were unaffected.

Even though the decline of verbal memory function had some meaningful relevance, it must be made clear that the study does not suggest anything about dementia or the likelihood of that happening. There were no links drawn with dementia. Just because someone retires does not mean they are more likely to develop dementia.

The study involved over 3000 adults, and they were asked to recall from a list of twenty words after two minutes, and the percentages were drawn from there. The small sample size, not of the adults, but of the word list, meant the percentage decline of post-retirement adults may have been exaggerated.

Look at this mathematically. From a list of twenty words, a non-retiree may recall ten. A retiree may recall six. That difference of four words is a percentage decline of 40%.

Ask yourself – if you were given a list of twenty words, how many would you remember?

It is not unsurprising if retirees exhibit lower abilities at verbal memory recall because the need for these is not really exercised post-retirement. What you don’t use, you lose. We should not be worried about the decline, because it is not a permanent mental state, but it is reversible; in any case the figure is bloated by the nature of the test. If a non-retiree remembers ten words, and a retiree makes one-mistake and remembers it, that would be promoted as a 10% reduction in mental ability already.

Furthermore, decline is not necessarily due to the lack of work. There are many contributing factors as well, such as diet, alcohol and lifestyle. Retirement is not necessarily the impetus behind mental decline. Other factors may confound the analyses.

The research did not involve people who had retired early. For example, hedge fund managers might have retired in their forties. But you would struggle to think that someone in their forties would lose 38% of verbal memory recall.

Would a loss of 38% of verbal memory have an impact on quality of life? It is hard to tell if there is the evidence to support this. But the results point to a simple fact. If you want to get better at verbal memory, then practice your verbal memory skills. If you want to get better at anything, then practice doing it.

Was this piece of news yet another attempt by mainstream media to clog paper space with information – arguably useless? You decide.