Trends since 2016: Psycho-Social Health, Illness, Technology

[Third and last part of my trends since 2016 report. The cartoon is by Australian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon.]

As without, so within. Along with the loss of animal and plant life, there is declining physical and mental health in developed countries. The fertility crisis is increasing as the environment becomes ever more artificial and toxic: male sperm counts in rich countries have decreased by almost 40% since 1973, continuing to fall by 1.6% every year, with 10-15% of low-count men needing fertility treatment to become fathers and 20-25% experiencing prolonged waiting time to pregnancy compared with optimal-count men; one in seven US couples now have fertility problems; a 2017 study finds strong correlations between abnormal sperm shape and high levels of fine particulate air pollution; pesticides, plastics, oestrogens, obesity, stress have also all been implicated. 6.5 million children have now been born via IVF or ART (assisted reproduction techniques).

There are increasing levels of serious mental illness: according to a Blue Dog Institute report in April 2016, about one in four young Australians aged 15 to 19 are likely to have a serious mental health problem (having risen by four percent between 2012 and 2016), with 28.6 percent of females, and 27.4 percent of all 18-19 year-olds; areas of self-reported concern: ‘stress’, ‘school problems’ (competitive pressure, bullying), body image, family conflict. In 2017 one in four British girls are clinically depressed by the age of fourteen, with higher incidence among poor and mixed-race girls, and up to 10% of girls and boys between the ages of three and eleven suffer from feelings of depression or anxiety (as reported by their parents). White middle and working class crisis of painkiller-opioid addiction in US: declared a national emergency in 2017, with numbers of overdose deaths increasing 21% in 2016 over previous year: to over 64,000 deaths, now the leading cause of death for the 25-64 year-olds and killing double the number killed by firearms or motor vehicles.

Vicarious Screen Reality is intensifying, totalising, continuing to replace reality for ever more people in the over-industrialised world. Research in 2017 finds seven out of 10 British people admit they are losing touch with the natural world, while a third cannot identify an oak tree or say they know enough about nature to teach their children; a 2016 report finds that Britain is among ‘the most nature-depleted countries in the world.’ Overuse of digital touchscreens is now causing loss of hand strength and digital dexterity in children, preventing them from holding pencils and pens correctly (some reverting to gripping them ‘like cavemen held sticks’). Meanwhile Silicon Valley AI engineer Anthony Levandowski founds ‘Way of the Future’, a religious organisation seeking to ‘develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.’

Google’s AlphaGo supercomputer defeats Lee Sedol, one of world’s leading Go players (2016). The global eSports gaming audience reaches 385 million in 2017 and the Intel Extreme Masters eSports finals in Poland are attended by 173,500 people with over 36 million watching online; eSports professionals practise at least 12 hours a day; gaming addiction in South Korea replaces drug and alcohol addiction as the main treatment object at the Seoul National Centre for Mental Health, especially for male teenagers and young men; addictive gaming is linked to frontal lobe degeneration, anti-social, impulsive behaviour and unhappiness.

To increase sales of material and immaterial commodities within the new ‘platform capitalism’, the expanding gig or ‘attention economy’ has been intentionally designed to control eyeballs and become psychologically addictive using ‘behavioural design’ research (e.g. using ‘behaviour design’, detailed in Stanford lecturer Nir Eyal’s book ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products’, 2013).

Thus, there are signs of increasing divorce from material reality and a stable sense of self: an average c. six and a half hours are now spent on screens of all kinds, and average cognitive interruption is every four minutes from smartphones. 79% of Australian teens and 54% of adults are ‘highly involved’ with their phones, with teens spending an average 3.3 hours/day on social media (5-9 times a day), adults 2.6 hours, teens using Instagram average 6.8 times a day, 60% of them 15 minutes before going to sleep, 49% 15 minutes after waking up, 25% in class and when eating dinner, 63% (51% adults) feeling pressure to look good on photos on social media, 41% sometimes feeling everyone else is ‘living the dream’ except them, 38% using photo-editing to alter the profile pictures to appear more attractive, 25% say they have been bullied on social media; twice as many Instagram teen and adult users classify themselves as having low self-esteem compared with non-users. 31% of UK 18-34 year-olds feels they spend too much time communicating with family and friends online rather than in person.

University of Pittsburgh research finds a correlation between the use of social media and increased feelings of loneliness (‘the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel’). In 2017 48% of people in UK believe we are getting lonelier, 31% of Americans surveyed feel lonely at least once a week; and the younger, the lonelier: c. 50% of UK 18-24 year-olds, 38% of 25-34 year-olds, c. 33% of 35-64 year-olds and 25% of over 65 year-olds ‘often feel lonely’. There is a further steep drop in committed relationships among young within a decade: the proportion of US young adults living singly without partners rises from half (52%) in 2004 to almost two thirds (64%) in 2014.

In 2017 only 20% of German teacher trainees still get their political information regularly from a newspaper, 40% almost never, with most now relying on ‘social media’. In 2018 Facebook admits to having let Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon use at least 90 million subscribers’ personal data without their permission for the latter’s use in manipulating Brexit and Trump voters. The ‘holy grail of marketing’, namely tracking and measuring the customer’s entire movements and buying habits in order to sell them commodities, is now possible via combining data from Facebook (profiles, likes, comments), geolocation tracking of smartphones, payment via credit card and customer ‘loyalty schemes’.

In 2017, in a ‘tech-lash’, even former Google and Facebook executives sound the alarm about the pervasive society- and mind-changing powers of digital technology and ‘social media’ ‒ Chamath Palihapitiya (ex-Facebook CEO): ‘The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth …So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion’; Sean Parkes (ex-Facebook CEO): ‘[Facebook] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other …God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’; Tristan Hughes (ex-Google CEO):

Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts. But we have three technology companies [Facebook, Google, Apple] who have this system that frankly they don’t even have control over… Right now, 2 billion people’s minds are already jacked into this automated system, and it’s steering people’s thoughts toward either personalised paid advertising or misinformation or conspiracy theories. And it’s all automated; the owners of the system can’t possibly monitor everything that’s going on, and they can’t control it.

Scientific Innovations. The first human-pig embryo chimera is taken a third of way through pregnancy inside a sow by geneticists at the Salk Institute California, paving the way for growing fully functioning human transplant organs inside hybrid animals; human early developmental cells are injected into a pig’s embryo at the same developmental stage (2016). In August 2017 a new era may have begun in space research, that of gravitational wave astrophysics, combining dramatically different ways of viewing and understanding the universe: for the first time scientists observe a ‘kilonova’, a collision and merger between two neutron stars (ultra-dense remnants of collapsed stars) in a distant galaxy some 130 million years ago; this is the first cosmic event witnessed both via optical telescopes and gravitational wave detectors involving thousands of researchers in more than seventy labs and telescopes on every continent.

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on October 15, 2018.

2 Responses to “Trends since 2016: Psycho-Social Health, Illness, Technology”

  1. I’m thinkin’ we live in the spectacle on steroids…
    I’m not feeling very positive…especially as I witness kids holding their pencils like cave men, how proud they are of the fact they don’t/can’t read books and their phones are their best friends…many probably on the fast tract from school to prison…or a mental facility…
    The chimera experiments remind me of the maddaddam series by margret Atwood…
    Sadly, her books are looking more and more prophetic!

  2. Thanks Kristi. Sometimes poetry helps me, e.g. TS Eliot (Four Quartets):

    ‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

    Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
    The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
    The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
    Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
    Of death and birth.’

    Warm regards,


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