Hookup Culture and the Spread of Disease
The transmission of disease via sex is nothing new, and neither is the insular response.
“I've used it in probably a dozen countries,” says George, 32, a young professional whose job takes him around the world. “I'm ‘dating’ three women here in Russia, all of whom I met on Tinder. I don't have a purpose in mind of just hooking up, nor do I want a relationship. ... I really just use it to find cool women to hang out with and if we hook up, even better.”
George is typical of many folks. He uses 21st century tools and technologies to manage his life, including who and how he dates. But, these technologies and their users are much-maligned.
It really is cliché to debate how apps like Tinder, as well as online dating sites like OKCupid and Match.com, are changing the manner in which we meet people (and potentially have sex with them). Indeed, to married folks like me, there exists a twinge of jealousy. I wish these things were around when I was dating, but not for the reasons you think. Apps like Tinder reduce the stress of dating and dramatically lower the level of effort required to find someone to court. Tinder allows users to swipe right when they find someone they’re interested in. If the other person does the same, they’re both notified. No bar, no awkward conversations, and no weird back and forth to gauge each other’s interest. Boom. Date. No stress.
Well at least initially. Like anything that makes sex easier and more accessible, there are issues.
“Tinder basically allows people one more avenue to find what they're seeking. If it's a hookup, they'll find it. If it's a relationship, they'll find that instead."
Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Department of Health released data indicating that the infection rates of HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea are increasing, largely due to high-risk behaviors like using social media to arrange for casual or anonymous sexual encounters. And countless other studies suggest that men and women who meet sexual partners online tend to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Among US high school students for example, the CDC reported in 2013 that 34 percent had sexual intercourse in the previous three months and of those, 41 percent didn’t use a condom.
Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, argues that two major transitions in human sexual mating patterns have occurred in the last 4 million years. “The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” he says, “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet. It’s changing so much about the way we act both romantically and sexually. It is unprecedented from an evolutionary standpoint.”
For people like George, “Tinder basically allows people one more avenue to find what they're seeking. If it's a hookup, they'll find it. If it's a relationship, they'll find that instead. It shouldn't be maligned as just some tool to encourage rampant sex.”
The transmission of disease via sex is nothing new, nor is the insular, parochial response. For centuries, people have denigrated, disparaged, and impugned those afflicted with sexually transmitted infections. For 13 pages in Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler rails against syphilis. Life, however, has a magnificent sense of irony. Turns out Hitler might have had syphilis himself. In her book Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis, Deborah Hayden contends that he exhibited many of the symptoms of advanced syphilis infection. If true, the Nazi leader joins a number of other notable personages who suffered with, and many times died from, the disease: Meriwether Lewis, Vincent van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, and possibly Abraham Lincoln. Hayden claims that 15 percent of the world’s population in the 19th century suffered with syphilis at some point in their life.
If we know that millions of people use apps and websites to meet and have sex, it follows that we can use those same apps and websites to educate them before they do so.
Thankfully, the infection rates of diseases like syphilis have declined since the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics that successfully treat the condition. Sadly, sexually transmitted infections are far from eradicated; many of them cannot be cured. The World Health Organization estimates globally:
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control estimates nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year, half among people ages 15–24, accounting for almost $16 billion in health care costs.
Plainly, research shows that technologies like social media and dating apps facilitate easier access to casual, anonymous sex. And while the numbers support that disease transmission rates are rising, perhaps there's an opportunity here. If we know that millions of people use apps and websites to meet and have sex, it follows that we can use those same apps and websites to educate them before they do so. If we concentrate on identifying opportunities to inform at-risk populations of the dangers, and less on stigmatizing apps and their users, maybe we’d have a greater impact on lowering the spread of infection.
Jason is Chief, Innovation for Thomson Reuters Special Services where he facilitates, oversees, and executes long-term solutions to emerging technology challenges. He works closely with governments, the private-sector, and non-governmental organizations to identify opportunities that will shape the future. The views expressed are his alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Thomson Reuters or Thomson Reuters Special Services.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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