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Your emotions are the new hot commodity — and there’s an app for that
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we've come to rely even more on our digital devices, including to help manage our emotions.
There are approximately 2.57 million apps available for Android users to download and approximately 1.84 million apps available for Apple users. Apps are those tools on our phones or tablets which help us monitor, record and regulate some of the most intimate aspects of our lives, from sleep and menstrual cycles, to food intake and finances.
Many of the most popular apps in the West include the goal of self-improvement, which seems to be a constant drive for many.
The investment of our time and money into apps that help us become better performers, managers and producers is one of the consequences of neoliberalism, the idea that humans can make progress in their lives through market competition and economic growth.
Neoliberalism empasizes individualism, economic efficiency, low to no government interference and generally ignores systemic issues.
Apps can help with the business of us: we can easily track and monitor our bodies with workout classes, diets and skill-building exercises. As we track our progress in apps, we can literally visualize our bodies and capabilities improve.
Emotions, however, are trickier. We haven't had the same kind of metric tools and assessment criteria to track our minds to the same degree we can track our bodies caloric intake or waist circumference.
Enter mood tracking apps.
The simultaneous production and consumption of emotion, or emotional prosumption manufactures emotion for consumer consumption.
The pursuit of happiness
Mood tracking apps are sophisticated tools which promise the ability to track, measure and improve our emotions. Positive emotions, like happiness, are encouraged through visual features like "best day streaks."
Negative emotions like sadness or anger are dissected with aims to avoid or erase their existence.
In this new emotional frontier, happiness is the bar against which we measure all other emotions. The very existence of mood tracking apps is a testament to this.
The potential to improve our emotional traits and skills through apps appears limitless. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing a more fulfilling emotional life, there is a danger in being blinded by the quest for happiness. Since mood tracking apps are designed to direct us solely toward happiness, will we be prevented from understanding and engaging with the true complexity of our emotions?
By reducing our experiences, bodies and emotions to numbers, or quantified data, we make them ripe for consumption by app developers and interested third parties.
As a critical health researcher and a digital health literacy researcher, we are both concerned with how unsuspecting users may be taken advantage of within this frontier of continual self-improvement, especially if their personal data falls into the wrong hands and manipulated against them.
When it comes to commerce, emotions are powerful. They have the ability to move us towards action, change our minds and foster new relationships. They are also fast and reactive. Making decisions becomes more challenging when choices are everywhere and need to be made at lightning speed.
Modern advertising, by design, targets this impulsivity by hooking us on products and content through emotion.
In his book, Psychopolitics, Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, cultural theorist Byung- Chul Han discusses how this shift signals a creation of emotional consumption. We no longer buy a phone because it's a good phone, but rather because the ad displays happy people surrounded by friends using that phone.
We are drawn to ads and marketing campaigns because of the way they make us feel rather than the service they provide.
In a similar vein, social media platforms like Instagram, Tinder and Facebook hook us by "selling" us "likes," matches and affirmation through numbers. Since likes and swipes take less than a second to perform, they target and rely on the reactive nature of emotion.
The consumption of emotions
Emotions then become a new commodity that we knowingly or unknowingly produce and are for sale to the highest bidder. This is known as emotional prosumption.
Emotional prosumption produces two consequences. First, due to the reactivity of emotions, our decision making can be swayed when the information we consume is emotionally charged.
As such, in 2016, the emotions of voters in the United States were taken advantage of and manipulated through specifically targeted ad campaigns. Specifically, emotionally charged ads pertaining to immigration, gun laws and other political issues were deliberate targeted at the U.S. electorate just days before the election.
Our emotional data can be sold to third parties without our permission. Likes, swipes and mood tracking logs can all be classified as emotional data and provide companies with information on how to promote products to us in ways that trigger the highest emotional response.
These abilities raise questions not only for data privacy, but also for advertising ethics.
The unregulated creation and consumption of emotional data is therefore problematic for two reasons: It places emphasis on "positive" emotions rather than a healthy spectrum, and it takes information about immaterial consumption without user knowledge.
The ethical implications of emotional prosumption may leave a lasting impact on how we advertise, how and what we consume, and what aspects of ourselves we are willing to alter in the never ending quest of personal optimization.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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