Apple CEO Tim Cook calls for graduates to overcome "political noise" and algorithms

Cook's commencement speech at Tulane University urges students to take action.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a commencement speech at Tulane University on May 18th.
  • Cook cautioned the graduates to not get caught up in echo chambers and algorithms.
  • He acknowledged the failures of his generation.

Are we so caught up in technology that we don't notice any more the plight of people around us? On May 18th, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a commencement speech at Tulane University where he addressed modern narcissism and how to combat it.

"In a world where we obsessively document our own lives, most of us don't pay nearly enough attention to what we owe one another," Cook said. "It's about recognizing that human civilization began when we realized that we could do more together."

He also addressed another very specific modern problem where social media sites show you only what you want to see and hear, often creating bubbles or echo chambers. To get beyond your comfort zone and to grow as a person, you need to get to information that you don't already know – information that can change your mind and challenge your beliefs.

"Today, certain algorithms pull you toward the things you already know, believe, or like, and they push away everything else," said Cook. "Push back. It shouldn't be this way. But in 2019 opening your eyes and seeing things in a new way can be a revolutionary act."

Insiders might also interpret the mention of "certain algorithms" as a specific dig at Facebook, which has a friend-centric content selection approach.

Cook urged the students to get beyond paralyzing inaction, especially on big issues like climate change. "In some important ways, my generation has failed you," Cook acknowledged. "We spent too much time debating, too focused on the fight and not enough on progress."

What important, according to Cook, is to not get tied up by the "political noise," adding "after all, we don't build monuments to trolls".

"When we talk about climate change, I challenge you to look for those who have the most to lose and find the real, true empathy that comes from something shared," said Cook. "When you do that, the political noise dies down and you can feel your feet planted on solid ground."

You can check out the full speech here:

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Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.