Television Did a Good Job

Question: How do you develop Wall Street sources? (Dan Indiviglio, Atlantic Business Channel)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  When I started doing this about 10 years ago in London, and when I first started this job, I used to literally make lists of people on Wall Street that I wanted to try to meet every given month.  So I would sit and make a list of 30 people.  And I would cold call, literally, and introduce myself as a reporter who planned to be on the beat for a very long time and thought it was important that we get to know each other in some way.  And I think hopefully over the years people have taken those calls and occasionally those meetings, and a trust level has developed.  And I think that's probably true of any reporter.  It's really about hard work, shoe-leather reporting, getting on the telephone, running around, in my cases, to meetings or events to see different people, and whispering in their ear, and hopefully they're going to whisper back and tell you the information.  You know, as a child I always enjoyed -- my parents used to have these little cocktail parties -- and I always loved trying to get the adults to tell me things they weren't supposed to say.  And in many ways that's what my job is today; it's getting people to tell me things that they probably are otherwise not supposed to say.  And I think you do that by developing some semblance of trust that you're going to be fair and that you get it.  I think that's part of it.  I've tried to study the industry.  I've spent enormous amounts of time.  I can, unfortunately, do a model, a DCF model, with the best of them.  I wouldn't say I enjoy it, but -- and I also think that when you've studied it up, when you've come to the table with the right questions, when it's clear to the other side, the interviewee, that you know what you're talking about, you can get a lot more. 

Question: What’s the biggest challenge for financial journalism going forward? (Dan Indiviglio, Atlantic Business Channel)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  The hardest part for a financial journalist going forward is actually going to be to get a straight take.  It's very hard to truly get close to the action any more.  I think there was a sense in the '80s and maybe even part of the '90s, and earlier, when you could really get the CEO on the phone any day.  You could really get inside the story.  But today most of these companies are pretty lawyered up.  They have a PR apparatus.  It's very hard in real time to actually get a story that hasn't come pre-spun.  And while the government is requiring more and more disclosures, as we've seen, some of these disclosures are worthless.  And so it makes it an enormous challenge to be able to really be able to spot the problems.

Question: Do you try to warn readers when you present the views of someone who is out to lunch in their assessment of the economy? (Dean Baker, Beat the Press)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  When I'm aware that they're out to lunch, my goal is usually to tell you that they're out to lunch.  I can't promise I've gotten it right every time.

Question: How bad would someone’s understanding of the economy have to be before you decided the person was no longer a good source for assessments on the economy and financial markets? (Dean Baker, Beat the Press)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  That's a terrific question, because unfortunately, in the world of sort of Wall Street prognosticators, they only happen to be right once or twice.  So right now Nouriel Roubini, for example, who called the crisis, seems to be the guy that you'd want to hear from.  Or Meredith Whitney, who told you that Citigroup was in trouble, would be somebody you'd want to spend time to and listen to and perhaps quote in an article.  But other people would suggest to you that they were making these arguments for six or seven or eight years, and had you been quoting them then, most people would have told you they were absolutely and wildly wrong.  So it's actually a complicated issue because some of these people will look right and be right for the moment, and then won't be right for a very long time again.

Question: How did financial television do during the crisis?

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  Financial television played a remarkably large role as the medium with which people were receiving their information during this crisis.  This was probably the first televised financial crisis that existed.  And some people have blamed TV for the crisis, or for speeding up the crisis.  And there might be some truth to that in that as journalists who are trying to reflect what's happening in the market, it gets reflected back, and this sort of mirror gets mirrored back and forth and back and forth.  And there's a personalization to it.  TV as a medium is so different than reading a headline that's saying there's a problem.  But when you're sitting in your office, especially when it's about yourself or about a firm that you're trading with, and you're hearing and seeing another individual tell you these folks are in trouble, it really can exacerbate the situation.  That's not to say that I think all of these people were doing -- reporting irresponsibly.  There were some reports that were wrong here and there.  But for the most part I must say, even having finished this book, I watched a lot of TV tapes during this period, and most of the stuff actually stood up quite well, much better than I suspect many people would want to acknowledge. 

Recorded on December 3, 2009

Contrary to popular belief, Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks TV coverage of the financial meltdown stood up quite well.

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
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