Delayed Social Development: The Cost of Texting Instead of Talking?

Delayed Social Development: The Cost of Texting Instead of Talking?


We’re complex beings. No one denies that. However, there are also some basic laws that explain much of our behavior. One of those laws is reinforcement: specific behaviors that we’re rewarded for will occur more frequently in the future. Those that are ignored, or punished, will fizzle out. A rat that is given a piece of cheese after standing on two legs is more likely to stand on two legs in the future. If that rat continues to get cheese each time it stands on two legs, that behavior will be further strengthened. Traditionally, we received such instantaneous feedback in the social realm. Poor or rude behavior was met with a sneer or furrowed brow, while charming and kind words were met with a smile and, perhaps, a reciprocated compliment. The feedback loops for our social behaviors were tight, and so we grew and matured as civic beings with a staggering speed. Our less than desirable behaviors were shunned while our good behaviors were nurtured.

Today, this development still occurs. However, we have also introduced a large time gap into our social maturation with the advent and frequent usage of asynchronous communication mediums like text messaging, email, etc. While it’s easy to tell whether or not a joke went over well in a face to face interaction, texts are often left unanswered for hours - leaving us to wonder: “Did I say something wrong?”. If that text goes unanswered, we get no true feedback. We can take the lack of a response as a signal that the joke was bad or inappropriate. However, it may have actually been quite terrific, garnering a large chuckle when read; but, in the middle of a busy day, the other person just didn’t remember to respond. Without a positive response, it’s unlikely that we’ll continue to say similar jokes in similar future contexts. Though, this would be a mistake - a mistake created by a newly introduced feedback delay we’ve created in a newly created communication medium.

Whether we like it or not, our behaviors are being sculpted by our peers each and every day. The question becomes: How well can we hear their instructions? When we speak in a face to face interaction, we combine our body language, facial expression, and vocal tonality with what we’re saying. This usually paints a clear picture of what we mean; it gives context and tone to what would otherwise be an ambiguous, or inappropriate, statement. Imagine that we’re having a debate and, after some intense back and forth, I look you squarely in the eyes and, with a big smile, say “I hate you” in a playful tone. It’s obvious what I mean. Now, imagine we’re having a similar debate over text and, after an intense portion, I write: “I hate you”. In this context, the statement is much more ambiguous. While the other person probably thinks I’m just joking around, they could be excused for being unsure. The raw text contains much less information than the embodied words. Surely, this is why emoticons and stickers have become so popular. They add a bit of extra context to the words, mimicking the facial expressions that are usually part and parcel of any statement. As emoticons show, we always bring our old habits into any new technology - hacking it so that it’s a closer fit to our fundamental human needs and expressions.

Even with the rise of asynchronous communication, most of us are eventually socialized properly by a lifetime of experience. If we sit inside for most of the day, we still have minutes or hours of face to face communication with others while we’re running our errands, working, and so on. These encounters allow us to refine our behaviors so that they’re acceptable and pleasing to our social milieu. And, after years of such encounters, we become socially astute and able to confidently navigate the social currents we encounter in our lives. But, as time on screen continues to increase, and as we come to prefer snippets of text to flows of speech, this development will likely be further delayed. As we spend more of our lives staring at glowing screen, and working hard to decipher the ambiguous messages that are coming in at breakneck speed, we need to come to grips with the fact that as our lives become faster and more chaotic, our social education decelerates into a glacial crawl. There is surely no free lunch on this blue dot of ours.

Image: Castelgiorgio Painter

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Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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