Enduring Envy: Jealousy in the 21st Century

Enduring Envy: Jealousy in the 21st Century


"Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at.”

 - Charlie Munger

We’re social creatures. We spend an inordinate amount of time looking at others so that we can understand them. However, cognition is built on comparison, not absolutes. So, in order to understand others, we use ourselves as a comparison point. And, in the shadow of comparison envy rears its ugly head.

Today, with the advent of social networking, we have access to a lot more envy-triggering material than ever before.  We all present our best selves on services like Facebook. On these digital stages, everything is “good”, “amazing” and “fun”. As Steven Furtick, a popular pastor, states: "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.” However, life is filled with lulls and letdowns; and, in the glare of social media, we can forget that.

In addition, social media opens us up to the fortunes of those at a periphery of our networks. While we would normally never be aware of Tim, Johnny’s successful friend from middle school, we now collide up against his high flying lifestyle in our morning commute as we scroll through our Facebook feed. Almost all of us have heard of a friend of a friend who just made hundreds of millions of dollars in a business deal, or received a rare and honorable Rhodes Scholarship. However, these types of triumphs were intangible to us in the past; they were abstract tales, existing in the vapors of our imagination. And, as many psychological studies have shown, abstractions are quite poor at arousing our emotions - concrete images on the other hand, are power affective amplifiers. Today, with our social feeds, we are put face to face with undeniable visual proof of these realities that used to be comfortably intangible.

So, why is this a problem? It’s a problem because of how interconnected we have become. All of us, at all times, are three degrees away from people that are currently experiencing great fortune. This is a good thing. Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by prosperous and pleased individuals? However, unfortunately, all of us seem to contain a predilection for resentment. And, so while part of us revels in the reflected glory of our peers, another part of us asks: “Why not me?”. While some people are masters of gratitude and appreciation, envy seems to be the more common phenomenon.

This is not to say that our social technologies are negative forces in our lives. They do us much good, and allow us to build relationships with life changing individuals that we would never have connected with otherwise. But, in order to further refine our products, we need to understand the emotional landscape of our digital homes. Perhaps, with a few select product decisions, we can build a world with a bit more appreciation and a bit less jealousy. While that may seem manipulative, especially in the wake of the Facebook experiment kerfluffle, the fact of the matter is that every product constrains and shapes the behavior of its users. While many of these decisions are done without much thought or haste, we can, with a bit of experimentation and empathy, paint a picture of the world with a bit less green; and watch brighter, more enjoyable, scenes emerge from the palette.

Image: Angelo Bronzino - Venus, Cupid and Envy

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Why so gassy? Mysterious methane detected on Saturn’s moon

Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.

An impression of NASA's Cassini spacecraft flying through a water plume on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • A new study looked to understand the source of methane on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
  • The scientists used computer models with data from the Cassini spacecraft.
  • The explanation could lie in alien organisms or non-biological processes.
Keep reading Show less

CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

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."

Quantcast