Exponential change and the importance of play — #99
Enter the collective search for anxiety-reducing content.
This issue is packed. Everything happens simultaneously, suggesting that exponential change is more than a fancy buzzword.
This week combined my tiny private microcosm with the macro trends I follow at work—a bittersweet cocktail. Nothing and everything is connected.
The secret is to put one foot before the other until you find a path.
Enjoy the reading!
PS. On Thursday, the Swedish government raised the terror threat level, and if you move around in Stockholm's city centre, you can tell. I wrote a Linkedin post about what organisations should think of not to be caught off-guard if they want to be prepared for the worst case without being alarmistic.
Chinese military drill near Taiwan in response to Vice President visit to the United States
Yesterday, China began extensive military drills near Taiwan. Taiwan's defence ministry said it had detected 42 Chinese aircraft and eight ships involved in drills around the island from Saturday morning and deployed ships and aircraft in response.
The Chinese action is a "serious warning" to "separatist forces" in an angry but widely expected response after Taiwan's Vice President William Lai, one of the candidates for Taiwan's presidential election next year, visited New York and San Francisco during a recent trip to Paraguay.
The exercise aims to test China's ability to take control of air and sea areas, and the Chinese reportedly released photos showing military aircraft and ships participating.
"The Ministry of Defense condemns such irrational and provocative behaviour, and will send appropriate forces in response ... to defend Taiwan's freedom, democracy and sovereignty," Taiwan responded in a statement from the Ministry of Defense.
China views self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory and has stated that it will one day take over the island, by force if necessary.
The British government actively use proxies for religion, race and sexual orientation to target minorities with ads on social media
In the United Kingdom, government agencies and police forces use hyper-targeted social media ads to reach minority groups with messages about migration, jobs, and crime. The analysis is based on more than 12,000 ads that ran on Facebook and Instagram from late 2020 to 2023.
These ads are targeted using data linked to protected characteristics such as race, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. Campaigns use proxies like sports and music interests or hair-type, to target specific nationalities, even though direct nationality targeting is prohibited. For example, users interested in "afro-textured hair" or the "West Indies cricket team."
Facebook announced a ban on targeting based on race, religion, and sexual orientation in 2021, and additional targeting options relating to protected characteristics were removed by Facebook in 2022. However, this analysis suggests that the government still uses interest labels as a proxy.
Interest labels are often combined with demographic factors like age, gender, education level, and location for more precise targeting. The ads include campaigns on diverse topics like promoting Covid vaccine uptake, reports of crime, and recruitment for intelligence services.
Researchers and advocacy groups now call for regulation and transparency, including an open register of digital campaigns by public sector bodies with targeting details. But the government and police forces said the targeting is a helpful tool for ensuring messages reach vital audiences and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.
The upcoming El Niño season to be moderate-to-strong, raising concerns for the impact on people and economy
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the upcoming El Niño season to be moderate-to-strong through February 2024. El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a cyclic pattern of warming and cooling in the waters of the east-central Pacific Ocean. Climate change is amplifying ENSO, making the swings between the cooling phases of La Niña and warming El Niño more extreme and longer lasting.
Transitioning from La Niña to El Niño conditions can significantly impact global food supplies, public health, economic recovery, and peace and stability, particularly in the Global South and East Asia.
For example, El Niño conditions can suppress the global output of maize, rice, and wheat, increase the risk of infectious diseases, and lead to significant economic losses. Dartmouth research estimated total global losses of $5.7 trillion due to the 1997 to 1998 El Niño.
Young environmental activists won their trial against the State of Montana
A Montana judge ruled in favour of young environmental activists who claimed that state agencies violated their constitutional right to a clean environment by permitting fossil fuel development without considering its impact on climate change. This ruling, the result of a first-of-its-kind trial in the United States, joins a small but growing trend of legal decisions recognizing a government responsibility to protect citizens from climate change.
The judge found the state's policy for evaluating fossil fuel permit requests, which does not consider greenhouse gas emissions, unconstitutional. However, limited immediate change is expected due to Montana's fossil fuel-friendly stance. The state argued in court that its actions wouldn't significantly impact global emissions, but the judge rejected this argument and highlighted the feasibility of renewable energy.
While the verdict was criticized by Montana Attorney General's office, which plans to appeal, attorney Julia Olson, representing the youth, called the ruling a "huge win" and a turning point. During the trial, evidence was presented that linked carbon dioxide emissions to hotter temperatures, droughts, wildfires, and decreased snowpack, harming the mental and physical health of plaintiffs aged 5 to 22.
The ruling comes as carbon dioxide levels and greenhouse gas emissions have reached record highs, contributing to climate change's increasing effects on the environment.
Musk want to remove the ability to block users on X, but the move might breach App Store rules
Elon Musk announced that the blocking feature will be removed for users of X (formerly Twitter). Users will still be able to block people from directly messaging them. X users are concerned that eliminating the blocking feature will make removing abusive posts from their timelines hard. And, Musk might make other changes that put users at risk, for example, threatening to make direct messages public.
Today, when users block an account, it stops that account's posts from appearing in the blocker's timeline, and vice versa. Instead, you should be able to mute accounts. A mute means the user doesn't see the account's posts, but where the muted account can still view and reply to the muter's posts is proposed.
However, muting an account might not provide sufficient protection from harassment, abuse, or stalking, according to some experts. Removing the blocking feature could violate the terms and conditions of app stores like Apple's App Store and Google Play, which require measures against harassment and bullying.
Musk aims for X to be a platform where all voices are heard, but this move might conflict with app store terms and conditions and social media regulations regarding user protection. Also, accounts spreading misinformation have received 44% more engagement since Musk took over the platform, often fueled by Musk's own account.
At the same time, Elon Musk is known for throwing out ideas to his 153 million followers, sometimes not following through.
YouTube keyword trends suggest we're on a collective hunt for anxiety-relieving content
"YouTube" is officially the most searched term on Google globally this year (for the third year), showing how influential the platform continues to be.
But the most searched term on YouTube worldwide is "ASMR", with 40.4 million monthly searches — suggesting we’re on a collective quest for anxiety-relieving content. Further evidence for this, is the keyword 'Lofi' being the third most searched term at 20.6 million searches monthly. 'Lofi' or low-fidelity music enhances focus during studying and reduces stress.
This makes complete sense to me, seeing that the widely popular YouTuber 'MrBeast', and his anxiety-enhancing tone of voice, is in second place with 26.1 million searches. 40% of the top 20 searched terms on YouTube feature popular YouTubers like Sidemen, markiplier, pewpiedie, and penguinz0 and YouTube creators stand for 22% of the total top 100 searched terms.
Andrew Tate is the most searched person (in 7th place) who isn't a YouTuber, with 13.1 million searches, with Shakira closely behind with 12 million searches.
NBA is the most searched sport-related term in 7th place, with nearly 16 million searches. But fighting and wrestling are not far behind, with UFC and WWE being the subsequent most popular sport-related terms at 13th and 15th place, respectively. (Is this the real reason Musk and Zuckerberg have been toying with punching each other in the face?)
Ukraine is the 9th most searched term on YouTube with 11.6 million searches, and 'Ukraine War' is in 77th place, indicating ongoing interest in the war.
Children's mental health crisis correlates with the decline in play
Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among young people have increased significantly since the 1970s. During the same period, there has been a significant decline, and children's freedom to play independently has significantly declined.
Researchers have now summarised the evidence for play deprivation in children, and its impact on mental health. All young mammals play, and experiments with animals suggest that play deprivation leads to anxiety and poor social development.
Play is a direct source of children's happiness and well-being. Children become happier when they have more play opportunities, such as increased recess time in school. And independent activity during summers correlates with reduced emotional breakdowns and suicides.
Play and independent activities also contribute to long-term mental health, building mental capacities and attitudes that promote well-being. Play is the primary vehicle for children to satisfy psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. And play and self-directed activities are essential for developing autonomy, competence, and forming relationships.
Instead of focusing solely on drugs and therapy, prevention involves reintroducing ordinary childhood experiences. Bringing more play into children's lives and changing societal constraints that limit children's freedom and play opportunities are crucial for children's well-being.
Meta's Twitter challenger Threads lost half its users in the first week
With Twitter struggling, Meta's new app Threads has been seen as a potential replacement. The Threads app was off to a strong start but has challenges retaining users.
According to SimilarWeb, the daily active users for Threads dropped from 49 million to 23.6 million in just a week. On July 7, Threads had around 45% of the daily active users on Android, compared to Twitter. But in the United States, usage peaked at 21 minutes of engagement on July 7 but dropped to just over 6 minutes by July 14.
Meta claims to have achieved over 100 million total account signups for Threads in a few days. And Threads have cleverly solved the "empty party problem" by allowing Instagram users to create Threads accounts with their existing contacts automatically subscribed.
Twitter's user retention has declined steadily, while new Instagram user loyalty remains steady at about 40%. And during the first two days Threads was available, web traffic to twitter.com was down 5% compared to the same days of the previous week.
So, it is clear that Threads compete with Twitter's market share, affecting web traffic and app usage. However, just like Twitter survived long on "the Trump Bump" following Elon Musk destroying his own platform in real-time seems to be entertaining enough for users to stay a little longer.
News consumers don't believe local news media hold public officials accountable
A national poll commissioned by the Medill School at Northwestern University revealed that less than one-third of Americans believe local news media hold public officials accountable. Only 3.9% "Strongly Agree" and 26.5% "Agree" that local news media hold public officials accountable, while 11.3% "Strongly Disagree" and 18.8% "Disagree."
The survey found that the most common ways Americans consume local news are television (31.8% daily) and social media (30.8% daily). However, local TV news often avoids covering local government, leading to the perception that they don't hold officials accountable.
Social media usage for local news is divided relatively evenly among age groups, with 18-29 year-olds at the top (34.2%) and those over 60 at the bottom (26.6%). Unsurprisingly, there is a clear age divide in local news consumption on television, with older demographics relying more on television for daily news.
The survey also explored trust in local news and found that 41% agree they trust local news to get things right, and 36.3% agree that local journalists are in touch with community needs. Black consumers reported the highest percentages agreeing that local news represents their identities and holds public officials accountable.
Electric scooter use increases restaurant spending in US cities
Researchers looked at data from 98 cities in the United States. They found that having e-scooters in a city increased restaurant spending by about 5.2% for e-scooter users, adding up to at least $11.3 million in extra spending across all cities that allowed e-scooters in 2018.
The effect varies, with fast-food restaurants seeing a more significant increase than sit-down restaurants. E-scooters also help people discover new restaurants and encourage repeat business.
However, as a European, I'd like to see non-US data on this topic before assuming these conclusions would be translatable to cities where you can get around without a car ...
The small things
READ — This feature piece from the Washington Post about how creators use AI to narrate their TikTok videos, making it sound like murdered and missing children tell their own stories, is sadly representable for our current times.
LISTEN — For many of us, alternative therapies and wellness routines like yoga and mindfulness provide comfort and pleasure. For others, they can be a pathway to far-right conspiracies. How? This podcast explains.
LISTEN MORE — My favourite techno marching band (!) Meute released a new single, and it's expectedly weird and danceable as always. (This is my all-time favourite Meute song and my soundtrack for the Summer of 2022).
EAT — Zucchini is in season. I buy the yellow ones at my local farmers market and make Zucchini Carpaccio with parmesan.
TOOLS — Everyone kept recommending ClickUp, a tool for managing tasks and projects. I've tried it for a few weeks and can see why people like it. Easy to colour code and set priorities, you have a calendar view, and it's easy to take notes in the same app as you keep your tasks.
That was all for today. I hope you had a good time. ✨