As a father of four, I’m fond of saying my kids were born with screens in their hands.
I know that sounds awful. We’re really not absent-minded, hands-off parents. We limit screen time and tech access. We set age limits on smartphone use, video games and content from streaming services.
Of course, as most parents will tell you, these rules have become increasingly difficult to enforce as the pandemic in the U.S. persists. Still, even before the pandemic, parents were struggling to find a “too much” and “too little” (or no) balance.
So, has technology really made it harder to parent?
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of parents in the U.S. with at least one child younger than 18, but who may also have an adult child, say parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago because of technology.
I don’t have adult children, but I remember what it was like to be parented by a mom and dad who didn’t have to worry about who we were chatting with online and what apps we were downloading to our phones.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/08/parenting-is-harder-now-because-of-tech/ (may encounter paywall).
Thanks to the pandemic, we’re neck deep in video conferences.
Conducting meetings with nothing more than platforms like Zoom or WebEx seemed like a foreign concept just six months ago.
Now it’s a necessity.
“We got good at this fast,” I said to a colleague last week, referencing how quickly people adapted to meeting via video. “Now we’re getting lazy,” I lamented.
I was referring to meetings I recently attended during which everyone had their cameras off. Even the host opted for audio-only, using his microphone to conduct the meeting.
Except for my camera, of course. My camera was on.
Perplexed and frustrated, I asked my colleague (rhetorically), “I understand why people are muting their microphones, but what’s the point of having a video conference if no one is actually going to use video?”
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/08/tips-for-getting-the-best-video-conference/ (may encounter paywall).
Instagram just made it easier to start your own personal fundraising campaign.
If you’re the philanthropic type with a cause or passion project, or if you’re just raising money for personal needs, Instagram’s platform is the newest entry into the world of social media fundraising.
It’s a busy time for online fundraising. According to a recent post on Instagram’s Newsroom, users have raised more than $65 million for COVID-19 and racial justice fundraisers globally on their platform and Facebook (Instagram’s parent company).
In fact, from late-June to mid-July, donations on Instagram doubled in the U.S.
“From people raising money to buy medical equipment for Black Lives Matter protesters, rebuilding black-owned small businesses affected by COVID-19 and funding educational resources related to racial justice, people are eager to mobilize around causes they care about,” Instagram noted in its Newsroom post.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/08/instagram-introduces-online-donation-platform/ (may encounter paywall).
About two weeks ago, one of my bosses sent an email asking me to rank order my preferred video conferencing platforms.
There were four options: Zoom, Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft’s Teams, and the video platform for our learning management platform. There are many other options, but these are the only platforms with which our university has licensing agreements. And quite frankly, the choices weren’t an issue. These platforms have (mostly) served us well during the pandemic.
My issue was with the simplicity of his single question. I appreciated the short survey, and it should have taken me a few seconds to rank them. Instead, it required 15-minutes of deep thought before I picked my favorites and clicked “submit.”
Fast forward a few days, and I was already rethinking my ranking. In fact, today I’d rank these platforms differently knowing what we now know about recent upgrades to these well-known platforms.
See, there’s fierce competition in the video conferencing realm, thanks in part to the pandemic and our move to online meetings and instruction. I say “in part” because the video conferencing platform competition started long before COVID-19 reached our shores. The war to win the hearts and minds of telecommuters started long ago, but users are now reaping the rewards of those long-standing rivalries.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/07/its-not-so-easy-to-rank-video-call-platforms/ (may encounter paywall).
Although my kids have full reign over our backyard kingdom, they still lament feeling imprisoned by COVID-19. They want to go places and do things with other people, preferably with friends, not their parents or siblings.
I can’t blame them. I’m always on the lookout for an escape, even if my getaway is the occasional trip to Walmart. Zoom meetings at least give me a chance to interact with other humans face-to-face.
Most “adults” have the luxury of accessing technology that allows for a little socialization with a lot of social distancing.
My older kids have “some” of this. Ella, 14, and Katie, 12, are at smartphone age. They’re responsible with their smartphones, they rarely lose them, and, with the exception of a few screen protector replacements, their phones never break beyond simple repairs.
My two youngest kids are not at smartphone-age even if they insist they’re smartphone-ready. In her defense, I feel pretty confident that Sadie, 10, could handle a smartphone, or “phon-ership” as we call it. Like her older sisters, she seems slightly more mature and responsible than most kids her age.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/07/online-video-games-help-kids-socialize/ (may encounter paywall).
Smokey the Bear’s PSAs occasionally aired during Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid.
“Remember, only you can prevent forest fires,” Smokey would say, reminding us to be sure our camp fires were properly extinguished. The problem was that my family didn’t do much camping, so the message was kind of lost on me.
A few years later, my friends and I were traipsing through the neighborhood woods on a particularly dry Fall day. One friend brought a lighter. Back then it felt like every friend group had at least one kid who carried a lighter, cigarettes, firecrackers, a knife—a collection of items that made them feel tough or cool, or maybe even resourceful.
Our friend liked to burn stuff. During our short hike, he lit a few leaves with his lighter and, poof, we were surrounded in flames and smoke. We kicked and stomped the ground for ten minutes until all the embers were gone.
After the fire was out, my friends left. I stayed.
“Only you can prevent forest fires.” I didn’t say it out loud, but that slogan repeated in my head. I sat near the scorched earth for hours watching leaves fall around me like rain, hoping that some newly fallen foliage wouldn’t reignite the blaze.
It was dark before I got home. I stayed awake that night wondering if I should return the next day. But I awoke to no news of a forest fire, no fire trucks, no helicopters whirling overhead dropping buckets of water on my house.
As unsettling as it was for me, I can’t imagine the anxiety people in drier areas of the world feel each year, wondering if a wild fire will erupt near their homes. Like I was some 40 years ago, they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the occasional spark set by a human. This is because while hurricanes and monsoons have their seasons, wildfires have their season, too.
We’re in wildfire season right now.
To help prevent the spread of these fires, one company—Mayday.ai—is turning to Twitter.
“When major events happen, people turn to Twitter to share what they’ve witnessed, document what’s happening in real-time, and to get key information,” said Jim Moffitt, a partner engineer at Twitter.
“When it comes to wildfires, early detection can buy authorities time to warn impacted communities and get the right resources in the right place quickly.”
Mayday.ai uses tweets in combination with information from satellites, traffic cameras, and other data points to build their detection system. This system helps first responders deal with wildfires quickly and more efficiently.
Mayday.ai’s platform and app give first responders and civilians who live near these danger zones access to real-time information about wildfires. In fact, as Moffitt found, Mayday.ai is so successful in detecting fires, it’s being used as a template for other types of disasters.
To borrow Smokey’s phrase, “remember, only you and your tweets can prevent wild fires.” Okay, so that phrase isn’t entirely accurate; but neither was Smokey’s advice. Mayday.ai is a good example of prevention requiring more than us and our tweets.
Still it’s another wonderful example of how social media is being used for good, to help us better understand our world, and possibly prevent disasters.
Learn more about Mayday.ai at www.mayday.ai.
In a win for original news reporting from reputable media organizations, Facebook launched a change in the kinds of stories you should see in your News Feed.
Activating this much-needed update to their news algorithm comes amidst criticism of how Facebook is managing (or rather, mismanaging) other kinds of content, most notably, hate speech. In fact, some of the platforms largest advertisers are now reassessing and adjusting their business relationships with Facebook.
Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Hershey, Honda, Eddie Bauer, North Face, Levi Strauss, Ben & Jerry’s, Verizon and others are either reviewing their ad buys or they’ve already paused, pulled or significantly curtailed advertising on Facebook.
Although not a direct response to the hate speech problem, Facebook’s change to the way to pull in original news content couldn’t come at a better time. Some of what actually classified as “news” over the last several years was classified as hate speech. Cloaked as “real” news, these stories originated from non-reputable sources and crept into our News Feeds.
Facebook needs more good news — more good news in their News Feed as well as more good news about Facebook.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/07/facebook-now-prioritizes-original-news-reporting/ (may encounter paywall).
In mid-March, when schools closed over COVID-19 fears, I was in denial. I thought, “These kids aren’t going to be home all day long, are they? This can’t be happening. It’s like a never-ending snow day.”
In April, when my kids were home all day long watching lessons on Zoom and completing homework packets, I thought for sure this pandemic-thingy would be over soon. “Give it another month,” I told my wife.
In May, as the final month of our makeshift pseudo-homeschool was winding down and the pandemic lingered, I was sure that my kids would be back to typical summer routines. Camps, parties, sleepovers, the pool or lake or beach would all resume. “Summer camps are right around the corner,” I said with suspect joy.
As June comes to a close, I’m only sure of one thing: I’m not “sure” of anything and I’m done with unscientific predictions for when my kids will be out of the house and back to their normal routines.
Now that the school year has ended, not only are we still home all day with the kids, most summer fun activities are on hold. No movie theaters (although a visit to the Elm Road Drive-In is planned). Even if and when they open, I doubt our kids will visit the public pools. No sleepovers. Worst of all (for me), no summer camps.
Read more at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/06/kids-can-learn-with-online-summer-camp/ (may encounter paywall).
If you’re single and trying to date during a pandemic, you likely have the sympathy and admiration of most of the non-dating world.
Many of us can recall how hard it was to date in pre-pandemic days. Even with apps like Match and Tinder, dating was still weird because—or at least it seems weird to those of us who stopped dating before dating apps were the norm.
But now, in a pandemic, the strangeness of dating seems to have reached new levels.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how dating during the pandemic requires ingenuity. If you’re going to meet someone now, it’s going to require the use of video calling apps like Zoom or Skype. As we explored in that column, we still have to do the extra work to make meaningful connections on video apps, to make it feel genuine and special.
During that series on pandemic dating, I met Sacha Nasan, co-founder of Blindlee, a new dating app with a unique feature.
This female-friendly app matches strangers. After they’re matched, they meet on a 3-minute blurred video call, during which they can interact and ask each other questions. If both liked the call, they’re matched.
Did you catch that first part? Yes, it’s a blurred video call.
“Most apps today are based on the swiping mechanism which Tinder popularized,” Nasan explained. “Blindlee is a very different concept than that of a typical dating app. You have a video call with a stranger, but it’s blurred and adjustable.”
This makes the experience both fun and safe at the same time.
During that first video call, each person starts at 100-percent blurred, but this is where it becomes a kind of female-controlled app. Women control the blurring percentage.
“This means you get to see the other person only vaguely without details,” Nasan said. “Think of it like seeing someone naked behind the shower door but you can’t really see the details.”
In this case though, blurring allows users to judge the personality rather than the profile.
Blindlee is coming along at the right time, too, when the world is seeing a shift to video dating during the pandemic as many people are just not ready to go on physical dates yet.
When I asked Nasan is he used the app to find love, he said he answers calls from users who call randomly.
“They tell us on these calls and in emails that they love Blindlee’s blur aspect,” Nasan said. “But just to be clear, I didn’t use it for dating because I have a girlfriend who, by the way, I met on another dating app.”
This last part is important because even Nasan admits Blindlee should be one of several apps in your dating app arsenal. In fact, successful online daters admit to using more than one app at a time.
If all of this doesn’t make you want to try Blindlee, maybe the start-up story behind the app genesis will.
“Glenn (Keller) and I are cousins,” Nasan said. “We're two young entrepreneurs in our early 20s. We developed Blindlee in our spare time. Essentially this garage-style side project took importance quicker than we thought, which is a good problem to have.”
You’ll find Blindlee in the Google Play or Apple App store.
Bald is beautiful.
This has been my mantra since my 30s.
I didn’t notice the bald spot until my mid-20s. I thought to myself, You’re tall. No one will notice that small bald spot.
Problem is, that bald spot grew until it was too tough to ignore.
So, I fired it before it quit. This means that I started shaving it before the spot took over the top of my head.
Yes, bald is beautiful. Balding is, well, less desirable for most.
After all, in terms of desirability, there’s a laundry list of leading men who’ve donned the chrome dome crown. They’re my heroes. I go back as far as Telly Savalas from my childhood. Other bald warrior heroes include Michael Jordan, Bruce Willis, and Samuel L. Jackson.
They owned their baldness. I wanted to own that look, too.
My wife got on board a few years after we started dating. We started with clippers. There are guards for clippers that range from “0” on up. The lower the number, the closer the clip. We started with “2” and gradually moved down to “0.”
Soon I wasn’t using a guard at all.
Around my early 40s, razors were introduced. It was an expensive move because, well, have you seen the price of men’s razors? Not cheap. When you’re trying to maintain a clean bald look, you’re shaving at least 3 or 4 times a week.
On good days, the razor moves at a steady pace, leaving no stubble in its wake. On bad days, you need a tourniquet just to stop the blood flow from countless cuts.
My kids have never known Dad-with-hair. My wife laughs when a kid makes the unusual request for me to grow it out. “No one wants to see that,” is my reply.
My kids also laugh when, while gaming, I create an avatar for myself. “Dad, that doesn’t look at all like you,” one kid will chuckle. “Your (avatar) has hair, and not just on his face.”
This is certainly true. Some Nintendo games, for example, give me the option for creating what’s supposed to be a lookalike figure. But it looks nothing like me. What’s odd is that Nintendo give us older guys options for facial hair, but no options for the bald look.
A friend who battled cancer and chemo treatments lamented this deficiency in games to me a few years ago.
“I’m not bald by choice here,” he said, after a particularly rough radiation run. Having lost all his hair, he said, “I have the option to create an avatar with no eyebrows, which I don’t have right now, by the way. But my avatar still has hair on his head? Doesn’t look like me at all.”
Of course, this isn’t true for all avatars. For example, programmers for services like Facebook and Bitmoji provide bald options.
Now it’s time for the rest of the tech industry to step up and recognize our shine. We need avatar programmers to hear us and see us (even if they need sunglasses to lessen the glare from our shiny heads).
Many of us didn’t choose to be bald, but we own the look and (mostly) love it.
It’s time for the rest of these programmers to fall in love with our look, too.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor of communication studies the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on social media and society.