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Many teens resist allure of smartphone ‘catnip’ — but some still struggle

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The seemingly irresistible draw of social media scrolls on smartphones can be hard to withstand. But some teens are finding ways to strike a balance.

National studies following teens in the U.S. and Europe have found slight associations between spending five hours or more online and poorer adolescent well-being.

Researchers are divided over whether smartphones are harming adolescent brains — but both doctors and teens themselves worry about overuse.

Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University wanted to understand why there’s been a spike in depression rates since 2012, as teens got less sleep and the popularity of electronic devices took off.

The author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, Twenge set out to explore generational differences by crunching through survey data from large, nationally representative samples of teens in the U.S. 

A 2011 photo of Jean Twenge, San Diego State University psychology professor and author of the book iGen. Twenge wanted to understand why there has been a spike in depression rates among U.S. teens since 2012. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

U.S. teens now routinely clock up to six hours a day on social media, texting and other online activities, she found.

“For teens in particular, it’s catnip,” Twenge said. 

If teens spend less time face-to-face, which is known to be protective and soothing, Twenge said that alone could be an explanation for the association between overuse and worse mental health.

Claims that smartphone overuse is linked to depression or decreased well-being are strong ones to make, cautioned psychologist Amy Orben. She completed her PhD on the effects of social media. 

“There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect,” Orben said. 

Late-night scroller

Smartphones also have their upsides and many Canadians say the technology enriches their lives.  

Jessica Fazio, 24, sees benefits from connecting through social media as well as what she calls the flip side of always having a phone in your pocket. “If someone messages me and I’m with other humans, I don’t need to answer them back right away.”

The Windsor, Ont., resident uses Instagram and Facebook in her advocacy work with Jack.org, a national network of young people who aim to change the way people think about mental health.

It’s important to take breaks from social media, said mental health advocate Jessica Fazio. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

When she speaks to high school students, Fazio cautions how social scrolls don’t reflect “the whole deal.” 

“We’re really comparing ourselves to others and we’re working out our self-image,” said Fazio, who calls herself “a late-night scroller.”

Dopamine-driven likes

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, said Andy Przybylski, an associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute and Orben’s colleague.

Przybylski said society hasn’t yet truly grappled with how the invention of the light bulb changed how we sleep and procreate beyond the sun’s cycle, and now we need to cope with notifications from smartphone apps.

“If you’re worried about dangers of smartphones, the first thing you should be worried about is distracted driving,” Przybylski said. Distracted driving is considered the only established risk. 

Przybylski points to other areas of concern that came to the fore in 2018, such as how our locations and those of our children are tracked, and how apps, depending on the platform, can access microphones and cameras.

There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect.– Amy Orben

Hypothetically, why might adolescents be more vulnerable to problematic smartphone use? There’s a lot of factors at play, said Jason Chein, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

His experiments explore how teens take more risks when they’re with their peers compared with when they’re alone.

Chein said adolescence is a developmental stage when hormones are kicking in and the brain is thought to become more sensitive to rewards such as social media “likes,” as dopamine processing of rewards starts to reconfigure.

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, a U.K. researcher says. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Researchers turn to brain scans to fill in the gaps. The studies are preliminary and it’s hard to tell what they mean on their own, Chein said. First, scientists need a more robust understanding of the adolescent brain and how individual differences from genetics, parenting and substance use collectively shape teen behaviours. 

Worsens mental health symptoms?

When some teens do find their overuse of a phone interferes with their relationship with their parents, friends, sleep or studies, Dr. Carolyn Boulos talks to them about turning over the phone to avoid the distraction.

In her youth psychiatry practice at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Boulos said she’s seeing more young people communicating through photos alone on Snapchat and Instagram. Her concern is that their verbal communication and problem solving skills don’t get as much practice. In her view, it can add up to more arguments, particularly if no one is truly listening.

“It’s not necessarily that [smartphone overuse] causes depression or causes anxiety, but it can feed into making symptoms worse,” Boulos said. For instance, young people may be more self-conscious about their appearance or fall victim to cyberbullying.

It’s equally true, Boulos said, that teens who stutter may find it easier to communicate through social media or texts.

‘People use it to seek distraction’

Other teens navigate skillfully through our world of screens.

“Endless scrolling” can be an issue for some classmates, said Jack Spencer, 18.

Some teens say overcoming boredom is a common reason they turn to their smartphones. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

“People use it to seek distraction,” the Richmond Hill, Ont., student said. “It’s like messing with a cup holder in the car when you’re a kid.”

On the sidelines of the State of Mind Festival in Toronto this spring, some high school students said boredom was a common reason for swiping. Their strategies included:

  • Patrick Arcilla, 15:  “I set a time limit and then stop and read a book.”
  • Nowreen Taslima, 17: Quit social media sites. “It was a platform to advertise yourself,” she said of Instagram and Snapchat.
  • David Stevens, 15: Just listen to music before bed without checking the screen.

Fazio believes educating teens and children about mental health, including social media’s effects, will help.

“We can step back and we can take a break. It’s really important.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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