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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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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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