Phones Can Affect Our Brains . . . and Our Hot Pots, Too


One of Sunday’s 60 Minutes segments was on the effects that continual screen time has on children’s brains. In particular, they looked at a study currently being conducted by the National Institutes of Health, a study looking at brain scans of 11,000 nine- and ten-year-olds over the course of a decade.

One of the experts interviewed on the show was Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager. His comments were actually made last year for another story on 60 Minutes titled “What Is ‘Brain Hacking’? Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care.” In the clip, Harris talks about the competition among developers to find ways to hook us on their apps. He calls it “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.”

(Here’s the entire segment from 2017. It’s well worth watching. But since it’s more than 13 minutes long, maybe you should keep reading and come back to it. I don’t want you to give up before you get to the second video below.)

So where do we find the off ramp from the highway to addiction? Gamification guru Gabe Zicherman tells the news show that we shouldn’t expect the creators of the technology to show us the way, as they’re not inherently inclined to make their products less habit forming. “Asking tech companies, asking content creators to be less good at what they do feels like a ridiculous ask,” he says. “It feels impossible. And also it feels anti-capitalistic. This isn’t the system we live in.”

Hmmm . . . maybe capitalism can produce solutions of its own. Take, for instance, this example of capitalism filtered through a Swedish furniture company in Taiwan. It uses technology to thwart technology. And it uses smartphones to get things cooking—literally. (Thanks for the link, Peter.)

[photo: “in the smartphone era,” by mho, used under a Creative Commons license]


Did You See That “60 Minutes” Interview Last Week?

What an interview! Last Sunday, “60 Minutes” pulled in its best ratings in nearly 10 years, with 22 million viewers tuning in. Did you see it?

Yes, I’m talking about the sit-down with that compelling personality, the “Greek Freak”—none other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward/point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. Born in Athens to Nigerian parents, he and his family faced the poverty that is common to African immigrants in Greece, with him and his brothers selling glasses, watches, CDs, DVDs, and other items on the street. But as he grew up, he really grew up (he’s now 6′ 11”) and developed his skills as a basketball player, catching the attention of NBA scouts.

In 1993, at the age of 18, Antetokounmpo came to America as a first-round draft pick for the Bucks. He soon found out that not all of America is like New York, he fell in love with smoothies (though ordering them isn’t always easy), and he learned that “buffet” means you can go fill your plate up more than once.

His fame in Greece has expanded his salesmanship beyond the sidewalks of Athens, as his image is now being used by Aegean Airlines . . .

. . . and Milko.

In 2015 he visited Taiwan to support Cathay Youth Madness . . . and to find some souvlaki.

Since his arrival in the US, his broken English has improved to a high level of basketball-speak, but he still has a lot to learn about American football (such as there’s no pitcher on a football team).

You can watch the full 60 Minutes interview with Antetokounmpo at the show’s site. Just to let you know, though, there’s another segment in the first half of the hour—something about the indescretions of an actress and a politician—but don’t let that distract you.

Asian-American Stereotypes: “A Whole Different Issue”

Jeremy Lin puts up a shot in a game against the LA Lakers last year.
Jeremy Lin shoots in a game against the LA Lakers last year.

60 Minutes devoted a segment of its April 7th show to Jeremy Lin. Lin’s is a great story—born to Taiwanese parents in California, he graduated from Harvard and now plays basketball for the NBA’s Houston Rockets. The interview covers a range of topics, including culture, race, religion, and . . . prejudice.

When Charlie Rose asked Lin about why he didn’t get any scholarship offers from Division I schools, even though he was named California’s player of the year in high school, Lin replied: “Well, I think the obvious thing, is . . . in my mind is . . . that I was Asian-American, which, you know, is a whole different issue, but that’s . . . I think that was a barrier.”

“When you say because you were an Asian-American, what is that?” said Rose. “Because there’s nothing about being an Asian-American that doesn’t give you the ability to play basketball.”

“Yeah,” said Lin. “I mean it was just, I mean it’s a . . . it’s a stereotype.”

“Average” Asian Americans?
While Lin certainly contradicts some common Asian-American stereotypes, he seems to fit with others.

A study by the Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” gained attention last year for announcing that Asian-Americans had surpassed Hispanics as the largest group of immigrants entering the US. But there is a lot of other information in the detailed report, including:

  • In 2010, 49% of Asian Americans age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more (compared to 28% of the overall US population).
    “More than six-in-ten (61%) adults ages 25 to 64 who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is double the share among recent non-Asian arrivals, and almost surely makes the recent Asian arrivals the most highly educated cohort of immigrants in U.S. history.”
  • The median household income of Asian Americans is $66,000 (US population: $49,800)
  • 93% agree with the statement, “Americans from my country of origin group are very hard working.”
  • 50% identify as part of or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 28% identify or lean Republican.
  • The largest religious affiliation for Asian Americans is Christian, at 42%. The next largest group is “Unaffiliated,” at 26%.

A Double-Edged Sword
While much of the information in the Pew report reflects well on Asian-Americans, some feel that the statistics can have negative consequences.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, told NPR that

it’s really important to understand that the community’s not a monolith and that we can’t use this information to think that it is the norm across all Asian-Americans because, historically, our communities have either been seen as model minorities or we’ve been put into the box of being disloyal, suspicious or we’ve been put into a box of foreigners who take away jobs. And the reality is that none of these stereotypes are true. Right?

Iyer wants us to remember that within the group of Asian Americans are many subgroups, representing people from a great diversity of circumstances and from a great diversity of countries—such as China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia, and the Philippines. (The Pew site has a great graphic that breaks down the demographics for each country of origin, here.)

Asian immigrants themselves tend to identify more with their country of origin than simply as “Asians.” While 19% most often refer to themselves as “Asian” or “Asian American,” 62% most often describe themselves by their country of origin, as in “Chinese” or “Chinese American.” Only 14% most often call themselves “American.”

Academic Robots?
The question of what to call oneself can be especially relevant to high-achieving high-school graduates. According to an Associated Press article, published in USA Today, some are refusing to check the “Asian” box on applications for top colleges. That is because they believe they need to score hundreds of points higher on test scores to compete with applicants from other ethnic groups. Critics of the current system believe

that Asian-Americans are evaluated not as individuals, but against the thousands of other ultra-achieving Asians who are stereotyped as boring academic robots.

Some applicants refuse to mark any box in the race section, but some who are mixed race, have a choice of which box to check.

Tao Tao Holmes is a student at Yale. Her mother is Chinese-born, and her father is a white American. She told AP:

My math scores aren’t high enough for the Asian box. I say it jokingly, but there is the underlying sentiment of, if I had emphasized myself as Asian, I would have (been expected to) excel more in stereotypically Asian-dominated subjects.

Holmes calls herself “an American . . . an Asian person who grew up in America.”

Susanna Koetter, another student at Yale, said that her racial identity changes depending on where she’s at. The daughter of a Korean mother and a white American father, Koetter said she’s “not fully Asian-American. I’m mixed Asian-American. When I go to Korea, I’m like, blatantly white.” But back in the US, when it came time to fill out her college application, did she leave the “Asian” box unchecked? No. “That would be messed up,” she said. “I’m not white.”

(“Linsanity: Jeremy Lin’s Rise to Stardom,” 60 Minutes, CBS News, April 7, 2013; “The Rise of Asian Americans,” Pew Research Center, June 19, 2012, updated April 4, 2013; Asian-Americans on the Rise,” NPR, June 20, 2012; “Some Asians’ College Strategy: Don’t Check Asian,” USA Today, December 4, 2011)

[photo: “Jeremy Lin 林书豪,” by DvYang, used under a Creative Commons license]