Category Archives: Technology

Pick Up Your Smartphone Less Often. You Might Think Better.

bored and brilliant

Illustration by John Hersey/Courtesy of WNYC

If you’ve ever felt like your smartphone was getting in the way of a breakthrough thought, you may not be off base. Research suggests that our brains need downtime and that people have some of their most creative ideas when they’re bored. The constant distraction of our phones can get in the way of that.

Our friends at New Tech City, a WNYC podcast, recently challenged us all to put our phones down with their campaign Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out. Using an app, Moment, participants tracked their smartphone usage for a week and were challenged to cut it down the next.

Seven people on the All Things Considered staff were among those who took up the gauntlet, including host Audie Cornish. And while my colleagues and I didn’t feel we were doing very well, we did better than the larger group and reduced our phone use by an average of 10 minutes a day. Overall, the more than 18,000 participants cut their smartphone screen time by an average of four minutes, according to New Tech Cityhost Manoush Zomorodi.

“We really struck a nerve with this idea that reflexively checking your phone comes at a mental cost,” Zomorodi says.

At the beginning of the project, she says, users were averaging about two hours of phone use per day.

New Tech City also offered a couple of specific challenges to help people keep their idle hands off their phones. On one day, they were told to delete a vice app — like Candy Crush — that absorbs too much of their time.

Zomorodi says she used that opportunity to delete the game TwoDots and ended up cutting a huge chunk out of her phone time.

Another day, participants were asked to put their phone away while in transit — on a train, in the car, walking down the street, etc.

Were people really more brilliant at the end? It’s admittedly hard to judge creativity, but Zomorodi says they did hear from people at the end of the challenge who felt better once they started to untether themselves from their phones. One described coming out of “mental hibernation,” while another person said she thought she was learning more in school without the constant distractions.

As I mentioned before, Team All Things Considered had mixed results. Some of us were actually logging more time on our phones during the challenge week, and many of us felt unfairly judged by the Moment tracking app when we listened to music or podcasts that commanded screen time. Ultimately, though, it seemed like a wake-up call worth answering.

Serri Graslie is a producer for All Things Considered and

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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Technology


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From NNPA to NAACP to Silicon Valley – Ben Jealous Still Pushing Technology for Equality

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, seen here leading a protest,  is now fighting for racial justice in a new way.Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, seen here leading a protest,
is now fighting for racial justice in a new way.

By Hazel Trice Edney

( – Benjamin Todd Jealous, the former NAACP president, who has weaved a career through politics, the Black press and civil rights, has now announced his next course of action in pursuit of racial equality and economic justice in America.
Jealous and the Oakland, Calif.-based Kapor Center for Social Impact, located in the billionaire- Silicon Valley announced this week that he has joined the Center as its first venture partner. The center’s co-founders and co-chairs Mitchell Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein are bringing Jealous on to find tech-savvy entrepreneurs and inventors with ideas for using technology for social impact, mainly to fill racial and economic gaps in America.
Jealous will help find the entrepreneurs, help them shape their tech visions; plus establish the selection criteria for possible seed money. He will also help lead the center’s effort to make investments in non-profit organizations that are about closing social gaps and will join the board of the Kapor Center-funded Level Playing Field Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending racial barriers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“I’ve always been interested in technology. I’ve always been interested in [deepening] the social impact. And I’ve always been very curious about ways to use technology to advance the social impact,” Jealous said in an interview this week. “When Mitch and Frieda came forth and offered me the opportunity to join the Kapor Center for Social Impact and start trying new things every day…while still staying focused on achieving my life’s mission of and leveling the playing field and closing gaps to access and opportunity in our community and the country as a whole, I leapt at it because it had been a long time since I’d tried something new that had the potential to level the playing field for hundreds of thousands and millions of people.”
Jealous says one of his first stops will be a learning tour of Silicon Valley, the South Bay portion of San Francisco, which leads the nation in cutting edge technology. The Kapor Center has a program for underrepresented college students to get paid internships in Silicon Valley companies.
Jealous, who dates his keen interest in technology back to a fourth and fifth grade computer science program, served as president/CEO of the NAACP for five years until his resignation late last year. There, his leadership in technology grew NAACP’s mobile messaging base from 5,000 activists to 423,000 and from 175,000 email activists to 1.3 million.
Jealous’ technological skills also harken back to when he started as executive director of the 200-member National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2000 with a vision of bringing the Black Press on line with websites and a full-service news service for its members. Before his departure almost half of NNPA’s newspapers were on line and the wire service continues to thrive.
Jealous’ record of using technology to fight for racial justice is what established the mutual attraction between him and the Kapor Center.
“Ben has spent his career working to end racial and economic gaps in society, from the criminal justice system to education to health care,” said co-founder Freada Kapor Klein in a statement. “We are tremendously pleased that he will bring his vast experience, strategy and energy to the tech sector as the next frontier in his life’s work for justice and inclusion.”
Jealous’ civil rights career is just as important as his tech interest said co-founder Mitchell Kapor, one of the first Silicon Valley billionaires. “As an entrepreneur and an investor, I’ve built my career on seeing the possibilities of good ideas and the right team, and then bringing that vision to life. By bringing Ben to the Kapor team, we are making a bet that someone who has succeeded in changing the broader world in so many ways will do the same in our world.”
When Jealous left the NAACP last year, he said he would spend more time with his growing family and would also work to start a political action committee (PAC) for transformative Democratic and Republican candidates. He said this week that he will continue to do it all.
“I will reserve a portion of my time continuing my work in politics. This will be 80 percent of my time and 20 percent will be continuing to build the PAC,” he said. “It’ll be separate and ongoing work.”
As for his family, Jealous says he will remain bi-coastal, primarily living in Maryland with his family even as he travels for the Kapor Center.
The Center has already made major strides in its quest for social justice. Jealous ticked off a list of ideas, aps and inventions as examples that have already received funding. They include technology that lowers the astronomical cost of telephone calls from inmates to their families; a blue tooth hearing aid that costs only $75 instead of the normal $3,000-$5,000; technology that helps parents and children with bi-lingual education; a way to send money home to another country without paying a 30 percent remittance fee; and a way to make college education available for the cost of a Pell grant.
“So, that’s what we’re talking about here…Very similar to my work at the NAACP. We’re working on multiple gaps simultaneously,” Jealous said. “It’s impossible not to be excited.”
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Technology



Video game aims to help young cancer patients

By Larry Frum, Special to CNN
“Re-Mission 2,” designed for young cancer patients, turns disease-fighting into games, helping players understand what’s happening in their treatment.

(CNN) — In the battle against cancer, one video game is taking the deadly disease head-on. And some young patients are the winners.

“Re-Mission 2” is a collection of online minigames designed to get teen and young-adult cancer patients involved in understanding more about their conditions and how the body benefits from sometimes unpleasant treatments.

Researchers at HopeLab, a nonprofit organization searching for products that positively impact health behavior, were emboldened by the success of their original 2006 title, “Re-Mission,” and were looking for a better way to help patients.

“Research on the original ‘Re-Mission’ showed that it impacted biology and behavior, primarily by energizing positive motivation circuits in the human brain and giving players a sense of power and control over cancer,” said Dr. Steve Cole, a vice president at HopeLab and professor of medicine at UCLA. “That gave us a whole new recipe for engineering the games in ‘Re-Mission 2’ by harnessing the power of positive motivation circuits in the human brain.”

The Flash-based games in “Re-Mission 2” mimic what the patients are going through in their therapy, but in a way that gamifies the treatment and involves the patient in “destroying” their cancer.

Weapons in the game include chemotherapy, cancer drugs and cells in the body’s own immune system.

A 2008 study into the effectiveness of the “ReMission” idea found that, for patients from 13 to 29, sticking to a treatment regimen when managing chronic illness was a significant problem. Playing the game greatly improved treatment adherence and understanding of that treatment in that age group, according to the study.

“(Cancer) can be incredibly disruptive and rips you away from your identity of being a normal kid,” said HopeLab spokesman Richard Tate. “The games give them the experience of what it means to be inside the body fighting cancer, using these prescriptions as weapons in their arsenal and the fight to regain a sense of control with your life.”

Many game developers lent their talents to the project. But developers also got some inside help.

Former cancer patients worked with the design teams to help create the right mood, challenges and visual design for “ReMission’s” five games.

Brooke Jaffe, a 21-year-old English major at Barnard College in New York, and Justin Lambert, a 20-year-old nursing major at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, are two cancer patients in remission who helped with the project.

Both worked on concept art, images and play testing. But both said that the most important aspect of the game, to them, was how it would make a patient undergoing cancer treatment feel.

“Other than feeling like crap all the time, you don’t see the results,” said Lambert, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at 2. “You don’t see the impact that’s brought to the body fighting the cancer. (The game) puts it into perspective — something they can visualize and definitely get hope from that.”

Jaffe was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma in 2011 and said the cancer experience can make young people feel powerless — like their recovery is based on passively allowing doctors and others to do their work.

“You actually don’t feel like you’re doing that much because it’s all these outside forces acting upon you,” she said. “I think what’s really beneficial about a game like ‘Re-Mission 2’ is the whole concept of using games to help people get a sense of activity in a situation that can rob you of that activity.

“I think that’s a very powerful thing even on a psychological level.”

Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin, a cancer and blood disorders specialist at the Oregon Health & Science University, has been involved in a field of cancer care called adolescent and young adult oncology. He and his colleagues have been working on understanding why patients in that age group don’t show improvement in cancer-care rates on par with young kids or older adult patients.

“Across the board, no matter what the age, it is difficult to adhere to a common cancer schedule,” he said. “The number of medications, the tracking of medications can be difficult.

“You can really engage young adults through a video game as long as the video game is cool. There is also this underlying theme of empowering patients to understand what they are going through and what their own role is in their cancer care.”

With “Re-Mission 2,” he said, the mobile aspect of the minigames allow patients to be involved even while they are waiting for, or receiving, treatment.

The free minigames are available for the iPad or online. Tate said teams are working to expand the number of platforms to get the game into as many hands as possible.


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