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20.02.2016
A new crop of smartphone and web apps aims to deliver end-of-life planning services directly to your small screen.
Everest is a Houston-based funeral concierge, and the firm that commissioned Will’s upbeat, millennial-friendly video last fall from Sandwich Video, a Los Angeles production company popular with the tech set in Silicon Valley. Everest is just one of a wave of apps and digital services that are emerging to help millennials plan their own #authentic mortal passings, right down to Instagram-worthy funerals.
Death apps promise to help a person organize his or her entire online life into a bundle of digital living wills, funeral plans, multimedia memorial portfolios and digital estate arrangements.
Read the following sentence and you’ll conclude that this person is stark-raving-mad. Writer Jenna Woginrich jettisoned her smartphone and lived 18 months without mobile calls and without texting, status updates and alerts. Now read her complete story, excerpted below, and you’ll realize that after 18 months without a smartphone she is perfectly sane, more balanced, less stressed and generally more human. The phone rings: it’s my friend checking to see if I can pick her up on the way to a dinner party.
I physically take the handset receiver away from my ear and hang it on the weight-triggered click switch that cuts off my landline’s dial tone.
I take my laptop, Google the address, add better directions to my notes and head outside to my 1989 pick-up truck (whose most recent technological feature is a cassette player) and drive over. I didn’t just cancel cellular service and keep the smartphone for Wi-Fi fun, nor did I downgrade to a flip phone to “simplify”; I opted out entirely.
I didn’t get rid of it for some hipster-inspired luddite ideal or because I couldn’t afford it. The late 20th century saw us succumb to carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries from laboring over our desks and computers. In addition to the spectrum of social and cultural disorders wrought by our constantly chattering mobile devices, we are at increased psychological and physical risk.
THERE are plenty of reasons to put our cellphones down now and then, not least the fact that incessantly checking them takes us out of the present moment and disrupts family dinners around the globe.
Slouching can also affect our memory: In a study published last year in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of people with clinical depression, participants were randomly assigned to sit in either a slouched or an upright position and then presented with a list of positive and negative words. Psychologists, social scientists and researchers of the human brain have long maintained that we have three typical responses to an existential, usually physical, threat. But, now that humans have entered the smartphone age, it appears that there is a fourth response — to film or record the threat. Until now, that was the hypothetical question we all asked ourselves when reading about horrific events such as terror attacks.
Saturday [December 5, 2015] night saw another example when a terror suspect started attacking passengers on the Tube at Leytonstone Station.
Does The Man With No Phone lose track of all reality, family, friends, appointments, status updates, sales records, dinner, grocery list, transportation schedules and news, turning into an empty neurotic shell of a human being? People who knew me in a previous life as a policy adviser to the British prime minister are mildly surprised that I’m now the co-founder and CEO of a tech startup . But the single thing that no one seems able to believe – the thing that apparently demands explanation – is the fact that I am phone-free. When people discover this fact about my life, they could not be more surprised than if I had let slip that I was actually born with a chicken’s brain.
As awareness has grown about my phone-free status (and its longevity: this is no passing fad, people – I haven’t had a phone for over three years), I have received numerous requests to “tell my story”. In the spring of 2012, I moved to the San Francisco bay area with my wife and two young sons. I tried to get hold of one of my beloved old Nokia handsets, but they were no longer available. I spend far too much time on Twitter and Instagram and have this week realised I have a nervous tick where I repeatedly unlock my smartphone. And because of my phone’s many apps which organise my life and help me navigate the world, like many people my age, I am quite literally lost without it. I am constantly told off by friends and family for using my phone during conversations, and I recently found out (to my horror) that I have taken over 5,000 selfies.
So when my phone broke I seized the opportunity to spend an entire week without it, and kept a diary each day.
Frazzled, I reached to my bedside table, so I could take a morning selfie and send it to my friends.
I basked in the fact my colleagues could not contact me – and if I did not reply to their emails straight away it would not be the end of the world. I couldn’t text my mother about any delays which may have happened (they didn’t), and she couldn’t tell me if she was going to be late to the station (she wasn’t).
It is a bit weird feeling completely cut off from the outside world; I am not chained to my computer like I am at work and I am not allowed to constantly be on my laptop like a teen hacker. I do feel like my attention span is improving every day, but I equally feel anchorless and lost without having any way of contacting anyone, or documenting my life. My attention span and patience have grown somewhat, and I have noticed I daydream and have thoughts independent of Twitter far more often than usual.
Selfies have sparked an explosion in the number of head lice cases among teenagers a group of US paediatricians has warned.
The group said there is a growing trend of “social media lice” where lice spread when teenagers cram their heads together to take a selfie.
Lice cannot jump so they are less common in older children who do not tend to swap hats or headgear.
A Wisconsin paediatrician, Dr Sharon Rink, told local news channel WBAY2 she has seen a surge of teenagers coming to see her for treatment, something which was unheard of five years ago. Dr Rink said: “People are doing selfies like every day, as opposed to going to photo booths years and years ago. In its official online guide to preventing the spread of head lice, the Center for Disease Control recommends avoiding head-to-head contact where possible and suggests girls are more likely to get the parasite than boys because they tend to have “more frequent head-to-head contact”. One of the ironies of modern life is that everyone is glued to their phones, but nobody uses them as phones anymore. The distaste for telephony is especially acute among Millennials, who have come of age in a world of AIM and texting, then gchat and iMessage, but it’s hardly limited to young people. But when it comes to taking phone calls and not making them, nobody seems to have admitted that using the telephone today is a different material experience than it was 20 or 30 (or 50) years ago, not just a different social experience. On the infrastructural level, mobile phones operate on cellular networks, which route calls between between transceivers distributed across a service area. By contrast, the traditional, wired public switched telephone network (PSTN) operates by circuit switching. But now that more than half of American adults under 35 use mobile phones as their only phones, the intrinsic unreliability of the cellular network has become internalized as a property of telephony. Going deeper than dropped connections, telephony suffered from audio-signal processing compromises long before cellular service came along, but the differences between mobile and landline phone usage amplifies those challenges, as well. By the 1960s, demand for telephony recommended more efficient methods, and the transistor made it both feasible and economical to carry many more calls on a single, digital circuit. In order to digitally switch calls, the PSTN became subject to sampling, the process of converting a continuous signal to a discrete one. Since the PSTN is still very much alive and well and nearly entirely digitized save for the last mile, this sampling rate has persisted over the decades.
That wasn’t necessarily an issue until the second part of the problem arises: the way we use mobile phones versus landline phones.
Humans have become so obsessed with portable devices and overwhelmed by content that we now have attention spans shorter than that of the previously jokingly juxtaposed goldfish. Microsoft surveyed 2,000 people and used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor the brain activity of another 112 in the study, which sought to determine the impact that pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information have had on our daily lives.
Among the good news in the 54-page report is that our ability to multi-task has drastically improved in the information age, but unfortunately attention spans have fallen. Anecdotely, many of us can relate to the increasing inability to focus on tasks, being distracted by checking your phone or scrolling down a news feed.
Another recent study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine in the US found that 79 per cent of respondents used portable devices while watching TV (known as dual-screening) and 52 per cent check their phone every 30 minutes.


Let’s leave aside for now the growing body of anecdotal and formal evidence that smartphones are damaging your physical wellbeing.
For More than 3 billion years, life on Earth was governed by the cyclical light of sun, moon and stars.
A fast-growing body of research has linked artificial light exposure to disruptions in circadian rhythms, the light-triggered releases of hormones that regulate bodily function.
Stevens, one of the field’s most prominent researchers, reviews the literature on light exposure and human health the latest Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. As Stevens says in the new article, researchers now know that increased nighttime light exposure tracks with increased rates of breast cancer, obesity and depression.
But artificial lights, particularly LCDs, some LEDs, and fluorescent bulbs, also favor the blue side of the spectrum. Crucially, that experiment investigated circadian disruption induced by sleep alteration rather than light exposure, which is also the case with the many studies linking clock-scrambling shift work to health problems.
When everything is about professional goals, there isn’t much room left for personal joy. It’s important to reflect on how technology plays a pivotal role in most small businesses and, for businesses using Xero, how you can take..
Not only can you manage your own funeral, some of these services even help you curate your own afterlife. He looks late 20s or early 30s, with a suede blazer and two-toned hipster glasses, and cheerfully waves as he introduces himself. Everest published the film in February 2016 as part of a campaign to target millennials, hoping even twentysomethings can be lured into thinking about their digital afterlives. Last fall, rival apps Cake and SafeBeyond were released within one month of each other, and both hope to streamline end-of-life planning into one simple app.
It could be the mother of all personal media accounts, designed to store all of a person’s online passwords in one spot, for a successor to retrieve after he or she dies. So how much are these “death apps” adding just another layer of pressure to personalize yet another stage of their lives? I ask her where she is and as she explains, I reach as far as I can across the countertop for a pen.
I’m a freelance writer and graphic designer with many reasons to have a little computer in my holster, but I don’t miss it. It’s no longer my personal assistant; it has reverted back to being a piece of furniture – like “the fridge” or “the couch”, two other items you also wouldn’t carry around on your butt. Obvious ones include: lung diseases from mining and a variety of skin diseases from exposure to agricultural and factory chemicals. Technology is transforming how we hold ourselves, contorting our bodies into what the New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August calls the iHunch.
When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases to 60 pounds — the weight of about five gallons of paint. In a study published in Health Psychology earlier this year, Shwetha Nair and her colleagues assigned non-depressed participants to sit in an upright or slouched posture and then had them answer a mock job-interview question, a well-established experimental stress inducer, followed by a series of questionnaires. When they were later asked to recall those words, the slouchers showed a negative recall bias (remembering the bad stuff more than the good stuff), while those who sat upright showed no such bias.
This may seem hard to believe and foolhardy, but quite disturbingly it’s is a growing trend, especially among younger people. Last month’s terror attacks in Paris saw mobile phone footage of people being shot, photos of bodies lying in the street, and perhaps most memorably, a pregnant woman clinging onto a window ledge. For in many the notion of being phone-less distills deep nightmarish visions of blood-curdling terror. Or, does lack of constant connectivity and elimination of instant, digital gratification lead The Man With No Phone to become a schizoid, feral monster? And those who know that I’ve barely read a book since school are surprised that I have now actually written one.
People seem to be genuinely interested in how someone living and working in the heart of the most tech-obsessed corner of the planet, Silicon Valley, can possibly exist on a day-to-day basis without a smartphone. Rachel was then a senior executive at Google, which involved a punishing schedule to take account of the eight-hour time difference.
It was an old Nokia phone – I always hated touch-screens and refused to have a smartphone; neither did I want a BlackBerry or any other device on which the vast, endless torrent of government emails could follow me around. Madly, for a couple of months I used old ones procured through eBay, with a pay-as-you-go plan from a UK provider. I was on my bike, cycling to Stanford, and it struck me that a week had gone by without my having a phone. The lack of phone did nothing but make me feel anxious and prevent me from being able to tweet about the irritating children screaming on the train. Social media has caused an explosion in head lice, especially in teenagers, particularly girls. That tool of arcane real-time conversation between two people (sometimes more) is making way for asynchronous sharing via text, image and other data. When asked, people with a distaste for phone calls argue that they are presumptuous and intrusive, especially given alternative methods of contact that don’t make unbidden demands for someone’s undivided attention.
That’s not just because our phones have also become fancy two-way pagers with keyboards, but also because they’ve become much crappier phones. These networks are wireless, obviously, which means that signal strength, traffic, and interference can make calls difficult or impossible. When a call is connected, one line is connected to another by routing it through a network of switches.
Even if you might have a landline on your office desk, the cellular infrastructure has conditioned us to think of phone calls as fundamentally unpredictable affairs. At first, telephone audio was entirely analogue, such that the signal of your voice and your interlocutor’s would be sent directly over the copper wire. The standard that was put in place cemented telephony’s commitment to the voice band, a move that would reverberate in the ears of our mobile phones a half-century later. First, it turns out that human voices may transmit important information well above 3,300 Hz or even 5,000 Hz.
When the PSTN was first made digital, home and office phones were used in predictable environments: a bedroom, a kitchen, an office. And when we try to use them, we’re far more likely to be situated in an environment that is not compatible with the voice band—coffee shops, restaurants, city streets, and so forth. But, your little orange aquatic friend now has an attention span that is longer than yours. This includes finger, hand and wrist problems (from texting); and neck and posture problems (from constantly bending over your small screen). Circadian disruption has in turn been linked to a host of health problems, from cancer to diabetes, obesity and depression. Correlation isn’t causation, of course, and it’s easy to imagine all the ways researchers might mistake those findings. The circadian system synchronizes physiological function—from digestion to body temperature, cell repair and immune system activity—with a 24-hour cycle of light and dark. So even a brief exposure to dim artificial light can trick a night-subdued circadian system into behaving as though day has arrived.
Apparently, apps like Cake, SafeBeyond, Everplans and Everest, are perfectly suited to millennials, many of whom already curate significant aspects of their lives online. I’m less distracted and less accessible, two things I didn’t realize were far more important than instantly knowing how many movies Kevin Kline’s been in since 2010 at a moment’s notice. More commonly, we are at increased risk of back and other chronic physical problems resulting from poor posture. I’ve also heard people call it text neck, and in my work I sometimes refer to it as iPosture. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that eerily resembles the iHunch. Compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear. And in a 2009 study of Japanese schoolchildren, those who were trained to sit with upright posture were more productive than their classmates in writing assignments.


We can easily understand people trying to escape and save themselves, or even freezing in the face of terror. I had completed two years at 10 Downing Street as senior adviser to David Cameron – let’s just put it diplomatically and say that I and the government machine had had quite enough of each other. Once we moved to the US my government phone account was of course stopped and telephonically speaking, I was on my own.
I had to properly talk to everyone, instead of constantly refreshing Twitter, which was novel. Phone calls—you know, where you put the thing up to your ear and speak to someone in real time—are becoming relics of a bygone era, the “phone” part of a smartphone turning vestigial as communication evolves, willingly or not, into data-oriented formats like text messaging and chat apps. It’s no wonder that a bad version of telephony would be far less desirable than a good one. At first these were analog signals running over copper wire, which is why switchboard operators had to help connect calls.
The human ear can hear frequencies up to about 20 kHz, but for bandwidth considerations, the channel was restricted to a narrow frequency range called the voice band, between 300 and 3,400 Hz.
A principle called the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem specifies that a waveform of a particular maximum frequency can be reconstructed from a sample taken at twice that frequency per second. The auditory neuroscientist Brian Monson has conducted substantial research on high-frequency energy perception. In these circumstances, telephony became a private affair cut off from the rest of the environment. Background noise tends to be low-frequency, and, when it’s present, the higher frequencies that Monson showed are more important than we thought in any circumstance become particularly important. And, it’s all thanks to mobile devices and multi-tasking on multiple media platforms.
Now there is evidence that constant use, especially at night, is damaging your mental wellbeing and increasing the likelihood of additional, chronic physical ailments. The easy availability of electric lighting almost certainly tracks with various disease-causing factors: bad diets, sedentary lifestyles, exposure to they array of chemicals that come along with modernity. Even photosynthetic bacteria thought to resemble Earth’s earliest life forms have circadian rhythms. Circadian disruption in turn produces a wealth of downstream effects, including dysregulation of key hormones. August started treating patients more than 30 years ago, he says he saw plenty of “dowagers’ humps, where the upper back had frozen into a forward curve, in grandmothers and great-grandmothers.” Now he says he’s seeing the same stoop in teenagers. One, published in 2010 in the official journal of the Brazilian Psychiatric Association, found that depressed patients were more likely to stand with their necks bent forward, shoulders collapsed and arms drawn in toward the body. Posture affected even the contents of their interview answers: Linguistic analyses revealed that slouchers were much more negative in what they had to say. And, even more perplexing — why would anyone need a digital detox or mindfulness app on their smartphone? Eventually, I had enough when the charging outlet got blocked by sand after a trip to the beach. While this may cause you to scratch your head in disbelief, or for psychosomatic reasons, the outbreak of lice is rather obvious. When even initiating phone calls is a problem—and even innocuous ones, like phoning the local Thai place to order takeout—then anxiety rather than habit may be to blame: When asynchronous, textual media like email or WhatsApp allow you to intricately craft every exchange, the improvisational nature of ordinary, live conversation can feel like an unfamiliar burden. And the telephone used to be truly great, partly because of the situation of its use, and partly because of the nature of the apparatus we used to refer to as the “telephone”—especially the handset. Failures to connect, weak signals that staccato sentences into bursts of signal and silence, and the frequency of dropped calls all help us find excuses not to initiate or accept a phone call. But even after the PSTN went digital and switching became automated, a call was connected and then maintained over a reliable circuit for its duration. IP-based communications like IM and iMessage are subject to the same signal and routing issues as voice, after all.
It was a reasonable choice when the purpose of phones—to transmit and receive normal human speech—was taken into account. Since the voice band required only 4 kHz of bandwidth, a sampling rate of 8 kHz (that is, 8,000 samples per second) was established by Bell Labs engineers for a voice digitization method. A widely-covered 2011 study showed that subjects could still discern communicative information well above the frequencies typically captured in telephony.
You’d close the door or move into the hallway to conduct a phone call, not only for the quiet but also for the privacy. But because digital sampling makes those frequencies unavailable, we tend not to be able to hear clearly.
In fact, you probably wish you had two pairs of arms so you could eat, drink and use your smartphone and laptop at the same time. It appears that the light from our constant electronic companions is not healthy, particularly as it disrupts our regular rhythm of sleep. Despite its ubiquity, though, scientists discovered only in the last decade what triggers circadian activity in mammals: specialized cells in the retina, the light-sensing part of the eye, rather than conveying visual detail from eye to brain, simply signal the presence or absence of light. So, after reading the exploits of a 20-something forced to live without her smartphone for a week, I realize it’s not all that bad being a cranky old luddite.
Those in power sometimes think that this unease is a defect in need of remediation, while those supposedly afflicted by it say they are actually just fine, thanks very much. But because those services are asynchronous, a slow or failed message feels like less of a failure—you can just regroup and try again.
This system used a technique developed by Bernard Oliver, John Pierce, and Claude Shannon in the late ‘40s called Pulse Code Modulation (PCM).
Even though frequencies above 5,000 Hz are too high to transmit clear spoken language without the lower frequencies, Monson’s subjects could discern talking from singing and determine the sex of the speaker with reasonable accuracy, even when all the signal under 5,000 Hz was removed entirely.
Even in public, phones were situated out-of-the-way, whether in enclosed phone booths or tucked away onto walls in the back of a diner or bar, where noise could be minimized.
Add digital signal loss from low or wavering wireless signals, and the situation gets even worse.
On average, the adult attention span is now down to a laughingly paltry 8 seconds, whereas the lowly goldfish comes in at 9 seconds. And that changes our circadian physiology almost immediately,” says Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut.
Activity in these cells sets off a reaction that calibrates clocks in every cell and tissue in a body. Further, they tend to mirror those of other animals when faced with a life-threatening situation. When you combine the seemingly haphazard reliability of a voice call with the sense of urgency or gravity that would recommend a phone call instead of a Slack DM or an email, the risk of failure amplifies the anxiety of unfamiliarity. In 1962, Bell began deploying PCM into the telephone-switching network, and the 3 kHz range for telephone calls was effectively fixed. Monson’s study shows that 20th century bandwidth and sampling assumptions may already have made incorrect assumptions about how much of the range of human hearing was use for communication by voice. Not only are phone calls unstable, but even when they connect and stay connected in a technical sense, you still can’t hear well enough to feel connected in a social one. There are system-wide, drastic changes.” His lab has found that tweaking a key circadian clock gene in mice gives them diabetes. It’s with you at the restaurant, on the bus or metro, in the aircraft, in the bath (despite chances of getting electrically shocked). And a tour-de-force 2009 study put human volunteers on a 28-hour day-night cycle, then measured what happened to their endocrine, metabolic and cardiovascular systems.
And, if your home or work-life demands you will check it periodically throughout the night.



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