Article on the Seriously Concerning Health Detriments of Smartphones

This type of article deserves to be read much more. Smartphone addiction has also been previously suggested to be linked with mental disorders in the young.

Chris Marcellino, who helped develop the iPhone’s push notifications at Apple, told The Guardian last fall that smartphones hook people using the same neural pathways as gambling and drugs.

Sean Parker, ex-president of Facebook, recently admitted that the world-bestriding social media platform was designed to hook users with spurts of dopamine, a complicated neurotransmitter released when the brain expects a reward or accrues fresh knowledge. “You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” he said. “[The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.”

Peddling this addiction made Mr. Parker and his tech-world colleagues absurdly rich. Facebook is now valued at a little more than half a trillion dollars. Global revenue from smartphone sales reached $435-billion (U.S.).

Now, some of the early executives of these tech firms look on their success as tainted.

“I feel tremendous guilt,” said Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice-president of user growth at Facebook, in a public talk in November. “I think we all knew in the back of our minds… something bad could happen.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he went on gravely, before a hushed audience at Stanford business school. “It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave.”

None of the Bay Area whistle-blowers have been louder than Tristan Harris, a former star product manager at Google. He has spent the past several years of his life telling people to use less of the technologies he helped create through a non-profit called Time Well Spent, which aims to raise awareness among consumers about the dangers of the attention economy, and pressure the tech world to design its products more ethically. Judging by the momentum his movement is suddenly building – he receives hundreds of requests for speaking engagements a month – his message is being heard.

[…]

If we have lost control over our relationship with smartphones, it is by design. In fact, the business model of the devices demands it. Because most popular websites and apps don’t charge for access, the internet is financially sustained by eyeballs. That is, the longer and more often you spend staring at Facebook or Google, the more money they can charge advertisers.

To ensure that our eyes remain firmly glued to our screens, our smartphones – and the digital worlds they connect us to – internet giants have become little virtuosos of persuasion, cajoling us into checking them again and again – and for longer than we intend. Average users look at their phones about 150 times a day, according to some estimates, and about twice as often as they think they do, according to a 2015 study by British psychologists. .

Add it all up and North American users spend somewhere between three and five hours a day looking at their smartphones. As the New York University marketing professor Adam Alter points out, that means over the course of an average lifetime, most of us will spend about seven years immersed in our portable computers.

These companies have persuaded us to give over so much of our lives by exploiting a handful of human frailties. One of them is called novelty bias. It means our brains are suckers for the new. As the McGill neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains, we’re wired this way to survive. In the infancy of our species, novelty bias kept us alert to dubious red berries and the growls of sabre-toothed tigers. But now it makes us twig helplessly to Facebook notifications and the buzz of incoming e-mail. That’s why social media apps nag you to turn notifications on. They know that once the icons start flashing onto your lock screen, you won’t be able to ignore them. It’s also why Facebook switched the colour of its notifications from a mild blue to attention-grabbing red.

App designers know that nagging works. In Persuasive Technology, one of the most quietly influential books to come out of Silicon Valley in the past two decades, the Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg predicted that computers could and would take massive advantage of our susceptibility to prodding. “People get tired of saying no; everyone has a moment of weakness when it’s easier to comply than to resist,” he wrote. Published in 2002, Prof. Fogg’s book now seems eerily prescient.

The makers of smartphone apps rightly believe that part of the reason we’re so curious about those notifications is that people are desperately insecure and crave positive feedback with a kneejerk desperation. Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it’s common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding “likes” from certain users. If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it’ll show only a fraction of the likes you’ve received on a given post at first, hoping you’ll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two. “They’re tying in to your greatest insecurities,” Mr. Mayberry said.

[…]

The devices exert such a magnetic pull on our minds that just the effort of resisting the temptation to look at them seems to take a toll on our mental performance. That’s what Adrian Ward and his colleagues at the University of Texas business school found in an experiment last year. They had three groups of people take a test that required their full concentration. One group had their phones face down on the table, one had them in their bags or pockets and the last group left them in another room. None of the test-takers were allowed to check their devices during the test. But even so, the closer at hand the phones were, the worse the groups performed.

[…]

Maybe it’s best for children to learn young that their parents frequently find their phone more absorbing than them, because they will learn sooner or later. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and research associate in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, interviewed 1,000 kids between the ages of 4 and 18 for her 2013 book The Big Disconnect. Many of them said they no longer run to the door to greet their parents because the adults are so often on their phones when they get home.

[…]

Billions of people continue to be distracted and turned away from loved ones thanks to their smartphones. And untold billions of dollars, wielded by some of the world’s biggest companies, are devoted to keeping it that way. In fact, every financial incentive spurring the flanks of these firms is telling them to make smartphones more compulsively usable and therefore more damaging, not less.

[…]

The lesson we’re slowly beginning to learn, though, is that they’re not a harmless vice. Used the way we currently use them, smartphones keep us from being our best selves. The world is starting to make up its mind about whether it’s worth it and whether the sugary hits of digital pleasure justify being worse, both alone and together.

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The Visionless Society

The writing of Chris Hedges tends to have too much doom and gloom in my view, and I usually prefer the more pedantic approach to the more hyperbolic approach in describing reality, but there’s a lot of quality analysis in this interview/essay Hedges conducted/wrote. I don’t agree with all of it, but then again, I don’t always agree with all the work of others that I post. I do usually try to post about what I see as the truth to this website, however.

I will say that other countries should learn from the mistakes of America though, and there are definitely a lot of mistakes to learn from.

Imagine yourself in early 2019. The Democrats, despite never articulating a political vision other than not being Donald Trump and refusing to roll back Republican legislation such as the 2017 tax bill, have regained the House of Representatives by a slim majority. They vote articles of impeachment. The Senate Republicans, pressured by many within their own party to abandon Trump because of his ineptitude, increasingly erratic behavior and corruption, call on the president to resign. Trump refuses. He uses the megaphone of his office to incite violence by his small, fanatic base. The military, whose deployment as a domestic police force is authorized by Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is called into the streets to quell unrest. The United States, by the time the violence is snuffed out, is a de facto military dictatorship.

That such a scenario is plausible to public figures such as Ralph Nader is a sign of the deep decay of democratic institutions. The two major political parties lack a coherent vision. They are subservient to corporate power. They have abandoned the common good. They have turned politics into burlesque. They have rendered the citizenry impotent. The press, especially the electronic press, has transformed news into a grotesque reality show filled with trivia, gossip and conjecture. The elites in both parties, along with the rich and corporations, profit from a naked kleptocracy. Everything is for sale, from public lands to public education. And the juggernaut of corporate power impoverishes the people as it willfully destroys the facade of the hollowed-out democratic state.

“There is no democracy,” Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “The only democracy left in this country is they don’t haul you to jail for speaking out. What’s left of democracy is a significant due process, habeas corpus, freedom of speech and probable cause, and that’s violated when there’s a terrorist attack and people are rounded up, like Muslim Americans.”

“Can there be a democracy when you don’t have a competitive electoral system?” he asked. “No. Can there be a democracy when people who come in second win the election? No. Can there be a democracy when it’s tougher to get on the ballot than in any other Western country in the world by an order of magnitude? No. Can there be a democracy when money rules? And not just the money that politicians raise, but the third-party money. No. Can there be a democracy when people have no influence on the military budget? No. It’s not subjected to hearings. It’s ratified on the floor of the House and Senate, but it doesn’t go through the appropriations process. It’s subject to the most anemic, pathetic, servile questioning you can imagine. The Congress has destroyed any kind of democratic participation … in the military and foreign policy. The Congress is [supposed to be] invested in the sovereignty of the people. They [those in Congress] do not comply with the Constitution and the declaration of war authority. They don’t comply with the appropriations process. They have increasingly less public hearings. They are cocooned on Capitol Hill with a force field of money, militarism and materialism. Self-interests block the American people, who can hardly call their member of Congress [because the calls are diverted to voicemail]. This is the latest racket.”

“Trump is playing rope-a-dope with the Democrats,” Nader continued. “He’s such an inviting target—all the lies, the stupidity, the outrage, the racism, the misogyny—they can’t resist. As a result, they’re weakening themselves by not having an affirmative agenda. They’re still talking about how they can learn how to connect with the average person. Can you imagine? It’s now the end of 2017. They’re trying to figure out a message.”

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Nader noted, has adopted the mantra “money, message, and mobilization” for the party. “If you start with money, what kind of a message are you going to have?” he asked. “If you don’t have a message, what are you going to mobilize around? So here it is. They still haven’t learned because they will never learn. The party will always be weak, flabby, indentured and dialing for the same commercial dollars as long as the four-time losers continue to run the party. … The country is spinning into the abyss.”

The Democrats have never called for an audit of the Pentagon’s massive and bloated military budget. They do not address corporate crime, champion consumer protection, promote the rights of workers or demand a living wage or full Medicare for all. And because they stand for nothing other than the politesse of identity politics and high-blown liberal rhetoric they have been unable to protect the country from the worst generation of the Republican Party in the nation’s history.

“They don’t even know how to have sonorous political language,” Nader said. “They’re stealing from you—my fellow Americans. A handful of corporate, greedy bosses controlling your government on this national stage and local level, gouging out whole communities, sending industries to fascist communist regimes abroad. They have no loyalties to this country. They have no allegiance to communities other than to exploit them, abandon them. They rose to power on the backs of you, the workers. They were subsidized by Washington and state capitals, by you the taxpayer. The Marines bailed them out when they got into hot water, palling around with dictators and monarchs. Why do you allow them to rule you?”

Nader said the ruling elites have “lost the fear of the people.” This has given rise to “a multifaceted dictatorial government indentured to the plutocratic class symbolized by Wall Street.”

Corporations, enjoying a new tax code that reduces corporate income taxes to 21 percent while individuals pay up to 37 percent, have been awarded the constitutional rights of individuals while individuals have been stripped of their rights.

“The Constitution is increasingly a dead letter,” Nader said.

Corporate media companies view the news division as a revenue stream. They collude with Trump in the daily Gong Show that masquerades as news.

“Trump took the press from profanity to obscenity,” Nader said. “He learned some lessons from ‘The Apprentice.’ He realized the media, with a few exceptions, will do anything for ratings and money. What does he do? He goes down the sensuality ladder. He starts talking openly about racism, rapists and sex, grab them wherever you want and get away with it. They [the media] go wild. That destroyed all the opponents in the Republican primary. Knocked them out day after day, as the press went after sensuality. The coarseness, the brutishness. There’s always a novel attack. He kept them catching up with him. One day he goes after [Sen. Marco] Rubio. Another day, he goes after Hillary. Another day, a veteran family.”

“When The New York Times has two pages of tiny print of Trump’s lies, what impact does it have unless there are remedies and mobilizations that use that material to strengthen the opposition to replace him?” Nader asked. “After a while, people just shrug their shoulders and go back to playing video games. The margin for the defeat of the Democrats by the Republicans can be attributed sufficiently to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and all these creeps. They have a massive soliloquy, day after day after day with no rebuttal. And they’ve got the blue-collar worker that way. What kind of a population on the left of center would have allowed that to happen? Using our public airwaves for free.”

Nader said he feared that the population was so effectively anesthetized by mass culture that it might not rise up against the elites. “The U.S. has developed a society with an almost indeterminate absorptive capacity for injustice, abuse and degradation,” Nader said. “There is no civic education in the schools. They don’t know what the Constitution is. They don’t know what the law of torts is. They don’t know where the town hall is. They’re living in virtual reality, swinging between big screen TV and their cellphones. They’re wallowing in text messages. To an extent, they’re excited by the workings of the minds symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. That’s the young generation. Great changes start with people in their 20s. But look what you’ve got now. You’ve got 10 years of internet connection, cellphones available to any child. That’s one. The second is 24/7 entertainment. The third is the abandonment by the elderly generation. They’ve sort of given up. They don’t know the gadgetry. They don’t know the language. They have their own economic insecurity. They’re not extending any kind of historical experience to the young which contains severe warnings. Watch out. You don’t think it can happen again, [but] it can happen again and again. There’s no verbal, oral tradition between the generations. Less and less. Then you have the political system, which is deep-sinking the society. How are people going to mobilize themselves? Is there a strong union, a labor movement? No. A strong consumer movement? No. They’re losing their privacy. They’re losing their ability to use legal tender. The corporate coercion is, to a degree, now getting rid of cash. Marx never believed that could happen. Why do they want to get rid of cash? They want to drive everybody into an incarcerated penitentiary that is surrounded by mobile payments, credit cards, credit scores, credit ratings, debit cards, constant debt, invasion of privacy, and the ability to assess penalties, charges and unwanted purchases because they control people’s money. That’s Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo got away with 3 million forced, unknown and unwanted credit card sales, auto insurance sales, repairing their ratings. Some people lost their cars and their homes. They’re flipped over into bankruptcy. Nobody has been prosecuted yet.”

[…]

“The banks are making huge profits,” Nader said. “Therefore, they’re taking bigger risks. The consumer dollars are being transferred to corporate profits, which are now being transformed into stock buybacks in order to meet the criteria for higher compensation even if it’s against the interest of their own company.”

“From 2005 to 2014, you had $3.9 trillion of stock buybacks, 50 percent of all corporate net profits,” he said. “Fifty percent of the top 500 corporations profited in that decade with stock buybacks. Not to better salaries or shoring up pension plans, not to dividends, not to research and development, not to productive capital and job creation. It’s to stock buybacks. The biggest story untold, or minimally told, in the American economy today. With all this money repatriating from overseas and more corporate offices, they’re planning more stock buybacks. It’s like burning money.”

“Walmart, instead of raising wages for its wage-starved masses, has about $65 billion stock buybacks in the last seven years,” Nader said. “If you take a million Walmart workers and you give them a thousand dollars more a year, that’s $1 billion. Multiply that by 60 to 70 times.”

The speculation, which is trashing the country’s economy, will continue, Nader said, until the financial system collapses and the U.S. defaults on its bonds.

Nader worries that as long as “10 to 15 percent of the American people are well-off” the elites will have enough support to continue the assault.

“Societies have been repressed by far smaller members of well-instituted upper classes,” he said. “That’s what we forget. Eighteenth-, 19th-, 20th-century Europe. A tiny clique controlled them. When there’s any problem it flips over to dictatorship. As long as the contented classes are not upset, the system of control is in lock, like connecting gears.”

[…]

Resistance, Nader said, must be local. First we need to organize to take back our own communities, he said. Congressional seats have to be contested by grass-roots organizations that use the power of numbers to overwhelm mass media and corporate money. And we can expect the corporate state to attempt to shut out our message.

“Living wage, taxes, universal health insurance, that have 70 percent support or higher,” Nader said in listing campaign issues. “Breaking up big banks, 90 percent support. Cracking down on corporate crime, similar. People need to give corporate crime a face. This is what happens to your credit. This is what happens to your home. This is what happens to your job. This is what happens to you if you have cancer. This is what happens in the hospital. This is what happens when you’re denied health insurance; you can’t cover your kids. It’s pretty crazy when you can’t make this kind of a pitch to a large audience.”

The greed of the corporate state leaves us unprepared for the ravages of climate change, he warned. And by the time the elites respond it may be too late.

“It’s a race,” Nader said. “Once Miami gets inundated, especially Fisher Island, it might bring the wealthy class to their senses. The problem with solar is it needs a network. Solar panels are fine, but if you’re going to have solar electricity you need a different type of grid system. That requires infrastructure investment.”

“Justice needs money,” he concluded, calling on enlightened elites to spend a billion dollars to fund resistance movements outside the Democratic Party. “The abolition movement needed money. The suffrage movement needed money. They got it from wealthy people. Civil rights movement. The Curry family. The Stern family. The early 1950s, 1960s. Environmental movements got money from rich people. Don’t wait for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is an instrument. On the first round you’ve got to use it and control it. On the third round, when you’re mobilized, you can throw it aside. It’s a hollowed feature that is a part of the duopoly. But it’s there. These parties are very vulnerable. They’re shells that rest on money and television ads that nobody likes. Unrebuttable right-wing talk radio. All these can be circumvented neighborhood by neighborhood, but you’ve got to have money. Labor halls are unoccupied. Veteran halls are unoccupied. Libraries are unoccupied. There are a lot of meeting places around. A lot of empty stores can be rented.”

Article: Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?

This new book further confirms the falsehood that is chemical imbalances in the brain causing depression. Additionally, the author has an interesting perspective in that he was on antidepressants for years, which drove him to uncover many real answers about depression. I also didn’t expect to read about democratic co-operatives being described positively, as I didn’t think the author was likely to even mention them, but it doesn’t actually surprise me that much in hindsight. More people are waking up to how the undemocratic division between employer and employee is one of the most core problems in society.

In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression – one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression – like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called “the grief exception”, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the frontline started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain – it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. It’s not caused by your life – it’s caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances – losing a loved one – might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way – by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill – down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

Dr Joanne Cacciatore, of Arizona State University, became a leading expert on the grief exception after her own baby, Cheyenne, died during childbirth. She had seen many grieving people being told that they were mentally ill for showing distress. She told me this debate reveals a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering: we don’t, she said, “consider context”. We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labelled as brain diseases. If we started to take people’s actual lives into account when we treat depression and anxiety, Joanne explained, it would require “an entire system overhaul”. She told me that when “you have a person with extreme human distress, [we need to] stop treating the symptoms. The symptoms are a messenger of a deeper problem. Let’s get to the deeper problem.”

*****

I was a teenager when I swallowed my first antidepressant. I was standing in the weak English sunshine, outside a pharmacy in a shopping centre in London. The tablet was white and small, and as I swallowed, it felt like a chemical kiss. That morning I had gone to see my doctor and I had told him – crouched, embarrassed – that pain was leaking out of me uncontrollably, like a bad smell, and I had felt this way for several years. In reply, he told me a story. There is a chemical called serotonin that makes people feel good, he said, and some people are naturally lacking it in their brains. You are clearly one of those people. There are now, thankfully, new drugs that will restore your serotonin level to that of a normal person. Take them, and you will be well. At last, I understood what had been happening to me, and why.

However, a few months into my drugging, something odd happened. The pain started to seep through again. Before long, I felt as bad as I had at the start. I went back to my doctor, and he told me that I was clearly on too low a dose. And so, 20 milligrams became 30 milligrams; the white pill became blue. I felt better for several months. And then the pain came back through once more. My dose kept being jacked up, until I was on 80mg, where it stayed for many years, with only a few short breaks. And still the pain broke back through.

I started to research my book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, because I was puzzled by two mysteries. Why was I still depressed when I was doing everything I had been told to do? I had identified the low serotonin in my brain, and I was boosting my serotonin levels – yet I still felt awful. But there was a deeper mystery still. Why were so many other people across the western world feeling like me? Around one in five US adults are taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem. In Britain, antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade, to the point where now one in 11 of us drug ourselves to deal with these feelings. What has been causing depression and its twin, anxiety, to spiral in this way? I began to ask myself: could it really be that in our separate heads, all of us had brain chemistries that were spontaneously malfunctioning at the same time?

To find the answers, I ended up going on a 40,000-mile journey across the world and back. I talked to the leading social scientists investigating these questions, and to people who have been overcoming depression in unexpected ways – from an Amish village in Indiana, to a Brazilian city that banned advertising and a laboratory in Baltimore conducting a startling wave of experiments. From these people, I learned the best scientific evidence about what really causes depression and anxiety. They taught me that it is not what we have been told it is up to now. I found there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise – alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.

Once I learned this, I was able to see that a very different set of solutions to my depression – and to our depression – had been waiting for me all along.

To understand this different way of thinking, though, I had to first investigate the old story, the one that had given me so much relief at first. Professor Irving Kirsch at Harvard University is the Sherlock Holmes of chemical antidepressants – the man who has scrutinised the evidence about giving drugs to depressed and anxious people most closely in the world. In the 1990s, he prescribed chemical antidepressants to his patients with confidence. He knew the published scientific evidence, and it was clear: it showed that 70% of people who took them got significantly better. He began to investigate this further, and put in a freedom of information request to get the data that the drug companies had been privately gathering into these drugs. He was confident that he would find all sorts of other positive effects – but then he bumped into something peculiar.

We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies – who fund almost all the research into these drugs – were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldn’t be right.

It turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people – but they clearly can’t be the main solution for the majority of us, because we’re still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly don’t want to take anything off the menu – but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.

This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is “deeply misleading and unscientific”. Dr David Healy told me: “There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.”

[…]

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world – from São Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London – I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Let’s look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who don’t like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed he’d found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: who’s more likely to have a stress-related heart attack – the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: you’re wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because he’s got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And that’s when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed – and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you can’t create meaning out of your work.

Suddenly, the depression of many of my friends, even those in fancy jobs – who spend most of their waking hours feeling controlled and unappreciated – started to look not like a problem with their brains, but a problem with their environments. There are, I discovered, many causes of depression like this. However, my journey was not simply about finding the reasons why we feel so bad. The core was about finding out how we can feel better – how we can find real and lasting antidepressants that work for most of us, beyond only the packs of pills we have been offered as often the sole item on the menu for the depressed and anxious. I kept thinking about what Dr Cacciatore had taught me – we have to deal with the deeper problems that are causing all this distress.

I found the beginnings of an answer to the epidemic of meaningless work – in Baltimore. Meredith Mitchell used to wake up every morning with her heart racing with anxiety. She dreaded her office job. So she took a bold step – one that lots of people thought was crazy. Her husband, Josh, and their friends had worked for years in a bike store, where they were ordered around and constantly felt insecure, Most of them were depressed. One day, they decided to set up their own bike store, but they wanted to run it differently. Instead of having one guy at the top giving orders, they would run it as a democratic co-operative. This meant they would make decisions collectively, they would share out the best and worst jobs and they would all, together, be the boss. It would be like a busy democratic tribe. When I went to their store – Baltimore Bicycle Works – the staff explained how, in this different environment, their persistent depression and anxiety had largely lifted.

It’s not that their individual tasks had changed much. They fixed bikes before; they fix bikes now. But they had dealt with the unmet psychological needs that were making them feel so bad – by giving themselves autonomy and control over their work. Josh had seen for himself that depressions are very often, as he put it, “rational reactions to the situation, not some kind of biological break”. He told me there is no need to run businesses anywhere in the old humiliating, depressing way – we could move together, as a culture, to workers controlling their own workplaces.

*****

With each of the nine causes of depression and anxiety I learned about, I kept being taught startling facts and arguments like this that forced me to think differently. Professor John Cacioppo of Chicago University taught me that being acutely lonely is as stressful as being punched in the face by a stranger – and massively increases your risk of depression. Dr Vincent Felitti in San Diego showed me that surviving severe childhood trauma makes you 3,100% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. Professor Michael Chandler in Vancouver explained to me that if a community feels it has no control over the big decisions affecting it, the suicide rate will shoot up.

[…]

After I learned all this, and what it means for us all, I started to long for the power to go back in time and speak to my teenage self on the day he was told a story about his depression that was going to send him off in the wrong direction for so many years. I wanted to tell him: “This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. It’s not crazy. It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief – for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong. I know how much it hurts. I know how deeply it cuts you. But you need to listen to this signal. We all need to listen to the people around us sending out this signal. It is telling you what is going wrong. It is telling you that you need to be connected in so many deep and stirring ways that you aren’t yet – but you can be, one day.”

If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.

Pitfalls of a Cashless Society

The “death of cash” is a worrying phenomenon. It’s obvious why financial corporations are pushing it though — people have been found to spend more money using credit cards compared to paying with physical cash.

“Sorry we’re not taking cash or checks,” said the clerk at the Fed Ex counter over a decade ago to an intern. “Only credit cards.”

Since then, the relentless intensification of coercive commercialism has been moving toward a cashless economy, when all consumers are incarcerated within a prison of corporate payment systems from your credit/debit cards to your mobile phone and very soon facial recognition.

“Terrific!” say those consumers for whom convenience and velocity of transactions are irresistible.

“This is nuts!” say a shrinking number of free-thinking consumers who are unwilling to be dragooned down the road to corporate captivity and coercion.  These people treasure their privacy. They understand that it’s none of any conglomerate’s business – whether VISA, Facebook, Amazon or Google – what, where, when and how consumers purchase goods and services. Or where and when they travel, receive healthcare, or the most intimate relationships they maintain. Not to mention consumers’ personal information can be sent to or hacked around the globe.

Cash-consumers are not alone in their opposition to a cashless economy.  When they are in a cab and ask the driver how they prefer to be paid, the answer is near-unanimous. “Cash, cash, cash,” reply the cab drivers in cities around the country. They get paid immediately and without having to have a company deduct a commission.

Back some 25 years ago, Consumers Union considered backing consumer groups to sign up Main Street, USA merchants who agreed to discount their wares if people paid in cash. For the same reason – merchants get to keep all the money on sales made with cash or check. Unfortunately, the idea never materialized. It is, however, still a good idea. Today, payments systems are much more comprehensively coercive.

Once you’re in the credit card system, lack of privacy and access to your credit are just the tip of the iceberg. That is why companies can impose penalties, surcharges, overcharges and a myriad of other corporate raids on your private treasury. They get immediate payment. If you object, you could see a lowering of your credit score or your credit rating. Besides, you don’t even know you agreed to all of these dictates – banks have over 300 different special charges for their revered customers – in fine print agreements that you never saw, read or even possessed to sign or click on. What’s the likelihood that banks would continue to surcharge you if they had to bill you instead of debit you?

The sheer pace and brazenness of corporations when they have instant access to your credit is stunning. The recent crimes of banking giant Wells Fargo, including selling auto insurance and assigning new credit cards to millions of their customers who had no knowledge and gave no consent for these charges, which resulted in damage to these customers’ credit scores and ratings, can only be committed when consumers are turned into economic prisoners. There are still no criminal prosecutions of the bank or its bosses. Wells Fargo bank stock rose to a year high last month. To their credit, the CFPB imposed a $100 million dollar fine on Wells Fargo, which barred them from deducting the fine as a business expense.

Coercive fine print contracts rob you of your consumer rights by preventing you from going to court, imposing fines as high as $35 fines for  bounced checks (which typically cost the banks less than $2), and decreeing that you agreed in advance to all kinds of unconscionable abuses, so long as you are in a “customer” status with them. Some companies are even charging customers for quitting them.

The rapacity inflicted on cashless purchasers prevails across the economy – insurance, mortgages, telecommunications, healthcare, stock brokerage, online buying and, of course, requirements to use electronic payment systems.

The more consumers become incarcerated by the companies that purportedly serve them, the more lucrative commodity consumers become. This leads to, among other problems, massive computerized billing fraud in the US. In the healthcare industry alone, billing fraud amounts to ten percent of what is spent, according to Harvard applied mathematics professor Malcolm Sparrow, author of License to Steal. This year’s expenditure of ten percent of the $3.5 trillion expected to be spent amounts to $350 billion. A cashless economy further facilitates these larcenous practices.

A computerized economy is one where fraud can easily be committed on a massive scale, according to Frank Abagnale who, after serving his time in prison for identity theft, has become an impassioned educator (serving institutions ranging from the FBI to AARP) on how to detect and avoid such crimes, which he estimates to cost people about one trillion dollars each year.

What it comes down to is whether consumer freedom is worth more than consumer convenience or whether the points earned for future purchases (assuming the costs are not passed on in hidden ways) are worth minimizing impulse buying, avoiding big data profile manipulations, keeping personal matters personal and requiring your affirmative consent to transactions where you decide what you want to buy and how you can pay.

However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pay by cash or check. Try renting a car or occupying a hotel room or buying a snack or drink on an airline without a credit or debit card.

In the latest example of such coercion, new boutique eateries like Two Forks, Dig Inn, Dos Toros or Pokee in New York City operate entirely through payment systems that reject all cash purchases. “But isn’t cash legal tender?” you might ask. How could they reject cash on the barrelhead? Simple, says the Federal Reserve, so long as they notify you in advance. It’s that fine print again.

The New York Times, reported these rejections and noted: “Not surprisingly, the credit card companies, who make a commission on every credit card purchase, applaud the trend. Visa recently offered select merchants a $10,000 reward for depriving customers of their right to pay by the method of their choice.” The nerve!

Cash consumers of America arise, band together and organize a National Association for the Preservation of Cash Purchases. You have nothing to save but your freedom, your desire to push back and your precious, affirmative and personal right to consent or not to consent, before you are forced into contract peonage.

Interested? Let’s hear from you at info@csrl.org.