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8 Ways Tech Has Completely Rewired Our Brains

Πηγή: Mashable
By Rebecca Hiscott
March 14 2014

Technology has altered human physiology. It makes us think differently, feel differently, even dream differently. It affects our memory, attention spans and sleep cycles. This is attributed to a scientific phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to alter its behavior based on new experiences. In this case, that's the wealth of information offered by the Internet and interactive technologies.

Some cognition experts have praised the effects of tech on the brain, lauding its ability to organize our lives and free our minds for deeper thinking. Others fear tech has crippled our attention spans and made us uncreative and impatient when it comes to anything analog.

Every emerging study and opinion piece is hotly disputed, yet each brings us closer to understanding how tech can fundamentally alter our minds. Below, we list some of the major ways tech has rewired our brains, for better or worse.

1. We dream in color.

Television impacts our psyche so thoroughly, it may even affect our dreams. In 2008, a study conducted at Scotland's Dundee University found that adults over the age of 55 who had grown up in a household with a black and white television set were more likely to dream in black and white. Younger participants, who grew up in the age of Technicolor, nearly always experienced their dreams in color. The American Psychological Assocation seconded these findings in 2011.

Previous dream research, conducted in the early 1900s through the 1950s, has suggested a correlation between exposure to black and white television and dreaming in black and white. In the 1960s, dreams returned to Technicolor with the advent of color film and television.

2. We experience FOMO…

The reports are anecdotal at best, but FOMO (fear of missing out), defined by The New York Times as "the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media," seems fairly legit.

Before Instagram and Facebook, people who chose to spend a quiet Saturday night at home with a glass of wine and a copy of Anchorman might have felt a little guilty or sad they weren't out whooping it up. But thanks to social media, that feeling is compounded by pictures and posts of scrumptious dinners and raging parties, plus endless videos of friends chugging beer. Even if none of these activities are your idea of fun, you'll definitely recognize that pang: "Should I be doing something else right now?" That's FOMO.

There's even evidence that looking at pictures of friends' meals on Instagram and Pinterest makes your own meal taste bland by comparison.

3. … And "phantom vibration syndrome."

We are now hard-wired to assume our phones are ringing, even when they're not. In a 2012 study published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior, researchers found that 89% of the 290 undergraduates surveyed reported feeling "phantom vibrations," the physical sensation that their phone was vibrating, even when it wasn't, once every two weeks. A survey of hospital workers found similar results.

A research psychologist speaking on NPR suggested that physical sensations, such as an itch, may now be misinterpreted by our brains as a vibrating phone. "Something in your brain is being triggered that's different than what was triggered just a few short years ago," he said.

Since nobody is especially bothered by phantom vibrations, the sensation is more of a nuisance than a physiological problem. Still, it's pretty freaky.

4. We can't sleep.

We technophiles are accustomed to falling asleep with laptops glowing softly by our beds, playing a soothing Futurama episode to lull us into sleep. Others might end the day by reading a chapter of The Hunger Games on their iPad. But those comforting nighttime routines may actually be screwing with our sleep patterns.

Neuroscientists suspect the glowing lights emitted by laptop, tablet and smartphone screens mess with your body's internal light cues and sleep-inducing hormones. Exposure to bright lights can fool the brain into thinking it's still daytime, and can potentially have lasting effects on the body's circadian rhythms (your internal sleep clock). Our eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light emitted by screens. This makes it harder to fall asleep, especially for those who already struggle with insomnia.

5. Our memory isn't great, and neither is our attention span.

Back in the old, old, old days, learning by rote was a prized skill. So prized, in fact, that students were often expected to recite entire books from memory. In a Google-happy world, when virtually any scrap of information is instantly at our fingertips, we don't bother retaining facts, let alone whole book passages. Who needs to memorize the capital of Mozambique when you can just ask Siri?

In 2007, a neuroscientist polled 3,000 people and found that the younger respondents were less likely to remember standard personal information, such as a relative's birthday or even their own phone number. Similarly, studies have shown that calculators may decrease simple mathematical skills. Some people are unable to navigate their own cities without the help of GPS.

Social media and the Internet have also been shown to shorten our attention spans. Individuals immersed in digital media find it difficult to read books for long periods of time, and often skim articles online rather than reading every word. This phenomenon can be particularly troubling for youth, whose brains are more malleable and, therefore, may fail to develop concentration skills.

6. We have better visual skills…

A 2013 study found that first-person shooter video games, such as Halo and Call of Duty, boost decision-making and visual skills. These immersive games force players to make snap decisions based on visual cues, which enhances visuospatial attention skills, or the ability to parse details of your physical environment. Gamers are also better at detecting contrast between objects in dim environments.

Meanwhile, complex, strategy-based games like Starcraft may improve the brain's "cognitive flexibility," or the ability to switch between tasks, thus enhancing the much-disputed ability to multitask. This was particularly true among older study participants.

7. ...But poorer impulse control.

Unfortunately, that same 2013 study found video games like Halo can inhibit players' ability to rein in impulsive or aggressive behavior. Researchers concluded that forcing players to make snap decisions in violent situations inhibited "proactive executive control" over knee-jerk reactions and impulses, meaning they were more likely to react with immediate, unchecked hostility or aggression in real life.

Other studies have substantiated the idea of a link between violent video games (and other violent forms of media) and aggression and attention problems.
8. We create more.

Ending on a high note, tech makes it easier for artists and non-artists alike to engage with creative media. Author Clay Shirkey argues that the Internet enhances what he calls "cognitive surplus," the excess hours and brain power we can devote to pursuing activities and goals we enjoy. Social media, according to Shirkey, prompts users to engage with texts, images and videos in a way that simply watching television doesn't. As social media promotes a culture of sharing, users feel more inclined to create and share something of their own, be it a Flickr album, a book review, a contribution to Wikipedia or a DIY project.

"We do things because they're interesting, because they're engaging, because they're the right things to do, because they contribute to the world," said Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in a conversation with Wired and Shirkey.

"Once we stop thinking of all that time as individual minutes to be whiled away and start thinking of it as a social asset than can be harnessed, it all looks very different," said Shirkey. "The buildup of free time among the world's educated population — maybe a trillion hours per year — is a new resource."

Partition of Libya looms as fight for oil sparks vicious new divide

A rebel under Ibrahim Jathran holds the Cyrenaica flag while standing on a boat at Es Sider port. Photograph: Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters
Πηγή: The Guardian
By Chris Stephen
March 16 2014

The farcical battle between the Tripoli government and a rebel militia over the refuelling of a tanker laid bare the central role that oil is playing in the splits and tensions that bedevil the country.

No one paid much attention to the 21,000-tonne oil tanker Morning Glory as it churned back and forth along the north African coast earlier this month. Tankers are a common sight, carrying Libya's oil exports around the world. But on 1 March it switched off its satellite transponder and vanished from world shipping maps.

Eight days later it appeared at Libya's biggest oil port, Es Sider, blockaded since the summer by a rebel militia. Within a week its arrival would see a prime minister sacked and Libya on the brink of civil war.

Four hundred miles away in the capital Tripoli, prime minister Ali Zeidan, 63, a lawyer and former dissident based in Geneva, was alarmed. He had come to the job 15 months before with high expectations. Libya, freed with Nato help from the Muammar Gaddafi dictatorship, had everything going for it, with Africa's largest oil reserves and only 6 million people to share the wealth.

Instead, he had endured a bruising ride. Forty years of brutal, idiosyncratic dictatorship had left the country on its knees. Schools, hospitals, roads, pensions, commerce, the courts and police needed an urgent overhaul and he lacked the trained civil servants to do it. Worse, he was at loggerheads with the Islamist-led Congress that appointed him. When a militia briefly kidnapped him for six hours in October, he emerged to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Justice and Construction party leads the Islamist coalition, of "undermining" him. Since then, Islamists and a growing body of allies had campaigned to sack him, blaming Zeidan for Libya's woes. Worse still, the militias that had won the revolution were now fighting each other in a bewildering array of shifting alliances, deepening an economic malaise and scaring off foreign investors.

But the arrival of the Morning Glory was more serious still. Oil and gas account for 95% of government revenues, and most Libyans depend on the state for salaries or handouts. Since the summer, militias in the east and west of the country had blockaded oil ports and fields, demanding more oil cash for the regions and slashing energy production. That had been bad enough. The prospect of the eastern rebels actually selling the oil promised disaster. Normally taciturn and professorial, Zeidan threatened to attack the tanker and sink it if it tried to leave.

In Es Sider, Ibrahim Jathran, 33-year-old leader of the rebels, was unflustered, greeting the Morning Glory's arrival with celebrations that included slaughtering a camel on the quayside. Charismatic and tough, he made his name leading a militia in the revolution and was later appointed head of the army's oil protection force. Last year he set up the Cyrenaica Political Bureau, named after the eastern province that contains two-thirds of the country's oil, and seized key oil terminals. Many Cyrenaicans were ambivalent, agreeing the east needed more state help, but unsure this unelected body was the way to get it. Opponents accuse Jathran of planning a breakaway state, something his supporters deny.

"All of this is against the Muslim Brotherhood, not against ordinary Tripolitanians," said Jathran's spokesman, Essam Jimani. "We don't want independence. But if the Muslim Brotherhood are too powerful and it led to civil war, we would be forced to become an independent state."

The arrival of the Morning Glory also rang alarm bells in the west. Libya was already a worry, with the growing presence of Islamist radicals and waves of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa using it as a springboard for Europe. Nato was the midwife for Libya's Arab spring revolution, its bombing devastating Gaddafi's forces, and a descent into anarchy would affect the reputations of Barack Obama and David Cameron, prime movers in that war.

Now a new reason was emerging for keeping Libya stable; its gas, piped to Italy, was a valuable alternative source of energy to a European Union dependent on supplies from an ever more erratic Russia. Western diplomats liked Zeidan: some conceded he lacked charisma, but they saw in him a liberal mediating force between Libya's factions. And London, Paris and Washington agreed that Congress should be supported as the vital underpinning of Libyan democracy.

While Morning Glory was taking on oil, US ambassador Deborah Jones declared that Jathran's actions amounted to "theft from the Libyan people". Last Monday, unperturbed by threats against it, the tanker, loaded with a cargo valued at £20m, slipped her moorings and a new factor entered the equation: the weather.

Howling winds, driving rain and heavy seas met the Morning Glory as she put to sea. Zeidan ordered armed forces to intercept, only to find the cupboard almost bare. Libya's few major warships were upside-down in Tripoli harbour, the result of Nato bombing in the revolution. Its air force was in near mutiny over changes to its command, with three air bases in open revolt, and no bombers took to the air. Instead Zeidan turned to the Libya Shield, a loose alliance of revolutionary militias. A unit in Misrata, 280 miles up the coast, commandeered a tugboat, lashed jeeps mounted with rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns to the decks, and set sail.

The tug caught up with the Morning Glory, a TV crew on board filming the firing of Grad rockets, to the whoops and cheers of the crew, aimed at the tanker. Several can be seen splashing into the sea, but at least one appears to hit its target. The footage then captured a remarkable conversation, in English, between the two captains:

Morning Glory: "Don't fire, don't fire. We have security on board we cannot do anything."

Gunboat captain: "We are not firing. Could you change the course to Misrata, please. Have you taken your map to see Misrata port, please?"

The North Korean-flagged tanker docked at Es Sider. Photograph: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters
Morning Glory: "I cannot do anything, the security on the bridge, the security on the bridge, with the guns. Security on the bridge with the guns, they cannot let me do anything, please don't fire, please don't fire."

The exchange seemed to validate government claims that gunmen were holding the Morning Glory crew hostage, but the tanker outpaced the tug, which later encountered a patrolling US warship. Jathran had won.

In Tripoli the rebel triumph was the last straw for Congress, which sacked Zeidan, replacing him with former defence minister Abdullah al-Thani. Hours later, prosecutors charged Zeidan with corruption and issued a travel ban. The stage was set for a dramatic escape. At 9pm a private jet landed at Tripoli international airport, the pilot telling the control tower he was picking up diplomats. The plane parked on the VIP apron, but when a passport official turned up to check the passengers he was restrained by security guards while Zeidan got on the plane. It took off and headed for Germany, where Zeidan insisted he was innocent of corruption and denounced his sacking as a "falsification", claiming only 113 members voted to sack him, fewer than the minimum 120 required. He promised to return one day to Libya, but that may be some way off.

On Saturday night, giving his first full-length interview since his ousting, Zeidan said he fled the country after friends warned him his life was in danger, and accused Islamists of being responsible for his sacking. Speaking from Germany to a private Libyan TV station, he accused the Muslim Brotherhood of wanting to "impose its will" on Libya and repeated his claim, denied by Congress, that his removal was unconstitutional.

Congress, insisting its dismissal was lawful, decided on bold action. Misratan-led Libya Shield units, the most powerful in the country, raced east down the coastal highway to capture the rebel-held ports, running into a unit, not of rebels, but of army special forces at the coastal town of Sirte. In confused fighting five soldiers were killed, four incinerated when their vehicle was hit. Photographs of their badly burned bodies being returning to Cyrenaica spread across social media, inflaming public anger. A mixed force of Jathran's rebels, Cyrenaican militias and army units complete with howitzers was deployed at the Red Wadi, a valley blocking approaches to the ports.

Trouble spread across the country. In the western mountains, next to Tunisia, the Zintan militia, allies of Zeidan, denounced his sacking and mobilised. The Zintan militia is second only to the pro-Congress Misrata militia in strength, and both are more powerful than Libya's tiny regular army. Zintani and Misratan militia units have frequently clashed in Tripoli, vying for control of key bases. Zintan also lies along the gas and oil pipelines carrying oil from western Libya to the coast. In concert with ethnic Berbers to the north and Tobu tribesmen to the south, it has periodically cut pipelines and occupied oilfields. Were it to side with Jathran's forces in the east, it would leave the central government facing an almost total oil blockade, and the prospect of resistance on two fronts.

Adding to the confusion, leaders in the southern province of Fezzan met to consider breaking away from government control, while in Tripoli a militia stormed, looted and burned the HQ of the second infantry brigade. On Thursday, Congress speaker Nuri Abu Sahmain intervened, giving rebels two weeks to vacate the oil terminals in a bid to bring calm. Tribal elders from east and west met, hoping to find a breathing space.

But that space is limited. The Islamists in Congress have strengthened their hand by sacking Zeidan, but at the risk of polarising the opposition. Congress is itself denounced by many for staying in office after its mandate expired last month, despite MPs arguing that Libya must have a parliament until the elections this summer. Many think a breakup is now a possibility.

"Current conditions seem heavily stacked against a political solution," said Oliver Coleman, an analyst with British risk consultant Maplecroft. "There is an absence of any genuinely unifying figure to act as a bridge between Libya's factions. An Islamist-dominated Congress will find it extremely difficult to reach a negotiated settlement with Jathran, given his renowned animosity to the Muslim Brotherhood."

Jathran's rebels have vowed to hold the Red Wadi, in what some see as a de facto partition of Libya. Among those seeking dialogue is Hassan El Amin, a Misratan former dissident who quit Congress and fled back to Britain in 2012, saying he had had death threats. He is now calling for the UN to mediate. "The west should realise the issue in Libya can get really out of hand, they don't want another Syria. When we were fighting Gaddafi they [the west] came in together. We need them again."

As forces gather either side of the Red Wadi and Libyans prepare for more violence, one question remains unanswered – the fate of the Morning Glory. It was last seen late last week going east along the Egyptian coast, destination unknown. By then it hardly mattered, as news broke that a second tanker was heading for rebel-held ports.

Greece Moves On Russian Gas Concerns With Pipeline Project

Πηγή: Forbes
By Christopher Coats
March 13 2014

As much of Europe spent the last month worrying about what might happen if Russia decided to shut the valve on its gas supply, Athens has apparently decided the time is right to push a new energy role. This week, Greece’s Energy Ministry launched an international tender for a pipeline project that would transport about 8 billion cubic meters of gas into the European market from offshore fields controlled by Cyprus and Israel. According to a Reuters report, the project would link Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field to Europe by way of Greece through the IGI-Poseidon pipeline, managed by Italy’s Edison and Greece’s state-backed utility, DEPA.

For Israel, the pipeline would provide the country’s first long-distant export option. Israel has recently announced a series of export agreements for its offshore efforts, 40 percent of which is allotted for sale outside of the country. However, so far, they have all been local, including sales to Jordan, Palestinian utilities and talks with both Egypt and Turkey. For Greece, a successful pipeline would help them carve out a long-sought energy role in the area.

Over the last three years, Athens has made a concerted effort to lay claim to the Eastern Mediterranean’s recent energy rush, both as a potential transport hub for Israeli and Cypriot gas reserves and as a producer itself. The latter role, which has included studies suggesting offshore reserves near Crete, has failed to catch fire beyond political rhetoric. Meanwhile, after this week, it appears the country’s transport aspirations may have some potential.

Europe’s Diversification Key?

The transmission line would create a direct line between the Eastern Mediterranean’s vast offshore reserves and a European market in need of energy diversification – a goal that has become central to the region’s energy policy since 2009. That year saw Russia halt natural gas imports to Ukraine in the cold winter months, leading to shortages across East Europe.

In the years since, Europe has set out to establish new import options, increase domestic production alternatives, encourage renewable options – all meant to ease dependence on Russian reserves. While moderately successful, these efforts have suffered from a series of setbacks, including a downturn in renewable financial support and unrest in North African producing countries like Libya and Algeria. The region’s progress grabbed the spotlight this month as tension between Moscow and Ukraine highlighted just how dependent Europe is on Russian reserves.

Months before the most recent flare-up with Russia, the proposed pipeline received a vote of confidence from the European Commission when it was selected as one of their Projects of Common Interest (PCI). This 2013 plan designated 248 energy infrastructure projects across the EU that would receive their support as well as give them access to $8.13 billion in available funds. It was chosen as one of Cyprus’ three PCI projects.

However, despite such support and the recent attention diversification efforts have gotten since Russia began moving troops toward the Crimea, the pipeline is not without its challenges. First and foremost the pipeline could extend into contested waters between Greece and Turkey. Already frustrated with Cypriot progress towards exploration and gas production in the region, Ankara could prove difficult to win over, especially if the project sidelined proposed Turkish transport alternatives.

Recent reunification talks between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish held north side of the island have allowed some hope that the issue of sharing regional gas benefits to bed, though bringing the 40 year old dispute to an end soon could be wishful thinking.

The Greek-led pipeline could also face a significant challenge when it comes to financing. While access to the EC fund could provide some support, paying for what promises to be an incredibly expensive endeavor (especially considering the pipeline depth), could be difficult. Both Greece and Cyprus remain weighed down by years of economic turmoil. In the case of Greece, now entering its sixth year of recession, attracting needed investment partners will be difficult, bordering on impossible without firm support from Europe and other global lenders.