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The Hutch Report

The Business of Vanity

By | Beauty, Business, Health, Technology

The rapid pace of technical advancements these days is mind boggling. It seems that only weeks go by before yesterday’s new innovation is already leapfrogged by another taking its place. We are seeing the proliferation of self driving cars, virtual reality, smarter and smarter robots, new forms of digital currency, a public ledger called the blockchain that threatens to disrupt a number of industries, or new modes of transportation such as the Hyper-loop which promises to transport people across large distances in a fraction of the time that we are now accustomed.

The workforce is clearly getting worried, as they have a right to be. Large numbers of labourers have already been replaced by an army of robots in Amazon’s vast distribution centers. More and more, machines are replacing order takers at fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King, not to mention numerous others. Machines are getting so good that clients that call into customer support services at Airline companies, don’t even realise that many times they are speaking to a computer.

Should the self driving automobile revolution take hold, what will happen to the thousands and thousands of taxi drivers, bus drivers, or dare I say it, Uber drivers? If blockchain smart contracts become as fullproof as they are made out to be, what will happen to the legal system, or the intellectual property system workforce. After all, if what is written into a blockchain becomes full taper proof evidence of ownership then what will be the use of that copyright lawyer you always needed to call on?

Whether we like it or not change is upon us. Change has always been upon us and always will.  The history of mankind is a story board of evolution and innovation. It is wash, rinse and repeat. The car took out the hoarse and carriage. Television pushed out the radio. The Internet has been pushing them both out. Just in the past 25 years we have seen the revolutionary impact of computers, smart phones and telecommunications and the Internet. We have seen the combustible engine being slowly replaced by battery powered vehicles. So as a workforce are we forced into the constant threat of thinking our industry could be disrupted any time, no matter what industry we find ourselves in?

Not so fast!

There is one area that has stayed pretty much the same for centuries and for that reason will not likely see much of a disruption. I am talking about anything that is associated with Vanity. Since the dawn of time there has been a demand for any hygiene services or any service that will help you look good. These industries include, Haircuts / Hairstyling, Nail care, Body hair removal, Makeup and numerous others.

The occupation of hairdressing dates back thousands of years. There have been discoveries of ancient art drawings and paintings depicting people working on another person’s hair. There is evidence of ancient hairstyling as Assyrian kings and other nobles had their hair curled with heated iron bars. In Africa, it was believed in some cultures that a person’s spirit occupied his or her hair, giving hairdressers high status within these communities. The Greek writers Aristophanes and Homer both mention hairdressing in their writings.

The status of hairdressing encouraged many to develop their skills, and close relationships were built between hairdressers and their clients. Hours would be spent washing, combing, oiling, styling and ornamenting their hair. Men would work specifically on men, and women on other women. Before a master hairdresser died, they would give their combs and tools to a chosen successor during a special ceremony.

Ancient Babylonian men manicured and colored their nails using kohl, with different colors representing different classes. Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti popularized the manicure by rubbing their hands in rich oils and staining their nails using henna. Like the Chinese royals who came before them, both male and female members of the Ming Dynasty had perfectly manicured, talon-like nails. To add a tint, they mixed together egg whites, wax, vegetable dyes, and other materials to create different color varnishes ranging from dark red to black.

The two forms of body hair removal that have been around for centuries is Depilation and Epilation. Depilation is the removal of the part of the hair above the surface of the skin. The Egyptians may have been the forerunners of many beauty rituals but they invested the most time into hair removal. During the Roman Empire, the lack of body hair was considered a sign of the classes.

The need to go down to the local barber for a shave has a long history.  In ancient Egyptian culture, barbers were highly respected individuals. Priests and men of medicine are the earliest recorded examples of barbers. Men in Ancient Greece would have their beards, hair, and fingernails trimmed and styled by the κουρεύς (cureus), in an agora (market place) which also served as a social gathering for debates and gossip. Barbering was introduced to Rome by the Greek colonies in Sicily in 296 BC, and barber shops quickly became very popular centres for daily news and gossip.

Although technological advances have led to better tools and methods for improving these various services, the actual services themselves have stayed much as they were in ancient times. If you wanted to get your haircut in order to look good for your date with a Greek Godess, you would make your way down to the local qualified barber to help you out.

The constant in all of these vanity services has been that of socialising and human contact. Even today, a barber, hairstylist or manicurist will lend you their ear for a little chat while they get the job done. It is hard to imagine, although some try, a world where there is no longer socializing. A machine cuts your hair, does your nails, or an epilation. Humans are social beings and need to socialize therefore all services that are based on social interaction are likely to have a long and prosperous future ahead.

The Hutch Report

Infoxication – The Information Pandemic

By | Health, Psychology

As a species, our inclination to advance our learning and understanding of the world is natural. Throughout history we have seen some spectacular innovations that have allowed us to document our discoveries for future generations to build upon. In 105 AD, under the Han Dynasty emperor Ho-Ti, a government official in China named Ts’ai Lun was the first to start a paper-making industry. This along with the invention of the printing press saw the exponential growth of information in millions of bound books filling libraries the world over. In the beginning these books were filled with pain stakingly crafted illustrations until the first partially successful photograph of a camera image was made in approximately 1816 by Nicéphore Niépce, using a very small camera of his own making and a piece of paper coated with silver chloride, which darkened where it was exposed to light. The advancements in photography saw the growth of the stock of images documenting everything you could imagine from around the world in all forms as we witnessed life move from black and white to colour.

From the industrial revolution we have moved to the technological revolution that we see today where new digital innovative tools are allowing anybody to create and document life as they see it.   Every day hundreds of millions of people take photos, make videos and send texts. Across the globe businesses collect data on consumer preferences, purchases and trends. Governments regularly collect all sorts of data from census data to incident reports in police departments. Ninety percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Our current output of data is roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes a day.

The number of live websites presenting content (not those that are just parked domain names which account for 75% of all websites) is well over 250 million. Tumblr boasts 101.7 million blogs producing over 44.6 billion blog posts. WordPress.com has over 63 Million blogs, Livejournal reports to have 62.6 million blogs, Weebly states it has over 12 million blogs and Blogster has over 582,754 blogs. Twitter has over 1 Billion registered users, which spend an average of 170 minutes a month using the service.  Add these numbers to those of daily email, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Snapchat, Gify, Spotify etc, and you can begin to see how this information explosion is dominating our lives.

The industrial and tecnological revolutions have greatly increased our ability to gather and deliver information, however our brains continue to absorb and process information in pretty much the same way it always done. Torkel Klingberg, author of The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory, states “the brains in which we are born today are almost identical to those with which Cro-Magnons were born forty-thousand years ago.

Los Angeles based social psychologist, Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., stated that in spite of our best efforts to process this contant flow of daily information, our brains are limited and can only focus on one thing at a time in depth. The best known limitation is the “magical number” that governs short-term memory: the psychologist Miller (1957) has shown that people can only keep some seven items at once in their working memory. Richard Watson, author of Future Minds, explains that increased exposure to technology which helps us consume information online more quickly means that we engage our brains in deeper thinking less often. Not only can technology and information overload damage our brain, it can make us stupider.

Information overload (also known as infobesity or infoxication) is a term used to describe the difficulty of understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that issue. Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. One of the first social scientists to notice the negative effects of information overload was the sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918), who hypothesized that the overload of sensations in the modern urban world caused city dwellers to become jaded and interfered with their ability to react to new situations. Alvin Toffler sent out a similar warning more than 30 years ago. In his book, Future Shock (Random House, 1971), Toffler presented his theory, named “Future Shock Syndrome,” that the human brain has finite limits on how much information it can absorb and process. If we exceed those limits our brains become overloaded. This means that part of that information will be ignored, forgotten, distorted or otherwise lost.

“Too much information running through my brain,
Too much information driving me insane”

— The Police

The longer people are subjected to information overload, the more negative its effects on physical and mental well-being. Sensationalized stories and information saturizing our daily lives is making it harder to tell what’s actually important. This is having an effect on our ability to make sound decisions. Our reliance on devices and internet connections are causing declines in memory and information retention, increased radiation and eye strain, stress and burn out from speed and volume of information received. Our handwriting skills are beginning to diminish over time. There are signs of increased depression and anxiety levels from constant sheltered living and less exposure to sunlight and our attention spans are becoming shorter.

Francis Paul Heylighen, a Belgian cyberneticist investigating the emergence and evolution of intelligent organization highlights in his paper, Complexity and Information Overload in Society: why increasing efficiency leads to decreasing control, that “the problem of information overload can also be formulated as attention scarcity: it is not so much that there is too much information, but too little time and mental energy to process it. The amount of cognitive effort or attention (Kahneman, 1973) that an individual can give to any issue is limited, and there are in general more issues that demand attention than attention that can be given. Therefore, attention is the true bottleneck, the one scarce resource on which all others depend, and thus the one that is intrinsically most valuable. While ephemeralisation can amplify the availability of any other resource, it cannot augment the total amount of human attention.”

So in order to combat this problem we need to slow down the flow of information to amounts that we are able to pay attention to properly or increase our attention capacity. The obvious answer is to switch off and decrease the amounts of information coming towards us. However, companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that produce the platforms that rely on this increasing flow of information, are dependent on their users staying connected. So they are constantly innovating ways of keeping us engaged, making it that much more difficult for us to break free. We highlighted this in the “Social Media Casino.”

Switching off is obviously not an easy task these days but with a bit of will power and a few small changes your life can change for the better.

  • Go on a Break Without Your Phone

Although it is not reasonable to completely live without a smartphone these days, it can nevertheless be very refreshing to take a single weekend away from it once in a while.

  • Scheduled Checks

Consant emails, messages and other interruptions can actually prevent you from being productive and getting work done. Instead of checking your email every five minutes or each time a message comes through, instead turn off all notifications (sounds, vibrations etc.) and check it at set points throughout the day (every two hours perhaps).

  • Take up non-digital activities

Today, many of our activities involve a screen of some sort; watching movies, playing computer games, texting friends or simply surfing the web. Take a break and  simply try taking up some activities that don’t involve a screen. This could include going to the gym, taking long walks, reading a book, sewing, knitting, drawing or playing an instrument.

  • No screen time before bedtime

Probably one of the most effective changes you can make is to simply switch off your smartphone, computer or ipad an hour before bed. These screens are known to increase cortisol in your brain and thereby decrease melatonin and make it much harder to sleep.

  • Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is all about taking control of your attention and focus. A wealth of new research has shown it to be effective at reducing stress and boosting working memory. It enhances our ability to focus and suppress distracting information. Research also supports the notion that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. This is the antithesis to information overload and therefore an excellent option.

There is also another school of thought. Psychologist and behavioural neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the book The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, says we can regain control over our brains by organising information in a way that optimises our brain’s capacity.

  • Externalise data

Getting information out of your head and into the external world helps you to see it objectively so you can make better decisions. To do this, write down your list of to-dos manually. This will help to encode the information into your brain through the use of muscle memory.

  • Important decisions should be made in the morning.

“Each time you make a decision, it uses some neuro-resources,” says Levitin. The problem is these neuro-resources are used up whether you’re making an insignificant decision or something considerably more important. To avoid neuro depletion, schedule your important decision-making tasks at the beginning of the day in order to maximise your brain’s resources, towards better decision making.

  • Get organised

Living in a physical environment that is well organized can lessen the burden on your brain. It can be a simple as having a designated place for commonly misplaced items such as keys, glasses, and cellphones. This reduces some of the pressure on your brain to recall things.

  • The myth of multitasking

There has been a lot of debate on the benefits of multitasking and the productivity improvements that come along with it. However, Levitin says multitasking is actually a misnomer because “what we’re actually doing is rapidly shifting our attention from one thing to another. Constantly switching tasks uses up our glucose supply which means the brain will reach a level of fatigue much sooner in the day than if we concentrate on one item at a time with sustained attention.

The amounts of information we produce daily are only going to go up exponentially as we find better and faster ways to produce, transfer and store data. The onus is therefore on each of us to start incorporating some of these practices into our daily lifestyles and at the same time, just try to be a little more conscious and aware of how much time we spend on our smartphones and computers.

By doing so, you may just find you have a little more energy and attention to spend on the non-digital world around you where you can experience it directly rather than through a screen.

The Hutch Report

The Social Media Casino

By | Health, Psychology, Technology

Something strange is happening in the world of social media. It is starting to feel like we are all part of a grand neuroscience experiment of Pavlovian nature. Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g. salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus.

Your smartphone buzzes. You can’t just leave it because the curiosity is just too great. Was it an email for me? A text? Did I get a Facebook notification? Or just a phantom vibration? You grab it out of your pocket without hesitation and check the alert.

Pavlov paired food with a bell; we seem to be pairing our human connection with our phone. We may not salivate at each alert, but our brain is certainly responding.

The digital world has become a crowded place. We have one piece of hardware that has essentially become the portal for all our news, communication, entertainment, and utilities. Making up these distribution channels are millions of companies producing the application, content and software.

Their survival is based on their ability to keep us, the users, engaged as often as they can and for as long as they can. So the need for ways to measure “real” online engagement has never been more urgent. To effectively reach consumers in today’s fragmented media landscape, advertisers and publishers need a deeper understanding of which content resonates when, and on what device. Advancements in online advertising analytics can now show if an ad was actually viewed and this capability is pushing many advertisers, publishers and agencies to think beyond clicks and impressions.

The competition is fierce because if your attention is focused on SnapChat’s application, it is not focused on the latest content being produced by YouTube. The classic marketing messages such as “we are the most convenient,” or “we provide the most value for your money,” don’t seem to work anymore. Therefore, these companies have researched much deeper into our neural connections in order to manipulate them to affect our behaviour towards their products and services. This research has brought about innovations such as autoplay, endless scroll, reverse chronological timelines, reciprocity,  push notifications and many more.

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? You do what Pavlov did, you provide an intermittent reward, or the promise of a reward, such as push notifications, or a bell when you recieve a message. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Think about why we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices? (You can read more on this in Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked”). Tristan Harris equates it to playing a slot machine, and this is coming from a designer at Google that was responsible for many of them. Here is his view of it:

  • When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.
  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

The psychologist Larry Rosen, talks about the fear of missing out. “We also study a particular type of anxiety connected to feeling a need to constantly check in, and feeling anxious if you can’t do so as often as you like. It is similar to the concept known as FOMO—fear of missing out—but it is not really a fear. Physiologically it looks more like a heightened level of “technological anxiety” that continues to rise until you check in with whatever is making you feel that way, and will abate only to start to rise again and again.”

So, if these are the tools and the elicited reactions, then how is it truly affecting us? The best way to find out is to remove the stimulus (smartphone). What happens to us if we are restricted from checking our smartphones? What happens when our addiction to pulling the slot machine lever is taken away?

Numerous studies have confirmed that people tend to undergo a kind of withdrawal: A research study from Swansea University found that people experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using social media (this went for all internet use, not just social media).  It tends to triggers more sadness and less well-being. The more we use social media, the less happy we seem to be.

One study conducted in 2013 found that Facebook use was linked to both less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction—the more people used Facebook in a day, the more these two variables dropped off.

A study from 2014 found that social media use is linked to greater feelings of social isolation. The team looked at how much people used 11 social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit, and correlated this with their “perceived social isolation.” The results indicated that the more time people spent on these sites, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be. Perceived social isolation is one of the worst things for us, mentally and physically.

Research found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones believed to be the driving force.

One of the main benefits believed to have arisen our of social media is its “social” aspect. Our ability to be able to connect with others far and wide. However, it has been discovered that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more social. A study from 2016, by R. M. Dunbar, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Loneliness is linked to a myriad of health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. Virtual friendship time has not been seen to have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends.

How can we protect ourselves and limit the effects?

Although not everything connected with social media is detrimental there should be care in limiting the destructive side effects that it can cause. But what are the options at our disposal to achieving this? We can’t expect it to come from the tech companies as that would equate to shooting themselves in the foot. Their goal is to gain users not lose them. We could turn to the government to regulate the use, however, we are already so regulated in so many areas that dealing with something so widespread as the internet and social media would likely see the same effects that they saw during the prohibition period. That didn’t work out so well. Therefore, the onus is placed on the individual or the family. This takes extremely tough discipline when you are up against an industry that is researching your inner core and how better to manipulate it.

Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other tech elites have consistently revealed that Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use. In 2007, Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. Steve Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple until his death in 2012, revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that he prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

The psychologist Larry Rosen suggest the following:

  • Try to slowly wean yourself off the need to respond automatically to alerts and notifications, particularly while you are working on any task that requires concentration and attention. This can be done by turning off notifications, shutting all browser tabs, putting the phone on silent for a specified amount of time, or even just turning the phone off.
  • Instead of checking your messages when you receive alerts, check them on a time schedule. Alert friends, family and colleagues that you are going on a 30-minute plan (or whatever suits you), only checking messages every 30 minutes.
  • Do not work with technology for more than about 90 minutes at a time. Take short 10-minute breaks and do something that doesn’t use technology to calm and reset your brain. Walking in nature works. So does playing a musical instrument, meditating, exercising, listening to music, and taking a hot bath or shower. You know implicitly what calms your brain.
  • Using technology at night ruins your sleep and the important brain processes that happen while you rest. Remove your phone and other devices that are used close to your face for at least one hour prior to attempting to sleep.

Additionally, Tristan Harris, from a movement he started by the name “Time Well Spent”  suggest making the following changes:

  • Allow notifications from people, not machines

Most notifications are from machines, not actual people. They keep our phones vibrating to lure us back into apps we don’t really need to be in. Visit Settings > Notifications and turn off all notifications except those from real people– apps like WhatsApp, FB Messenger or Messages.

  • Keep the tools, put mindless choices at a distance.

Limit your first page of apps to just tools– things you use for in-and-out tasks like Maps, Camera, Calendar, Notes, or Lyft. Move the rest of your apps off the first page and into folders.

Launch other apps by typing

Swipe down and type the app you want to open instead of leaving bad habits on the home screen. Typing takes just enough effort to pause and ask, “do I really want to do this?”

On Android you can use the Search box on your home screen.

iOS: For best results, turn off Siri Suggestions (Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Suggestions to off)

  • Charge your device outside the bedroom

Get a separate alarm clock in your bedroom, and charge your phone in another room (or on the other side of the room). This way, you can wake up without getting sucked into your phone before you even get out of bed.

The main thing to remember is that nobody is making us respond so quickly, or respond at all to alerts and notifications. Nobody is enslaved to technology. If you practice waiting and not checking your alerts you will find that the anxiety and mental need to check in will abate with time, and then you will be in control of your technology rather than your technology controlling you.

As we explained in our article “The Illusion of Understanding,” if you think that you understand the workings of social media and how it affects you, you probably don’t.

The Hutch Report

The Retirement Cage – 3 reasons to get out!

By | Health, Money, Psychology

In order to understand retirement and what it means to you, it is necessary to understand where it comes from and why we even have retirement.

Otto Von Bismarck was the Chancellor of Germany back in the early 1880s. During his tenure he encountered a problem.  Marxist unrest was spreading across Europe and some of his own countrymen started calling for socialist reforms. In order to avoid the potential for more radical reforms Bismarck concocted a social insurance program that was unique and had never been seen before,  wherein the national government would contribute to the pensions of nonworking older Germans.

Bismarck announced the idea in 1881, and along with the German Emperor William the First, the pair made their case to the German Parliament (Reichstag), that “those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.” Germany initially chose 70 as its retirement age, and didn’t lower it to 65 until long after Bismarck was dead. The choice for the age of eligibility was actually more of a clever cost-saving measure: it closely matched the average German life expectancy at the time.

In the US, during the Great Depression, elderly Americans rallied behind Francis Townsend, a physician who proposed a government-funded pension plan that would send $200 a month to all citizens over the age of 60 (enough for a comfortable middle class lifestyle) and require them to spend the entire check within 30 days of receiving it.

In 1934, thirty states had old-age pension laws. In about half of those, retirees aged 65 and above were eligible for aid. In the rest, the minimum age was 70. President Roosevelt thought Townsend’s proposal of 60 was too low (and that the whole plan was fiscally irresponsible) but felt that 70 was too extreme, so he pushed for the middle path. When the Social Security Act passed in 1935, it specified 65 as the age at which retirees could receive full benefits. So it was essentially a compromise.

Life expectancy in the 1930s was 58 for men and 62 for women, which suggested that most wouldn’t even live long enough to collect their first Social Security check. According to studies conducted by the World Health Organization current life expectancy levels in the US are 76.5 for men and 81.2 for women.

So now we know where the idea comes from we can look at some of the problems that have evolved.

The Money is Running Out

This is the new Economy and not everything is as it seems. For years, State and local governments have waved generous retirement benefits in front of workers. The workers accepted these offers without stopping to wonder if their state or city could keep its promises when the money came due. Although state governments have many powers, creating money from thin air is not one of them. This is only a power that is granted to the Federal Government. Now that the bills are coming due, the state’s’ inability to keep their word is becoming obvious. The fact is, many of these pension plans are now “underfunded.” This underfunding dilemma can be faced by any type of defined benefit plan, private or public, but it is most acute in governmental and other public plans where political pressures and less rigorous accounting standards have resulted in excessive commitments to employees and retirees, but inadequate contributions. Many states and municipalities across the country now face chronic pension crises.

Illinois is, at the moment, the worst offender and the poster child for what can go wrong. However the problem of public pension programs being underfunded is not confined to Illinois by any means. Other states are in almost as bad shape and thousands of cities and counties also have underfunded pension plans. Some estimates place the national shortfall of state and local public pension funds at about $1 trillion but that is an optimistic view.  A more pessimistic, or realistic, view, places the shortfall closer to $5 trillion. If that higher number is correct, which depends on assumptions about expected future rates of both funding and investment returns, the unfunded pension liability of state and local governments is equal to one quarter of the national debt. Under these more realistic/pessimistic assumptions, Illinois would be over $610 billion short on its pension funding, an amount equal to almost seven years of all state revenue.

To make matters worse, we are living much longer than pension systems were designed to support. The number of years of retirement income that had to be paid in 1960 was about five to eight years of payments, on average. Looking at life expectancy in 2017, we can see that pensioners are already living eight to 11 years longer – and in the case of Japan, the number is as high as 16 years longer. What this means is that pension systems are now having to pay benefits for two to three times longer than they were designed for.

There are three main sources of income during retirement: government-sponsored pensions; work or occupational pension plans; and personal savings. However, because we are living so much longer these days, the gap between savings and what will be needed during retirement is widening, even in countries that have the best-developed pension systems. If your savings account balance is looking sad, you’re not alone. According to a 2016 GOBankingRates survey, 80% of the baby boomer generation, those coming up on retirement, have less than $10,000. 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. What’s more, 34% have no savings at all.

Psychological Effect of Retirement

So now we have determined that relying on a fat pension and savings for your retirement is not the best option. To add to the pain, the actual concept of retirement has in fact been the cause of a variety of psychological effects among retirees. According to a new report released by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), following an initial boost in health, retirement increases your risk of clinical depression by 40 percent while raising your chances of being diagnosed with a physical condition by 60 percent. It also: Reduces your likelihood of being in self-reported excellent or very good health by 40 percent and raises your risk of taking medication for a diagnosed physical condition by 60 percent. The study’s author, who called retirement’s impacts on health “drastic,” suggested a later retirement age may actually be preferable, noting: “New research presented in this paper indicates that being retired decreases physical, mental and self-assessed health. The adverse effects increase as the number of years spent in retirement increases.”

In conclusion, retirement is not actually the “Golden Years” of enjoying life that the marketing of pension funds and plans have always made it out to be. Having a purpose in life is essential. Work, to many of the population is part of that purpose. Take that away and you are actually taking a piece of your life away.

The World Changes

So if you hold the mindset that you can start to enjoy life or travel when you retire and see the world, you may find that you have waited too long. Your physical health may not permit you to do all those things that you had planned throughout your life. You may not have the same motivation or energy level to start ticking off all those things on your bucket list.

The world changes and is forever changing. The twenty-first century began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the global financial crisis of 2008 – with regional, economic, and political instability spreading to many parts of the world. From a financial meltdown in Iceland to political crisis in Brazil, from the destruction of Yemen to the dysfunctional birth of South Sudan, from the rise of nationalism and of religious fundamentalism, to the weakness of international organizations, the last few years have been ripe with new crises. These crises cause the destruction of what were once peaceful nations and force the migration of people to other lands which in turn cause additional economic pressures.

You may have dreamed of seeing Egypt but were waiting for retirement to experience the wonder of the Pyramids, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Well, since the Arab Spring, Egypt may no longer hold the same charm that it did 30 years ago when you talked about your retirement dreams. This is one example of many. Hong Kong has been handed over to the Chinese, China has undergone radical changes, Venezuela seems to be on the verge of a failed state and Syria has been pretty much bombed to smithereens.

Don’t expect to have a perfect situation waiting for you in the future where you are suddenly going to be able to pickup and takeoff to experience all the things you always dreamed of. We have provided three strong examples which clarify why we believe this. This makes for great marketing copy but it is far from the realistic view that we are seeing. Don’t plan for retirement, plan for life and life doesn’t happen after 65, it is happening right now. Live your dreams now, not later.

So, with that, we leave you with this famous quote that has been falsly attributed to John Lennon around 1980:  (In fact, the general expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes.”)

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans”— Reader’s Digest

The trouble is most of us don’t realize this except in retrospect and then life has already happened. Don’t make the same mistake.

The Face of Desensitisation

By | Health, Psychology

I started thinking about this subject just after Halloween. Each Halloween my daughter and I have a little ritual where, like many, we sit down and watch a scary movie. We have watched some classics such as Halloween and the Exorcist. The thing that I have noticed is that her reactions were considerably different then my generation’s was when the movies first came out. The Exorcist, for example, was a movie that affected a lot of people with its content and subject matter. Yet although my daughter thought it was a bit creepy in places it wasn’t really that frightening. The truth is, my daughter is now being exposed to much more than we ever were, which automatically dampens her reaction to such a movie, which is now over 40 years old.

Times are rapidly changing. What was once news, with some form of journalistic integrity, has turned into a thirst for viewership that is so strong that there seems to be a need for bold colors, dramatic music and dynamic headlines to present heinous acts of murder and terrorism that require absolutely no help in getting noticed. The warning, “these images may be disturbing to the viewer”, have become a common occurrence. The more the better and for fear of losing any of the precious viewers to their competition for one minute, the images and headlines are repeated on loop throughout the day, until by chance they are able to pickup on another catastrophic event taking place.

This is not for the sake of distributing the news, this is all for pure entertainment. One can think of it as an ongoing broadcast of a reality show. It is here that the lines of reality and fiction become blurred. The news channels have no need to pay for expensive makeup artists when they can get shots of the real thing, in the form of the injured or strewn body parts as a result of a suicide bomber. Ironically, this feeds perfectly into the strategy at the heart of terrorism, or anybody wishing to get their 15 minutes of fame. Create terrorizing images and the news channels with distribute them freely, on loop throughout the day, to help get the message across.

Does our constant exposure to these images daily begin to desensitize us? What my daughter is exposed to “in prime time” alone, goes far beyond what the movies produced 40 years ago. It is no wonder she is not bothered by it.

The sitcoms, dramas and movies being produced today seem to be raising the bar on what is socially acceptable. The language and innuendos present in most of today’s TV series have become so blatantly obvious that you may as well leave the door open to anything.

The Internet is a fantastic tool for the distribution of so much great educational content, however, as a powerful distribution tool, it is also a powerful channel for many disturbing images, speech tracks and the result of anything any sick mind can imagine. Add that to the social media revolution where the exchange of such ideas and images becomes that much more powerful.

It would be impossible to shelter a child from everything that is harmful that we are exposed to today. Censorship and filters seem to be a losing battle because we then find ourselves in a debate about where the limits of censorship lie and who decides. The best thing I can do is to try and explain things the best I can and to help identify what could be harmful and what to stay away from, in hopes that my child develops a responsible attitude.

However, even in my best efforts I keep wondering if this constant exposure to disturbing content is not somehow desensitizing all of us, including my child. What has to happen for us to become truly shocked into making a change for the better?

It may sound cynical but the recent events in London don’t come close to tipping the scales in that direction. The London event was nothing new. We have seen the events of Paris, Nice and previously London.  After a few weeks, life went on without any drastic changes other than some short-term increased security and lots of bravado talk. The results of 9/11 just resulted in the destruction of a country and a secular war which has caused more destabilization, which provided some content for the major news stations, however the large number of deaths and suicide bombings in the middle east have attracted less viewership so we don’t hear too much about them.  Unless you were one of the unfortunate ones to be directly impacted by the attacks it seems more evident that the general public has become desensitized.  London has been a shock for now, but unless there are fundamental changes in strategies there will most likely be more attacks. These will also be broadcast in loop throughout the day, which will in turn strengthen our desensitisation.

Hopefully we are more feeling than that, and will eventually find the key to reducing the amount of developing hatred and anger in the world, but until then we will probably do what we have always done….make a movie about it.

The Hutch Report

The Google Effect – My daughter googled Galileo and lost her mind!

By | Health, Psychology, Technology

My teenage daughter is like most kids in our society, she has become a slave to her smartphone. Her generation is not alone and is not being targeted because, the truth is, most of us are now guilty of checking these mini containers of all the world’s information multiple times a day.

What made me worry is how her brain development may be reacting to it. She has been brought up in the smartphone generation and therefore becoming dependent on it in so many ways. I was wondering what the effect may be to her having instant answers to all her questions, instant directions, instant entertainment and satisfaction. “Who was Galileo?” BAM! She googled it and had her answer in an eighth of a second.

But is she becoming smarter for it, or is something else happening that we are only now starting to understand. I wanted to be better informed so I did some digging.

The Hutch ReportIn 1998, the year Google officially launched, users were making about 500,000 searches per day. Now, there are more than 2.3 million Google searches per minute. That adds up to more than 100,000,000,000 Google searches per month. For each one, Google takes over 200 factors into account before delivering you the best results to any query in 1/8 of a second. While it is convenient to have the sum of all knowledge at our fingertips, studies are now showing that the “Google effect” is changing the way we think.

Try NOT to forget what I am about to tell you!

We are relying on Google to store knowledge long-term, instead of our own brains. Neuroimaging of frequent Internet users shows twice as much activity in the short term memory as sporadic users during online tasks. Basically, our brain is learning to disregard information found online, and this connection becomes stronger every time we experience it. So the more we use Google, the less likely we are to retain what we see. 

In a 2011 experiment published in Science Magazine, college students remembered less information when they knew they could easily access it later on the computer.  We are now 6 years on from that study and have to think that the results are not getting any better.  Our brains use information stored in the long-term memory to facilitate critical thinking. We need these unique memories to understand and interact with the world around us. If we rely on Google to store our knowledge, we may be losing an important part of our identity.

According to Journalist Nicholas Carr, it is becoming more evident that technology definitely has an effect on our memory. He wrote in his book The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brainsthat if you’re constantly distracted and taking in new information, you’re essentially pushing information into and out of your conscious mind. You’re not attending to it in a way that is necessary for the rich consolidation of memory.

In order to move information from your conscious mind (what’s known as the working memory) into your long-term memory requires a process of memory consolidation that hinges on attentiveness. You think about the information or rehearse it in your mind in order to form a strong memory of it, and in order to connect it to other things that you remember. One study out of Columbia University showed that when people know that they’ll be able to find information online easily, they’re less likely to form a memory of it.

Take this simple test, can you recall what the main news stories were last week? Chances are you are not able to.

Try and concentrate for at least 8 seconds while you read this next passage!

According to psychologists and brain scientists, interruptions have a profound effect on the way we think. It becomes much harder to sustain attention, to think about one thing for a long period of time, and to think deeply when new stimuli are pouring in at us all day long. We seem to be losing our ability to be contemplative and to engage in the kind of deep thinking that requires us to concentrate on one thing.  Now we may be paying the price.

Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms. The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.

Don’t lose your way!

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) used to get you to your destination is making you worse at finding the way alone. Scientists studying what satnavs do to the brain have found that people using them effectively switch off parts of the brain that would otherwise be utilised to simulate different routes and boost navigational skills.

Researchers found that when volunteers in an experiment navigated manually, their hippocampus and prefrontal cortex brain regions had spikes of activity. But these were not seen when the volunteers simply followed satnav instructions.

Pay Attention, Please!

There are also studies suggesting a loss of cognitive control — not only a loss of attention, but a loss of our ability to control our mind and determine what we think about. One researcher from Stanford pointed out that the more you get used to the technology and the constant flow of information that comes through it, it seems that you become less able to figure out what’s important to focus on. Instead, your mind gets attracted just to what’s new rather than what’s important.

Daniel Goleman, the bestselling science writer and author of “Focus” argues that we’ve become a species crippled by distraction and looks at new techniques to help wean children – and adults – off their phones and consoles.

The inability to resist checking email or Facebook rather than focus on the person talking to us leads to what the sociologist Erving Goffman, a masterful observer of social interaction, called an ‘away’, a gesture that tells another person “I’m not interested” in what’s going on here and now.

In “Mind Change,” neuroscientist, entrepreneur and British politician Susan Greenfield argues that our technologies are not only addictive — they are an existential threat. The brain, she writes, has an “evolutionary mandate to adapt to its environment,” and the digital world is changing at too rapid a pace for individuals or government regulations to keep up.

The Hutch Report

Mindfulness Meditation – 10 Lessons learned after one year

By | Health, Psychology

Nobody is more surprised than I that I have been able to sit myself down for 10 minutes a day and lose myself in quiet directed mindfulness meditation. It wasn’t without some bumps and challenges along the way but now it has been 1 year since I started. This is what I learned.

1) It is not that complicated!

I studied a bunch of different forms of meditation. I wasn’t looking for anything that would place me on some spiritual journey or levitate me to some higher plateau. I just wanted something simple that I felt would help me feel better and manage some of life’s stressful situations.

Mindfulness is simply about being mindful of what you’re thinking and deciding where you choose to focus your attention. Ideally, one would choose to focus his or her attention towards compassion, kindness, and optimism. Mindfulness is about deciding to look on the bright side and deciding to be kind to yourself and others. It is not that complicated!

2) It is not that easy!

All this talk about enlightenment sounds great, but this doesn’t happen just because you decide to sit down and meditate for a few minutes. My first few attempts were full of thoughts streaming through my head. Part of me was asking questions while another part was telling myself “shut up, you are trying to meditate.” I made such an effort to try and make it work the first time that I ended up feeling stressed out more than before I started. It is not that easy!

3) Start small

If you create the rules of the game then you have the ability to make it as easy as you can to win. Attempting to sit down for even a half hour in silence was too daunting to me. After having attempted this I discovered that if I tried too hard to make it work that I would quickly give it up.  So I had to make it so I at least felt a sense of accomplishment that would push me to continue. The way to accomplish this was to reduce the amount of time. It worked. Once I felt more comfortable and in control I slowly started to feel the benefits and naturally lengthened the amount of time. It was better to start small.

4) It takes discipline

Meditating everyday for a week, then going a week without felt like going up a step then falling back. I guess taking some quiet time once in a while is better than not at all but I wanted to discover what kind of transformation could really be achieved by a daily meditation practice. As a musician, I was already aware that skills take time to develop. Being able to allow yourself to release tensions and redirect your focus and attention back on track when it gets lost, and do that daily, is a skill, and one that takes discipline.

5) It is easier to be guided

I read some articles and watched some videos. When I felt like was comfortable with the concept I sat down and gave it a try unguided and on my own. It wasn’t a great experience. I did notice, however, that in a few of the videos there was a teacher who was helping to direct everyone.  I quickly came to the conclusion that having some direction would probably be a better option than attempting this on my own. So I headed to the app store!

I found an application called “Headspace” that had quite a few good reviews. So I gave it a try. Headspace was started by Andy Puddicombe. He traveled to the Himalayas where he studied meditation and was eventually ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. He seemed like someone who walked his talk. In addition, he marketed meditation for only 10 minutes a day. Perfect, because I wanted to keep it small.  So I went through the free 10 minute a day guide for 10 days and I was hooked. I am still using it after a year because I realized it is easier to be guided.

6) Not everyday is a success

At the beginning, my mind was wandering more often than not. As Andy explains in the app, this was a perfectly normal occurrence and not something to be fought. Just keep redirecting your attention back to your breath once you realize it has wandered. He helps the listener to do that. When I was able to go through the 10 minutes in complete focus I did feel great. Some days, however, I was more agitated, anxious or stressed and that did make the exercise more frustrating. I just couldn’t keep my mind from thinking of any number of things that happened to be preoccupying me at the time. Although I can see the overwhelming benefits, not everyday is a success.

7) Same time every day is better

As much as I tried to be disciplined, I did miss a few days every once in a while. I would sit down and meditate whenever it occured to me to do so. This wasn’t conduscive to habit forming. I needed a better routine. I picked my favorite chair, to avoid fidgeting, and a spot where I felt most comfortable. I also started to discover that mornings were the best time for me and where I felt I got the most out of it.  Having a fixed time became habit forming to where I didn’t have to remind myself to do it, it just became part of one of my daily routines, such as brushing my teeth. I realized that meditating the same time every day is better.

8) It gets easier over time

After about 8 months I started to realize that I was able to manage my flow of thought better. Those frustrating moments were not coming as often. It was actually becoming addictive. This is the reward of creating a solid foundation and honing a skill. It gets easier over time.

9) The release of pressure, pain and pleasure

One of the center pieces of mindfulness is to notice various tensions that arise in your body. Some, pressure felt in your neck, or a slight pain in your right knee. The goal is not to try and change anything but to observe it, as if you are doing a resume of the state of your body. This is often tension being released and by simply observing it and moving on quite often helps one to dissipate these tensions. I have learned this by experience.

At times I found myself falling asleep. This is the extreme. The best place to be is right at that sweet spot where your body is completely relaxed, your thoughts and attention are controlled. I have felt light headed at times and almost as if I have been given a shot of dopamine. It is kind of similar to that feeling you get when you hit that down-slope on a roller coaster. I am sold, simply because after a year I have felt the release of pressure, pain and pleasure!

10) It works for me…….and maybe for you!

If there is one thing I believe in it is that everyone has to determine their own life recipe. Find and use the things that work for them. A great way to figure that out is by observing the experiences of others. I am against anybody presenting the top things that YOU should do to improve some aspect of your life. I don’t like people preaching practices that they themselves don’t even follow. However, I do believe in learning from others’ experiences. We all try and learn from our parents, at the same time trying not to repeat the mistakes they made.

Mindfulness is not new. It’s part of what makes us human—the capacity to be fully conscious and aware. Unfortunately, we are usually only in this state for brief periods of time, and are soon reabsorbed into familiar daydreams and personal narratives. The capacity for sustained moment-to-moment awareness, especially in the midst of emotional turmoil, is a special skill. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned. Mindfulness works for me……..and maybe it will work for you!