‘Hi, my name is ___, and I’m addicted to tech’
By MARTHA IRVINE
AP National Writer
Wednesday, December 26
BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) — The young men sit in chairs in a circle in a small meeting room in suburban Seattle and introduce themselves before they speak. It is much like any other 12-step meeting — but with a twist.
“Hi, my name is,” each begins. Then something like, “and I’m an internet and tech addict.”
The eight who’ve gathered here are beset by a level of tech obsession that’s different than it is for those of us who like to say we’re addicted to our phones or an app or some new show on a streaming video service. For them, tech gets in the way of daily functioning and self-care. We’re talking flunk-your-classes, can’t-find-a-job, live-in-a-dark-hole kinds of problems, with depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts part of the mix.
There’s Christian, a 20-year-old college student from Wyoming who has a traumatic brain injury. His mom urged him to seek help because he was “medicating” his depression with video games and marijuana.
Seth, a 28-year-old from Minnesota, used video games and any number of things to try to numb his shame after a car he was driving crashed, seriously injuring his brother.
Wes, 21, an Eagle Scout and college student from Michigan, played video games 80 hours a week, only stopping to eat every two to three days. He lost 25 pounds and failed his classes.
Across town there is another young man who attended this meeting, before his work schedule changed — and his work places him squarely at risk of temptation.
He does cloud maintenance for a suburban Seattle tech company. For a self-described tech addict, this is like working in the lion’s den, laboring for the very industry that peddles the games, videos and other online content that long has been his vice.
“I’m like an alcoholic working at a bar,” the 27-year-old laments.
“The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe,” Cosette Rae says of the barrage of tech. A former developer in the tech world, she heads a Seattle area rehab center called reSTART Life, one of the few residential programs in the nation specializing in tech addiction.
Use of that word — addiction — when it comes to devices, online content and the like, is still debated in the mental health world. But many practitioners agree that tech use is increasingly intertwined with the problems of those seeking help.
An American Academy of Pediatrics review of worldwide research found that excessive use of video games alone is a serious problem for as many as 9 percent of young people. This summer, the World Health Organization also added “gaming disorder” to its list of afflictions. A similar diagnosis is being considered in the United States.
It can be a taboo subject in an industry that frequently faces criticism for using “persuasive design,” intentionally harnessing psychological concepts to make tech all the more enticing. That’s why the 27-year-old who works at the tech company spoke on condition that his identity not be revealed. He fears that speaking out could hurt his fledgling career.
“I stay in the tech industry because I truly believe that technology can help other people,” the young man says. He wants to do good.
But as his co-workers huddle nearby, talking excitedly about their latest video game exploits, he puts on his headphones, hoping to block the frequent topic of conversation in this tech-centric part of the world.
Even the computer screen in front of him could lead him astray. But he digs in, typing determinedly on his keyboard to refocus on the task at hand.
The demons are not easy to wrestle for this young man, who was born in 1991, the very year the World Wide Web went public.
As a toddler, he sat on his dad’s lap as they played simple video games on a Mac Classic II computer. Together in their Seattle area home, they browsed the internet on what was then a ground-breaking new service called Prodigy. The sound of the bouncy, then high-pitched tones of the dial-up connection are etched in his memory.
By early elementary school, he got his first Super Nintendo system and fell in love with “Yoshi’s Story,” a game where the main character searched for “lucky fruit.”
As he grew, so did one of the world’s major tech hubs. Led by Microsoft, it rose from the nondescript suburban landscape and farm fields here, just a short drive from the home he still shares with his mom, who split from her husband when their only child was 11.
The boy dreamt of being part of this tech boom and, in eighth grade, wrote a note to himself. “I want to be a computer engineer,” it read.
Very bright and with a head full of facts and figures, he usually did well in school. He also took an interest in music and acting but recalls how playing games increasingly became a way to escape life — the pain he felt, for instance, when his parents divorced or when his first serious girlfriend broke his heart at age 14. That relationship still ranks as his longest.
“Hey, do you wanna go out?” friends would ask.
“No, man, I got plans. I can’t do it this weekend. Sorry,” was his typical response, if he answered at all.
“And then I’d just go play video games,” he says of his adolescent “dark days,” exacerbated by attention deficit disorder, depression and major social anxiety.
Even now, if he thinks he’s said something stupid to someone, his words are replaced with a verbal tick – “Tsst, tsst” — as he replays the conversation in his head.
“There’s always a catalyst and then it usually bubbles up these feelings of avoidance,” he says. “I go online instead of dealing with my feelings.”
He’d been seeing a therapist since his parents’ divorce. But attending college out of state allowed more freedom and less structure, so he spent even more time online. His grades plummeted, forcing him to change majors, from engineering to business.
Eventually, he graduated in 2016 and moved home. Each day, he’d go to a nearby restaurant or the library to use the Wi-Fi, claiming he was looking for a job but having no luck.
Instead, he was spending hours on Reddit, an online forum where people share news and comments, or viewing YouTube videos. Sometimes, he watched online porn.
Even now, his mom doesn’t know that he lied. “I still need to apologize for that,” he says, quietly.
The apologies will come later, in Step 9 of his 12-step program, which he found with the help of a therapist who specializes in tech addiction. He began attending meetings of the local group called Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous in the fall of 2016 and landed his current job a couple months later.
For a while now, he’s been stuck on Step 4 — the personal inventory — a challenge to take a deep look at himself and the source of his problems. “It can be overwhelming,” he says.
The young men at the recent 12-step meeting understand the struggle.
“I had to be convinced that this was a ‘thing,’” says Walker, a 19-year-old from Washington whose parents insisted he get help after video gaming trashed his first semester of college. He and others from the meeting agreed to speak only if identified by first name, as required by the 12-step tenets.
That’s where facilities like reSTART come in. They share a group home after spending several weeks in therapy and “detoxing” at a secluded ranch. One recent early morning at the ranch outside Carnation, Washington, an 18-year-old from California named Robel was up early to feed horses, goats and a couple of farm cats — a much different routine than staying up late to play video games. He and other young men in the house also cook meals for one another and take on other chores.
Eventually, they write “life balance plans,” committing to eating well and regular sleep and exercise. They find jobs and new ways to socialize, and many eventually return to college once they show they can maintain “sobriety” in the real world. They make “bottom line” promises to give up video games or any other problem content, as well as drugs and alcohol, if those are issues. They’re also given monitored smartphones with limited function — calls, texts and emails and access to maps.
“It’s more like an eating disorder because they have to learn to use tech,” just as anorexics need to eat, says Hilarie Cash, chief clinical officer and another co-founder at reSTART, which opened nearly a decade ago. They’ve since added an adolescent program and will soon offer outpatient services because of growing demand.
The young tech worker, who grew up just down the road, didn’t have the funds to go to such a program — it’s not covered by insurance, because tech addiction is not yet an official diagnosis.
But he, too, has apps on his phone that send reports about what he’s viewing to his 12-step sponsor, a fellow tech addict named Charlie, a 30-year-old reSTART graduate.
At home, the young man also persuaded his mom to get rid of Wi-Fi to lessen the temptation. Mom struggles with her own addiction — over-eating — so she’s tried to be as supportive as she can.
It hasn’t been easy for her son, who still relapses every month or two with an extended online binge. He’s managed to keep his job. But sometimes, he wishes he could be more like his co-workers, who spend a lot of their leisure time playing video games and seem to function just fine.
“Deep down, I think there’s a longing to be one of those people,” Charlie says.
That’s true, the young man concedes. He still has those days when he’s tired, upset or extremely bored — and he tests the limits.
He tells himself he’s not as bad as other addicts. Charlie knows something’s up when his calls or texts aren’t returned for several days, or even weeks.
“Then,” the young man says, “I discover very quickly that I am actually an addict, and I do need to do this.”
Having Charlie to lean on helps. “He’s a role model,” he says.
“He has a place of his own. He has a dog. He has friends.”
That’s what he wants for himself.
Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous: http://www.netaddictionanon.com
reSTART Life: https://netaddictionrecovery.com
Children and Screens: http://www.childrenandscreens.com
Martha Irvine, an AP national writer and visual journalists, can be reached at mirvineap.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
Kevin Spacey is charged with groping a young man
By MARK PRATT and ANDREW DALTON
Wednesday, December 26
BOSTON (AP) — Kevin Spacey has been charged with groping the 18-year-old son of a Boston TV anchor in 2016 — the first criminal case brought against the Oscar-winning actor since his career collapsed amid a string of sexual misconduct allegations over a year ago.
Spacey, 59, is due in court Jan. 7 on the resort island of Nantucket to be arraigned on a charge of indecent assault and battery, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said in a statement Monday. Spacey could get up to five years in prison if convicted.
A criminal complaint was issued by a clerk magistrate at a hearing Thursday, O’Keefe said.
Shortly after the charge became public, Spacey posted a video on YouTube titled “Let Me Be Frank,” breaking a public silence of more than a year.
In a monologue delivered in the voice of Frank Underwood, his character on Netflix’s “House of Cards” who was killed off after the sexual misconduct allegations emerged, he said: “Of course some believed everything and have just been waiting with bated breath to hear me confess it all; they’re just dying to have me declare that everything they said is true and I got what I deserved. … I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the thing I didn’t do.”
He added, “Soon enough, you will know the full truth.” The three-minute video ended with a burst of cliffhanger music.
A spokeswoman for the actor did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Former news anchor Heather Unruh came forward in November 2017 to say the actor stuck his hand down the pants of her son, who was 18 at the time, and grabbed his genitals at the Club Car Restaurant on Nantucket in July 2016. Her son fled the restaurant when Spacey went to use the bathroom, Unruh said at the time.
Unruh said her son didn’t report the assault right away because he was embarrassed.
“The complainant has shown a tremendous amount of courage in coming forward,” Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for Unruh’s son, said in a statement Monday. “Let the facts be presented, the relevant law applied and a just and fair verdict rendered.”
Spacey remains under investigation on suspicion of sexual assault in Los Angeles for an incident that allegedly occurred in 2016. Prosecutors declined to file charges over a 1992 allegation because the statute of limitations had run out.
He has also faced accusations of sexual misconduct from his time as artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre.
The two-time Oscar winner was among the earliest and biggest names to be ensnared in the #MeToo movement that was sparked by sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.
His first accuser, actor Anthony Rapp, said Spacey climbed on top of him on a bed when Rapp was 14 and Spacey 26. Spacey said he did not remember such an encounter but apologized if the allegations were true. Spacey also used the statement to disclose he is gay.
Other accusers followed Rapp’s lead.
Spacey was subsequently fired from “House of Cards,” the political drama in which he starred for five seasons, and his performance as the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty was cut from the completed movie “All the Money in the World” and reshot with actor Christopher Plummer. Some other projects he was involved in were shelved.
The case against Spacey represents a rare criminal prosecution in the #MeToo era. Weinstein is awaiting trial in New York, but many other cases have been too old to prosecute, and some accusers have declined to cooperate with authorities.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles.
Women in tech suffer because of American myth of meritocracy
April 24, 2018
Author: Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Visiting Associate Professor of Engineering, Brown University
Disclosure statement: Banu Ozkazanc-Pan receives funding from The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The American dream is built on the notion that the U.S. is a meritocracy. Americans believe success in life and business can be earned by anyone willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve it, or so they say.
Thus, Americans commonly believe that those who are successful deserve to be so and those who aren’t are equally deserving of their fate – despite growing evidence that widening inequalities in income, wealth, labor and gender play a major role in who makes it and who doesn’t.
And this very fact – that Americans believe their society is a meritocracy – is the biggest threat to equality, particularly when it comes to gender, as research by myself and others shows.
The meaning of ‘meritocracy’
Gender inequality is pervasive in American society.
Women in the U.S. continue to experience gender bias, sexual harassment and little progress in relation to equitable wages. Top positions in government and the business sector remain stubbornly male.
At the same time, 75 percent of Americans say they believe in meritocracy. This belief persists despite evidence that we tend to use it to explain actions that preserve the status quo of gender discrimination rather than reverse it.
This myth is so powerful, it influences our behaviors.
Entrepreneurship is an area where the myths and realities of the American meritocracy come to a head.
In the U.S., women own 39 percent of all privately owned businesses but receive only around 4 percent of venture capital funding. Put another way, male-led ventures receive 96 percent of all funding.
Yet the meritocracy myth, which my research shows has a stronghold in the world of entrepreneurship, means that women are constantly told that all they have to do to get more of that $22 billion or so in venture capital funding is make better pitches or be more assertive.
The assumption is that women aren’t trying hard enough or doing the right things to get ahead, not that the way venture capitalists offer funding is itself unfair.
Another explanation for the lack of funding for women is pinned on the “pipeline” problem. That is, women just aren’t interested in the fields that form the backbone of the industry – science, technology, engineering and math.
Thus, if more women entered STEM fields, there would be more women entrepreneurs, and more money would flow to them. Pipeline explanations assume that there are no obstacles preventing women from becoming entrepreneurs in technology.
Yet, we know the opposite is true. According to technology historian Marie Hicks and her book “Programmed Inequality,” women in tech were pushed out by men.
Research I’ve conducted with management professor Susan Clark Muntean on entrepreneur support organizations, such as accelerators, shows that they often engage in outreach and recruitment tactics that benefit men rather than women. This is further supported by survey data from Techstars, one of the best-known and respected tech accelerators in the world. About 4 in 5 companies that have gone through their programs are white and almost 9 in 10 are male.
And yet these tech accelerators are guided by an implicit understanding that gender-neutral outreach and recruitment practices rather than targeted ones will bring in the “best” people. This notion is often expressed as “Our doors are open to everyone” to indicate that they do not discriminate.
Ironically, many organizations in the tech sector adopt this idea because they believe it is gender-neutral and, thus, unbiased.
Yet claiming to be gender-neutral prevents organizations from recognizing that their practices are actually biased. Most outreach and recruitment takes place through word-of-mouth, alumni referrals and personal networks of accelerator leadership, which are predominantly composed of males.
These approaches often bring in more of the same: white male entrepreneurs rather than diverse professionals. As a result, women do not have equal access to resources in entrepreneurial ecosystems.
And all this is despite the fact that data on returns show venture-backed tech startups with women at the helm outperform those led by men.
The first step to solving this problem is for tech startups, investors and accelerators to realize that what they call meritocracy is in fact itself gender-biased and results in mostly white men gaining access to resources and funding. By continuing to believe in meritocracy and maintaining practices associated with it, gender equality will remain a distant goal.
The next step is to move away from gender-neutral approaches and instead adopt “gender-aware,” proactive measures to change unfair practices. This includes setting concrete goals to achieve gender balance, examining the gender composition of boards, committees and other influential groups in the organization, and assessing the tools and channels used for outreach, recruitment and support of entrepreneurs.
The return on investment in gender equality is clear: Supporting and investing in businesses started by half the world’s population will create thriving societies and sustainable economies. And it starts with male allies who want to be part of the solution and recognize that meritocracy, as society currently defines it, isn’t the way to go.
Russia: Israeli strike on Syria threatened civilian flights
Wednesday, December 26
BEIRUT (AP) — The Russian military on Wednesday criticized an alleged Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital, saying it has endangered civilian flights.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that six Israeli F-16 jets launched the “provocative” raid at the moment when two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a “direct threat” to the aircraft.
Konashenkov said the Syrian military didn’t fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets. He added that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
Konashenkov said the Syrian air defense forces shot down 14 of the 16 precision-guided bombs dropped by the Israeli jets, while the remaining two hit a Syrian military depot 7 kilometers (about 4.3 miles) west of Damascus, injuring three Syrian soldiers.
It wasn’t clear if the Syrian military used any of the advanced S-300 air defense missile systems that Russia delivered in October to beef up its air defenses. The move followed the Sept. 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli air raid, an incident that strained previously warm ties between Russia and Israel.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry in a statement Wednesday accused Israel of exacerbating the crisis in the country and standing in the way of the government’s war on terrorism.
In messages sent out to the U.N. secretary-general and the president of the U.N. Security Council, the ministry said that the Israeli airstrike wouldn’t have been launched if it wasn’t for what it called “unlimited” U.S. support for Israel.
Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria, most of them believed to have been aimed at Iranian arms shipments to the Hezbollah militant group. Both Iran and Hezbollah have been fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that he will not allow archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in postwar Syria.
Speaking at a military ceremony Wednesday, Netanyahu did not directly mention the alleged airstrike. But he repeated his position that he will not allow archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, and said Israel’s air force has unmatched capabilities and can reach arenas “near and far, very far.”
“We are not prepared to accept the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, which is directed against us. We will act against it vigorously and continuously, including during the current period,” he told a graduation ceremony of new air force pilots.
He said President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria “will not change our policy.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said Tuesday’s Israeli strike targeted three positions south of Damascus that are arms depots for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and Iranian forces.