A new study is making waves in the worlds of tech and psychology by questioning the basis of thousands of papers and analyses with conflicting conclusions on the effect of screen time on well-being. The researchers claim is that the science doesn’t agree because it’s bad science. So is screen time good or bad? It’s not that simple.
The conclusions only make the mildest of claims about screen time, essentially that as defined it has about as much effect on well-being as potato consumption. Instinctively we may feel that not to be true; technology surely has a greater effect than that — but if it does, we haven’t found a way to judge it accurately.
The paper, by Oxford scientists Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski, amounts to a sort of king-sized meta-analysis of studies that come to some conclusion about the relationship between technology and well-being among young people.
Their concern was that the large data sets and statistical methods employed by researchers looking into the question — for example, thousands and thousands of survey responses interacting with weeks of tracking data for each respondent — allowed for anomalies or false positives to be claimed as significant conclusions. It’s not that people are doing this on purpose necessarily, only that it’s a natural result of the approach many are taking.
“Unfortunately,” write the researchers in the paper, “the large number of participants in these designs means that small effects are easily publishable and, if positive, garner outsized press and policy attention.” (We’re a part of that equation, of course, but speaking for myself at least I try to include a grain of salt with such studies, indeed with this one as well.)
In order to show this, the researchers essentially redid the statistical analysis for several of these large data sets (Orben explains the process here), but instead of only choosing one result to present, they collected all the plausible ones they could find.
For example, imagine a study where the app use of a group of kids was tracked, and they were surveyed regularly on a variety of measures. The resulting (fictitious, I hasten to add) paper might say it found kids who use Instagram for more than two hours a day are three times as likely to suffer depressive episodes or suicidal ideations. What the paper doesn’t say, and which this new analysis could show, is that the bottom quartile is far more likely to suffer from ADHD, or the top five percent reported feeling they had a strong support network.
In the new study, any and all statistically significant results like those I just made up are detected and compared with one another. Maybe a study came out six months later that found the exact opposite in terms of ADHD but also didn’t state it as a conclusion.
Ultimately what the Oxford study found was that there is no consistent good or bad effect, and although a very slight negative effect was noted, it was small enough that factors like having a single parent or needing to wear glasses were far more important.
Yet, and this is important to understand, the study does not conclude that technology has no negative or positive effect; such a broad conclusion would be untenable on its face. The data it rounds up are (as some experts point out with no ill will toward the paper) simply inadequate to the task and technology use is too variable to reduce to a single factor. Its conclusion is that studies so far have in fact been inconclusive and we need to go back to the drawing board.
“The nuanced picture provided by these results is in line with previous psychological and epidemiological research suggesting that the associations between digital screen-time and child outcomes are not as simple as many might think,” the researchers write.
Could, for example, social media use affect self-worth, either positively or negatively? Could be! But the ways that scientists have gone about trying to find out have, it seems, been inadequate.
In the future, the authors suggest, researchers should not only design their experiments more carefully, but be more transparent about their analysis. By committing to document all significant links in the data set they create, whether they fit the narrative or hypothesis or go against it, researchers show that they have not rigged the study from the start. Designing and iterating with this responsibility in mind will produce better studies and perhaps even some real conclusions.
What should parents, teachers, siblings and others take away from this? Not anything about screen time or whether tech is good or bad, certainly. Rather let it be another instance of the frequently learned lesson that science is a work in progress and must be considered very critically before application.
Your kid is an individual, and things like social media and technology affect them differently from other kids; it may very well be that your informed opinion of their character and habits, tempered with that of a teacher or psychologist, is far more accurate than the “latest study.”
Orben and Przybylski’s study, “The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use,” appears in today’s issue of the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
Audio-Technica true wireless earbuds case recalled over fire risk
Audio-Technica, a company known for its high-end personal audio devices, has recalled the charging cases for its ATH-CK3TW true wireless earbuds after receiving multiple reports of overheating ‘incidents.’ The recall was recently highlighted by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which notes that consumers who own the case can get it replaced for free.
The Audio-Technica ATH-CK3TW true wireless earbuds were announced in September 2019. As with other true wireless headphones on the market, the product involves two individual earpieces, as well as a charging case that contains a battery for recharging the earbuds. Consumers charge the case using a USB cable.
In a new post on its website, the US CPSC reports that about 7,450 charging cases sold as part of the ATH-CK3TW model have been recalled due to a risk of overheating, which may lead to a fire. These cases are made of plastic and sold in multiple colors; Audio-Technica will replace regardless of the shade, though.
Consumers who own a pair of true wireless Audio-Technica earbuds can check the model number on the back of the charging case. Assuming you have a recalled unit, you should stop using it immediately and get in touch with Audio-Technica, which will provide you with a prepaid shipping label to return the case to the company.
Once the case is received, the company will ship the consumer a replacement case that’ll work with their earpieces. Though there haven’t been any injuries reported in association with this recall, the company notes that four cases of overheating happened outside of the US and that damage to both the charging surface and case resulted.
Oculus Quest subscriptions roll out for games and apps
Oculus today announced that it’s now allowing developers to offer subscriptions to their apps. While perhaps not the best fit for gaming – which Oculus was centered around at the beginning of its life – the company says that by offering subscriptions, it can offer monetization options that make Quest a better fit for other types of apps. Obviously there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for subscription offerings, but in today’s announcement, Oculus listed several different apps that will offer them to start.
There are six different apps that are adding subscriptions today: FitXR, Rec Room, Tribe XR, TRIPP, vSpatial, and VZfit. Oculus says that content you’ve previously purchased in these apps will continue to be accessible after these subscriptions go live, so it sounds like developers won’t be allowed to remove content that’s already been paid for and stick it behind a subscription.
In FitXR, for instance, Oculus says that subscribers will get a new instructor-led class from the existing Box and Dance studios and the upcoming HIIT studio each day, along with access to multiplayer. Those who already purchased FitXR will keep the content they’ve paid for (which includes Add-On packs). While newcomers to the app will get a seven-day free trial to the FitXR subscription service, those who already own the app will get a 90-day trial.
With Rec Room, we see something entirely different. While the base app will continue to be free, a subscription called Rec Room Plus will be offered as something of a premium tier for those who want it. The monthly subscription will net users 6,000 tokens each month – which translates to $10 of real world cash – along with weekly four-star items and access to a special section of the store that’s reserved for subscribers.
Ultimately, what you get with a subscription depends on the app – some might require a subscription to access the app, while others might just offer the subscription as a bonus for those interested in getting some extra content. Oculus says that you’ll be able to cancel subscriptions at any time. To read more about the subscriptions being offered by these initial six apps, check out today’s blog post on the Oculus website.
Apple Fitness+ adds workouts for beginners plus older and pregnant users
Apple Fitness+ is gaining new workouts today, adding specific sessions for pregnancy and that target older adults and beginners. It’s part of a workout boost for the Apple Watch-centered subscription fitness system, and will also include a new Time to Walk session with Jane Fonda.
Announced last year, Fitness+ opened up its guided sessions in December 2020. It relies on exercise tracking through the Apple Watch, with tutorials and classes delivered via a variety of the company’s screens, such as Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone.
One of the challenges early-adopters have found, particularly those just getting into fitness, is trying to get up to speed. That’s something Apple is addressing today, with new workouts for beginners. Offered across the Yoga, Strength, and HIIT workout types, they consist of low-impact exercises and spend more time on how to perfect form to build good habits.
Much in the same way, the new workouts for older adults focus on the specific needs of older people trying to get – or stay – fit. They center on strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and mobility, Apple says, with a series of eight sessions led by trainer Molly Fox, with guest appearances by Gregg Cook for Strength, Dustin Brown for Yoga, Bakari Williams for HIIT, and Jhon Gonzalez for Dance.
Each workout is 10 minutes long, and many can be completed with either bodyweight or a light dumbbell, Apple says. Alternatively, they may use a chair or involve leaning against the wall. They can also be combined with other Fitness+ workouts, carrying those modifications over.
Finally, there’s a new workouts for pregnancy series. 10 sessions – covering Strength, Core, and Mindful Cooldown – will be led by Betina Gozo alongside trainers Emily Fayette and Anja Garcia, each 10 minutes in length. They’re designed, Apple says, to suit any stage of pregnancy along with any fitness level. Again, as with the older fitness sessions, they also include suggestions on how to modify the more general Fitness+ workouts in ways to accommodate those who are pregnant.
Beyond the three specific categories, there are now two new trainers: one in the Yoga section, and the other in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). From April 19, meanwhile, Jane Fonda’s Time to Walk session will be added. That takes the form of an audio interview with paired walking instructions.
Apple Fitness+ is currently available in the US, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK. Three months access is bundled with a new Apple Watch Series 3 or later, while existing owners can try it free for a month. After that, it’s $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year – for up to six family members to share – or bundle as part of the $29.95 Apple One Premiere plan.
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