Innovation is Dangerous & Gaming Causes Asperger’s

GamerTherapist blog is on vacation and will return with new posts after Labor Day.  In the meantime, here is a reader favorite:

At its heart, diagnosis is about exerting control.  Clinicians want to get some sense of control in understanding a problem.  We link diagnosis to prognosis to control our expectations of how likely and how much we will see a change in the patient’s condition.  Insurance companies want to get a handle on how much to spend on who.  Schools want to control access to resources and organize their student body.  And with the current healthcare situation, the government is sure to use diagnosis as a major part of the criteria in determining who gets what kind of care.

Therapists and Educators do not like to think of ourselves as controlling people.  But we often inadvertently attempt to exert control over our patients and entire segments of the population, by defining something as a problem and then locating it squarely in the individual we are “helping.”

This week has been one of those weeks where I have heard from several different colleagues about workshops they are attending where the presenters are linking Asperger’s with Gaming Addiction:  Not in the sense of “Many people on the Autism Spectrum find success and motivation through the use of video games,” but rather in the sense of “excessive gaming is prevalent in the autistic spectrum community.”

This has always frustrated me, for several reasons, and I decided its time to elaborate on them again:

1. Correlation does not imply Causation.  Although this is basic statistics 101 stuff, therapists and educators continue to make this mistake over and over.  Lots of people with Asperger’s play video games, this is true.  This should not surprise us, because lots of people play video games!  97% of all adolescent boys and 94% of adolescent girls, according to the Pew Research Center.  But we love to make connections, and we love the idea that we are “in the know.”  I can’t tell you how many times when I worked in education and clinics I heard talk of people were “suspected” of having Asperger’s because they liked computers and did not make eye contact.  Really.  If a kiddo didn’t look at the teacher, and liked to spend time on the computer, a suggested diagnosis of Autism couldn’t be far behind.  We like to see patterns in life, even oversimplified ones.

2. Causation often DOES imply bias.  Have you ever stopped to wonder what causes “neurotypical” behavior?  Or what causes heterosexuality for that matter.  Probably not.  We usually try to look for the causation of things we are busily pathologizing in people.  We want everyone to fit within the realm of what the unspoken majority has determined as normal.  Our education system is still prone to be designed like a little factory.  We want to have our desks in rows, our seats assigned, and our tests standardized.  So if your sensory input is a little different, or your neurology atypical, you get “helped.”  Your behavior is labeled as inappropriate if it diverges, and you are taught that you do not have and need to learn social skills.

Educators, parents, therapists and partners of folks on the Austism Spectrum, please repeat this mantra 3 times:

It is not good social skills to tell someone they do not have good social skills.

By the same token, technology, and video games, are not bad or abnormal either.  Don’t you see that it is this consensual attitude that there is something “off” about kids with differences or gamers or geeks that silently telegraphs to school bullies that certain kids are targets?  Yet, when an adolescent has no friends and is bullied it is often considered understandable because they have “poor social skills and spend too much time on the computer.”  Of course, many of the same kids are successfully socializing online through these games, and are active members of guilds where the stuff they hear daily in school is not tolerated on guild chat.

Let’s do a little experiment:  How about I forbid you to go to your book discussion group, poker night, or psychoanalytic institute.  Instead, you need to spend all of your time with the people at work who annoy you, gossip about you and make your life miserable.  Sorry, but it is for your own good.  You need to learn to get along with them, because they are a part of your real life.  You can’t hide in rooms with other weirdos who like talking about things that never happened or happened a long time ago; or hide in rooms with other people that like to spend hours holding little colored pieces of cardboard, sort them, and exchange them with each other for money; or hide in rooms where people interpret dreams and talk about “the family romance.”

I’m sure you get my point.  We have forgotten how little personal power human beings have before they turn 18.  So even if playing video games was a sign of Asperger’s, we need to reconsider our idea that there is something “wrong” with neuro-atypical behaviors.  There isn’t.

A lot of the work I have done with adults on the spectrum has been to help them debrief the trauma of the first 20 years of their lives.  I’ve had several conversations where we’ve realized that they are afraid to ask me or anyone questions about how to do things, because they worried that asking the question was inappropriate or showed poor social skills.  Is that really what you want our children to learn in school and in treatment?  That it is not ok to ask questions?  What a recipe for a life of loneliness and fear!

If you aren’t convinced, please check out this list of famous people with ASD.  They include Actors (Daryl Hannah,) bankers, composers, rock stars, a royal prince and the creator of Pokemon.  Not really surprising when you think about innovation.

3.  Innovation is Dangerous.  Innovation, like art, requires you to want things to be different than the way they are.  Those are the kids that don’t like to do math “that way,” or are seen as weird.  These are the “oversensitive” ones.  These are the ones who spend a lot of time in fantasy, imagining a world that is different.  These are the people I want to have over for hot chocolate and talk to, frankly.

But in our world, innovation is dangerous.  There are unspoken social contracts that support normalcy and bureaucracy (have you been following Congress lately?)  And there are hundreds of our colleagues who are “experts” in trying to get us all marching in lockstep, even if that means killing a different drummer.  When people try to innovate, they are mocked, fired from their jobs, beaten up, put down and ignored.  It takes a great deal of courage to innovate.  The status quo is not neutral, it actively tries to grind those who are different down.

People who are fans of technology, nowadays that means internet and computing, have always been suspect, and treated as different or out of touch with reality.  They spend “too much time on the computer,” we think, until they discover the next cool thing, or crack a code that will help fight HIV.  Only after society sees the value of what they did do they get any slack.

Stop counting the hours your kid is playing video games and start asking them what they are playing and what they like about it.  Stop focusing exclusively on the “poor social skills” of the vulnerable kids and start paying attention to bullies, whether they be playground bullies or experts.  Stop worrying about what causes autism and start worrying about how to make the world a better place for people with it.

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Guild Wars: The Conservative Attack on Online Therapy

Commercial-routes

“European commerce during the Dark Ages was limited and stifled by the existence of a multitude of small kingdoms that were independently regulated and who suppressed the movement of goods across their borders through a confusing and inconsistent morass of taxation, tariff, and regulation. This forced merchants to find another solution to move their goods, one that would avoid the strangulation that resulted from this cumbersome regulatory model. These merchants chose to move their goods by sea without being subject to the problems that were created by this feudal and archaic design, a move that changed the world. The little kingdoms took hundreds of years to catch up.”

–Harris, E., & Younggren, J. N. Risk management in the digital world.

Keeping up with policy is not my favorite thing:  But if I am to continue to be a consultant to therapists building their business and an educator on integrating technology into social work practice, it is part of the prep work.  So when a recent client asked me a question about licensure and online therapy in our Commonwealth of Massachusetts I surfed on over to our Division of Professional Licensure to take a look.  Good thing I did, and a lesson for all of you thought leaders and innovators out there, regardless of what state you live in.

There wasn’t much about technology, except for the interesting fact that the past several Board Meeting minutes made mention of a Committee discussion open to the public on “E-practice policy.”  I assumed (correctly it turns out) that this meant that the Social Work Board was formulating a policy, so I reached out to the Division and asked some general questions about what it was going to look like.  The answer was prompt and pretty scary.

The representative stated in her email to me that the “Board ​feels ​as ​if ​the ​use ​of ​electronic ​means ​should ​be ​employed ​as ​a ​last ​resort ​out ​of ​absolute ​necessity ​and ​it ​is ​not ​encouraged. ​The ​social ​worker ​would ​have ​the ​burden ​of ​proof ​that ​electronic ​means ​were ​employed ​as ​a ​last ​resort ​out ​of ​absolute ​necessity.”

I have several concerns about this.

Before elaborating on them, I want to explain that my concerns are informed by my experience as a clinical social worker who has used online therapy successfully for several years, as well as an educator nationwide on the thoughtful use of technology and social work practice.  I have had the opportunity to present on this topic at a number of institutions including Harvard Medical School and have created the first graduate course on this topic for social workers at Boston College.  In short, this issue is probably the most defining interest and area of study in my career as a social work clinician, educator and public speaker.

I also am a believer in regulation, which is why I have been licensed by the Board of Licensure in Oregon, and am in process of similar applications in several states, including CA, and NY, so that I may practice legitimately in those jurisdictions. I am a very concerned stakeholder in telemedicine and here are only a few of my concerns about a policy of “extenuating-circumstances-only-and-be-ready-to-prove-it:”

 

  1. E-Therapy is an evidence-based practice.  It has been found to be extremely efficacious in a number of peer-reviewed studies, over 100 of which can be found at  http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~azy/refthrp.htm .  In fact, telemedicine has been found to have comparable efficacy to in-office treatment of eating disorders (Mitchell et al, 2008,) childhood depression (Nelson et al, 2006,) and psychosocial case management of diabetes (Trief et al, 2007) among others.   To limit an efficacious modality of treatment by saying it needs to be used only in an “extenuating” circumstance or as a last resort which is discouraged would be a breathtaking reach and troublesome precedent on the part of the Board, which has not been done with any other treatment modality to the best of my knowledge.  Telemedicine was also endorsed by the World Health Organization 3 years ago.  And as I wrote this post, the University of Zurich released research showing online therapy is as good as traditional face-to-face therapy, and possibly better in some cases (Birgit, 2013.)
  2. To place and require a burden on the individual social worker to account for why this treatment modality is justified by necessity of extenuating circumstances also raises the issues of parity and access.  Providers familiar with the issue of mental health parity will hopefully see the parallels here.  Clinical social workers for example may become more reluctant to work with patients requiring adaptive technology if they realize that they could be held to a higher level of scrutiny and documentation than their counterparts who do not use online technology.  Even though the Board would possibly deem those circumstances “extenuating” it would require an extra layer of process and bureaucracy that could have the side effect of discouraging providers from taking on such patients.
  3. Insurers such as Tricare and the providers in the military are increasingly allowing for reimbursement for telemedicine; and videoconferencing software is  becoming more encrypted and in line with HIPAA.  While these should not be the reasons that drive telemedicine in social work, we should consider that a growing segment of the population finds it a reputable form of service delivery.
  4. Such policies require input from people with expertise in clinical practice, the law,  technology, and the integration of the three.  When I asked about whether any members of the Board had experience with the use of different newer technologies in clinical practice or how to integrate them, I was informed that “the ​Board ​is ​comprised ​of ​members ​with ​diverse ​backgrounds. ​They ​have ​reviewed ​the ​policies ​and ​procedures ​for ​electronic ​means ​for ​many ​other ​jurisdictions ​as ​well ​as ​the ​NASW ​and ​ASWB ​Standards ​for ​Technology ​and ​Social ​Work ​Practice ​in ​addition ​to ​the ​policies ​set ​forth ​for ​Psychologists, ​LMHC’s ​and ​LMFT’s ​in ​MA.”

The NASW policy which I believe she is referring to was drafted 8 years ago in 2005.  For context, it was drafted 5 years before the iPad in 2010, 2 years before the iPhone in 2007, and 4 years before the HITECH act in 2009.  In fact, the policy I reference says nothing about limiting technology such as online therapy to “last resort;” rather it encourages more social workers and their clients to have access to and education about it. That professional organizations may be lagging behind the meaningful use and understanding of technology is not the Board’s fault.  But to rely on those policies in the face of recent and evidence-based research is concerning.  If the Board does wish to be more conservative than innovative in this case, I’d actually encourage it to consider the policy adopted by the Commonwealth’s Board of Allied Mental Health Professionals at http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/licensee/dpl-boards/mh/regulations/board-policies/policy-on-distance-online-and-other.html which in fact does not make any mention of setting a criteria of extenuating circumstances or potentially intimidate providers with the requirement of justification.

I hope the Board listens to my concerns and input of research and experience in the respectful spirit that it is intended. I am aware that I am commenting on a policy that I have not even seen, and I am sure that the discussions have been deep and thoughtful, but I know we can do better.  As a lifetime resident of Massachusetts, I know we take pride in being forward thinkers in public policy.  Usually we set the standard that other states adopt rather than follow them.  I invited the Board to call upon me at any time to assist in helping further the development of this policy, and reached out to state and national NASW as well.  I hope they take me up on it, but I am not too hopeful.  I had to step down from my last elected NASW position because I refused to remove or change past or future blog posts.

If you practice clinical social work or psychotherapy online, it’s 3:00 AM:  Do you know what your licensing boards and professional organizations are doing?  Are they crafting policies which are evidence-based and value-neutral about technology, or are they drafting policies based on the feelings and opinions of a few who may not even use technology professionally?

This is a big deal, and you need to be involved, especially if you are pro-technology.  The research from Pew Internet Research shows that people age 50-64 use the internet 83% of the time, about 10% less than younger people; and only 56% of people 65 or older do. These older people and digital immigrants are often also the decision-makers who are involved in policy-making and committees.

If you don’t want to practice online, you may bristle at this post.  Am I saying that older people are irrelevant? No.  Am I saying that traditional psychotherapy in an office is obsolete? Absolutely not.  But I am saying that there is a backlash against technology from people who are defensive and scared of becoming irrelevant, and fear does not shape the best policy.  Those of us with experience in social justice activism know that sometimes we need to invite ourselves to the party if we want a place at the table.

And with government the table is often concealed behind bureaucracy and pre-digital “we posted notice of this public hearing in the lobby of the State House” protocols.  My local government is relatively ahead of the curve by posting minutes online, but I look forward to the day when things are disseminated more digitally, and open to the public means more than showing up at 9:30 AM on a work day.  If they allow videoconferencing or teleconferencing I will gladly retract that.

At its heart, divisions of professional licensure are largely about guildcraft:  They regulate quality for the good of the whole guild and the consumers who purchase services from guild members.  They establish policies and sanction members of the guild as part of establishing and maintaining the imprimatur of “professional” for the entire guild.  They develop criteria both to assure quality of services and to regulate the number of providers allowed in the guild with a certain level of privileges at any time:  LSWs, LCSWs, and LICSWs are the modern-day versions of Apprenctice, Journeyman and Master Craftsman.  This is not to say guilds are bad, but it is to say that we need more of the senior members of the guild to advocate for technology if they are using it.

Too often the terms “technology” and “online therapy” get attached to term “ethics” in a way that implies that using technology is dangerous if not inherently unethical.  That’s what I see behind the idea that online therapy should only be used as a “last resort.”  We thought something similar about fire once:  It was mysterious to us, powerful and scary.  So were books, reading and writing at one point:  If you knew how to use them you were a monk or a witch.

Technology has always been daunting to the keepers of the status quo, which is why you need to start talking to your policymakers.  Find out what your licensing boards are up to, advocate, give them a copy of this post.  Just please do something, or you may find your practice shaped in a way that is detrimental to your patients and yourself.

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References

Birgit, W., Horn, A. B., & Andreas, M. (2013). Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression: A randomized controlled non-inferiority trial. Journal Of Affective Disorders, doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.032

Funderburk, B. W., Ware, L. M., Altshuler, E., & Chaffin, M. (2008). Use and feasibility of telemedicine technology in the dissemination of parent-child interaction therapy. Child Maltreatment, 13(4), 377-382.

Harris, E., & Younggren, J. N. (2011). Risk management in the digital world. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice42(6), 412-418. doi:10.1037/a0025139

Mitchell, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., Crow, S., Lancaster, K., Simonich, H., et al. (2008). A randomized trial comparing the efficacy of cognitive–behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa delivered via telemedicine versus face-to-face. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 46(5), 581-592.

Nelson, E., Barnard, M., & Cain, S. (2006). Feasibility of telemedicine intervention for childhood depression Routledge.

Trief, P. M., Teresi, J. A., Izquierdo, R., Morin, P. C., Goland, R., Field, L., et al. (2007). Psychosocial outcomes of telemedicine case management for elderly patients with diabetes. Diabetes Care, 30(5), 1266-1268.

Automation

papertowel-dispenser

Recently I was washing my hands in a public restroom.  The paper towel dispenser was one of those that automatically dispense.  There was a towel ready to be pulled off; you took it, and the dispenser automatically pushed another towel out for the next user.

I was in the middle of taking my fourth towel when I realized that my hands were long-since dry and that I was taking the towels continuously because the dispenser was offering them to me.

Technology offers itself to us, but technology doesn’t decide whether or not we should use it.  That is and always has been a human decision.  We can forget that, or ignore it, but we do so at our peril.

If the towel dispenser was one of the motion detected sort, the above story would never have happened to me, because I would have always had to exercise my agency to get it going.  Ironically that was what the Greeks meant when they first used the term automatos or αὐτόματος:  It came from , autos (self) and méntis (thought) and meant “self-moving, moving of oneself, self-acting, spontaneous” according to Wiktionary.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s when the term automation became more widely used, by General Motors in reference to their new Automation Department.

Although my towel story might be funny to some (it was to me,) it has some serious implications when we think about social media and digital literacy, in particular for our children.  Let’s take this example:

status updates

One of things that has created a confusion of tongues in social media is the fact that we are bombarded with opportunities to share regardless of what the implication might be if we do.  The Facebook status update box is a great example:  As someone I know once said, “they gave us the box, but they didn’t tell us what to with it.”

What is your status update? Is it how you are feeling?  What you are eating?  What you are doing/thinking/talking about?  If the box tells you to write something in it, do you have to?  If you are not feeling happy, sad or tired, do you leave it blank.  And what if you aren’t grateful for something right now?  The status update can be seen as akin to the towel dispenser:  pushing out prompts for you to think or communicate a certain way, but not telling you how or even that you have the choice to refrain from doing so as well.

In the 21st century, to educate our children and adolescents about personal responsibility and agency is to educate them in digital literacy.  This is the responsibility of adults who themselves were raised in a culture that never trained them how to deal with the increasing automation of society or the way social media has changed our brain, sense of self and the social milieu.

It may not come as a surprise that I have strong opinions about this, and they come in a large part from my training as a clinical social worker.  I believe that social workers have a responsibility to help their clients achieve and improve their digital literacy.  In general if you are a mental health provider I think it is your job to do this.  We are tasked with helping the human being in the social environment, and technology is part of the social environment for the majority of the population we serve.  If you do not know how to use Facebook then you are insufficiently educated to work with families and children in the 21st century.  If you are unaware of geotagging and the risk it poses to domestic violence victims seeking safety from their perpetrators you are putting your clients in jeopardy.  If you are an LGBT-affirmative therapist and you don’t know about Grindr you won’t be effective.  If you are a psychotherapist and you don’t ask about your patients’ use of social media you are missing out on a significant part of their daily interactions, behaviors, thoughts and feelings.

Chances are that if you are reading this blog you are not one of my colleagues who is completely averse to technology, so I hope that you’ll pass on some of this info to your colleagues who are.  To the best of my knowledge there are only two graduate courses that teach social workers about the impact of technology on our clients, and I’m teaching them.  This will have to change if we are to remain relevant to the populations we serve.

Technology is offering itself to our clients every day in hundred of ways.  It is up to us to remind them to pause and remember that they have agency.  If we don’t, then we are the ones who have become the machine.

 

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Saving Ideas

cave painting

Sometime, over 40,000 years ago, someone decided to put images of human hands on the cave pictured above.  It turned out to be a good idea.  This painting has given scientists information on life in the Upper Paleolithic, raised questions about the capacity of Neandrathal man to create art, and sparked debate about which species in the homo genus created it.  Other later cave paintings depict other ideas: Bulls, horses, rhinoceros, people.

I wasn’t there in the Paleotlithic but I doubt that the images we are seeing in caves were the first ones ever drawn.  I imagine that drawing images in sand and other less permanent media happened.  I suspect that the only reason we have cave paintings is because at some point somebody decided they wanted to be able to save their idea, to keep it longer or perhaps forever.

Every day, 7 billion of us have untold numbers of ideas.  So what makes a person decide that an idea is worth saving?  What makes us pause and make a note in our Evernote App or Moleskine journal?  What inspires us to make a video of our idea on YouTube or write a book?  We can’t always be sure that an idea is a “good” one or even what the criteria for a good idea is.  It usually comes down to belief.

In the past several centuries, the ability to save ideas was relegated to the few who were deemed skillful or divinely inspired.  Books were written in monasteries, then disseminated by printing presses, and as ideas became easier to save, more people saved them.  But, and this is very important, saving an idea doesn’t make it a good idea, just a saved one.  Somewhere along the line we began to get the notion that only a few select people were capable of having a good idea, because only a few select people were capable of saving them.  Even in the 21st century, many mental health professionals and educators cling to the notion that peer-reviewed work published in journals is the apex of quality.  If it is written, if it was saved by a select few it must be a good idea.  If you have any doubt of what I’m talking about just Google “DSM V.”

With each leap in human technology comes the power to save more ideas and then spread them.  People who talk about things going viral often forget that an idea has to be saved first, and that in essence something going viral is really a form of society saving an idea.  If anything, technology has improved the democratization of education and ideas.

This makes many of us who grew up in an earlier era nervous and frustrated.  We call the younger generation self-absorbed rather than democratizing.  We grumble, “what makes you think you should blog about your day, take photos of your food, post links to cute kitten videos?”  We may even take smug self-satisfaction that we aren’t contributing to the static.  I think that’s a bad idea, although it clearly has been saved from earlier times.

40,000 years from now, our ideas may take on meanings we never anticipated, like cave drawings.  Why were kittens so important to them?  In the long view I think we remember that people have to believe they have an good idea before they take the leap of faith to save it.  The citizens of the future may debate who saved kitten videos and why, but it will be taken as given that they must have been important to many of us.

What if everyone had the confidence to believe that they had an idea worth saving?  What if everyone had the willingness to believe that it just might be possible that their idea was brilliant?  Each semester I ask the students in my class to raise their hand if they think they can get an A- or higher in the class, and most do.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they think they can come up with in an idea in this class that could change the world.  I’ve never had more than 3 hands go up.  That’s sad.

This is why I admire the millennials and older groups who take advantage of social media and put their ideas out there.  I doubt that they are all good ideas, but I celebrate the implicit faith it takes to save them.  Anyone, absolutely anyone at all, can have a good idea.  It may not get recognized or appreciated, but now more than ever it can get saved.  Saving an idea is an act of agency.  It is a political act.  Saving an idea is choosing to become just a bit more visible.  On the most basic level saving an idea is a celebration and affirmation of the self.  Think about that, and dare to jot down, draw, record or otherwise save one of your ideas today.  I just did and it feels great.  Then maybe you can even share it with someone else.

What makes a person decide an idea is worth saving?

You do.

 

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10 Nonviolent Video Games

space-invaders-peace-wallpaper-arcade

Sometimes mental health providers, parents and educators get so caught up in the debate about video games and violence that we imagine all video games have violent content.  They don’t.

So when I am feeling proactive (like now) I point out that there are dozens of nonviolent video games.  In this case, I’ll give you a rundown of some of my favorites available on smartphones and/or tablets.  You may ask, “Mike, how do you find all of these games?”  I find them for free in several places, and you can too!  One place in the real world is a certain coffee chain we all know and love which often has App of the Day cards to try for free.  Another good source of freebies is App Gratis.  App Gratis has 1-2 daily deals on free apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.  The app itself is free, so download it as soon as you are ready to go bargain hunting.

Without further ado, here are some games I’m enjoying lately:

 

1. Puzzlejuice

 puzzlejuice

Ok, so the tag line is violent:  Puzzlejuice is billed as a game “that will punch your brain in the face.”  But there’s no punching or violence beyond that blurb.  Puzzlejuice combines the spatial skills of Tetris with the wordplay of Scrabble.  You rotate blocks to line up 3 or more blocks of one color, which turns them into letters.  Spell words with the letters by dragging your finger across them and the blocks disappear.  Sound simple?  Please come back and comment on this post once you’ve tried it, heh.

 

2. Circadia

circadia2

Circadia is all about timing and pace.  The graphics are simple enough, where you try to tap expanding rings in order to time their intersection with a dot and other rings.  But this game is all about impulse control, patience and learning from your mistakes.  Different colors and musical tones indicate different speeds of ring expansion, and once you are through the tutorial you find yourself timing 3 or more rings, dots that move, and increasingly complicated sequences.

 

3. Denki Blocks!

 denki

This is a perennial favorite of mine.  Move blocks with the swipe of your finger to connect all of the same color, avoiding obstacles that will get you stuck.  Add to that timer challenges, special shapes and bonus mystery rounds and you have a simple, playful puzzle game that will challenge you for hours.

 

4. Ticket To Ride

Ticket_to_ride

Based on the German-style board/card game, you can now play TTR on your smartphone or tablet.   TTR combines strategy, planning and blocking other players as they race to build train routes connecting different cities in the US, Europe or “Legendary Asia.”  Play against the computer or online with other players, and if you’re feeling social, the built in chat feature allows you to chat with other players between turns.

 

5. Hundreds

hundreds

Who would have thought a black and white (ok, and gray and red) game could be so beautiful and elegant?  The website explains the basic premise of the game, but just dive right into the tutorial like I did and see what it’s like to learn a game from within it.  Did I mention how beautiful it is?  🙂  Minimalists take note..

 

6. Tilt World

tilt world

Playful, but with a strong ecological message, this offering from game designer and thought leader Nicole Lazzaro makes use of the smartphone or tablet’s accelerometer to make Flip the tadpole help fight the Blight that has affected Shady Glen by eating carbon and planting seeds.  The game is tied to a real world impact:  For each milestone of player points in the world, more trees get planted in Madagascar.  More than 10,000 trees have been planted to date, and players can see a real-world impact calculator here.

 

7. Carcassonne

carcasonne3

Based on the classic tile game, Carcassonne is a game of building medieval towns, castles and monasteries.  Build your cities, place your Meeples, and try to get the most points by the end of the game.  Best part, you can share points with other players, so the game is about strategic alliances as well as blocking another player’s move.  Play by yourself or on networked multiplayer.  Note to therapists:  The basic game can usually be played in the 10 minutes between sessions, just sayin’..

 

8. Osmos

osmos

If you like your games with ambience and an organic dreamlike quality, try this one out.  In Osmos you play a single cell Mote who jets around and absorbs smaller motes to become the biggest cell on the block.  But be careful, because the jet propelling you is made by expelling your own matter, so the farther you go the smaller you get!  This game emphasizes patience and planning over speedy acquisition.  Accompanied by some great electronic music.

 

9. Flower Chain

flower chain

I disagree with the developer Joybean describing this as  “a beautiful game for girls,” and exhort you to play this game regardless of gender!  Tap on one of the small floating buds to cause a flower to burst open, touch a nearby bud and start a chain reaction.  Easy when the early levels only require you to hit 2-3 flowers, but when you have to get a chain reaction of 50, choose where and when you tap carefully!

 

10. Nintai 2

nintaii2

The Japanese term “nintaii” means “patience, perseverance, or endurance,” and you’ll need it to get through all 100 levels of this puzzle.  Flip a rectangular block through a 3-D platform landscape to get to the end of the maze.  Each level is accompanied by trippy music and seemingly random titles like “Joy,” “Bravery,” and “Wealth.”  This game has a high “Huh?” factor, but is a compelling experience and best of all, non-violent.

Versions of these games range from free to $9.99 for most smartphones and tablets, and nothing is shot or slashed, not even watermelon (sorry, Fruit Ninja.)  Many of these games emphasize one or more social and cognitive skills, from cooperation to word-building to problem solving and impulse control.  But don’t let that discourage you–have fun!

Have a favorite non-violent game?  Let us know below!

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One Bostonian’s Thoughts On Social Media

 MA Cambridge Charles River view of Boston

 

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  This week I have had numerous conversations with colleagues about the myriad and often conflicting ideas and feelings we have been asked to hold alongside each other.  Initially I had been asked by one supervisee if I was going to write about the bombings in Boston, and my immediate response to him was, “No.”  I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy.  Although I am a believer in the importance of self-promotion in building one’s business, this is not the time.

Hundreds of people in my Twitter feed and online seem to agree.  From therapist to marketing types, people noticed when your automatic Tweets continued unabated as the events of this week were unfolding.  And whether they were individual or enterprise level businesses, the response was pretty much the same, “turn it off.”

And I agree, now is not the time to self-promote one’s business or market, which ironically leaves those of us with social media back at where Web 2.0 all began.  Not for marketing, but for community.

So what I did want to discuss today I sincerely hope will be heard as sharing thoughts and feelings across the range of you all, who reading this are to some extent part of my community.  And why I want to discuss the topic of social media today is to offer some ideas to keep in mind as we go through the next piece of our history together.

Social media collapses time and space.  As I listened from my locked down house simultaneously to Twitter, the police scanner via Broadcastify, Facebook and other platforms, I heard firsthand how information and misinformation could spread far more quickly than it could have on 9/11.  Social media use and technology in general played a huge part in the ability to share, identify and ultimately capture one suspect.  It also hindered investigation at times by creating chatter that looped back to law enforcement in ways that were more confusing than helpful.

As someone who lives 2 miles from the explosions, a mile from where Patrol Officer Collier was killed, and far too close to the 7-11 and site of the carjacking, the week and especially last 48 hours were horrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking for me.  But social media allowed me to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, collapsing space in a way that brought a lot of comfort and support.  I can’t say enough about the gratitude I felt that the ping of Facebook and Twitter were heard consistently amidst the constant sirens and other sudden noises that hypervigilance brings.

Social media helped me express more pride as a Bostonian and New Englander could have ever imagined, as memes like this one popped up on and were shared by me on Facebook:

keep-wicked-calm-and-carry-the-hell-on

 

For those of you who aren’t locals, this pretty much summarizes how we people in the Hub of the Universe are, and how we dealt with things this week.

Unfortunately, social media also collapsed the space between MA and Arkansas, when we were subjected to this Tweet:

nate-bell-tweet

As enraging as this post was, social media allowed many of us in Boston to respond to this, including yours truly, with our Bostonian blunt arguments and a dash of humor thrown in:

nate comment

Social Media allowed thousands of people to respond alongside me, causing Bell to say to the Associated Press, “I really didn’t think about it going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself.”

This is one thing I hope we all can keep in mind over the next days and weeks, that we can remember the power of social media to collapse space and time and reach and impact a global and thus diverse audience.  Such a collapse can help bring comfort or quicken the pace of misinformation; bring a city together or divide a nation.

Social media amplifies feelings and emotions.  I hope colleagues can keep this in mind as we continue forward through the next days and weeks.  Social media can amplify love and community, and it can amplify hatred and racism.  It can amplify hysteria or reasonable thinking.  Social media can amplify comfort and applause, and it can amplify grief and vicarious trauma.

Please think before you tweet, post or share.  Ask yourself what you are shouting into the village square, what you are bringing to the conversation.  If you think you have something important to say, say it.  When in doubt, refrain.  Turn off your autobots advertising your wares or workshops for a bit.  And above all please remember that you are speaking to people you may not even imagine, whose experience of what has been happening ranges from the loss of an intellectual argument to the loss of a limb to the loss of a loved one.

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  I’d like to suggest the answer is, carefully, thoughtfully, humbly and compassionately.

Skyrim Family Values

hearthfire-adoption

In psychotherapy we have grown to have a narrow definition of what it means to prescribe something.  Most of us think of prescription in terms of medication, however if we take this definition, you’ll see why I often prescribe video games:

pre·scribe

/priˈskrīb/
Verb
  1. (of a medical practitioner) Advise and authorize the use of (a medicine or treatment) for someone, esp. in writing.
  2. Recommend (a substance or action) as something beneficial.

(Google, Transmitted from http://bit.ly/XyztcE, 2013)

I have mentioned before my assertion that video games are among other things models of the world, that must both resemble and be distinct from the world to be effective.  Sometimes they are models that present dystopian worlds, and other times they model how things could be if we set aside some of our differences.

The game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is such a game, and one I recommend that therapists who work with a diverse range of families familiarize themselves with.  Like other prescriptions it does have some effects that need to be considered carefully before recommending it to patients.  It is rated M by the ERSB, which is characterized as  “MATURE: Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”  For parents who are very concerned with violence in video games, this one has a range of it:  Set in a quasi-Nordic society, it contains the brutality one would expect there, including a decapitation in the first 10 minutes of the game’s opening.

So what on earth am I thinking in recommending it?

Last week the U.S. and the Supreme Court engaged in public deliberation on Proposition 8 in CA, the repeal of DOMA, and the question of what makes a marriage, and by extension, a family.  As the debate unfolded, the statistics reported indicated that the court of public opinion had already reached a majority about the subject.  The Washington Post reported that 58% of Americans favored gay marriage, the highest percentage of our citizens yet.  And in the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy raised this:

He was alluding to children of parents in same-sex relationships, some of whom are biological offspring, but a substantial number of others who are adopted.  Adopted children often experience marginalization by virtue of their adoptive status, which can in itself be stigmatizing in a world which often give genetics primacy over nurturance.  But the child who is adopted by same-sex parents often faces a double whammy in a world where their family system goes unrecognized if not persecuted.

I’d like to think that at least part of the change in public opinion on gay marriage and families is due to Skyrim.  The video game from its inception has allowed for quest lines that culminate in your proposal, wedding, and marriage to a partner who can either be the same or different sex.  If your character is female and you ask another female character to get married, your experience is one of acceptance.  Later you get married in a ceremony celebrated and witnessed by several people in your community.  Still later you set up house together, and have the experience so many of us have craved, coming home to someone who loves you after a hard days work (or dragon-slaying as the case may be.)  As of last July, 10 million copies of the game had been sold worldwide, so it is not unreasonable to imagine that a large number of these found their way into the homes and minds of U.S. gamers.  So let’s not give Will and Grace all the credit.

When working with patients from adoptive and/or same-sex families, Skyrim can be a valuable resource in providing a model of a world where adoption and gay marriage are accepted and treated with little fanfare as part of life.  Families can use the game as a launch pad for discussion about what makes a family.  Perhaps more importantly, kids, adolescents and adults can enjoy hours of gameplay in a world that celebrates marriage diversity and the family of adoption.  It’s by no means a perfect world, but the benefits of such a video game may outweigh the concerns about gore.  I can tell you that what I hear discussed eagerly by players is not how cool the gore is, but rather how neat it is to be able to be adopted or marry who you want.

Think about how often parents wish their children could understand them better.  Now  your child has the opportunity to imagine themselves choosing a child as they were chosen.  Imagine a LGBTQ adolescent being able to experience choosing to marry who they want regardless of sex.  And imagine a straight person seeing that they aren’t always what “normal” has to look like.  Not medication, but a powerful prescription for what often ails our patients, and our nation.

And then, as I was preparing to write this post, I was bitten by a vampire.

Another common occurrence in the world of Skyrim is encountering a vampire.  In my case, without choosing to, I had been bitten, and within a few days of game play, people in Skyrim began to notice.  At first the shopkeepers would tell me I looked pale.  A day or so later I was told by the guards that I had a hungry look in my eye.  Finally, when my vampirism was no longer concealable everyone turned hostile.  I couldn’t enter any city, including my hometown without being attacked, both verbally and physically.  No matter that I hadn’t hurt anyone yet, I was forced to sneak around everywhere.  I felt frustrated and victimized.  It was a powerful lesson in ostracism.

I wish I could assign Skyrim to every one of my social work students studying diversity and racism.  The game provides a model of a world which provides you with the experience of tremendous acceptance and empowerment, as well as hatred and stigma.  It also shows us models of love and families which we have yet to embrace sufficiently in the United States of America.

There are  38 children in Skyrim who could be parented by a same-sex couple, in CA there are some 40,000 who have been.  In our nation as a whole an estimated 65,000 adopted children are being raised by same-sex parents.  We risk raising a portion of these, our future population, to feel ashamed, marginalized and flawed.

We can do better.

 

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Epic Supervision Fail

arts-graphics-2008_1186344a

This past week social work colleagues Ericka Kimball and JaeRan Kim had an article published in Social Work entitled: “Virtual Boundaries:  Ethical Considerations for Use of Social Media in Social Work.”  It’s a good article, and more importantly it’s a nice start.  The article discusses if, when and how to use social media ethically.  The authors don’t purport to have a solution to every potential problem that social media poses clinicians, but they have some good suggestions.

I have mixed feelings about the constant yoking of “technology” to “ethics” in our profession.  (In general, not specifically the article above.) It always seems to imply that social media and ethical problems go hand-in-hand.  No other ethics issue, even patient abuse by psychotherapists, gets as much play in our current professional development course offerings, and the irony is that there is evidence to support the much higher prevalence of the latter than the former.  It seems the only way the majority of psychotherapists can get curious about social media is if somebody scares them with the idea of ethical or legal violations.

Is there an ethical dimension to integrating technology into psychotherapy?  Absolutely.  It’s just not the only dimension.  And the problem with always focusing on ethics is it often encourages fear-mongering and contempt prior to investigation.  Part of the problem is that most of the people talking about ethics and technology in clinical practice have little to no experience with the technology side of things.  And as a result, they can’t engage us with ideas and brainstorming, but instead often adopt the fall-back of “you need to be careful.”

The result is that many clinicians get understandably scared:  You told me something is dangerous, and that the only solution is to be careful.  So seasoned clinicians often adopt what I call the “just say no” attitude.  Firewalls go up.  Patients can’t be emailed.  Agencies adopt no-Facebook policies, and in general evoke an air of monasticism.  I have even heard cases where clinicians are told they need to renounce having personal social media.  Though Shalt Not Tweet.

Into this  “just say no” milieu come our trainees.  Many of them are digital natives, and have been wired for technology in a way we digital immigrants may never be.  In many cases they are more digitally literate than we are.  They come into their supervision sessions with questions about cell phones in the office, suicide posts on Facebook, and being followed by patients on Twitter.

And they get “just say no.”

So let’s get real a sec here.

The Pew Internet Research Group states that roughly two-thirds of North Americans are on Facebook.  It, along with other social media, has become a primary source of communication and shaper of culture for our society.  This means that a majority of our trainees and their patients are probably using it.  We can’t just say no.  We can’t just say, “be careful out there.”  Our trainees look to us for supervision, and understanding social media and technology is part of 21st century clinical work.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard horror stories in my classes about how supervisors fail their students this way.  And I get emails detailing, for example,  how a young clinician tried to bring up the positive impact of social media to a supervisor: “I thought her head was going to implode.”

Psychotherapy has a past history of using innovations in technologies to enhance our work, and our theoretical models.  Freud used the newer technologies of hydraulics to explain drive theory.  Similarly, advances in thermodynamic technology helped pave the way for family systems theory.  By now, many of the principles and parallels of those technologies have become so commonplace in our lives and understanding that we don’t even connect them with being familiar with technology.

Historically technology creates a period of suspicion and confusion before integration into culture.  A favorite example of mine is this:

indexAC

Prior to the Gutenberg printing press, books were a much rarer technology.  In the 8th Century, approximately 12,000 books were published in all of Western Europe; by the 18th century that number had risen to 1 billion.  As this technology became cheaper and more easily accessible, literacy rose.  But this was also a time when things got overwhelming.  When you had a handful of books read by a handful of people, the knowledge in them was much easier to locate.  But when the number of books and readers increased, there was an overwhelming amount of information to remember and locate.  The book index was the technology we came up with to solve that problem, but we needed to experience the technology as problematic before a solution was necessary.

Today we take indices, books and literacy largely for granted.  We know how they work, we aren’t afraid of them.  If anyone wanted to hold a workshop on the “Ethical Considerations of Printing” they’d be hard-pressed (heh) to get anyone to attend.

So now we find ourselves faced with a new technology, one as revolutionary in many ways as the printing press.  Only this time we are the generations that need to get used to it and confused by it.  And it’s risky and scary, because we don’t fully understand its implications yet.  But just as we wouldn’t have wanted our ancestors to forbid us to read and write, we need to let our trainees learn how to use the newer technology of social media in our lives and work.  And to do that, we need to learn it too.

This takes time, and it takes someone with expertise to teach you.  So before you hire a consultant, keynote speaker, or workshop presenter to talk about social media or technology in general, ask yourself, and them, these questions:

1. What do you plan to teach me beyond ethics about technology?

2.What strategies can you help me and my agency deploy besides be careful or “Just say no.”

3.What if any experience do you have with technology? Do you use social media? Professionally? Personally?

Just asking potential consultants those 3 questions could save you or your professional organization a lot of money down the line, as well as make the difference between helping you embrace innovation or stagnation.

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Angry Birds, Advent, & the 12 Links of Christmas

You may be familiar with Angry Birds, one of the most popular smartphone games in the world. But did you know that they have a holiday season edition? They cover several world holidays, but by far my favorite is the Christmas version, which comes out early each December.

The reason I like it so much is that it is basically an Advent calendar. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, advent calendars are holiday calendars used to help celebrate the anticipation of Christmas. There are usually 24 little doors or windows in the calendar, and each night you open one of the doors as you get closer to the 25th. Behind the door may be a picture, small piece of chocolate, part of a story, or something else.

Angry Birds Seasons allows you to play one game level per day leading up until Christmas. Whether you whiz through it or play for 2 hours, the next day’s level is locked until midnight. You’ll see a countdown page if you try to move forward, but that’s it.

Many spiritual traditions emphasize the celebration of small patient acts. Hanukkah uses the nightly lighting of the menorah and exchange of small gifts for 8 nights. Diwali has 6 nights of celebration in its festival of lights, and there are many more. And now we have the more secular tradition of Angry Birds.

I want to celebrate with you the idea of waiting and enjoying small things. I think we can enjoy anticipation, see the value in the smallest of gifts. And that those gifts can be as powerful as they are small.

So whatever your particular holiday tradition is, or isn’t, I hope you’ll accept this gift from me to you. I call them the Twelve Links of Christmas, but you can call them whatever you want. They’re hyperlinks (sorry Zelda fans) to 12 different activities and ideas. Some of them are video games you can try, others are gift ideas, some are videos of change. All of them engage you in some activity involving social justice.

Don’t open them all at once! Each day from now until the 25th, click on one link and try it out.

The Twelve Links

1. Darfur is Dying: Refugee Game for Change Play this game to learn more about the genocide in the Darfur region. One of my students played the game for 45 minutes before realizing that she had now spent more time learning about Darfur in one sitting than the totality of her life before.
2. Eli Pariser TED Talk: Beware online “filter bubbles” In this TED Talk, Eli Pariser helps us see how we are in danger of having our experiences and information filtered by emerging technologies, and warns us of the potential consequence of such searches mediating and filtering our understanding of the world.
3. True Colors It’s been two years since this performance was belted out by the LA Gay Men’s Chorus, but it is as moving as ever. Sung to the world, but also to every LGBT youth feeling isolated and hopeless, this resounding cry of comfort and encouragement is perhaps best summed up in the powerful vocals at 3:50: “So don’t be afraid..”
4. Foldit: Science Game for Health Learn about and play the game that contributed to HIV research in 10 days of gaming in ways that computer models had been trying to do for years. Foldit uses a video game to fold proteins, which aids in the search for cures of health issues such as Cancer and AIDS. Within minutes, anyone can begin playing the game and help!
5. Tropes Vs. Women #3: The Smurfette Principal This is one video from Anita Sarkeesian’s series, which offers a feminist perspective on the limited and limiting ways women are portrayed in popular culture. Anita’s more recent exploration of sexism and these tropes in video games sparked a hateful backlash from some, and may just have ushered in a new era of discussion and self-critique as gamers and game developers supported Sarkeesian and have begun working to make the days of such hate numbered.
6. Papo and Yo If you still have any doubt that video games can be both art and social commentary, this powerful trailer may convince you otherwise. This PS3 game offers a powerful exploration of childhood abuse, ethnicity, poverty and the power of the imagination to solve the puzzle trauma inflicts on the oppressed.
7. Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity Check out this TED talk, not just for its commentary on education in general, but as a meditation on how we could rethink learning disabilities, autism, and other differences in the human learning process.
8. Ethos and Seniors Flash Mob for Elder Abuse Awareness Day This year, senior citizens in my very own Massachusetts dropped into the local supermarket for a flash mob to raise awareness on elder abuse. Their choice of song was apt, and even a bit chilling. Check out the video and see if you can notice how many stereotypes of elders it helps debunk.
9. Heifer.org : Rethinking Gift-giving A perennial favorite of mine, the mission of Heifer is simple: “To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.” This website will show you the way you can change the world this holiday season by giving a gift of sustainable food and agriculture to indigenous peoples all over the world. Much nicer than another soap on a rope.
10. I Am: Trans People Speak A brave and bold use of social media, this project is affiliated with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition in partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. It seeks to raise awareness about diversity within transgender communities, as well as empower individuals to create positive change in the media representations of trans people.
11. Food Force 2 Look, you’re on Facebook anyway, why not spend some time learning a bit about sustainability, community organizing and world hunger? This game, sponsored by the United Nations World Food Program, seeks to raise both awareness and money to solve real world food shortages. Since it is a video game on a social media platform, perhaps you can invite your friends to play too!
12. Give An Hour: Psychotherapists Supporting Veterans Got a spare 50 hours? Of course not. Okay, how about 10 minutes to check this video out. In it my colleague Barbara Van Dahlen discusses how she founded Give An Hour, an organization that connects returning veterans with psychotherapists who have volunteered to donate an hour a week of free therapy. After you listen to some of the soldier’s stories, you may find yourself inspired to make room for that hour a week in your practice. I have since 2006, and I recommend it highly.

If you’ve checked out the link before, maybe there is someone important to you you could send it to? Maybe you haven’t shared it with your child? Maybe someone else who you know will be alone for the holidays, or someone you’ve been meaning to reconnect with and can’t quite figure out how to do it?

I hope you find these links as rewarding and enriching as I have. Please accept them as my thank you for reading the blog this year. Please take them as an invitation to change the world. Because that is what social justice is, isn’t it?

;

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Social Justice & Technology

Every day technology makes life easier for millions of people, and in doing so makes life harder for others.

Adam Gopnik, in his New Yorker Article, “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us,” breaks down the population into three groups:

call them the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.

Anyone who has read this blog or heard me speak would have me pegged as a Never-Better, and that is pretty close to the truth. I do think that we live in an era that rivals that of the printing press, with its subsequent explosion of literacy and education. In my lifetime I have already seen a startling collapse of time and space due to how the internet and other technologies have allowed us to traverse great geographical distances in seconds. From my home I can bank, buy, and sell. I provide therapy and consultation to people as close as my city and as far as Singapore with little to no noticeable difference. And when I want to relax I join colleagues and friends in a virtual world that has denizens from Australia, the UK, and Asia.

And yet, as much a Never-Better as I am, I have noticed how social justice continues to lag behind. Not in the technology, but in both the access to it and fit between human beings and the systems they are in. Technology, as always, has advanced beyond our ability to master it, think critically about it, and perhaps most importantly achieve equity with it.

Let me give you an example I have experienced fairly recently in how the technology that benefits me has put others in my own social sphere at a disadvantage. I have an iPhone App, courtesy of a nameless coffee vendor, that has allowed me to use my iPhone to pay for my daily coffee with the flash of a barcode. My local barista rings me up, scans my iPhone, and the transaction is finished. At first, as an early adopter, I was one of the few folks using this in the Cambridge area, but more and more people are taking advantage of this App, and it is now commonplace in Austin, TX and Silicon Valley.

The problem with this App is that is financially disadvantages the baristas. There is no functionality as of yet in the App to allow for adding a gratuity, and since technology has worked all too well in eliminating the need for paper currency, I rarely carry any money with me to add a gratuity. When I initially became aware of this, the temptation was to slink away from the register as quickly as possible, and if I didn’t have ongoing relationships with the baristas I might easily have done so. But instead I asked them if they had noticed a drop in gratuities since the App became prevalent, and they remarked that they had. So what has been a convenience for me has significantly reduced the regular income of others.

This may seem a privileged example, and a minor one, but that is in fact one reason that I am mentioning it. Every day, through these minute transactions, we are influencing the lives of others, often without thought. The trope of the machine replacing the worker is in fact an industrial one: Each day, a section of our population does basically the same work they did a decade ago, but technology has made it easier to overlook and underpay them. And for that to change, we need to notice the behavior, and then, I suggest, address the technology.

There is a shortfall between lived experience, social justice and technology occurring on a microscopic level in the US, and part of why we all need to become more digitally literate is so that we can advocate on behalf of under-served and marginalized populations for technology to improve their lives. Avoiding technology is not the answer. Slinking away from the register is not the answer. The answer, in part, is to contact the company in question and suggest adding features to the technology to bridge the gap. In this case, I’m contacting the nameless coffee company suggesting they add a feature in either the App-user interface or the register-barista interface to allow for the inclusion of a gratuity. Seems like a simple fix, but as someone who owns and works in a company that creates customizable features I can tell you that they are expensive, and therefore often not made until somebody requests them.

In terms of world equity and technology we have an even greater challenge, namely, access. More than 81% of people in the US have some form of broadband internet access, as compared to approximately 5% of the African continent. 1 out of 3 people in the US have internet speeds 10 Mbs, as opposed to 0 in Ghana, Venezuela, and Mongolia.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a game developed by Jane MacGonigal at SXSW, which she claims will have have boosted my resiliency and hence extended my life by 7-8 minutes after playing it just once. I believe her. Which makes me think it is all the more important that we find ways not only to create games where people in the developed world learn about developing countries; but help people in developing countries access and develop their own video games. With all of the great work being done in the US and Europe on socially serious games, and games for health, we are seeing how video games can increase resilience and learning skills. How can we use these technologies to bring about similar changes in less affluent countries and populations? Because if playing a video game could help us crack the eznymatic code of HIV, which 1.2 million people in the US live with, what about playing a video game to increase resilience in Subsaharan Africa, where 22.9 million people live with it?

I think it is also imperative that people in developing countries have access not only to playing video games, but creating them. If they don’t, then the same cultural colonialization that has happened in the past will repeat itself. We need to support social justice in such geeky and subtle ways as making sure that indigenous cultures all over the planet have the opportunity to design games that reflect their own cultures, not a globalized McVersion of it.

Between the whittling away of a worker’s salary in the US and Subsaharan HIV are a myriad other social justice concerns, but digital literacy and emerging technologies are the threads that bind them all together. The same internet that allowed LGBT people to find each other in a hostile 20th century can be used to out them against their will today. The same social media that allows a more participatory experience can give people new avenues and amplifications when they want to harass people. The problem is not technology, but our lack of digital literacy. And by “our” I mean the individual you and me. Because corporations and governments are making it their business to learn how to master technology and its power even while we debate whether it was Better-Never or Never-Better.

I’ve often said on this blog that if you want to run a private psychotherapy practice in the 21st century you cannot ignore technology. Now I’m upping the ante, and saying that if you want to be a socially just human being you cannot ignore it. We need to learn how emerging technologies work and how they don’t. We need to identify the slippages between human systems and the technologies that convenience some at the expense of others. We need to see the internet as an infrastructure necessary to make the developing world as viable as the developed. And we need to understand how digital literacy can empower us before someone takes that power away.

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.