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Conversation article – Jake Daniels: how homophobia in men’s football is changing

Dr Jayne Caudwell writes for The Conversation about footballer Jake Daniels becoming the UK’s only openly gay male professional footballer…

Jake Daniels: how homophobia in men’s football is changing

Jayne Caudwell, Bournemouth University

Blackpool forward Jake Daniels’ announcement that he is homosexual makes him the UK’s only active, openly gay, male professional footballer.

Daniels, aged 17, described the move as a “relief”, and was met with support and praise from key figures in men’s football and beyond, including Gary Lineker, Harry Kane and Sir Ian McKellen. He was also praised by national figureheads Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, who said Daniels coming out will “help break down barriers”.

A head shot of UK footballer Justin Fashanu smiling.
Justin Fashanu.
Wikipedia/7sur7, CC BY

The first UK professional footballer to come out was Justin Fashanu in 1990. The support for Daniels has been a stark contrast to the homophobic responses to Fashanu, who killed himself in 1998 at the age of 37.

Sport in the UK has long been rife with homophobia and considered an unsafe place for LGBT+ players. In 2017, a House of Commons report concluded that “despite the significant change in society’s attitudes to homosexuality in the last 30 years, there is little reflection of this progress being seen in football.”

Men’s professional football is the last of the UK’s three most popular sports, following rugby and cricket, to have an active, elite professional player come out. Rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009 and cricketer Steven Davies came out in 2011.

This lagging behind is no surprise given the vile homophobic chanting at some of England’s best players such as Sol Campbell, and the reaction to Fashanu in the 1990s. Indeed, there are some early signs of homophobic hate in response to Daniels that have been condemned by LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall.

Still, over the last couple of decades, changing cultural attitudes and campaigning efforts by organisations and fans have raised awareness of LGBTQ+ participation in sport.

The Justin Campaign, established in 2008 by a Brighton-based grassroots organisation, was one of the first official campaigns to raise awareness of homophobia in men’s football. The campaign had a local reach and targeted young people, mainly school and university students who entered tournaments as team “Tackle Homophobia”.

From the Justin Campaign came Football v Homophobia, developed by PrideSports, which now has a significant presence in the game worldwide. Alongside this grassroots activism, in 2013 betting company Paddy Power, working with Stonewall, initiated the Rainbow Laces campaign.

The FA, football’s governing body in England and Wales, introduced its first anti-homophobia initiative in 2012, Opening Doors and Joining In. Since then, the FA has endorsed both Football v Homophobia and the Rainbow Laces campaigns. However, research indicates that efforts by sport governing bodies can fall short and can be ineffective at actually implementing change.

While I don’t know how aware Daniels and his peers were of these campaigns as they were growing up, there is evidence from a 2017 study at a boy’s football academy that revealed “progressive attitudes towards homosexuality” among a small group of 14-15 year olds. This suggests that attitudes are becoming more inclusive – although the boys in the study felt unable to individually challenge homophobia when they observed it.

Fan attitudes

Homophobic chanting at men’s professional games can be a common occurrence. This chanting, often deemed as “banter” by the perpetrators, can be outright blatant homophobia, or what we now call a “micro-aggression”. Micro-aggressions are the everyday speech and actions directed at marginalised members of communities that reflect prejudice and discrimination, and can be damaging to minority individuals in sport.

Obviously, not all football fans make homophobic remarks and gestures at a game or on social media. Many formal LGBTQ+ fan groups, such as the Kop Outs (Liverpool), Gay Gooners (Arsenal) and Proud Canaries (Norwich City), have also been set up in recent years, creating a visible community within the oft-discriminatory world of football fandom.

Despite these efforts by fans, football’s governing bodies continue to ignore or forget homophobia. A case in point is Qatar, host country for FIFA’s men’s World Cup later this year, which has anti-gay laws.

Cultural shifts

At 17, Daniels has grown up with a popular culture that is more diverse than ever when it comes to gender and sexuality. There are more visible stories of LGBTQ+ people and communities generally, and within the world of sport. Thanks to decades of activism, LGBTQ+ culture has a place in the mainstream, and football is benefiting from this movement.

The women’s game is further along in celebrating out lesbian and bisexual players internationally. The 2019 FIFA women’s World Cup alone had 40 out women – players, coaches and managers – offering further evidence that the women’s game is a safer environment than the men’s. This might be because women in sport have had to deal with sexist and homophobic stereotypes for a very long time.

All of this, in addition to support from family and friends and teachers, coaches, officials and managers who are LGBTQ+ allies, will make young male footballers feel safe enough to come out.

The impact of Jake Daniels’ decision to come out cannot be underestimated. Not only will it allow him to be fully himself – and perhaps an even better player – it is set to shift the culture of men’s elite professional football.The Conversation

Jayne Caudwell, Associate Professor Social Sciences, Gender& Sexualities, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Women’s football: record crowds and soaring popularity – here’s how to keep it that way

Dr Keith Parry writes for The Conversation about the increasing popularity of women’s football and how to ensure gains in women’s sport are not lost…

Women’s football: record crowds and soaring popularity – here’s how to keep it this way

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

On Boxing Day 1920, a sell-out crowd of 53,000 watched a women’s football match at Liverpool’s Goodison Park, with others waiting outside. With more than 900,000 women working in munitions factories during the first world war, many factories set up women’s football teams to keep the new female workers healthy and safely occupied. At the time, women seemed to be breaking barriers in sport and society.

But it would be almost 100 years before similar numbers of spectators were seen again at women’s sports matches, and in 2022 crowds are now breaking world records. In March, for example, 91,553 people watched Barcelona play Real Madrid in the UEFA Women’s Champions League – the highest attended women’s football match of all time.

The reason why it took so long to get here is that after the first world war progress for women slowed, and even went backwards. By 1921 there were 150 women’s football teams, often playing to large crowds. But on December 5 1921, the English Football Association’s consultative committee effectively banned women’s football citing a threat to women’s health as medical experts claimed football could damage women’s ability to have children. This decision had worldwide implications and was typical of attitudes towards women’s sport for many decades.

Women’s professional sport is now seeing dramatic changes. England will host the 2022 Women’s Euros later this year, and tickets for the final sold out in less than an hour. There is clear demand from fans and not just for women’s football, but other professional women’s sports.

In 2021, 267,000 people attended the women’s matches in English cricket’s new domestic competition, The Hundred, making it the best attended women’s cricket event ever. A year before, another cricketing record was set with 86,174 spectators at the Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Record crowds for professional women’s matches have also been seen recently in rugby union.

There is increasing investment in women’s sport and a rising number of professional athletic contracts for women. Clubs and organisations are finding that if people know about women’s sport they will attend games and watch it on television.

TV coverage is vital

In a sign that the times really may be changing, the current minister for sport, Nigel Huddleston, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, announced that they are minded to add the (FIFA) Women’s World Cup and the Women’s Euros (UEFA European Women’s Football Championship) to the list of protected sports events. Set out in the 1990s, these are the “crown jewels” of English sport, deemed to be of national importance when it comes to television coverage. The list has not included any women’s events until now, and the proposed change is crucial to keep women’s sport visible for as large an audience as possible.

Football has also seen considerable growth in participation. In 2020, 3.4 million women and girls played football in England and the world governing body FIFA aims to have 60 million playing by 2026.

The wider picture is perhaps less rosy. There are 516,600 more inactive women than men in England. Girls are less active than boys, even though their activity levels increased comparatively during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, this pandemic-related increase also points to positive changes. During the lockdowns, there was a shift away from traditional team sports to fitness classes and walking, which have traditionally appealed more to women and girls. In a similar way Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, which was relaunched in January 2020, aimed to break conventional ideas that physical activity and sport are unsuitable for women. Sport England’s evaluation states that 2.8 million women were more active due to the overall campaign.

With traditional masculine ideals slowly being replaced across society, these changes can also be seen in sport. Sport is also becoming more inclusive for minorities.

And, as happened around 100 years ago, women’s rights and equality in society and workplaces are improving. The #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment to the forefront of public awareness and is gradually shifting workplace culture.

Threats ahead

However, this is not time for complacency. The pandemic has affected women more than men and in different ways, slowing progress. Greater domestic responsibilities impacted on women’s free time more than men, reducing time for physical activity. Similarly, funding cuts in sport may threaten the gains that have been made in women’s sport. And many males continue to hold unfounded, stereotypical views such as women in sport being more emotional than men.

Recently, my colleagues and I mapped out five actions needed to make sure that recent gains for women’s sport are not lost, see below. With changes in society, widespread support for gender equality, and the current popularity of women’s sport, now is the time to act on these changes to ensure that it is not another 100 years before we see the recent attendance records broken. Gender equality is a societal goal and it should be in sport too.

Roadmap for the success of women’s sportThe Conversation

Author provided

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Pet therapy – how dogs, cats and horses help improve human wellbeing

Professor Ann Hemingway writes for The Conversation about the benefits of Animal Assisted Interventions…

Pet therapy: how dogs, cats and horses help improve human wellbeing

Monkey business images/shutterstock

Ann Hemingway, Bournemouth University

We’ve all heard of the psychotherapy couch, and the dynamic between a client and their human therapist. But perhaps less well known is the increasingly popular pet therapy. And no, that’s not therapy for your pet – it’s the relatively new phenomenon of therapy for humans, which involves animals.

These animal assisted interventions (AAIs) – which also include a trained human professional – are proving beneficial to people of all ages, leading to significant reductions in physiological responses to stress – such as heart rate – and associated emotions, such as anxiety.

It’s a longstanding and widely accepted fact that people of all ages can benefit from partnerships with animals as pets. From the joy of the human-animal bond, to companionship and improved mental health, there is no doubt that cats, dogs and other pets enhance our lives immeasurably.

But over the last ten years or so, animals have started to help humans in settings away from the home – such as hospitals and care homes for the elderly, as well as schools, universities, prisons and rehabilitation services.

The Royal University Hospital Emergency Department in Saskatchewan, Canada, for example, has been welcoming therapy dogs (and their handlers) since 2016.

A recent study based at the hospital set out to investigate whether canine therapy had any impact on the wellbeing of patients – the majority (around 70%) of which had been admitted and were waiting for a hospital bed, and all of whom were experiencing pain.

They each received a ten minute visit from a St John Ambulance therapy dog in addition to the usual hospital care. Using a detailed psychometric survey, the researchers assessed patients immediately before the visit, immediately afterwards and 20 minutes afterwards. They were encouraged to find that the patients reported a significant reduction in pain, anxiety and depression following the visit by the therapy dog – and an increase in general wellbeing.

Therapy involving dogs can also reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

Cats and horses also help

Over the last ten years, cats have also joined the AAI movement – and have been used in settings such as schools and care homes to improve wellbeing. Just being in the presence of a cat has been shown to improve mood and reduce feelings of loneliness. Playing with a cat, and physical contact through stroking and hugging, can induce a sense of calm, especially for children and frail elderly patients in long term care.

Elderly women in wheelchair cuddling a cat
Stroking and interacting with a cat can improve our mood and reduce loneliness.
Toa55/shutterstock

In fact, even a cat’s purr can bring emotional relief, especially when we’re feeling stressed.

One study – with patients living with chronic age-related disabilities in a nursing home – found that those who were assigned a cat therapy session three times a week, for six weeks, had improved depressive symptoms and a significant decrease in blood pressure.

Horse assisted therapy is particularly useful for young people experiencing mental health and behavioural issues. In many cases, those who have not benefited from traditional, talk-based therapy, may experience benefits – particularly an increased feeling of calm and emotional control – when participating in horse therapy, during which they learn how to communicate with and care for the horses.

Similarly, therapeutic horse riding therapy provides physical and emotional benefits to children with disabilities, helping to improve their balance, posture and hand-to-eye coordination. It can also help children to learn to trust and become more socially aware.

Therapeutic horse riding has been shown to improve symptoms of PTSD in adults, too. And equine therapy, where there is no riding – but instead feeding, grooming and leading the horse – can help people to process and change negative behaviours, such as those associated with addiction.

Why pets are good therapists

Building relationships and social connections through socialising and human interaction is a key part of maintaining and improving our mental health.

Animals, when left to their own devices, also make and work to maintain and enhance emotional relationships and connections with others. We are extremely lucky that – when it comes to dogs, cats and horses – this tendency also extends to humans, as long as we behave in a way that is comfortable for the animal.

And science has shown that they can understand what is happening in our interactions with them, too.

Young boy stroking horse on the nose before a horse therapy session
Horses can read our emotions and adjust their behaviour accordingly.
Goodmoments/shutterstock

Horses can read and tune into human emotions. They can even learn about a person from watching them interact with another horse, and adjust their behaviour accordingly – such as approaching and touching the person more if they appear to display discomfort around the other horse.

Research with dogs and cats has found that they too can read and respond to our body language, facial expressions and voices.

Part of the joy of building a connection with an animal is discovering who they are and what they enjoy – and it goes without saying that their welfare must always be a top priority. But if think you have a superstar therapy pet in the making, then do consider reaching out to a pet therapy organisation in your area, such as Pets As Therapy in the UK. They’d be glad to meet you and your animal companion.The Conversation

Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health and Wellbeing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Protecting children in the metaverse – it’s easy to blame big tech but we all have a role to play

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about child safety in virtual spaces…

Protecting children in the metaverse: it’s easy to blame big tech, but we all have a role to play

Newman Studio/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

In a recent BBC news investigation, a reporter posing as a 13-year-old girl in a virtual reality (VR) app was exposed to sexual content, racist insults and a rape threat. The app in question, VRChat, is an interactive platform where users can create “rooms” within which people interact (in the form of avatars). The reporter saw avatars simulating sex, and was propositioned by numerous men.

The results of this investigation have led to warnings from child safety charities including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) about the dangers children face in the metaverse. The metaverse refers to a network of VR worlds which Meta (formerly Facebook) has positioned as a future version of the internet, eventually allowing us to engage across education, work and social contexts.

The NSPCC appears to put the blame and the responsibility on technology companies, arguing they need to do more to safeguard children’s safety in these online spaces. While I agree platforms could be doing more, they can’t tackle this problem alone.

Reading about the BBC investigation, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was surprised that anyone working in online safeguarding would be – to use the NSPCC’s words – “shocked” by the reporter’s experiences. Ten years ago, well before we’d heard the word “metaverse”, similar stories emerged around platforms including Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel.

These avatar-based platforms, where users interact in virtual spaces via a text-based chat function, were actually designed for children. In both cases adults posing as children as a means to investigate were exposed to sexually explicit interactions.

The demands that companies do more to prevent these incidents have been around for a long time. We are locked in a cycle of new technology, emerging risks and moral panic. Yet nothing changes.

It’s a tricky area

We’ve seen demands for companies to put age verification measures in place to prevent young people accessing inappropriate services. This has included proposals for social platforms to require verification that the user is aged 13 or above, or for pornography websites to require proof that the user is over 18.

If age verification was easy, it would have been widely adopted by now. If anyone can think of a way that all 13-year-olds can prove their age online reliably, without data privacy concerns, and in a way that’s easy for platforms to implement, there are many tech companies that would like to talk to them.

In terms of policing the communication that occurs on these platforms, similarly, this won’t be achieved through an algorithm. Artificial intelligence is nowhere near clever enough to intercept real-time audio streams and determine, with accuracy, whether someone is being offensive. And while there might be some scope for human moderation, monitoring of all real-time online spaces would be impossibly resource-intensive.

The reality is that platforms already provide a lot of tools to tackle harassment and abuse. The trouble is few people are aware of them, believe they will work, or want to use them. VRChat, for example, provides tools for blocking abusive users, and the means to report them, which might ultimately result in the user having their account removed.

A man assists a child to put on a VR headset.
People will access the metaverse through technology like VR headsets.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

We cannot all sit back and shout, “my child has been upset by something online, who is going to stop this from happening?”. We need to shift our focus from the notion of “evil big tech”, which really isn’t helpful, to looking at the role other stakeholders could play too.

If parents are going to buy their children VR headsets, they need to have a look at safety features. It’s often possible to monitor activity by having the young person cast what is on their headset onto the family TV or another screen. Parents could also check out the apps and games young people are interacting with prior to allowing their children to use them.

What young people think

I’ve spent the last two decades researching online safeguarding – discussing concerns around online harms with young people, and working with a variety of stakeholders on how we might better help young people. I rarely hear demands that the government needs to bring big tech companies to heel from young people themselves.

They do, however, regularly call for better education and support from adults in tackling the potential online harms they might face. For example, young people tell us they want discussion in the classroom with informed teachers who can manage the debates that arise, and to whom they can ask questions without being told “don’t ask questions like that”.

However, without national coordination, I can sympathise with any teacher not wishing to risk complaint from, for example, outraged parents, as a result of holding a discussion on such sensitive topics.

I note the UK government’s Online Safety Bill, the legislation that policymakers claim will prevent online harms, contains just two mentions of the word “education” in 145 pages.

We all have a role to play in supporting young people as they navigate online spaces. Prevention has been the key message for 15 years, but this approach isn’t working. Young people are calling for education, delivered by people who understand the issues. This is not something that can be achieved by the platforms alone.The Conversation

Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Mosquitoes might be attracted to certain colours – new research

Dr Cassandra Edmunds writes for The Conversation about new research which explored mosquitoes’ attraction to different colours…

Mosquitoes might be attracted to certain colours – new research

Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Cassandra Edmunds, Bournemouth University

There’s no question that finding yourself covered in mosquito bites quickly takes the shine off a pleasant summer evening. But mosquitoes are more than a nuisance. They’re also the deadliest creatures on Earth, owing to the diseases they spread.

A lot of research on mosquitoes is dedicated to understanding their behaviour and preferences for who they bite. Vision is an important sense in biting insects, including mosquitoes. Although they don’t rely on their vision alone – smell and temperature work with visual cues to help mosquitoes locate a host.

Previous research has sought to link particular colours (or the wavelengths of light which we see as distinct colours) to mosquitoes’ host-seeking behaviour. However, the results have been mixed, with the same mosquito species showing preferences for different colours in different studies.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications is the latest to explore mosquitoes’ attraction to different colours. Could this research tell us how to avoid being bitten simply by adjusting the colours we wear? Let’s take a look.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments on three disease-spreading mosquito species: primarily Aedes aegypti, but also Anopheles stephensi and Culex quinquefasciatus.

In one experiment they used a wind tunnel equipped with cameras to track the mosquitoes’ flight patterns. The tunnel was designed to encourage them to behave as naturally as possible.

On the floor of the tunnel were two small coloured spots; one to represent the colour (wavelength) of interest and a control (white). Some of the colour samples were chosen to mimic different skin tones, including one to represent the colour of tanning lotion.

In mosquitoes, only the females bite, because in most species they require a blood meal to complete the reproductive process. So 50 mated but unfed female mosquitoes were released into the wind tunnel, where they would naturally search for a host.

After an hour carbon dioxide (CO₂) was released into the wind tunnel. CO₂ is exhaled by humans and other mammals. While it’s odourless to us, mosquitoes can smell it and use this scent to help guide them to a source of blood.

Seeing red

Before the odour stimulus was released, the Ae. aegypti mosquitoes largely ignored the coloured circles on the floor, instead exploring the ceiling and the walls of the tunnel. But once CO₂ had been introduced they started to investigate the coloured circles, particularly as the wavelength increased from 510 nanometres (nm) to 660nm.

These longer wavelengths represent colours in the orange and red end of the spectrum, though the Ae. aegypti mosquitoes were most attracted to the red, and then black. Notably, these orange to red wavelengths are the same as those given off from human skin tones. Blue, green and violet weren’t any more attractive to the mosquitoes than the control.

When the skin tone spots were used, they were more attractive to the mosquitoes than the control, but no preference was observed for any particular skin tone.

A mosquito on skin.
The researchers wanted to explore the role of colours in attracting mosquitoes.
nechaevkon/Shutterstock

Previous experiments have shown mosquitoes are more attracted to contrasting colours, like a chequerboard pattern, than one solid colour. The researchers also showed the mosquitoes different spots against both similar and contrasting backgrounds. Ae. aegypti were more interested in spots with a high contrast to the background. Scientists believe this helps the mosquitoes distinguish between an object (person) and the background, even in low light. The contrast was more important in attracting the mosquitoes than the colour itself.

Similar to Ae. aegypti, An. stephensi were attracted to black and red, with little interest in the lower wavelengths. Cx. quinquefasciatus showed interest in violet/blue and red (interestingly, opposite ends of the tested spectrum).

The researchers conducted a separate experiment in insect cages to explore the mosquitoes’ attraction to real skin tones. Six volunteers from different ethnic backgrounds were recruited to help with this test. The control was a white glove in one window and the volunteers’ hands were held one at a time in the other window to see if the mosquitoes were attracted to any particular skin tone.

The mosquitoes were more attracted to the hands than the white glove, but as with the dots, there wasn’t a preference for a particular skin tone.

What does this all mean?

This study shows that mosquitoes are attracted to the colours found in human skin, but only in the presence of CO₂, suggesting the smell of human or mammal respiration may act as the initial cue. This confirms previous research which has found CO₂ attracts mosquitoes.

The researchers found that colour and contrast were important factors for Ae. aegypti who showed a preference for red, then black. An. Stephensi were interested in colours similar to Ae aegypti, though preferring black over red. Meanwhile, Cx. quinquefasciatus were interested in a range of colours.

As the researchers recognised, their experiments didn’t account for some of the other factors that affect mosquitoes’ choice of host. These include chemicals released from human skin, the temperature of the skin, and sweat on the skin. It would be interesting for future experiments to include these factors.

So what does this mean for the average person who doesn’t want to get bitten? You could try wearing white, blue or green and avoiding black, red and orange. Definitely avoid red and black checked patterns.

While adjusting your clothing may reduce your risk of being bitten, there’s no guarantee it will, or how effective this will be, particularly given the apparent variation in colour preferences between species. But these findings do suggest that with more research, colour could potentially be used as a tool in mosquito control.The Conversation

Cassandra Edmunds, Lecturer in Forensic Biology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Fiction can change the world – five books that made a difference

Dr Hywel Dix writes for The Conversation about the ways fiction novels can influence social change…

Fiction can change the world: five books that made a difference

Hywel Dix, Bournemouth University

Activist Jack Monroe recently used Terry Pratchett’s “boots theory” to explain the vicious circle for people on low incomes only being able to afford clothing that constantly wears out. Monroe has now used the Vimes index (named after a Pratchett character) of inflation to persuade the Office of National Statistics to review how it calculates the cost of living.

Raymond Williams’s classic 1977 book Marxism and Literature broke new ground arguing that fiction could influence social change. Here are five contemporary examples.

1. Bitter Fruit (Achmat Dangor, 2001)

In this novel, a bi-racial South African civil servant comes face-to-face with the white member of the state security forces who had raped his wife during apartheid. The book explores the consequences of political violence for both perpetrators and victims. There are no easy winners, pointing to the need for reconciliation – even when this feels impossible.

Reviewing the novel, South African academic Ronit Frenkel has shown that Bitter Fruit raised through fiction the questions South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission tried to answer for the whole country after apartheid. Nelson Mandela was said to be a fan and Dangor went on to head the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

2. Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris, 2007)

In Joseph Heller’s anti-war classic Catch-22, the pilots joke while one by one they get shot down. The combination of bleak humour with a serious message played out numerous times throughout the 20th century. Franz Kafka had already used the same logic in The Trial, where Josef K is executed for an offence he never understands. Ferris’s novel is an heir to both of these. It is set in the late 1990s among a group of advertising executives as they lose their jobs. But although it was written immediately before the financial crisis of 2007-08, it can’t help but feel like a tragicomic social critique of it.

As the characters are laid off, their dreams shrivel up and their solidarity collapses. Researcher Alison Russell describes the tension between the office workers’ desire for security being in conflict with their desire for individual achievement in Then We Came to the End. It brings to mind Pastor Niemöller’s poignant words about standing up for others, or being left with no one to defend you. It comes across as a stark warning of what happens when corporate culture is left unchecked.

The story of Martin Niemöller.

3. Elena Knows (Claudia Piñeiro, 2007)

Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro’s fifth novel to appear in English is narrated by Elena, a 63-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease. She measures out her day through doses of medication, between which, she knows, she will barely be able to move. And yet this is not the most interesting things about Elena Knows. Her daughter Rita has died, apparently killing herself. When no one is willing to investigate, she calls for assistance on Isabel – a woman whom she and Rita had earlier dissuaded from having an abortion.

What ensues is a subtle and skilful exploration of how far women have the right to control their own bodies. This has been of particular importance in Argentina, where Piñeiro was at the forefront of the campaign to legalise abortion as recently as 2020. Its readership was huge by South American standards – Piñeiro is the third most widely translated Argentinian writer ever – and its effect has been dramatic.

4. Girl, Woman, Other (Bernadine Evaristo, 2019)

There are so many good things about this book it’s hard to know where to begin. Some readers would have been familiar with the struggles of African-American women through the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Black British women writers, rightly or wrongly, had not received as much attention. Until now.

The wide varieties of speech used by Evaristo’s women from many different backgrounds makes Girl, Woman, Other a joy to read. Along the way it debunks a number of mistakes about ancestry and race. And the way it handles the often-fraught politics of trans rights is both sensitive and accessible, cutting through to a far more mainstream audience than would normally consider this still-emerging issue.

5. Broken Ghost (Niall Griffiths, 2019)

This is Brexit fiction, or BrexLit. The rapidly changing political landscape of the past ten years has been just too tempting for authors to ignore, but Brexit novels are often tame and twee. Invariably they portray educated cosmopolitan types thrown into disarray. That is, BrexLit often reinforces the social divisions it should be the job of the writer to break down.

Griffiths does something different. His cast of characters – a “slut”, a “junkie” and a “thug” – are worlds away from the middle-class lives of most Brexit novels. When he takes readers to a hippie commune up a Welsh mountain to see what happens to them, they might end up understanding the world from somebody else’s perspective. In healing the divisions in Britain post-Brexit, the importance of this book can hardly be overstated. This is why in the desert of Brexit fiction, Broken Ghost is a novel oasis.The Conversation

Hywel Dix, Associate Professor in English, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Dr Keith Parry writes for The Conversation about the disparity in pay and opportunities between male and female sport…

How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) recently awarded full-time professional contracts to 12 women players. However, the value of the contracts has not been revealed and the 12 contracts are not enough to make up a full rugby union team, let alone a squad.

These contracts are still unusual and top sportswomen continue to face more funding issues than men at the same level. Contracts offered to top women athletes are often short term, covering the weeks of a sporting competition, or part-time, and, until recently, lacking maternity leave. Women’s teams frequently face poor pitches, lower wages/prize money, and inferior conditions compared to men.

Sport has been (and largely still is) governed by male, hypermasculine former athletes. One theory argues that these managers of sport make decisions that benefit themselves and (white, heterosexual, middle/upper-class) males. As a result, women’s sport has, at many times, been misunderstood and treated poorly.

History of discrimination

Women’s sport is getting more backing, but this comes against a long history of discrimination. Last year’s Women’s FA Cup Final took place 100 years after the Football Association banned women’s football in Football League grounds. This ban fed into historic hostility towards women playing sport.

That has not gone away completely. The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) stoked controversy with its views shortly after women’s boxing was accepted as an Olympic sport. AIBA suggested that women boxers should wear skirts when they competed to help them stand out from the men’s competitions.

While 22-year-old Ema Klinec from Slovenia, the current World Champion, is one to watch for the women’s ski jumping at the Winter Olympics this year, women were excluded from this sport for years. As recently as 2008, the International Olympic Committee cited the “technical merit” of women’s ski jumping as justification for its exclusion. Another reason was also the misguided belief by the governing body that ski jumping would damage women’s reproductive health. Following international pressure and unsuccessful court cases, it was finally accepted in 2011 and appeared for the first time at Sochi 2014.

This type of view has heavily influenced the way women’s sport is treated and its funding and resourcing.

Equal pay

Just over 50 years ago, Billie Jean King and eight other professional tennis players launched their own tennis tour to ensure that they were paid and treated on a par with men’s tennis players. Yet it was not until 2006 that the last Grand Slam tennis tournament, Wimbledon, agreed to pay equal prize money to men and women. The men’s World Number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic argued in 2016 that men should earn more than women players.

Even when women’s teams have successes, they are frequently paid significantly less than men. The US Women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination act (and later a gender discrimination lawsuit) against the governing body of their sport. Despite winning World Cups and generating more income than the men’s team, they were paid a quarter of what the men’s team earned prior to their legal action.

There are signs that change is coming. The Welsh national football association has recently pledged to introduce equal pay for its men’s and women’s teams by 2026. They have joined a growing number of national associations to have equal pay agreements for their men’s and women’s teams.

In cricket, The Hundred was the first professional tournament that put women’s and men’s teams on an equal footing, with women’s matches played on the same grounds as the men’s. Attendances for the women’s matches was higher than for previous tournaments.

Increased attendance show that when women’s sport is marketed suitably, spectators see greater value in it and are more likely to attend.

At the Winter Olympics, the inclusion of sports such as mixed team ski jumping and women’s monobob mean that there are not only more events for women but also greater opportunities for sponsorship. At the 2020 Tokyo Games, sponsorship of women athletes grew. Sponsors increasingly see value in backing women athletes.

The FA and Professional Footballers’ Association have finally agreed to include maternity and long-term sickness cover in the contract of women footballers. At the same time, the Women’s World Cup and European Championship are likely to be recognised as
two of the protected sports events made available to free-to-air broadcasters.

Progress has been made in women’s sport but until the attitudes of those running sport change, top sportswomen will continue to face more obstacles than men.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Dr Keith Parry answers some of the most pressing questions about what tennis star Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia means for unvaccinated athletes in this article for The Conversation

‘We’re entering unprecedented territory’: sports expert Q&A on what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is out of the Australian Open after the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, cancelled his visa “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. This follows an earlier quashing of the original decision by Border Force officials to cancel the Serbian player’s visa when he arrived in Australia because he didn’t have a COVID vaccination. Djokovic’s lawyers headed to court to seek an injunction against his deportation, which has now been dismissed.

Djokovic was seeking a tenth title at the event, as well as the world record for men’s Grand Slam wins. At the age of 34, it this makes it harder for him to now be able to fulfil his potential on the court before he retires.

At a time when multiple countries have been introducing restrictions on unvaccinated people, it raises questions about whether other sports stars will run into similar issues. We asked sports management expert Keith Parry about what the visa struggle might mean for sports stars and teams around the world.

Will Djokovic’s visa saga have implications for other sports in Australia?

Yes it will. Now they’ve set the precedent, I think we could see other players fall foul of this system when entering Australia. Clearly the federal government do not want unvaccinated players coming into Australia so it will deter some (unless they agree to isolate for two weeks).

Are significant numbers of sports stars unvaccinated?

In the US the public know if players are unvaccinated because of regulations there. For example the National Basketball Association has released a list of unvaccinated players. There’s no requirement to name players in the UK, but there’s been coverage about Premier League footballers not being vaccinated.

What are other teams likely to do to avoid trouble?

Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp has said that he won’t sign an unvaccinated player. So there’s an implication for players’ livelihoods. Players who are unvaccinated may have limited choice not just in terms of where they can go and travel, but also in terms of the clubs that are prepared to sign them. So we’re entering unprecedented territory now. Other managers may follow Klopp’s lead.

Some managers will see the Djokovic decision as further evidence of the challenge that unvaccinated players pose to clubs. Another challenge for sport managers may be sponsors and partners, who may exert influence on athletes or teams if they have strong views on vaccinations. We see many sponsors end relationships with teams or players if they feel it is bad for their image.

Teams and organisations will also now think carefully about where they play or host matches. Teams will pay even closer attention to the regulations in countries and ensure that they have sufficient time to meet the requirements for isolation or bubbles. Countries that have stricter rules may look less appealing in the future.

Will sports stars worry about their statements on vaccines making a difference to them playing?

Players are very affluent. They’re young and feel indestructible. But they may think twice now about what they say on social media about vaccines. It will be interesting to see how athletes who refuse to be vaccinated are viewed. Will it tarnish Djokovic’s image or, as is often the case, will he be forgiven and the episode written out of his story?

Which countries with upcoming tournaments could be an issue in future?

In Europe, Italy and Germany have vaccine mandates and so tournaments there, or European club competition matches in these countries, may present challenges. France just relaxed its travel rules but unvaccinated players are still required to isolate for ten days. This may be an issue for the Six Nations rugby tournament this spring.

Different state rules around the US may be a challenge for athletes. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, for instance, cannot play in New York because of its regulations, but he can play in the team’s away matches in most other states.

Is this a sign that sports stars can’t always get around the rules?

In the past, organisations like international football association FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have operated outside of borders and outside of the rules. Often no one holds them accountable. Clearly these celebrities do expect to have preferential treatment. So this visa wrangle may be a bit of a shock.

Ordinary people have to go through immigration, fill in forms ourselves and follow the rules. But when you’re idolised by millions around the world, it’s very difficult to think that the rules apply to you. Sports heroes have crossed over into the realm of celebrity but there’s a need for athletes to uphold society’s values.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Dr Keith Parry and Dr Rafaelle Nicholson co-author this article for The Conversation about the challenges facing women’s sport… 

Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Chelsea Women’s Sam Kerr takes a shot at goal during an FA Women’s Superleague match against Arsenal Women.
Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, Bournemouth University

The delayed 2020/21 Women’s FA Cup final is finally taking place. Two London rivals, Arsenal and Chelsea, and some of the best players in the world make this a sporting event worthy of a grand stage such as Wembley Stadium. The timing of the final, December 5, is significant and ironic, as on December 5 1921 the Football Association banned women’s football.

The ban was because sports were believed to be unsuitable for females. Fifty years on from the end of this ban, women’s football is now where it belongs, at the “home of football”.

This is just one of many significant developments in women’s sport that have happened recently.

In summer 2021, English cricket’s new Hundred tournament attracted the highest attendance for a women’s cricket event ever, with a total attendance at the games of 267,000. The opening game of the American women’s soccer Challenge Cup, meanwhile, became the most-watched match in league history with 572,000 viewers, a 201% increase on the previous record. And in England, a “landmark £7m deal” was struck with broadcasters to show Women’s Super League football matches on free-to-air and subscription services.

It’s been claimed that interest in women’s sport is thriving. However, there are concerns regarding the future of women’s sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More needs to be done to assure its future.

The need for caution

We research key governance aspects of women’s sport and, while we agree there has been much improvement, our research also suggests that areas of inequality remain and more needs to be done by governing bodies, organisations and policymakers. While women’s sport is currently popular, changes are needed for its success to be sustained.

For instance, when men’s and women’s sports are governed by the same organisation, the decisions made typically prioritise men’s sport. Recent accusations of institutional racism highlight the issues when sports are run by hypermasculine, failed male athletes – they make decisions that benefit themselves and those that resemble them (men).

This is an issue that has worsened over time. Historically, many women’s sports were governed separately and run wholly or mainly by women – for example, the Women’s Football Association was in charge of English women’s football until the Football Association took over in 1992, and the Women’s Cricket Association ran women’s cricket until 1998 when the England and Wales Cricket Board gained control. But since the 1990s, women’s sport has typically been run by men with little knowledge of women’s sport, who tend to prioritise what they know.

This privileging of men’s sport was particularly the case at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exception to this was in North America where women’s football has its own governing body, and where during the pandemic, women’s football was prioritised – a new tournament introduced and new commercial partners found. In other countries, women’s sport was simply cancelled.

Another area of concern is that sports media coverage, which is now the way most people access sport, continues to be dominated by men’s sports. This pattern is not helped when those who talk and write about sport remain predominantly men. Our research shows that when women have greater involvement in sports journalism there’s greater coverage of women’s sport. The challenge is breaking into the “boys’ club” of sports journalism.

We also found that women’s sport is both under-valued and under-sold. Women’s sport often receives less investment in marketing and promotion. As a result, spectators see it as less exciting and less spectacular than men’s sport.

This research also found that women’s games are often scheduled in the middle of the workday or early on weekdays, rather than primetime slots on weekday evenings or weekend afternoons. This scheduling creates problems because spectators are often not able to attend when games are during work hours or when children’s sport is taking place.

Women’s sport is often only accessible on pay-TV, limiting the potential audience. Recent research shows that when matches are moved onto free-to-air channels, the sky is the limit. A study for the Women’s Sport Trust recently showed that the broadcast audience of women’s sport in the UK has grown from 46.8 million in 2019 to 51.1 million in 2021. Much of this increase comes from new coverage of women’s cricket and women’s football, and gender-parity in Olympic coverage.

A roadmap for sustained success

So, while the future of women’s sport looks bright, inequalities remain. We propose a five-point “roadmap” detailing the changes that are needed for the success of women’s sport to be sustained:

• Ensure that the governance of women’s sport has women in visible leadership positions, to prioritise it and ensure that any decisions support the interests of women’s sport. Otherwise, if men run both men’s and women’s sport they will continue to prioritise the male version.

• The sports media workforce needs greater diversity. Although we focus on gender here, sports media is dominated by white men.

• The marketing and presentation of women’s sport need to be on a par with men’s sport. While men’s sport has greater investment in these areas it will continue to be seen as superior to women’s sport. There needs to be unity in how sports clubs communicate with fans about their men’s and women’s teams.

• Women’s sport needs consistent prime time scheduling (as seen with women’s football in England this season), rather than during the day when the majority of fans are at work and cannot attend.

• Coverage of women’s sport needs to be on free-to-air television – if it is not, awareness of it will drop.

If these points can be addressed, we believe that women’s sport will continue to thrive, not just now, but well into the future.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, , Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Writing for The Conversation, Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds discuss the potential discovery of an early human species…

A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Dawid A. Iurino for THOR, Author provided

Matthew Robert Bennett, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Bournemouth University

A collection of fossil footprints at Laetoli in Northern Tanzania, preserved in volcanic ash and dated to 3.66 million years ago, are still yielding surprises almost 45 years after their discovery.

Based on a re-analysis of fossil footprints from one of Laetoli’s sites, the authors of a new study published in the journal Nature say they’ve discovered evidence of a previously unknown early human species at this spot. However, there are reasons to be cautious about this conclusion.

Before we delve into these new findings, let’s orientate ourselves. Laetoli, an area well-known for paleontological excavations, has a number of distinct sites, each denoted by letters of the alphabet. British paleoanthropolgist Mary Leakey and her colleagues first reported fossil footprints in 1978 at Site G, the main track site at Laetoli.

In 2016, a team led by Fidelis Masao, an archaeologist in Tanzania, uncovered additional tracks close to Site G, at Site S. The footprints from Sites G and S are usually assigned to the well-known ancestral human (hominin) species Australopithecus afarensis, of which the skeleton “Lucy” is the best-known example.

Less well-known is the fact that in 1976, two years before Leakey’s famous discovery, a set of five footprints were found at Site A. Importantly, all these sites occur on the same ash surface, so we know they date from the same time period.

But the five footprints from Site A were largely forgotten, eclipsed by Leakey’s later discovery. This was understandable because the footprints at Site A had poor morphological shape, or definition, and there were fewer of them (there are more than 30 individual footprints at Site G).

In 1987, American paleoanthropologist Russell Tuttle suggested that these footprints may have been made by a species of bear, or by a different hominin from those of Site G. He also cautioned that the diversity in the footprints’ form as compared to those at Site G might simply reflect the changing properties of the ash layer over which the hominin walked.

Seeking to find out who these footprints belonged to, a team of international researchers re-excavated the tracks from Site A in 2019. Their findings are the focus of the new paper in Nature.

The researchers used various methods including photography and 3D scanning to inspect the Site A footprints. They compared the width and length with footprints from black bears, chimpanzees and humans, as well as the tracks from Sites G and S. They also explored the bear hypothesis by examining video footage of modern black bears which, on rare occasions, walk upright.

The authors concluded that on balance, the footprints at Site A did not resemble bear tracks, and were different from the footprints at Sites G and S.

One particular feature they draw attention to is that the Site A trackway cross-steps, almost as if one was attempting to toe a line as part of sobriety test. Based on this and their other findings, the authors suggest that the tracks at Site A were made by a different hominin than those at sites G and S. They argue that two hominin species walked the Laetoli landscape 3.66 million years ago.

A footprint from Site A on the left and Site G on the right.
Image on left by Jeremy DeSilva and on right by Eli Burakian/Dartmouth.

The broader evolutionary context at this time suggests what the authors are proposing would be possible. There was more than one species of hominin on the African landscape during this period, and we’ve seen anatomical variation in the foot within some Australopithecus species. That said, it’s quite a significant leap to identify a second species based on a handful of poorly defined tracks.

Variation in trackways is the key issue here. Imagine going for a walk down a beach or sandy path. The footprints you make will vary from one step to the next. This reflects natural variability in human gait, as well as subtle differences in the characteristics of the ground you’re walking on.

In a recent paper we suggested that you need a minimum of between ten and 20 footprints before you can confidently quantify the variability in just one dimension, such as footprint length, let alone several. Others have suggested that you may need over 250 tracks to adequately quantify the three-dimensional form of a footprint.

Footfall and the resulting footprints are more variable than once thought and some have argued that even individuals of the same species may have highly unique gaits.

In this context it is rather surprising that the authors of this paper make inferences not just about one individual, but a whole species.

One way to strengthen their conclusions would be to use modern “whole foot” methods to statistically compare the best footprint at Site A with those at Sites S and G. This could be an approach for future research.

Certainly more evidence is needed to determine whether these footprints justify this excitement, and do indeed belong to another early human species.The Conversation

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Principal Academic in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: UK-India trade deal: why the timing is crucial for both nations

The UK and India have announced a new enhanced deal on trade at a virtual summit. The deal aims to double trade between the two countries by 2030 and declares their joint commitment to start working towards a comprehensive free-trade agreement, for which discussions are due to commence in the autumn.

Britain and India announced £1 billion of new trade and investment as part of this new Enhanced Trade Partnership. Indian investments worth £533 million will be made in Britain, including £240 million by the Serum Institute for production of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines and sales business. At the same time, £446 million worth of export deals were announced by British businesses in India. This builds on a trade relationship that was already worth £25.5 billion in 2019.

At the summit the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, also launched a Roadmap 2030 to expand and deepen bilateral cooperation in five areas: people-to-people relationships, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate action and healthcare cooperation.

Deeper ties

The new deal is expected to generate additional employment in both countries, grow bilateral trade and unlock new opportunities in sectors such as food and drink, business services such as law and accounting, advanced engineering, defence, education, energy, life sciences and healthcare. It will also reduce barriers, both tariff and non-tariff, for businesses at a time when the prospects for global growth after the COVID-19 pandemic remain uncertain.

The deal is particularly interesting due to its size and intended scope. The UK and India are the 5th and 6th biggest economies in the world. India is the largest single market, of about 1.4 billion people, that the UK has committed to negotiating a free-trade deal with to date.

India is Britain’s sixth-largest non-EU trading partner, whereas Britain is barely inside India’s top 20. This points to significant scope for growth on both sides. Once agreed, the free-trade deal is likely to be extremely significant, fostering innovation and technology cooperation as well as skills transfer and knowledge-sharing between the two nations.

At present, however, India is facing a particularly devastating health threat following the latest outbreak of COVID-19. The UK government and the diaspora have been supporting India with things like ventilators, oxygen generation units and a clinical advisory group, but the subcontinent is so large and populous that there is only so much that can be achieved.

The new agreement can potentially help by easing the pain of economic contraction for India in 2021, while supporting both partners as they commence rebuilding efforts to recover from the pandemic.

Britain and the Indo-Pacific

The deal will likely strengthen the geopolitical positions of both nations in a part of the world that is dominated by China. The UK’s recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy articulated the importance of an Indo-Pacific region with “open societies”.

The UK signalled a willingness in the review to play a larger role in the region, committing to a larger naval presence to ensure freedom of navigation. It has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free-trade bloc of 11 Pacific nations including Japan, Australia and Canada.

The UK has also become an official dialogue partner of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. All this, including the trade deal with India, seeks to help the UK to “unlock opportunities in the region” and establish an outward-looking global Britain.

Finally, announcing an UK-India agreement before the EU-India summit on May 8 gives the UK a first-mover advantage over the trading bloc that it has just left behind. In keeping with the UK-India deal, facilitating investment, regulatory cooperation and trade barriers are at the top of the agenda at the summit. The EU is also seeking to make progress on a free-trade agreement, as well as several other treaties on specific aspects of trade. Modi had been due to visit Porto, Portugal for the occasion, but this has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

The UK-India declaration for an Enhanced Trade Partnership symbolises the commitment of both countries to bolster what Modi has referred to as “living bridge” between the two countries in light of their shared history, culture and democratic values. It is these common attributes – together with complementary skills and capabilities – that make the UK and Indian natural partners despite the geographical distance, especially at a time when both the economies will have to address the economic rebuilding agenda after the pandemic.

Sangeeta Khorana, Professor of Economics, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Boris Johnson’s phone: what can hackers do with your mobile number?

Boris Johnson’s personal phone number has been publicly available on the internet for 15 years, it has been revealed. Listed at the bottom of a 2006 press release, the number has reportedly been accessible online from the time the prime minister was shadow higher education minister through to his rise to Number 10.

That such a high-value mobile number has been publicly available for so long has raised cybersecurity concerns. If hostile states had access to the number, it’s possible they could have used it to spy on the prime minister. That would pose a serious security risk to the UK.

Hackers and cybercriminals place a high premium on our mobile phone numbers – with which they can do a lot of damage with very little effort. While there is currently no evidence that Boris Johnson’s data and communications have been compromised, having your mobile phone number being freely available significantly increases your vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

Impersonation

One such cyber-attack is the “SIM swap” – a very common technique that’s difficult to stop. It’s usually used by hackers to exploit a high-value individual’s exposed phone number.

SIM swaps see hackers call up the victim’s mobile phone provider, impersonating them and requesting to “port-out” the phone number to a different carrier or a new SIM card. They can use other publicly available information – such as the victim’s date of birth and their address – to make a more convincing case.

On completion of the port-out, the phone number activates on the attacker’s SIM card, and the hacker can send and receive messages and make calls as if they were the victim.

Phone companies have been aware of this problem for years, but the only routine solution they’ve come up with is offering PIN codes that a phone owner must provide in order to switch devices. Even this measure has proved ineffective. Hackers can get the codes by bribing phone company employees, for instance.

Access

Once hackers gain control of a phone number, they can then access their online profiles – on Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and WhatsApp – which are all usually linked to the mobile number. All they need to do is ask the social media companies to send a temporary login code, via text message, to the victim’s phone.

This was reported to be the case for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose mobile phone SIM swap resulted in hackers posting offensive messages to millions of his followers. Other high-value individuals have also fallen victim to these kinds of attacks, including the actress Jessica Alba, and online personalities like Shane Dawson and Amanda Cerny.




Read more:
The real phone hacking scandal is in your pocket


Aside from posting offensive messages, hackers have been reported to use the accounts to spam, steal identities, access private communications, steal cryptocurrency, and maliciously delete mobile phone data.

Surveillance

Hackers can also use another even simpler method to attack a phone – though some advanced spyware is needed to make the attack stick. Hackers armed with someone’s phone number can send them a text message with a hyperlink within it. If clicked, the link allows spyware to infiltrate the phone, compromising much of its data.

Jeff Bezos stood outside, smiling and wearing a grey suit
Jeff Bezos’ personal phone was found to contain spyware in January 2020.
lev radin/Shutterstock

It appears this method was used to infiltrate and spy on Jeff Bezos’ phone in 2020, after reports found it to be “highly probable” that a text sent from Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, delivered the spyware to Bezos’ phone. Similar spyware has been used to monitor the phones of journalists and human rights activists.

It is possible that Boris Johnson’s mobile phone has never been hacked, in spite of the 15 years that his number was freely available online. However, seeing as the exposed phone numbers of high-value individuals can be taken advantage of by criminals or hackers from hostile states, tight new security measures should be put in place to avoid such an oversight happening again.

Edward Apeh, Principal Academic in Computing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How lockdown changed the sex lives of young adults – new research

Lockdown significantly affected our health (for good and bad), our work and how we socialise. These consequences have been widely discussed, but far less attention has been given to the effect on our sex lives.

When lockdown came into force in the UK in March 2020, people from outside the same household were not allowed to meet indoors, and only at set distances outdoors. This meant that sex between people who didn’t live together was effectively criminalised.

In some ways, these restrictions disproportionately affected young adults, who are more likely than older adults to be exploring their sexuality and developing romantic relationships. But the impact of lockdown on people’s sexual desires and sex lives and how this affected their sense of wellbeing was not known. We decided to find out.

For our study, we surveyed 565 people aged 18-32 in the UK at the end of peak lockdown restrictions in May 2020. People were recruited using a survey recruitment site. They were a convenience sample, meaning they were people who were easily available rather than representative of the population as a whole.

Respondents were asked if they engaged in a list of sexual activities both before lockdown and during lockdown. This included intercourse, solo masturbation, and watching pornography. They were also asked to rate their health and wellbeing.

The number of respondents who engaged in each of these activities during lockdown decreased compared with before lockdown. The biggest decrease was for sex with a partner, with just over a quarter of respondents stopping this activity during lockdown (25.5%).

For those participants who continued to engage in sexual activities, we also asked whether the frequency increased or decreased during the period. There were both increases and decreases. Regarding increases, just over a quarter (26%) of people masturbated more often on their own, 20% reported having more intercourse with their partner, and 20% reported watching more pornography on their own.

Yet the same three sexual activities also decreased in frequency for some participants, with a third of people having less sex with their partner, a quarter masturbating alone less, and around a fifth (22%) watching less pornography alone.

People were more likely to report increases in sexual activity if they were male, in a serious relationship, and if they weren’t heterosexual.

We also investigated sexual desire. In our sample, women reported lower sexual desire than men overall, with a significant decrease in sexual desire during lockdown compared with before lockdown. Women with a greater enjoyment of casual sex reported a greater perceived effect of lockdown on their wellbeing.

Our findings, which are published in the Journal of Sex Research, support other reports into the effects of lockdown restrictions. Lockdown measures have disproportionately affected some groups more than others. The reported increase in domestic chores and stress for women during the lockdown may explain the decrease in sexual desire and the negative effect on wellbeing.

Moving out of lockdown

There are many health benefits, both physical and mental, to engaging in regular sexual activity. Sex can be an important component of people’s lives and their identity, particularly for sexual minorities.

There are other concerns about COVID-19 and sexuality. Most sexual health and reproductive services in the UK have been severely limited or closed. There is evidence that access to condoms and contraception was disrupted for young adults during social lockdown.

Some sexual health charities have been offering home testing kits of sexually transmitted infection screenings, but there will be people who do not or cannot use these services. Similarly, there is evidence that birth rates have dropped significantly over the year, which might lead to an associated large increase in births over the next 12 months once people see some stability returning to their lives.

As the UK follows the road map out of lockdown, it is important to consider how those whose sex lives have been restricted will respond to the extra freedom. It has been suggested that we could see a new “roaring 20s” as we return to a new sense of normality.

Government policy ignored sex during lockdown. It needs to actively support sexual health and wellbeing as we return to some kind of normality.

Liam Wignall, Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University and Mark McCormack, Professor of Sociology, University of Roehampton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Sea levels are rising fastest in big cities – here’s why

It is well known that climate-induced sea level rise is a major threat. What is less well know is the threat of sinking land. And in many of the most populated coastal areas, the land is sinking even faster than the sea is rising.

Parts of Tokyo for instance sank by 4 metres during the 20th century, with 2 metres or more of sinking reported in Shanghai, Bangkok, and New Orleans. This process is known as subsidence. Slow subsidence happens naturally in river deltas, and it can be accelerated by the extraction of groundwater, oil or gas which causes the soil to consolidate and the surface to lose elevation.

Subsidence leads to relative sea level rise (sea level rise plus land sinking). It turns croplands salty, damages buildings, causes widespread flooding and can even mean the loss of entire coastal areas.

Subsidence can threaten flooding in low-lying coastal areas, much more so than rising sea levels, yet scientists are only just realising the global implications of the threat with respect to coastal cities.

In fact, while the average coastal area experiences relative sea level rise of less than 3mm per year, the average coastal resident experiences a rise of around 8mm to 10mm per year. This is because so many people live in deltas and especially cities on deltas that are subsiding. That’s the key finding of our new research, where we analysed how fast cities are sinking across the world and compared them with global subsidence data including less densely populated coastlines.

Map showing relative sea level rise in 23 coastal regions around the world.
When weighted by population, relative sea level rise is worst in south east Asia, followed by south and east Asia, and the southern Mediterranean.
Nicholls et al, CC BY-SA

Our finding reflects that people often choose to live in river deltas, floodplains and other areas that were already prone to sinking, and in doing so will further enhance subsidence. In particular, subsiding cities contain more than 150 million people in the coastal zone – that’s roughly 20% of people in the world who live by the sea. This means relative sealevel rise will have a more sudden and more severe impact than scientists had originally thought.

Here are a few of the most affected cities:

Jakarta

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is home to 10 million people, and is built on low-lying land next to the sea. Groundwater extraction caused the city to sink more than three metres from 1947 to 2010 and much of the city is still sinking by 10cm or more each year.

Subsidence does not occur evenly, leading to uneven risks that make urban planning difficult. Buildings are now flooded, cracks are appearing in infrastructure which is being abandoned.

Jakarta has built higher sea walls to keep up with the subsidence. But since groundwater pumping continues, this patching-up policy can only last so long before the same problems occur again. And the city needs to keep pumping since groundwater is used for drinking water. Taking water, the very thing that humans need to survive, ultimately puts people at risk from inundation.

The battle against subsidence is slowly being lost, with the government proposing in 2019 to move the capital to a purpose-built city on the island of Borneo more than 1,000km away, with subsidence being one of many reasons.

Shanghai

Developing rapidly in the past few decades, and now with a population of 26 million, Shanghai is another sinker. The city has maximum subsidence rates of around 2.5cm a year. Again this is mostly caused by lowering groundwater levels, in this case thanks to drainage to construct skyscrapers, metro lines and roads (for instance Metro Line 1, built in the 1990s, caused rapid subsidence).

Body of water in front of lots of skyscrapers.
Shanghai is found where the river Yangtze meets the sea.
John_T / shutterstock

If no additional protection is built, by 2100 this rate of subsidence and sea level rise mean that a storm surge could flood around 15% of the city.

New Orleans

In New Orleans, centuries of embankments and ditches had effectively drained the city and sunk it, leaving about half of it below sea level.

Map of New Orleans with shaded areas below sea level.
Much of New Orleans is below sea level (red) and relies on sea walls to stay dry.
The Data Center, New Orleans, CC BY-SA

When Hurricane Katrina breached the levees in 2005, the city did not stand a chance. The hurricane caused at least US$40 billion (£29 billion) in damage and particularly took its toll on the city’s African American community. More than 1,570 people died across the state of Louisiana.

If the city had not subsided, damage would have been greatly reduced and lives would have been saved. Decisions that were made many decades or more ago set the path for the disasters that are seen today, and what we will see in the future.

There are no simple solutions

So what can be done? Building a sea wall or dike is one immediate solution. This of course stops the water coming in, but remember that the sea wall is sinking too, so it has to be extra large in order to be effective in the long-term. In urban areas, engineers cannot raise ground easily: that can take decades as buildings and infrastructure are renewed. There is no simple solution, and large-scale urban subsidence is largely irreversible.

Some cities have found “solutions”. Tokyo for instance managed to stop subsidence from about 1960 onwards thanks to stronger regulations on water pumping, but it cannot get rid of the overall risk as parts of city are below sea level and depend on dikes and pumps to be habitable. Indonesia’s bold proposal to move its capital city may be the ultimate solution.

Increased urbanisation especially in deltas areas and the demand for freshwater means subsidence will remain a pressing issue in the coming decades. Dealing with subsidence is complementary to dealing with climate-induced sea level rise and both need to be addressed. A combination of rising seas and sinking lands will increasingly leave coastal cities at risk.

Sally Brown, Scientist, Bournemouth University and Robert James Nicholls, Professor of Climate Adaptation, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

On March 11 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 public health emergency had become a pandemic: 114 countries were affected, there were 121,500 confirmed cases and more than 4,000 people had succumbed to the virus.

One year on, we have now seen 115 million confirmed cases globally and more than 2.5 million deaths from COVID-19.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” said the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on that day in 2020. But in the year since that announcement, the fates of many countries have depended on how leaders have chosen their words.

The impact of the pandemic was unprecedented and all governments faced challenges dealing with a severe but highly unpredictable threat to the lives of their citizens. And some governments responded better than others.

My colleagues and I recently carried out a comparative study of how 27 countries responded to the emergence of the virus and first wave, and how they communicated that response to their citizens.

We invited national experts to analyse their government’s communication style, the flow of information on coronavirus and the actions taken by civil society, mapping these responses onto the numbers of cases and deaths in the country in question. Our work reveals contrasting responses that reflect a nation’s internal politics, suggesting that a government’s handling of the pandemic was embedded in existing patterns of leadership.


Read more of our coverage of the first anniversary of the pandemic:

COVID-19: how to deal with a year of accumulated burnout from working at home

Pandemic babies: how COVID-19 has affected child development


With news of the spread of COVID-19 flowing across international borders, domestic preventative measures needed to be explained carefully. The WHO proved ill-equipped, provided equivocal and flawed advice regarding international travel, even from Hubei province, and equivocated on the efficacy of wearing masks. So much came down to how individual leaders communicated with their citizens about the risks they faced.

Experts in crisis management and social psychologists emphasise the importance of clarity and empathy in communicating during a health emergency.

So who did well and who missed the mark?

South Korea and Ghana

We found two major examples of this style of communication working well in practice. South Korea avoided a lockdown due to clearly communicating the threat of COVID-19 as early as January, encouraging the wearing of masks (which were common previously within the nation in response to an earlier Sars epidemic) and quickly rolling out a contact-tracing app.

Each change in official alert level, accompanied by new advice regarding social contact, was carefully communicated by Jung Eun-Kyung, the head of the country’s Centre for Disease Control, who used changes in her own life to demonstrate how new guidance should work in practice.

A graph showing coronavirus case numbers for the UK, Brazil, India, South Korea and Ghana
Our World in Data, CC BY

The transparency of this approach was echoed in the communication style of the Ghanaian president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Akufo-Addo took responsibility for coronavirus policy and explained carefully each measure required, being honest about the challenges the nation faced. Simple demonstrations of empathy earned him acclaim within his nation and also around the world.

“We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we don’t know is how to bring people back to life,” he famously said.

Brazil, the UK and India

South Korea and Ghana adopted a consistent tone highlighting the risks of the new pandemic and how they could be mitigated. Nations that fared less well encouraged complacency and gave out inconsistent messages about the threat of COVID-19.

In March 2020, just three weeks prior to placing the country under lockdown and catching COVID-19 himself, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson downplayed the threat, and said he had been shaking hands with infected people, against the recommendations of his expert advisers. Today, the UK has one of the highest per capita death rates from COVID in the world.

Avoiding a full initial lockdown, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro – who also contracted COVID-19 – called for normality to continue, challenging expert guidance and polarising opinion along partisan lines. Such practices led Brazilians to mistrust the official information and spread of misinformation, while adhering to containment measures became an ideological, rather than a public health, question.

Meanwhile, Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced a snap lockdown with just four hours notice, which caused an internal migration crisis, with poor labourers leaving cities to walk hundreds or thousands of miles to their rural homes. Understandably, the labourers prioritised their fears of homelessness and starvation over the risk of spreading COVID-19 around the country.

None of these responses effectively considered the impact that coronavirus would have on society, or that credibility is earned through consistency. The poor outcomes in each case are a partial reflection of these leadership mistakes.

Bad luck or bad judgement?

Of course, the unfolding of the pandemic was not solely down to good or bad communication from leaders. Health systems and demographics may also have played a role, and the worst impacted nations not only had strategic weaknesses but are also global transport hubs and popular destinations – London, New York, Paris and so on. With hindsight, closing borders would have been wise, despite the contrary advice from the World Health Organization.

Still, it’s evident that leaders who adopted clear, early, expert-led, coherent and empathic guidance fared well in terms of their standing with the public and were able to mitigate the worst effects of the virus.

On the other hand, those who politicised the virus, exhibited unrestrained optimism or took to last-minute decision-making oversaw some of the nations with the most cases and deaths.

Darren Lilleker, Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Three ways to ensure ‘wellness’ tourism provides a post-pandemic opportunity for the travel industry

The effects of COVID-19 vaccination programmes have led to a glimmer of hope that some of the things we used to enjoy may soon be part of our lives once again. High on many people’s priority lists will be foreign travel.

In the UK, the official declaration of a “roadmap” to normality was quickly followed by a surge in online bookings for flights and holidays. This is a welcome development for one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. It is good news for countries that depend on tourism, and it is undoubtedly good news for people who are desperate to get away.

Importantly, it is also a step towards an end to the uncertainty and isolation that in 2020 led to warnings of a global mental health crisis.

The pandemic also raised awareness of the importance of “wellness” – a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing – in people’s lives. Even without a pandemic to deal with, attempting to achieve this state is the basis of a global industry said to be worth around US$4.5 trillion a year.

The travel side of this, “wellness tourism”, was worth US$639 billion globally in 2017, a figure expected to increase to US$919 billion by 2022.

And while wellness tourism was growing rapidly before COVID-19 struck, last year saw a reported growth in internet searches about travel to “wellness destinations]”.

Destination-wise, places known for yoga, meditation and pilgrimage routes, such as Chiang Mai in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia, stand to benefit from increased demand.

Our own tourism research leads us to believe that countries which actively improve infrastructure to target wellness tourism will enjoy a particular boost in any post-COVID period.

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To make sure of this, governments and tourism authorities need to optimise wellness tourism resources. Here are three things they should consider:

1. Encourage domestic tourism

One widespread response to the pandemic was the rediscovery of local natural beauty. New Zealanders for example, prohibited from international travel, flocked to the remote and previously under-visited Chatham Islands. Cambodians capitalised on the absence of some three million annual tourists to visit the Angkor Wat World Heritage site.

The pandemic has been seen as a time to reset longstanding social imbalances that barred local people from enjoying their own spaces. Not only would improved domestic tourism help support local businesses at these destinations, but it would also contribute to the wellbeing of the communities who live close to them.

2. Understand differences

Wellness can mean different things to different people and cultures. In Indonesia, the Balinese travel to religious or spiritual sites for rituals linked to their ancestors and families. This runs parallel to most western tourists’ experiences in Bali, who often visit centres targeted at their personal requirements, with spa treatments or yoga classes. Although westerners generate more profits than locals, it is important for the wellbeing of the surrounding community to ensure equal access to these sites.

Local Balinese yoga instructors often lack the marketing and financial resources to attract global wellness tourists. During the pandemic, some foreign-owned facilities (such as Yoga Barn, one of the most popular studios for westerners) sustained their business through digital video platform. Meanwhile, local facilities struggled without the technical skills and hardware to compete. And while large resorts are well positioned to benefit from post-pandemic wellness travel, they usually provide only low-paid jobs to locals. Support should be provided for small, locally owned wellness tourism businesses as well.

3. Support the small scale

The lack of social sustainability has often plagued tourism development schemes. Our concern is that as tourism gradually opens up again, businesses and governments will simply focus on the high-end luxury wellness market. They may look to smaller numbers of wealthy tourists to remedy economic damage, limit the possibility of spreading the pandemic, and mitigate the high costs of hospitalising sick visitors.

But they would be misguided to focus solely on this competitive niche. Many high-value tourism businesses are owned by foreign investors without local involvement or economic benefit. Local governments, tourism authorities, large businesses and international organisations must support community-based, small-scale enterprises in remote areas to build a more comprehensive wellness tourism sector.




Read more:
How Bali could build a better kind of tourism after the pandemic


Overall, wellness tourism programmes should be developed in a way that empowers local communities, helps to reduce economic inequality and creates new livelihoods, especially in rural areas where poverty rates are high. It should also be developed beyond the popular destinations of Thailand and India to include poorer destinations, such as Laos, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

For while wellness tourism was gaining attention before the COVID period, the trend
will probably continue as COVID restrictions (hopefully) ease. And with the necessary pause in arrivals right now, the industry has an opportunity to reflect on how to create a more sustainable approach to everyone’s wellbeing, wherever they live.

Jaeyeon Choe, Senior Academic in Sustainable Tourism Development, Bournemouth University and Michael Di Giovine, Associate Professor of Anthropology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: India: UK is on a charm offensive to win a free-trade deal – will it work?

Bilateral talks are at an early stage.
Sylwia Bartyzel, CC BY-SA

Sangeeta Khorana, Bournemouth University

At a time when so little international business is face to face because of the pandemic, the UK is flying ministers to India to lay the groundwork for a deal on free trade.

In a sign of the importance that the UK attaches to reaching what is being described as an “enhanced trade partnership” with India on the back of Brexit, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has been meeting Piyush Goyal, the Indian commerce and industry minister.

It is part of a British wide charm offensive with the subcontinent that already saw Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab paying a visit in December. So what is at stake and what are the chances of success?

India is already the UK’s sixth largest non-EU trading partner after the US, China, Japan, Switzerland and Norway, and the relationship now supports more than 500,000 UK jobs.

In 2019, bilateral trade in goods and services between the two countries were respectively worth US$15.7 billion and US$18.9 billion (£11.5 billion and £13.8 billion), and becoming increasingly important. The UK’s services exports to India have grown at 7% a year between 2013 and 2018, and yet India continues to enjoy a trade surplus with the UK. The UK is also the second largest investor in India.

Meanwhile, India is the second largest investor in the UK after the US. India invested in 120 projects and created 5,429 new jobs in the UK in 2018-19. Indian companies in the UK turn over an excess of £40 billion. Steel to car-making giant Tata is easily the largest, but there are many other major Indian employers, such as Firstsource (contact centres), Tenon (facilities management), HCL (IT services) and TVS (logistics).

The UK’s need for a deal

When Dominic Raab visited India before turn of the year, it saw a declaration of a ten-year road map towards upgrading the nations’ 2004 strategic partnership into a new “comprehensive strategic partnership” involving closer military ties, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, and measures to counter terrorism and fight climate change.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to visit the subcontinent in January, but postponed until the spring to deal with the latest wave of the COVID crisis. His counterpart Narendra Modi is also invited to attend the G7 summit in Cornwall, south-west England in June, and there is no question that the economic realities of the pandemic and changed geopolitical priorities following Brexit provide an incentive for both sides to negotiate a fast-track trade deal.

For the UK, this reiterates the government’s “Global Britain” strategy of developing stronger ties in Asia Pacific – in line with the country’s application to join the CPTPP free-trade bloc. A trade deal with India is an opportunity to foster post-Brexit and post-COVID recovery, giving British businesses greater access to a market of 1.3 billion people when the prospects for global growth after the pandemic still remain uncertain.

UK companies already have a growing market share in India in several sectors, including food and drinks despite high tariffs and other trade restrictions. Notably, India is the third largest market for Scotch whisky, for instance.

The business potential has also just been enhanced by the fact that on February 1, the Indian national budget raised the maximum stake that foreign investors can take in insurance companies from 49% to 74%, while also offering new opportunities in healthcare and agribusiness.

India and free trade

From India’s perspective, a deal would reduce its reliance on trade with China at a time of very chilly relations between the two countries, while helping to maintain its global geopolitical weight. In particular, it would reiterate India’s commitment to free trade after the decision in 2019 to exit from a deal to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Asia’s other major trade bloc. India decided it had more to lose than gain by joining the China-led bloc, whose members also include Japan and South Korea.

And of course, a deal would also ease the pain of economic contraction from the pandemic.

Modi giving speech in front of Indian flags
Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister.
amit.pansuriya

Meanwhile, the fact that the UK and India are both primarily services exporters potentially makes them a good fit, not to mention their common language.

India is likely to demand liberal access for skilled professionals and students as part of the negotiations, while the UK will want enhanced access to India’s financial and professional business services market, including insurance and technology. Other sectors likely to be the subject of negotiations might include renewable energy, IT, life sciences and healthcare.

Given India’s recent scepticism to the benefits of free trade, a decision may ultimately come down to whether the post-COVID economic realities convince the Modi government that a deal is a necessity. The UK might be more likely to succeed if it pushes for negotiations that focus on individual sectors rather than a full-bilateral deal. This might offer some low-hanging fruit that eases the two sides into closer integration for an enhanced trade partnership in the fullness of time.

Sangeeta Khorana, Professor of Economics, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Five ways to manage your screen time in a lockdown, according to tech experts

shutterstock

John McAlaney, Bournemouth University; Deniz Cemiloglu, Bournemouth University, and Raian Ali, Hamad Bin Khalifa University

The average daily time spent online by adults increased by nearly an hour during the UK’s spring lockdown when compared to the previous year, according to communications regulator Ofcom. With numerous countries back under severe pandemic restrictions, many of us once again find ourselves questioning whether our heavy reliance on technology is impacting our wellbeing.

It’s true that digital devices have provided new means of work, education, connection, and entertainment during lockdown. But the perceived pressure to be online, the tendency to procrastinate to avoid undertaking tasks, and the use of digital platforms as a way to escape distress all have the potential to turn healthy behaviours into habits. This repetitive use can develop into addictive patterns, which can in turn affect a user’s wellbeing.

In our recent research, we explored how to empower people to have healthier and more productive relationships with digital technology. Our findings can be applied to those suffering from digital addiction as well as those who may feel their digital diet has ballooned unhealthily in the solitude and eventlessness of lockdown.

Screen time and addiction

Digital addiction refers to the compulsive and excessive use of digital devices. The design of digital platforms themselves contributes to this addictive use. Notifications, news feeds, likes and comments have all been shown to contribute towards a battle for your attention, which leads users to increase the time they spend looking at screens.

Screen time is an obvious measure of digital addiction, although researchers have noted that there is no simple way to determine how much screen time one can experience before it becomes problematic. As such, there is a continued lack of consensus on how we should think about and measure digital addiction.

Woman video conferences with others on a screen
Many of us have turned to video conferencing to keep in touch with friends and family.
shutterstock

During a global pandemic, when there often feels like no alternative to firing up Netflix, or video conferencing with friends and family, screen time as an indicator of digital addiction is clearly ineffective. Nonetheless, research conducted on digital addiction intervention and prevention does provide insights on how we can all engage with our digital technologies in a healthier way during a lockdown.

1. Setting limits

During the course of our research, we found that effective limit setting can motivate users to better control their digital usage. When setting limits, whatever goal you’re deciding to work towards should be aligned with the five “SMART” criteria. That means the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

For example, instead of framing your goal as “I will cut down my digital media use”, framing it as “I will spend no more than one hour watching Netflix on weekdays” will enable you to plan effectively and measure your success objectively.

2. Online Support Groups

It might seem a little paradoxical, but you can actually use technology to help promote greater control over your screen time and digital overuse. One study has found that online peer support groups — where people can discuss their experiences with harmful technology use and share information on how to overcome these problems — can help people adjust their digital diet in favour of their personal wellbeing. Even an open chat with your friends can help you understand when your tech use is harmful.

3. Self-reflection

Meanwhile, increasing your sense of self-awareness about addictive usage patterns can also help you manage your digital usage. You can do this by identifying applications we use repetitively and recognising the triggers that prompt this excessive consumption.

Self-awareness can also be attained by reflecting on emotional and cognitive processing. This involves recognising feelings and psychological needs behind excessive digital usage. “If I don’t instantly reply to a group conversation, I will lose my popularity” is a problematic thought that leads to increased screen time. Reflecting on the veracity of such thoughts can help release people from addictive patterns of digital usage.

4. Know your triggers

Acquiring self-awareness on addictive usage patterns can actually help us to identify unsatisfied needs that trigger digital overuse. When we do this, we can pave the way to define alternative behaviours and interests to satisfy those needs in different ways.

Mindfulness meditation, for instance, could be an alternative way of relieving stress, fears, or anxiety that currently leads users to digital overuse. If you feel your digital overuse might simply be due to boredom, then physical activity, cooking, or adopting offline hobbies can all provide alternative forms of entertainment. Again, technology can actually help enable this, for example by letting you create online groups for simultaneous exercising, producing a hybrid solution to unhealthy digital habits.

Father and daughter have fun cooking in kitchen
Cooking is one alternative to unhealthy digital habits.
shutterstock

5. Prioritise the social

We must also remember that our relationship with digital media reflects our inner drives. Humans are innately social creatures, and socialising with others is important to our mental wellbeing. Social media can enhance our opportunities for social contact, and support several positive aspects of mental wellbeing, such as peer support and the enhancement of self-esteem. The engagement with media to purposefully socialise during a lockdown can support our mental health, rather than being detrimental to our wellbeing.

Ultimately, technology companies also have a responsibility to both understand and be transparent about how the design of their platforms may cause harm. These companies should empower users with explanations and tools to help them make informed decisions about their digital media use.

While we may consider this as a legitimate user requirement, technology companies seem to be at the very early stages of delivering it. In the meantime, reflecting on when and why we turn to our screens is a good basis upon which to form positive digital habits during new lockdowns imposed this year.

John McAlaney, Associate Professor in Psychology, Bournemouth University; Deniz Cemiloglu, Researcher, Bournemouth University, and Raian Ali, Professor, College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.