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How Our Online Lives are Being Reshaped by the Pandemic

Two months ago if you asked a teen or young adult to call someone on the phone they most likely would have looked at you like you were crazy, preferring communicating by text or social media instead. Now in the solitude of quarantine, a craving for intimacy and personal connection means people want to hear each other's voices and see each other's faces more than ever. In an article on the rewriting of social connections during the crisis, cultural anthropologist Megan Routh describes the ways the pandemic is reshaping the way people connect with each other, including the democratization of online communities as people turn to social platforms for interaction (i.e. anonymous Zoom dance parties). She writes that young and old consumers alike are rejecting aspirational content from social influencers and instead are seeking relatable content that reflects real life, seeking optimism instead of snark and having more respect for facts.

Internet Safety “Tools” (AKA Parental Controls) You Should Be Thinking About

The old Russian proverb “Trust, but verify” aptly describes the relationship you should ideally have with your kids when it comes their use of digital devices and the Internet. Without a doubt, the most powerful tool you have to keep your kids safe online is your relationship. You want them to know that they can come to you about anyone or anything that bothers them online and have a frank discussion, without blame, about how to handle the situation. But with kids being kids, it could be that they will come across (intentionally or unintentionally) some inappropriate material or situation online. That’s where parental controls come in place. With certain kinds of technology helping to filter and field what they come across, that is much less likely to happen.

So where do you need parental controls? Chances are your tweens and teens are most likely to get into sticky situations when they are away from home using their phone, so the first set of parental controls you need to look into are those afforded by your cell phone manufacturer (Apple or Android, for example) and/or your cell phone carriers. Do a search online for what your specific carrier has to offer by using the name of the service and the search term “parental controls” (many of these also apply to tablets). Both cell manufacturers and cell phone carriers offer parental controls, including the ability to set content filters and disable or limit Internet access or certain apps on Web-enabled phones. Mobile controls can also allow parents to disable, limit, or monitor a child’s texting capability, and picture and video messaging.

There are also a myriad of apps for monitoring your child’s cell phone use. What you need from a parental-control app mainly depends on how old your kids are. If you're the parent of children under 12, you absolutely want to be able to block objectionable websites. If you've got teenagers, you might be ok with just monitoring instead of blocking. You might also want to see who your teens are talking to in messenger apps, or where they are late on a Friday night. And you might want to consider a service that monitors your kids' Windows and Apple devices as well as their smartphones. The best parental control apps will offer, at a minimum, a website filter, location tracking, screen-time limits including a scheduler, and an app blocker.

As far as your laptop and desktop goes, again you may want to look into what your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has to offer by doing a search on their website or by contacting them directly. Depending on what operating system you are using (Windows, Apple, Chrome, etc.), there are parental controls built in as well. Again, doing an online search for your operating system and particular concerns is going to be your best bet for finding what you need to fit your particular purpose. There are just as many apps that you can download for your computer– free and otherwise - as there are for your phones. For your computer you are looking for much the same capabilities as for your phones – a website filter, screen time limits, an app blocker, and the ability to limit certain texting and messaging services.

Your Kids and Digital Addiction

Despite assurances from experts that it is normal and ok that your kids are spending more time on digital devices in these unprecedented times, there is still a risk of digital addiction. If you want to review some strategies for weaning them away, check out this recent article in the New York Times entitled Is Your Child a Digital Addict? Here’s What You Can Do. The author discusses ways to help them step away from the screen without a battle.

Feel Like Your Workday is Longer Than Ever?

Feel like your workday never ends now that you are working from home? You are not alone. Americans have added three hours to their workdays in the weeks they've been working from home, while French, Spanish and British people added two hours to their workdays, according to tracking from NordVPN. Another VPN provider, Surfshark, has seen spikes in usage from midnight to 3 a.m. as people struggle to get all their work done.

How Safe Are Those Video Chat Apps?

The Mozilla Foundation recently released a report detailing how the top 15 video-conferencing apps -- including those used by schools, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams -- measure up when it comes to privacy and security. Of those studied, 12 met the company's minimum security standards.

How to Avoid Screen Time Burnout

How can you avoid screen time burnout when it seems like your whole life revolves around devices? Read or listen to an interview on the National Public Radio with Catherine Price,  a journalist and author of How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life about how to fight screen burnout. Since the pandemic, she's been offering new resources for finding a healthier balance with screens. In particular, she stresses figuring out how to take breaks from your digital devices.

Now’s The Time to Get Internet Savvy

Your kids are probably spending more time online then ever before, so now is a better time than ever to work on digital safety. Think about things such as navigating digital information, vetting sources and fact checking, to name a few. Check out this set of 10 short videos on YouTube from Crash Course. The videos, ranging in length from 5 to 13 minutes, cover fact checking, lateral reading, vetting sources, the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as a source, evaluating photos and videos and data and infographics, and even how not to be drawn in by click bait. Brain Pop also has an excellent Media Literacy video for older kids on how to be a savvy consumer of mass media, including topics such as how to evaluate advertising, news stories, opinion pieces and other hidden persuasions. For a quick read on the subject, try 5 Essential Media Literacy Questions for Kids .


Using Zoom? There Are Some Privacy Issues You Should Know About

The popularity of videoconferencing app Zoom has been surging during the Corona lockdown, with people using it for everything from tele-schooling to business conference calls, but there have been lots of privacy issues emerging. These concerns stem from the fact that Zoom "collects a lot of data from users about their devices, activities and data shared or transferred." There also seem to be flaws that allow attackers to gain physical control of your computer and the ability to install malware or spyware.

If you are using Zoom, check out some advice on using the app and protecting your privacy and personal data.

Apple Offers Screening App

In partnership with the CDC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, Apple recently launched a new website and app for COVID-19 symptom screenings. The screening tools ask users questions about recent exposure, symptoms and risk factors and recommends next steps, including testing if warranted. Although developed through Apple, you do not need an Apple account to access the tools.

Perhaps You Have Time to Create Your F-Pattern

Staying in with perhaps with more free time, many people are sharing tips for organizing your home and your life, but something different you may not have thought of is your organizing digital device. Consider rearranging the apps on your phone to create a F-pattern. Experts say that creating an F-pattern can help you be more productive with your phone and keep you away from the apps that may suck up your time, and give you more access to those that can make you more productive. It actually comes down to the way our brains scan print and pictorial pages.