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Note to Self Podcast by Manoush Zomorodi

Note to Self Podcast

by Manoush Zomorodi

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Is your phone watching you? Can wexting make you smarter? Are your kids real? These and other essential quandaries facing anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age. Join host Manoush Zomorodi for your weekly reminder to question everything. WNYC Studios is the producer of other leading podcasts, including Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Freakonomics Radio and many others.

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AI Learns from Us. So It Learns Bias.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 26, 2017

Got a mole on your arm? Soon, an app will soon be able to screen it for cancer. That salad you ate yesterday may have been screened by a LettuceBot, an AI mounted on tractors that checks whether individual plants need water. And if you live in In Singapore or Pittsburgh, you might already be cruising around in a self-driving cab.

Amazing things are happening to the way we live, eat, and get around. Thanks to robots. But robots are programmed by humans. And those people carry implicit biases, as we all do. And those biases get encoded into the AI. Which can get really ugly, really fast. 

Like when Google Photo tagged Jacky Alcin?’s photos of him and his friend as gorillas a few years ago. This week, we look back at what he found, how the company responded, and the bigger problem behind this one landmark incident. Plus, an update on what Jacky's doing now. 


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Revealing Selfies. Not Like That.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 19, 2017

We asked you guys to send us photos. We got a photo of a woman on the beach. A giant fish statue. Teeth.

We gave them to Andreas Weigend, veteran of Xerox Parc, former chief scientist at Amazon, to see what he could deduce. A lot, it turns out.

A little Google image search, a little metadata, and we can find where you are. Maybe who you are. What color phone you’re using to take the shot, and how many SIM cards you have.

Reading photos is more than a digital parlor trick. It’s the future of commerce, marketing, policing, lending, and basically everything else.


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Spring Cleaning for the Mind

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 12, 2017

There is a lot to take in in our world right now. And there are a lot of ways to do it. You can read articles posted by your Facebook friends, or by the journalists you follow on Twitter. You can watch cable news with your morning oatmeal.

Which makes it all too easy to succumb to information overload. That buzzy, anxious feeling of there’s just too much out there to consume - but I need to know all of it, right?

That feeling isn’t new. It’s just especially turned up in 2017. So this week, an episode worth repeating. We’re proposing one tweak - a challenge of sorts - to change your day. To help you think deeper and consume information meaningfully. Think spring cleaning for your neurons. With neuron experts Dr Daniel Levitin and Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics.

And if you like this episode, you’ll love listening to the entire Infomagical series. You’ll find some calm and some focus. Maybe even magic. If you did the project, it might be time for a refresher!

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Cucked: Defining Manhood the Alt-Right Way

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 05, 2017

This week, the very ancient roots of a very modern word. Racist, sexist roots. And how this revolting word bubbled up from the dark corners of 4chan and Reddit to, well, this podcast.

Cultures and subcultures have always had their own slang. Their own secret languages, the in-crowd lingo. But the wonderful and terrible thing about the Internet is that secrets are hard to keep. Words and ideas can spread. Can become normal. (Think “on fleek” and “stay woke.”)

But what happens when the ideas are white supremacy and misogyny?

With Jonathon Green, author of Green’s Dictionary of Slang; writer Dana Schwartz of the Observer, who has written about cucked for GQ, and Derek Thompson of the Atlantic, whose book Hit Makers explores how ideas spread online.

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Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 29, 2017

Data mining is nothing new in presidential campaigns. But in 2016, the Trump team took voter research to a new level. They hired consultants called Cambridge Analytica, which says it has thousands of data points on every American. They also claim they can use that data to create personality profiles. Assessments of each of our hopes, fears, and desires - and target us accordingly.

This is the science of psychometrics. And, as the story went, Cambridge Analytica’s dark digital arts helped Trump win, with ads designed to ring every reader’s individual bell.

Or, did they? Over the past few weeks, reporters and data experts started asking questions. Where did this data come from? Could the Trump campaign really execute a micro-targeted social media strategy? Did they have a secret sauce? Or was it just more ketchup?

This week, psychometrics and the future of campaign data-mining. With Matt Oczkowski of Cambridge Analytica, psychometrics pioneer Michal Kosinski, and Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times.

And if you're curious about Apply Magic Sauce, the psychometric tool we all tried during the Privacy Paradox, you can find it right here.  

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The Man Who Invented Facebook Ad Tracking Is Not Sorry

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 22, 2017

It’s one thing to get fired. It’s another thing to be escorted out by security. And another thing altogether to have your boss call while you’re sitting in the parking lot in shock, and ask what you might be doing next, and if you need investors.

But that’s Silicon Valley for you.

Before he got canned, Antonio Garc?a Mart?nez was an ads guy at Facebook. Pre-IPO. He designed the ad tracking system that allows products you searched for one single time to follow you around the internet. But he was also undercover as an author, taking notes for a tell-all. The book he wrote is called Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Stories of Face-versaries instead of birthdays, what it means to get an email from Zuck, and the cult of changing the world. 

Despite all he knows, despite ethnic-affinity targeting, he still thinks online ads are A-OK. So Manoush tries to save his ad-loving soul. 

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Government Secrets Worth Leaking... or Keeping?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 15, 2017

So, the C.I.A. has a back door to your phone. At least, according to the Vault 7 data dump from WikiLeaks.

The documents—as yet unproven—say that if your device is connected to the internet, the American government wants in. And has a few tricky tools to do it.

But they’ve had some sneaky tools for a while now. Just ask Daniel Rigmaiden.

In 2008, Rigmaiden was arrested for filing fraudulent tax returns. And he couldn’t figure out how he was caught. He was careful. He stayed anonymous online, he used pre-paid debit cards and fake IDs. So he developed what his attorneys thought was a pretty crazy theory about government surveillance. And it turned out he was right.

This week we revisit Daniel’s story. What he uncovered was more than a theory—it was a balancing act. The technology the government used to catch him was hidden to allegedly keep us safe. If criminals didn't know about it, they wouldn't be able to hack it.

But does that secrecy actually open us up to other dangers? We hear from Nate Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, about a movement to give us a bigger say in how law enforcement does surveillance. Because things are moving fast.

For more on what we know about the leaked documents, which WikiLeaks is calling “Vault 7,” read our round-up of the news here. And if these revelations have you thinking about privacy in a whole new way, try our Privacy Paradox challenges. You can start them any time.

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Will You Do a Snapchat Streak With Me?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 08, 2017

If you are between the ages of 18 and 34, there’s a good chance you’ve already checked Snapchat today. This week, Manoush joins you—despite her reservations.

Those reservations are not just because the Note to Self team isn’t the app’s target demo. It’s because we feel uneasy about the ways Snapchat pressures you to check it, and use it, and check and use again. And again. And again. Former Google designer Tristan Harris explains how far Silicon Valley will go to capture and control your eyeballs. And Snapchat artist CyreneQ explains how she makes her living drawing on her phone all day. For real.

Also, our suggestions for apps that don’t just want to control your eyeballs. Moment helps keep track of how much time you’re spending on your phone. Pocket, which helps your read when you choose. Duolingo has a streaks feature, like Snapchat, but on your terms. F.lux adjusts your computer’s colors at night. Tristan has his own list of suggestions, too.

Got suggestions? Leave a comment below.

And we’re working on a show about the ways we fail to communicate when we communicate across generations. Whether you’re the awkward one, or have a tale of awkward olds, let us know. Send us a voice memo. We’ll share our own stories soon. And they are, indeed, embarrassing.

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Zapping Your Brain To Bliss

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 01, 2017

At Manoush’s house, there’s an object the size of a big potato chip. Which she stuck to her forehead, and used to zap her brain.

This brain stimulation is supposed to calm you down. Maybe replace a glass of wine, just wind you down a little. But it turns out you can wind down a little too far. Too far to ask coherent questions of scientists you’re interviewing.

In this repeat episode, hear what it sounds like when the high-octane Note to Self crew chills waaaay out.

P.S. Looking for the study we mentioned? Thync’s research is all here.

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Can Your Phone Make You Better In Bed?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 22, 2017

When Graceann Bennett got married, she and her husband were terrible at communicating about sex. They were both virgins. They didn’t know how to explain what turned them on, or what turned them off. Over almost two decades, they never quite managed to talk about it. And then the marriage fizzled out.

Bennett decided to code her way out of the problem. If an app was too late to save her marriage, maybe it could help someone else.

In this repeat episode, Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli of The Heart take that app on a test drive. Pls Pls Me lets users share their secret desires with their partners. Who can respond with yes please, or… not so much.

Things we talk about in this episode include love, sex, spanking, and peeing on people. But also kissing, intimacy, and how to communicate. But you might not want to listen with your kids. Or parents. Or at work.


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Privacy, Data Survivalism and a New Tech Ethics

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 21, 2017

There are different approaches to digital privacy. Technologist and entrepreneur Anil Dash tries to flood the Internet with information about himself, not all correct. Reporter Julia Angwin tries to get as invisible as possible. But like Julia says, we’re all kind of losing. Just losing in different ways.

Manoush talked with Anil and Julia before a live audience at WNYC's The Greene Space. We chatted about becoming an information prepper, heterogeneity as privacy, and the perennial question: should we all get off Gmail?

Also, a surprising amount of laughter. And hope.

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Privacy Paradox: Results Show

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 15, 2017

This week, the results are in. Tens of thousands of people joined the Privacy Paradox challenge. And it changed you.

Before the project, we asked if you knew how to get more privacy into your life—43 percent said you did. After the project, that number went up to 80 percent. Almost 90 percent of you also said this project showed you privacy invasions you didn’t know existed.

When we asked you what this project made you want to do, only 7 percent of you said “give up.” Sorry guys! Don’t.

Fully 70 percent of you said you want to push for protection of our digital rights. We have ideas for that in our tip sheet. A third of you said you’ll delete a social media profile. Another third said this project made you want to meditate.

And just one more stat. We tallied your answers to our privacy personality quiz and gave you a personality profile. One-fifth of us were true believers in privacy before the project. Now half us are. Manoush says that includes her.

In this episode, we talk through the results, and look to the future of privacy. With Michal Kosinski, creator of Apply Magic Sauce, and Solon Barocas, who studies the ethics of machine learning at Microsoft Research. Plus, reports from our listeners on the good, the bad and the ugly of their digital data.

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Day 5: Your Personal Terms of Service

Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Feb 10, 2017

You've made it. It's final chapter of the 5-day Privacy Paradox challenges. We hear from the one and only Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. And we set some terms for ourselves about how we want to live online, and what we—all of us, together—can do to create the web we really want.

And while you're thinking about the future, take our Exit Strategy Quiz to find out how far you’ve come, and get a tip sheet with actions—big and small, individual and collective—to re-invent the internet to work for us. 

Sir Tim thinks we can do it. And hey, he already did it once, right?

And if you haven't already—sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. Don't worry if you're signing up after February 10th, we'll get you the challenges on your schedule. The project lives on!

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Day 4: Fifteen Minutes of Anonymity

Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Feb 09, 2017

In this episode, we hear from Elan Gale, executive producer of the Bachelor. Yes, that Bachelor, THE reality show, with a single guy, in a mansion, surrounded by a bevy of young women trying to get him to pick her as “the one.” It sounds so weird when you spell out the premise like that. He has a few things to say about our performance culture and what it means for our privacy.

And we hear from Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Stanford University, where he runs the OCD clinic. He’s the author of Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality. And he’s worried that all our posting and sharing is making it hard for us to protect our true, inner self. Or even find it.

And it's not too late - you can sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 

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Day 3: Something To Hide

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 08, 2017

In this episode, we hear from Luciano Floridi, University of Oxford professor of philosophy and ethics of information. In 2014, he was appointed as Google’s in-house philosopher, advising the company on the right to be forgotten. Think you have nothing to hide? As Floridi says, a life without shadows is a flat life. 

And if you haven't already - sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 

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Day 2: The Search For Your Identity

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 07, 2017

In this episode, we hear from Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s studied the marketing and advertising industries for decades, and recently wrote a new book called The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power.

And we hear from our friend Julia Angwin at ProPublica, who’s been doing brilliant reporting on algorithms and how they’re being used online and off. Her series Breaking the Black Box lifted the lid on ad targeting at Facebook.

And if you haven't already - sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 


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Day 1: What Your Phone Knows

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Feb 06, 2017

What does your phone know about you? And what can you do about it?

Welcome to the first day of our week-long series of podcasts and action-steps designed to help you take back your digital identity. We’re starting with trimming your digital exhaust - your metadata.

Many of your apps track your location even when you’re not using them. Others listen in via your microphone when you’re not talking to them. In this episode, renowned security technologist and cryptographer Bruce Schneier takes us on a guided tour of our phones and the metadata they’re giving away.  


To get details on the day's action step, sign up for the 5-day newsletter here.

If you want to check out the secure messaging app Signal that Bruce and Manoush talk about, that's online here.

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Introducing: The Privacy Paradox

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Jan 30, 2017

We've heard so many stories from you, listeners. You love the convenience of living online. But you want more control over where your personal information goes and who can see it. Researchers call this the Privacy Paradox. 

Our 5-day plan, starting February 6th, is here to solve that digital dilemma.

This week, we're laying the groundwork. What it'll take to resolve the privacy paradox -- and how it starts with you. In this episode, we'll hear from behavioral economist Alessandro Acquisiti, retired Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff, who coined the term “Surveillance Capitalism," and -- of course -- more of you, dear listeners. Stories of ex-wives hacking social media accounts, stolen social security numbers, and (from a lot of you) that vague creeped out feeling. 

Then, after you listen, join us and start resolving your paradox. 

Sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter here. And, take our quiz to find your Privacy Personality. 

From February 6th to 10th, we'll send you a daily newsletter, with an action step and a short podcast on the science, psychology, and technology behind that day’s challenge. You’ll learn where your digital information goes. You’ll weigh the tradeoffs you're making with each new app or service. And you’ll learn how to make digital choices that are in line with your values.

We can do this. We can do it together. And it starts today. 

Learn a little more about our upcoming challenges: day one, two, three, four, and five


PS - If you're already signed up for the Note to Self newsletter, (a) thank you and (b) you also need to sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter. They're separate. The Privacy Paradox newsletter is time-limited and just for these challenges. 

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Saving Big Data From Itself

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 25, 2017

In a room at The MIT Media Lab, you can find the dreamscape of small children everywhere. Giant cities, in perfect detail, constructed entirely from tiny white Lego.  

Sandy Pentland built them. These dioramas use all sorts of data, from foot traffic to investment dollars to tweets, so cities--and the people living in them--can be improved in ways they’ve never been before.

A few doors down is Rosalind Picard’s office. She met a young man who just could not tell if his boss was happy or furious. And it kept getting him fired. He was on his 20th job. So she built him a glasses-mounted camera that reads facial expressions, matching what it sees against a huge database of faces. Problem solved.

That’s the promise of big data. It can smooth social interactions. Solve sticky municipal problems. Cure cancer, slow climate change. But the data has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is us.

This week, as we get ready for our big project on privacy, Note to Self looks at the good that can come from all the data we share. IF people are good, and make good choices. Except we’re often not good. And we make bad choices. So, what then?

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The Bookie, The Phone Booth, and The FBI

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 18, 2017

This week, Note to Self gets in our time machine, back to the court cases that brought privacy from the founding fathers to Google Docs. Stories of bookies on the Sunset Strip, microphones taped to phone booths, and a 1975 Monte Carlo. And where the Fourth Amendment needs to go, now that we’re living in the future.

The amendment doesn’t mention privacy once. But those 54 little words, written more than 200 years ago, are a crucial battleground in today’s fight over our digital rights. That one sentence is why the government can’t listen to your phone calls without a warrant. And it’s why they don’t need one to find out who you’re calling.

But now, we share our deepest thoughts with Google, through what we search for and what we email. And we share our most intimate conversations with Alexa, when we talk in its vicinity. So how does the Fourth Amendment apply when we’re surrounded by technology the Founding Fathers could never dream of?

With Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Supreme Court audio from the wonderful Oyez.org, under a Creative Commons license.


If you want to visit a phone booth, there are four left in New York City. They're all on West End Avenue, and there's even a kids book about them.


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The Four Tendencies: How to Feed Good Habits

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 11, 2017

See more friends. Take more walks. Read more books. Get more sleep. Why don’t those intentions stick? You want to change. But it doesn’t seem to take. Maybe you just haven’t identified what house you’re in.

Gretchen Rubin, mega-bestselling author of The Happiness Project, says the key to long-term habit change is understanding how we respond to expectations. She names four broad categories of responders: the Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin of habit-changing. Figuring out your cognitive house might be the key to changing your bad habits for good. Including one habit we hear about a lot: clinging to the phone right up until our eyes drop closed.

If you want to know which house you’re in, there’s a handy quiz. An online sorting hat, if you will. Manoush is a Questioner. Obviously.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

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New Year. Same Old You.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 04, 2017

New year, new you. That’s the idea, right? And 2016 in particular left a lot of people extra-eager to start fresh.

One problem. Our fitbits and apps and tracking tools all collect data on us. The slate isn’t clean - it’s full of digital permanent marker.

In an ideal world, all that information helps us become better people. More fit, healthier, rested, hydrated. And for some people, those stats are the motivational key to a better life. But what happens when the data just sabotages you? For some of us, data just isn’t the magic bullet for optimizing our quantified selves.

So instead of resolving to track every calorie, minute slept, and stair climbed, how about this: be gentle with yourself. This repeat episode can help.

This episode originally aired in 2016. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

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Go Ahead. Miss Out.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 28, 2016

It's cold. Bed is so tempting. As is your sofa. But the siren song of your phone is calling you. According to Instagram and Facebook, every single person you know is looking gorgeous at the world's best party, eating photogenic snacks.

Fear Of Missing Out. It's so real. And social media amplifies it 1000x.

But maybe there's another path. Another acronym to embrace. The Joy Of Missing Out. JOMO.

Caterina Fake popularized the term FOMO, with a blog post waaaay back in 2011. And her friend Anil Dash coined the term JOMO (after missing a Prince concert to attend his child’s birth). On this week's (repeat) episode of Note to Self, the two talk about the role of acronyms, the importance of thoughtful software design, and the recent history of the Internet as we know it.

And if you want even more Anil Dash, he'll be talking to Manoush on January 31st at the Greene Space in New York City. We're teaming up with our friends at ProPublica for an event called Breaking the Black Box: How Algorithms Make Decisions About You. Anil, plus ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, and Microsoft Research's Solon Barocas. Come!

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

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Messages From the Beyond

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 21, 2016

Ginger Johnson is battling cancer. She’s also preparing her digital legacy.

Ginger has three amazing children, and she wants to stay in their lives, even after she’s gone. That’s why she’s using a service that helps her make messages and then schedules them for delivery in the future. Videos, audio recordings, emails and photos, pegged to specific days and personal milestones.

Moran Zur created this service, Safe Beyond, after his own father died of cancer. He wanted to give people a chance to be remembered as they choose, not through Google search results or in a hospital bed. As vibrant people, full of wisdom. Full of, well, life.

Can Silicon Valley really help us cheat death? And what does it mean for the people we leave behind?

This isn't the first time we've talked about messages from the afterlife, actually. If for some reason you want even more of this, check out our episode on voicemail from 2015.


For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed


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Meet the Textalyzer... and Our Next Big Project

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 14, 2016

We've been measuring drunk driving for years. Since the Drunk-o-Meter was invented back in the '30s. But now, it's distracted driving that's killing people, and tracking that is just getting started. 

That's what Ben Lieberman learned, when his teenage son was killed in a crash. Lieberman checked the driver's phone records. And anyone who listened to Serial knows those are powerful documents. They can show what cell tower your phone was near, calls in and out. But what they can't track is swipes, taps and clicks. 

So Lieberman created the Textalyzer. Like the Breathalyzer, but for your phone. It can reveal every touch - just the action, not the content. And the company behind it might be familiar, if you followed the saga of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.



If the idea of the Textalyzer sets off your privacy Spidey sense, we understand. We're all figuring out where to draw the line on data sharing, and how to balance privacy, safety, and our modern lives. It's something we're going to be thinking about a lot more in the new year, and we want your help. 


Every year, Note to Self teams up with our listeners to take on a project together. We've tackled information overload and boredom. Next, we're taking on privacy: the how, and the why. But we need to hear from you, about what matters and what you want to learn. 

Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey. The project won't be the same without you.


For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed




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Distracted Is the New Drunk

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 07, 2016

When Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980, an estimated 25,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes each year in the U.S.

Then Frasier stepped in. 

We all know, now, that drinking and driving is a big no-no. But how do we all know that? In part, because shows like the Simpsons and Cheers dedicated plot lines to designated drivers. Growing Pains introduced a character (Matthew Perry!) just to kill him off in a collision.

TV producers didn't just come up with this on their own. They did it because a team at the Harvard School of Public Health made a case for the message. Now, that team is taking on distracted driving. And it's proving to be a much trickier problem. 

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Tech Under Trump

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 30, 2016

For Hillary Clinton, that private email server was an Achilles heel. For Donald Trump, late night tweet-storms and the echo chamber of the so-called alt-right were rocket fuel. For American voters, the power of technology was inescapable.

We've seen the good, bad and ugly of tech this election cycle. And we all have big feelings about it. So Manoush hosted a good old-fashioned call-in, for listeners to share their thoughts and fears about our digital lives under a Trump administration. 

Joining Manoush was Farhad ManjooNew York Times technology columnist, and Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.  They looked back at how social media shaped the Presidential race, and forward at privacy in the Trump era. We wish we could tell you it's uplifting. But we don't like to lie. 

The call-in show was part of the United States of Anxiety, a series from WNYC Studios. If you're having big feelings about what the new administration means for the arts, women, the economy or just in general, they've got you covered. 

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Shaking Up Your Echo Chamber. For Democracy.

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 29, 2016

What does it really take to put more diversity - however you define it - into your news feeds?

We tend to click on things we agree with already. It makes us happy. And social media networks like it that way. Bumming out your customers is a bad business model. 

A while back, we got tips on escaping the echo chamber from Katie Notopoulos, co-host of BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer podcast, and Tracy Clayton, co-host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round. When we first talked, this felt like an important idea, a step towards an expanded mind. Now, post-election, it feels a lot less optional

Katie and Tracy joined Manoush to talk about how to get just the right amount uncomfortable online, and why the first step is to just try


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Your Facebook Friend Said Something Racist: Thanksgiving Edition

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 23, 2016

Thanksgiving is here. The holidays are right around the corner. And with politics on everyone’s minds, dinner table conversations can feel like a minefield.

We have you covered. We’re bringing back an episode from the archive, with strategies on how to be calm, collected – and constructive – when faced with racism online, or IRL.

And if you’re doing a little Internet detox, like we talked about last week, don’t worry. We made you some printer-friendly tools for navigating your Facebook feed – or maybe just the Thanksgiving table. Deep breaths.  

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Drop Your Phone, Make Your Bed, Says Gretchen Rubin

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 16, 2016

It’s time to figure out how to be online in this post-election world. Note to Self listeners are wondering how we can stay well-informed without simultaneously bathing in a toxic stew. What do you do when going online makes you unhappy?

Here to help is Gretchen Rubin, author of mega-selling books that include "The Happiness Project" and "Better Than Before." She's a researcher, a journalist, and host of the podcast "Happier with Gretchen Rubin." 

Didn't hear last week's special note from Manoush? Listen to it here.

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A Post-Election Note to You

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 09, 2016

We're all processing this election together. We want to create a nurturing, constructive space to do that. Please take a minute and listen to Manoush's short audio message to you, dear listener. We believe this is the beginning of a rigorous and critical conversation between us, you and your fellow listeners. 

So we move forward. And whoever you voted for, chances are you're still thinking about the surprise of the results.  

The fact that no one picks up their phone anymore meant pollsters were WAY off. The way we get our media and journalists do reporting contributed to one of the biggest political surprises in history.  

Donald Trump became our president. It would be weird to pretend things here in podcast land are just "business as usual."

Yes, we are grappling. Sure, we're asking ourselves: "What does this election mean for the country?" But we're also asking: "What does this election mean about me? About how I live my life? About how I connect to human beings and information?"

As a way to start processing all of this: we curated a list from the archive...

7 Episodes For Your Post-Election Reality

There is no right way to deal with the election aftermath.

It’s time for me to get out of my social media echo chamber.

We click on things we agree with already. Here are some concrete steps to get out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to different people, opinions, and voices online. 

How can I deal with the hatred or racism in my social media feed?

There's a formula for a productive conversation about tough topics.

Please. Get me some Zen. Kindness would be nice too.

Chade-Meng Tan, Silicon Valley's mindfulness coach, is making meditation accessible and he's got tips to incorporate it into our everyday lives.

I need to rethink my information intake.

Information overload. Enough said.

How can I deal with the confusion I’m feeling without hiding beneath a large duvet?

In a time of racial tension, how do you manage the storm of news online when paying attention is painful? Two friends find their answers.

Should I have paid closer attention to the nuances of the election?

We dive deep into the modern media diet with theSkimm co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, and John Herrman, media reporter at the New York Times

I need to escape to a galaxy far far away.

Failed 2016 presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan (convincingly) explains why you might live forever and vote for him in 2040.

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Do You Really Want to Live Forever?

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 08, 2016

You probably didn't vote for him, but Zoltan Istvan has been on a two-year quest to merge politics with the scientific and technological movement called Transhumanism. He's been running as a 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, representing the party of those who believe humans will ultimately merge with machine. And once we merge, our superhuman selves could live forever. This is not your typical post-election analysis, people.  

"I would be very surprised if people are human beings," Istvan explains to N2S Executive Producer Jen Poyant. "I think we'll all be cyborgs at that point. I think there will be body shops where we're replacing our limbs...all controlled by software, all working together. We'll be able to run faster than cheetahs."

Hear more about Istvan's predictions about our impending future, the issues you'll likely be voting on in 2040, and how he plans to do for Transhumanism what Al Gore did for global warming. Jen, however, has a soft spot for appreciating life as it is. It's a political debate you'll actually enjoy.

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Mindfulness on Demand

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 02, 2016

Mindfulness is quite the buzzword these days. Especially within Silicon Valley, where many tech workers have been known to seek out guidance and spiritual direction in Eastern practices. HBO's Silicon Valley parodied the trend with a tech company CEO who seems to be attached at the hip to his spiritual advisor. 

Putting fiction aside though, we've talked a lot about information overload and our addiction to our gadgets. We're living in a world where it is challenging to be mindful. And, well, we all can't afford to have a spiritual guru following us around non-stop.

So, we brought in an actual spiritual advisor from the actual Silicon Valley to help bring us more kindness, compassion, and happiness (especially during this election season). His name is Chade-Meng Tan and he's a former Google software engineer where his job title was, "Jolly Good Fellow."

After retiring from Google in 2015, Chade-Meng began focusing on bringing mindfulness to the masses. "I'm calling it transformational philanthropy, which is to try to transform human beings. Make peace, joy, compassion the default state of all human beings," he says. In his quest, he recently wrote Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within. 

And he stopped by N2S to share some simple exercises for us all to find more joy and happiness. Step one: take one very long inhale in and then slowly exhale, listening to the sound of your breath as you do so. Then hit "play" above to find some serenity now. 


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Come and Sit with Marina Abramovi?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 26, 2016

Legendary performance artist, Marina Abramovi?, got more than 750,000 people to slow down and wait in line at MoMA just to sit at a table across from her. She also convinced Manoush and N2S Executive Producer Jen Poyant (and hundreds of other New Yorkers) to lock away their phones, sit in silence for 30 minutes, and then listen to Bach's Goldberg Variations.

She just published Walk Through Walls: A Memoir and she thinks that our over-caffeinated, hyper-productive society needs her now more than ever.  

With the everyday upkeep of our virtual selves on Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, many of us have become nearly as performative as Marina herself. And so, in response, she's changed her work to become more about us. She is focusing on ways to help us put our phones down and to restore our overtaxed systems in a digital world.

Here are just a couple of her suggestions:

  • Find ways to truly be alone. Marina suggests things like: going to the desert, hiking to a waterfall, (and for the brave of heart) looking inside of a volcano. Find ways to be be with nature in any way you can. 
  • Re-channel your energies. As an experiment, instead of checking emails or immediately texting right after you wake up, take some time (a whole bunch of time) and sit by a window. Marina says that in the beginning you'll feel restless, but push through it, you have to train your body to funnel that energy into other places.

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Bonus: Marina Abramovi?’s Method Blew Our Minds

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Oct 25, 2016

Artist Marina Abramovi? – the woman famous for staring into a record-breaking number of people's eyes at MoMA, letting an audience point a gun at her head, and convincing the public to take performance art seriously – has some opinions about our phones. Namely: They are distracting us, and we need to stop pretending like they aren't. 

Her 2015 project was called "Goldberg," and it was a collaboration with celebrated pianist Igor Levit and the Park Avenue Armory. The team says it was designed to help audiences remember what full attention actually feels, looks, and sounds like. Through a performance of J.S. Bach's notoriously difficult Goldberg Variations, they were attempting "a reimagining of the traditional concert experience," in which attendees first trade their tickets for a key. Each key had a corresponding locker, in which they were instructed to put their phone, watch, computer, and any other personal belongings that tell time or receive a signal from outside.

Once they had locked the doors, they were given a pair of noise-canceling headphones. For the first thirty minutes of the performance, that's it. The entire audience – and also Levit, the performer – sat together in complete silence. 

Levit then broke the silence by starting to play his version of the Goldberg Variations. 

Igor Levit at the piano.

 On this podcast extra, Abramovi? explains her "method" for really, truly listening:

Marina Abramovi?: You're taking a taxi, you’re concerned you’re on time, you’re answering [a] last phone call and so on. And you’re arriving, and you sit down, and you hear the concert... but you’re not ready to hear anything. You’re just too busy. So I’m giving this time and space to the public to actually prepare themselves.

Manoush Zomorodi: But surely, I mean, we’re grown ups right? I’m coming to the concert. Can’t we just turn off our phone? Why does it have to be so heavy-handed?

Abramovi?: ...If Igor has enormous discipline to learn by heart the Goldberg variations with 86 minutes, and play [them] in the most incredible magic way, we can have discipline to to honor this. And to just see, to have [a] new experience... the moment you don’t have your phone and you don’t have the watch to check if you’re sitting there for five minutes or ten, it just gives you a completely different state of mind.

Zomorodi: I’m concerned that my state of mind won’t be one of calm but rather one of agitation. That it’s going to be very difficult for me.

Abramovi?: Well this is where you have the real problem then. That you have to address the problem in your life. That is why it is good for you.

Listen above or anywhere you get your podcasts. Bonus points if you sit in total silence for 30 minutes first.

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If My Body is a Text

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 19, 2016

This episode features new writing from both Kim Brooks and Kiki Petrosino. Find Kim's essay, "The Problem of Caring" here, and find the poem Kiki wrote for this project, entitled, "Letter Beginning: If My Body is a Text," here.

Six years ago, Kim Brooks started going on "news fasts." She was struggling with parinatal depression at the time and the news of the world was often too much—too terrible—for her to absorb. So she got into the habit of taking time away from headlines and her Twitter feed to turn her focus inward. 

During the week of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling's deaths, Kim was on one of these fasts. When she returned to her screen, she realized her break from the news was possible because of the color of her skin. Kim is white. She doesn't have to think about police brutality. According to Pew Research, there’s a significant difference in how black and white adults use social media to talk about race-related content. About two-thirds of black social media users (68%) say at least some of the posts they see are about race or race relations. One-third of whites agree. And there’s a similar racial gap when it comes to posting, too: among black social media users, 28% say most or some of what they post is about race or race relations. 8% of whites say the same.

"This is one of the ugliest manifestations of my privilege that I can envision: the luxury of ignorance."

Kiki Petrosino, a poet, professor, and a friend of Kim's, saw the internet as a necessary way to immerse herself in what was happening. Kiki is bi-racial, and while Kim was offline, Kiki noticed a striking paradox at the center of the storm of circulating images, video, and information on her feed.

"On the one hand we're brought really front and center, because you can literally watch someone dying, which is probably the most intimate moment of a life. But we don't know that person. We can't touch them, we can't talk to their family. It really throws into question how to participate in community given all these technological advancements that we're making..."

Videos of police shooting young, black men and a troubling election cycle, played out on social media, have made racism in this country more visible. How do we balance being informed people with being healthy? Kim and Kiki come up with a strategy for absorbing, understanding, and addressing the news—from places of fear, exhaustion, and privilege.

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When Silicon Valley Takes on Elementary School

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 12, 2016

"We have an opportunity to do what we want - choose our path instead of the teachers making a choice for us." 

Meet Piper, a blond, freckled 9-year-old from Brooklyn who talks like a seasoned grownup. She used to go to public school with Manoush's son but now - with the help of financial aid - she's enrolled in a new experimental school in her neighborhood: AltSchool.

AltSchool is not your typical private school. Its founder is Max Ventilla, a former Google executive with a vision to reform education. Ventilla's company, with over 100 million dollars from investors like Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreesen, uses tech to teach and track students' social and academic skills. Ventilla's idea is that over time, that data can build a more thorough picture of each student and determine how she is taught. This method of "personalized learning" (think Montessori 2.0) is being prototyped in eight "micro-schools" in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and New York City, with the goal of applying it to schools everywhere. Manoush went to visit one in Brooklyn.

NPR's education reporter Anya Kamanetz is skeptical of Ventilla's goal to optimize education for the masses, and she's concerned about Silicon Valley's foray into education. "They have a giant promise, which is that the right software system, the right operating system, is going to transform teaching and learning... and, what it ultimately means is that they have shareholders to satisfy."

This week: can a tech startup engineer a better system for learning everywhere and make money doing it? And would these two tech reporters/mothers send their own kids there?

There are a lot of buzzwords in education technology — including the phrase "education technology!" We've rounded up some of the most common in this list. Consult it as you and your kids face more tech in the classroom. 

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Facing Our Weirdest Selves

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 05, 2016

Life is made up of gestures, sayings, emotions, and sounds. Note them one by one and you see them as individual elements, granular aspects of our day-to-day.

On a minute level, they may not say much. But look at them together, draw them out, and they can begin to tell a story. (When we say "draw" here, we mean literally draw.) 

That's exactly what two whimsical data scientists did in a new book, Dear Data . It's a collection of whimsical postcards Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec exchanged over the course of 52 weeks.  Each week, Giorgia and Stefanie would assign themselves a small-scale data collection project-- to track their "thank yous," or their desires, or their productivity, or the frequency with which they checked the time-- and then exchanged their findings in hand-drawn postcards.

This week, Giorgia and Stefanie took us down the rabbit hole of three postcards: "thank yous," "complaints," and "sounds." You can check out the images here along with the original music made by Hannis Brown featured in the episode.  


Now it’s your turn, dear Note to Self listener.  Have you been collecting data about your life? No topic is too small or too large. We want to see your homemade data visualizations.  Share with us a weekly visualization of the times you walk your dog, or boxes of mac and cheese your kids eat, or the strange sounds your car makes, or the times you text your spouse, or the places you daydream of visiting on vacation… or anything else.

We'd love to get a postcard from you; our snail mail address is: Note to Self c/o WNYC, 160 Varick St., New York, NY 10013. You can also email a photo of your postcard to notetoself@wnyc.org; or share it on Twitter or Facebook.


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Digging Into Facebook's File on You

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 28, 2016

Algorithms operate everywhere in our daily lives. Using the information we give them, they're constantly learning about who we are and what we're more likely to buy. (Remember how that pricey coffee maker you looked at online showed up in your Facebook ads for the next two weeks?)

Most of the time, it's no big deal. But in an era where more than 40% of Americans get their news from Facebook, these algorithms can have a real impact on how we see the world. They may even have the power to shape our democracy. (Cue ominous music.) 

So here's the thing: every time you "like" something, share something, tag yourself in a photo, or click on an article on Facebook, the site collects data on you and files it away in their folder of YOU. And it's not just your activity on Facebook that they're keeping track of. They also track what device you used to log on, what other app you came from, other sites you've visited, and much more.

All that data helps Facebook paint a detailed picture of who you are and what you like for advertisers. The problem is that we don't know how, exactly, that picture is formed. The algorithms at work are a "black box." We don't know how these algorithms decide whether we're a "trendy mom" or a "frequent traveler." And we don't know how they decide which ads to show us. In short, no one is really accountable.  

On this week's episode, we talk with ProPublica investigative journalist Julia Angwin about how Facebook collects data and uses it to categorize us.

And here's where you come in, dear N2S listener. We are collaborating with ProPublica on their Black Box Data Project, which has just launched. You can take part in this important digital experiment. So go download the Google Chrome extension for your web browser at propublica.org/blackbox. Tell us what you find out and how it makes you feel. Reach out in the comments section below; email us notetoself@wnyc.org; holler at us on Twitter or Facebook; and fill in ProPublica and Julia Angwin too.   


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Bonus: Chelsea Clinton Talks Global Equality and Breastfeeding

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Sep 26, 2016

Who is probably the only person in the world who can talk about technology and global equality, breastfeeding, and how her kids’ Grandpa used to be president?

Yup, it’s Chelsea Clinton.  Manoush recently caught up with the daughter of the Democratic nominee for President at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.  

Chelsea has been collecting and analyzing data and stories about women, girls, and tech in developing countries to understand how learning to code and getting digital access can help them build better lives. And she'll talk about why she's so frustrated by the gender gap in tech, how she juggles time between her 3 month-old and the campaign trail, and why she's passionate about policies that support parents in the workplace. 



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The Secret to Making Video Games Good for You

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 21, 2016

Video games are the new self-help, and Jane McGonigal is here to tell us why.

She's an all around gaming boss (see here and here) and she's the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California where she's spent years researching our brains during what she calls, "the state of play." After wading through tons of research, she found that gaming is a wonderland of possibilities to make us smarter, happier, and more creative people. 

So game play isn't just an escape? Nope, it doesn't have to be. Jane says that the key to finding positive emotions and empowerment is to ground your gaming in real life. So when you're trapped in Minecraft, don't give up and walk away, trudge on. Fight. Or use creative problem-solving to get to to the next level. Those skills or resources will spill out from the virtual world and into the real one. 

In fact, gaming can help cope with depression and combat anxiety, but it's all about the dosage (i.e. how much gaming you're doing). And we didn't want to leave you hanging when it comes to figuring out which games are best for what. Here are Jane's prescriptions:

  • If you're trying to lose weight: "When you feel a craving coming on, play a visual pattern-matching game on your phone -- like Tetris or Candy Crush Saga – for ten minutes. These games have been shown in scientific studies to reduce cravings, by monopolizing your visual imagination and blocking your brain's ability to picture the thing you crave. Research shows that players make healthier eating choices in the hour after they've played!"
  • If you need to reduce stress or combat anxiety: "Try the new game Reigns. It's a simple and easy-to-learn game in the style of games known to activate the same blood flow patterns in the brain as meditation, creating a blissful state of mind known as "flow." Research shows that twenty minutes of these flow-inducing games, three times a week, will help you focus your mind and calm yourself, and improve your mood for hours afterward. (Believe it or not, I’ve met many Buddhist monks who play Angry Birds!)"
  • If you could use a boost of extra energy and motivation: "Play a really tricky puzzle game, like Sudoku, Cut the Rope, or The Room. Research shows that trying to solve a difficult puzzle increases dopamine levels in your brain, which is the neurotransmitter that increases your work ethic and will power. It doesn't matter if you successfully complete the game or not – just trying will do the trick, and the harder the better. So if you have a difficult project to tackle, or a complex problem to solve, prime your brain for success with fifteen minutes of puzzling first."

Manoush is an old-school Tetris addict and she just downloaded it on her phone to play guilt-free. But what's your jam? Tell us what you like playing and why. As per the usual,  get in touch at notetoself@wnyc.org, or the comments section below, or on Twitter or Facebook.  

UPDATE: You've been writing in to tell us about the games you use to de-stress or stretch your brain, and they sound so good we had to share.  Below, suggestions from Note to Self listeners: 

"If you're looking for a game to play before bed, Harvest Moon is my all time favorite. Nothing is as relaxing as simulated farming." - Maggie
"I like playing a game called Wordament to help deal with stress or to calm my brain down at the end of the day. It forces my brain to focus on just one thing rather than having scattershot thoughts." - Chris
"The Witness is the epitome of puzzle games. If you want a mind-tearing, beautiful, and unbelievably involved puzzle game, that is the game for you." - Justin
"Words With Friends keeps me connected. Monument Valley just tickled me. Klondike Solitaire to empty my head." - Peg
"Since I was 11 years old, The Sims has been one of the most effective stress-relieving aspects of my life. There’s something about the steady, creative process of building a house, achieving perceived long-term goals (Barista -> Manager in 1 hour, what?!) and social experimentation that completely relaxes me. Crazy to think after 15 years of turbulent high school emotions, unrewarding internships, stressful career deadlines, that this one game has evolved with me and, in my opinion, heightened by durability to the pressures of everyday life." - Angelique

"I remembered  while looking into Monument Valley in particular that the soundtracks are so also so helpful for studying. My favorites right now are MV's, Journey, and Firewatch!!" - Tracey

"I play ancestry.com. It’s the only technology driven game I’ve ever played. I find it fun, interesting, challenging and then I have a kinship chart for my children when I’m finished." - Leslie

"My game is Spelltower. My daughter enjoys playing many games- Satellina, Monument Valley, Pictoword, Twist -- and I think most are useful in teaching problem-solving." - Leanna 

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There Is No "Off the Record"

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 14, 2016

Come along with us... into the future. A place where there is a written record of everything you've said-- ever.  We're calling it the transcribed life, and our guide is Rose Eveleth, the host of the Flash Forward podcast. This week, Rose delves into the benefits and dangers of this not-so-distant future. 

The tech is coming. It's just a question of getting past the "sheep and goats" hurdle according to Steve Renals, professor of speech technology at the University of Edinburgh. Sheep and goats? It's a nerdy metaphor technologists in the field use.  Sheep are the voices the software can easily recognize. Goats are outliers. As the technology gets better, it'll hear us all as sheep.

Once the machines can consistently recognize-- and transcribe-- our speech patterns, things get tricky.  Sara Watson, technology critic and research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, considers whether such technology could fundamentally change the way we communicate with each other.

Finally, we get a taste of the transcribed life with Heather Ratcliff, who, because of a rare genetic disorder, wants a detailed log of her day to help her fill in gaps in her memory. Her experiment brings some unexpected results. 

As we consider the pros and cons of this technology, we want to hear from you, dear N2S listener. Does the transcribed life sound good to you? Or does this searchable record terrify you to your core? Tell us about it. Record a voice memo and email it to notetoself@wnyc.org, or tell us in the comments section below, or send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.  

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Sext Education: Teens, Photos, and the Law

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 07, 2016

It's tough being a teenager these days.

This week, we head to Fayetteville, North Carolina where high school star quarterback, Cormega Copening, faced five felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor for exchanging racy (or romantic, depending on your point of view) photos with his girlfriend in 2015. Just half of states in the U.S. have proposed or implemented laws that address teen sexting directly.

Depending on where you live, teens who send or receive a sext to/from anyone under 18 can be charged with child pornography. In Fayetteville, things took a turn for the Kafkaesque because of a North Carolina law that treats 16-year-olds as adults if they are charged with a crime. Fayetteville Observer reporter, Paul Woolverton, explains, "We're one of two states that say that if you are 16 or older, if you're charged with a crime, you're an adult. But if you're the victim of a crime, you're a minor. So in these cases, since they were under 18 but over 16, they were both the adult criminals who exploited their minor selves." 

Click "listen" above to hear more about the case of two consenting teenagers who expressed themselves in sexts and became the center of a very public debate. 

Further listening: 

  • Last year, N2S spoke to Ca?on City Schools superintendent the day after students were found trading nude photographs "like baseball cards." 
  • Listener favorite: Manoush and Peggy Orenstein discuss what it's like to be desired AND empowered as a young woman.
  • And don't forget, 16-year-old Grace who schools Manoush on how cell phone envy is still a thing.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

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Blind Kids, Touchscreen Phones, and the End of Braille?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 31, 2016

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is stocked with all kinds of gadgets: singing calculators, talking typewriters, even video games that you navigate using only sound. Most are specialized and expensive — the school can afford them, but a lot of families can’t.

There is one piece of tech, however, that almost every student has, and, absolutely every student wants. It’s a status symbol, it’s a social media machine, and it will read text out loud. Yes, it's an iPhone. And 'reading' on a smartphone is gaining prominence as a reliable tool for the visually impaired. 

However this tool is the center of a larger question blind students and society at large are facing: Are iPads and iPhones rendering Braille obsolete? And if so, should advocates for the visually impaired be worried?

Click "listen" above and hear reporter Ryan Kailath take us into The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to hear all sides of the issue. 

And don't forget to check out our test to see how fast you can 'read with your ears,' a skill that blind kids often acquire and master. 

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

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The Thing About Texts From Your Ex

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 24, 2016

"You go, 'Damn, just it’s not my crazy person... it’s everyone’s crazy person!'"

– Elan Gale, creator of Texts From Your ExTinder NightmaresUnspirational and more

If you're not one of Text From Your Ex's 1.9 million followers already, here's what you need to know: Elan Gale's brainchild is an Instagram account with pages and pages of awkwardness captured in screenshots. They're submitted by email, and Gale says he has a backlog of 40,000 "just sitting around."


A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on

It turns out, reading through hundreds of thousands of other people's emotionally loaded conversations gives you some pretty profound insight into relationships, technology, and privacy (or rather... the utter lack thereof).

"You’ve never had an interesting text conversation that hasn’t been sent to ten people. That’s just what people do," Gale says. "Even though we treat relationships more casually because of text messages and the way we communicate, you have to actually trust people more to be open and honest with them because you have your entire personal life on their phone, or their watch, or their unguarded computer. And they're irresponsible dicks... and at any moment anyone could just have a lapse of judgement for 45 seconds and leave their phone on a table without a passcode and your entire life is visible. So why pretend that it’s not?" 


Seems like a fair trade

A photo posted by Unspirational (@textsfromyourex) on

Elan Gale's "Texts From Your Ex" book is available in paperback. This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.  

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Should We Post Pictures of Our Children Online?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 17, 2016

According to the internet security company AVG92% of children in the U.S. have a digital presence by the time they turn two. But a University of Michigan poll from March 2015 found that three-fourths of parents think another parent has shared too much information about their child online.

In this episode, we bring together three people with very different approaches for a conversation about ethics, photography, and the struggle of weighing future consequences in a world we can't quite picture yet (no pun intended).

Here's where our three moms stand on posting photos of their kids:

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.


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The One Thing You Can Actually Do to Fight Surveillance

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 10, 2016

Reading this right now? 

Congratulations. You're winning.

Yes, all of the usual corporate and government entities know you're here. Google remembers everything you've ever searched, BuzzFeed knows how you've scored on all their quizzes, and your cell phone provider knows who you talk to and who you sleep with. Terms of Service agreements are an exercise in futility, encrypted email often takes more trouble than it's worth, and yeah, sure, go ahead and give Facebook a fake name, but don't think you're fooling anyone. Companies are collecting your data from just about everywhere, storing it through time unknown, and using it however they want. Oh, and that's where the FBI-and-friends find it.

But Bruce Schneier, author of the book, "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World," says the fact that you've taken the time to read this far means you've got the one reliable protection available to us in year 2016: awareness.

Schneier also happens to be a security technologist and cryptographer and well, he's kind of a tech hero - a Chuck Norris - of the digital sphere. His cause: privacy.

In fact, even before The Economist called Schneier a "security guru," a different company tried to make him into an $100 dollar action figure (he didn't like their price and proposed $40 instead). Go to the site, "Bruce Schneier Facts," and you'll find photos of Schneier's face pasted onto different movie heroes' bodies, bearing captions like: "Bruce Schneier watches Blu-ray movies by looking at the discs."

Click on listen above and hear Manoush and Schneier discuss ways we can feel less helpless when it comes to protecting our data and maintaining some online privacy. 

PLUS: We still want your feedback on N2S and we want YOU to help us decide what we should cover in our next big project. So please, fill out this short survey - it's only 11 questions and won't take you more than 3 minutes. 

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Is My Phone Listening in On Me?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 03, 2016

Do we need to be worried about our phones tracking our every move? Because it sure seems like they are. Walter Kirn wants you to know that you're NOT going crazy and maybe you should be a little paranoid with your phone. He covers privacy, tech and surveillance, and – unrelated – he wrote the book behind "Up in the Air" with George Clooney.

He answers some of your most pressing questions on phone privacy and how concerned we should be about what our phones are tracking. Here's a sampling of one of the many questions we've received from listeners that captures a thought-to-be-private moment:

Between Me and My Dog
"So, I get out of the shower and I’m getting dressed and of course my dog is over there on his chaise and I’m looking at him and I’m feeling all sad that I’m about to go to work for a couple hours. I’m humming to myself a song... my poor dog is tortured by this, but I start singing, 'Every time we say goodbye I cry a little, I die a little,' you know... that song. I get in the car, I put on the iPhone music. I have 6157 songs. I hit shuffle randomly, and the first song to play is the song that I was just humming... I haven’t heard this song in forever... So anyway, that's my question... and make sure you sing to your dog whenever you can because they love it, they absolutely love it.– Michael Grant

So... should we be paranoid? Do we know whether our gadgets are passively listening to us? No. We don’t know for sure, beyond what they tell us in their privacy policies. But we do know that voice recognition is what many major companies are trying to get us to start using. Google has OK Google, Apple has Siri, and Amazon has Echo, a home appliance that listens to you all the time. We know that many third party apps use location data services, and we know that personalization – especially personalized ads – rely on tracking.  

Listen to the our show to hear our interview with Walter Kirn and if you're interested for more phone privacy discussions, be sure to read his article in The Atlantic"If You're Not Paranoid, You're Crazy."

Also, enjoy the picture below (from listener Michael Grant) if you're feeling stressed out by all the privacy talk.

Bodhi the dog

One last thing: We want your feedback so Note to Self can get better and better. Please, fill out this survey. Your answers will help us make content that fits into your day-to-day and keeps us at the top of your playlist. 

This is a repeat episode which originally aired in 2015. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Taking the Lead Bonus: Andrew Moravcsik

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 27, 2016

We just wrapped up our four-part series "Taking the Lead." It’s about two Brooklyn moms turned entrepreneurs with a big idea to revolutionize caretaking. It’s also about women, work, families, priorities and relationships... and how our listeners are juggling all those things. If you missed the series, start at the beginning and enjoy the ride.

It’s right here:

In this bonus episode, listen to Manoush’s full conversation with Andrew Moravcsik, the accomplished author, academic, and husband to Anne-Marie Slaughter (yeah, the one who literally wrote the book on women in the workplace.) Even if you listened to our "Taking the Lead" series, you’ll want to hear Andy’s insights into what being the lead parent has meant for his career, his psyche, and their marriage.  


For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Taking the Lead Episode 4: The Partnership

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jul 26, 2016

It all comes down to this — we’ve arrived at the fourth and final episode of our month-long series about women and work: "Taking the Lead."

And the timing couldn’t be better: Ivanka Trump took on equal pay and affordable childcare during her speech at the Republican National Convention last week, becoming the model mother/entrepreneur for her dad’s campaign. Hillary Clinton goes into the final stretch as the Democrat’s presidential candidate, breaking political glass ceilings no matter which way you vote.

Back in podcast land, a quick recap: our two Brooklyn moms turned tech entrepreneurs, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are co-founders of Need/Done, a service for backup childcare and household support. (It doesn’t exist yet but think Nextdoor meets Sittercity.)

If you missed the first three episodes of our four-part series, enjoy catching up here:

In the final chapter, the women face difficult choices: Should they drop the feminist mission behind the company when they make their pitch to investors? Does Rachael need to give up entrepreneurship so she can remain the kind of mom she wants to be?


Plus, we’ll end the suspense and talk about the seismic shift happening to our culture around women and work with Anne-Marie Slaughter, Hillary’s former advisor at the State Department. Anne-Marie is now the CEO of New America and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, which she wrote after detailing her struggles to combine her career with parenting in a hugely popular piece for The Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All."

And yes, we’ll tackle the male perspective on caretaking and professional ambitions by speaking with Anne-Marie’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik. He’s a professor of Political Science at Princeton University and the "lead parent" at home. Andy explains how being his family’s primary caretaker has affected his career, psyche and marriage... and why he feels so strongly that the conversation about work/life balance is really about men and their role in society.

A special note to listeners: Your thoughts on these issues have been a hugely important part of this series. Thank you so much for being so honest and open with your stories and struggles. We want to continue to hear what you think — any/all of your reactions. Send them to us by recording a voice memo or emailing notetoself@wnyc.org.  

We’d also like to make a request: Please share this episode with one person whom you think needs to know more about this topic (or needs to know she's/he's not alone!). Share and talk about the series with a colleague, boss, spouse, or friend by cutting and pasting this link here [http://www.wnyc.org/story/work-life-balance-need-done-partnership] in a Facebook post or email.

Also, if you enjoyed the little bit of our conversation with father and lead-parent Andy Moravcsik, we’ve got great news: You can listen to his full conversation with Manoush in a bonus episode right here. For more Note to Self, and to get episodes like this one sent straight to your feed, make sure you’re subscribed in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Taking the Lead Episode 3: The Pressure

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 20, 2016

Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are two Brooklyn moms and the co-founders of Need/Done, a digital platform with a feminist mission to help more women make it to the corner office.

How does it work? Through a crowdsourced community of parents, the service provides backup childcare and household support. Think: Nextdoor meets Sittercity.

If you missed the first two episodes of our four-part series, catch up. They're right here:

Faced with financial barriers, this week Rachael and Leslie join a startup accelerator and pitch their idea to investors. But while honing their pitch, the business partners' different goals surface. Rachael is focused on the service's potential for social change. Leslie sees the potential to create a giant female-led company.

This week the pressure is on: The pressure to deliver the perfect pitch; pressure from family; and — this is a big one — financial pressure. Under the strain, they make a strategic move that confounds Manoush.

Next week, on the fourth and final episode of "Taking the Lead," Manoush shares what she learned from the investors with Rachael and Leslie. Plus, Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of "Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family," returns — this time with her husband, Professor Andrew Moravcsik — for an intimate conversation about the professional and personal sacrifices they have made for their marriage.


  • Several of you have asked us how to listen to podcasts. We've got you covered here: Look! I Taught My Dad To Download Podcasts.
  • We're also making a master resource list of articles/books/podcasts for surviving the work/life balance struggle, so please continue to add your favorites to our growing list here.
  • In the beginning of this week's episode, Manoush labels (in a fun way!) Rachael and Leslie with a personality test called the "Enneagram Test." It's a pseudoscientific survey that categorizes people into 9 groups that represent a person's core qualities, or most primal selves. Rawr. Take it for yourself here.
  • If you have an opinion on our series, Rachael and Leslie's strategy, or your own work/life balance story, please tell us by sending a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Taking the Lead Episode 2: The Paradox

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 13, 2016

Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are two working moms who hatched the idea for Need/Done, an app that they think could help get more working parents — especially working moms — into top-tier positions, while also being present at home. How does the app work? Through a crowdsourced community of parents, the service provides reliable childcare, meal planning suggestions, and groceries delivered to your door. Think: Nextdoor meets Sittercity.

In the second installment of our four-part series, the co-founders test out a prototype of the service on 20 Brooklyn moms, including one very eager and willing participant: Manoush. She wants to check dinner off her to-do-list... but things don't go quite as planned. 

"They delivered sausages with pork casing which is a problem for my Jewish husband, so I took all the sausage meat out of the casings, and I’m cooking it now before he gets home so he doesn’t find out about it. Except now I’m telling you."

Meanwhile, one of the founders discovers that she may be ready to swap in her corporate blazer for a Silicon Valley hoodie, but the other is beginning to question if she can maintain momentum with her current day job, lead-parenting, and starting a new company.

If you like this episode, you’ll want to check out the first episode in our month-long series,"Taking The Lead: The Pain Point." We're also making a master resource list of articles/books/podcasts for surviving the work/life balance struggle, so please continue to add your favorites to our growing list here.

Also, we'd like to thank those of you who reached out to tell us about your own experiences. We know that families come in all shapes and sizes and we love hearing your stories. If you have a work/life balance moment tell us about it by sending a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Taking the Lead Episode 1: The Pain Point

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 06, 2016

Welcome to a very special month of Note to Self.

For the next four weeks, we're telling the story of two Brooklyn women, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker, who have an idea (a tech idea) to help harried working mothers who still want to rise up in their professional ranks.

Why? Because of numbers like these:

  • 4.6 percent of S&P 500 companies have female CEOs 
  • 43 percent of highly-skilled women with children leave their jobs voluntarily at some point in their careers
  • The U.S. is the only developing country that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act gives workers a maximum of 12 weeks off unpaid per year
  • Almost 70 percent of mothers and over 90 percent of fathers are in the workforce
  • Caregiving is projected to be the largest occupation in the U.S. by 2020
  • Only 7 percent of U.S. startups that received at least $20 million in funding have founders who are women 

Being a working parent can take its toll. Between school lunches, conference calls, soccer practices, quarterly reviews, sleepovers, and PowerPoint presentations, many of you told us that maintaining your sanity, succeeding professionally, and being a present parent feels nearly impossible.

Here's what some of you said:

I am a freelancer and because of that don't have paid maternity leave. Thanks, America. We ended up in this situation where I could only really take the day I gave birth off.

- Amy


I am a full time high school English teacher and I have two young sons. Last year, my younger son was sick. He had some sort of fever so he couldn't go into preschool, and my husband had a meeting at work so he couldn't take him in, and I couldn't get a sub on short notice. So he came into school with me. And everything worked fine for a little while and suddenly I heard "mommy" said in the tone that all moms know is not a good sign. And it was followed by the sound of my poor child vomiting everywhere. 

- Serena


I was schlepping a breast pump into an old bathroom of a building I used to work in that was not remotely accommodated for nursing moms. And I had an extension cord coming out of the bathroom into the stall with my laptop while I was on a conference call and pumping and staying on mute and sending out an evite for a girls night reunion at my house.

- Rebecca


My daughter was about three or four and she was sick and had to stay home from school, but I didn't have anyone to stay with her. So I took her to work with me. I was working in an office with cubicles, so I sort of stuffed her under my desk at the bottom of the cubicle where a couple of pairs of shoes and a lot of wires and my hard-drive were, and I kept her under the desk for the whole day.

- Julia


Even though we live in progressive times, some mothers still find themselves doing the heavy lifting at home. Enter Rachael and Leslie, who team up to create Need/Done, a service they think will help working mothers conquer their to-do list and concentrate on their professional ambitions. Think of it as the working mom’s command center.

This week, Rachael and Leslie leave their families behind in a snowstorm to visit Silicon Valley, meet the competition, and find out whether two Brooklyn moms have a shot at VC funding. We also talk to Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of The Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All" and the book "Unfinished Business," about why there's still resistance to gender parity at the top of many corporations. 

As part of this series, we're creating a list of stellar content (books, podcasts, etc.) to help anyone trying to stay sane as a working parent. To kick things off, Manoush started a list of things that she's heard and read that have stuck with her. And we want to grow that list by hearing from you, so please share your resources for work/life balance with us in the comments section or by emailing notetoself@wnyc.org. 

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioOvercast,Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Coming Soon: Taking the Lead

Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Jun 30, 2016

Get ready to meet Rachael and Leslie, two working mothers in Brooklyn, who have a big idea (a tech idea) to help women "have it all."

From Manoush: 

Hi lovely listener,

For the past two years, I’ve been following two newbie entrepreneurs as they try to build a service to solve all our work/life balance issues... but they end up struggling more and more with those issues themselves. (Oh, the irony of being a working mother in tech. #meta)

Their journey illustrates how tough it can be for women to reconcile their professional identities with their caretaking identities. The series also brings up so many broader questions: Can women find a place in the tech economy? Is society ready to radically redefine gender roles in the home? What has to change in our culture to get more women into the C-Suite? 

Note to Self listeners and I share our own parenting and professional horrors and triumphs. Plus, special guest Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of The Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All," also stops by during the series to talk about work/life balance, lead parents, and the career advice every millennial needs.

Tell your partner, sibling, boss, employee, mom or dad to join you and us for Taking the Lead! 

Let's have this conversation!


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Bored and Brilliant: BOOT CAMP 2016

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 29, 2016

Bored and Brilliant is back.

This time, with a special announcement: The Bored and Brilliant book is coming in 2017!!! Manoush is spending a ton of time sorting through your feedback, listening to your experiences and getting super bored in order to make this book exceptionally useful.

So, now it's time for a summer refresher. Last year, tens of thousands of you took part in our Bored and Brilliant Project, a week of challenges that pushed us to rethink our relationship with our phones and jumpstart our creativity.

We adapted the idea into a short, condensed version with three very doable, modifiable challenges for those of you on a beach (or stuck at the office wishing you were on a beach).

This is not a digital detox. This is not an edict to lock your phone away in a drawer. This is not an ode to mindfulness. It is a way to apply what we know about constant notifications, neuroscience, and productivity to our lives. Right now.

Listen above for the boot camp!


And for those of you who want all of the challenges at once, here's the full, extended series:

One final note: Tomorrow we're very excited to drop a preview episode of our upcoming series about work/life balance. So do us a favor — subscribe on iTunes and tell a friend. We've been working on this project for two years, and can't wait to share it with you.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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A Beginner's Guide to International Tech Etiquette

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 22, 2016

You might personally aspire to leave work at the workplace, but in some parts of Europe there is actual legislation built around a worker's "right to disconnect." And in Korea, Wi-Fi is so strong and available that people watch hours-long live broadcasts of other people eating.

This week we're taking you overseas to learn how people in other countries commune with tech. Consider this podcast your RTW ticket for the world's tiniest, pocket-sized airplane.

Eleanor Beardsley, Elise Hu, Gregory Warner — if these names get you excited, you might be a nerd. They're NPR international correspondents who live and report in France, Korea and East Africa. We asked them to share some of their insider knowledge about how tech functions differently in the lives of people abroad. For example, mukbong in Korea. See for yourself:


In the name of discovery, we hope this week's episode inspires you to do some personal reflection. Does your culture influence how you use technology? Also, look outside of yourself. Here's a reading list to get you started:



East Africa:

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart RadioPocket Casts or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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What Happens When We Skimm the News

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 15, 2016

Think about where you go to find news. Podcasts? WNYC? The New York Times? Facebook? Twitter? Newsletters? Do you want us to stop asking questions?

Welcome to the Attention Economy. There is fierce competition for your eyes and ears — (thank you for choosing correctly). Media companies know that a good way to find an audience is to write and speak like the people they're trying to reach. It's the reason Buzzfeed, Vice, Mashable and so many others are popular with Snake People.

Identity Media is a big part of why theSkimm — a newsletter that targets Millennial women by rounding up the day's news from Kanye West to Ban Ki-moon — has over 3.5 million subscribers. You might be one of them. This week we talked to theSkimm co-founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg about how they go about presenting the news.

Identity Media is more than just a business model, it's changing how we consume the news. To try and sort out why this "Skimm" approach to serious stories made her feel a little queasy, Manoush talked to John Herrman. He reports on the media for the New York Times. Together, Manoush and John embark on a mission to answer that age-old question: Do Justin Bieber and Hiroshima belong in the same sentence?

Here's a rundown of links to supplement this week's episode:

In a way, this whole conversation ties into — you guessed it — our Infomagical project. (Did you catch last week's boot camp?) How we consume media and our goals for reading the news can influence our ability to think and communicate. If you want to get in on the project, it's still around for a limited time.

For more Note to Self, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio,OvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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Infomagical: BOOTCAMP

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 08, 2016

You haven't watched Lemonade all the way through yet, have you? 

Oh, you didn't notice the extra twist of the knife in Sunday's Game of Thrones?

Yes, Hillary just became the presumptive nominee. Yes, we know you haven't been paying that much attention.

National Doughnut Day was last week. But you? You're eating one today, aren't you?

In sum: There's a million things you haven't done – but just you wait! Just you wait! 

It's time for Infomagical BOOTCAMP.

Earlier this year, 30,000 of you participated in our Infomagical project, five days of challenges designed to fight information overload – that buzzy, anxious feeling of, there's way too much out there to consume, I am not getting anything done all the way through, and I still have no idea what people are talking about. This week, we've made an extra special, super-charged challenge that only lasts one day. A very, very, very productive day.

Perhaps you participated in the first round, you've been very focused ever since and now you want to get something 100 percent DONE before you leave for a well-deserved summer vacation. Perhaps you participated, and you've fallen off the wagon. Perhaps you did not participate because you were overwhelmed by the idea of a week-long commitment. Perhaps you did not participate because you did not know about it.

This is your chance. ATTENTION! 

Listen to this week's Note to Self wherever you listen to your podcasts for your challenge and instructions.

And if you want to do a full Infomagical week – or if you know anyone who could benefit from one – you can still sign up here for a few more weeks.

If you're doing it? Or if you have big ideas for our next big project? Let us know @NoteToSelf (#infomagical) or Note to Self on Facebook.

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When To Stop Looking for a Better Date or Restaurant

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 01, 2016

Last week Brian Christian, co-author of the book "Algorithms to Live By," taught us how algorithms can optimize how we live. They can help explain that messy pile of papers on your desk, or why you sometimes have a brain fart. If you missed that episode, it's right here.

This week we're raising the stakes (and steaks). We're putting such algorithms to the test to see if they can actually help solve some of our daily inconveniences, like picking a place to eat or finding a date. Here's what happened:

The Name's Zomorodi, Gitta Zomorodi

Meet Gitta. She's Manoush's sister. Usually when Gitta and Manoush get together for a meal, they feel a lot of pressure to pick the perfect spot. But instead of settling, they wander around until they're sufficiently hangry, and end up almost eating one another.

But this time out, the two decided to give "optimal stopping" a shot — that's an algorithm that says if you evaluate 37 percent of your options and establish a baseline, the next option that comes along that is better than anything from the baseline, that is the one you should pick. Since it wasn't really practical for Manoush and Gitta to evaluate 37 percent of all the restaurants in New York, they pledged to make their decision 37 percent faster than they usually would, which, in this case, they calculated at about 11 minutes.

They made their decision and, guess what — they had a great time. And they weren't even hangry, so their could enjoy each other's company. Algorithms: 1. 

See Gitta (left) and Manoush (right) reveling in their new algorithmic lives:

Coffee Meets Kagel

Next, eligible bachelorette Jenna Kagel (who also happens to be one of the fine producers on this show) tried applying algorithms to online dating. She used the app Coffee Meets Bagel which, for those fortunate enough to be uninitiated, is like Tinder — you swipe "pass" or "like" on a series of profiles, and hope the other person reciprocates — but in this case you only have 24 hours to choose.

Jenna swiped away, but to no avail. She even connected with a bookstore owner in Brooklyn who didn't respond when she asked him out to drinks. (Brooklyn book man: If you're reading this, Jenna is out of your league and you don't deserve her.) Algorithms: 0.

But that's the thing: even algorithms have a margin for error. Maybe if Jenna tried again a different week, she might get a date. If Manoush and Gitta decide on restaurants using an algorithm every time, eventually they're going to have a crappy meal. So, knowing that they're fallible, how much trust should we place in algorithms to help make decisions?

Use the audio player above to hear move about Manoush, Gitta and Jenna's adventures with algorithms, plus a super nerdy love story. And tell us if you've tried using an algorithm in real life. How did it go? We'd love to hear from you.

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6 Algorithms That Can Improve Your Life

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 25, 2016

There's been a lot of negative press lately about algorithms (Facebook, Snapchat, the prison system). But this week we're exploring ways that mathematical and scientific algorithms can actually help improve how we live.

Brian Christian co-wrote the book "Algorithms to Live By" with his friend, Tom Griffiths, a psychology and cognitive science professor at UC Berkeley. Brian is all about the intersection of technology and humanity, and figuring out how to use data to help people optimize their lives.

In their book, Brian and Tom offer really practical applications for scientific principles, which we'll get to in a minute. But first, here's the catch: There’s no formula for perfection. Even if you apply these algorithms to your life, things will go wrong. But by trying out these algorithms, you can statistically give it your best shot.

In part one of this two-part series about practical applications for algorithms, Brian tells Manoush about six small changes anyone can try.

1. Temporal Locality

This algorithm posits that the paper you're most likely to use next, is the last one you touched. So that pile of papers on your desk? You have a scientific reason to never organize them. The most relevant stuff will rise to the top.

2. The Search/Sort Trade-off

If you tag and file your emails, you might be wasting your time. Weigh the amount of time you spend organizing against the amount of time it takes to use the good ol' search function.

3. Computational Kindness

The next time you try to plan a meeting, skip the classic line, "I'm totally free." Brian calls this "Passing the computational buck." Instead, ask a binary question like "Are you free for dinner at 5 p.m. on Thursday?" It may go against the rules of etiquette, but setting a specific window for availability should be more efficient.

4. Cache Miss

There's a fundamental trade-off between size and speed. The more we know — the more data we collect in our minds — the more likely we are to have a brain fart. 

5. The Explore/Exploit Trade-off

The more experiences you have, the less likely it is that something will blow your mind. That's why Manoush has such fond memories from a Squeeze concert she went to in ninth grade. It may not have actually been that incredible, but she had less to compare it to.

6. Radix Sort

You might be compelled to sort your kid's Legos (or yours, this is a judgement-free zone) by color. But radix sort says efficiency trumps aesthetic. Try sorting by size instead.

Click the "Listen" button above to hear Brian and Manoush talk all about how to use these algorithms to live a better life.

And when you're done, check out part 2 of the series where Manoush tests some of them out.

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Sexiness, Social Media and Teenage Girls

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 18, 2016

Girls who grow up with the Internet hear a lot of messed up cultural messages.

They're led to believe that if they post sexy pictures, and get a lot of 'likes,' that is empowerment, and that taking revealing pictures is owning their bodies and sexuality.

There are also a lot of hilarious women in popular culture — Amy Schumer, Rachel Bloom, Lena Dunham, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson to name a few — who use their comedy to highlight the contradictions inherent in navigating this media saturated world, full of images that define feminine desirability and hotness.

But which messages are getting through to adolescent girls?

It's a grab bag, according to Peggy Orenstein who noticed these, and a lot of other troubling trends when she interviewed 70 college-age girls about their personal lives. She wrote a book about it called "Girls & Sex," and talked to us this week about some of the things she learned.

If you listen to this show a lot, you'll hear fragments of ideas we've touched on before like sex, teens and interaction in this digital world. And if you're new to the show, welcome to it! This is the kind of stuff we love talking about, so we hope you'll get in on the conversation.

And one more thing:

We are working on a very special project for July and we need your voice. Tell us about an experience as a woman trying to achieve "Work-life balance." It can be minor, major, catastrophic... anything. We're here to listen. Record your voice memo and send it to notetoself@wnyc.org. We really appreciate it.

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The Realities of Virtual Reality

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 11, 2016

We have a confession to make...

Virtual Reality? Oculus Rift? HTC Vive? Haven’t really given any of them much thought. We’re fascinated enough by, you know, actual reality.

But with Mark Zuckerberg recently calling VR the “next major computing and communication platform,” and Virtual Reality poised to be a $40 billion industry by 2020 (Wall Street Journal paywall), we decided it’s time to face the inevitable, and strap the inevitable to our face.


Max Read was our guide. He’s a senior editor at New York Magazine where he recently launched their new tech/culture vertical Select All. He's been reporting on virtual reality for a while.


The Tribeca Film Festival’s "Storyscapes" program. It was a big showroom filled with cutting edge technology related to storytelling. Basically, a temporary VR convention. No non-nerds allowed.


It’s time for us to get a handle on this new wave of technology, and figure out how it could impact our lives. We had some reservations — like the cringe-y idea of shining a screen a few inches away from a child’s eyes — but with every technological innovation come unwarranted fears. Remember how parents always told their kids not to sit right in from of the TV?

In this episode we mention a few examples of VR technology:

Listen to the episode (player above) to hear what happened when Manoush and Max took VR off the lot for a tech drive (sorry). But minor spoiler: there's a lot of grey area. Instead of learning about the Great Wall of China, students could actually go there. But what if they become so invested in these immersive, virtual worlds, they withdraw from the real world?

We weren't really thinking about VR before... but we are now.

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What Happens to the Videos No One Watches

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 04, 2016

Here's the thing about social media; it's supposed to be social. Right there in the name.

And yet, across the Internet there are millions of public videos, photos and posts that almost no one has watched, clicked or shared. Which begs the question: If a person puts a video on YouTube, and no one watches, did it even happen?

Joe Veix wrote for Fusion about what he calls the Lonely Web. "It lives in the murky space between the mainstream and the deep webs. The content is public and indexed by search engines, but broadcast to a tiny audience, algorithmically filtered out, and/or difficult to find using traditional search techniques."

Just to focus on YouTube, the company reports that over 400 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Nobody can watch all this stuff. But it's there... waiting. Joe tells Manoush that watching these videos can give you a refreshingly honest look into someone's life, as opposed to the more edited and filtered versions that many of us share. "But is also emotionally exhausting," he says. "Because on some level you are maybe not supposed to be watching these videos. It’s a little voyeuristic."

In many ways, the present-day Internet caters to our laziness. The people who work at media companies are pros at understanding our expectations, finding buzzy content, slapping on the perfect headline and setting it right in front of our eyes. The Lonely Web offers something different — its headline might just be a string of numbers, and it doesn't care about your expectations. It's up to you to go out and find it.

But first, let Joe and Manoush be your guide by listening to this week's episode. Here are the painfully ordinary, yet somehow wonderful videos they discuss:





If you're looking for more Lonely Web videos, look no further: They're right here.

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Eye in the Sky

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 27, 2016

There are two sides to every surveillance story. On one side, security; on the other, privacy.

Ross McNutt is an innovator in the field. During the Iraq War in 2004, McNutt and his team developed technology to use a plane and a cluster of cameras to capture an entire city, all day. So when a roadside bomb detonated, McNutt's technology could zoom in and scroll back in time, and find out how it happened. In a way, McNutt had a superpower.

So back to the debate. For people who believe that security should be our top priority, having an eye in the sky can save lives. But for those worried about privacy, without regulation, surveillance could limit our freedom. Cue the Orwellian fear, panic and "What Ifs." 

That's the conversation that took place, and is still happening over McNutt's superpower. Like a lot of technology, it might be developed for one purpose (in this case, the military), but what happens when it's used in a different context?

Like Dayton, Ohio — that's one of the many places where McNutt is trying to implement his surveillance technology to help fight crime, and save cities money. If only it could be that simple.

This week, we see how McNutt's technology plays out in Juarez, Mexico vs. Dayton, and look at the Great Surveillance Debate from different angles. We tap into the how and why of using technology to live better as individuals and a society, which is exactly the kind of conversation that we think is important to have. 

This episode originally aired last year as part of a partnership with Radiolab (Heard of it?). We also did our own episode about surveillance, but realized that we never actually shared this one with you. So we gave it a face lift — including an update from McNutt — and are presenting it to you in all its glory. Better than ever.

Special thanks to Alex Goldmark, former Note to Self producer (now of Planet Money) who helped report this episode. Also, thanks to Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, Andy Mills and the whole team at Radiolab.

***UPDATE: After our episode first aired, the Baltimore Police Department contracted Ross McNutt's company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, to conduct aerial surveillance over the city to help with criminal investigations. Read more about Baltimore's Eye in the Sky in Bloomberg Businessweek.  

One last thing: For the past few weeks we've been compiling a list of female-hosted podcasts for you to check out and share with the Internet. [Insert whatever deity you do or don't believe in here] knows there aren't enough, but, as a show proudly hosted by a wonderful woman, we're doing our part to help spread the word. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter here to get a weekly update from us sent straight to your inbox.

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A Magnificent List of 111 Female-Hosted Podcasts (And Counting)

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 20, 2016

Listen up: On last week's show we made the case that listening to podcasts hosted by women is a feminist act. We compiled a starter list of 40 or so female-hosted shows and asked for your endorsements. After sifting through many, many recommendations, our list is looking significantly more comprehensive.

But this still isn't enough! Please continue to share as you make new discoveries, so we can all keep our feeds fresh with female voices.

We're also ready to give you another challenge: recommend your favorite episode of a show hosted by a woman or another underrepresented group. We want to continue to diversify our listening habits. And with a list this long, it can be intimidating to find a place to start.

Next week we'll put together a sort of playlist for you and share it in our newsletter. Until then, happy listening!



Pop Culture





Being a Woman





Science & Tech

Other things


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The Puppet Masters Behind Online Shopping

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 20, 2016

Here are some things that we've had to come to terms with about the Internet: People watch us when we shop online; They collect data about our likes, dislikes, habits; They using that data to manipulate... err, guide us.

This type of design research is called User Experience or UX. And to find out exactly what these designers are looking for, and why they do it, we went to the room where it happens: Manoush volunteered herself as a guinea pig in Etsy's Usability Testing Lab. But unlike most subjects in UX testing, Manoush got to step behind the curtain for a story about online seduction—how designers create an immersive experience that makes you relaxed or happy or excited, and makes you feel like spending time and money.

Here she is in the top right hand corner, getting excited about a scarf:

Etsy UX researchers watching Manoush shop for a gift.

Here is that scarf in all its winged glory:

Listen to the full episode to find out what we learned about UX, and how businesses use it to shape our experiences. This episode is one of our favorites—it originally aired back in August 2015, but we liked it so much, we're sharing it again, better than ever.

In this week's episode:

  • Mark Hurst, Founder and CEO of UX consulting firm Creative Good
  • Jill Fruchter, UX Research Manager at Etsy
  • Alex Wright, Director of Research at Etsy

More good background reading on UX:

And one last thing! If you heard last week's episode, you know that we're compiling a list of podcasts that are hosted by women. We asked and you gave us lots and lots of great recommendations.

So now let's take things one step further. What's the best podcast episode that you've heard lately, hosted by a woman, or another underrepresented group? Send us your endorsements and we'll include some of your responses in next week's newsletter.

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Two Dope Queens on Feminism

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 13, 2016

We have a theory: Listening to female-hosted podcasts is a feminist act. You, right now, if you listen to this show, you are making a feminist statement.

Need a little more explanation? When Note to Self started nearly three years ago, it was a little radio segment called New Tech City, and Manoush covered technology with the professional, authoritative, every-word-exists-for-a-reason gravitas that you can still hear on public radio. Also, she was working (almost exclusively) with men.

But then, that radio segment became a podcast, and everything changed.

Not right away—if you go back and listen to old shows in our archives, it's painfully obvious that it took a while to figure out how our show should sound. But a huge part of that process—that transformation—stemmed from Manoush realizing that it's OK to sound like herself. In fact, the show is better for it.

She realized that she can be vulnerable and uncertain, and not always find answers. Because that's how the world works, and that's how people work. Over the years we've grown, and we're proud of our grown-up self. Best of all, you've come with us. You choose to download and listen to what we have to say.

But ours isn't the only show that figured out that a podcast—that this digital medium—has a special kind of power. Participating in this format provides a special kind of platform to express different ideas and perspectives, and gives many different kinds of people a literal microphone. Take, for example, all the successful podcasts that have cropped up in the last few years: SerialAnother RoundDeath Sex & Money, Only HumanInvisibilia and Call Your Girlfriend. And new amazing hosts are popping up all the time.

Like Phoebe Robinson—a stand-up comedian and writer who now has something new to add to her multi-hyphenate title: podcast host. Along with her BFF, Jessica Williams, Phoebe is boldly entering the world of podcasts on WNYC's new show 2 Dope Queens. So this week seems like an opportune time to ask Phoebe about how she plans to use the medium. Where does her voice and her show fit into this digital space?

If this episode suddenly compels you to listen to more of Phoebe, you should check out 2 Dope Queens. The first few episodes are live and ready for your ears. (It's not super appropriate for the little ones, but if you don't mind raunch and profanity, listen away.)

Also, remember that list of lady-helmed podcasts? Well, we want to hear what's in your podcast feed right now. What podcasts do you listen to that feature people who don't usually get a platform on media outlets? Why do you like them? Email us at notetoself@wnyc.org or send us a note on Facebook or Twitter. We've started to compile your suggestions here and we'll add some of your answers to next week's newsletter too. So keep them coming!

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Creating a Super-Human You with Dave Asprey

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 06, 2016

Welcome to Note to Self Cafe. Would you like cream and sugar with your coffee? How about... butter?

We're on a mission to try and change our minds and bodies with data—first with fitness apps, then by strapping sh*t to our heads. Now we have arrived at act three: biohacking. 

If you're not familiar with biohacking, there's this group of guys (yes, mostly dudes) who look at data and experiment to optimize their minds and bodies.

Enter, biohacker Dave Asprey, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Bulletproof Coffee—a blended drink with grass-fed unsalted butter, Brain Octane Oil and puppy tears (two of those are actual ingredients). At this point Bulletproof is a huge operation that includes Bulletproof Radio, the best-selling book The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life, and a blog.

A lot of people who are part of this biohacking wave, frankly, seem ridiculous and self-centered. But in this case, we'll admit it, we really do want to live long and happy lives. And so does Asprey.

"The goal is to die when I want," he tells host Manoush Zomorodi in this week's episode. "I'm planning to hit at least 180."

A goal that Asprey says isn't so far-fetched. How does he plan on getting there? By reaching a high-performing, altered state through whatever means are necessary—as long as he can track it.

"The only thing wrong that Lance Armstrong did is he didn't tell everyone he was doing it. As a matter of fact, from what I hear, he wasn't the only person in pro-cycling doing this, not by a long shot. And here's what pisses me off about this: Do you know how much precious knowledge we would have as a species had Lance published what he was doing? And all of the other people there? So I say if these athletes want to do experiments like that, they just need to publish the data. Why hide it?"

If you like this episode (or just can't stop thinking about buttery coffee), you'll probably also enjoy a story from our friends at Only Human about a man who started a dieting trend before most present-day trendsters were even conceived. You can listen to that here.

And one last thing: We have a request for an upcoming show we are working on about death. Sounds ominous, but we could really use your help. Do you have a story about how technology has changed or helped you deal with death? Record a voice memo on your phone or send us an email at notetoself@wnyc.org. We're also here to listen on Facebook and Twitter.

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Forget Edibles: Getting High on Wearables

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 30, 2016

If you could, would you boost that mushy thing inside your head? Seems like a no-brainer. (Get it?)

Two weeks ago, Note to Self launched a potentially endless line of questioning about improving our bodies and lives with tech. We started with health trackers and the double-edged sword that is quantifying everything. But while there are a lot of tools out there that claim to train your brain, there are some now that their developers say will change it.

That's right, Manoush plays lab rat just for you (and also to find out what happens when you combine a little bit of neuroscience with digital gadgetry). Warning: parts of this episode get weird. Like, didn't-we-leave-these-days-behind-in-college weird. But in a good way, we promise.


People use tons of methods to stimulate and relax their brains. Yes, coffee counts, and so does a glass of wine or prescription drugs. There are also meditation apps and biofeedback devices.

But what happens when such stimulants are considered "technology," with all the funding and testing and marketing that entails? Maybe you’ve heard about the military testing trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), to increase target accuracy and focus. Or maybe you know someone who experiments with 9-volt batteries at home. Yes, people do this — including our friends at Radiolab who did a fun episode about this a little while back.

But Thync, the gadget that Manoush uses in this week's episode, could be the first time tDCS goes mainstream (here's the study we referenced in the podcast). It's a little headset that wraps around your ear, and then you stick a white, potato chip-looking-thing to your forehead. You can buy it on Amazon right now. 

Still, even though you theoretically could buy a Thync for yourself, there is an important question to be asked: should you? Come on, this thing is strapped to your head—we've seen enough science fiction movies to know that can be a horrible idea.


The FDA isn't testing these things because they're technically considered "lifestyle products," but we got a medical assessment just to be safe. He said, sure, the brain is complex, and the device's methods are pretty crude, but there's no scientific evidence to suggest that something like Thync could have long-term adverse effects.

The real question here: Could your longstanding date night with that tall glass of Cabernet be over?


On this week's episode, you'll meet Isy Goldwasser, the co-founder and Chief Thyncing Officer of Thync. You'll also hear from Roy Hamilton, who directs the lab for cognition and neural stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania. And, as always, you'll get the scoop from Manoush, who has some really special reactions to Thync's technology.

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Apple's Security Debate is Everyone's Problem (Including Yours)

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 23, 2016

The debate over whether the government can access your phone is here. Hello!

You've probably been following along, but in case you need the tl;dr: The debate revved up last month when the FBI asked Apple to hack into a locked iPhone associated with one of the gunmen from the San Bernardino massacre last December. Since then, the conversation has evolved into a national debate over what the government should (and shouldn't) be allowed to access. The conversation has officially moved outside the realm of tech and the government. With 90 percent of American adults owning a cell phone, the issue is hitting a lot closer to home than even the Edward Snowden revelations.

On this week's episode, you'll hear from Russell Banks, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and author of "The Sweet Hereafter," "Affliction," and "Cloudsplitter." Banks was one of several prolific writers, including Gay Talese and Sandra Cisneros, who signed a letter last month calling for the FBI to stand down in their attempt to hack Apple. 

But why are authors so invested in the surveillance debate? Banks explains that when it comes to researching a taboo topic or writing about a sensitive matter, writers don't want to self-censor just because the government may be watching (or even flagging) language and/or behavior. And this is no small matter for the nonfiction and fiction scribes of the world. The advocacy group PEN found that 75 percent of writers living in democracies are concerned about their privacy. 

In a California court, the FBI is temporarily placing their legal battle with Apple on hold since an outside party is assisting the government in their efforts to unlock the phone. 

If this has you a little freaked out, you're not alone. Follow this up by listening to Walter Kirn explain if our phones are eavesdropping on us.


If you're upset that this is isn't the "sh*t you can put on your head" episode, fret not. Next week, Manoush will put stuff on her head and it gets weird. Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

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Your Quantified Body, Your Quantified Self

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 16, 2016

One of the fastest-growing sectors of the tech industry involves turning all of the little details about our health into quantifiable data points. Millions of users have strapped heart-rate monitoring pieces of plastic to their wrists, scanned in the calories from their frozen dinner, and squinted at charts representing everything from the quality of a night's sleep to the regularity of their menstrual cycle. And, according to a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost as many have stopped wearing them within the first six months.

To the many, many people who have tried these tools – not to mention the people who want to sell them – this raises a big, open, lucrative question: What role should health trackers actually play in our lives?

On this week's episode, you'll hear from Natasha Dow Schull, author of a forthcoming book called "Keeping Track," and technology writer/early self-tracker and writer Paul Ford. Schull's research has involved spending quite a bit of time in the aisles of Best Buy, listening in on the hopeful, aspirational purchases. However – as new research begins to bear out – respondents in the long run tend to fall in two camps: people who get turned off by the idea of self-tracking and need to be convinced of its value, or those who like the idea but want better technology. In both cases, the stalwarts of this billion-dollar industry are listening very, very closely to figure out what consumers really want from this trend.

We're curious too, though for different reasons. We've spent the last few months asking a whole lot of people to speak to their experiences of quantifying themselves using technology. We wanted the story you can't tell from the big tech conferences or even hanging out in the aisles of Best Buy. So we asked our audience to weigh in (figuratively, of course) on what makes for "useful" health technology – what different sorts of health hacking have really done to their health.

The responses have been fascinating, inspiring, and heartbreaking – and we have a feeling it will be pretty insightful for the industry and everyone who studies it.

Here are some of the major themes from the more than 100 voice memos, emails, and messages you've sent:

Don't see an important point in here? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!


When they're tracking in the right direction, hard numbers and charts can feel like getting a good grade. For the good students out there, getting "keeping up the grades" is genuinely motivational for at least a little while.

"Starting a little over a year ago, I purchased a Microsoft band because it had more sensors than anything else on the market... It tracks my sleep, it tracks my steps, it tracks my galvantic skin response, it tracks my UV exposure, it tracks pretty much everything except my calories, which I happily do through another app. I got a WiFi connected scale. All of this data together has surprisingly benefited me, and I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last year. Part of this has been through concerted efforts, but part of it is just being more aware of how active I am and all of these devices motivate me, really truly motivate me, to get up and walk, to make sure I get my 10K steps a day, to improve my lifestyle, to make a slightly better choice for dinner." – Christina in Virginia


Many of the people who love their trackers told us they try to combine data sets into a story about what they have been doing and how far they have come. This narrative gives them a sense of what should come next in their lives, prompting decisions that bear out the healthy arc.

"I don’t know if it’s just the historian in me or what, but I love my data. From the morning to night I have a mood journal where I can track how I feel, what medications I’ve taken, how long I’ve slept... I track my food and points through Weight Watchers. There’s an app for everything, even for fun things, like Untapped to keep track of how many craft beers I’ve had." – Alison from Charlotte 


Not everyone wants a social experience, but some people who thought they'd hate giving friends a glimpse into their pedometers found themselves competing to great, surprising, motivational effect.

"I never thought I’d be the person walking around my kitchen island or doing laps in my bedroom because my friend Brittany is 2,000 steps ahead of me at 11 o’clock at night, but it has happened on more than one occasion." – Jennifer Bertrand from Texas


For the non-fitness inclined, the most useful tech puts the promise of what, exactly, they're hoping to achieve front and center. Most of the products on the market dive harder into stats they don't already care about.

"I’m slightly round, and I never wanna be a human stick insect. But my joints... not so much, they’re not so happy with the situation. I feel like I've got to do something about it.... I’m like in buoyancy training… if I’m on a boat in the North Sea and it sinks, I have a competitive advantage for, like, 3 minutes because it’s gonna take me longer to sink. I gotta watch my husband go down, I gotta watch the people I was just having drinks with on the Lido deck get circled by whatever’s in the water… plucking them like grapes out of a fruit bowl... those three minutes are not gonna be high value ones. [But] I’ve come to this conclusion that I don’t lose weight [and] I don’t make better decisions because I guess I just don’t want to... So I would really appreciate it if you could identify some sort of technology that would make me make better decisions... Both for exercise and for food intake. So if you could just wave your magic wand and make that happen that would be awesome." – Jennifer in Massachusetts 


We heard from dozens of users who called themselves "addicted beyond the point of health," who said having so much information about their bodies at their disposal made them hyper-fixate on small changes.

"As somebody recovering from an eating disorder it completely feeds into the obsessive habits and so there almost should be a warning sign that this can lead to triggering behaviors." – Lauren in Minneapolis


Quite a few people said blanket "notifications" work once they're already feeling inspired, but deepen guilt or frustrations when they come at a bad time. 

"My fitness tracker vibrates to tell me I haven’t moved in a long time... I don’t even feel it any more. But I did notice something the other day that seems to help….always says the same thing but one day the app sent a notification at the random time during the day and it said 'we’ve noticed our reminders aren’t helping you...so we will stop them soon...no don’t stop them...I felt so guilty for letting the My Fitness people down... One app that I do use is the Headspace and I use it to establish a meditation habit. The app will send me a different mindfulness message a couple times a day and I do always pause to read and reflect on those and, I think it’s because there’s a variety of messages and that’s what helps."


A number of people said they were embarrassed to be seen with the visible, not-all-that-glamourous-looking pieces of plastic on their wrists – a complaint all too familiar to "wearable" designers who hoped the Apple Watch would come along and answer that design question once and for all. 

"Three years into [using] all of these trackers, I read the book 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up' by Marie Kondo. This book asks you to think about one specific question when you’re deciding to keep an item... “does this spark joy?” ... One day while putting on my FitBit, I thought ‘does this spark joy?’ and the answer was ‘no’. ... It’s not even a beautiful item that I’m putting on my body. I might as well wear a toaster on my arm.. So fast forward 6 months and I have no ugly device or screen on my wrist. I’ve got no lights, no buzzes, no numbers and then yesterday at the doctors, my doctor told me that my blood pressure was the lowest it’s ever been, my favorite jeans fit and I’m happier." – Allie Pilmer from Alameda

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Why You Feel More Productive But the Economy Isn’t

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 09, 2016

You, friend, are productive. You work at all hours of the day and well into the night. Thank goodness for the email app on your phone that allows you to check in and schedule meetings and book conference rooms and passive-aggressively forward whenever you need to. Even Facebook has entered the "be social at work" vertical, for "companies who get things done." You and your friends and your teammates are building, building, building enterprises that must disrupt and must multiply and – most important of all – grow.

It's exciting and it's exhausting. The catch: there might not be any more resources to exhaust.

On this election-season edition of Note to Self, author Douglas Rushkoff ("Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus") joins Manoush to pose a big, hairy question: what does all of this new technology, wealth, and productivity have to do with serious income inequality? What are the larger social implications of an economy built on venture capital? Why has all of this "growth" made us feel less financially secure? 

More information about some of the companies mentioned in this episode:

  • Juno, a driver-owned competitor to Uber. (FastCompany)
  • IndieBound, a community of independent bookstores.
  • WinCo, an employee-owned grocery store often compared to Walmart. (Time)
  • Kickstarter's CEO, Yancey Strickler, made the decision to become a public benefit corporation (PBC) to mitigate obligations to shareholders. (The Guardian)

If you're still weighing your politics on this, our friends at Planet Money made this useful chart with economists' insights into each candidate's economic proposals.

If you're interested in more of the mechanisms of tech-world economics, you might also enjoy our past episodes on the attention economy, the burgeoning field of user experience, and shaking up your social media-enabled echo chamber.

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Wait, You're Into [Insert Kink] Too?!

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 02, 2016

We know, you use your phones everywhere. At work. When you're with your kids. Underneath the table. In the bathroom (admit it – and special thanks to listener Andrew Conkling for the warning on that one). 

GraceAnn Bennett, the advertising executive turned tech entrepreneur behind a new app called PlsPlsMe, wants to give you an excuse to whip it out in the last sacred frontier: Bed. Well, sort of. 

As a 20-something virgin Mormon newlywed, Bennett expected her new husband to just get it. 

"I thought he was supposed to figure it out. Figure out sex... figure out how to unlock me in some kind of way without me giving any instructions. Because instructions, to me, were a turn off. I thought, 'OK, well, if I tell him then it kind of kills it.' Just like someone telling you, 'Buy me this!' and then wrapping it up for Christmas. Right? It’s like, OK, this is not, this isn’t sexy, this isn’t fun. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work."

Nineteen years of marriage later, those primal instincts still hadn't kicked in. The couple ultimately got divorced – and, unable to shake the feeling that this just wasn't how sex was supposed to work, Bennett quit her job in advertising to focus on fixing sex lives. She asked the Kinsey Institute to help her answer the question: Is anyone out there really having good sex? If so, what does it take?

The results weren't really that surprising: One out of three respondents in the 2,000 person sample said they wished it was easier for them to talk with partners about their sexual desires.

For the past few months, the Note to Self team has been collaborating with Kaitlin Prest, host of The Heart – an audio art project and podcast about intimacy and humanity. Prest got two couples to test the app and the premise: can technology disrupt your sex life? In a good way?

Listen above for some taboo, sometimes scary, and absolutely intimate stuff.

In this episode:

PlsPlsMe is available as of this week on iTunes. An Android version should be available later this year. If you try it – or something like it – let us know?

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Why You Should Put a Post-It Over Your Laptop Camera

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 24, 2016

How much would it take for someone to hack your life? And really, how worried do you actually need to be?

For most of us, this question stays in the realm of the hypothetical. For others, it only turns into a question after the worst has happened. For tech journalist Kevin Roose, co-host of Fusion's new documentary series Real Future, it was a chance to be the human embodiment of a Fortune 500 company. On this week's Note to Self, hear what happened when Roose asked some of the best hackers in the world to put him through a "penetration test," or a "pen test." 

As he explains it:

"Basically Coca Cola will bring in a hacker and say 'I want you to spend a month trying as hard as you can  to get into our systems, exploit vulnerabilities, take advantage of weaknesses and report back to us what you found so we could fix it.' And I thought, 'What if I could do the personal version of that?'"

Using tactics from fake programs to remote desktop takeovers, to a simple YouTube video of some crying babies... Roose figured out exactly how much damage it's possible to do.

Spoiler: This episode will make you want to put a PIN on your phone provider account. It'll possibly make you want to download a security program like Little Snitch. At very least, it will probably make you want to cover up the camera on your computer.

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We Tried to 'Hack' Our Diets. We Totally Failed.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 17, 2016

On this week's episode of Note to Self, host Manoush Zomorodi and executive producer Jen Poyant team up with The Sporkful's Dan Pashman to try to cut back on sugar, by using technology that promises to make them healthier.

You might remember Dan Pashman from the time he and Manoush cooked avocado at the instruction of IBM's Chef Watson. That experiment was a success.

Spoiler: This one really wasn't. 

By some estimates, health and fitness technology is a $200 billion industry. That includes the oh-so-romantic FitBit you got for Valentine's Day, the dieting app you paid a dollar for on your phone, and even the sugar detox kit you may or may not have ordered online. But as we've heard from many of you, the promise of these magic wellness panaceas doesn't always play out the way you expect when you put them in the real world.

Many of our listeners tell us their health apps and hacks have been a mixed bag. Early studies bear these experiences out. Inspired by the burbling questions we're hearing, we're working on a show that will look more closely into the claims various "we’re going to make you healthy!" apps and services and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs promise will fix us.

Help us take the story deeper. Tell us about the different ways you've tried to "quantify" or "bio-hack" yourselves. What happened? Are you still doing it? Why or why not? Has your employer asked you to buy a sleep tracker? Did you make your own optimized protein sludge? Did you lose a ton of weight calculating calories, or did you just lose your mind?

Send a voice memo to notetoself@wnyc.org with your experience. Put "self hack" in the subject line. Help us out by forwarding to anyone you know with a story. The more the better! 

Don't miss it! Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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What We Learned When 25,000 People Tried to Fight Information Overload

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 10, 2016

Let's start with a quick recap:

  • Emailers took a follow-up survey each morning. 

This week, we're taking a look at how well this experiment actually worked. Here is a quick look at some of the crazy – yes, let's go ahead and call them crazy – stats:

  • We sent 300,000 messages via text.
  • We received over 1,100 voice messages. Taken all together, that's over 15 hours of recorded audio.
  • We saw at least 300 Kondo'd phones.
  • We heard from people in all 50 American states and at least 10 different countries.

On this week's show, we've invited Professors Gloria Mark of the University of California-Irvine (you might remember her from the first day of challenges and the infamous 23 minutes + 15 seconds to refocus rule) and Calvin Newport (author of "Deep Work")  to help us put your Infomagical responses into a larger context of academic and industry studies. We've also asked WNYC's Data News wizards to help us explain the key takeaways about what happened over the course of the week in the podcast and below:

The first thing we asked people to do when they signed up was pick an “information goal” – one of 5 – to keep them on track all week. The number one goal (31 percent of participants) was: "be more in tune with yourself."

Every day, we asked participants to rate how well they stuck to their goal on a scale of one to five, with five as "awesome." Over the course of the week, people's responses indicated that they were in fact sticking more closely to their chosen goal. For the participants who did the project by text message, we'd then follow up with "and how overwhelmed do you feel now?"

According to senior editor John Keefe, scores went up steadily among the people who responded.

"Early on in the week, about 40 percent of the people said that they felt less overloaded, less overwhelmed with information [at the end of the evening]. Which is pretty good, but it’s still less than half. By the time we got to Day 5 on Friday, 71 percent of the folks who responded said that they felt less overloaded. So we went from 40 percent on Monday to 71 percent on Friday."

There are definitely caveats here – it's hard to keep a 25,000-volunteer sample group consistent, and we can only work with the data from people who responded. That said, our response rate stayed relatively high (around 50 percent) through all five challenges.

To that end, we also paid special attention to the reams of qualitative data participants sent our way. We've got a huge range of voices in the podcast this week. Some honestly made us choke up a little.

We also asked people to choose an emoji most representative of their 7-minute conversation. Talk about data:

A few more emoji response favorites:

  • ? this may turn over a new leaf
  • ? it went swimmingly
  • ?  I screwed up and forgot to converse by mouth

If you want to try the project by text or email, sign up for the series starting next Monday at wnyc.org/infomagical.

In the meantime... you can always turn off all of your devices, stop, and just take a few minutes listen to the original musical scoring from our colleague Hannis Brown.

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Infomagical Challenge 5: Magical Life

Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Feb 05, 2016

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Infomagical Challenge 4: Magical Connection

Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Feb 04, 2016

This is Challenge Four of Note to Self's Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it's going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here's a link to our custom emoji.

Longtime listeners know Sherry Turkle – the social psychologist who studies what technology does to our relationships. If you heard our interview from a few months back, you'll also be familiar with the seven minute conversation theory she discovered in the course of her most recent research. It goes like this: in a real, verbal, human conversation, it takes at least seven minutes to see whether or not a conversation will be interesting or not. 

Today, we're going to test this theory.

Your instructions: Do something with all that wonderful goal-oriented information you’ve been consuming. Discuss something you’ve heard/read/watched with someone by phone or in person for at least seven minutes.  

Need some more ideas to start your conversation? We've asked the team behind the scenes here – a diverse group of artists, developers, editors, audio wizards, and more – to put together a collection of prompts they think can sustain seven minutes.

We've included their Twitter handles in case you'd like to report back!

Fix Something

"What are three products that you use? If you had to add one feature to them, what would it be and why?" 

– Marine Boudeau, Director of Design, @marineboudeau

Fix Something Edible

"Have you ever made something (or wanted to) you first tried at a restaurant? I just spent three, count ‘em, three! days recreating chef David Chang’s kimchi stew. It was a really fun experience that took a lot of focus and creativity. (I couldn’t find chicken backs so I had to get creative!) Many of my capable friends have recreated cocktails from favorite bars, and I’ve had a few fabulous versions of the Neiman Marcus cookies from talented home bakers."

–   Mandy Naglich, Manager of Marketing and Audience Development, @MandyKN

Elephant Tears

"We read novels, watch movies and TV, gossip with friends, and follow politics all with the help of an assumed understanding of other people's inner lives. Do you ever think about the inner lives of animals? What is their inner monologue? This is a clip from a longer documentary. You can hear Solomon articulate his feelings about Shirley. What might the animals be thinking/feeling/experiencing?"

–   Amy Pearl, Senior Producer, @sugarpond

The Demands of On Demand  

"What effect will on-demand content (Netflix, podcasts, etc.) have on the future of traditional broadcast media?" 

–   Joe Plourde, Sound Designer

A Conversation About Conversation

"Say someone you know travels somewhere interesting. What's a better question to ask than 'How was it?'" 

–   John Asante, Associate Producer, WNYC Newsroom, @jkbasante

When Was the Last Time You Discussed a Poem?

–  Jen Poyant, Executive Producer of Note to Self, @jpoyant

A Short Story

"Short Stories: Are they as satisfying to read as novels are?" 

–  Paula Szuchman, Vice President of On Demand Content, @Paula Szuchman

Salute the Superbowl Queen

"Ahead of Coldplay’s Superbowl half-time show this Sunday, reflect on the best: Beyonc?’s 2013 performance is 14 minutes long, so exactly double the length of a seven minute conversation. Beyond the clear value of talking Beyonc?, this feels like a sign." 

– David Cotrone, Publicist, @DavidCotrone

Be Honest

"What was the last article you read to completion and thought about after the fact? Explain it to each other, and discuss!"

– Miranda Katz, former Note to Self intern-turned-Gothamist-writer-extraordinaire, @MirandaKatz

Be Critical

"Star Wars Episode VII: Plot too much like the original, or did it need to be nostalgic? And who is Rey's father??? Oh, and are you on team R2D2 or BB8 on the cuteness factor?"

Additional reading: "The Nostalgia Debate Around The Force Awakens"

– Valentina Powers, Director of Digital Operations, @valentinapowers

"Remember Lisa Frank?"
 – inspired by Sahar Baharloo, graphic designer, @saharloo

Once you've had your conversation, we would love to know what you talked about. Tell us how it went on Facebook or Twitter

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Infomagical Challenge 3: Magical Brain

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 03, 2016

This is Challenge Three of Note to Self's Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it's going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here's a link to our custom emoji.

No, you didn't read it. No, you haven't seen it. No, you somehow managed to miss that one.

Let's practice: "I was spending my time doing something else."

Your instructions: Today, you will avoid clicking on something "everyone is talking about" unless it contributes to your information goal. This might be trending topic or a "must read" or whichever article or video or .GIF everyone in your world is sharing. You've got a strict rule in place: "If this does not make me [insert your Infomagical week goal here], I won't click."

Even the woman who discovered the most memorable meme of all time (argue the point, we dare you) knows that she needs to take a break sometimes.  

"I definitely feel information overload," says Cates Holderness, BuzzFeed's Tumblr editor. "It's both emotionally draining and psychologically stimulating in a really unsettling combination."
However, today's challenge extends beyond memes. It's also an excuse to purge your reading list, rewatch a classic instead of an Oscar nominee, and just skip opening all of those tabs. You don’t need to read every think piece, or follow every Trump hashtag, or share every Bernie factoid – if your information goal isn't "be 100 percent up to date on the election," maybe you can be content with knowing the results and brushing up on the issues that matter to you.

If it starts to feel itchy, remember: Endless information does not make you better informed. According to historian Ann Blair, author of "Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age," this is a lesson literate people have struggled to learn since the advent of the printed word.
Blair says our ambivalence would sound familiar to scholars in the thirteenth century. People felt both grateful for the new wealth of information at their fingertips, and so overwhelmed that they started creating cheat-sheets, "best of lists," and signing their letters "in haste." 

The settled-upon solution hundreds of years ago was to exercise a faculty called "judgment." Back then, it meant the best Latin scholars didn't copy everything out of Aristotle, they only chose the bits that meant the most for what they were working on. Today, Blair thinks the trick might be exactly the same: decide what you're doing, commit to it, and make choices.

Listen above for more.

And judge away!

This dress is red.



P.S. The Lenny Letter Manoush mentions about endometriosis is divided up into articles here. Open only if reading 9,000 words about an under-diagnosed women's health issue fits into your goal for the week. OK, back to judging!

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Infomagical Challenge 2: Magical Phone

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 02, 2016

This is Challenge Two of Note to Self's Infomagical project. To learn more, sign up, or catch up on Challenge One, visit wnyc.org/infomagical. If you want to hear how it's going for the tens of thousands of people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. No, the irony does not escape us. 

Apple has said that the average iPhone user has somewhere around 80 apps per device. Today, we are going to arrange them into a joyful, tidy, information overload crushing bulldozer

Your instructions: Today, you will rearrange the apps on your phone. You do not necessarily need to delete anything. You just need to weigh the value of each one, delete the ones that you a) do not use or b) do not bring you joy. Pull all of your remaining apps into folders – ideally, just one folder. When you've finished, set your phone's background wallpaper to an image that reminds you of your Infomagical week goal.

Pick something meaningful to you. Or, allow us to suggest one of these (click to download):

Phone backgrounds

For anyone feeling even more ambitious today, tackle your desktop browser too. Or de-clutter your photos. Or, you know, your actual house. 

If this "brings you joy" language sounds suspiciously like "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" to you... well, that's because author and organizational guru Marie Kondo herself is on this episode issuing your challenge instructions. She's joined by Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims, whose article "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Digitally" inspired this exercise. 

"By putting all of [your] apps into folders, you can search for them by name. What happens is your device becomes task-oriented, instead of the place [where] you go to be like, 'OK, what do I need to do next?'"

Here's what his phone looks like:

And here's how you can do it to yours (we're modeling on an iPhone but this should work on almost any smartphone):

1) Hold down one of your apps until they all start to jiggle. If the app doesn't bring you joy (however you define it), delete it. If it does, choose one and drag it over another app to create a folder. 


2)  Do this with all of the apps on your phone. Put them all in folders. Ideally, put them all in one folder.


3) Turn off notification badges – the little red dots with numbers inside of them. Go to "Settings" ---> "Notifications." and flip "Allow notifications" to the off position.


4) To find your apps, open the spotlight search feature (touch and swipe down anywhere in the center of your phone or use your OK Google search field). Every time you want to use an app, search for it.


We'd love to see yours when it's done. Tweet or Instagram with the hashtag #Infomagical or post to our Facebook page here.

The whole Note to Self team wishes you a magical day.



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Infomagical Challenge 1: Magical Day

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Feb 01, 2016

This is challenge one of Note to Self's Infomagical project. To learn more and sign up, visit wnyc.org/infomagicalIf you want to hear how it's going for the thousands of other people participating, our hashtag is #infomagical. Yes, we do see the irony. 

Here's a link to our custom emoji.

Today we are focusing on our ability... to focus. Because we are nothing if not meta. Mind blown yet? OK, let's go: 

Your instructions: All day long, do just one thing at a time. If you catch yourself doing two things, switch your focus back to one. Don't read an article and Tweet about it – read it, then Tweet. Write an email until you've finished it and hit "send." Perhaps even take a moment to just drink your coffee. Use your Infomagical week goal to prioritize which thing to do when. 

Why is this challenge number one? Because humans are incapable of doing multiple things at the same time. Study after study has shown that "multi-tasking" is a myth. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains that when we think we're multi-tasking, we're really only fooling ourselves.

"You're not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn't work that way. Instead, you're rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go."

Rapid switching back and forth comes at a cost: it eats away at your glucose levels. Which, in turn, might make you want candy. Or... Candy Crush.

Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California-Irvine, says that this rapid switching isn’t a new affliction, but it is an intensifying one.

"About ten years ago, we found that people shifted their attention between online and offline activities about every three minutes on average. But now we're looking at more recent data, and we're finding that people are shifting every 45 seconds when they work online."

Her lab has found a pretty clear relationship: The more that people switch their attention, the higher their stress level. That is especially concerning, she says, because the modern workplace feeds on interruptions. She calls the group of workers most affected "information workers."

"'Information workers'... have to respond to the demands of the workplace.They might have every intention of doing monochronic work, but if their boss sends them an email or they feel social pressure to keep up with their emails, they have to keep responding to their emails and being interrupted," Mark said. "I think that if people were given the ability to signal to colleagues or just even to signal online 'Hey I'm working on this task, don't bother me, I'll let you know when I'm ready to be interrupted.'”

We can't change your boss, but we can make a suggestion. Tell your colleagues you are doing the Infomagical challenge. Post on Facebook or Slack or wherever to signal that you are trying to single-task all day. Ask people to schedule conversations with you. You can even use your custom emoji for a visual cue

Here's the thing, however: You can't blame your coworkers or your children or your gchat buddy for everything. Because the person who actually interrupts you the most? Yourself. Mark's lab has a term for this – the “pattern of self-interruption."

"From an observer's perspective you're watching a person [and] they're typing in a word document. And then, for no apparent reason, they suddenly stop what they're doing and they shift and look at email or check Facebook. These kinds of self-interruptions happen almost as frequently as people are interrupted from external sources," Mark said. "So we find that when external interruptions are pretty high in any particular hour, then even if the level of external interruptions wane [in the next hour], then people self-interrupt."

In other words, if you’ve had a hectic morning dealing with lots of email and people stopping by your desk, you are more likely to start interrupting yourself. Interruptions are self-perpetuating.

That's why the most important signals are really the personal ones – remind yourself of your goal.  If you signed up for Infomagical via text, we’ll be checking in with you today. If you are doing Infomagical by email, check your inbox! You'll get another one tomorrow morning.

That’s all for now. Single task, friends. Close this tab, decide what you are doing next, and THEN DO IT UNTIL IT’S DONE.

The whole Note to Self team wishes you a magical day.

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The Case for Infomagical

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Jan 25, 2016

Here at Note to Self, we endorse using technology mindfully, thoughtfully, and not necessarily all the time. That said, we’re more concerned with another sentiment you probably know all too well: the "yeah, putting down my phone is nice and all, but I have a life to live. A job to do. A conversation to hold. A cat video to send to my mother." 

With that in mind, today is the day we launch Infomagical, a collective FOMO course correction. This time it’s not about your gadgets per se, it’s about all the stuff on them, and all the stuff coming out of them. Our plan is to turn all of your information portals into overload-fighting machines. Starting with this introductory episode (listen above), we're going to make your devices more useful through a big follow-up to Bored and Brilliant – our 2015 project inviting people to rethink their relationships with their phone and become more creative in the process.

Why? Because you've told us how much you need this. In a survey of nearly 2,000 Note to Self listeners:

  • 60 percent said they feel like the amount of effort they must exert to stay up-to-date on a daily basis is "taxing." Another 15 percent said it's downright "impossible."
  • 4 out of 5 said information overload affects their ability to learn.
  • 1 out of 3 said information overload was affecting their close relationships.

We've talked with neuroscientists, social psychologists, business professors, anthropologists, software designers, and many, many listeners as we've designed this project. We’re going to give you the tools you’ll need to do this right. 

Including custom emoji! (Right click to "save as image" on desktop; tap and hold on mobile).

Each emoji correlates with one of the five "goals" you can choose at sign up. Why? To cut to the root of information overload, scientists say it is important to set one priority (also called a “schema,” “theme,” or “filter”) that you use to gauge how much something really matters to you. For example, if your goal is to learn more about the upcoming election, does that panda video really help you achieve it? No, but if your goal is to be “more connected with friends and family,” perhaps it does. These goals are meant to remind you of what you really want for the week. You can put the emoji (or any other kind of note to self) up wherever you consume information. We've got bigger badge versions on Facebook, Flickr, and below.

To get you as pumped for Infomagical as we are, we lay out all of the research behind what we’re doing here in the episode above. Manoush even got her brain scanned in the process.

In this episode:

(Emoji designed by Kevin McCauley.)

Posted by Note to Self Radio on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sign up to participate at wnyc.org/infomagical. Challenge week starts February 1 and runs through February 5.

Want to tell us why you're taking part in Infomagical? Talk to us here. Got more questions? See if we've answered yours here.

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When FOMO Meets JOMO

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 20, 2016

If you haven't heard of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) by now... well, no fear. There are cartoons to get you up to speed. There is a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are diagnostic quizzes. There is a heavily-annotated Wikipedia entry

There is also a meaningful counter-term: JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). And yes, the person behind FOMO and the person behind JOMO know each other - they are, in fact, old friends. Technologists Caterina Fake and Anil Dash – popularizers of FOMO and JOMO respectively – say they wish more had changed since they published their now-famous blog posts five years ago. On this week's episode of Note to Self, the two talk about the utility of acronyms, the importance of thoughtful software design, and the recent history of the Internet as we know it. 

"I don't think Silicon valley today, the technologists coming of age today who have always had access to the Internet and were born into it, understand that there are ethical choices to be reckoned with in the way that we build our apps and the way we build technology," Dash says.

Fake agrees. She says that sense of "oh there is something I should be paying attention to" has been built into the platforms we use – our attention is the currency by which social networks are considered successful.

"It's a lot of work to tilt the meters more towards the JOMO end of the spectrum,"  she says. "Software is good at exploiting those tendencies that we are unaware of or subject to. I think that a very conscious approach – media literacy, and ethics classes –are really where we need to be. As a culture, as a society, we know the software isn't going to go away. All of this is going to be with us and we should take it for granted that it will remain."

It's a sentiment we know a little too well. Especially the certifiable digital junkies among us.


Read Caterina Fake's 2011 post about FOMO here. Read Anil Dash's 2012 post about JOMO here.

For more conversations like this one, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

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An Apology to Our Listeners. Because Two Dots.

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 13, 2016

Looking for our information overload survey? Take it here – and stay tuned for our big project launch on January 25!

David Hohusen, game director on the popular smartphone app Two Dots, is – at very least – brave.

As longtime listeners will remember, Hohusen joined us on the show last year for a conversation about the addictive game you see people playing on the subway. Note to Self host Manoush Zomorodi was once a Two Dots player, and an especially enthusiastic one at that. But after talking with behavioral engineer expert Nir Eyal and neuroscientist Zachary Hambrick, she had to admit something huge: She wasn't paying Two Dots any money, but she was giving the game a whole lot of valuable time. She deleted the app. We turned it into an episode.  Hohusen was ambushed.

And yet... he came back. On this episode of Note to Self, Hohusen talks about the responsibility technologists have to their users. In his words:

"I think as game designers, we're incredibly mindful of the sort of tactics we use because we know... if we make a game that's a little too underhanded, we're not going to feel great. Because did we really make a great game, or did we just use the dirtiest strategies to trick people into playing?"

If you're in the 49 percent of Americans who play games – even if you're not one of the 10 percent who considers yourself a gamer – you'll want to listen to this. Actually, you'll want to listen either way: It's a really great example of what can happen when we give thoughtful feedback to technologists about how their products affect our lives. Hohusen spent a year thinking about the role his game plays in peope's mental health.

David Hohusen: Most people think of 'addiction' and 'addicting' as sort of a negative adjective. But, in the mobile game space, they show it off, they tout it. Candy Crush will say something about addiction or addictive as a positive.

Manoush Zomorodi: And what do you think about that?

DH: I think it is and it isn't. Like for me, I'm really conflicted about it. Because I think that it's a very accurate description and I think it's... it's true to Two Dots and it's true to Candy Crush. We're building experiences that really hook users and create this sense and this desire to play all the time.

MZ: Which I had.

DH: Absolutely. And you made the wise decision to delete the app, which I think was the right decision.

For more conversations like this one, subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.


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A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Getting Organized

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 06, 2016

If you had to guess, how many facts have you taken in today? How many factoids, dates, times, sale alerts, tweet-sized factoids, and other factual-or-at-least-pretending-to-be-factual pieces of information have passed across your screen? At this rate, how many more do you expect to take in by midnight? 

Let us present you with one more: According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, author of "The Organized Mind," your brain can only fully absorb four. Four.

"[More] will compete for neural resources with what you're really doing at the moment, what's in front of you. Your brain will be narrating... all of this undone stuff," Levitin says on this week's show.

We’ll be hearing more from him later this month when we dig very, very deep into the phenomenon of “information overload” – and to get there, we need your help. Click here to take our quick survey on what information overload looks like for you. Your responses will help us build a project that actually matters to you.

In the meantime, you can hear Dr. Levitin's explanation of where our neurological limits lie, either in the player above or on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, and anywhere else using our RSS feed.

He also gave us some tips on setting limits. Here's a cheat sheet (in numerical order as he suggests!):

1. Write down everything you need to do. Everything! Then make sure you prioritize what really needs to be first. Basically: brain dump with bullet points, then go through and number in order of importance.

"You look at your list of things to do and there's one that you've put there on top, you sit down to do that, and you really become immersed in it. Instead of wondering, like so many of us do, 'Is there something else I should be doing? Is this really the thing I should be doing? Let me check my email, maybe there's something more important...'"

2. Find a way of making all your digital stuff look different. You could create different email accounts for different parts of your life, or amp up your Gmail to do some real filtering for you.

"During the day when information comes in you're not quite sure how important it is, or how important it's going to be. [If] you have no system for it, you can't attach it to anything on your priorities list. And so you put it in your brain and you kind of toss it and turn it around, and because it doesn't attach to anything, it takes up neuro-resources."

3. If paring down isn't an option, communicate.  Need to keep up with everything at your demanding job? Then your challenge is one of communication: explain to those around you what's on your plate in terms of priorities – i.e., "yes, I will read that, but after I put the finishing touches on this. It's due at 3 p.m. See my list of priorities I wrote out right here? I can make changes if need be, but..." 

Levitin says these are conversations best handled in person.

4. Don’t beat yourself up about it. When you start to feel overwhelmed, that is the exact moment when you need to make your list of prioriites.

"Cortisol is released whenever we're trying to do more than we can handle. Its part of the fight or flight response, which made a whole lot of sense in hunter-gatherer times but now it's just toxic, it makes your stomach ache, it shuts down your immune system, you're more likely to get sick when you're stressed. All because of cortisol."

Stay tuned for more from Dr. Levitin, and don't forget to take our survey here!

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Listen to Your Voicemail

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 30, 2015

To close out 2015, we want to leave you the way we started it: with one of our favorite Gizmodo stories from writer Leslie Horn (she's now at Deadspin). It starts out like this:

"My mother is untrainable. At least, as far as voicemail is concerned. We'd repeat the same song and dance over and over. Me: Stop leaving me voicemails.Her: I don't understand. This went on for years, until I figured out she was right all along."

Listen above to hear a story of mourning, family, and a piece of technology that – love it or hate it – still has the capacity to connect us in ways texts, emails, and all the rest just can't. It's a podcast ode the humble voice recording.

After we aired this episode the first time, many of you said that you, too, have voicemails you'd like to save. Here's an updated (and admittedly not comprehensive) guide on how to do that:

A really easy way:

  • Play your voicemail on speakerphone in front of a tape recorder, or recording software on your computer (Audacity is free to download), phone or tablet. Listen to make sure you can understand it. There. Done. (Pro: simple. Con: not the best quality.)

Some pretty easy way(s):

  • If you have a newer iPhone, you can save your voicemail as a voice memo or note. (Pro: easy, good sound quality. Con: takes up space on your phone.)
  • Treat your computer like a set of headphones for your phone. You'll need a male-to-male cord auxiliary cable (available at most electronics stores). Plug that into your phone's headphone jack on one end, and put the other end into the "line-in" outlet on your computer. Use whichever recording software you like (again, Audacity is free), hit play on the phone, and press "record" on the computer. (Pro: good sound quality. Con: you have to buy a cable.)
  • Use an app. There are several third-party apps (you can try iMazingPhoneViewecamm, or, straight to the point, Voicemails Forever or Everlasting Voice). They let you look at the device's data on your computer desktop, then you can save whichever files you'd like. (Pro: Best sound quality possible. Cons: they cost money, it can be hard to find the exact file you want.)

For the future:

  • Set up a voicemail-to-email service like Google Voice or YouMail and sync it with your phone. Have all of your voicemails emailed to you as mp3s. 

We always want you to leave us a voicemail or a voice memo! Our number is (917) 924-2964.

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed to make sure you know when we're back with new stuff.

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Why You Should Care About LEGO and Creativity

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 23, 2015

This week, we're re-airing an episode that might make you think twice before buying that LEGO kit gift for the kid in your life. As we learned, sticking with the classic big bins of non-themed bricks can help kids' creativity, as well as adults'. According to research by business professors Page Moreau and Marit Gundersen Engset, "free-building" from a pile of mismatched LEGO enhances creativity, while working from a pre-designed kit hinders it. That's not to say working with a kit is necessarily a bad thing – it just prompts your brain to work more methodically, rather than imaginatively.That's why the free-building vs. kit-based approaches to LEGO and beyond are important: Whether you're making a wild creation out of little toy bricks or making a meal from a ready-to-cook kit, following a set of step-by-step directions will affect your thought processes. 

We got tons of feedback from listeners last time around. But perhaps the most enthusiastic response came from Robin Corry in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has a dedicated "LEGO Room" in his house where his two sons can play. Robin stores the LEGO in a bag and dumps them all out on the ground when it's time to get building. Rather than buy his sons pre-made LEGO kits, Robin makes his own, sorting bricks by color or shape into Ziploc bags and instructing them to make something with them.

We could all use a little bit more creativity in our lives.


Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed to make sure you know when we're back with new stuff.

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5 Links We Would GChat You If We Were Friends

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 16, 2015

Note: Want to see the list of newsletters we like that Manoush mentions in this week's podcast? Find it in the Note to Self newsletter here.

Spending just one day offline can make you feel like you missed 100 important stories. As you're trying to stay abreast of the 100 even newer, as-important stories/memes/investigations/cute animal videos... well, it starts to feel like this:

Or, you know, this:

Luckily, there's someone who devotes hours every day to helping us with that quandary. Caitlin Dewey is the Digital Culture Critic at the Washington Post. In addition to her regular column she also sends out a daily newsletter called "Links I would GChat you if we were friends." It's exactly what it sounds like: a couple dozen hand-picked links of the day's top online stories, curated by someone whose job it is to have her finger on the pulse of the Internet world at all times. 

In this week's episode, Manoush sits down with Caitlin to talk about the top five digital culture stories from the past year, so that you can end 2015 feeling up to date without having to sift through thousands of old links. 

5. The Zola Story

A 150-tweet story by Aziah "Zola" Wells trended for two straight days on Twitter (longer than the Paris attacks). If you missed it (or gave up on it), you weren't alone. It was long and twisted – an account of a wild weekend in Florida involving sex work, suicide attempts, and murder. Then, in the following months, both Caitlin and a reporter at Rolling Stone produced reported pieces looking into which aspects of the story were true, why people responded the way they did, and why it all matters. You can check out the original tweets – which have since been deleted – here

4. The Dress

Back in February, it seemed for a moment like a civil war might break out between pretty much everyone on the Internet. In question "The Dress" as blue and black and those who saw it as white and gold. BuzzFeed writer Cate Holderness discovered the meme on Tumblr, and her initial post was so wildly popular that BuzzFeed put two editorial teams on The Dress beat, producing dozens of stories on the topic and garnering tens of millions of page views. (For the record, it was actually blue and black. Supposedly.)

3. This Novel-length Article About Code

We know, we know. You heard about Paul Ford's 38,000-word magnum opus on code from this June and you totally had every intention of reading it... except that finding time for a book-length essay on a tricky topic isn't always easy. It's OK – this one is an evergreen. Consider this another opportunity to dig deep into a serious demystification of coding and the tech world that we all interact with every day, but don't always know all that much about. On a plane home for the holidays six months later.

2. The Reddit Revolt

Known as the "front page of the internet," Reddit has long been an incredible source of information and evolving news stories – but it's also unfortunately been a place where harassment campaigns take root. That started to change this summer, when Reddit started cracking down on hate speech and harassment. Things really came to a head when the site fired Victoria Taylor, who ran the AMA ("Ask Me Anything") section. Following her termination, Reddit's moderators – unpaid individuals who help run the site's various communities – organized a strike against the site for an entire week. The controversy and its fallout has fueled an ongoing debate about free speech, as well as the question of who benefits when users on sites like Reddit and Facebook effectively donate their labor. 

1. The Ashley Madison Hack

Online leaks are nothing new. But the Ashley Madison hack was the first high-profile privacy breach that threatened to destroy the relationships, personal lives, and careers of the 37 million people with accounts – most of whom never actually engaged in an extramarital affair, given that there were barely any women using the site at all. Caitlin describes this #1 tech story of the year as a watershed moment for digital privacy – listen to the podcast to hear why. 

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