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Are you addicted to social media?

Social media usage has become a way of life for most young adults, with over 2.19 billion users signed up to Facebook alone as of 2018.

Meeting new people online – and even new partners – is the modern way to conduct relationships, but imagine if you had a friend or partner who constantly talked to you, was in your face 24/7 and who even managed to get inside your brain while you slept, perhaps urging you to wake up and start chatting again? That is exactly the relationship many users are having with social media platforms – and to the extent they are being termed social media addicts.

The need to be liked

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, are perhaps the most well known social media platforms. But now almost every website has a forum or meeting place – or enables users to leave comments and interact with other users, spawning a generation of web users who feel increasingly compelled to leave their mark online whenever the opportunity arises. This is further encouraged by rankings, ratings, likes and shares, all helping to build a picture of how popular a user is.

The cult of personality is a mark of success online and the urge to be successful online has never been greater – there is now a generation of social media users who have never known life without an online profile and all that that brings.

Addicted to likes

A growing awareness of how social media can hook users into becoming a slave to ‘like’ has prompted research into how addictive social media is. Scientists have found that, just as praise and popularity in real life can generate a happy glow in people, the buzz getting a ‘like’ online generates results from similar chemical responses in the brain.

When we are happy and our self-esteem is boosted, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine and levels of serotonin also rise. These two chemicals in the brain are known as the “happiness” chemicals. Dopamine levels rise to their highest when we are in love and feel all dizzy and excited – the buzz you get from a great work out at the gym is also due to dopamine and serotonin.

It is a great feeling and it is now known to be addictive to the point that an entire generation of young social media users is already addicted or is in danger of becoming addicted to ‘likes’ online, fuelling a need to be constantly checking social media websites. But just as ‘like’ makes us feel good about ourselves and want more, it can also lead us into a darker place.

Social media and depression

There are have been several reports in the media about how young adults have struggled with depression, even to the point of taking their own lives, with social media use thought to have played a role in their condition.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology finds that a major factor in the link between social media use and depression is the fact that viewing other people’s lives online can lead us to make unfavourable judgements about our own lives. Young people can be particularly affected when they see their peers apparently having a much better time than they are or appearing to be more popular. Young adults have even been known to exaggerate their lives just to appear more popular and successful on social media. It is when viewing social media leads to feelings of inadequacy, failure or unpopularity in an individual that depression can result.

What is depression?

Depression is caused by changes in the brain – and often occurs after a major trauma in an individual’s life, such as bereavement, job loss, divorce or moving house and leaving behind friends. The hippocampus, where memories are stored and which also controls sleep, appetite and sex drive, shrinks when people are depressed – as a result, memory recall can be affected, sleep is disrupted, sex drive can diminish and eating patterns can change. Feelings of isolation and loneliness develop.

Social media in itself aims to make people more connected – but it cannot protect users from feeling the same distress or depression they might feel in real life when a relationship ends, for example. Online, if a friendship breaks down, or a friend “unfriends” another without explanation, the same hurt and low mood as happens in real life occurs.

That Avatar might protect your identity or appearance online – but behind the tech is a person with real feelings.

Social media is also accessible and relationships can move at a faster pace than they might in real life, heightening the experience very quickly – and for the generations of users who have never known a life without social media, it can be especially hard when their virtual world of friendship and emotional support dumps them back in the real world.

Seeing through the deception

Social media platforms make their money somehow – and that somehow is most often by targeted advertising. But sometimes things can take a sinister turn online – there has been a public backlash since the Cambridge Analytica debacle, when Facebook users discovered their data was being harvested. For thousands of social media users, it felt like a betrayal, given they had been led to believe in some kind of social media Utopia where everything was free and innocent of deception. Individuals and corporates can make the social media world a very challenging and murky place to be at times, however, and it is little wonder people at first get addicted – and then end up depressed.

4 tips for managing social media addiction

The joy of social media is that the user should be able to control it and not be controlled by it. If social media seems to have its hooks into you, here are a few tips on how to put it back in its box and take back control.

  1. Try and limit social media activity to a certain number of hours a day – and if possible, set the time when you will access it. There is nothing cooler than being too busy to check up on everyone else’s life every minute of the day – you have your own life and it will not be half as interesting as it could be if you are busy hearing about what everyone else is up to.
  2. Find new things to do – the big hook with social media is that it is free and easily accessible. But tech that stops you from having real experiences in the real world is counterproductive to having an interesting, healthy and fulfilling life, so join a five-aside-football team, find a climbing wall or sign up for a dance class and meet some new people in the real world.
  3. Monitor how social media makes you feel – if the thought of being without it or the thought of logging onto to it makes you feel anxious or panicked, switch it off for a day, or for longer if you can. Once you have managed to do this, when you return, social media will not seem such a big beast to deal with –and you will see that life goes on without constantly scrolling through updates.
  4. Have more than one set of friends online – it is tempting to gather all your friends in the same place, but try to have different groups of friends on different platforms, so that if one social media circle proves problematic, you can simply socialise online elsewhere for a while. Making new friends on different social media platforms can help you build a network of contacts and friends that could help you get a job, meet a partner, or become interested in a new hobby and expand your social circle so that you do eventually have the sort of life your online friends admire.

The science behind social media addiction 

In November 2017, the founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker, admitted that the social media platform was intended to be addictive and was developed to exploit ‘a vulnerability in human psychology’ – the dopamine hit whenever we receive a ‘like’, which keeps us coming back for more.

In 2016, researchers at Pitt’s Centre for Research on Media, Technology and Health also discovered that, out of a group of study participants aged 19-32, those who used social media more frequently on a weekly basis were 2.7 times more likely to develop depression – possibly because those with underlying depression might be more likely to use social media more often, but also because of the feeling among users of not ‘living up to idealised portraits of life’ displayed online.

With depression now the leading cause of disability globally, according to the World Health Organisation in 2015, it is surely now time for all of us to take a rain check on whether we actually ‘like’ what social media is doing to our lives and our health and relationships.

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Is Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain the perfect marriage?

There is only one thing better than new technology and that is two new technologies working together.

The Bitcoin revolution has led to us all becoming accustomed to the idea of blockchain – a complex computerised network which provides a foolproof method of encryption, with each block providing a check on its neighbour in the chain. Or, as the Bank of England terms it, “a technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events”.

The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just a concept and is fast becoming a reality, with medical, military and media applications now harnessing the capabilities of AI. In 2018, Wimbledon and its partner IBM edited player highlights by employing AI to analyse player emotions and reactions, crowd noise and match data, to produce video highlights of matches tailored to audiences.

Why blockchain and Artificial Intelligence?

Blockchains and AI are seen as perfect partners because AI is now being developed to produce algorithms capable of working with encrypted data – and which may in the future be utilised in assessing whether a financial transaction is fraudulent and should be flagged up and investigated as such, a job which currently takes man hours and the processing of large amounts of complex data.

Given how complex it can be to fully assess a financial transaction or investigate a suspected fraudulent transaction, harnessing the power and speed of AI to assess data encrypted in blockchains could revolutionise the handling and processing of data, due to the flexibility and adaptability of AI.

For AI and blockchain technology to work together, however, there has to be a degree of commercial and public acceptance and belief in the partnership.

New tech adoption rates

There is no doubt that adoption rates of new technology are faster than ever – especially when there is a financial and productivity advantage for business. The public, too, must also have confidence in technology which stores and handles their personal and financial data, as well as making assessments of that data, such as for the purpose of detecting fraud.

Transparency is often crucial in fostering confidence in new technology – and with blockchain and AI, this can be difficult, given the virtual nature of both.

Bitcoin has demonstrated, however, that those who are innovators or early adopters of technology often benefit from it the most. It is said that investors who bought $100 of Bitcoin at the start of the boom in 2010 and managed to hold onto it may now be worth around $73m, given the 0.003 cent price of Bitcoin in early 2010.

It may well be the same with utilising blockchain and AI – companies which are early adopters might well find they profit from the enhanced productivity and enhanced data sharing the partnership brings and profit accordingly, before blockchain and AI become the norm in commercial operations.

Nothing is without risk, however, but it is hoped that harnessing the capabilities of AI would reduce any existing risk such as fraud, given the speed and accuracy of the technology in processing large amounts of data – more data leads to improved models and more possibilities for secure data sharing or detecting anomalies in data stored in blockchains. Merging datasets can also create a new dataset, potentially with new business applications using AI.

Monitoring Artificial Intelligence

Bitcoin was also very much a word-of-mouth underground movement at the start – new innovations such as the mainstream use of blockchain and AI together are not likely to be viewed with such suspicion, especially given the cost effectiveness and efficiency of the tech. Enhanced data sharing can lead to innovation and efficiency across different spheres, from enhanced sharing of medical data to processing and checking supply chains to detect product failures.

There will have to be checks in place, however – even though blockchain in itself is a ledger system for storing and encrypting large amounts of data, the utilisation of AI in overseeing the use and security of that data or in detecting fraudulent activity must in itself be subject to scrutiny.

It has been suggested that the decisions made by AI be recorded to ensure transparency and accuracy in the use of AI in blockchain databanks, just as human decisions are logged and monitored. Whether AI will be self-policing remains to be seen, however.

Despite any initial reservations about the use of AI in monitoring encrypted data in blockchains, the adoption rate of technology over the last ten years suggests that the current generation will be susceptible to emerging tech, including unique partnerships in tech such as AI and blockchain.

As most people now have high-speed Internet access and a smartphone and are accustomed to new tech, it may be that advances in data protection and data sharing, such as AI and blockchain working together, will be a natural progression, provided there are adequate and transparent checks on the technology or built into the tech.

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The man who rescued the Swegway board and made over $19m

Asad Saddique is one of those enviable entrepreneurs who admits that at the time he launched his sure-fire business idea, he knew nothing about entrepreneurship and very little about swegway boards aka hoverboards.

However, as we now know, the world is teeming with entrepreneurial 25-year-olds just like Asad, who have a hunch, go with it and end up making a packet.

When London-based Asad stumbled across hoverboards, they were quite literally going up in smoke.

iSwegway

In 2015, a friend of his invested in a consignment of hoverboards from China and began selling online. His venture coincided with the crash in hoverboards, however, when after several reported incidents involving them catching fire, Trading Standards seized 15,000 boards considered unsafe, eBay banned all sales of them and Amazon ceased sales and instructed customers to throw them away.

It would take a fool or a genius to see the potential in such a debacle, but as hoverboards were literally crashing and burning, Asad Saddique saw just that when his friend offered him the chance to help salvage his hoverboard empire. The deal was that, if Asad handled the online sales and marketing, his friend would handle everything else.

The resultant gentleman’s handshake signalled the birth of the company iSwegway – and Asad and his partner are now one of the UK’s largest distributors of hoverboards through their company.

Hoverboards are now part of a burgeoning family of products – which includes swegways, Segways and uniwheels – transforming how we travel. They are basically one- or two-wheel electric scooters and have the added bonus of being the coolest way to get around in the urban environment, says Asad.

As a result, iSwegway’s business has gone stratospheric – leading to the company to becoming a Shopify Build A Business Competition winner, with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange floor. Asad and his colleague were also wined and dined and taken yachting – as well as receiving world-class business mentoring from the likes of Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Daymond John.

So how did Asad Saddique go from rags to riches on a hoverboard after simply watching the news one night in 2015? Well, it was a case of fool or genius and it turned out to be the latter.

“Every channel was talking about hoverboards blowing up” says Asad, who suddenly recognised that, as everyone was being told the chuck out their hoverboards, a window of opportunity was closing and he had to get moving – but with limited funds, limited business experience and knowing diddly squat about coding.

Undeterred and convinced he had hit upon a huge gap in the market about to happen, in September 2015, he withdrew $6000 from his savings and got to work. Soon setbacks meant his savings had dwindled – so he did what any sensible businessman would do and took time out to validate his idea before taking any more financial risks. Here is the plan the self-taught Asad Saddique came up with:

– Test And Validate Everything

Using Google’s keyword research and trend tool, Asad determined there was an unmet need in the marketplace, but there was also a healthy level of competition – although not enough to scare him away from cornering the market and taking over the rankings.

Firstly, Asad found an e-commerce platform, opting for Shopify because it was the quickest solution off the peg. Signing up for the trial, he immediately began work and hired freelancers for his website design, while also setting up a drop shipping arrangement.

– Use Common Sense Marketing and Design

Asad knew the basics were crucial and made sure the website had a working phone number, forwarding address, a trust-promoting interface and accessible customer service – something his competitors had not done. For customer service, he set up ZenDesk on the website and customised it.

“I got a lot of silly emails at first,” says Asad. “Questions like, is it safe? How do I reset my board? Stuff like that. But I took all the questions seriously.”

The feedback he got from the questions prompted him to compile a comprehensive FAQ and incorporate some of the queries into product descriptions, which helped long-term with increasing customer service resources, user time on site – a huge influence on the Google ranking algorithm – and increasing conversions.

Asad says clean, bold design is also important.

“As a savvy buyer, I switched roles and put myself in the shoes of the consumer. What would I look for to validate and determine a site’s trustworthiness?”

The result was a corporate-looking Shopify theme, consisting of bright colors and third-party logos such as credit card companies and media outlets.

Asad says speed – appropriately – has always been another big strength of the hoverboard business, as all the initial start-up work was completed in just two weeks, enabling him to capitalize on the media storm surrounding hoverboards by “newsjacking”, in which marketing ideas are inserted into breaking news, creating company credibility, awareness and sales in the process.

– Buy Out Your Competition

On the SEO side, instead of chasing high-competition keywords at first (eg “swegway”), Asad began to optimise for color variations (eg “black swegway” or “blue swegway”) – and coupled with keyword dense but customer-focused copy, the tactic saw the company climbing the rankings over time.

In January 2016, after moving to a third office, Asad decided to acquire a hoverboard blog that outranked his site – even though it was “an old looking site chock full of sloppy text”.

But, as counterintuitive as it sounds, it was left exactly as it was.

 “My developer was shocked at the quality of the site,” says Asad.

“He asked me to make a million different changes, but what he didn’t realise is that Google tracks the user, not just the site. If the bounce rate is high (they visit and leave shortly after), it will negatively impact ranking.

“It was an ugly blog, but the bounce rate was low so I left it the same and just linked back to our site on it.”

In March 2016, Asad acquired another site in the niche – an affiliate site that also outranked his site; and just like the blog, he left it exactly the same. The only change was making sure competing links were removed and replaced with links back to his own site.

Asad now sells boards regularly through those two sites now as well. It is hard to believe that, given the almost immediate success of the business, he is entirely self-taught – and cannot even think of any books, blogs or resources to recommend to others. In fact, he admits he was “too lazy” to even read them, nor did he take any one text as gospel.

“A lot of people think there’s one source or magic bullet – one book or blog that will have a winning lottery ticket in it,” he says.

“It’s better to believe in your own choices and take the action instead.”

And the future looks even brighter, with plans for an electric bike – and sales of hoverboards going through the roof, as iSwegway accumulates revenues in excess of $19m.

“Eighteen to 24-year-olds are buying them for their own pleasure and leisure, then parents and grandparents are buying them as presents,” says Asad.

“We’ve even had corporate clients ordering 50-100 units at a time as end of year incentives.”

From hoverboards to infinity

Asad Saddique even believes that hoverboards could eventually change urban commuting and city life, putting paid to the suggestion that hoverboards are just toys or for leisure.

“Yes, it’s a trend and it could die down in the next 12 months, but I also think it’s catching on with something new in a way which could open the door to a new family of transport.”

Electric one-wheel devices are trickier to manoeuvre – and the most popular device sold on iSwegway is a two-wheeled Swegway with a range of 16 miles and a max speed of 6.2 mph, making it a whole lot more than a toy.

The hoverboard industry is also gaining more respectability after the original bonfire of vanities, with a hoverboard council monitoring safety and quality.

The devices start at £280 and can cost up to around £700 with extended range and speed – making them more than competitive with the annual travelcard into London every day. To travel five or six miles to work using a hoverboard would take around an hour, says Asad – with no cancellations, strap hanging or cattle truck conditions.

“It’s definitely an interesting market – really it’s the personal transportation market, especially in London, where people are spending serious money on commuting already,” he adds.

AI, Blockchain and IoT

Asad is already looking ahead to emerging tech, such as Artifcial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and automated solutions – including the Internet of Things (IoT), which will digitalise millions of ordinary, everyday items in order to collect and process information to make daily life more connected. “I believe with the adoption rate of technology over the last ten years especially, the current generation is connected well enough that it is inevitable they’ll be susceptible to emerging tech,” says Asad.

“Most have high-speed Internet access and a smartphone – this is all that is needed for this generation to adopt tech advances such as AI and IoT.”