From the category archives:


Jon Medved on stageAt the opening of equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd’s second annual investor’s summit in Jerusalem last week, CEO Jon Medved told the 2,000 assembled attendees that military software maker mPrest had just raised $20 million through OurCrowd, the largest investment ever via crowdfunding and a significant Series A round for mPrest, which built the “command and control” component to Israel’s Iron Dome system. mPrest will use the new round to bring its software into the burgeoning “Internet of Things” arena – to control not just missile systems but everything from the electrical utility grid to home appliances.

mPrest was just one of dozens of startups to present at the conference. The Jerusalem Post takes a look at some of the most exciting companies who braved last week’s snowy weather to take to the stage.

When Israeli startup Consumer Physics demo’d at last year’s OurCrowd Summit, the Apple Watch, with its tiny sensors to measure all manner of changes in the physical world, had just been announced. That made Consumer Physics’ sales pitch that much easier: the company wants to put its SCiO molecular scanner into the next version of the iPhone or Apple Watch. The SCiO scanner uses light waves to analyze the chemical properties of everything from food to pharmaceuticals, then matches the results with an online database. Want to know what’s in that bag of Bamba or whether a certain pill is what its manufacturer claims it to be? Now you can. CEO Dror Sharon showed off the latest SCiO scanner – it’s the size of a smart phone camera.

Speaking of cameras, Core Photonics aims to vastly improve the quality of the photos you take with your smart phone, inching ever closer to much more expensive DLSR cameras. Core Photonics’ technology is complex, combining “computational photography” and “magnetic reluctance actuators,” but the bottom line is that the demo shown by CEO Eran Kali was so far beyond what an iPhone 6S can take today as to remind one of the difference between VHS and Blue-ray in video. Kali says we can expect to see Core Photonics integrated into phones in 2018.

AudienceYour phone is only good if you can find it. If you’re prone to misplacing items, Pixie has got your covered. Pixie makes a small plastic tracking tag that you attach to your keys, your luggage, even your child. Pixie’s smart phone app then guides you to the missing item using arrows, audio feedback and even an augmented reality view that superimposes where you’ve left your wallet onto a moving image of your living room. “Other solutions just tell you, it’s on the left side of the room, good luck,” Pixie’s Amir Bassan-Eskenazi told the room to applause. The Pixie Point goes for $17.50 each (in packs of four), with the price dropping “to single digits” by 2017.

VocalZoom demonstated how its revolutionary noise filtering technology might work in a car. On stage with Honda, which announced its entrance into Israel’s tech market at the conference, VocalZoom CEO Tal Bakish compared the remarkable difference in sound quality from a speakerphone with and without VocalZoom’s voice recognition system, which uses lasers to detect vibrations from the speaker’s vocal cords. Bakish says it works even while riding a motorcycle. VocalZoom should begin rolling with Honda and other car manufacturers by 2018.

Engie also has its sights set on the “connected car” of the future. Engie’s software plugs into a car’s diagnostic system, monitors when the car needs repairs – say, a brake replacement – and sends a message to your smart phone. The Engie app will then bring up a list of nearby mechanics, which you can click on to get quick service at a clear price. It’s like Uber, but for the inside of your car. Engie could be especially useful if you’re on a road trip and far from your regular auto shop.

In addition to Coca-Cola’s iconic Bnei Brak bottling plant, the company also runs a hi-tech operation in Israel – an accelerator called The Bridge. One of the companies that has been through the six month program is Cimagine which allows shoppers to place a 3D picture of a piece of furniture from a Cimagine-enabled website into an “augmented reality” version of, say, your living room so you can see how it will look before you take it home. What does that have to do with Coke? As Cimagine’s CEO Nir Daube demonstrated, Coke can use it to show movie theaters and restaurants how Coca-Cola vending machines and tables with Coke branded umbrellas will appear there – without having to lug the equipment itself.

Jerusalem-based serial entrepreneur Bob Rosenschein is best known for, the company he founded and subsequently sold in 2011 for $127 million. let users ask questions and receive answers from the crowd. Curiyo does more or less the same thing with a twist: you don’t have to leave the website you’re on to get the information you seek. There’s no user download required; Curiyo allows users to click or tap on a word and the information pops up in an overlay window. With Curiyo being served up on 3.75 million page views a day already – USA Today is a client – Rosenschein’s third startup may have the real answers.

home-screen-iphoneIn 2012, Zula came up with a great app to consolidate all of a team’s communications in one place – emails, files, video, audio. Then along came Slack, a nearly identical product that caught on like wildfire and it was “game over” for Zula, explained the company’s chief marketing officer Hilel Fuld. Zula had raised $4 million – enough money to keep going – but no longer had a market. But one component of its product suite had legs enough to stand on its own. Nine months later, ZCast was born – an iPhone app for instant podcasting. More than that, when you start your live “groupcast,” you can invite friends to join you, creating an on-the-fly talk radio show that anyone with a Twitter account can listen to.

If instant podcasting seems like fun, making it easier to move freight from door to ship to door sounds like the polar opposite. But in the deadly dull, Zvi Schreiber saw opportunity. His startup, Freightos, addresses a problem that anyone who has ever made aliyah has encountered: while you can book a plane ticket online in seconds, it takes an average of 91 hours to get a quote for sending a container from one country to another. That’s because, when Freightos got started, some 90 percent of the systems to manage freight were handled by Excel spreadsheets and the occasional email. So in order to build what Schreiber calls the “Kayak for international freight,” with transparency, speed and fixed prices, he first had to work with the freight forwarders to put software in place to automate the quotation process. The company is four years into its mission and has raised an impressive $23 million to date.

MassChallenge team rings the gong including Nir BarkatSidebar: MassChallenge brings Boston accelerator to Jerusalem

In conjunction with the OurCrowd Summit last week, a new hi-tech accelerator entered the Israeli market but, unlike similar programs that are mostly based in Tel Aviv, this one will be in Jerusalem. Boston’s MassChallenge takes the Y Combinator model of putting startups through a four-month boot camp of mentoring and networking and takes away the profit angle…for MassChallenge that is.

“We are the most startup friendly accelerator out there,” explained founder John Harthorne during a lavish launch party at Jerusalem’s First Station. “We take no equity and no percentage of revenue.” The non-profit MassChallenge aims to run 100 startups through its program in the first two years and is open to anyone with a good idea – you don’t even have to be from Israel. Leading companies compete for prize of NIS 1 million.

Israel’s capital has seen a startup surge in recent years, with approximately 120 new startups opening every year. MassChallenge aims to double that. OurCrowd and other investors will be watching closely, looking for investment opportunities when each MassChallenge cohort graduates. If even a few of these companies stay in Jerusalem, it could have a deep impact on the city’s hi-tech ecosystem.


Amnon Dekel

I always enjoy Jeff Pulver’s networking “breakfasts” which he holds around the world. Pulver, a VoiP superstar and lately startup angel with a passion for Israel, usually hosts his breakfast shindigs in Tel Aviv, but last week he came to Jerusalem.

I approach a networking event like a Kiddush at shul. You want to flit around as much as possible (while not being too rude with quick getaways) but if you find yourself talking to someone particularly interesting, you stay put.

That was the case when I met up with Amnon Dekel. Dekel is an old friend (he used to run the Digital Media Studies program at the IDC in Herzeliya and hired me to teach a course) and he’s about to turn in his doctoral dissertation to Hebrew University. The topic: “indoor navigation.”

Dekel has identified a problem you probably never thought about, but that’s a potential “next big thing.” Mobile phones are great at using GPS to find their position outside. But they don’t work so well under a roof of, say, a library.

Dekel’s research specifies a methodology for locating objects such as books, and it doesn’t require transmitters to be installed all over the ceiling of the space. The idea is that you’d type in the title or author into your phone, and you’d receive a map telling you exactly which floor, section and even shelf you should head to.

Dekel has built a working prototype in the Harman Library on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. His tests show that, using the system, it takes only half the time to find a book and people make less navigation mistakes and need less help from others to find the book.

The same technology could be used in warehouses, bookstores and manufacturing plants, Dekel says.

That’s not to say that it’s easy – staff at the physical site need to input data, items may need to be scanned – but it’s a fascinating start.

The system has yet to be commercialized (venture capitalists – take note). But, who knows (and Dekel will scold me for writing this), you could eventually crown yourself mayor of the Dewey decimal system!

This article appeared last year on the Israelity blog.


A New Patch Promises to Knock Out Acne

by Brian Blum on November 17, 2010

in Products,Research

Teenagers suffering from acne will try anything to make the redness and infection go away, but current treatments have mixed results and numerous applications are usually necessary.

Now, Oplon, a three-year-old medical materials company in Rehovot in central Israel has come up with a unique “patch” that radiates an “energy field” that can knock out acne for good.

Beyond acne, Oplon, has high hopes for its technology which can also keep milk from spoiling, wipe out bacteria inside juice boxes, and even reduce the number of infections associated with hospital catheters.

Oplon works its magic by manufacturing polymers – a type of plastic – that have a very specific function: They disable microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. The polymers create an energy field “that can kill every microbe ever heard of,” says Omer Gonen, Oplon’s CFO. The energy field is safe: “It doesn’t radiate, it doesn’t heat and it doesn’t chill.”

Rather, it’s a chemical adaptation of a mechanism that has long existed in nature to help animals and plants defend against similar attackers. Indeed, these energy fields are “all around us,” Gonen says. “They’re in the air, in the room, and it’s much more energy than we create with a polymer.”

Oplon’s acne treatment consists of a patch with the polymers inside which the acne sufferer applies overnight. Within six hours, the redness, pus and pain associated with the acne will be significantly reduced, Gonen says. “After 24 hours, the spot will be practically fully healed.” Best of all, “In most cases, it’s a one-time treatment,” he adds.

However, parents shouldn’t be too quick to rejoice, Gonen quips, “We don’t solve all the teenagers’ problems. Just the acne.” The acne patch, considered a ‘medical device’ and not a drug, will be on Israeli pharmacy shelves early next year, sold over-the-counter, with no need for a prescription.

Marketing to the US and Europe will come only after the patch has been thoroughly tested in Israel. In that sense, the country will be a sort of national guinea pig. “Israel is a controlled environment. We’re a relatively small country,” Gonen explains. “After a year or so, we’ll have a better sense of customers’ reactions.”

The price has yet to be determined, but Gonen is confident that it “won’t be a big barrier.” And if Oplon can break in, there’s a very large piece of pie waiting to be gobbled up – the market for acne solutions is estimated at $60 billion, he says.

A cure for acne is just the start. The same material in the polymer patch can be applied to the inside of milk and juice cartons to zap bacteria. That would represent a sea change for food manufacturers who today have two main options for keeping their products fresh. They can add preservatives or ‘hot fill’ the carton with a beverage heated to 70 degrees Celsius.

Both of those solutions have serious downsides. Preservatives may lead to health problems while hot filling destroys much of the nutritional benefit. Both affect taste. Hot filling also requires thicker plastic to hold the liquid while it’s cooling, which costs manufacturers more and causes additional damage to the environment.

Conceivably, a milk carton with Oplon’s polymers wouldn’t even have to be refrigerated after opening, Gonen suggests.

While the acne patch is essentially a stand-alone product, advancing fairly quickly, Oplon’s progress with the beverage-makers is somewhat slower. While it offers them many benefits, it also requires serious buy-in. Manufacturers would have to purchase new carton material, since you can’t just ‘spray’ the microbe-eating polymers on existing cardboard boxes. Nevertheless, Gonen is optimistic that Oplon can “correctly engineer the prototypes to fit a production line of a major company.”

A third application in the Oplon pipeline involves urinary catheters which, Gonen claims, are responsible for a full 50 percent of hospital-acquired infections (affecting some 90,000 Americans a year), resulting in more days away from home, greater expense, extra antibiotics and, of course, increased discomfort for the patient.

Gonen says that Oplon’s material can even kill “super bugs” – those microbes resistant to all current antibiotics – like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus). Oplon is just beginning clinical studies with catheters, so we’ll have to wait a little longer for that application.

As is often the case, Oplon’s polymer product line was discovered entirely by accident. The company was founded by a number of scientists – both chemists and physicists (key among them was Uriel Halavee who founded printed circuit board maker Opal which was sold in 1996 to Applied Materials). The scientists were working on an intra-cellular drug delivery system but the experiment went wrong.

“If it was me, I would have thrown it all in the garbage can,” Gonen smiles. But the scientists reviewed their formulas and realized they were on to something even bigger. “It really was a mistake,” Gonen says modestly. “Like the discovery of penicillin.”

Oplon is headed by Avi Shani, a 42-year-old father of five who’s a physician by training. The company has 15 staff members and is looking to triple in size in the coming year. While Gonen wouldn’t reveal the source of the funds for that growth, he allowed that Oplon is “in contact with some huge potential partners.” The company previously raised $5 million from Wanaka Capital Partners in 2008.

Oplon’s products represent a “huge platform that will enable us to continue developing products for many years to come. Each product has a market in the billions,” Gonen concludes.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Oplon achieves all of its ambitious goals, but in the meantime the teenagers can break out the bubbly – acne relief is on its way.

This article appeared originally on the Israel21 website.


Getting Away from Technology

by Brian Blum on September 6, 2010

in Interactive,Media,Research

A student on a class trip to Poland

I wrote in an earlier post about how human beings aren’t built to truly multitask – an action we increasingly rely on to parse all the data coming at us from the web or our mobile devices. New research is trying to figure out not only what happens psychologically when we try to do two things at once, but whether our brain neurology is being re-mapped by our incessant use of technology.

The preliminary answer seems to be yes, and it’s not necessarily good news. New York Times technology journalist Matt Richtel participated earlier this year and is now writing about a unique week-long backpacking trip undertaken by a group of scientists where gadgets were banned and their itinerary took them far out of the range of cell phones.

Would these highly connected researchers act – no, think – differently in such a situation, he asks?

The scientists were split, according to Richtel in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air interview program, with some feeling that “the constant stream of data was making it increasingly difficult to focus and concentrate” and others saying “the benefits of having constant access to information far outweighed any consequences.”

But all of the scientists noticed that they began to feel more relaxed and more engaged in the world. They slept a little better; waited a bit longer before answering a question. “You don’t feel in (such) a rush to do anything, your sense of urgency fades,” Richtel says.

But only after three days – that was the amount of time for the disconnect effect to kick in. This might explain why we feel more relaxed after a three-day weekend as opposed to a “normal” two-day break from work.

Why is this the case? A laboratory study had rats learning new tasks. When the rats were given time away from the task to process it, the action moved into memory and real long-term learning took place. Without that down time, the rats were more prone to forget what they’d just done.

We can extrapolate that, Richtel says, to our contemporary lives, where we rarely give ourselves a break. If we’re waiting for an appointment and the person we’re meeting is late, what do we do? We pull out our smart phone and check email, text, browse the Internet or play a game. Even people without smart phones may listen to music on an iPod.

What we need to do, Richtel claims, is simply “be,” to not fill every moment with something electronic, to let the learning consolidate in our brains.

Richtel is certainly not advocating a ban on technology. He is adamant that our use of the web and mobile devices has made us more productive – he uses the example of using a Google map to find an address than having to call the person and write down directions  – and he readily admits he couldn’t survive the 21st century without his addictions.

And addiction it is. Why do you feel compelled to check email constantly, for example? Because you never know when there will be something exciting coming in. Each new message gives the brain a squirt of dopamine. If you had advance warning that interesting messages would only be delivered at 4:00 PM, you’d be less inclined to alt-tab to Gmail throughout the day.

Indeed, The New York Times reports that the average computer user checks 40 websites a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour!

Technology is like food, he posits. You need to eat and there’s no reason not to appreciate tasty (and hopefully nutritious) meals. But “we know that some food is Twinkies and some food is Brussels sprouts,” Richtel quips. And we’re well aware that you can also over-eat which has obvious negative consequences.

What about our teenagers who are growing up on ubiquitous screens, frantically checking Facebook, email, tweets, chat and Skype wherever they are? Will their brains look different than those of us who had to go into the living room to get access to a screen (the television)?

The research is pointing to yes. Our brains are elastic, Richtel explains. It’s not as if our ways of processing information is fixed at birth and never changes. Each new technology modifies the neural pathways, in particular the frontal lobe which is the last to develop. How it does that is the subject of upcoming research which Richtel will be writing about later this year.

While our 17-year-old daughter Merav was away on a school trip to Poland this summer, she made a point of not checking in online. Merav’s experience in Poland, visiting lost Jewish communities and crying at the concentration camps, was intense – “difficult but meaningful” is how she described it upon her return home. Was her level of engagement different than her peers, many of whom were texting away at the dinner table?

It would be presumptuous for me to make such a claim. But it’s undeniable that our use of technology profoundly affects us. I, for one, am looking forward to the Jewish holidays this year – Rosh Hashana and Shabbat coincide in such a way that those who observe the High Holy Days according to a more strict interpretation of Jewish law will have a full three days of enforced technology deprivation.

I wonder how I’ll feel on the other side?

Matt Richtel received the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for a series in The New York Times on driving while multitasking.

A shorter version of this article appeared on Israelity.


Software: Heal Thyself

by Brian Blum on August 10, 2010

in Israel,Products,Research


IBM research facility in Haifa

If your computer gets sick, would you rather give it a full system overhaul or the equivalent of a digital Advil to relieve the symptoms? Onn Shehory and his team at Israel’s IBM Haifa research facility have developed much more than a computerized analgesic. Say hello to the world’s first self-healing software.

The project – called SHADOWS for “a Self Healing Approach for Developing cOmplex softWare Systems” – was proposed by Shehory and funded by the European Union’s 6th Framework Program, a technology initiative that invests in promising international endeavors. The idea was to emulate how the human body behaves and apply it to software.

“When you develop some sort of dysfunction, the body senses this and reacts automatically,” Shehory says. “It is essentially self-monitoring.” SHADOWS does the same for computer systems. “It recognizes specific misbehaviors, classifies them into possible types of problems, and then for the serious ones, makes the appropriate adjustments,” he says. This may include inserting new lines of codes before a program runs or moving around memory resources, to prevent the most common reasons for system crashes.

In the case of memory, for example, Shehory explains that “we can manipulate the usage of memory without actually knowing where the problem is coming from. We don’t have to find the bug, just to know that something is wrong.”

That’s the same way that a pain and fever medication acts on the body. “Instead of a week of fever, you might just have a half an hour at the end of the week,” he says. “It doesn’t remove the root cause – the virus – but it will prevent the fever from coming back for a long time.

“In order to continue benefiting from the advances and innovations becoming available in the IT landscape, software developers and architects must begin to design software… to incorporate internal safeguards that can both identify and repair problems,” adds Yaron Wolfsthal, head of the Reliable Systems Technologies group at the IBM Haifa lab.

The need for self-healing software is clear: Computer systems are now ubiquitous, a part of everything from dishwashers to managing a countrywide electricity grid. The problem is that software systems are inherently buggy. Even utilizing software testing, reviews and other protective measures, “with millions of lines of code, it’s too difficult to identify all the problems in advance,” Shehory says.

Traditional approaches to fixing software have meant calling on engineers to sift through the code, locate the bug and repair it – a process that’s akin to searching for a needle in a digital haystack. And yet, “we can’t afford for systems to fail on critical missions… or even non-critical missions,” exhorts Shehory.

SHADOWS doesn’t go so far as to create self-aware artificial intelligence – no worries about a Terminator-style SkyNet attacking the planet. Nor is it specifically targeted at preventing terrorists from bringing down global networks. “It’s not about security, it’s about the robustness of the code,” Shehory explains, although he suggests that since SHADOWS can identify problems as they start to brew, it may allow programmers to jump into action if they sense a cyber-attack is imminent.

SHADOWS is sophisticated but doesn’t require any changes to existing legacy computer systems – it can sit alongside those programs monitoring their action and only start working its magic when it detects something awry. Shehory hopes, however, that programmers will speed things up by manually inserting “comments” when they write the software that can direct SHADOWS to look at, say, only 10,000 rather than a million lines of code.

The genesis of SHADOWS was a proposal IBM in Israel made to a European Union program that promotes collaboration in research and technology across Europe. Eight other partners joined IBM in the three-year, $5 million project – major universities including the University of Potsdam in Germany and the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic, and technology heavyweights such as Phillips Electronics of the Netherlands and the Spanish phone carrier Telefonica, which provided a case study on the use of the SHADOWS technology. The EU pays for 50 percent of the project with the IBM lab responsible for the other half.

Despite the innovation, SHADOWS is not yet ready for prime time – it’s more a general research-oriented framework than an actual, saleable product – although parts of it may be commercialized. Each partner in the project owns its own intellectual property should a marketable solution ultimately be developed.

In the meantime, Shehory is considering applying for a second stage grant to address the technology’s biggest limitation: The resistance of the people who write the computer systems that need SHADOWS to inserting machine-generated code automatically into their babies.

“The psychological effect is very strong,” Shehory admits. “If SHADOWS writes some new code, the programmer might be hesitant, thinking ‘can I trust this, will it work properly?’ “The solution may be as simple as adding a feature that “recommends” the change, allowing the engineer to decide whether or not to accept it.

Still, Shehory says, “we’re trying to find technical ways to address this difficulty without human intervention.” Software – heal thyself.

This article originally appeared on Israel21c.


New Study: Why we Forward Emails

by Brian Blum on February 16, 2010

in Interactive,Research

Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger

Katherine Milkman

Katherine Milkman

If you’re like me, you probably receive a lot of forwarded emails from friends with shots of awe-inspiring photography or some insight about why humans behave in the strange, amusing or crazy ways they so often do. Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania can tell us why.

These researchers – Jonah Berger and Katherine A. Milkman – were pretty serious about their study. They intensively analyzed The New York Times list of most-emailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, reviewing the content of more than 7,500 articles, and controlling for factors such as where the articles appeared on the site (i.e., home page, tech page, etc.) wrote John Tierney in The Times last week.

The results are consistent with what tends to fill up my own inbox: positive rather than negative themed articles, and long pieces on intellectually challenging topics. Take that, silly dancing cat videos.

Berger and Milkman said that the most shared emails were those that “inspired awe,” and that science articles were particularly popular. And not just reviews of the latest gadget. “You’d see articles shooting up the list…about the optics of deer vision,” Berger told Tierney.

Of the thousands of articles flagged during the research period, a random sample were rated by independent readers for qualities like “providing practical value” or “being surprising,” Tierney wrote. The researchers also used computer algorithms to track the ratio of “emotional” words in an article and to assess their relative positivity or negativity.

Explaining why “awe” sells…or at least results in more frequent forwarding, Berger explained that the most emailed articles tended to be those that triggered an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.” That might include standing in front of a beautiful piece of art or listening to a grand symphony.

Of course, there were also the show-off’s. If you send an article off about quantum mechanics, you might preface it by writing “of course this is just a superficial treatment.” And there were the fear mongers, too, who shared pieces on impending terror attacks or tax increases (in equal measures, I’m sure).

But it’s the awe that’s the stickiest. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe,” Berger concluded.

So, am I doing my job here on this blog? I’m not sure. I try to write about interesting topics, perhaps even those that will surprise you (“Kids Consuming 11 Hours of Media a Day”) or that will provide some scientific insight (“Addicted to Email”). But do you feel a sense of awe when I share my thoughts on the latest Apple products or the latest trend of TV viewers tweeting live while they’re watching Heroes?

I’m not a big believer in writing exclusively for SEO, making sure my keywords are all punk’d out to their stickiest max. That would go for posting only awe-full articles too. If there’s something that I believe would be of value to you, my dear reader, I’ll blog it. And vice versa. If you enjoy what I’ve shared, feel free to forward it…regardless of what the researchers say.

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Kaiser Kids and Internet Report

Cover from KFF Report

A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation confirms what most parents already know: that our kids are literally tethered to the Internet or other means of consuming media the better part of the day.

The report, which has been the talk of the blogosphere since it was released yesterday, found that children and young adults aged 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day on their computers, in front of a television, or accessing media on a smart phone or mobile device.

That number doesn’t include talking or texting on a cell phone (another two hours a day). And if you calculate in multitasking – i.e., surfing the web while listening to music – the amount of media content taken in comes to nearly 11 hours total per day.

The shocking part is that when the same study was conducted five years ago, its authors concluded that media use could not possibly grow further from the six and a half hours clocked in 2004.

Donald Roberts, one of the researchers and a professor at Stanford University told The New York Times that “I remember writing a paragraph saying we’ve hit a ceiling on media use, since there just aren’t enough hours in the day to increase the time.”

Roberts and crew were apparently wrong.

The study’s results come as no surprise to my wife and I. All three of our children have their own computers, which are constantly on even while “studying.” The older two also have an iPhone and iPod Touch and know where all the open WiFi hotspots are in town. If they have a long bus ride, they load up the latest episodes of How I Met Your Mother or Dexter before leaving in the morning.

While the amount of time teenagers spend online or watching TV or movies is surprisingly high, it’s not like we didn’t do the same when we were younger – at least as much as we could with the technology of the times. I distinctly remember my parents complaining that I couldn’t possibly study properly with music or the TV on. But my grades came out fine.

That’s not necessarily the case today, though. The grades of 47 percent of the heaviest media users in the report were C or lower. Those heavy media users were also more likely to report that they were bored or sad, that they got into trouble, didn’t get along well with their parents, or were not happy at school.

A number of years ago – before the advent of all the latest hi-tech toys – our kids had become hopelessly addicted to the tube. We took the radical step of going “cold turkey” and forbidding television entirely. The kids were mortified at first, but tell us today that it was one of the best things we did as parents.

But their TV watching is now just as high – if not higher – than when we first detoxed; it’s simply not in the living room anymore. We have thought about taking their laptops away, but the kids have moaned that they need them for schoolwork – which is true.

And then there is the role model of their parents. Both my wife and I are in front of our respective computers constantly. And we multitask too. I am constantly flitting between Firefox, to Word for an article I’m writing, to splicing in a few stolen minutes of The Office or Flash Forward – all the while listening to Internet radio or some of the 100 GB of music on our shared home server.

So how can we criticize our children when their parents are equally guilty? The one thing that ruffles a teenager’s feathers more than anything else is perceived hypocrisy.

And there have been certain benefits to the always-on society we’ve created. When my son was visiting Poland with his high school class, he found a WiFi connection at the Auschwitz concentration camp and Skyped me from there, bringing me into his experience without paying a penny.

Ultimately, there’s no turning back. Our kids aren’t going to unplug and this is probably just an interim stage on the way to even more insidious connectivity. Someday, we’ll probably be able to pipe the Internet directly into our brains.

Indeed, that future may not be so far off. An Australian company is already working on an interface to bring sight to the blind by implanting a chip that bypasses the optical nerve. It’s just a hop skip and a jump to an entirely wireless mind (can you say Cylon?)

What are we going to do then? Threaten to remove their batteries? If Apple has anything to do with it, the power supply will be hard wired in – like all of Apple’s iPod products. Need a new chip? Just replace your head.

Some more findings from the Kaiser study:

  • 76% of 8 to 18-year-olds have MP3 players (up from 18% in 2004).
  • 64% say the TV is usually on during meals and 45% say the TV is left on “most of the time” even if no one is watching.
  • 71% have a TV in their bedroom; 50% have a console video game player
  • The amount of time spent watching regularly scheduled TV declined by 25 minutes a day from 2004. But factoring in TV on the web and cell phones, total TV consumption increased from 3:51 hours to 4:29 hours a day.
  • 74% say they have a profile on a social networking site.
  • About half of young people say they use media either “most” (31%) or “some” (25%) of the time while they’re doing their homework
  • Respondents to the survey spend an average of 1:35 hours a day sending or receiving texts.


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