Could Wearable Computers be as Harmful As Cigarettes?

Tim Robinson/New York Times

Tim Robinson/New York Times

That’s the provocative question posed by Nick Bilton in yesterday’s New York Times.  So provocative that later in the day, the headline was changed to the more sober ‘The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech’.  Bilton writes:

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.  Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.  While there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable computers (the Apple Watch isn’t even on store shelves yet), we can hypothesize a bit from existing research on cellphone radiation.

So what was his conclusion?  As follows:

After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.

But Wired’s Nick Stockton has called this ‘An Attack on Science’,  arguing that any risk is still hypothetical rather than proven.  Popular Science also called the essay ‘naive’, ‘inaccurate and alarmist’.   Its advice?  Everybody just calm down.

To help you calm down, here are the blogposts of the week: Shelby Francis for writing about a true innovation and David Borghard for analysis.  And a good bonus read for sports fans here:  What the New York Times Learned from Pulling its Knicks Beat Writer this Season (Poynter).  If you’re too lazy to read it, one answer is that crowdsourcing basketball stories works.


1) The End of Big (Media): when News Organizations move from Brands to Platforms for Talent (Nieman)

2) World’s Best Blogger (Harvard Magazine) 

3) A Note to My Readers (Andrew Sullivan)

4) The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog (Two takes at Nieman and Guardian)

ASSIGNMENT:   Profile one person who is prominent in your field or covering your field – possibly a citizen journalist, but could be anyone – with extra credit if you actually interview them.   Feel free to experiment with format, so you could write a traditional blogpost, or use an email interview, twitter, storyful, an audio interview or a video interview. (For March 26)

The New York Times Wants to Know if You’ve had Dinner with Your Neighbours

The 'Race' Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

The ‘Race’ Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

On the subject of reader engagement, the above is a classroom mural inspired by Nick Kristof’s post-Ferguson columns, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.”   Another example of reader engagement will be in the New York Times magazine, which is using the Times Reader Insight panel as guinea pigs for journalism.  It’s asking them questions such as whether you’ve had dinner with your neighbours, and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”  I’m curious to find out if NYT readers are dinner party frauds.

For Tuesday’s class, please spend some time looking at Snowfall, which we will discuss in class.   Also, read the leaked Innovation Report. In case you want to see them again, class slides are in the Ctools site, under yesterday’s date.

ASSIGNMENT: Write a 400-word post comparing the treatment of one story in the paper version of the NYT with its online counterpart.  You should make reference to the aims contained within the Innovation report, and assess to what extent the online presentation meets those criteria.  You should pick a story related to your beat.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation?  How long did you spend on each?  (for 8am, 20th Jan)

Notes: Please also ensure that you have a working twitter account before next class.  The updated syllabus is in Ctools.


Consuming News

Courtesy of AUD

Courtesy of AUD

How do we consume the news?  That’s the question we’ll be thinking about in the blogposts for Thursday’s class.   And that’s what’s obsessing news organisations, particularly the vexed issue of how millennials consume the new.   The Charlotte Observer has been testing one strategy – the Charlotte Five – a newsletter which also includes ‘Seinfeld Journalism’, or stuff that people talk about that isn’t really news.   Pew has a new study out which finds that, when it comes to social media sites, Facebook is still king.

Before Thursday’s class, please read the first 45 pages of Post-Industrial Journalism, and have a glance at this graphic. We will also discuss A New Consensus on the Future of News.