Smartphones might be making our skulls develop spikes

Zaria Gorvett, writing for BBC Future, on how a “curious spiky growth” on the back of the head, once a rare condition, is becoming increasingly common:

What the scientists found was striking. The spike was far more prevalent than they had expected, and also a lot more common in the youngest age group: one in four people aged 18-30 had the growth.

Why could this be? And should we be concerned?

Shahar thinks the spike explosion is down to modern technology, particularly our recent obsession with smartphones and tablets. As we hunch over them, we crane our necks and hold our heads forward. This is problematic, because the average head weighs around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) – about as much as a large watermelon.

Really puts a whole new meaning to the phrase “we saw a spike in user engagement”, doesn’t it?

Spielberg’s new TV show can only be watched after midnight

As people like to say these days: I am totally here for this. Steven Spielberg is working on a horror series for a curious new streaming platform called Quibi, and it will involve a particularly creative twist, Variety reports:

[Spielberg] wanted viewers to only be able to watch the program after midnight. Given that phones can track where it is at the moment — and keep tabs on when the sun rises and sets in its area — Katzenberg and Whitman challenged their engineers to come up with an idea for how to view the show when it’s spooky out.

The result: A clock will appear on phones, ticking down until sun sets in wherever that user is, until it’s completely gone. Then the clock starts ticking again to when the sun comes back up — and the show will disappear until the next night.

That’s… awesome? Really excited to see what he does with the idea. Quibi is due to launch next year, and is taking a different approach to production. Here’s how Variety describes it:

Short for “quick bites,” Quibi has raised $1 billion from investors for an April 2020 launch, with more funding to come, and is hoping to trigger a “third generation of film narrative,” following movies and TV. But don’t call it short form, Katzenberg said.

“What Quibi is doing, it’s not really short form,” he said. “We’re putting those sciences together. Chapters or act breaks that are 7 to 10 minutes long. They are specifically shot to be watched on the go. If you’re 25-35 years old, you get up and you’re on [a smartphone] for over five hours.”

I’m not sold on that as a separate service, but good luck to them, if only to see this post-midnight idea play out.

Getting back in when you’re locked out of WeChat

Even the BBC’s China correspondent — already a closely watched man, you’d imagine — was left more than a little unsettled by his latest experience with the Chinese surveillance state.

In this piece, Stephen McDonell details how, after posting, without captions, some pictures of a demonstration marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, he was locked out of WeChat:

[W]hen I tried to log back in, a new message appeared: “This WeChat account has been suspected of spreading malicious rumours and has been temporarily blocked…”

That part isn’t surprising, to a point. What sends a bit of a chill, though, is what he has to do a day later in order to get back onto the service:

I was given time to try and log in again the next day after my penalty had been served.

When I did I had to push “agree and unblock” under the stated reason of “spread malicious rumours”.

So this rumour-monger clicked on “agree”.

Then came a stage I was not prepared for. “Faceprint is required for security purposes,” it said.

I was instructed to hold my phone up – to “face front camera straight on” – looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to “Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese”.

Not a database you’d want to be on.

What’s also concerning, at a time when we think about the power and reach of tech firms, is McDonnell’s point that he had little option but to go through the steps — it’s very difficult to live in China without using the app.