Watching the World

Technology Quells Conversation

“The prospect of a face-to-face conversation frightens many Britons because of their increasing dependence on modern technology,” reports The Times of London. A survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by British Gas, found that daily the average person spends just under four hours of his waking life “using technology originally intended to give people more time to themselves.” According to the report, “the average Briton spends 88 minutes a day on a landline telephone, a further 62 minutes on a mobile telephone, 53 minutes e-mailing and 22 minutes text messaging.” The survey concluded that communication skills, such as talking face-to-face, are damaged. Many of those surveyed admitted that they used text messaging “as a way of cutting out conversational frills or to avoid conversation altogether.”

 Costly Habit

Smoking is costly, not only to smokers but also to their employers and to nonsmokers, according to Professor Kari Reijula of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Work time lost to smoking breaks alone “costs the national economy nearly 16.6 million euros [$21 million] a year,” reports the Finnish Broadcasting Company Web site. It is estimated that “workers who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day miss the equivalent of 17 working days annually.” Sick leave adds to the bill. Reijula further notes: “Studies show that employees who smoke also have higher accident rates.” In addition, according to the report, smoking increases costs for cleaning as well as for electricity use, “since ventilation must be kept at maximum power.” More serious is the fact that “as many as 250 non-smoking Finns annually die from diseases linked to exposure to second-hand smoke at work or in their free time.”

Easy Access to Drugs

In Poland, recreational drugs are easier to obtain than beer, reports Wprost magazine. “They are accessible in each disco; in clubs, pubs, and hostels; and at colleges, high schools, [and] junior high schools.” Moreover, in bigger cities, drugs “can be ordered by phone and received faster than pizza,” says the journal. Low prices, wide availability, and the fact that “synthetic drugs are considered to be harmless,” says Wprost, have led more than half of all Polish teenagers to experiment with them “at least once.” According to Katarzyna Puławska-Popielarz, the head of a rehabilitation center for youths, long-term abuse of one such drug, speed, has resulted in “suicides, heart attacks, psychoses, and extreme emaciation.”

Revival of Latin Mass

In Germany, “church services in Latin are enjoying more and more popularity,” reports the newsmagazine Focus. Priests in “cities such as Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Münster have recognized that, in spite of otherwise falling attendances, they can fill their churches with Latin,” notes the magazine. The popularity of Latin Mass led one church in Munich to increase the number of Masses using Latin liturgy from two times a month to twice a week, plus public holidays.

A Century of War

“Genocide has helped make the 20th century the bloodiest in history,” reports the Buenos Aires Herald. Genocide is defined as the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group. It is estimated that over 41 million people were slaughtered during the 20th century. One recent example is Rwanda, where in 1994 some 800,000 people were killed, mostly by “civilians spurred on by hate propaganda.” Scholars say that during a 100-day period, an average of 8,000 people a day were killed. That rate is “five times faster than the gas chambers used by the Nazis in World War II,” states the Herald.

How Alligators Hunt

A doctoral student at the University of Maryland has discovered what had previously eluded the experts​—pressure receptors on the snouts of alligators, which enable them to detect the movement of prey in the water. Lining the jaws of alligators and other reptiles of the crocodilian family are tiny bumps that look like pinprick-sized dots. Biologist Daphne Soares discovered that they are actually tiny pressure-detecting mounds that allow these reptiles to detect small disturbances on the water surface around them. “Crocodilians hunt at night, half-submerged in water, waiting for prey to disrupt the water surface. Their jaw rests right at the interface of air and water,” explains Soares. “When they’re hungry, they quickly attack anything that disturbs that interface.” The dome pressure receptors, as she has named them, are so sensitive that they can detect the impact of a single drop of water.

Living Garbage Cans

An international study regarding the impact of litter on marine life shows that the average fulmar, a seabird in the North Sea, has 30 pieces of plastic in its stomach. That is “double the amount found in fulmars in the early 1980s,” reports London’s newspaper The Guardian. Fulmars were studied because “they eat almost anything and do not regurgitate what they ingest.” Among the plastic items found in the stomachs of dead fulmars were toys, tools, ropes, polystyrene cups, mattress foam, plastic bottles, and cigarette lighters. Dr. Dan Barlow, head of research at Friends of the Earth Scotland, says: “From this research we know marine animals around Scotland’s coast are being turned into living dustbins [garbage cans].” The paper adds: “More than 100 of the world’s 300 species of seabird are known to eat plastic accidentally.”

Internet Sign Language

For years deaf people have used teletype machines and, more recently, E-mail to communicate with friends. Now, the proliferation of Webcams, Internet computer cameras, is enabling the deaf to use sign language over the Internet. Even so, according to Canada’s National Post, “the webcam’s narrow field of view and two-dimensional perspective means certain nuances are lost, just as a raised eyebrow or a smirk is lost over the telephone.” Slow Internet connections and other technical problems can make signing over Webcams more difficult. How do the deaf overcome such obstacles? Signers prolong and repeat signs and have learned “to adapt their movements or body position to compensate for problems with perspective,” says the Post. Signers have also found that they can add emphasis to what they say by moving their hands closer to the camera to increase their apparent size.