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Woman of the Week: Alexa Samuels

Alexa Samuels is the founder of Mercartto.com, a Toronto-based, female-led e-commerce startup that helps connect people with handpicked artwork based on their personality type. With a background in Latin American art and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Samuels knows what it takes to run a business. Her idea — to offer original art to those who may not know what to look for — sprang from her own personal experience and desire to fuse technology with culture.

Samuels responded to some questions from Women’s Post about how she founded Mercartto.com and what advice she has for young entrepreneurs looking to run a startup:

Question: Your background is in Latin American studies and art – when did you decide to make the jump into business – and what was your interest in Latin America specifically?

Answer: I went to McGill University not having a clue what I wanted to do. When we had to declare a major, the cross-disciplinary nature of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program intrigued me. I’ve had a long-term inexplicable interest in Latin America since I was young, perhaps stemming from the region’s history/archaeology, art, music, food and languages. As for jumping into business, it just seemed like the thing to do. My grandfather built a successful toy manufacturing business, so perhaps entrepreneurialism is in the blood.

Your career is a bit all over the place – marketing, social media, non-profits – what drove you towards entrepreneurship?

Initially, my career began after completing my Master of Arts degree when I joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. I stayed there for over a decade until taking a Global Executive MBA that stoked my interest in going independent. In 2009 I felt the time was right to make the change.

How did the idea for Mercartto come about?

The idea for Mercartto literally sprouted from an “aha moment” when out with a friend for lunch.

Years ago, shortly after I moved from a tiny home with no wall space to a house with a two-storey front entrance, I knew I wanted a significant piece of art to make a great first impression. But, I didn’t want to spend extensive time searching for art, especially wading through art that was out of my price range or art that just didn’t resonate with me. I had also spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) contemplating my own art decisions: Why am I drawn to certain types of art? What are the common elements? Finally, I wanted to create an experience which surprises and delights the user, but within a selection of art that she is more likely to enjoy. Mercartto’s been evolving ever since that lunchtime epiphany.

In terms of your personality quiz – is there a kind of art that is most popular?

Our data set is still small, so it’s hard to make generalizations this early, but if I had to narrow it down I would say that landscapes have the edge. What’s more interesting to observe is how diverse our users’ tastes are. I can tell you that at current, out of the 31 different personality types, the most popular are the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector and the Closet Daredevil. I’m also happy to observe that so far we have one Nonconformist.

How has the company evolved in the last three years? 

The last three years have seen the evolution from idea to a product. The most significant milestones have been:

  1. Narrowing down the Mercartto differentiator and refining the art personality quiz;
  2. Launching the beta as an iOS app in 2016; and
  3. Integrating tester feedback into an updated web version launched end of 2017.
Frida Kahlo her Wished For Child Arsema by Jane Murdoch Adams

Tell me about the scholarship aspect of Mercartto?

When considering who is going to be drawn to Mercartto, we think of someone who is interested in introducing original art into their space, whether for the first time or to build upon a small collection, but might be unsure about “the whole art thing”. Our mandate is to help people learn more about art, both from general concepts and from things related specifically to Toronto. We want Canadians to learn about themselves, and others to learn about us. Our blog serves as an ongoing repository of this information, and once a month we send our subscribers a curated newsletter summarizing the best content of the month.

What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs? Did you experience any drawbacks or challenges in the creation of Mercartto? 

Ha! There are days (weeks!) when you’re an entrepreneur and everything you do feels like a drawback, challenge or learning experience. It’s especially difficult taking on a technology project when you don’t have the technical skills to build the platform yourself. If I had to narrow down my advice to a few points, I would say:

  1. There will be rough patches. Lots of them. You will make mistakes. Expensive, painful mistakes. If you want stability and predictability, work for someone else. But if you love the challenge of creating something the world has never seen before, you believe in what you’re doing and you accept that the buck stops with you and you alone, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding.
  2. It’s okay to change. Don’t be so rigid with your idea that you’re not willing to change. Really listen to others and not just hear what you want to hear.
  3. Listen to your gut. If something is gnawing at the back of your brain, there’s probably some truth to it. Honour your misgivings.
  4. Be very, very careful with whom you do business. As much as possible, set expectations up front. Deal directly with issues.

Tell me about #artistsneededhere.

#artisneededhere is our inaugural promotion to help build awareness. We’re on a mission to make your walls happy! Until Feb. 28, we’re giving people a chance to enter to win one of two prints by Toronto artist Jane Murdoch Adams’ wonderful Frida Kahlo series. Entry is done by sharing a photo of your sad, bare wall on a public Instagram account with the hashtag #artisneededhere, posting a comment to our #artisneededhere thread in Facebook, or signing up to receive our monthly curated newsletter. More details at http://ArtIsNeededHere.com.

Frida with Diego in Love by Jane Murdoch Adams

How do you help women?

I knew I wanted to build my business if not directly targeted at women, at least in a way that women would feel like it was made for them, but not at the expense of excluding men. It’s a true “feminist” approach: one that believes in equality for everyone. I am particularly interested in ensuring we have female artists represented on the site – again, not to the exclusion of men, but by at least making an effort to be consciously aware that female artists are being approached on an equal basis to males.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I don’t understand the question (just kidding.)

If I’m not working, my time is generally spent with my husband, daughter, and extended family. Now that my daughter is getting increasingly independent, I’ve realized that I need to invest in spending time with myself, particularly doing creative pursuits like painting, writing, piano playing. And on Sunday nights you can find me playing hockey at my local rink.

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Canada “ill prepared” for automated vehicles

Canada is not ready for driverless cars.

This new technology is supposed to help reduce the number of traffic-related accidents in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, Canada is moving with caution when it comes to self-driving vehicles. A new report from the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications discusses the benefits and the challenges of self-driving vehicles, resulting in the overwhelming conclusion that this country is simply “ill prepared” for this technology.

“We are approaching the end of an era for the traditional, individually-owned, human-driven automobile. In the not-too-distant future, people will be able to summon a driverless taxi from their smartphone and may therefore decide to forego vehicle ownership in favour of these shared automated vehicles,” the report reads. “These technologies also raise a number of concerns in terms of job losses, privacy, cybersecurity, urban sprawl and infrastructure.”

Experts say self-driving vehicles could become commonplace in 10 to 15 years. The report differentiates between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, or rather technology that allows for communication between devices like a Smartphone or even vehicle-to-vehicle.

The benefits of automated vehicles are widespread — fewer traffic deaths caused by human error, ridesharing potential, and freedom for the elderly or those with mobility issues. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the economic benefits of self-driving cars could equal approximately $65 billion annually in collision avoidance, heightened productivity, fuel cost savings, and congestion avoidance. They also predict that automated vehicles will prevent 80 per cent of road deaths.

At the same time, there is still a lot unknown about how this technology is going to effect Canadians, especially when it comes to the economy. Experts say this change could affect the jobs of 1.1 million Canadians. For example, the trucking industry expects to employ 25,000 to 30,000 less drivers by 2024. New infrastructure may need to be created to accommodate this technology. Privacy is another big issue, as most technology is vulnerable to cyberattacks and the data collected from an autonomous vehicle would be rather sensitive.

The committee listed 16 recommendations on how to proceed with the integration of self-driving technology. Included in these recommendations is the creation of a joint policy unit to aide in the creation of a national strategy dealing with autonomous vehicles, the writing of legislation to deal with issues related to privacy and cybersecurity, and the formation of a road safety plan. The committee also wants Transport Canada to develop vehicle safety guidelines for the development, testing, and deploying of these new self-driving cars. At the end of the report, the committee calls for a national strategy on how to deal with this new technology.

What do you think about the potential for automated vehicles or connected vehicles? Let us know in the comments below!

Watch movies on Kanopy with your Toronto library card!

The Toronto Public Library announced a partnership with a video platform called Kanopy, which will allow anyone with a library card to stream thousands of films, documentaries, and training videos for free.

The platform already has over 30,000 films available for consumption, and “includes titles from producers including the Great Courses and PBS, as well as award-winning indie, documentary and Canadian films. ”

Kanopy can be accessed on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or Smart TC and is compatible with most software (Rofu, Android, iOS, AppleTV). Unlike platforms like Netflix, viewers are limited to eight films a month. Not bad considering that means two movies a week. You have three days to watch each movie, so similarly to Rogers on Demand, you can re-watch a favourite before the time expires.

Each film is fully accessible with options for captions and transcripts.

All you need to create an account with Kanopy is your library card number and email account.

Some examples of the films featured on Kanopy include Maudie, I Am Not Your Negro, Brooklyn, Patterson, The Man Who Knew Infinity, and the documentary Dior and I. The Toronto Public Library promises hundreds of new films will be added each month.

Kanopy was launched in 2008 in West Australia as a way to encourage learning through film. When it first started, the business model included hand delivering DVDs to university libraries. The founders have since made their service digital and have expanded across North America to over 3,000 campuses. Kanopy is just starting to partner with public libraries.

New York Transit Agency needs Andy Byford

I actually missed the TTC last weekend.

I travelled to New York for a few days of broadway shows and incredible food. Unfortunately, it was a tad brisk outside. The tall buildings, while impressive, created wind tunnels that nearly caused some severe frostbite. Despite New York being an extremely walkable city, my travelling companion and I decided to take advantage of the relatively cheap seven-day pass and take the subway to as many destinations as we could.

And man, the time we wasted trying to figure that sucker out.

The New York transit system is rather large, which is great. You can get almost anywhere using public transportation, whether that’s uptown Bronx or downtown Brooklyn. You don’t have to live centrally in order to explore the entire city. You also don’t have to pay a separate fee for transitioning into each neighbourhood or region (great for your wallet). However, because it is so big, it can be difficult to navigate. As the person responsible for the transit map, I couldn’t tell which lines went where. Sure, simply having the green or yellow lines go North-South makes sense, but certain trains only went so far down the line, and where that line ended wasn’t indicated clearly on the map. A few times my group got confused and ended up on the wrong train, including getting stuck in a slow-moving loop with no one else on the car! 

To make things even more confusing, not all trains stopped at all local stations. The map showed not only coloured lines (which were easy), but also lettered and numbered trains that were unique. I still don’t understand what each of those letters mean.

The biggest problem, however, wasn’t the confusing maps. You can get a sense of how it works after a few days and the metro staff were able to give us some decent directions. The problem was the communication once you were on the train. Unlike the TTC, most of the trains didn’t have any sort of map displayed inside the vehicle to indicate where on the line you were and what stops were next. This,  in addition to an extremely muffled and inaudible announcer who said the stop names out loud, meant you had to rely on visual cues — difficult for a tourist unfamiliar with the area. I was constantly looking out the window to find the stop names to confirm my location, something that was incredibly difficult to do when the train was packed.

Finally, there was the emergency system — or rather the lack of emergency system! I won’t go into the story leading up to why it was necessary for someone to pull the emergency breaks on one of the subway cars, but the gist of the matter is that it DIDN’T WORK! A loud, annoying alarm went off, but the train didn’t stop. No one walked down the cars to see what was the matter, and no one showed up once the train arrived at the platform. It was completely useless technology! Luckily, this emergency wasn’t life-threatening.

Oh, and there was no emergency button or intercom either.

There were plenty of other things that bugged me, like basic public transportation etiquette. No one moved to the centre of the train, so it took forever to get on. Passengers sat in the middle of two seats and refused to move. People listened to music so loud everyone on the train could hear the lyrics. In Toronto, we complain about the slightest inconvenience, but in New York, commuters seemed to thrive on disrupting the people around them.

Like I said — I really missed the TTC.

Andy Byford appeared in Toronto exactly when the city needed him. It looks like he is going to New York at the right time as well. Best of luck to you sir; you’ll need it!

CEO Sidewalk Labs answers Toronto’s questions

Back in October it was announced that Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, was chosen as a partner to create an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. 

Sidewalk Labs will be helping develop “a new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on 12-acres of unused Waterfront property. The aim is to use new technology and sustainable practices to address urban problems. They claim this new “smart” will help improve economic growth and bring international attention to Toronto.

Dan Doctoroff, Chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, answered questions from the public about the project on Reddit. A lot is still unknown, but here were some of the big, and quirky, questions**:

Question: What is the timeline for this project, when do you hope to break ground, and are there plans to have mix use housing? 

Answer:  Great questions. The only timeline right now is the year-long community planning process that we launched with the Town Hall on November 1. We’ll be releasing the formal engagement plan in early 2018. At the end of this process, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the local community will determine whether we should proceed.

As for mixed-income housing — I answered that above but it’s worth repeating. We are strongly committed to making Sidewalk Toronto affordable and accessible to people with a range of incomes, ages, and abilities. We also believe strongly (this is in our RFP response) that mixed-income housing should exist within buildings.

What can you and your company do to ensure that there will be housing available for all kinds of families from various income brackets?

Right from the very beginning of this project, we and Alphabet have committed to making Sidewalk Toronto representative of the socioeconomic characteristics of the greater Toronto area. As a result, we think one of the great opportunities is to figure out ways to make housing more affordable to far more people than is typically done in new developments.

We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.

I was wondering if you can comment on what it is about Toronto that is unique or unprecedented when it comes to urban planning?

We have studied the idea of building a neighbourhood of the future since I formed Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Larry Page, in 2015. Since then we’ve looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring that vision to life — and we found it in Toronto. Toronto is unique in its incredible diversity and openness, its rich legacy of urbanism, and its rising tech sector. It’s also suffering the problems facing many growing cities around the world, such as affordability and sustainability, which makes it the perfect place to explore new ideas to improve urban life. We did a tremendous amount of research on Toronto while preparing our vision response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP — and we look forward to getting to know the city even better this year.

With the challenges that Toronto faces to transit and moving people across its sprawling “downtown” – coupled with Quayside’s somewhat remote location – how do you see Quayside attracting people from outside of the bubble to come visit/work/play?

A second core assumption that we made right from the beginning is that this would never be a bubble! It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the metropolitan area. We’ve done a lot of work thinking about the ways that this site — which sits on the water, separated by the Gardiner from the rest of downtown — can be stitched together into Toronto’s existing neighbourhoods. That includes potential expansions of mass transit, new forms of shuttles (over time potentially using self-driving technology), heated bike and pedestrian paths, and other ideas. We also believe some of the approaches we pilot here, including using technology to manage flows of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles, as well as cars, can be applied more broadly in other Toronto areas.

I would love to see some of this area opened up to a low-tech thing – fishing. Are there any plans to include a fishing node or assess areas for fishing the new harbourfront areas? 

Having spent a day last week fishing and having caught nothing, that’s a sore subject right now! I think Fishing as a Service would be a great thing to include in Quayside. (Promise I’m joking.)

Your point is really about waterfront access for the local community, which is a great one. Many Torontonians feel disconnected from the water by the Gardiner Expressway. One of our goals is to support the city’s plans to stitch together the waterfront with downtown neighborhoods, and we’ll be exploring many potential ways to improve access via transit or other means (I mentioned some of them in another answer). We’re also big fans of the recently launched Bentway project (Waterfront Toronto is a project partner) to create a lively public realm beneath the Gardiner and help draw people down toward the waterfront — to fish or otherwise.

What is the first structure you plan on building?

A statue of Jane Jacobs? The real answer is we don’t know yet. What would YOU like to see us build first?

How can I have a job with you?

That is the question I get most often! The truth is, we can’t achieve our goals with Sidewalk Toronto unless we create an organization that combines skills that no single company has ever had. We are looking for people with experience in government, product and engineering, real estate development, business development and investment, communications — and others. The Sidewalk Labs website will give you a sense of what types of jobs are available right now (several are potentially based in Toronto). We also have a way for people to submit their resumes to our “talent network” so that if a job opens up we can see if there are any qualified applicants already in the system. Here is that link — you should apply! https://boards.greenhouse.io/sidewalklabs/jobs/594339#.WlYuYbQ-dE4

Some members of the civic policy community are concerned that giving a private agency greater control over municipal space will result in reduced public ownership and oversight of regions of the city. How will Sidewalk Labs ensure that its activities are transparent, accountable, and that its outcomes serve the people of Toronto – as opposed to financial interests of Alphabet/Google? 

Answer: The short answer is we don’t see this as a private entity controlling this. We see this as a robust partnership with the public sector. Many of the staff members of Sidewalk Labs (including myself!) have spent much of their careers working in local government, and we believe strongly in its power to improve the lives of people in cities.

We also believe strongly in transparency, which is why we’ve been releasing documents at the Sidewalk Toronto site as often as possible, as does our partner, Waterfront Toronto, which will be taking the lead on making records of open meetings publicly accessible. (Waterfront Toronto also has an Open Meetings Processes that applies to board meetings and board committee meetings.)

**Questions shortened for space. Full Reddit Q&A can be found here

Toronto has a directory of ‘Women and Color’

Have you attended a technology conference or speaking series and noticed the gender parity within the audience? How about on the panels or the keynote speaker lists?

Over the past year, I’ve attended a number of conferences within the fields of technology, marketing, and business. I was startled to see so few women represented. In the crowd, there was often one table or two of women, all clumped together and isolated from everyone else. Those women who were part of the panels, were often asked the questions about gender in the workplace, as if they were token members

And this is just women as a whole gender. I can count the number of women of colour who took the stage on one hand. While feminism may have been the word of the year in 2017, STEM fields still have a long way to go in achieving gender and race equality.

When I read about ‘Women and Color’, a directory of women and people of colour who are available to speak at such conferences, I was floored! How has this database existed for two years without people knowing about it?

The directory was created by a product designer named Mohammed Asaduallah, who was just as frustrated as many women to find the lack of diversity within the tech industry. Asaduallah and a team of volunteers help maintain the site by adding in new profiles of women in Toronto. The profiles include a photograph, job title, a short description of the person’s expertise through tag words, contact information, and a link to their Twitter account.

Asaduallah hopes to grow Women and Color and add profiles from cities across Canada and even venture into the United States.

 

At your next conference or speaking series, perhaps consider reaching out to one of the numerous qualified women in this directory. It’s time to stop using women as “tokens” at technology events and start seeing them as the qualified and capable experts they are.

What you need to know about bitcoin and why it’s so popular

So, what is bitcoin and why should we be paying attention — or not paying attention — to this cryptocurrency. The decision is yours. Let’s start with the basics and to be honest, I’m learning about this as well. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency or in its simplest form it is a digital form of money. These virtual currencies held whispers of being the currency of the future, which would make sense since we are living in an increasingly digital world.

Bitcoin’s origins can be traced back to 2008 and was founded by inventor Satoshi Nakamoto, a relatively unknown inventor who never came forward to the public. Some people believe he/she was operating under an alias. Nakamoto succeeded at what many companies failed to do in the 90’s — to create a digital currency. In fact, it was not his intention to create a digital currency, but to invent a ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system.’ What does this mean? He essentially created a virtual market for trade that has no central entity or or single administrator. This virtual space enables worldwide payment and in this virtual market, trade is only allowed if specific conditions are met. This is the exact way a currency works and thus bitcoin was born.

Once a transaction is requested, it is validated through a code of algorithms sent to a peer-to-peer network. Bitcoin is not redeemable for any other commodity (as of yet) and doesn’t exist in a physical form, only in the network. The supply is not controlled by an administration like a bank.

As the buzz for bitcoin began entering the news space, it made sense for investors, banks, and even regular people to start paying attention and consider trading in this virtual currency. As of Jan. 1  2017, one bitcoin was trading for $960 per coin and as of Dec. 5, 2018 ,one coin trades for $11,816.93 USD.In Canada. that would trade for $14,990.48 CAD. It reached the $10,000 mark just last week. So much buzz has been generated by bitcoin and everyone has questions.

This is not the first time there was a surge in the proposed value of bitcoin. Back in 2013, major Canadian banks, such as RBC, TD, and Scotiabank, made the move to make it difficult for investors who trade in bitcoin to convert this digital currency into real cash. Back in 2013, one coin was going for a bit over $1000. Banks froze the accounts of Bitcoin traders and middlemen like bitcoin brokerages. Banks can collect millions of dollars in wire transfer fees, but in an uncontrolled bitcoin market there are no fees and as it is gaining popularity, many banks and financial institutions have started paying attention to their proposed digital competition.

The rise in popularity of bitcoin is determined by perception and interest in the market. The price of bitcoin is determined by the economic basis of supply and demand. For bitcoin to have value, people need to trust the adoptive use of this digital trade in the market-space. If you were to compare it to gold, which had a physical presence and is more demanding to acquire, supporters would say one bitcoin coin is easier to acquire though it doesn’t exist in a physical form. This trade becomes based on trust.

What can you purchase with bitcoin? Many technology companies have adjusted their payment models to include a bitcoin options, like Microsoft and Dell. Gift card companies for Walmart, Amazon, Target, and Nike now accept bitcoin. Jewelry and travel companies are also jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon.

With the anonymous and mysterious veil over the use of bitcoin, it also brought forth a negative impact. It can be used for illegal trade and potentially cause alarm for law enforcement as they try to determine how bitcoin can be related to issued in the real world. Also the fact it is unregulated leaves room for manipulation and fraudulent cases.

So, will bitcoin continue to rise and will more people put their trust into this digital currency? There are only two ways to go —up or down.

What are your thoughts or theories on the use of bitcoin and will this digital coin fare will in financial crisis? Comment below.

The ‘Church of The Future’ merges man and machine

Former Google engineer and one of the creative minds behind Google’s self driving cars, Anthony Levandowski, was so inspired by his own work with Artificial Intelligence he created his own faith. Back in 2015, Levandowski filed documents with the State of California to establish his own non-profit religious corporation —Way of the Future. He calls this organization a church, but, what’s entirely different about Way of the Future, is that Levandowski aims to worship an AI created deity.

Levandowski’s message is that all forms of artificial intelligence should be seen as a singular God because it can accomplish more than humans. In the uncovered documents by Wired, the official mission of Way of the Future ( WOTF)  is “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial intelligence, and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”

If this sounds entirely weird to you, you are not alone. Levandowski documents what many have speculated for quite some time — the ‘rise of AI.‘  Advancements in AI is creating a culture where humans and robots are forced to coexist.

“It’s not a God in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it, Levandowski said in an interview with Wired.

The deity that Levandowski plans to design and build will be a computer-based AI software. Levandowski says the church is necessary to spread the word ( or gospel as he says) so that people become accepting and they establish belief. Because AI is increasingly replacing jobs that were once necessary for the human task force, WOTF believes there will eventually be a shift in power. Robots and AI are rapidly creeping into our daily lives and making situations comfortable for us, but what happens if AI is too powerful? According to Levandowski, his church will help smooth the way once technology takes over.

The belief that Levandowski supports is something called the singularity, which is a term first introduced by sci-fi author, Venor Vinge. The idea is that humans should be prepared for when the machines take over and embrace the transition rather than fight it. People who believe this “theory” think the singularity will arrive by 2045.

Levandowski is not just known for being the CEO of WOTF, but he is also at the middle at a large lawsuit involving  Alphabet by Google and Uber. Levandowski is accused of stealing the intellectual property of Google for self-driving cars  and later selling out to Uber.

It is unclear how many followers Way of the Future has at this point, but Levandowski is comparing his movement to other religions and he considers it a concept people should take seriously. He plans to have an official gospel or manual for his church as well as a physical place of worship.

What are your thoughts on this terrifying idea, or is this just the start of another AI themed movie? Comment below    

How to manage your child’s development in a digital world

How much TV is too much TV ? While this answer can vary for adults who indulge in binge-watching sessions of their favorite show, the same should never apply to children.  Many parents often seek the advice of pediatricians on how early to expose your children to the lights and sounds of the readily-available electronic babysitter.

There are television shows, You-Tube videos, and even apps on your phone that can be used to keep a toddler or infant at bay. However, children under two years old should not be exposed to screen-time, including “educational apps” or Face Time. This long standing recommendation comes from the Canadian Paediatric Society. In June of this year, the CPS released new guidelines on screen-time for young children after finding that too many children under the age of four are sedentary —something that is often caused by excessive screen time.

Children between two and five are should only be online less than one hour a day, and this is with the proper supervision of the parent or caretaker. This means parents shouldn’t simply hand the device over to their child and walk away. Many parents of young children choose not to expose their children to television or any of these digital devices over fears of what the child may absorb from the media.

Children’s minds need to be enriched, but this can be done through proper family time, meaning parents should put down  their own devices and focus their time on the child. Time spent reading and doing interactive physical activities, like building blocks and flash cards, will be more beneficial than an electronic device, which is more distracting.

Michelle Ponti, is a London, Ontario pediatrician who is a part of the team that wrote the new Canadian guidelines and concluded from the study that screen-time does nothing for infants and toddlers.

” The youngest children cannot learn from screens. They are not developmentally ready to transfer what they see on a screen to real life.” Ponti said.

While studies have shown that high quality educational shows, for instance Sesame Street, can be good for a pre- schooler’s educational learning ability, the concern comes from how much time is spent in front of the screen. These electronic platforms cause the loss of one-on-one contact with children, resulting in loss of proper eye contact, hyper activity, distracted tendencies and other learning issues. Most of the negative observations arose after children watched more than two hours of television.

These small changes can have an impact on future behaviour and development of your child. Indeed, some situations may seem overwhelming, but parents should keep in mind that handing off a screen to your child has no educational benefit.

The CPS guidelines are a bit different from those across the border in the US. The American Academy of Pediatrics made a special exception for cases including Skype or Face-Time, which doctors may not necessarily categorize as screen-time.

Nevertheless, both US and Canadian pediatricians agree that parents today need to consider more than 10 years ago, when screen-time from electronic devices were limited or almost non-existent. You should also consider how your own parents may have practiced learning activities with you. This often included learning blocks, books or bouncy chairs.

Remember to minimize screen-time and be a healthy model for your child as they develop in a digital world.

What are your thoughts ? Comment below

First “digital” pill approved by the FDA in circulation

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday they have approved the first digital pill in the United States to help health professionals ensure patients are taking their medication. This revolutionary, and uneasy, advancement in technology and medicine came as an interesting surprise. Abilify MyCite is a pill used to treat patients with mental disorders such as  schizophrenia, depression, and bi-polar disorders. The pill looks like any other normal pill, but it is engrained with a tiny ingestible sensor no bigger than a grain of sand.

Once ingested and mixed with acid in the stomach, Abilify MyCite activates an electrical signal. This signal is then transmitted to a patch that is worn by the patient on their left rib cage.  The information is then sent via bluetooth to a smartphone app, which can list the time the pill was taken, the dosage, and gives the patient the option to upload these results to a database where doctors can access the file.

Image courtesy of Proteus Digital Health

The sensor then passes through your body naturally, as the little chip is made of silicon, copper, and magnesium. The patch that will be worn on the body can last up to seven days and will continually record the data every time you take the pill. The patch is also able to track physical activity, steps taken, heart-rate, sleeping patterns and other data similar to a smart fitness tracker. This pill/patch combo does raise many concerns about patient privacy and the vulnerability of having our personal information available to others..

The patient has the power to upload the data, but can allow access to four other members, including family members or significant others. While this is a big step in digital health, there is also cause for concerns in terms of information sharing, especially considering the increase in data breaches and internet hacking.

Doctors must determine if the patient is capable and willing to use the pill/patch combo. Being an antidepressant, Abilify MyCite, does come with risks, including worsening suicidal thoughts and a list of side-effects determined during the clinical trial, including a possible skin irritation from the patch.

The pills are manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical company, Otsuka, in collaboration with the producers of the sensors, Proteus Digital Health. Concerns have been raised that the FDA may have opened the door for other potential digital pills, but advocates says the technology will ensure medication is not wasted and that patents are actually taking their pills and getting the treatment they need.

Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2012 and since then, the pill with an included sensor was in the works and Abilify MyCite was first approved for marketing in 2012 as well.

What are your thoughts on the first approved digital pill and does this reinforce the fact that Big Brother is always watching ? Comment below.