Thursday, 24 March 2022

Not smart but clever? The return of 'dumbphones'

Seventeen-year-old Robin West is an anomaly among her peers - she doesn't have a smartphone.

Instead of scrolling through apps like TikTok and Instagram all day, she uses a so-called "dumbphone".

These are basic handsets, or feature phones, with very limited functionality compared to say an iPhone. You can typically only make and receive calls and SMS text messages. And, if you are lucky - listen to radio and take very basic photos, but definitely not connect to the internet or apps.

These devices are similar to some of the first handsets that people bought back in the late 1990s.

Ms West's decision to ditch her former smartphone two years ago was a spur of the moment thing. While looking for a replacement handset in a second-hand shop she was lured by the low price of a "brick phone".

The Nokia 3310 phone is one of the best-selling handsets of all time, selling 126 million units. Getty Images 

Her current handset, from French firm MobiWire, cost her just £8. And because it has no smartphone functionality she doesn't have an expensive monthly data bill to worry about.

"I didn't notice until I bought a brick phone how much a smartphone was taking over my life," she says. "I had a lot of social media apps on it, and I didn't get as much work done as I was always on my phone."

The Londoner adds that she doesn't think she'll ever buy another smartphone. "I'm happy with my brick - I don't think it limits me. I'm definitely more proactive."

Dumbphones are continuing to enjoy a revival. Google searches for them jumped by 89% between 2018 and 2021, according to a report by software firm SEMrush.

And while sales figures are hard to come by, one report said that global purchases of dumbphones were due to hit one billion units last year, up from 400 million in 2019. This compares to worldwide sales of 1.4 billion smart phones last year, following a 12.5% decline in 2020.

Meanwhile, a 2021 study by accountancy group Deloitte said that one in 10 mobile phone users in the UK had a dumbphone.

"It appears fashion, nostalgia, and them appearing in TikTok videos, have a part to play in the dumbphone revival," says Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at price comparison site "Many of us had a dumbphone as our first mobile phone, so it's natural that we feel a sense of nostalgia towards these classic handsets."

Mr Doku says it was the 2017 relaunch of Nokia's 3310 handset - first released in 2000, and one of the biggest-selling mobiles of all time - that really sparked the revival. "Nokia pushed the 3310 as an affordable alternative in a world full of high-spec mobiles."

He adds that while it's true that dumbphones can't compete with the latest premium Apple and Samsung models when it comes to performance or functionality, "they can outshine them in equally important areas such as battery life and durability".

Five years ago, Przemek Olejniczak, a psychologist, swapped his smartphone for a Nokia 3310, initially because of the longer-lasting battery. However, he soon realised that there were other benefits.

"Before I would always be stuck to the phone, checking anything and everything, browsing Facebook or the news, or other facts I didn't need to know," he says.

"Now I have more time for my family and me. A huge benefit is that I'm not addicted to liking, sharing, commenting, or describing my life to other people. Now I have more privacy."

However, Mr Olejniczak, who lives in the Polish city of Lodz, admits that initially the switch was challenging. "Before I'd be checking everything, such as buses and restaurants, on my smartphone [when travelling]. Now that is impossible, so I have learned to do all those things beforehand at home. I got used to it."

One maker of dumbphones is New York company Light Phone. Slightly more clever that the norm for such products, its handsets do allow users to listen to music and podcasts, and link by Bluetooth to headphones. Yet the firm pledges that its phones "will never have social media, clickbait news, email, an internet browser, or any other anxiety-inducing infinite feed".

The company says it recorded its strongest year for financial performance in 2021, with sales up 150% compared with 2020. This is despite its handsets being expensive for dumbphones - prices start at $99 (£75).

Light Phone co-founder, Kaiwei Tang, says the device was initially created to use as a secondary phone for people wanting to take a break from their smartphone for a weekend for example, but now half the firm's customers use it as their primary device.

"If aliens came to earth they'd think that mobile phones are the superior species controlling human beings," he says. 

"And it's not going to stop, it's only going to get worse. Consumers are realising that something is wrong, and we want to offer an alternative."

Mr Tang adds that, surprisingly, the firm's main customers are aged between 25 and 35. He says he was expecting buyers to be much older.

Two phones pictured in 2005, two years before Apple released its first iPhone, and 11 years before TikTok. Getty Images 

Tech expert, Prof Sandra Wachter, a senior research fellow in artificial intelligence at Oxford University, says it is understandable that some of us are looking for simpler mobile phones.

"One can reasonably say that nowadays a smart phone's ability to connect calls and send short messages is almost a side feature," she explains. "Your smart phone is your entertainment centre, your news generator, your navigation system, your diary, your dictionary, and your wallet."

She adds that smartphones always "want to grab your attention" with notifications, updates, and breaking news constantly disrupting your day. "This can keep you on edge, might even be agitating. It can be overwhelming."

Prof Wachter adds: "It makes sense that some of us are now looking for simpler technologies and think that dumbphones might offer a return to simpler times. It might leave more time to fully concentrate on a single task and engage with it more purposefully. It might even calm people down. Studies have shown that too much choice can create unhappiness and agitation."

Yet back in London, Robin West says that many people are bewildered by her choice of mobile. "Everyone thinks it's just a temporary thing. They're like: 'So when are you getting a smartphone? Are you getting one this week?'."

(Source: BBC)

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A study of prehistoric painting has come to a startling conclusion: Many ancient artists were tiny children

Researchers also believe that the painted handprints contain coded signals.

New research is shaking up our image of art-making in Paleolithic times, arguing that children or even toddlers may have been behind some of world’s earliest known art. The findings suggest that ancient rock painting was actually a family-oriented group activity, not a solitary male pursuit.

For a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers from Cambridge University and Spain’s University of Cantabria examined 180 hand stencils painted in Spanish caves some 20,000 years ago. The study used 3-D models of hand paintings in Spain’s El Castillo, Maltravieso, Fuente de Salín, Fuente del Trucho, and La Gama caves, created by the Handpas Project.

These prehistoric images would have been made by blowing pigments through a hollow reed or bone onto hands placed against the cave wall—a process that would have made the outlines slightly larger than the hands themselves.

A) The photogrammetry process of making measurements using photographs. B) Experimental hand stencil. C) Experimental hand stencil 3-D model. D) Modern sample of scanned hands. Photo courtesy of Verónica Fernández-Navarro.

Accounting for that difference, the researchers found that up 25 percent of the hand marks were not large enough to belong to adults or teenagers. They guessed that they came from children between two and 12 years of age, with the majority of those likely made by three to 10-year-olds.

“Many more children’s hands came out than we expected,” lead author Verónica Fernández-Navarrogical told the Telegraph“It would appear that artistic activity was not a closed activity closely linked to male individuals and the survival of the group, as had been thought until now.”

Because the smaller children would not have been able to blow the pigment hard enough to create the markings, we can safely assume that their parents or other adults were helping them. Painting could have been an important communal activity for Paleolithic peoples.

Comparing hand measurement from a contemporary child and an ancient hand painting from a Spanish cave. Photo courtesy of Verónica Fernández-Navarro.

Fernández-Navarrogical is now working to further analyze the hand markings to determine if the gestures made in some images carry any meaning. She suspects that bent fingers in some of the hand silhouettes, which seem to appear in recurring patterns, could have been used as a form of non-verbal language.

“We want to find out if it is a code that they knew how to interpret, in the same way that we today interpret a ‘stop’ sign,” she added.

Children also believed to be responsible for what could be the world’s oldest art, a set of ancient hand and foot prints found in Tibet last year that were made between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago.

(Source: Art Net)

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Afghanistan world's unhappiest country, Lebanon second saddest

Afghanistan is the unhappiest country in the world - even before the Taliban swept to power last August. That's according to a so-called World Happiness report released ahead of the U.N.-designated International Day of Happiness on Sunday.

The annual report ranked Afghanistan as last among 149 countries surveyed, with a happiness rate of just 2.5. 

Lebanon was the world’s second saddest country, with Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe rounding out the bottom five. Finland ranked first for the fourth year running with a 7.8 score, followed by Denmark and Switzerland, with Iceland and the Netherlands also in the top five.

Researchers ranked the countries after analyzing data over three years. They looked at several categories, including gross domestic product per capita, social safety nets, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity of the population, and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.

Afghanistan stacked up poorly in all six categories, a confounding result coming as it did before the Taliban arrival and despite 20 years of U.S. and international investment. The U.S. alone spent $145 billion on development in Afghanistan since 2002, according to reports by the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan.

Still, there were signs of increasing hopelessness.

Gallup did a polling in 2018 and found that few Afghans they surveyed had much hope for the future. In fact the majority said they had no hope for the future.

Years of runaway corruption, increased poverty, lack of jobs, a steady increase in people forced below the poverty line, and erratic development all combined into a crushing malaise, said analyst Nasratullah Haqpal. Most Afghans had high hopes after 2001, when the Taliban were ousted and the U.S.-led coalition declared victory,

"Unfortunately the only focus was on the war, the warlords and the corrupt politicians,” said Haqpal.

"People just became poorer and poorer and more disappointed and more unhappy... that is why these 20 years of investment in Afghanistan collapsed in just 11 days," he said referring to the Taliban's lightning blitz through the country before sweeping into Kabul in mid-August.

When Masoud Ahmadi, a carpenter, returned to Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan after the 2001 collapse of the Taliban, his hopes for the future were bright. He dreamed of opening a small furniture-making shop, maybe employing as many as 10 people. Instead, sitting in his dusty 6-foot by 10-foot workshop on Saturday, he said he opens just twice a week for lack of work.

"When the money came to this country, the leadership of the government took the money and counted it as their personal money, and the people were not helped to change their life for the better,” said Ahmadi.

The report warns that Afghanistan's numbers might drop even further next year when it measures Afghans' happiness level after the arrival of the Taliban.

The economy is currently in free fall as the group struggles to transition from insurgency to governing.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Thursday, 17 March 2022

15 details about Disney princes that are often overlooked

Although Disney princesses are the main focus of viewers’ attention, the princes also deserve recognition. Over the decades, there have been several changes in the way they have been portrayed, going from being the generic Prince Charming to heroes with their own names and personalities. This is how they show details that reflect part of the plot and make them as relevant as their companions.

Disney’s princes reveal parts of their stories that are often overlooked in the excitement of the movies.

© Aladdin / Walt Disney Pictures and co-producers© Aladdin / Walt Disney Pictures and co-producers

1. Eric was the first prince to be rescued by his princess.

Disney princesses are almost always the ones rescued by their love. But in The Little Mermaid, Eric became the first prince in the franchise to be saved by the protagonist who, throughout the story, actually rescued him on 2 occasions: the first was when he fell into the sea and the second was when he confronted Ursula at the climax of the film.

2. John Smith really existed.

John Smith was a soldier and explorer who had been captured by the natives of America when he settled on their lands. It is believed that he was rescued by a girl of the tribe that held him hostage, but the accuracy of the event could never be proved.

The Disney version of John Smith, besides being physically different from the historical character, also had a different personality. While the real guy was authoritarian and had a hard character, the fictional Smith is kind and cordial. He was also way older than Pocahontas and they never had a romantic relationship in real life, according to certain documents.

3. The feather in Aladdin’s turban indicated when he was telling a lie.

Aladdin pretended to be Prince Ali, someone he wasn’t, when he first met Jasmine. He feared that she wouldn’t accept him for who he was, so he put on a fake façade, something that really annoyed Jasmine. Not only that, but every time he lied, the feather of his hat would flop over.

4. Li Shang was the first Disney prince to not kiss a princess.

In the first Mulan movie, Li Shang never kissed the protagonist of the story, even though they liked each other. Besides that, he was the first Disney prince to show gratitude and respect for the heroine’s attributes.

5. John Smith did not stay with the princess.

Because John Smith was injured in the first part of Pocahontas, he had to return to England for medical treatment. He invited her to travel with him, but she refused, as she felt she was needed in her tribe.

And in the sequel, Smith invited her to travel the world. Unfortunately, Pocahontas had already overcome her feelings for him, so she again refused. He then decided to let her go and leave on his journey.

6. Flynn was supposed to be an anti-hero.

The producers of Tangled wanted to move away from the classic Disney male hero, considering them “rather soft” at times. So they decided that Flynn, instead of being a prince, should be a charismatic and charming thief, adding a worldly touch to contrast with Rapunzel’s limited view of the outside world.

7. Hans is the only Disney prince to be a villain.

Of all the Disney princes, Hans is the only one who’s actually a villain. This makes him peculiar since he presents himself as a kind person who empathizes with the lonely princess, managing to make her fall in love after their meeting. Thus, he manages to manipulate her to finally reveal his true intentions.

While there were many villains pretending to be good at Disney, the case in Frozen is different, as Hans gave no hint of being evil. Usually, the viewer already knows when a character is evil and pretends to be on the protagonist’s side. But here, Hans managed to hide his true nature until almost the end of the movie.

8. Naveen kissed Tiana more than once.

Almost at the beginning of the movie The Princess and the Frog, Tiana kissed Naveen when he was an animal. However, there were also other occasions when they exchanged kisses, thus being the couple that has kissed the most in Disney movies.

9. Eric was the only Disney prince to become a father.

Although there are several Disney princess movies that had sequels, only in The Little Mermaid was it possible to see the main couple form a family. Prince Eric became the father of a little girl named Melody, whom he cared for with great affection. When she escaped to the bottom of the sea, he even moved an entire fleet to recover her.

10. Aladdin is the only Disney prince to be a leading man.

While there are many films with male protagonists, Aladdin is the only one in the “Disney princess” franchise to feature a prince as the main character. On top of that, he was the first to earn his royal title by marrying a princess.

11. Prince Phillip was the first one that had an actual name.

While in Snow White and Cinderella the princes’ names are never revealed, in Sleeping Beauty it is mentioned at some point in the story. He is also the first in the franchise to have more dialogue than his predecessors and to defeat a villain, thus fulfilling the role of prince and hero.

12. Snow White’s Prince Charming should have had a bigger role in the movie.

Snow White’s prince is perhaps the character with the fewest appearances on screen, as he is only seen at the beginning and end of the movie. It was planned for him to have greater relevance, but due to animation problems, the producers decided to cut his scenes.

13. Kristoff and Li Shang are tertiary characters.

What Li Shang and Kristoff (the Disney princes of Mulan and Frozen) have in common is that they are tertiary characters. Besides that, they also have other similarities such as being thoughtful, shy, and logical, compared to the princesses, who have a more adventurous spirit. And none of them got married until later, in the sequels.

14. Naveen and Beast did not show their human form in most of their films.

The films Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog have in common that the princes do not show their human appearance for much of the story. While Beast regains his humanity near the end, Prince Naveen is seen as human only at the beginning and during the denouement of the movie.

15. The Beast was inspired by buffalo.

When it came to bringing Beast to life, the creator of the character’s design said he was inspired by the head of a buffalo. But as he did sketches, he also integrated other animals such as a wild boar, a lion, a gorilla, a bear, and a wolf.

His goal was to create an animal-like figure, as he wanted to move away from the alien version of the original story. After taking parts of different creatures, he managed to create an anthropomorphic being that matched the environment in which the film was set.

What do you admire about the Disney princes? Which of them would you like to see in their own movie?

(Source: Bright Side)