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Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

Last summer, when clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.

Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.

In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”

Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.

Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin. 

Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.

But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.

Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick. 

We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.

The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.

The Best Olympics Show Is Peacock’s Chaotic Tokyo Tonight

The Best Olympics Show Is Peacock’s Chaotic Tokyo Tonight

Watching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is a strange experience. It’s been 2021 for more than seven months now, and seeing the logo feels like living in a time warp. Pandemic precautions mean there are very few people in the stands, so each event looks as though it’s taking place post-apocalypse. The time zones aren’t doing North American viewers any favors, either. Tokyo is 13 to 16 hours ahead of the US, so watching any competition in real time means staying up late or getting up horrifically early. 

Then there’s the issue of how to watch the Games in the first place. NBC likes to tout its streaming service as the “place to be” to catch all the action, but navigating the app is so confusing, it’s already spawned headlines like “Why Is It So Hard to Use NBC’s Peacock to Watch the Olympics?” It also makes viewing any single event in its entirety a bit of a nightmare. Peacock does, however, have one program that brings all of the oddity of the 2020 Games into a kind of focus: Tokyo Tonight.

Streaming live from an unusually purple set at NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, Tokyo Tonight is notably not in Tokyo. Unable to do on-site reporting, hosts Kenny Mayne and Cari Champion fill their impressively long 7:30 pm to midnight ET run time with off-kilter banter and a rapid-fire collage of coverage on everything from BMX biking and white water kayaking to skateboarding and ping-pong. It’s the ideal thing to watch while scrolling TikTok—and it’s a delight.

Champion is beautiful and witty, while Mayne exudes a loosey-goosey Boomer charisma and tends to approach his guests as though they’re people he just happened by chance to encounter, asking random questions and supplying odd anecdotes about his personal life. Crucially, both are unexpectedly droll for anchors—so much so that it’s often hard to tell when they’re joking. After Mayne started asking guests, abruptly and with little context, whether or not they like the band Pearl Jam, Champion got in on the action by asking for their stance on Beyoncé.

All of this gives Tokyo Tonight a whiff of experimental public-access charm previously unseen in traditional Olympics coverage. Often, Mayne and Champion appear onscreen seemingly unaware that their mics are hot. “Am I supposed to be doing something right now?” Mayne asked Champion one night last week, deep into the stream. “I’m tapped out.”

Even in the more polished portions of the show, a sense of whimsy persists. Mayne devoted one segment to a sketch in which he pretended a toddler was an elite gymnast. During “Shredding the Gnar With Mike Parsons,” Mayne interviewed the veteran American surfer in a conversation that bordered on the surreal. “How many times have you been out there, and there’s been a shark by you?” Mayne asked Parsons, who was clearly thrown off by having to estimate the number of sharks with which he’d shared an approximate location in his five decades of surfing. (He was unable to provide an estimate.) Unfazed, Mayne then informed Parsons and the viewers that the world’s waters belong to sharks, not humans. “It’s their ocean,” he said.

Then he asked Parsons whether he liked Pearl Jam.

Die-hard, gotta-watch-it-all Olympics fans will probably not like Tokyo Tonight, partly because of its hopscotching format and partly because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. But for those who enjoy seeing elite athletes shine on a global stage but who also feel a little queasy about watching a competition that really should not be taking place, and who like to watch Olympics coverage while looking at social media, it is a perfect sampler of short-form highlights presented by hosts who seem determined to make the least-boring version of a highlights show possible. 

If NBC continues to control Olympics coverage for American viewers, it’ll have to make some changes to keep people happy. It would also do well to preserve this kind of anarchic fun. The ocean belongs to the sharks, but my heart belongs to Tokyo Tonight.


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Simone Biles and the Unprecedented Olympic Pressure

Simone Biles and the Unprecedented Olympic Pressure

Olympic athletes are used to pressure. Before every Games, a handful of stars from each country get singled out as medal contenders, their faces plastered across billboards and newspapers, on social media and in yogurt ads.

They work with sports psychologists and performance coaches to help them handle the weight of expectation, developing mental coping strategies to ensure peak performance: visualization, breathing exercises, adaptability. But the Tokyo Olympics has thrown up unique challenges that have been impossible to prepare for. Shorn of their support systems, some athletes are feeling the pressure.

These Games have been unique because they’ve brought the mental health of athletes front and center. US gymnast Simone Biles has withdrawn from two events citing concerns over her own state of mind, and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka—the face of these Olympics—also cited her mental health after being knocked out of the singles tournament. They won’t be the only athletes facing these challenges.

Sports psychologist Josie Perry has witnessed a huge rise in people contacting her for help with performance anxiety during the pandemic. “With so many differences in our lives, we’re all a lot closer to the edge of anxiety,” she says. “Certain environments push us closer to the edge—being in a place we’re not used to, being around people that annoy us, being hungry, being in a pandemic.”

Anxiety can affect performance by triggering what’s known as an amygdala hijack. The primitive parts of the brain short-circuit, bypassing more rational areas and flooding the body with stress hormones. This can lead to fight, flight, or freeze response—athletes may panic and make bad decisions, or may focus too much on skills that should be easy and automatic. But as well as affecting their performance, anxiety also exerts an emotional toll—and that’s finally starting to be recognized as the pandemic has pushed underlying issues to the fore.

When Covid-19 first emerged, few could imagine the eventual scale of the pandemic. For athletes whose entire training schedule was timed to peak in the summer of 2020, the delay was a body blow—some faced the challenge of training without access to equipment or venues, not to mention dealing with getting the virus and the potentially debilitating long-term effects of returning to action too soon. 

It’s only in the last month or so that we’ve been able to say with any certainty that the Games would actually even go ahead in 2021. “Any time you put uncertainty into a situation, it comes with psychological stress,” says David Shearer, professor of elite performance psychology at the University of South Wales. “Some athletes thrive on that and rise to the challenge; for others it may impact their well-being.”

The environment of the Games is far from what athletes will have expected—from the holding camps they were placed in on arrival to the absence of support staff who would normally be on hand but are now stuck behind a video call. Athletes may be distracted by the situation at home, or comparing themselves to rivals from other countries—did they have to follow the same stringent rules? Has their training been affected? “It opens the door for the possibility of negative thinking spiraling out of control,” Shearer says. “At that point it’s the individual’s skill level in dealing with those thoughts.”

“The whole tournament has been so different to what I’m used to,” said Great Britain’s Jade Jones, who was the favorite going into the women’s tae kwon do but lost in the round of 16. “Usually I have my whole family there, so when I am scared when I come out, them cheering gives me that extra push to go for it. I got trapped in that fear mode today.”

The Code That Built the Web Is Now a $5 Million NFT

The Code That Built the Web Is Now a $5 Million NFT

Sir Tim Berners-Lee famously gave the source code to the World Wide Web away for free. But now he has raised over $5.4 million by auctioning off an autographed copy as a non-fungible token, or NFT, in a sale through Sotheby’s.

Berners-Lee’s NFT joins eclectic company, including Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, a New York Times column, a Pringles flavor called “CryptoCrisp,” a lifetime coupon code to an online kratom retailer, a lease for a coliving space in San Francisco’s Mission District, a sexually explicit direct message allegedly from the disgraced actor Armie Hammer, and a 52-minute audio file of farts. But this most recent addition to the endless list of collectible NFTs is an artifact with an air of gravitas, a souvenir from a vaunted internet pioneer. Berners-Lee wrote the code while working at CERN in Switzerland in the early ’90s, creating what he called the “WorldWideWeb” from a NeXT computer. In addition to the copy of the code itself, the auction haul included a 30-minute animation depicting the code being written, a scalable graphics vector representing the full code, and a letter Berners-Lee wrote this year reflecting on what it was like to write the code. (Berners-Lee will donate the proceeds, but has not specified where he plans to direct the funds.)

It’s a peculiar moment for internet history buffs. The sale offers an opportunity to feel ownership over a significant bit of history. But it also mashes up two disparate strains of techno-optimism. The code Berners-Lee wrote has not been copyrighted or otherwise protected by intellectual property law since 1993, just a few years after it was created. “He pushed CERN to release it as fully public domain,” says Marc Weber, the curatorial director at the Computer History Museum. “Some people think that was really critical in making the web succeed.” It was a foundational moment for the free software movement, an example of how innovators could push history forward by choosing collaboration over profit. Now, decades later, this iconically free code is finally getting monetized.

Or, sort of. Berners-Lee isn’t selling the actual code, but the equivalent of an autographed copy. The rise of NFTs gave Berners-Lee an opportunity to fundraise off his legacy without attempting to claw back intellectual property rights, which at this point would have been impossible anyway. Thanks to NFTs, Berners-Lee can keep his code in the public domain and simultaneously entice someone to buy a certificate of ownership. Is this commodification directly opposed to the ethos of the open source movement? Well, yeah. But also: If the code itself is still public domain, does it matter, especially when there’s so much money sloshing around?

Berners-Lee doesn’t think so. He told The Guardian last week that the sale doesn’t change anything about the openness of the web, or the code itself. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python program that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me,” he said.

But the sale has implications beyond the WWW. As archivist Rick Prelinger wrote in a recent column for WIRED, “Nothing could be a greater cultural and ethical shock to archives than NFTs.” Prelinger argues that monetizing historically significant holdings could make important documents less accessible to genealogists and other scholars without deep pockets. Weber shares those concerns, as the Computing History Museum doesn’t have the deep pockets of independent crypto-millionaire collectors; if minting code as an NFT becomes a standard, collecting historically significant copies of code for the museum’s software library could become more difficult. In some NFT sales, the original digital artifact is subsequently removed from the web—for example, when the makers of the popular meme video “Charlie Bit My Finger” sold the clip as an NFT, they subsequently removed the original from YouTube.