What science and experts say is the best music for tuning out the world while working through a pandemic

A European robin singing
A European robin singing
Photo: Gabriel Chalmeta/500px/Getty Images

Last week, an Eminem YouTube video made me sick.

Not because of anything Eminem did, but rather because the song that streamed when I clicked play is edited into what’s known as “8D audio,” a nonsense term that describes music that’s been modulated to sound as if it’s playing in your shared physical space. Eminem’s voice, for example, was edited to play gradually louder in my left earphone — as if he was approaching me from the left as he raps, before his voice circled around to my right.

8D audio is frequently promoted as great for focus, though the notion that someone would find it easier to concentrate while sitting in the same room as, say, a dubstep artist is beyond me. Research suggests you should dispense with distracting 8D audio and listen to another type of music or sound instead. …


A science-backed explanation for why you should rely more on your voice and less on your face in our brave new world

Man smiling as he talks on the phone with someone.
Man smiling as he talks on the phone with someone.
Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

When the pandemic hit the U.S., most of us found ourselves socially, and thus emotionally, isolated. Even essential workers, compelled to interact with others face-to-face as part of their jobs, saw their social lives transform. Suddenly, we all had to find new ways to connect with the people whose physical presence we once took for granted, whether it was an office deskmate whose absurd banter kept the workday light, or a friend with whom you had a weekly martini night.

Most of us, unfortunately, landed on Zoom, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts as social tethers. And though at the very beginning, phone calls surged, according to Verizon and other carriers, they’ve since fallen to pre-pandemic levels. …


Including a new Jhumpa Lahiri, a “Great Gatsby” retelling, and several novels about witches

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Feeling overwhelmed and verklempt about the year’s reading material. “A Brace of Full-grown Puppies: or My Dog and Me,” 1807, Thomas Rowlandson

I have consistently, in times of great distress or even merely to get through annoying circumstances, depended upon escaping into a novel to get through it. 2021 will be another heavy year; there will be battles to fight and hope to cultivate and energy in grave need of restoration. I intend to get through it all, at least in part, as I always have: by sinking into stories with the strength, humor, and heart to carry me from one trying day to the next.

Not everyone reads this way, but it’s how I’ve always approached reading — and it’s reflected in my lists, which tend to focus on books driven by character and which have a strong sense of narrative. …


Each week, I’ll catalog the biggest and most exciting adult and YA fiction — and the occasional nonfiction — coming out that Tuesday.

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A PROMISED LAND, Barack Obama. The first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoirs. “Barack Obama is as fine a writer as they come,” writes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New York Times. Aggregated critical reviews, Bookshop.

EARTHEATER, Dolores Reyes, Julia Sanches (Translator). In an Argentinian slum, a young woman develops a compulsion to eat soil, a habit that gives her visions of broken lives, including those of her murdered mother. Kirkus calls it “compelling and visceral.” Bookshop.

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THE LADY UPSTAIRS, Halley Sutton. When one of her targets is murdered, a professional blackmailer decides to take on one last job — behind the back of her dangerous, mysterious boss, known as The Lady Upstairs. (The audiobook version is narrated by Bahni Turpin, who is the absolute best.) “A scorching, knockout noir from an author to watch,” writes Kirkus in a starred review.


If you’re glued to your phone, at least make it a good one

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Image: Apple

The iPhone 12 Mini, launching this week for $729 and up, is Apple’s smallest phone in years. The company hasn’t released a phone as small as the 5.18-inch iPhone Mini since 2013, when it debuted the iPhone 5 line, which ranged in size from 4.87 to 4.9 inches.

It’s cute, and as Corey Jones, chair of the Industrial Design Department at California College of the Arts, says, “The 12 Mini is probably the purest expression of the iPhone in recent memory.”

But I really don’t recommend it if you, like me, are a heavy phone user. Research indicates that the smaller the screen, the harder it is to read and process the information presented on it. That isn’t to say it’s a bad option for every single person, but for most smartphone users, I’d caution against choosing the Mini over other, bigger options. Screen size is critical to how easily people absorb and understand information, and when we’re getting more of it than ever via our smartphones — and when so much of it is actually misinformation — it is maybe not the best idea to put obstacles in the way of our reading comprehension. …


The Keen2 wearable wants to train you to stop body-focused repetitive behaviors, but there’s little evidence to show that it works

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Keen2 header Trichotillomania dermatillomania BFRB Smart Bracelet. Images: HabitAware

Body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs, are common, but massively under-studied, disorders in which people repeatedly touch their bodies in ways that can inadvertently cause physical pain and harm. People with trichotillomania, which is perhaps the most well-known BFRB, pull out their hair (on their head, their eyebrows, or their eyelashes). People with excoriation, or skin-picking disorder, rub, dig into, or scratch their own skin, sometimes causing scars, while those with onychophagia bite their nails, often to the point of bleeding.

One in 20 people have a BFRB, yet there’s very little research on the conditions or treatments available. A new wearable bracelet, the Keen2, aims to help people with BFRBs by raising their awareness of their own condition, while its companion app provides users with strategies on how to incorporate Habit Reversal Training, a primary treatment method for the condition, into their lives. Other devices profess similar aims, such as the Slightly Robot, which vibrates when users touch their face, and the Pavlok, in which users self-administer either a vibration or a small electrical shock when they’re about to partake in what they consider a bad habit (such as hair-picking or smoking cigarettes). …


Each week, I’ll catalog the biggest and most exciting adult and YA fiction — and the occasional nonfiction — coming out that Tuesday.

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THE ARREST, Jonathan Lethem. In a future in which most forms of technology — cars, computers, television — are defunct, a former screenwriter living in Maine on his sister’s farm finds his life further disturbed when an old colleague shows up in a nuclear-powered digger. “Defiantly pulpy,” writes USA Today. Aggregated critical reviews, Bookshop.

GLIMMER AS YOU CAN, Danielle Martin. In 1960s Brooklyn, tragedy threatens the survival of an underground women’s club. Bookshop.

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THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING, Wai Chim. A teenager’s life is turned upside down when her mother’s mental illness worsens. The New York Times calls it “heart-wrenching.”


Even without real heat, they make a world of difference

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Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

As I write this, my windows are rattling with 30 miles per hour wind gusts. The bright new cold is seeping through the cracks beneath the window frames, and the leaves on the trees outside are green, tinged with yellow, having launched their death drive a couple weeks ago. I am barely staving off my own existential terror, for reasons that scarcely need explaining, but on my TV is a cheerily crackling fireplace, valiantly helping me to reenvision the dropping temperatures, at least, as something to be almost excited for instead of dreaded.

It’s a small comfort, but one I’m clinging to. One of the best ways of getting through this is to lean into it — buried under a heap of comfy blankets, book in my lap, dog at my feet, and a (virtual) crackling fireplace before me. Fireplaces, both virtual and real, are shown to be restorative, relaxing, and can even make you sleepy — and who among us is not currently in desperate need of restoration, relaxation, and sleep? …


Each week, I’ll catalog the biggest and most exciting adult and YA fiction — and the occasional nonfiction — coming out that Tuesday.

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WHITE IVY, Susie Yang. A tense, propulsive character study of a young social climber. “A sophisticated and darkly glittering gem of a debut,” writes Kirkus. Aggregated critical reviews, Bookshop.

THE ENIGMA GAME, Elizabeth Wein. The latest novel in the Code Name Verity universe, about a group of young codebreakers in Scotland during WWII. Bookshop.

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TO BE A MAN: STORIES, Nicole Krauss. Short stories from the acclaimed author of Great House and The History of Love. “A collection of wonders,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle.


Microprocessing

Apps that help you find your way may leave you feeling totally lost in the long run

Google Maps on a phone mounted above a car dashboard.
Google Maps on a phone mounted above a car dashboard.
Photo: georgeclerk/iStock/Getty Images

I had an English teacher in high school who would repeat the same line over and over again: “Life is what you pay attention to.” He’d scribble it furiously across the whiteboard. He’d yell at us to wake up from the pathetic little lives we lived on autopilot and start paying attention. (Sorry to bring up Harry Potter here, but honest to God, in retrospect he reminds me of Mad-Eye Moody: “Constant vigilance!”) I was not entirely clear on the connection between his rabid obsession with paying attention and English-language literature, and his lack of explanation rendered his protests unconvincing. …

About

Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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