What does “support PDF” really mean? | PDF Association

What does “support PDF” really mean? | PDF Association

Browsers are taking over document viewing. Where 10 or even 5 years ago users viewed PDF documents almost entirely via dedicated PDF software (often a plugin to a web-browser), today PDF files are most often viewed using implementations native to Chrome, Safari, etc., or on mobile devices.

That’s a problem, because PDF support in browsers and mobile devices is largely limited to rendering, and sometimes, incomplete rendering.

The Edge case

Microsoft released their new Edge browser in Windows 10 as the company’s replacement for Internet Explorer, the browser which took Microsoft from the very beginnings of the Internet until 2015.

The first thing to say in considering Microsoft’s Edge with respect to PDF support is that Microsoft’s development team are very open about the product’s shortcomings. This is commendable.

The Edge team posts “Standards support statements”. Pertaining to PDF, they identify (generally) the PDF features they do not fully support, or as they put it: “The Microsoft Edge product implements the PDF specifications, with variances as noted in this document.”

What isn’t supported?

As attested by Microsoft, Edge doesn’t support many of PDF’s advanced capabilities. This isn’t surprising; at this point, almost no browsers do, and it would be wrong to call out Edge for its lack of support for bookmarks, Optional Content Groups, tags, and many other features while its competition also fails to support these features.

However, the Edge team does not even claim support for the proper display of many commonplace PDF features. As of early June, 2016…

  • Microsoft claims only “partial support” for the JBIG2Decode filter, which is commonly used for scanned documents. JBIG2Decode was added to the PDF specification back in 2001, so it’s not exactly news.
  • Microsoft claims only “partial support” for the JPXDecode filter commonly used in color and photographic images. JPXDecode was added to PDF in 2003.
  • Microsoft does not support Type 1 (function-based) shadings, a typical means of setting gradients in the fill of vector graphics objects. Shading patterns were added to the PDF specification in 2000.
  • Microsoft also notes that they do not support Type 4, 5, 6 and 7 shadings; but there are, admittedly, somewhat less common than Type 1.
  • Microsoft hardwires the text knockout parameter to its default (True), forcing the application to ignore behavior specified in files that use other parameter values.
    What will users experience?

The above list virtually guarantees that those viewing PDF documents with Edge will find that some pages appear other than the author intended. Some pages might be blank. Others, possibly missing images or other content.

What does this mean?

PDF is first and foremost about the reliable conveyance of a fixed-layout document. In this context the failure to support core features of the PDF specification that affect viewing is… unfortunate.

People use PDF precisely because they trust the format to display precisely the same way on any software that “supports PDF”. If users start to see blank pages or missing images they will begin to mistrust their own documents, and those they receive from others or posted on websites.

Minimum support for PDF viewing means full support for PDF rendering

Unlike HTML/CSS/JavaScript confections, the appearance of PDF is completely specified in the file itself; nothing’s left up to the implementer. You are either rendering PDF pages, or you aren’t.

Viewing software that claims to support PDF at all must, at a minimum, deliver more-or-less the same visual and printed experience as users would receive from software that supports the specification in all necessary detail.

Color-calibration and dynamic XFA isn’t the issue; there are many advanced features not all devices will support at all times. But missing or disappearing objects in conventional PDF documents? That’s not OK.

It’s bad enough that mainstream software such as Apple’s Preview ignores and destroys PDF features such as digital signatures and tags. At least Preview does a creditable job of simply rendering the page.

But what does “PDF support” mean if it doesn’t include the ability to display commonplace graphics objects appearing in millions or billions of PDF files?

What is a “portable document” anyway?

http://www.pdfa.org/2016/06/what-does-support-pdf-really-mean/

Ghost Boxes: Reusing Abandoned Big-Box Superstores Across America

Ghost Boxes: Reusing Abandoned Big-Box Superstores Across America

Big-box stores promise convenience and jobs for suburbs and small towns, but have a mixed reputation with designers and citizens. Many see big boxes as icons of unsustainable sprawl, reinforcing car culture with highway-oriented access and expansive parking lots. These boxy buildings not only take up vast amounts of land but often also require infrastructure around them to be overhauled. Later, when their super-sized occupants leave: a giant empty structure is left in their wake, which can be difficult to reuse unless a similar retailer takes its place.

Some communities and architects, however, have started to turn these voids into opportunities, taking advantage of qualities unique to such megastructures. In one Texas town, a vacated Walmart has become the biggest single-story public library in the United States.

Located in McAllen, the 123,000-square-foot building in question was redesigned and retrofitted by architects from Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle. Their approach to the project turned some of the biggest challenges of big-box reuse into opportunities. The sheer volume of the structure provided an open framework, ready to be re-purposed.

The open floor area was strategically split into various sections, including public meeting spaces and computer labs, as well as an auditorium, bookstore and cafe. On the ceiling above, the designers left structural and mechanical elements exposed, coating them in white paint. Below, bright carpets, colorful floors and modern details distinguish various occupied zones and transitional areas. New colors and materials have transformed the entry and exterior.

The award-winning building has been lauded for tackling the tricky dilemma of deserted big-box structures: “The McAllen Main Library represents an important shift in American cultural attitudes toward tolerating big box, suburban structures,” wrote the AIA National Honor Awards Jury. “The interior spaces have been dramatically transformed from a warehouse to a place with a sense of intimacy.” Walmarts across America occupy over 700,000,000 square feet of space, and this library illustrates how some of that area might be put to good use.

The footprint of a big box store extends beyond the space occupied by the building or even the parking lot. In many cases, “roads are widened, stoplights put in …. entire bypasses might be created,” explains Julia Christensen, author of Big Box Reuse. “So all of this invested infrastructure remains after the retailer leaves the building behind.” The result is a great deal of embedded energy both in and around big boxes, which in turn also creates a strong incentive for adaptive reuse.

The question then becomes: what kinds of new programs are best suited to such huge spaces after they are vacated? What new uses will take maximum advantage, of not just the buildings, but also their parking lots and surrounding infrastructure?

In Eden Prairie, Minnesota a former grocery store is now a vast library with vaulted ceilings (pictured above), redesigned by BTR Architects. Another grocery in Princeton, New Jersey, has become a fitness and wellness center. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, rows of flea market stalls have replaced the aisles of an old Kmart.

In Austin, Minnesota, another Kmart was turned into offices for Hormel, as well as a giant Spam Museum. The company has since grown, its offices now occupying the entire vacated retail space, pushing the Spam Museum to a new location downtown.

The 900-student Sugar Creek Charter Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina, worked both with and around extant features of the Kmart that preceded it. Many of the hallways have been organized to coincide with former shopping aisles in order to take advantage of existing lighting rows. Meanwhile, the lack of exterior windows led redesigners to introduce skylights, bringing daylight into classrooms.

Lest it seem like this phenomenon is strictly limited to rural locations: an IKEA in Burbank (on the edge of Los Angeles) is currently being converted into a 765-unit apartment complex. The company has apparently outgrown their 242,000-square-foot store built in 1990 and is opening a new one nearly twice its size.

http://99percentinvisible.org/article/ghost-boxes-reusing-abandoned-big-box-superstores-across-america/

An Honest Birth Announcement – The New Yorker

An Honest Birth Announcement – The New Yorker

Dear friends and family,

Jen and I are utterly horrified to announce the arrival of our son, Jasper Heusen-­Gravenstein, born May 21st at 4:56 a.m. For nine long months, we’ve wondered who this little creature would be. Well, now we know: he’s the living embodiment of our darkest imaginings, with a nefarious agenda and Grandpa Jim’s nose.

At seven pounds four ounces, Jasper may be small, but he’s large enough to have triggered our most primal fears. We’ve already been driven to the brink of madness with unanswerable questions such as: How can we sustain the life of a creature whose incessant, blood­curdling screams communicate nothing but blind rage and indeterminate need? What if he senses our fear and, like a wild hyena, is instinctively triggered to attack? Will we ever finish the most recent season of “House of Cards”?

Jaspie looks pretty cute in his organic-cotton onesie with the whale print (thanks, Aunt Megan!), which provides a cunning distraction from his simple—yet chillingly effective—brand of psychological torture. Our days blur into one another, punctuated by moments of fitful sleep and Jasper’s relentless deployment of biological warfare into his shockingly expensive compostable diapers. Where once we thrived, we now eke out a meagre existence as unwashed prisoners in our own apartment. Jen and I can only hope that someday soon we may gain the favor of this diminutive tyrant, before he utterly destroys us.

We’ve each developed coping mechanisms. Jen spends much of her time cowering in the nursery closet, self-­soothing with Malbec and “The Wendy Williams Show.” As for me, I often startle awake only to find I’m sitting at the computer with the cursor hovering over “purchase” on a one-way ticket to Ulaanbaatar.

You might ask how two educated, competent adults came to be so enfeebled. We have no one to blame but ourselves. I vaguely recall making the argument that we’d need someone to explain the latest memes to us in 2030. I weep now to think of our naïveté.

Worst of all, I think Stockholm syndrome is setting in—just this morning I caught Jen researching tuition at St. Ann’s, although the last thing we need is to embolden the tiny villain we’ve created. I shudder to imagine the havoc he could wreak on the global stage.

Please send help (or Seamless),

Rob & Jen

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/an-honest-birth-announcement

Dell gets out of the Android business, and everything old is new again | Ars Technica

Dell gets out of the Android business, and everything old is new again | Ars Technica

There’s a lot of competition and not a lot of profit in the Android ecosystem, so it’s not exactly surprising to hear that Dell plans to exit the Android business in order to focus on its Windows PCs and convertibles. According to The Verge, the company will continue to honor warranties and service contracts for Venue Android tablets, but it will no longer sell or develop new hardware and will stop releasing software updates for current devices.

This means no more updates for relatively recent releases like the odd but relatively well-reviewed Venue 8 7000.

The move is part of a wider strategy shift at Dell, one in which it will “divest from the slate tablet market” in favor of convertibles, partly because “the tablet opportunity in big business has passed” (read: it can’t sell enough of these at a high enough margin to make the effort worthwhile). Windows is a stronger choice for devices that spend all or most of their time attached to keyboard docks, since it offers a wider range of “professional” apps and is already accepted among and familiar the business and IT types that Dell is targeting with these products. Dell also takes a not-so-subtle swipe at a couple of recent Apple tablets, saying that “CIOs and IT administrators have to consider much more than just the word “Pro” and visual appeal of a device when deciding which products to deploy among their workforce.”

This isn’t the first time Dell has jumped out of the Android business after dipping a toe in. It pulled the plug on 5, 7, and 10-inch Dell Streak phones and tablets earlier this decade, again because competition was stiff and profits were low.

“It’s a content play with Android. Amazon is selling books and Google is making it up with search. So far we couldn’t find a way to build a business on Android,” said Jeff Clarke, Dell’s Vice Chairman of Operations and Technology.

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/06/dell-gets-out-of-the-android-business-and-everything-old-is-new-again/

Who is poor in the United States? | Brookings Institution

Who is poor in the United States? | Brookings Institution

Understanding the characteristics of the poor is crucial for crafting effective anti-poverty policies. In this Economic Analysis, we document characteristics of the 46.7 million Americans—14.8 percent of the population—who lived in poverty in 2014. Using the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) collected in March 2015, the source of official poverty statistics, we describe who lives in poverty as well as the characteristics of the working-age poor and those working-age poor who were employed less than full-time year-round.

Consider the following sobering statistics, illustrated in the figure above:

  • More than a third of those who live in poverty are children. More than 15.5 million children lived in poverty in 2014.
    About 13 percent of those living in poverty are senior citizens or retired.
  • A quarter of those who live in poverty are in the labor force—that is, working or seeking employment.
  • A tenth of those in poverty are disabled.
  • Eight percent of those living in poverty are caregivers, meaning that they report caring for children or family.
  • Students, either full- or part-time, make up another seven percent of those living in poverty.
  • Just three percent of those living in poverty are working-age adults who do not fall into one of these categories—that is, they are not in the labor force, not disabled, and not a student, caregiver, or retired.

Just over half of those who live in poverty are of working-age, defined as between the ages of 18 and 64. Figure 2 categorizes working-age adults living below the poverty line in 2014. Among working-age adults living in poverty, 45% are in the labor force:

  • 13 percent are full-time, year-round workers, meaning that they usually worked 35 hours or more per week for at least 50 weeks during 2014.
  • Just over one quarter of poor working-age adults work less than full-time year-round, meaning that they worked during the previous year, but not on a full-time, full-year schedule.
  • 5 percent report that they are seeking employment – a classification that means that these adults were in the labor force – throughout the year.

The remaining 55 percent of working-age adults are not in the labor force. Additional data from the CPS ASEC, which asks respondents why they are not in the labor force, allows us to further describe who these non-workers are. As a share of the total working-age adult living in poverty population:

  • 18 percent —a third of the non-workers living in poverty—are disabled.
  • 26 percent—just under half of non-workers—are caregivers or students.
  • 6 percent are retired, though it is important to note that only the working-age population is considered here, so this constitutes early retirement.
  • 5 percent of the total population of working-age adults in poverty are not in the labor force and are neither disabled, a caregiver, a student, nor retired.

Certainly some share of those who are disabled, a caregiver, a student, or retired—as well as the remaining small fraction outside those groups—are people who are capable of employment. As Figure 3 illustrates, a portion of those living in poverty who are disabled, a caregiver, a student, or retired are indeed in the labor force.

Though 13 percent of working-age adults living in poverty are working full-time year-round, about twice as many were employed less than full-time year-round in 2014. Figure 3 further investigates the composition of working-age adults living in poverty that reported usually working part-time and who were working part-time in March 2015.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2016/06/17-who-is-poor-in-the-united-states-schanzenbach-bauer-nunn

New Report Finds Prosecutors Who Sought Death Penalty Most Frequently Had High Rates of Misconduct | Fair Punishment Project

New Report Finds Prosecutors Who Sought Death Penalty Most Frequently Had High Rates of Misconduct | Fair Punishment Project

In anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark death penalty decision, Gregg v. Georgia, today the Fair Punishment Project released a new report called America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors: How Overzealous Personalities Drive the Death Penalty.

The report identified America’s five deadliest head prosecutors out of the thousands that have held that office across the country in the last 40 years. Three of the five prosecutors (Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; and Bob Macy of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma) personally obtained more than 35 death sentences each, while the other two (Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas) oversaw District Attorney offices that obtained more than 100 and 200 death sentences respectively during their tenures. Together, they have put the equivalent of 1 out of every 7 people currently on death row.

The report notes that these “overzealous” personalities disproportionately drove up death sentencing rates in their counties and their states–leaving an outsized impact on death sentencing statistics nationwide.

“The legitimacy of the death penalty is seriously undermined when it is only being used in a small handful of places by an even smaller group of prosecutors who continually engage in misconduct,” said Robert J. Smith, a legal fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s researchers.

“This report suggests that the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality adopted by a small group of prosecutors has led to shockingly high rates of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions,” notes Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan.

Findings include:

  • Three of the top five deadliest prosecutors (Macy, Britt, and Myers) had misconduct found by courts in 33%, 37%, and 46% of their death penalty cases respectively. (Rates are not available for the other two prosecutors who oversaw, but did not personally try, all of the death penalty cases in their counties.)
  • Four of the five deadliest district attorneys prosecuted, or oversaw the prosecution of, eight individuals who were later exonerated and released from death row. This total represents approximately one out of every 20 death row exonerations that have occurred nationwide.
  • Together, these five prosecutors obtained at least 440 death sentences, which is equivalent to approximately 15% of the current U.S. death row population, or approximately one out of every seven people currently sentenced to death.
  • After four of the five deadliest prosecutors left office (the fifth prosecutor is still in office), death sentencing dramatically declined in these jurisdictions, indicating that it was these individual personalities, not an excessive attachment to the death penalty by local residents, that drove up the rates of death sentencing.

“Despite the fact that we have witnessed historic declines in death sentencing in the 40 years since Gregg, a small handful of prosecutors continue to use the death penalty at a disproportionate rate, which contributes to a misperception that the death penalty is widely used when in fact it isn’t. In 2015, death sentences were handed down in just 1% of counties nationwide,” said Professor Emily Hughes of the University of Iowa College of Law.

http://fairpunishment.org/new-report-finds-prosecutors-who-sought-death-penalty-most-frequently-had-high-rates-of-misconduct/

Fast fluency: Can we identify quick language learners? — ScienceDaily

Fast fluency: Can we identify quick language learners? — ScienceDaily

Ever wonder why some people seem to learn new languages faster? The secret might lie in the brain activity they generate while relaxing.

New findings by scientists at the University of Washington demonstrate that a five-minute measurement of resting-state brain activity predicted how quickly adults picked up a second language. The study, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is the first to use patterns of resting-state brain waves to determine subsequent language learning rate.

“This is vital brain function research that could enable the military to develop a more effective selection process of those who can learn languages quickly,” said Dr. Ray Perez, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, who oversees the research. “This is especially critical to the intelligence community, which needs linguists fluent in a variety of languages, and must find such individuals rapidly.”

Study author Dr. Chantel Prat–an associate professor and faculty researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences–wrote that the way someone’s brain functions while at rest predicts 60 percent of their capacity for learning a second language.

For the experiments, 19 participants–adults between the ages of 18 and 31, with no previous experience learning French–visited Prat’s lab twice weekly over eight weeks for 30-minute French lessons delivered through an immersive, virtual-reality computer program called Operational Language and Cultural Training System (OLCTS).

The ONR-funded OLCTS is designed to make military personnel proficient in a foreign language after 20 hours of training. The self-paced program guides users through a series of scenes and stories. A voice-recognition component enables users to check their pronunciation.

To ensure experiment participants were progressing well, the researchers used periodic quizzes that required a minimum score before proceeding to the next lesson. The quizzes also served as measures for how quickly participants moved through the curriculum.

For five minutes before and after the eight-week curriculum, Prat had participants sit still, close their eyes, breathe deeply and wear an EEG (electroencephalogram) headset measuring resting-state brain activity from the cerebral cortex–an area of the brain crucial to memory, attention and perception.

“The brain waves we recorded reflect synchronized firing of large networks of neurons,” said Prat. “We found that the larger the networks were in ‘beta’ frequencies [brain frequencies associated with language and memory], the faster our participants learned French.”

To confirm this, at the end of the eight-week language program, participants also completed a proficiency test covering the lessons they had finished. Those with the larger “beta” networks learned French twice as quickly.

However, Prat is quick to point out that language learning rates were the only things predicted by the recorded brain activity. Participants with smaller “beta” networks still learned the material to which they were exposed equally well.

“There’s more that goes into learning a new language than speed,” said Prat. “You also have to factor in motivation, study habits and practice methods.”

The next stage of Prat’s research focuses on ways to improve and accelerate resting-state brain activity through neurofeedback training. Think of this as a workout regimen that bulks up grey matter with brain games and mental cognition exercises like puzzles. Prat will have participants perform a range of neurofeedback techniques before completing the language program, and evaluate the results.

“By studying individual differences in the brain, we’re figuring out key constraints on learning and information processing, to develop ways to improve language mastery,” said Prat. “This not only could benefit our nation’s military, but also our industry and educational system. In our increasingly connected global society, it pays to be able to speak multiple languages.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160630140514.htm

Zebrafish reveal the ups and downs of vision — ScienceDaily

Zebrafish reveal the ups and downs of vision — ScienceDaily

Researchers from the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London have shed light on how we perceive and recognise specific visual stimuli.

The first steps in visual processing take place in the retina, which is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye containing more than 70 distinct types of nerve cells. Our visual system processes light stimuli to extract important information about the visual world, such as movement, orientation and colour. This information is processed at the cellular level before being transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain, where a visual image is formed.

Although some of the visual circuits underlying this image processing have been identified in previous research, this study is the first to reveal the cellular and molecular building blocks in the retina which enable us to detect oriented visual stimuli, a feature of visual perception described as ‘orientation selectivity’. Orientation selectivity is known to be important for various perceptual processes, including whether something is horizontal or vertical, which in humans is crucial for recognising faces.

Published today in Current Biology, the study shows how ‘orientation selectivity’ is orchestrated in the retina.

The researchers studied larval zebrafish, which has become an organism of choice for many scientists because its biological processes are relatively similar to humans. The development of zebrafish is also very fast, going from fertilised egg to larvae in five days — at which point they have a fully formed visual system, equivalent in overall structure and function to that of humans.

Crucially, larval zebrafish are also transparent, which means scientists can observe development and cellular processes as they happen, without using invasive experimental methods.

The zebrafish were shown videos featuring shapes of different orientation, while at the same time their brain activity was measured. The researchers analysed levels of cellular activity in neurons of the visual system by recording the fluorescence of calcium indicators (i.e. the more fluorescent the indicators were, the higher the level of neural activity). By doing so, it was possible to identify specific neurons in the retina and measure how they are activated by oriented stimuli.

Paride Antinucci, first author from the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London, said: ‘We heavily rely on our visual system to understand and interact with the world. A key property of visual perception is the ability of neural cells to selectively respond to oriented visual stimuli, a property called orientation selectivity. Our study reveals, for the first time, specific cell types and mechanisms responsible for the emergence of this property in the retina.’

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160630135905.htm

Verizon Wireless data plans might become more like T-Mobile’s | Ars Technica

Verizon Wireless data plans might become more like T-Mobile’s | Ars Technica

Verizon Wireless says it has a big announcement coming next week, and rumors suggest the mobile carrier will start offering rollover data and a “safety mode” that lets customers use slower data without paying overage fees once their monthly high-speed data allotments run out.

The new plans are described in the above image, which was posted by a Reddit user and allegedly comes from a Verizon test site that occasionally leaks new offerings before they hit the main Verizon website. Verizon didn’t confirm or deny the new offerings, but the company vaguely told news sites that “We’re going to have some fireworks next week—stay tuned.”

The “Carryover Data” referenced in the Verizon leak would let customers roll unused data over to their next monthly allotment, similar to rollover plans introduced about 18 months ago by T-Mobile USA and AT&T.

Verizon’s rumored “Safety Mode” would let customers keep using data at slower speeds after exceeding their monthly limits. Instead of automatically being charged overage fees, they would have the option to either keep using slow speeds for the rest of the month or purchase extra high-speed data. This feature would be included with Verizon’s XL (12GB) and XXL (18GB) plans, and it would cost $5 per month to enable on smaller data plans.

This is similar to how T-Mobile lets customers use data at a slow 128kbps when they exceed their high-speed data allotments. Sprint introduced a similar plan last year.

Verizon has previously resisted offering rollover data and other features that might save customers money, with CFO Fran Shammo telling CNET in a January 2015 interview that “it doesn’t make financial sense” to hold on to customers who leave Verizon because of its prices, which are generally higher than those of its rivals. But T-Mobile has continued its surge, adding 1 million retail postpaid connections and 807,000 retail prepaid connections in the most recent quarter. In the same time frame, Verizon added 640,000 retail postpaid connections and lost 177,000 prepaid ones, but the company still has 112.6 million retail connections compared to T-Mobile’s 51.2 million (excluding wholesale).

http://arstechnica.com/business/2016/06/verizon-wireless-might-offer-rollover-data-and-slow-speed-unlimited-data/

The Kids Are All Right—but Why? — Pacific Standard

The Kids Are All Right—but Why? — Pacific Standard

If movies and television shows are any indication, your teenage years are supposed to revolve around experimentations with drugs, alcohol, and sex. With the responsibilities of young adulthood around the corner, the logic goes, teens have a narrow window to indulge all their vices. Well, it turns out that perception is an outdated one: Recent data suggests that America’s current crop of teens are better behaved than ever.

The latest batch of data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which measures the values and behaviors of more than 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in a given year, found a steady decrease in teens’ attitudes toward illicit substances. The MTF survey captures decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, and all manner of drugs from prescription painkillers to synthetic narcotics over the last five years (marijuana consumption stayed the same, despite a gradual decline in teen pot use since 2010); the consumption of some illicit substances has hit the lowest level since the survey began in 1975.

And it’s not just drugs teens are swearing off. The MTF survey follows the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which placed cigarette smoking among high schoolers at its lowest level in 24 years. Similarly, a two-year survey of 16,000 students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 41 percent of teens claim they’ve had sex, down from 47 percent a decade earlier (the YRBS shows a related decline in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among high schoolers). The kids, it seems, are all right: Even when it comes to potentially damaging behaviors like watching TV and getting into brawls, today’s teens are better behaved than any previous generation examined by researchers.

Why is that? Part of the answer may be as simple as better education. Just as better access to and education around birth control helps to reduce teen pregnancy — a 2014 CDC report shows that it’s states with abstinence-only education that have the highest pregnancy rates—better health and drug awareness programs may have warded young people off of the potentially dangerous consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. And while the general rise of community health centers (and pediatric centers in particular) may have strengthened medical institutions designed to deal with substance-related crisis, the rise of youth outreach programs like D.A.R.E. that emerged in the 1980s have sought to tackle the issue head on.

But it’s worth noting that the “just say no!” programs favored by American high schools tend not to be effective at deterring substance abuse. According to an examination by Scientific American (and a separate 2011 review), the most effective programs tackle behavioral norms through positive interactions between trained instructors and students, teaching students social skills to help them refuse drugs and suggesting (as it appears, rightly), that substance abuse “is not especially common and thereby attempt to counteract the misconception that abstaining from drugs makes a person an oddball.”

By contrast, programs that focus on raw abstinence — and especially those “led exclusively by adults, with little or no involvement of students as peer leaders” like the police officers relied upon by D.A.R.E. since its inception in 1983, according to Scientific American — are far less successful at deterring experimentation with dangerous substances. Worse, abstinence-focused programs can backfire by narrowing in on the extreme hazards of hardcore drug use: By focusing on marijuana as a gateway drug to heroin and methamphetamines, for example, programs may “inadvertently convey the impression that alcohol and tobacco are innocuous by comparison.”

Here’s an alternate theory: The kids actually want to be all right. The research into drug prevention examined by Scientific American indicates that programs focused on peer interactions are more effective, suggesting that perhaps rising levels of abstinence are a generational feature, on par with teens’ ridiculous vocabulary or preference for a smartphone over a person.

If risky behavior was once seen as a trademark of youth, today’s teens tend to be more risk-averse, a portrait of “the responsible generation.” Even cringe-worthy trend stories on juice crawls and morning raves may have their social roots in a generational optimism that’s become a defining trait in contrast to the cynicism of Generation X and self-congratulatory pessimism of the Baby Boomers.

We can see the kernels of this mindset in the demography of this generation’s crop of youths. Avoiding unhealthy behavior has been accompanied by “enthusiastically taking up socially beneficial activities” like volunteerism, charity, and social activism, as Eric H. Greenberg, author of Generation We, puts it.

Despite their overall skepticism of entrenched institutions, rejection of traditional organizations (see: religion and marriage), and unprecedented financial hardships, young people remain increasingly optimistic about their future. In turn, they’re dedicating their minds — and bodies — to solving the country’s problems; despite being low on social trust, Millennials have outpaced older generations when it comes to civic engagement. The responsible generation, obsessed with self-improvement, is here, sober, and eager to work, ready to hustle not just to make a quick buck but to change the world in the process.

https://psmag.com/the-kids-are-all-right-but-why-21eaff93a379