Health and Healthcare in a Changing World

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“A good life is good food, good wine and a good woman,” says a French proverb but in today’s world people are expected to be a little more indulgent in the issue of health and pay more focused attention to their well-being. This is why nutrition related products are breaking ground in the markets and millions of people rush to gymnasiums and physical training centers daily: to keep fit and healthy. Doctors and clinics are also in good shape with respect to attention and business, as more people visit them to receive treatment regarding a variety of different disorders. Whether it be giving the patient a shot for a simple flu, applying chemotherapy for cancer or providing advanced TMJ treatment, doctors and their hospitals welcome anyone and everyone with a smile on their faces to help them regain their health and well-being and also to profit in the process. As more people receive higher medical education to become doctors and more hospitals are opened in every city of the world to serve their publics, the health sector becomes prone to further development every passing day, making it harder to keep up with such a fast-paced element of change for the regular person. As more information is made public originating from a variety of different sources daily, the issues of trustworthiness and reliability become more important yet equally debatable, leading one to pay more attention to sources than the actual information itself. As options get narrower and the truth of the matter gets confirmed by a multitude of different origins, one is greeted with great insight and advice regarding health and wellbeing to utilize such input in their lives. However, getting there is a hard task that requires comparative and analytical research, which are things that are not necessarily available or affordable for the regular person. This is why medical media has become a necessity for all in today’s world and why so many informed and talented journalists are doing their best to contribute to a general pool of knowledge to address the issues of health and healthcare that concern the general public: a praiseworthy struggle to say the least.

One of the most popular subjects of debate in today’s world regarding health is human diet and its alternatives such as vegetarianism. Not surprisingly, such alternatives are getting more popular and widely accepted among the publics of the world, thanks to decades long unhealthy and even harmful dietary habits and traditions developed by human societies due to lack of time, resource and effort. However, along with the good comes the bad and many people who develop an interest to apply such alternative lifestyles are fooled into rather suspicious and shady ends by modern day prejudices and misconceptions. As Tia Miller reports for the CNN Network, there exists a relatively new notion of “Rookie Vegetarianism” that leads aspiring vegetarians into falling into a “junk food trap.” The author begins her argument by pointing out that “mortality in vegetarians, according to a meta-study from 2012, was 9% lower than in non-vegetarians,” while at the same time “according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a vegetarian diet lowers risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” meaning that vegetarians do indeed live a healthier and longer life. However, the author also states that with or without consuming meat, it is still possible to live an unhealthy lifestyle by referring to “unhealthy vegetarians who eliminated meat but replaced vegetables with all varieties of potatoes,” including “French fries, chips, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes” and “sweet potatoes.” In the case of such individuals, it is observed that they would occasionally break their vegetarianism to eat meat, and such meat consumption would make them “ bloated and constipated,” in turn giving them headaches. Millet states that it is important for vegetarians to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables for every meal because such food can substitute the nutrients provided by meat such as iron and vitamin B12. The iron, vegetarians may get from vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, while dairy products such as plant milks, soy products and certain breakfast cereals might also provide them with the B12 vitamin their bodies require. The author then warns about processed food as a potential risk for developing cancer as such foods tend to include numerous preservatives and food coloring, which are usually found in chemical form and therefore are not organic. The author claims that it is important eat local and therefore fresh because this way, the consumed food cannot contain any preservatives or chemicals while drinking clean water is also essential for a healthy diet. In the case of preserved/processed foods, such water becomes even more essential because these foods contain a lot of salt, yet another preservative, which dehydrates their consumer. Therefore, drinking water helps reduce the adverse effects of such a diet and is also quite useful for people consuming regular diets as well, helping their systems circulate faster to get rid of toxins, according to Miller.

Quite naturally, the desire and aspiration to be healthier, fitter and slimmer has always been a trending subject for human societies in what is considered to be modern times and therefore it is not hard to move back in time to realize a certain historical trend associated with such a will. Alex Moshakis for The Guardian takes a journey back to the early years of 80’s when the issue of healthy living was largely publicized in the world through media channels that contributed to the new age movement which also emphasized the importance of diet and exercise even back in those years. The author considers the Observer Magazine and its team of journalists who have reviewed a line of different exercise machines that had just come out during these years, to further supplement the given global media campaign and trend of physical exercise for healthy living. Moshakis refers to an article featured in the magazine’s 18th of July 1982 issue, which asks the question “who wants to be fitter and slimmer?” as a header to later answer the question with a rhetorical statement, “almost everyone.” The article is dedicated to promoting these new exercise machines by the Black & Decker company, which had generously been supplied to the journalists at the magazine with several models to be tested and featured in the upcoming issues. The three models are namely ‘Home Cycle’ for £113.50, the ‘Home Rower’ for £104.25 and ‘The Pacer’ which was listed at £47.25, which resembled “an upmarket stepladder,” and had been “designed to increase pulse rate, heartbeat, and get the lungs working.” The article, which was supplemented by a photoshoot in monotone color, states that “exercising at home has several things to commend it,” such as “you don’t have to worry about the weather, spend time travelling to a gym or sports club, or rely on other people turning up for that game of tennis.” The only problem however is the “problem of boredom” for which “Black & Decker suggests listening to the radio,” with the noise of the machines making such an activity rather impossible. The article at this point refers back to its team of writers to ask Nick Guitard, who was working out on the rowing equipment, what he thought of his exercise. The journalist responds by saying that the rowing machine was “a very well-made machine,” but “the snag is that cruising under oars around the living room isn’t the most thrilling way of spending half an hour a day.” Today, none of the mentioned machines are produced or sold anymore by the company, whereas the article remains as a great anecdote down the memory lane for many people who miss those years. In addition, reading the article also reminds one of how being healthy and fit have always been an aspiration for most people and a profitable field of business for companies in earlier modern history, proving that some of the most obnoxious and interesting efforts of today have a long history dating back to several decades ago.

Along with such a continuous struggle to stay fit through learning and exercise, the issue of medication and supplements also becomes more publicized and popularized by the media and the society alike in a collaborative effort in today’s world. However, several problems surfaced in recent years after certain medications became too popular among people, even youngsters, after they were granted the license to be sold as over-the-counter drugs, in turn turning millions of users into mere addicts. Christine Vestal for Stateline, a contributing media organization for the Huffington Post, reports on the recent outbreak of Xanax and how “many teens are taking [it] combined with opioids and alcohol,” leading to issues like demotivation, depression and even death among such users. Anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax are referred to as ‘benzos,’ or in technical terms “benzodiazepines”, and lead many teenagers to believe that they are actually “a safer and more plentiful alternative to prescription opioids and heroin” while having “similar euphoric effects.” The problem is that not many of such individuals are aware of the dangers of mixing such drugs with other drugs or alcohol because no source of information exists regarding the issue that is easily and publically accessible. In addition, Vestal emphasizes the fact that addiction to these easily acquirable prescription drugs is far worse than addiction to other narcotics because “like any addictive substance, Xanax [or other ‘benzos’] when used early increases the risk of addiction later in life.” The author refers to a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report dated 2017 regarding drugs and alcohol use, which states that “nearly 70 percent of adolescents who try an illicit drug before age 13 will develop an addiction within seven years,” meaning that  it might not be such a great idea to prescribe Xanax or similar prescription drugs to younger people. Although addiction and abuse levels for prescription drugs have been on a sharp decline in the last 15 years, the issue with Xanax remains at a similar level, while reports of Xanax abuse when used in combination with opioids and alcohol are also quite frequent still to this day. The reason why such a reality has not reflected upon national data and statistics yet is because treatment centers are merely symbolic in the American society, with real issues and realities being observed in people’s daily lives which do not get reported. The main problem that such people, especially adolescents, experience in this manner is the issue of withdrawal symptoms which lead to serious seizures. Teenagers especially are not admitting to their addiction and therefore not seeking help or therapy, which also contributes to the mentioned vow of silence. However, the ‘benzos’ have a serious defect: when prescribed for anxiety, they eventually stop working, in turn “forcing users to take higher and higher doses to get the same effect.” The recently developed internet technology of ‘Dark Web’ enables younger people who cannot legally acquire such substances to find and purchase them online, delivered to their preferred location. ‘Benzos’ also have terrible adverse effects on patients with mental health problems, leading to serious levels of addiction. Given the plentiful supply of these substances, more and more such individuals with mental health issues easily find access to these pills to develop serious addictions. While Vestal makes reference to treatment centers and special programs offered in them as a possible method of recovery, she believes that the real road to recovery begins on a mental level, meaning that addicts of these substances need to confess and admit to their addictions initially and then seek professional help. The author believes that through mindful and constructive journalism efforts of the media, the parents and friends of such people can also be informed about the given reality and in the long run, aware and educated individuals can kick their ‘benzo’ or opioid habits easily, as otherwise the situation is destined to get out of hand very soon.

On a side note, there are significant studies and efforts to understand mental health and its connections to general human health, with promising and informative developments taking place almost daily. Alexis E. Cullen for The Independent reports on a new research study that “confirms a link between autoimmune disorders and psychosis,” revealing that “the likelihood of having psychosis was higher for disorders like pernicious anaemia, psoriasis and coeliac disease.” Autoimmune disorders are complications where an individual’s immune system begins to attack its own cells and therefore an issue like psychosis, the loss of all conscious thought which leads the patient to resort to unconscious and self-destructive behavior, become far more easily developed by such individuals. However, when the issue is science and reaching scientific conclusions, it requires further experimentation and comprehension for direct statements to be made. This is why Cullen refers to a study published in the  journal ‘Biological Psychiatry’ which included “30 relevant studies, and contained data on 25 million people,” focusing on autoimmune disorders affecting the peripheral system, while combining data from non-neurological autoimmune disorders, to reach a verdict. The conclusion was that people with autoimmune disorders were “40% more likely to have a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia,” with the second analysis referring to how such a percentage was even higher for “pernicious anaemia, pemphigoid, …, psoriasis, coeliac disease and Graves’ disease.” The author also takes note of how the study also revealed that tests conducted on people with psychosis showed that such people had higher levels of inflammatory markers in their bloodstreams than regular and healthy people and therefore inflammation was a substantial contributor to the emergence and development of autoimmune disorders. However, considering the existence of such disorders, which did not necessarily correlate with high levels of inflammation, it is seen that high levels of inflammatory markers did not necessarily equate direct reason for psychosis either. This is why the researchers began to consider “a genetic link between autoimmune disorders and psychosis,” while several genes were discovered that were “associated with both schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis.” Quite conclusively, the researchers also discovered new links between antibodies that were originally parts of the patient’s immune system and the unexplained observations of frequent attacks on the person’s brain cells. Such antibodies are linked to psychotic symptoms, creating paranoia and hallucinations in certain individuals, leading researchers to consider them to be a possible reason for psychosis among patients with autoimmune disorders. In any given scenario, the research continues on the subject matter to hopefully discover more about the key elements of relevance and importance in the given context and develop ways to prevent psychosis before it takes significant effect on a person’s life.

Then of course, there are bills and expenses associated with healthcare that have become an issue of serious concern for many people who had to visit a hospital to receive treatment in their lives. Chad Terhune for National Public Radio reports on the case of Drew Calver and his recent life-threatening heart attack that left him with an outstanding bill of $108,951 for hospital services and surgery. Calver, a popular high school history teacher and swim coach in Austin, Texas”, had a heart attack in his bedroom in 2017 and somewhat managed to inform his wife through the voice-recognition function of his smartphone, who then informed a nearby neighbor to call an ambulance to take Calver to the St. David’s Medical Center. After the doctors at the hospital confirmed that Calver had a heart attack, they “implanted stent in his clogged ‘widow-maker’ artery,” further shocking the man who was an “an avid swimmer who had competed in an Ironman triathlon just five months before.” However, the worst news were still yet to come as Calver simply assumed that his health insurance issued by the public high school he was working at, would cover all of the expenses associated with his hospital stay and surgery. The total number was $164,941 for the surgery and the four-day stay at the institution with Calver’s health insurance paying the hospital only $55,840 in the end, leaving Calver responsible for paying the remaining balance of $108,951.31 himself. Upon investigation, Calver was shocked to find out about “two medical billing practices that increasingly bedevil many Americans,” which are namely “surprise bills and balance billing.” The first issue refers to how many Americans go to hospitals to receive treatment from a doctor “who does not participate in the network,” leading the bill to be directly transferred to the patient’s account rather than being paid by the insurance firm. The second issue occurs, as it was in with Calver’s case, when the insurance firm and the hospital cannot negotiate on a price and therefore the patient needs to pay the difference between the total number and the agreed upon number. Although legal protection exists against such issues in several states such as New York, California, New Jersey and Texas, when the health coverage is obtained from employers with self-insurance plans, the Federal Law is applied to the case, which “does not include such protections.” Therefore, Terhune warns his readers about paying attention to details concerning their health insurance plans and more importantly their compatibilities with the institutions and services they attend to. In the case of a policy based disagreement or conflict, it will be up to such individuals themselves to pay a significantly large sum of money to cover up for their hospital and treatment bills, which will further complicate the issue for sure. Luckily, in the case of Calver, his status as a respected and popular persona in his community helped him to negotiate on a better deal with the hospital but this might not be the case for all people who find themselves in such a situation and therefore precautions are important.

Direct link between college choice and graduate income discovered

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For decades, the honour of graduating university or college with a degree has been a strong one. Students learn so much over the course of their degree, but the most important lesson is value for money – specifically, their money. Grad school is expensive; there are some prospective students that choose not to attend before they even get the chance to experience even a millisecond of it. For some of the lucky ones that can afford to go, the decision of which institution to attend is the next big question. While it is tempting to go to the same university or college as all of one’s friends, it pays (literally) to sit down and really consider which college options are viable, which you like personally the most, and the kind of kick start to the career that each school can offer. Perhaps surprisingly, studies and research show that the school one opts to attend can have a significant impact on their future graduating income. But that is not there it stops.

Statistics consistently showcase that individuals with a degree of some kind will do significantly better than those with no education past high school at all. It is important to note that these statistics reflect only those that chose to participate, but nonetheless it seems to be the same consensus. Millions of students every year put their trust and relentless hard work into earning a degree, and while that trust is not entirely misplaced, it turns out that working one’s behind off for a degree at one university does not always amount to the same graduate financial success as it does at a different university. Some universities operate more smoothly than others. There is nothing wrong with that; it is just the way it is. Somewhat understandably, however, is that schools that have a reputation for being exceptionally excellent by academic standards are likely to give students that attend them a literal pay rise. Students that attended universities that were more exclusive or known for their academic achievements, often go on to be higher earners than their fellow students, despite them studying the exact same degree.

It sounds far-fetched, but it checks out. And more than the school’s exclusivity, is the family history. A student that sees their parent kill spiders every day will kill the spider. A student that sees their family find another way and capture and release the spider, is likely to go further into the unknown to make the impossible happen. It is for this reason – among others – that there absolutely is a graduate income gap that is entirely dependant on which grad school one chooses to invest their time and money into. The family background, for example, is tipped to have influence on any given student’s achievement as well. students that come from more wealthy backgrounds inadvertently set themselves up to be the Queen B’s of grad school, the ones that complete their degree not only with a qualification in their profession, but job offers of more income and better duties. The phase ‘it’s all about who you know’ could not be truer in this sense, and it seems that the children of the wealthy and privileged are given the upper hand purely for being born into substantial wealth. While unfortunate, it is a fact of higher education in the US education system that many have come to accept.

There are different approaches to higher education. What works for one student will simply not work for the next. Some students take on additional intellectual stances, opting to learn German online or teach themselves how to write in Japanese, while others prefer to party or volunteer to build houses over the summer. Students that pick up an active learning interest for their studies will foster their own sense of wonder and intellectual adventure. The most selective graduate schools take it even further, with their hyper exclusivity acting as a kind of additional bar that sets them even higher than the rest. The offset consequence of this exclusivity is that graduates from those prestigious grad schools are greeted with an extra layer of kindness during interviews for graduate jobs and a higher regard for their degree – even if the schools in question do not technically perform any better academically than other schools.

Students gain a healthier understanding of what they want from their first graduate job when they have been given the tools to exceed by their chosen college or university. Generally speaking, these tools range from anything between college exclusivity to family income. While a student’s chosen graduate school does not sign the dotted line for how much money they can earn as graduates, it certainly helps to have some kind of luck or privilege on your side, whether that be in the form of extraordinary academic performance or grad school exclusivity. It pays (literally) to think about which school a student wants to go to before they get there, even before the application process begins. College is a whirlwind – every student should be able to enjoy it without wondering if they have chosen the right institution to kick start their career.

Campus dental care on the rise

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Annually, Canadians spend around twelve billion dollars on dental service. That figure is especially astounding considering six million Canadians avoid dentists because of the costs involved. The financial costs of treatment are sometimes enough to ward off even the most dentally-responsible of individuals from getting regular check-ups and necessary procedures done. The reality is (as it is with so many things we take for granted) that if we do not consistently hold ourselves accountable for our dental health, what seems like a large expense now when going in for regular check-ups and occasional procedures will eventually seem like loose change if one ignores their responsibility to their dental health. Campus dental care is soaring in Canada, as the prices for undergoing dental procedures by students learning the field is significantly cheaper than going to an established clinic for consultation or treatment.

Individuals in need of teeth straightening put it off and deal with worsening teeth and jaw alignment issues down the road. Individuals that do not get their teeth regularly cleaned end up with mass plaque build-up (not easy to eliminate once it begins to fester past breaking point). Those that refuse to invest in proper dental care sometimes end up with overcrowding or teeth riddled with decaying holes. All these issues are so easily fixed, and yet if they go untreated, can fester to become incredibly painful, expensive costs. No matter the expense of dental check-ups and procedures, it is better to just bite the bullet and book an appointment with a dental clinic one feels comfortable with.

The staggering dental costs in America and Canada often lead to a widespread avoidance to bite the bullet and go to see a dental professional. Affordable dental care is considered to be few and far between, with treatments resulting in clients being out of pocket following the treatments or procedures. Unless one has private healthcare cover, the likelihood of a dentist lowering their fee is quite low. For this (and so many more) reasons, choosing a dental clinic can be a time consuming, sometimes difficult process. Whether one chooses to go to an established, reliable clinic like Southcentre Dental, or a campus dental clinic in which students making their way into their careers perform the treatments, there are always several factors that contribute to the final decision when choosing a clinic.

College clinics offer slashed costs for individuals who are willing to allow learning students to perform their consultations and treatments under the supervision of their professors. The trade-off of going to a campus dental care clinic is that the appointments can take longer, owing to the students not being as confident and experienced as established professionals in the field. All clients must do is decide which trade-off matters most to them – time or money. Campus dental care is soaring as a popular choice for individuals because of the price cut that clients get when having their dental work done by a practicing individual rather than an established dentist. More and more people have caught on to this loophole in the dental industry’s cost levels, and more and more of them are taking advantage of it – and, why shouldn’t they? The level of care is (arguably) the same…it really does come down to dollars and time.

There are some established clinics that offer the best of both worlds, giving clients unparalleled service while performing checks and procedures for prices as reasonable as they possibly can. This kind of service gives both existing and prospective clients confidence not only in the care they are getting but the value for money. While these clinics definitely exist, it is also important to note that those that offer deals like this do so for a reason – they are incredibly efficient at their jobs, and they have a practiced hand that has been in the industry for many years. Only that level of professionalism could warrant cutting prices so competitively.

The dental industry is there to ensure and protect the dental health of individuals all over the world. Not unlike many other countries, the financial expenses of dental healthcare in Canada can be overwhelming for some, and unfortunately sometimes leads to an avoidance of all dental contact. The long-term consequences of this can be devastating, as individuals find themselves having to spend more down the track to correct dental issues that arose years before. Despite the inevitable costs involved, it is obviously better to bite the bullet and pay for the dental work needed, when it is needed. Luckily, there are college campus dental clinics that offer services for up to 30% cheaper than established professionals, due to their obvious inexperience in the field. It may seem like a gamble, but the dental students are observed by their professors, making it entirely safe. It comes down to a matter of money verses time; whichever the client values more tend to tip their favour towards a more expensive, established service, or a practicing, cheaper service. Either way, the results will (hopefully) be the same.

The next technological revolution

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We’ve seen the web, and “web 2.0” – and the subsequent changes to the global economy and our daily lives. Technology has transcended physical forms and are moving into virtual realms by way of storing data in the cloud or a virtual data room. Blockchain has also given programmers another way of transferring and storing data in an extremely encrypted and secure manner. 

There has been endless skepticism regarding the reach of technology and dubious articles detailing such beliefs. For example, one describing why the internet won’t replace a list of things… which has become a bit of a joke as it is now a comprehensive list of things the internet has replaced. One of those things is education which is being replaced with online courses and smart contracts to make students progress public. Whether the skepticism is based upon healthy skepticism, technophobia, or is somewhere in between, often depends upon the source of the skepticism. Let’s just say it’s quite rarely somewhere in between.

We’re all familiar with what is now considered to be the Silicon Valley. Three decades ago, the Silicon Valley was at-best perceived as a conglomerate of self-professed visionaries working in garages or their parents’ basements on lunacy projects. These visionaries toiled, despite all obstacles, if perhaps the biggest obstacle was a society not ready or willing to embrace change, and kept the faith that got them started in the first place. They formed a community, collaborated on projects, ensured invention patenting took place once products became feasible for mass-adoption, and now have more money than most would consider to be appropriate. Who are the basement-dwellers now? You can make fun of these “nerds” that heard it all just two or three decades ago, but they probably can’t hear you over the sound of their private jets and stacks of money, or they’d tell you to get back to your soul-crushing job that fears innovators.

If you’ve been paying attention to current events, you’ve heard of the parabolic rise of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. You can draw endless parallels between media coverage and societal impression regarding the internet as you could with blockchain technology today: skepticism. It’s inarguable that the overwhelming majority of this skepticism comes from sources with either a lack of understanding regarding blockchain technology, or sources with clear motives for blockchain technology to not succeed. After all, if you were the owner of a major chain of banks, why would you want to cheer on something that could put you out of business?

Ah, but that last sentence is quite the fallacy. The smart banks, without corporate dinosaurs, will adopt blockchain technology in an effort to “have their cake and eat it too.” Even Chinese banks, a country well-known for intense regulations regarding cryptocurrency, are adopting blockchain solutions in an effort to stay relevant. Needless to say, while the blockchain revolution and cryptocurrency has been the rallying cry of many hoping to remove a disproportionate balance of power from reality, some banks are becoming contenders in this fight. Perhaps JP Morgan Chase could stand to take a few notes from their Chinese counterparts, if they desire to stay relevant, let alone in business.

There are dozens of strong uses for blockchain technology already seeing use-cases, and hundreds, if not thousands, of use-cases possible. Perhaps the same overly-idealistic perception of blockchain technologies that was once a perception of the internet stems from use-cases that simply seem “too good to be true,” such as McFly. If you spoke to most “normal people” about “autonomous VTOL aircraft rideshares utilizing blockchain technology,” at best they wouldn’t understand you- at worst, they’d mock you. Wait a minute… wasn’t that the case with computers just two decades ago? It’s almost like history is repeating itself or something…

The ultimate deciding factor for enabling the internet to become something used by almost everybody around the globe on a daily basis was creating an extremely simplified user experience. In the early days of the internet, it was extremely cumbersome and required a high level of technical finesse to be able to utilize. Once the internet, and especially email, became so easy to use that essentially anybody could do it, the paradigm shifted, and we landed where we are today: with you reading this article. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are in the same phase that email and the internet were, once upon a time. Most normal people, or so-called “normies,” are either unable or (arguably in most cases) simply unwilling to take the time to learn things like “public and private keys” in order to use this technology. Once blockchain technology is something that simply runs passively with next to no technical knowledge required, it will experience the parabolic growth in end-user acquisition that the internet saw in the late 90s.

This trend really begs the question of how many types this cycle will repeat itself. Almost everyone would agree that as long as the human race continues to exist, new technology will be developed. Will the adopters of blockchain technology be the skeptics of the next revolution in technology, or will there finally be a day where innovation is celebrated; not mocked and delayed? Whether or not that day will ever come may be ultimately irrelevant: technology and innovators will always be the defining force of the future of the world.

The Millennial market is fusing social media and SEO with digital marketing

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Digital Marketing requires effective search engine optimization to beat back competition and win consumer confidence

Even in an age of instant gratification, somethings will still adhere to a process. Marketing expert Jonathan Gebauer said, “Marketing is a process, not a decision  … and never a magic trick.”

However, in a digital age, marketing has had to revolutionize its process. Traditional marketing concepts are no longer effective because marketing is now a whole new perspective. Consumers don’t accept a one-to-many flow of communication. They want their views heard.  So, they will not accept advertising that does not provide for consumer interaction. Yet, as a leader in search engine optimization, Rand Fishkin, says, “There is no black magic to successfully attracting customers via the web.” He tells marketers, “Best way to sell something: don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, and trust of those who might buy.”

And so, digital marketing has to be a compelling conversation, if it is to draw consumers to a particular web site. The millennial generation, which is the largest group of consumers in the market today, are firm believers of opinions of peers and friends. They discuss products and services and their qualities on social media before making purchasing decisions. So, successful marketing essentially needs to be a conversation with consumers. And as digital marketing pioneer, Ann Handley advises, “Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time. Worry less about sounding professional and worry more about creating remarkable content that other humans can relate to.” Therefore brands, in order to step on to successful digital marketing, need to perceive themselves as publishers, or creators of credible information.

As digital marketers understand, search engine optimization (SEO) is vital to their visibility to consumers. When potential consumers search online for a product or service, their interest will be caught by the first few web sites that appear on the first page of their search. No one is going to search pages and pages of search results. So, from a marketing perspective, it is crucial to get on the top of search lists.  This need fueled the conversation on search engine optimization. As widely published SEO expert, Sam McRoberts, said, “It’s (SEO) changed so drastically that people really need to learn to think of it as less of a marketing tactic, and more of a branding play.”

In fact, today, search engines are able to pull more market share toward themselves. As Forbes says, about 80-90% of consumers check online reviews before making their minds up to buy a product or service. Therefore, being seen as a credible industry source is important, because Google ranks a web site higher if it perceives some web site as being open and credible. A search engine wants to provide only trustworthy and legitimate search results to their customers. So, the more a web site is able to convince the search engine of its trustworthiness and legitimacy, its chances of appearing at the top of the list, are higher.

There was a time when SEO and social media were separate threads that tied the product to marketing. Now, the two concepts are intertwined. Social media is now no longer separate to any SEO company. A potential customer can find a company or product on Twitter as well as on Google.

Engaging social media is returning search to human beings rather than to algorithms and search spiders. If someone wants to check if a product is worthy of spending hard-earned money on, the opinion of 10,000 other users would sway the purchasing decision, rather than a choice founded on keyword density.

Furthermore, search engines offer the opportunity for users to access deep insight into products and services and up-to-date information. This, as Bill Gates, says, is something digital marketers need to always keep focused on, and a reason why “Content is King.” Says Gates, “If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.”

Credibility has a lot to do with believing in the product or service a marketer is offering. New York-based advertising and marketing agency, Ogilvy and Mather, says, “Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”

Millennials are immersed in social media for about 18 hours a day. They are on their smartphones for a major part of the day, and share experiences with friends and followers. They share stories with honesty and openness. So the advertising jargon of earlier times sounds false in their ears. Fishkin says, “Tell a story. Make it true. Make it compelling. And make it relevant.”

Andrew Davis who has revolutionized publishing strategies and brand marketing in a digital world, simply says, “You can’t be everything to everyone but you can be something to someone.”

The 21st century obsession with Spanish heritage

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Spain. It is the European country that gave the world the gift of the siesta. It is the country that colonised much of The Americas, eventually resulting in over twenty countries speaking the language as their native tongue. Over 5,000 miles of pristine coastline make Spain the perfect summer destination, and the warm, welcoming atmosphere and culture make it a popular choice for an all-year-round vacation destination. As well as being charming and beautiful, Spain boasts ease of access, making it the country that seemingly has it all. Most of the cities in Spain – including Madrid and San Sebastian, among others – are, for the most part, easily walkable. You can wander through the Spanish streets and take in the architecture, the natural beauty, and the culture while literally immersing yourself in the experience. Madrid is the heart of Spain, located in its geographical centre, meaning that this is the perfect place to kick start your European escape or your Spanish summer.

While Spain is most famed for its rich culture and awe-inspiring architecture, there are hidden gems that make the European country positively sing in even its most quiet places. As well as the standard camping grounds, hostels, and bargain Airbnb’s that pepper the Spanish horizon are the mountain cabins, and they are every bit as magical as they sound. In the Spanish highlands, no matter which area of Spain you may find yourself in, there is a selection of rustic mountain cabins to please the adventurous free-spirited wanderer. These mountain cabins are as cheap as they are charming, making them the ultimate accommodation for any traveller that loves to immerse themselves in the natural wonder of their destinations, not just the cities in all their perfect chaos.

Seville is a city alight with old world charm in its architecture and new found wonder in its more modern attractions, such as the aquarium and the parks. The buildings that stand tall and intricate tell tales of history long past and spellbinding passions that not only brought the buildings to life, but made them the envy of the world’s architects. To design buildings so astonishing and so beautifully unique, is a true gift and one that continues to captivate not only those in the field of architecture, but the rest of the world as well. While all of Spain is considered to be a passionate destination, it is Seville that screams passion from the very walls of its famed structures. After all, such impossibly intricate yet obviously strong buildings could not have burst into fruition without a fiery passion and determination to bring them into the world, to have them shape the city of lights.

At the sun sinks below the horizon, the energy of Barcelona picks up, giving the beautiful streets a new sense of life as the moon begins to chase the sun across the sky. There are many wonderful restaurants and cafes to go to and countless bars and clubs to dance the night away in, but the real magic in Spain’s sparkling city is the architecture. Casa Batllo is one of architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famed masterpieces, and it is impossible not to see why when you see it for yourself. The stunning and unique curved design of the building, coupled with the kaleidoscopic array of coloured glass and tiles that adorn the now-museum make it stand out on the street. Other delights come to life from Gaudi’s hands include Casa Mila and the infamous ‘unfinished’ church, Sagrada Familia.

The other wonderful thing about Spain is that tourists are easily forgiven for making Spanish mistakes with their attempts at speaking the language, as locals are more than happy to point out the inconsistencies in their attempts, meet them halfway, or explain to them how to speak the language properly. Madrid is one such city. While Seville is known for its architecture and Barcelona for its buildings and its atmosphere as the sun goes down, Madrid is perhaps best known for the food and the flamenco. One cannot experience Madrid if they do not go for at least one or two nights out to see the world’s best flamenco dancers. You can either dine as you watch the dancing, or eat and then walk into any number of bars or taverns to experience the dancing after your meal. And while Spain boasts many of the world’s most beautiful and unforgettable destinations, it is also home to many hidden gems, including La Graciosa, Las Medulas, and El Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata. Do yourself a favour and pepper in the hidden gems in between your must-dos when you visit this magical European country – as is always the case, the hidden gems quite often sparkle more so than the most infamous treasures of the country.

Spain is one of Europe’s most famed countries, and it is impossible not to understand why. Even those that have never stepped foot in the country long to, hearing, seeing, and reading about tales of the kaleidoscopic architecture of Barcelona, and the nightlife that keeps the country continuously moving. If you want to escape to a part of Europe that has it all, from the architecture and the history to the natural beauty and the culture, then Spain is where you ought to go. You will be inspired by the buildings. You will be charmed by the locals and their passion for life. You will fall in love with the natural beauty that pours out of every orifice. The sparkling jewel of Europe, Spain will make you come alive again, and you will never forget it – if anything, you will want to relive it, again and again.

A look into high-value properties around the world

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Private helicopter pads, underground nightclubs, private onsite chapels and private zoos. The world’s most luxurious homes come appointed with some of the most lavish features one can possibly imagine, with imaginative and over-the-top décor, outrageous extravagances and onsite services including butlers, private concierges and personal equestrian instructors. They are a tribute to the whims of billionaires; with many set on wineries, lakes or mountaintops and each of them decked out to cater to the desires of any resident or guest privileged enough to spend time there. From palaces, to wine estates, to snow chalets, the richest homes on earth are a visual reminder of the disparity between the world’s rich and poor – a gap continuing to widen. One Oxfam report shows the world’s 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population. But let’s not get caught up on the injustice of it all. Rather, let’s explore what truly makes a property dream-worthy and what sets the world’s best apart from the rest.

The world’s most expensive property should come as no surprise: it is Buckingham Palace, valued at around $2 billion. Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, this beautifully built palace is today home to the Queen of England as well as the focal point of national celebrations and commemorations. With a whopping 775 rooms including 78 bathrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, 19 state rooms and 52 royal guest rooms, Buckingham Palace is one residence that will never be put on the market – as per national building society policy. Perhaps it is the combination of its historic significance together with the ornate detail and opulent use of materials that lends to Buckingham’s reputation as the most desirable property on earth.

For just under a billion dollars less, Mumbai-based super-mansion ‘Antilia’ could actually be bought as a residential property. Labelled the “most outrageously expensive property in the world”, the 27-story, 400,000-square-foot skyscraper is reportedly priced at a range of 1-2 billion dollars – and it’s no wonder. The property includes six stories of underground parking capable of containing 168 cars, three helicopter pads, a private spa, Hindu temple, yoga studio, ice room containing mad-made snow, ballroom and reportedly a staff of 600 to keep it running. Its owner is India’s richest man; Managing Director and the largest shareholder of Reliance Industries Limited, Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani.

Returning to the United Kingdom, we then have the incredibly lavish estate known as Updown Court – a 103-room mansion with five swimming pools, a bowling alley, cinema and helipad set on 58 acres of landscaped gardens and private woodland. With an eight-limousine garage and mosaic floor made of 24-karat gold leaf in the downstairs study, the main house is a feat of opulence, consisting of four floors as well as a heated marble driveway at the entrance. This property really does have to be seen to be believed. It boasts a private baseball field, two tennis courts, a Grand Hall with a 30-foot stained glass dome, two grand staircases, a 37 foot by 30-foot kitchen, 10 satellite kitchens, a two-story wine cellar and a rock grotto with three separate spas behind an 80-foot waterfall. A rooftop infinity pool, snooker room, 50-seat cinema with private bar and beauty salon seal the deal. In 2005, Updown Court was touted the most expensive private home on the market anywhere in the world, having been listed on the market for in excess of £70 million.

It seems wrong to not yet have mentioned a U.S. property. Ira Rennert’s Fair Field compound is arguably the most coveted property in the country. Valued at just shy of $248 million, this extravagant estate boasts 29 bedrooms, 39 bathrooms, a 164-seat screening theater, a standalone sports court, three swimming pools – even an onsite power plant to power it all. Set across 63 acres of gorgeous manicured lawns and gardens, the property is located in the village of Sagaponack, New York and has ocean views. In neighboring California, $200 million Ellison Estate consists of 10 beautifully appointed buildings set on 23 acres of land, featuring a man-made lake, tea house, bath house, horse farm, and Koi pond. It highlights Japanese design, particularly in the garden, and was built uniquely using no nails whatsoever – yet it is able to withstand an earthquake of over 7.0 in magnitude. Moving over to Beverly Hills, Mariah Carey’s extravagant property Fleur De Lys is among the world’s most expensive, with an asking price of $125 million. With 41,000 square feet of “pure diva luxury” and modeled after the Palace of Versailles, it’s not only the main building itself that has garnered the property its lavish reputation, but its surrounds too – rolling lawns, ornamental gardens and mature trees, a 3,000-square-foot manager’s house, staff quarters for 10 people, a spa and pool with a pavilion, a championship tennis court, and wonderfully manicured lawns. Fit for a Queen – or for Mariah, at least.

And the list goes on. You have Bill Gates’ 66,000-square-foot high-tech complex, Xanadu 2.0, which was assessed in 2012 at $120.5 million. Overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, Washington, this extravagant mansion is noted for its design and technology features, namely an estate-wide server system, high-tech systems in every room that digitally display your choice of art on high definition television monitors, climate settings that are customized to every guest wearing a specialized pin upon entry into a room, and a 17-by-60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system. Need I go on?

Most people are happy with owning their own home debt-free and building a granny flat to add extra space and value to their property. Meanwhile, the world’s wealthiest inhabitants continue to take opulence to even greater levels, with over-the-top technologies, features and construction materials worth more than the average person’s house alone. Whatever will we see over the next five to 10 years, as technology and design continues to grow in weird and wonderful ways, I wonder?

 

Gender neutral toys: are they better for children?

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The ongoing discussion about gender norms and roles in today’s society has led many parents to question whether they should be supplying their kids with gender neutral toys. Despite the fervor and heated debate that often defines disputes surrounding gender in the public sphere, questions about gender and your children don’t have to spiral out of control. Today’s parents have enough on their plates without having to worry about the gender of their kid’s toys; here’s everything you need to know about gender neutral toys so that you can get back to raising your kids.

If you’ve been browsing the shelves of retail stores over the past few years and have kept a diligent eye on the digital offerings of massive e-commerce empires like Amazon, you’ll have noticed that gender neutral toys are becoming more common. As society has finally opened up to broader debate about such things as gender norms, gender neutrality itself is becoming more mainstream, and many children’s toys in this day and age aren’t marketed to a particular gender.

Take Target’s recent efforts, for instance, to offer new kids collections that are gender neutral. Whether it’s their clothing, school supplies, or the toys they bring with them everywhere, today’s kids are receiving more and more gender-neutral gifts, toys, and tools. Target’s pivot to gender neutral collections of clothing and toys for kids hasn’t been matched by every other retailer, however, and some parents are torn with indecision when it comes to this topic.

Many parents who are unfamiliar with the recent changes to societal gender standards are uncertain of what they’re doing when they’re offering their kids gender-neutral toys. Many adults who received toys that were marketed explicitly through gender in the past – like “action figures” for boys and “dolls” for girls – don’t want to break precedent. As a matter of fact, the toys your children use don’t really need genders, and kids actually prefer to play with just about anything.

What all parents need to realize is that the gender of the toy in question doesn’t matter – rather, what’s important is how well your child can use that toy to expand their imagination and develop in a healthy fashion through play. The backlash that some retailers like Target have been facing over their pivot to gender neutral toys is entirely unwarranted; science reminds us that there are no developmental problems stemming from giving a boy a “girl’s toy” or vice versa, were there ever such things in the first place.

If there’s one lesson that parents need to take home with them, it’s that you need to let your children play with the toys that make them happy. Rather than rubber-stamping the identities of your children and trying to mold them into the kinds of people you want them to be, it’s important that children are able to develop freely and come to terms with their creativity. The slow but steady rise of gender-neutral toys is being met with more joy by one group than any other – kids.

As long as kids are kids, they will always want colorful and fun toys to play with, which parents can get from their preferred Grimms toy store. Denying your son the opportunity to play with something because it’s pink or refusing to purchase something for your daughter because it has a hint of blue, will do much more developmental harm to children in the long run than categorizing their toys by colors that were picked for their respective genders by marketers decades ago. As long as parents feel the toys they’re giving their kids are safe and enjoyable, they should nurse no doubts about the gender of said toys.

Doing such a thing is easier said than done, however; despite the widespread pivot to gender neutral toys in recent years, many parents still struggle with giving their children toys that are free from the restrictions of past eras. Parents who are struggling with finding proper gender-neutral toys should take to the digital world; after all, the world of e-commerce was tailor made to satisfy such growing niches as gender neutral toys and entertainment for kids.

Parent’s shouldn’t just stop at the toybox, but should rather emphasize the importance of creativity and self-expression in all realms of life. Don’t be nervous if your daughter wants to play a traditional “boy’s game” like football or if your son is interested in something pink, but instead encourage them and equip them with what they need to thrive and develop fully. There’s a lot of chatter about gender neutrality and gender norms in today’s society, but parents who are concerned about gender neutral toys for their kids are looking for worry in the wrong place.