Facebook cofounder, other technologists, pledge universal basic income research


Pink piggy bank standing on a wood table with one dollar bills.
Image: David Franklin/getty images

Amazon stores won’t need cashiers. Uber cars won’t require drivers. It’s a new economy where many human jobs vanish. And some say the solution may be a universal basic income.

On Thursday, the Economic Security Project, a research alliance of technologists and activists, announced a $10 million fund to study universal basic income over the next two years, Quartz reported.

Universal basic income provides every citizen with a standard set of money no matter their employment status. Research on the topic is sparse and so it remains to be seen whether the system could be successful and sustainable.

That’s why Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes along with Sam Altman, president of the start-up accelerator Y Combinator, and more than 100 other organizers have started a fund and are collecting donations to “research, experiment, and inspire others to think through how best to design cash programs that empower Americans to live and work in the new economy,” the organization’s “statement of belief” reads.

“In 1970, 92% of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age…In 2014, that number fell to 51%,” Altman tweeted Thursday, citing a Wall Street Journal report on stagnating middle class wages.

There’s a sense of urgency given the coming Trump administration. The announcement comes exactly one month after the election of Donald Trump.

We have more questions than answers, Hughes, who most recently ran The New Republic magazine, told Quartz. But we do know we can unite around the fact that financial security should be a human right and cash is an underutilized tool.

Recipients of the research grants include American Center, Center for Popular Democracy, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Roosevelt Institute and the Niskanen Center.

BONUS: Kill the drones, Amazon Go is an actual game changer

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/08/universal-basic-income-pledge/

Facebook launches new app ads to cash in on holiday goldmine


Facebook is doubling down on one of the most popular types of mobile ads.
Image: Associated press/Danny Moloshok

As millions of people prepare to give loved ones brand new smartphones this holiday season, Facebook is giving businesses more ways to ply their recipients with apps to populate them.

The social network is launching a new mobile ad format that lets companies showcase products in which a particular customer has shown an interest along with a link to download the brand’s app and complete the purchase.

The offering is an expansion of the dynamic ads regimen Facebook already sells for other types of products and services.

It’s particularly well-suited for e-commerce and travel sites that can make the most use of the cross-promotion to shuttle users from their websites to their apps, according to Christine De Martini, Facebook’s app advertising lead. The inaugural batch of brands includes Hotels.com and Walmart-owned Jet.com.

De Martini said the launch was deliberately timed to coincide with the holiday season, which Facebook was surprised to find is an especially popular time for app downloads.

The company attributes the spike in installs to Christmas gift recipients breaking in their newly opened devices. In fact, the boom for app marketers can extend into January and February, according to previous years’ data, says De Martini.

“We intuitively know with retail and e-commerce that this is a very important time,” De Martini told Mashable in a phone interview. “But it’s a little-known secret that the holiday season is also when we see some of our highest app activity.”

The new ad joins the many targeting options Facebook already offers app makers, including a tool that targets only the users most likely to take a specific action within an app and one aimed at people who have already downloaded an app with potential new uses.

App-install ads are one of the most important revenue streams for Facebook’s mobile ad business, which accounts for the vast majority of its ads money, as well as the mobile ad economy at large.

“It’s definitely a big area of investment for us,” says De Martini. “These app businesses are really growing and we have a lot of investment in helping them continue to grow and sustain their businesses.”

Despite its status as a mobile ads juggernaut, Facebook faces tight competition from upstarts in the sector. An AdAge report last month found that some marketers were seeing higher install rates on Snapchat’s app ads, which the company launched earlier this year.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/08/facebook-dynamic-app-install-ads/

Portland To Tax Companies That Have Outrageous CEO-Worker Pay Gaps

In an effort to combat income inequality, Portland, Oregon, on Thursday became the first jurisdiction to adopt a tax penalty on companies with excessive CEO-worker pay gaps.

Under the new law, companies doing enough business in Portland to pay the city’s business fee will be taxed an additional 10 percent if their CEO makes 100 times what median workers earn and an additional 25 percent if they make 250 times more.

“This is meant to be a signal that these kinds of ridiculous [pay] ratios are unacceptable,” Portland’s city commissioner Steve Novick told The Huffington Post. “You do not do better as a company because you decide to pay outrages salaries to your CEOs.”

The law will go into effect next year, and Novick said the tax could generate up to $3.5 million in annual revenue for the city. 

Sarah Anderson, co-editor of Inequality.org at the Institute of Policy Studies, believes the legislation could “spread like wildfire” to other cities across the nation.

“People are now even more skeptical that anything will happen at the federal level to reduce inequality,” Anderson told HuffPost on Thursday.

She said the threat of “draconian cuts to the social safety net” during a Donald Trump presidency could push leadership from other cities to explore similar innovative sources of revenue.

Corporations can exist without paying their CEOs hundreds of times what they pay their typical workers. Steve Novick, City Commissioner of Portland

More than 500 companies will be affected by the new rule, including Walmart, Honeywell, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and General Electric, according to a statement from IPS.

Anderson said companies affected by this law will have three different options for responding to the tax. They can either narrow the gap by paying their lowest paid workers more, pay their highest paid workers less or do nothing and pay the penalty tax.

“Whichever way they respond, this is going to be good for reducing income inequality,” she told HuffPost.

This progressive law is made possible under Dodd-Frank legislation by a Securities and Exchanges Commission rule that will require publicly traded companies to disclose the pay gap between CEOs and average workers starting next year.

Though Trump has vowed to dismantle parts of Dodd-Frank legislation, Novick isn’t too concerned.

“Donald Trump himself has railed against outrageous CEO pay,” Novick told HuffPost. “I think this would be a particularly embarrassing part for them to repeal.”

Still, an op-ed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board last month warned the legislation could encourage businesses to abandon Portland, but Anderson “can’t imagine” that would happen.

“If they stopped operating here, that would be absurd,” Novick told HuffPost. “Corporations can exist without paying theirs CEOs hundreds of times what they pay their typical workers.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/portland-to-tax-companies-with-extreme-ceo-worker-pay-gaps_us_5849ca59e4b08283d6b54e88

John Glenn obituary

Glenn was the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth, and later became one of his countrys most effective senators

John Glenn, who has died aged 95, was the first American to orbit the Earth and later the oldest person ever to be sent into space. During his long career he transformed himself from a highly decorated combat pilot and astronaut one of the Mercury Seven group of military test pilots selected in 1959 by Nasa to become Americas first astronauts into one of his countrys longest-serving and most effective senators.

His historic space flight on 20 February 1962, when Glenn performed three orbits of the Earth in the Friendship 7 spacecraft, travelling 81,000 miles at more than 17,000mph, was broadcast live around the world. Unbeknown to Glenn, the control centre had received signals early in the flight showing that the heat shield appeared to have broken loose. In the capsule itself the attitude controls had failed. By the time Glenn learned of the heat shield problem during his third orbit, he was reconciling himself to the likelihood that he would have to calculate his own angle of re-entry. If he got it wrong, the capsule would burn up. If he got it right, failure of the heat shield might well produce the same outcome.

In the event the attitude controls partially recovered at the last moment and the heat shield problem turned out to be a faulty indicator. But it had been a grim few minutes. In the final stages of his five-hour flight the astronauts heartbeat had risen from 87 to 132 and on his splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, America went crazy. He was greeted at Cape Canaveral by President John F Kennedy, who gave him the distinguished service medal, and 4 million people turned out for his tickertape welcome to New York.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/08/john-glenn-obituary

Children’s characters may disappear from unhealthy food in Netherlands

Licensed media characters like Dora the Explorer and Miffy would no longer be used to target young children under initiative by Dutch food industry

Famous childrens characters such as Dora the Explorer may soon disappear from some commercial food packaging in the Netherlands to discourage unhealthy eating habits, food industry representatives have said.

The decision was made after public debates on the impact of advertising targeting children, the umbrella Dutch Food Industry Federation (FNLI) said. Obesity is a problem over which the food industry is greatly concerned.

The move, a first in Europe, would see popular cartoon characters also including Miffy the bunny disappear from generic products perceived as unhealthy that target young children with their packaging.

The new measure aimed to curb packaging with licensed media characters aimed at children up to 13 years, said the FNLI, which represents 450 food industry businesses and 19 organisations.

The newspaper De Telegraaf said: These products are placed on shelves at childrens eye level and are often unhealthy, containing too much salt, sugar or fats.

Dutch health ministry spokeswoman Leonne Gartz said the measures would involve characters like Miffy and Dora the Explorer being removed.

It does not affect characters specific to products, for instance the tiger on a famous cereal brand, she said.

The FNLI hoped that the phasing-out would be implemented during the course of 2017 following a number of tests to ensure the plan did not lead to unfair competition in the market.

The Dutch deputy health minister Martin van Rijn praised the food industrys initiative.

Its important to me that children and their parents are spared from the constant bombardment of seductive advertising on unhealthy foods, Van Rijn told De Telegraaf.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/09/childrens-characters-may-disappear-from-unhealthy-food-in-netherlands

Bertoluccis justification for the Last Tango rape scene is bogus. Its called acting for a reason | Jessica Tovey

Actor Jessica Tovey explains that without trust, consent and transparency on set, traumatic scenes can have traumatic repercussions

Once, before filming an intimate scene, my director sat my male co-star and me down with some Barbie dolls. She wanted to take us through exactly how we were going to do it on screen how we would position our bodies, where the camera would be. She wanted to make us feel comfortable about something that is awkward and difficult to shoot by empowering us with knowledge about what we were about to do.

Ive experienced similar care when shooting scenes of violence when playing roles where I was kidnapped, assaulted, bound and gagged; ones where I had chairs hurled at me and had been thrown across a room. There were always strict protocols in place to avoid injury but even then, when the camera rolled and my fellow actor performed with all of the aggression required to make their performance believable, my adrenaline kicked in. My innate fight or flight instinct made it difficult to remember it was all pretend, and as a result the experience felt close to reality.

Roles involving sex or violence are always tricky, and Ive been lucky to have been treated with appropriate respect during my acting career so far. So it was with a particular sadness and anger that I read this week the revelations about the filming of the Last Tango in Paris.

While shooting the infamous butter rape scene, Maria Schneider, it seems, was treated horrendously. In a video that resurfaced this weekend, director Bernardo Bertolucci said he and Marlon Brando had conspired to surprise Schneider during this scene in order to capture her humiliation. He clarified those comments this week: Schneider knew about the violent nature of the scene, he said, but was unaware that her co-star would use butter as a lubricant.

In a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail, Schneider, now dead, claimed she felt a little raped after the scene was filmed. I was so angry you cant force someone to do something that isnt in the script, but at the time, I didnt know that, she said.

Sydney-based
Sydney-based actor Jessica Tovey appeared in Adore, Underbelly and Tracks, and is best known for her role as Belle Taylor in Home and Away. Photograph: Supplied

Even with Bertoluccis clarification in mind, there is still a sinister aspect to his art-making methods.

Bertolucci had said he wanted Schneider to react as a girl and not as an actress; that to make movies sometimes, to obtain things we have to be completely free.

But there was no freedom for her, because freedom is tethered to feeling safe. Having to portray violence involves an element of real fear and distress, because removing oneself completely is impossible. But once trust is lost between an actor, their co-star and director, the veil of performance drops and the threat is real.

There is a moment in that scene where you witness Schneiders horror as she realises she has lost all power. From this instant on it is not two actors working together; it is an older, male actor playing out his scene at the will of a male director, with a young actress being dragged along.

I cant imagine those roles being reversed; Brando being brutalized only to discover midway through filming that Schneider and Bertolucci had conspired to add an element of humiliation.

The argument that the action is justified for the sake of an authentic reaction is bogus. It is called acting for a reason. Its not supposed to be real, it is pretending. The magic of an incredible performance comes when an actor delves into their imagination and taps into emotions that are very real; it often leaves us physically and mentally drained but we accept it as part of the job because we know the power of stories and we want to share them with the audience.

But in order to be able to do it day after day, night after night, the creatives in those spaces must honour a pact. One where there is transparency, trust, conversation and, most importantly, consent. Without it, those lines get blurred and life can imitate art with traumatic repercussions.

Marie
She was 19, new to the industry and therefore vulnerable: Marie Schneider and Marlon Brando with director Bernardo Bertolucci on the set of Last Tango In Paris. Photograph: Hulton Getty

What occurred on Last Tango in Paris was not an actor caught in the artistic vision of a director to get a real reaction; it was a violation. She was 19, new to the industry and therefore vulnerable, particularly in relation to her much older, celebrated male co-star.

From my experience, the fear of speaking out against the biggest star in Hollywood and a revered director would make any actress in her position worry about whether they would be believed or taken seriously if they spoke out. Schneider spoke out anyway, many years after it was filmed, and few took notice. I was crying real tears, she said in that 2007 interview. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.

It wasnt until the director himself told the story that people listened.

Schneider is by no means the only actress to have been exploited, made uncomfortable or even violated by a more powerful male co-star, director or co-worker in the entertainment business. Though I have been fortunate, I know of other women my age who have had to deal with this kind of inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues.

To prevent it in future, we must make it easier for women to come forward with these stories and show no tolerance for men who put them in this position. It is possible to tell dark, complex and adult stories on film and television without it coming at the expense of womens dignity and safety.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/09/bertoluccis-justification-for-the-last-tango-scene-is-bogus-its-called-acting-for-a-reason

Donald Trump to remain executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice

The president-elects name will appear in credits of the show he hosted for more than a decade, confirming a continuation of his business entanglements

Donald Trump will not give up his role as an executive producer of The Celebrity Apprentice, the reality TV shows studio said on Thursday, confirming a continuing business entanglement of the president-elect but not its details.

Trumps name will appear in the credits of the show, studio MGM told Variety magazine on Thursday, after the name of show creator Mark Burnett and before that of programs new host, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump hosted the show for more than a decade before his presidential campaign, during which NBC, the network that airs the show, broke ties with him over his claims that Mexican people are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.

A spokeswoman for MGM did not immediately reply to questions about the arrangement. The studio did not disclose to Variety any terms of the deal except that it would pay Trumps fees, and that NBC would not. A spokesman for Trumps transition team did not reply to a request for clarification.

During a string of meetings last month to interview potential cabinet members of the next White House, Trump met with Ari Emanuel, his agent while he was on The Apprentice and the brother of Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff for Barack Obama. Trump gave no details about that meeting, only telling reporters outside a New Jersey golf club that the meeting was very good. Great guy. Great friend of mine.

Burnett has denied that he supported Trumps presidential campaign, and said in October that he and his wife reject the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign. The producer also denied that he suppressed leaked unaired footage or audio from Trumps time on the show.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/08/donald-trump-celebrity-apprentice-executive-producer

India cash crisis: 100,000 villages promised electronic payment machines

Every village will get two point-of-sale machines, promises finance minister in bid to ease anger at sudden removal of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes

Tens of thousands of Indian villages will soon be equipped with card-swiping machines to boost cashless payments, the finance minister promised on Thursday, a month after the government banned high-value banknotes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked chaos with his shock announcement last month that all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes which make up 85% of bills in circulation would cease to be legal tender.

The move triggered a chronic shortage of cash with people queuing for hours outside banks across the country to get rid of their old notes.

Cash accounts for 90% of transactions in India where millions rely heavily on notes for their daily purchases. People living in rural areas and individuals without bank accounts have been particularly hard hit.

To ease frustrations and speed up the switch to cashless spending, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced measures to promote the so-called demonetisation drive, including card-swiping machines for villages.

There will be two point-of-sale machines provided to every village which has a population up to 10,000, and 100,000 villages will be selected for this purpose, Jaitley said at a media conference. This will benefit farmers covering a total population of nearly 750 million, he said.

The sweeping abolition was meant to bring billions in so-called black, or undeclared, money back into the formal system.

Many have been left without enough cash to buy food or daily essentials, while farmers have been unable to buy seeds and small traders say business has fallen off a cliff.

Nonetheless, Modi has repeatedly defended the scheme, accusing its detractors of being tax evaders and repeatedly urging all Indians to switch to non-cash payment methods.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/09/india-cash-crisis-100000-villages-promised-electronic-payment-machines

‘If you choose to be alone you can’t be lonely’: meet the modern-day hermits | Guardian readers and Sarah Marsh

The hermit tradition has endured in some cultures for millennia. But what does it mean today? We meet those who are cut off for a variety of reasons

In 2013, police came across a man in the US state of Maine stealing food from a local summer camp at night. It appeared to be a simple case of theft at first. But what was going on was far more unusual. According to reports, Christopher Knight, then 47, had walked into the woods at the age of 19 and never came out. He built himself a makeshift shelter and survived by taking food from nearby homes and camps, just as he was doing on the night he was caught. Knight had hardly spoken to anyone during his entire time in solitude.

Its not clear why Knight dropped out of society, but it happened a year after he graduated from Lawrence high school in Fairfield about 1986. The only big interview he did was with Michael Finkel, an American journalist. The article appeared as a series of conversations for GQ magazine. Knight, who has been given a possible diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, said he couldnt explain why he left society. He told Finkel: I found a place where I was content.

The tradition of the hermit has endured in some cultures for millennia. Those who do so for religious reasons tend to live in contemplative silence. The first known Christian hermit was Paul of Thebes and his disciple, Anthony the Great, followed Jesuss lead by going into the wilderness in about AD270. Many have since emulated him. There are also Buddhist and Hindu hermits. Its thought there are still 200 religious hermits in Britain today.

Then there are those, perhaps more common in modern times, who are cut off because of mental or physical ill-health. In Japan, there is a a phenomenon called hikikomori where young men and women withdraw from society.

We asked our readers for their experiences of living as a recluse. We approached five people to find out more. Here are their stories:

I worked as a science teacher before committing myself to a life of celibacy and contemplative silence

Rachel Denton has lived as a religious hermit for the last decade.

It was in 2006, after five years of preparation, that I formally took my vows at a special mass to become a diocesan hermit. You have to get permission from the church before you can do this.

Rachel
Solitude has always been important to me.

It took some time to get to this point. When I first asked the bishop he said that the Catholic church did not do hermits. It was only after I showed him a reference in canon law that he changed his mind. It was a great feeling to stand in front of the bishop, my family and all my friends and say: I entrust myself to the life of the hermitage.

I now live deep in the Lincolnshire countryside and try to live in a simple manner. I dont have a TV and I allow myself only an hour of radio each day. I have a phone and internet, but mainly use this for work. I run a calligraphy business, do a bit of tutoring and occasionally write pieces for religious publications. I have an income of about 8,000 a year. Its enough as I dont have much expenses. I try to be self-sufficient, growing my own vegetables and fruit and enjoying the companionship and eggs from two bluebell chickens.

Prayer is an important part of the day. I get up at 5.30am and pray for an hour, then again at 8.30am pondering the eucharistic liturgy of the day. Work begins at 9am and I usually have an hour for lunch. At dinner, I listen to the radio for an hour, followed by more prayer and a quiet evening before bed. If I do anything else it will be sewing, reading or going for a wander around my garden. And I love DIY. On a feast day I might enjoy watching a DVD.

Solitude has always been important to me and I wanted to be a nun from a young age. I was part of the Carmelite order, living in a convent as a young women but I found the community life too difficult. I felt I couldnt spend enough time on my own. I left to become a science teacher, but never felt content until I came here. Id always had this romantic idea of living in a remote cottage. The ex-council house I eventually found certainly did not live up to those romantic ideals, but over the years I have transformed it into a very suitable hermitage.

Of course, there are days when its hard. I miss my friends and family sometimes, but I chose this. My parents visit me once a year and I try to stay in touch with regular phone calls. I meet friends annually and they accept my way of life.

A
Rachel Denton runs a calligraphy business.

I spend alternate Christmases with my family. This year will be a hermit-Christmas. It begins around now the beginning of advent. My wreath is set up in my prayer room and I will light the candles on it each day as we get closer to Christmas. The week before Christmas is very special as I begin to set up my crib. Christmas Day is very relaxed all the usual goodies for dinner, and a walk around the local countryside.

After 15 years I sometimes think I should get more lonely, but I enjoy my own company. Of course I love to see family and close friends, but while occasional visitors are very welcome and enjoyable, I usually breathe a sigh of relief when they go away again. I feel very fortunate to be here, to have been given this opportunity. It still feels like an adventure.

I have social anxiety. Before I go out I feel a sense of existential dread

Our anonymous writer has not chosen to live in a reclusive manner, but experiences extreme social anxiety.

I am not reclusive for religious reasons or for any other philosophical cause, and unlike others I havent chosen to live this way. At 27 I am bound by social anxiety, so crippling that it has left me afraid to leave the house. Ive been like this for three years, going out maybe only a dozen times.

Ive had anxiety my whole life sporadic panic attacks coupled with a sense of impending doom. It got worse as I got older but it never affected my ability to go about my daily life until I graduated. I never left home for university because my anxiety didnt allow it. Instead I stayed at home with my mum and studied nearby. But it was good for me to have structure and push myself to make friends.

When I left university everything changed. I no longer had the routines that kept me busy and I drifted further and further into myself. I was still working at this stage, but wasnt as good at going out and meeting people. I distanced myself from colleagues, missed friends birthdays and other events. I mainly just spent time with my partner who I live with now. I met her at a friends party at university. My best mates thought I was just letting them down. I never told them the truth and many stopped talking to me as a result.

I put on weight (in excess of 100lb), which led to me not wanting go out even more. It might sound arrogant to think anyone gives a toss, but in my head I felt people judged me as fat and ugly. I dreaded simple activities such as going to the supermarket because I worried about people watching me. Looking at what I bought and ate. Food is an easy comfort when Im feeling anxious. It is a wanted distraction, and something to look forward to.

Then three years ago I lost my job, and decided to work from home. I am a freelance writer, so this was an easy transition. Now I never go out unless I absolutely have to. Its easy to survive indoors. I have everything delivered. In the past year Im not sure how much Ive been out, maybe less than 10 times. Even then I find the prospect draining, horrible and depressing. I only really go out if theres a family emergency. I accompanied my partner, for example, when her sister was in hospital. It was difficult but I felt I had to be there to support her.

Before I go out I have a sense of existential dread mixed with complete and utter exhaustion. I dont know how Im even going to be able to keep myself upright to walk five steps, let alone further. Its not just because of my weight gain that I have this fear, although that makes it worse. Its a control thing. I just think of the world beyond my house as this big other that is scary. The world is frightening. Dont you think so? No one seems to be in control of anything, terrible things happen all the time.

My partner is supportive and cares for me when I have my panic attacks. But she is also worried. She encourages me to get help and has tried in the past. But its too much of an emotional burden for her I think. I need to be able to sort this out by myself. I went to one counselling session and then I never went again. I found it too difficult and felt it didnt help.

The alternative isnt much better though. I feel unhappy, lonely and scared. Like I am unable to change my circumstances due to a paralysing fear. I am stuck. Thats why Im trying to turn things around. I am losing weight, although that is difficult. Im determined to go back to a counsellor after Christmas. The first step is talking about it, and saying I have a problem. Ive done that here.

I went from a busy job in London to living off-grid and I couldnt be happier

Jade Angeles Fitton fell into a hermitic existence, working from home in a remote Devon village, after years working in London.

Jade
Sometimes I feel like I am living out one long day over and over again Photograph: Alex Waespi

I live in Devon, in village by the sea. Its remote from October to May as most of the houses in the village are second homes now, but gets busier in the summer. I have lived here on my own for the past six months; for four months before that I lived alone in the middle of nowhere on the moors. I work from home as a writer and spend days on end without seeing anyone. Sometimes I feel like I am living out one long day over and over again: I work all day and take a stroll to the headland that looks over the sea before dinner.

My life used to be very different. I worked as a producer in advertising and fashion in London, so, my life was more stressful and filled with a lot of people and deadlines. It was a constant blur of trying to achieve peoples unrealistic expectations, and trying not to cry when I looked at spreadsheets. I went out a lot, but I still worked hard: on the nights I wasnt returning home from a party at 5am, I was leaving home for early call-times.

I moved because London was too stressful and expensive. Now I feel calmer and more connected to planet Earth somehow. In cities you can, and I certainly did, forget where you are as in, on a miracle planet spinning in space because all (or the majority of what) you see in cities is manmade. Its like this horrible endless, concrete hall of mirrors where every face reflected back at you is slightly angry.

Since being in Devon I see people maybe once a week or less. Ive made absolutely no new friends and been on no dates since living here. On weekends I usually just stay in and work. I do get lonely quite a lot, but Im fine with my own company. Recently, Ive missed Londons galleries and just being able to leave my house and walk to a friend or an exhibition. But instead I walk to the sea and remember its not so bad where I am.

Ive not spent this much time alone since I was about 12, and its let me be selfish without worrying about anyone else. Being on my own has been great for my writing. Its surprising what can get done if youre not willing to give yourself a day off and have no one to persuade you to have a laugh. I have such a set routine of work nowadays, going to bed early and getting up early.

I have become a bit more like my childhood self, which I prefer, so I have gone back to being tomboy. I used to dress up and wear lipstick and high heels, but now I rarely brush my hair and have got really into wildlife and birdwatching again. I have more energy when I do see people too because Ive been alone for so long. I get genuinely excited to see another human being.

If you choose to be on your own you cannot be lonely

Neil Ansell lived in a remote village on his own for five years. He rarely saw anyone except a local farmer.

Neil
You have to exercise a certain amount of caution because if you are on your own and you break your leg youre in trouble. Neil Ansell photographed as he was when he lived in the cottage in the 1990s. Photograph: Neil-Ansell1

As a child I took great pleasure in being close to nature. I was outdoorsy and passionate about birds. On weekends I would go out after breakfast and not come home until the evening, spending days in the south coast of Englands marshes.

So I suppose it wasnt completely out of character when I decided to pack up my life in London in search of adventure. In 1990 I moved to a remote cottage in Powys, mid-Wales, high in the Cambrian mountains, which I found out about through a friend. I ended up living in this basic stone cottage in a pretty much as a hermit for the next five years. I had no electricity, no clock, no mirror, just three rooms, and no company.

It faced the hillside and took in the whole of the Brecon Beacons. When I first arrived I wasnt sure how long Id stay. Id gone from living in big chaotic squats in London with 20 to 30 homeless people to solitude. The only person I ever saw from the cottage where I lived was a tenant hill farmer, a single man whose father had farmed the same land before him. He had never travelled from home. Other than him, in the five years I was there, there was not a single passerby. I would go for weeks without seeing anyone even in the distance. I would go to village shop occasionally, but I mainly tried to become self-sufficient, growing my own food and eating a vegetarian diet.

My daily routine involved waking up with the sun and trying to light a fire for cooking. I would then work the land and do a bit of forestry. I didnt need much money as I had no expenses I paid a bit of poll tax and rent but had no bills. The money I did have was for occasional travel, but I always stayed there for Christmas and birthdays.

If you choose to be on your own you cannot be lonely if you know what I mean. In winter I would sometimes think, You wont see anyone for few weeks but I knew this wouldnt be forever and friends did visit.

Everything changed for me when I met a woman at a wedding during one of my rare trips out of the cottage. She started visiting me and we embarked on a long-distance relationship. Eventually, we made plans to start a family together and she wanted me to move and live with her. So it was this that made me leave. What I found most difficult about moving back into society was the constant need for conversation. But I coped in the same way as I had adjusted to solitude. Ever since, though, I have made an effort to try to spend some time alone whenever I can.

Living as a hermit for five years made me more self-sufficient and emotionally strong. I never had any fear. The only thing in life really to be scared of is other people. Youre actually less in danger being on your own. Obviously you have to exercise a certain amount of caution because if you are on your own and you break your leg youre in trouble.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/08/modern-day-hermits-share-experiences