Forewarned is forearmed. There’s a lot of stuff in this week’s newsletter. I suggest scanning, picking what’s interesting, and maybe forwarding the rest to a co-worker to tackle together.
But there’s interesting stuff – including some year-end looks ahead to 2016 and looks back to the year that was.
You can always check out the Center's trend collection to see how this scanning comes together to identify trends relevant to our future work. I’m going to try to spend some time over the next few weeks to get the collection in order to reflect some of the stuff we’ve been reading – wish me luck.
And let us know what you're reading this week to help think about later.
A new study explores how online engagement helps turn protests into social movements (Quartz “Slacktivism Is Having a Powerful Real-world Impact, New Research Shows”).
We may think social media allows our voices to be heard, but some people think all we’re doing is setting ourselves up to be sold to, branded, targeted, and data-mined (The New York Times “Bret Easton Ellis on Living in the Cult of Likability").
Sweden has a Minister of the Future to help keep the long-view in mind in the face of short-term or politically-motivated decisions (Motherboard “Sweden's Minister of the Future Explains How to Make Politicians Think Long-Term”).
2015 – The Year That Was
Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Learning Machines
Some big names (Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Reid Hoffman) have launched a new artificial intelligence nonprofit called OpenAI with a goal “to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return” (Wired “Elon Musk Snags Top Google Researcher for New AI Non-Profit”). See also The Daily Dot, GeekWire, Gizmodo, Next Big Future, Tech Crunch, and The Verge.
Google’s TensorFlow AI software, used in many of its own products, was made freely available earlier this year and is now helping to train computers to perform tasks by feeding them large amounts of data (MIT Technology Review “Tensor Flow, Google’s AI Engine, Gains Traction Outside the Company”).
An interesting look at the algorithms behind Facebook’s ‘On this Day’ feature and some of the science behind what it does to our memories (Scientific American “How Facebook Learns While You Forget”).
Microsoft’s team thinks 2016 will be the year of artificial intelligence (Fast Company “Microsoft: 2016 Will Be The Year Of AI”).
Books, Publishing, and Media
In case you didn’t know, podcasts are a big deal – big enough that The A.V. Club’s Podmass recognized some big achievements in the 2015 podcast environment (The A.V. Club “Podmass’ 2015 Superlatives, Including Awards for Obama and Charles Manson”).
From podcasts to audiobooks, an interesting look at how audiobooks’ popularity (some even outsell their print counterparts) may change the reading experience and how this may be driven by the power of narration (MarketWatch “Forget e-books, This May Be the Real Future of Reading”).
The new movie Spotlight might help us refocus on the importance of local investigative journalism and its uncertain future in the face of declining newspaper profits (The New York Times “The Search for Local Investigative Reporting’s Future”).
The BBC is experimenting with personalized videos that use data to build a profile of each user and their preferences and then creates content that is more personal and unique, including customized narrative, background music, and color grading (PSFK “BBC Experiments With Personalized Videos That Adapt To Your Bias”).
Further proof none of us are watching the same thing at the same time. Digital research firm eMarketer estimates that 17% of US households will no longer pay for a traditional pay TV subscription by the end of 2015 (Motherboard “2015 Was The Year That Cord Cutters Took Over”).
To keep us from going back to traditional TV, Netflix is doubling the number of original programs it produces, including new feature films, kids' shows, documentaries, and stand-up specials (The Verge “Netflix Is Doubling Its Number of Original Scripted Shows Next Year”). See also The Daily Dot, The Daily Dot (another take), and Geekwire.
The platforms we thought were free may only be free for certain things, as Spotify reportedly considers making some music available only to paid users (The Wall Street Journal “Spotify Considers Allowing Some Artists to Withhold Music From Free Service”). See also ArsTechnica, The Daily Dot, Fast Company, Motherboard, and The Verge.
Books (and this newsletter, it seems) are getting longer – an average increase of 25% in number of pages over the last 15 years – and it could be because digital books are easier to carry (The Guardian “The Big Question: Are Books Getting Longer?”).
The Pew Research Center shared some concerning news about the shrinking middle class in the U.S. (Pew Research Center “The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground”). See also Fast Company.
Finland will experiment with a guaranteed income model that will provide 1,000 Euros a month to over 100,000 citizens (Fast Company “How Finland's Exciting Basic Income Experiment Will Work—And What We Can Learn From It”), part of a possible response to a growing number of part-time workers, increasing dependence on public benefits, and a desire to streamline bureaucracy.
A look at the ed tech trends that made the news in 2015 (Edutopia “2015's Ed Tech Trends in Review”), including 3D printing; iPad add-ons; flipped learning and content delivery; collaboration and 1:1 models; and using ed tech to stay social.
A recent survey of 4,000 undergraduate students found that many of them struggle with food or housing insecurity. A new partnership between the San Diego Housing Commission and San Diego State University will provide about $1 million in rental assistance for up to 100 students (Next City “City, University Partner to Help Homeless College Students”).
More support for higher education's research and development facilities, advisory resources, and brilliant thinkers to be the hubs for creating next generation solutions (TechCrunch “College Campuses Are The New Test Facilities For Emerging Technology”).
The past few weeks have featured a lot about VR in journalism and the arts, so it was nice to run across news of VR in education (The Chronicle of Higher Education “Virtual-Reality Lab Explores New Kinds of Immersive Learning”), specifically at the University of Maryland where Ramani Duraiswami sees potential for virtual reality to transform distance learning into a more immersive experience.
A landmark accord will commit 195 nations to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change (The New York Times “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris”).
Some of the COP21 coverage I enjoyed most looked at delegations participating in the meeting. Millennials made their presence known (Scientific American “Climate Change and Millennials: The Future Is in Our Hands") and a delegation from HBCUs made sure African American perspectives were part of the discussion (Next City “HBCU Delegation Makes Black Voices Heard at COP21”).
Facebook at Work, the professional version of the social network, is expected to launch in 2016 (Reuters “Facebook Service Aimed at Professionals to Launch in Coming Months”). See also CNET.
And then to conquer the world. With WhatsApp, a low-bandwidth messaging app, Facebook is responsive to the Internet’s growth in the developing world (Wired “WhatsApp Is How Facebook Will Dominate the World”).
Every time I hear about YouTube (or other social media) celebrities, I’m reminded that I’m no longer young. This longer read about social media celebrity Christian Leave will reveal a world you may not comprehend, but with 300,000 followers on Vine, 86,000 on Instagram, and 60,000 on Twitter, it’s clear somebody gets it (Rolling Stone “Following Christian Leave: The Strange Life of a Teen Social Media Celebrity”).
And if I didn’t already feel old and out of touch, I still can’t understand YouNow (Slate “The Astonishing Power of YouNow”), video broadcasts that go out to the entire network (not just friends or followers) and share a selfie view of the broadcasters themselves, designed to create personalities and foster fandoms around them with gamified elements to keep everyone’s eyes glued to the screen.
And one more app. After School, an app designed to be accessible only to teenagers, is now on more than 22,300 high school campuses, according to its creators (The Washington Post “Millions of Teens Are Using a New App to Post Anonymous Thoughts, and Most Parents Have No Idea”). Designed for teens to discuss sensitive issues without having to reveal their names, it has become (surprise!) a vehicle for bullying, crude observations, and alleged criminal activity.
A fascinating look at New York City’s Internet cafes and their importance to immigrants and undocumented individuals (Motherboard “The Internet Café Is Alive in Queens”).
And maybe this is why. A new study from the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program reports that only 46.8 percent of US households below the poverty line (under $20,000) are subscribed to broadband Internet services (Motherboard “Low-income Americans Are Still Struggling to Get Broadband Access”).
Those of us who have the luxury of Internet access may feel that we are online almost every moment – and 1/5 of Americans reported just that to Pew Research Center (Smithsonian “One-Fifth of Americans Are Online Almost Every Moment”). See also GeekWire, TechCrunch, and The Verge.
And looking ahead, social networks in the workplace, employee amplification, social messaging, social media advertising, and social video could all change the way that companies use social media in 2016 (Fast Company “5 Trends That Will Change How Companies Use Social Media In 2016”).
On-Demand, Gig, and the Future of Work
An open letter to lawmakers signed by leaders from Lyft, Etsy, higher education, and labor unions, proposes portable benefits (health insurance, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation) as key to supporting a new economy where worker flexibility is becoming important (Fast Company “Why Portable Benefits Should Be A Priority In The New Economy”).
A new paper from Seth Harris and Alan Krueger for the Hamilton Project argues for a category of worker classification, called “independent workers,” that would fit somewhere between employee and independent contractor (Brookings “A Proposal for Modernizing Labor Laws for 21st Century Work”).
The Institute for the Future (IFTF “New Release! 10 Strategies for a Workable Future”) proposes 10 strategies to address changing labor dynamics, growth of on-demand workers, erosion of middle class wages, and access to benefits.
Discrimination may be a big challenge for on-demand car services like Uber. Visually impaired customers appreciate some of the conveniences (built-in payment options and easy hailing), but some drivers may actually cancel hails when they realize customers have disabilities (Motherboard “Uber Drivers Are Still Refusing to Pick Up Blind Passengers”).
There’s a lot of discussion around the intersection of terrorism, privacy, and the information shared online. Calls for tech companies to stop ‘by default’ end-to-end encryption (Wired “FBI Director Says Companies Should Ditch Encryption”). Proposed laws requiring tech companies to report online terrorist activity (The Verge “US Senate Considers Law Forcing Twitter and Facebook to Report ‘Terrorist Activity’” and The Daily Dot, The Daily Dot (another take), and Fast Company). And possible partnerships between government and tech companies (The Verge “Hillary Clinton Asks 'Great Disruptors' of Silicon Valley to 'Disrupt ISIS’” and CNET, The Daily Dot, Gizmodo, Government Technology, and Slate).
The White House responded to a We The People petition in favor of strong encryption by asking officials and signers for more feedback (The Daily Dot “White House Ducks Question of Backdoors in Encryption Petition Response”).
Two features, one of them audio, on privacy and kids (The Daily Dot “A Guide to Protecting Your Child's Personal Data on the Internet” and NPR “At School And At Home, How Much Does The Internet Know About Kids?”) remind parents and educators how easy it may be to collect information from children.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 19th District) is questioning Department of Homeland Security officials about pressure on a local public library to take down a Tor relay node (Motherboard “Congresswoman Asks Feds Why They Pressured a Library to Disable Its Tor Node”).
When asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement "I am happy to provide personal information online to companies as long as I get what I want," Americans were most likely to agree strongly (The Verge “Americans Are More Likely to Be Happy Giving Away Their Personal Data").
Spaces, Retail, and Restaurants
New York’s Carmel Place will be the city’s first official micro-apartment (260 to 360 square feet) complex (Wired “NY's First Micro-Apartments Actually Look Kinda Comfortable”). The really interesting thing is how they rely on homogenized furnishings, meaning it's more a place to sleep, less a space to design and personalize.