Insights 10.16

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Insights 10.16

Design:

 

Communication: 

  • A brief look back at the now-departed AOL Instant Messenger, and the ways in which it prefigured later, greater, social network mechanisms
  • Snap Inc, perhaps the social media company that has been most aware of how visual culture and media technologies merged with our modes of communication, is developing a new feature that aims to continue those trends while performing an end run around Google's text (and voice) search business. They're calling the new feature Context Cards, an image/video first sort of search that surfaces information based on, well, context. This effort, along with Snap Spectacles and Snap Maps, is very much about connecting cameras to the world in more of a moment-to-moment sense, rather than the capture, share, and wait for the likes to roll in style of Facebook and Instagram (notorious themselves for quickly cloning many of Snap's visual innovations). More and more Facebook feels like a shoebox of nostalgia, a somewhat insular cul-de-sac of things you already know about people you already know. Snap is attempting to, if not always succeeding, build a social network that is more exploratory and amorphous. The business model may not be as clear as it is with Facebook and Google, but they have shown serious commitment to a deep strategy that is playing out over years, a lifetime by software startup standards. 

 

Humanity Intersecting Technology: 

 

Labor Pains: 

 

Material Culture: 

  • On how some 'lifestyle minimalists' have turned their less-stuff philosophy into a near self-help system, appealing to anxious careerists left unfulfilled by keeping up with the Joneses and aspirational consumers beaten down by mountains of credit card debt and clutter. In hyper-consumer societies, where the goods you keep are as much to construct and reconstruct one's identity for yourself and others, any rejection of stuff can feel radical. What's interesting about the consumer-economy flavor of minimalism is that it often still requires the consumption steps: it is a anti-materialistic practice based in gorging and purging, rather than avoiding it in the first place, a born-again approach to living with less. If socially, personally, or environmentally we are to reap the benefits of curtailing rampant consumption, it must be more proactive and complete rather than reactive. 

 

More next week. 

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Insights 10.09

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Insights 10.09

Design:

 

(Dis)Trusting Technology : 

  • Mattel has canceled their Amazon Echo-like product for kids, citing widespread criticism around data privacy and concerns about negative impacts on child development. Following the mega-scale data breaches in recent years (Target, Yahoo!, Equifax & others), it's clear that virtually any data stored remotely is potentially vulnerable. If worries about child privacy were enough to sink Mattel's product, why should similar products focused on adults (but certainly used in households with children) not suffer a similar societal rejection? 

 

Body/Image: 

  • Amazon has acquired the startup Body Labs, which had been developing technologies to capture "true to life" 3D models of people's bodies for purposes of health tracking and more perfectly fitting garments (one of their projects was with the U.S. military to create better fitting body armor for female soldiers). Combining such technology with the deep pockets and sprawling reach of Amazon is a big step for the mainstreaming of mass-customization, which had been a periodic value-proposition claim of 3D printing companies, with little success to date (outside of acute needs like patient-specific medical devices). Without an easy and accessible market for purchasing customized goods, being able to produce them was an achievement without an outlet. This acquisition and Amazon's recent streak of investments in fashion tech could be a huge step in that equation getting balanced out. What's less apparent is whether this promising move towards accessible mass-customization will be an Amazon-takes-all approach, or be a trend enabled by a multitude of smaller technology companies. 

 

Energy: 

 

Material Culture:

 

More next week. 

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Insights 10.02

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Insights 10.02

Design:

 

Communication: 

 

Big Business: 

  • Amazon and Google are feuding more openly than usual, with Google dropping YouTube streaming support for Amazon's products, leaving the e-commerce and web services giant with a significant hole in their offerings. As tech giants absorb smaller stars and form a new constellation of competitive monopoly powers, people are left with a choice between spotty service or costly but marginally more valuable redundancy, the same bad equation from older telecom and cable companies that tech firms were supposed to disrupt on behalf of customers. 
  • IKEA has acquired TaskRabbit, the sometimes controversial gig-economy labor on demand app company. While the article's headline claims it's some reflection of America's DIY spirit dying (really? do we consider IKEA furniture assembly as reflective of scrappy DIY ethic?) it's really just a classic business case study of finding an interesting and potentially undervalued organization that can add to vertical integration efforts. If many of TaskRabbit's customers were using the app for furniture assembly, why would IKEA not want to collect those extra dollars with some software engineering talent and troves of data to boot? 

  

Material Culture : 

  

More next week. 

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