Weekend Briefing No. 283

Welcome to the weekend.

Prime Numbers

25 – According to a recent Associated Press survey, almost 25% of Americans say they plan to never retire, and it isn’t because they all love their jobs.

24 – The men’s skin care market is projected to grow 24% over the next five years to $5 billion.

7 – One of the great truths about early stage investments is that you have to be patient with them. The losses come early and the winners take longer to realize. According to Fred Wilson, it takes seven to ten years to get to real liquidity in a portfolio of early stage venture investments.

Two Billion Truman Shows

Imagine a world in which priests only make their money by selling access to what you said in the confession booth? That’s basically Facebook / Google’s business model. Except in this case, Facebook is doing that with 2 billion people and has a supercomputer that’s actually predicting the confessions you’re going to make before you make them. And it’s stunningly accurate. AI has been shown to predict our behavior better than we can. It can guess our political affiliation with 80 percent accuracy, figure out you’re homosexual before even you know it, and start suggesting strollers in advance of the pregnancy test turning pink. As each track leads to profit maximization, companies must become more aggressive in the race for attention. First it was likes and dislikes, making consumers active participants, causing them to feel as if they have personal agency within the platform. They do, to an extent, yet as the algorithms churn along, they learn user behavior, creating “two billion Truman Shows.” Watch Tristian Harris – former Google design ethicist – speaking at a Congressional hearing (ironically on YouTube). YouTube (17 minutes) 

Social Credit in China

One thing that struck me on my visit to China is how little Chinese citizens care about living in a Big Brother society. Today there are more than 40 social-credit systems operating across China. Some are private: Sesame Credit, a subsidiary of Alibaba, others are run by the government, such as a national list of individuals who have defaulted on court judgments. Those on it are restricted from a range of activities, from staying at luxury hotels to enrolling their children in expensive schools. (Now they might also find themselves on the Deadbeat Map.) Rather than generating outrage, these systems have proven extremely popular. 80% of Chinese have voluntarily joined a commercial social-credit system. 80% of respondents either somewhat or strongly approved of social-credit systems, with the strongest support coming from older, educated and more affluent urbanites — a demographic generally associated with more “liberal” values such as the sanctity of privacy. At the same time, 76% of survey participants said that “mutual mistrust between citizens” is a problem in Chinese society. Social-credit systems are viewed as a means of bridging that trust gap. Indeed, support for such systems corresponds closely to those who perceive they’ve received some benefit from them — whether it be a loan, the ability to rent a car or share a bicycle without having to place a deposit, or the chance to evaluate the creditworthiness of someone met on a dating app. In these cases, quality-of-life improvements are viewed as being worth the erosion of privacy, especially in a country where the value of privacy isn’t very high. Bloomberg (12 minutes)

#clientbrag

According to a 2018 U.S. Trust statistics report on Artsy, there’s a rise in millennial collectors that view art as a financial asset with the young demographic more inclined to sell artworks they own save for their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. Enter Otis, a new investment app that aims to expand the millennial generation’s growing interest of contemporary art, streetwear, and “culturally relevant commodities” such as Nike Air Mags and KAWS artworks with its digital marketplace. Otis acquires high-quality assets, divides them into smaller shares, and offers them as equity investments. When you invest in an asset, you become a shareholder that owns a specific asset. Similar to a stock market, you’ll be able to buy and sell shares after a certain period of time. Proud of the work that Michael and team are doing here to democratize access to a new asset class. Hypebeast (2 minutes)

Upper West Side?!

A working paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that New Yorkers’ social connections are driven less by physical distance than public transit infrastructure. In other words: You are where you subway. In most cities, your social network is shaped by physical distance. The closer someone is, the more likely they are to be your friend. But the researchers were surprised to find that, in New York at least, transportation ease was an even stronger predictor of friendship than distance. Upping the distance between neighborhoods by 10% correlates with almost a 10% reduction in Facebook friendships. But upping the travel times by 10% leads to an almost 15% reduction. The relationship between travel time and likelihood of a connection held even after the economists controlled for factors known to spur friendship, like income, educational level, and race. WIRED (7 minutes)

Malaria on the Rise

The fight against malaria in the past couple decades has largely had a positive trajectory — since 2000, there have been 7 million lives saved and about 1 billion cases prevented — but recently there’s been pockets of plateauing or increased infections in the world. Malaria parasites are starting to show more resistance against insecticides and drug treatments. The reasons for the uptick are mainly due to 3 issues: (1) higher population movement from refugees,(2)  a lack of necessary funding, and (3) the parasites are becoming more resistance to insecticides and drug treatments. Axios (7 minutes)

On Struggle & Innovation

Django Reinhardt was a Roma musician, born in Belgium in 1910. He might just be the greatest musical innovator you’ve never heard of. When he was a teenager he had an unfortunate accident. His wife was making cellophane flowers, basically, in their wagon and one of them caught fire. And Django was burned over half of his body. For the rest of his life, the pinky and ring finger on Django’s left hand, his guitar fretting hand, were useless pieces of dangling flesh. And you would think that his budding guitar career was probably over. But instead, Django taught himself a new way to play the guitar with the still-working fingers of that left hand sprinting up and down the frets and improvising and playing with new fingerings that other people hadn’t because he had to invent something different. Django emerged after that accident with a completely new style of music that fused dancehall music from France with styles from jazz in the United States. And it was so indescribable compared to anything else that existed that it was only called, at the time, “Gypsy Jazz”. And Django’s improvisations, and his virtuosity on the guitar, were really in some ways the start of the modern guitar solo and influenced performers like Jimi Hendrix who had Django’s music in his personal collection, and in fact named one of his groups Band of Gypsies. Big Think (5 minutes)

On Identity & Money

We make our purchasing decisions based on who we are and who we want to be. If we’re not clear on who we are and who we want to be, our choices tend to be arbitrary. They’re spontaneous and not based on anything other than immediate desire. When you’re clear on who you are and what you want, it’s much easier to practice mindful spending, to be deliberate about the things you buy and own. If you identify as fitness-conscious, for instance, you’ll be much less likely to be tempted by cookies and snacks in the grocery store. If, like me at the moment, you identify as a “lapsed” fitness junkie, well then it’s much easier to succumb to temptation. Who we want to be also affects how we spend. In fact, I suspect that much wasted spending — not just for me, but for everybody — is what I’d call “aspirational”. It’s not based on our actual habits and actions but on what we wish we did. Our identities shape our work, wages, and well-being. Get Rich Slowly (14 minutes)

Bookshelf

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence―full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon―transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy. Amazon

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Brandon Hoogenboom.

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Weekend Wisdom

Dream, struggle, create, prevail. Be daring. Be brave. Be loving. Be compassionate. Be strong. Be brilliant. Be beautiful.Caterina Fake