Weekend Briefing No. 235

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from Iceland. I’m enjoying some time in nature and off the grid (see the Three-Day Effect below). Thanks for weighing in on what series I should listen to while driving through Iceland, the majority of you all selected the Lord of the Rings!

Prime Numbers

1 T – Apple just became the first American public company to cross $1 trillion in market capitalization. How do you like them Apples?

10 B – On June 10th, Uber just crossed the 10 billion ride milestone.

21 – Online apparel sales are growing at 7% annually in the USA, and now represent 21% of total apparel sales.

Ontario is No Longer Basic

The province of Ontario launched a basic income pilot program last year. It was intended to last three years. About 4,000 people began getting monthly stipends last October to boost them to at least 75 percent of the poverty line. The province’s newly installed Conservative government announced this week that it will be cutting the trial short to save on costs. Ontario’s experiment was closely watched, outside as well as inside Canada. In Silicon Valley, in particular, many have championed basic income as the answer to the question of how society should deal with large-scale job automation—but real-world data on whether such a program is even a good idea has been lacking. Now it seems tech’s in-crowd are going to have to wait a while longer for a verdict. MIT Technology Review (3 minutes)

Grab & Go

China’s leading e-commerce platform JD.com opened its first overseas unmanned store, JD.ID X-Mart, an AI-powered experience store in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Located in a central shopping mall in the PIK Avenue in the capital of the Southeastern country, the 270-square meter retail space is the largest JD unmanned store to date. Customers can pick up the items they need and walk out of the store without getting slowed down by lines or payments. The JD.ID X-Mart in Jakarta offers an expanded product selection, including fashion and apparel, as well as fast-moving consumer goods and beauty products. JD.com launched the first unmanned convenience store in Beijing in October 2017. The unmanned stores leverage cutting-edge technologies, such as RFID, facial recognition, and image recognition, to track retail activities. Cameras placed throughout the space recognize customers’ movements and generate heat maps of the activities to monitor all shopping processes for store management optimization. Pandaily (4 minutes)

Death of the American Dream

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long-term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion. New York Magazine (13 minutes)

Too Good to Be True?

The Spanish ultra-athlete Kilian Jornet has spent the past decade crushing a generation of elite rivals and redefining the limits of human endurance. But when he notched back-to-back speed ascents of Everest in 2017, critics pounced on the claims. When the news emerged, on May 28, that Jornet had climbed Everest not once but twice in a single week, and that he was claiming a new speed record, it seemed extraordinary to the point of confusion. Two ascents, back-to-back? Without oxygen? By himself? Where was the proof, critics demanded—the summit photos, the GPS track, the witnesses? Why did arguably his greatest accomplishment, in a career strewn with meticulously documented accomplishments, remain fuzzy? Outside (21 minutes)

How to Make a Hit

For a multi-billion dollar industry, popular music gets a bad rap. Pop music is often derided as insipid and endlessly recycled, and critics of the Top 40 often suggest that the key to making a hit is to copy and paste an earlier success with nothing more than some superficial variation. But recent research suggests that the opposite may be true. Recent research shows that the songs that chart highest tend to be less similar to their predecessors. When it comes to getting to the top of the charts, it pays to be different — though not too different. Breakout songs — those that reach the very top of the charts — simultaneously conform to prevailing musical feature profiles while exhibiting some degree of individuality or novelty. Columbia Business School (3 minutes)

Learning to Pray

For an Atheist who recently became a Christian, she says that prayer has been one of the pleasant surprises of becoming a person of faith. It’s something she truly enjoys, and has been weirdly transformational to her life. Wishing to neither oversell or undersell it, here are her thoughts: 1) I start with the Lord’s Prayer, because it’s like a little incantation that places a barrier between me watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and me engaging in a searching moral inventory of my life, which, personally, I find is a big help. Then I go over my day, with God, and the things I did, and the things I wish I had done differently.  2) Now we get into the good stuff: asking for shit. I ask for everything! 3) The next thing I do is express gratitude. For my life, and what I have in it, and my job, and for individual people. 4) Next, and finally, comes my hands-down favorite part of prayer, and the part that I think is great REGARDLESS of your beliefs or lack thereof: praying for other people. I say this because it teaches you who you love, and who’s important to you. The Toast (9 minutes)

The Three-Day Effect

On the third day of a camping trip in the wild canyons near Bluff, Utah, David Strayer – a cognitive psychologist – is mixing up an enormous iron kettle of chicken enchilada pie while explaining what he calls the “three-day effect” to 22 psychology students. Our brains, he says, aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too. Strayer has demonstrated as much with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. The three-day effect, he says, is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough. Strayer’s hypothesis is that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle. When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor. National Geographic (8 minutes)

From the Community

Congrats to my friend Matt Brimer who just launched The Fund – an early stage fund comprised of personal money from 75 New York-based entrepreneurs that will invest in the next generation of New York startups.

Weekend Wisdom

In Iceland, you can see the contours of the mountains wherever you go, and the swell of the hills, and always beyond that the horizon. And there’s this strange thing: you’re never sort of hidden; you always feel exposed in that landscape. But it makes it very beautiful as well.Hannah Kent

About the Weekend Briefing

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