Weekend Briefing No. 415

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

1 million—More than 1 million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the pandemic began. According to new data released Thursday, U.S. colleges and universities saw a drop of nearly 500K undergraduate students in the fall of 2021, continuing a historic decline that began the previous fall.

149K—Total U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations dip for the first time since mid-December, currently near 149K patients.

2K—SpaceX’s Starlink launches 2,000th satellite; the space-based internet company plans to have more than 40K satellites orbiting Earth

Stakeholder Capitalism

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink released his annual letter to CEOs. Here’s some of what he has to say: Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism. In today’s globally interconnected world, a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders. It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long term. Make no mistake. The fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success. That is why your voice is more important than ever. It’s never been more essential for CEOs to have a consistent voice, a clear purpose, a coherent strategy and a long-term view. Your company’s purpose is its north star in this tumultuous environment. The stakeholders your company relies upon to deliver profits for shareholders need to hear directly from you—to be engaged and inspired by you. BlackRock (5 minutes)

Habits in the Age of Technology

Digital technologies have dissolved the structure of the workweek, and further collapsed the distinctions between public and private life. The effort required to resist the twin temptations of procrastination and overwork quickly depletes one’s reservoir of motivation. The internet is not a place of order but a boundless abyss that erases the contours of individual hours; swallows entire days; and inundates our lives with a vague sense of possibility never quite realized, leaving us, in the end, with that low-grade spiritual exhaustion for which “decision fatigue” seems too weak a term. The Stoics called this feeling stultitia—“fickleness and boredom and a continual shifting of purpose,” as Seneca put it. It describes the never-ending hunger for novelty; the inability to stick to commitments; the will’s imprisonment by competing desires. It is the same problem that William James identifies when he writes, in The Principles of Psychology, of the miserable person for whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Neither Seneca nor James would have denied that spontaneity is essential to our humanity. But in order to achieve tranquility, this first nature had to be supplemented with a “second nature,” the long-standing epithet for habit often attributed to Aristotle. For Aristotle, habit was an aid in the quest for the virtuous life, a way of unifying the will and directing it, through practice, toward what is good. Harper’s (21 minutes)

Where to Invest $100K Right Now?

Investors face a dilemma. The global pandemic has disrupted markets. Volatility is rising, and firms like Goldman and BlackRock project equity returns could be under 5% until 2035. Finding promising investments is hard. Recently, Bloomberg asked financial experts where they’d invest $100K today. The response? They overwhelmingly advocated for alternative assets including Blue-chip art. After all, the ultra-wealthy have put money into art for centuries. From Rockefeller to Bezos and Gates, all actively invest in art. After all, Blue-chip Art prices outpaced the S&P 500 by 164% (‘95–’21). But unless you have a cool $10 million to buy a Picasso yourself, you’ve been locked out of this asset class. Until now… With the $1B investing platform, Masterworks.io, you can invest in multimillion-dollar art without breaking the bank. They use data to identify works by artists like Picasso, Banksy, and Warhol—then securitize and issue shares representing an investment in those paintings. Want in? Weekend Briefing subscribers get priority access to their current offerings today. Masterworks (Sponsored)

Privacy is a Myth

It finally happened. After years of warning from researchers, journalists and even governments, someone used highly sensitive location data from a smartphone app to track and publicly harass a specific person. In this case, Catholic Substack publication The Pillar said it used location data ultimately tied to Grindr to trace the movements of a priest, and then outed him publicly as potentially gay. Data companies are able to match mobile advertising IDs—unique codes assigned to mobile phones by their operating systems, and which tech companies have repeatedly assured consumers are anonymous, or at least pseudonymous—to real-world identities. The U.S. military and various law enforcement agencies are already purchasing it, skirting the need to obtain a warrant. You, or any other person could, too for the right price. Anyone and everyone who has a phone and has installed an app that has ads currently is at risk of being de-anonymized via unscrupulous companies. Vice (9 minutes)

Safer Metaverse

The internet can feel like a bottomless pit of the worst aspects of humanity. So far, there’s little indication that the metaverse—an envisioned virtual digital world where we work, play and live—will be much better. As I reported last month, a beta tester in Meta’s virtual social platform, Horizon Worlds, has already complained of being groped. Tiffany Xingyu Wang feels she has a solution. In August 2020—more than a year before Facebook announced it would change its name to Meta and shift its focus from its flagship social media platform to plans for its own metaverse—Wang launched the nonprofit Oasis Consortium, a group of game firms and online companies that envisions “an ethical internet where future generations trust they can interact, co-create, and exist free from online hate and toxicity.” MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)

Can’t Help Myself

In an artwork commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum called Can’t Help Myself, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu designed a robotic arm that is designed to keep a blood-colored liquid from straying too far away. Placed behind clear acrylic walls, their robot has one specific duty: to contain a viscous, deep-red liquid within a predetermined area. When the sensors detect that the fluid has strayed too far, the arm frenetically shovels it back into place, leaving smudges on the ground and splashes on the surrounding walls. Sounds a bit like everyone trying to do everything these days. This artwork has been popular on TikTok because people are empathizing that the machine is slowing down. “It looks frustrated with itself, like it really wants to be finally done,” one comment with over 350K likes reads. “It looks so tired and unmotivated,” another said. Check out this video of the piece of art. Kottke (4 minutes)

52 Places

Got the travel bug? The New York Times annual list of destinations to visit this year looks at spots where visitors can be part of the solution to problems like overtourism and climate change plus some beautiful photography. In the past, the list has often focused on things like a newly hot restaurant scene, an exciting new museum or the opening of a fabulous beachfront resort. This list, instead, highlights places where change is actually happening—where endangered wild lands are being preserved, threatened species are being protected, historical wrongs are being acknowledged, fragile communities are being bolstered—and where travelers can be part of the change. Visiting a Canadian park run by an Indigenous tribe helps keep a culture alive. Sampling whiskey at a Scottish distillery turning to zero-emission fuel helps trim carbon emissions. Dining at a restaurant in the Midwest staffed by formerly incarcerated people contributes to uplift. We are especially keen on places where grassroots efforts are pushing transformation, making their patch of the world better in the face of all that is wrong. New York Times (20 minutes)

Bookshelf

Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller. There are four characters in every story: The victim, the villain, the hero and the guide. These four characters live inside us. If we play the victim, we’re doomed to fail. If we play the villain, we will not create genuine bonds. But if we play the hero or guide, our lives will flourish. The hard part is being self-aware enough to know which character we are playing. The lessons in this book will: (1) Help you discover when you are playing the victim and villain. (2) Create a simple life plan that will bring clarity and meaning to your goals ahead. (3) Take control of your life by choosing to be the hero in your story. (4) Cultivate a sense of creativity about what your life can be. (5) Move beyond just being productive to experiencing a deep sense of meaning. Buy Now

Most Read Last Week

My Bookshelf— This is a log of the books I’ve read.

Unified Theory of Matt Mullenweg—Check out this profile of Matt Mullenweg.

Great Attrition—If you’re leading a company, the question is whether your company is going to suffer from attrition or soar from attraction of talent.

About the Weekend Briefing

This is a Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by kylefromthenorth.

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Weekend Wisdom

You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.Zig Zigler

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