America has become so anti-innovation – it’s economic suicide

 

Innovation drives economic growth. It boosts productivity, making it possible to create more wealth with less labor. When economies don’t innovate, the result is stagnation, inequality, and the whole horizon of hopelessness that has come to define the lives of most working people today. Juicero isn’t just an entertaining bit of Silicon Valley stupidity. It’s the sign of a country committing economic suicide.

At the root of the problem is the story we tell ourselves about innovation. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a lone genius disappears into a garage, preferably in Palo Alto, and emerges with an invention that changes the world. The engine of technological progress is the entrepreneur – the fast-moving, risk-loving, rule-breaking visionary in the mold of Steve Jobs.

This story has been so widely repeated as to become a cliche. It’s also inaccurate. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs typically make terrible innovators. Left to its own devices, the private sector is far more likely to impede technological progress than to advance it. That’s because real innovation is very expensive to produce: it involves pouring extravagant sums of money into research projects that may fail, or at the very least may never yield a commercially viable product. In other words, it requires a lot of risk – something that, myth-making aside, capitalist firms have little appetite for.

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Google’s 18-Month Quest To Redesign Its Terrible Emoji

 

“It’s a communication issue,” says Rachel Been, Creative Director on Google’s Material Design. “If I sent my friend the dancing woman on iOS, and I’m on an Android device and I see a blob, there’s a miscommunication.” And now, thanks be to Google, that miscommunication is being fixed. “We’re doing a full redesign of the emoji set,” says Gus Fonts, Product Manager, Android. “We took a look at many things, but mostly the thing that’s most striking is, perhaps, that yes, the candy dots or blobs, are now substituted with a set of squishy circles–for a lot of good reasons.”

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How real books have trumped ebooks

 

Book covers looked very different a decade ago when the appearance of e-readers seemed to flummox a publishing industry reeling from the financial crisis and Amazon’s rampant colonisation of the market. Publishers responded to the threat of digitisation by making physical books that were as grey and forgettable as ebooks. It was an era of flimsy paperbacks and Photoshop covers, the publishers’ lack of confidence manifest in the shonkiness of the objects they were producing. But after reaching a peak in 2014, sales of e-readers and ebooks have slowed and hardback sales have surged. The latest figures from the Publishing Association showed ebook sales falling 17% in 2016, with an 8% rise in their physical counterparts. At the same time, publishers’ production values have soared and bookshops have begun to fill up with books with covers of jewel-like beauty, often with gorgeously textured pages. As the great American cover designer Peter Mendelsund put it to me, books have “more cloth, more foil, more embossing, page staining, sewn bindings, deckled edges”.

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‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

 

Andrew Studer was admiring a massive lava fire hose at Hawaii Volcanoes national park when he spotted something unusual: a small quadcopter drone flying very close to the natural wonder pouring hot molten rock. “There were other visitors sitting out relaxing in somewhat of a meditative state, just trying to enjoy this phenomenon,” said Studer, who recently captured a viral image of a drone hovering near the lava. “I do feel like drones are extremely obnoxious, and I’m sure it was frustrating for some of the people there.”

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Designers on acid: the tripping Californians who paved the way to our touchscreen world

 

Next time you drag a document across your desktop and put it in a folder, spare a thought for acid. Organising your files might not seem like a psychedelic experience now, but in 1968, when Douglas Engelbart first demonstrated a futuristic world of windows, hypertext links and video conferencing to a rapt audience in San Francisco, they must have thought they were tripping. Especially because he was summoning this dark magic onto a big screen using a strange rounded controller on the end of a wire, which he called his “mouse”

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I’m an ex-Facebook exec: don’t believe what they tell you about ads

 

For two years I was charged with turning Facebook data into money, by any legal means. If you browse the internet or buy items in physical stores, and then see ads related to those purchases on Facebook, blame me. I helped create the first versions of that, way back in 2012. The ethics of Facebook’s micro-targeted advertising was thrust into the spotlight this week by a report out of Australia. The article, based on a leaked presentation, said that Facebook was able to identify teenagers at their most vulnerable, including when they feel “insecure”, “worthless”, “defeated” and “stressed”.

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One for the Thumbs

 

I spent two decades writing reviews for technology products that featured a mandatory score on a five-point rating scale1. The idea of applying a numerical rating to a product appears to be an early 20th century invention, most famously adopted by film critics. I was never a fan of the idea, to be honest. Step away from the objective world of precise measurements and things get squishy awfully fast. You end up using the precision of numbers to measure the imprecision of sentiment. Beyond telling you if I like the product or not—if Roger Ebert likes the movie or not—does the difference between a 3.5 and a 4 really tell you much? (When I started at Macworld, the magazine had just instituted a completely bonkers rating system where every product was scored twice, both out of five stars and out of 100 points (actually out of 10 points with a mandatory tenth rating, wasting a lot of perfectly good periods), so you’d end up with ratings like 4 stars/8.7. If you’re reviewing hard drives I suppose it’s arguable that you might need to differentiate between a 7.3 and a 7.4, but in most cases that level of precision is pointless and arbitrary.)

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From Coke’s flower power to Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad – how ads co-opt protest

 

It’s a unique skill to have #boycottpepsi trending among both the right and the left. It managed to alienate both sides of an increasingly polarised consumer universe,” says Nicola Kemp, trends editor at advertising trade magazine Campaign, who points out that the ad was made by an inhouse team at Pepsi, which may be why there is a sense that nobody thought to point out its deficiencies before it aired. Kemp argues that not only was the ad tone-deaf, it also failed to make any political point at all, co-opting the imagery, without taking a stand. “You get a lot of people saying we’re in a state of perpetual outrage, that brands should always be aware that taking a stand can create a backlash, and that it’s better to stand for something than for nothing. But in effect it did both: it stood for nothing, with these anodyne signs, and it still created a backlash.” What about the idea that all publicity is good publicity? “There is a growing conversation within marketing that outrage is a form of social currency, and that social currency equates to sales,” Kemp says. “But that is an overly simplistic point of view. I do think that, honestly, no brand would set out to create this sort of response.”

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The UK’s inflation foot soldiers: how the ONS measures the CPI

 

In a shop stacked to the ceiling with toys, Brenda Cleaver is searching for a very specific car. “I am looking for a modern road vehicle, and I am checking the price. Here it is. It hasn’t changed,” she says, comparing the price sticker on the toy car with the information on her handheld computer. She moves on in search of a snakes and ladders game. Cleaver is one of hundreds of people across the UK who help collect thousands of prices each month to feed into a national basket that keeps track of the country’s inflation rate. These field workers look for the same items in the same stores each month and send their prices to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Newport, Wales.

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From ‘hands that do dishes’ to a bathtime Flake: the changing face of brands on TV

 

Ads like the one for Harmony hairspray in the 1970s perpetuated the idea that a woman’s main aim was to appeal to as many men as possible, as a series of potential suitors asked: “Is she, or isn’t she?” A later campaign for the deodorant Impulse showed men who “just can’t help” handing flowers to a fragrant woman. However, as commercials moved away from predictable stereotypes, many of the conventional gender roles were helpfully turned on their head.

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