mfioretti: quality of life*

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  1. If you were a delivery van driver searching for a new job any time between the years of 2010 and 2013, chances are, you wouldn’t have found many businesses competing for your services. In Selma, Alabama, there was, on average, just one company posting help wanted ads for those drivers on the nation’s biggest job board. In all of Orlando, Florida, there were about nine. Nationwide the average was about two.

    The situation for telemarketers wasn’t great either. In any given city or town, approximately three companies were trying to hire for their services. Accountants only had it a little better: Roughly four businesses were posting jobs for them.
    A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.

    Those numbers are based on the findings of a new research paper that may help unlock the mystery of why Americans can’t seem to get a decent raise. Economists have struggled over that question for years now, as wage growth has stagnated and more of the nation’s income has shifted from the pockets of workers into the bank accounts of business owners. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s. There are lots of possible explanations for why this is, from long-term factors like the rise of automation and decline of organized labor, to short-term ones, such as the lingering weakness in the job market left over from the great recession. But a recent study by a group of labor economists introduces an interesting theory into the mix: Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.
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  2. exposure to nature has specific effects on our executive attentional system, which can become worn down due to the demands made of it by urban life.

    Permanent background noise, compulsive and increasingly compulsory engagement with technology, the demands of multi-tasking and the necessity of constantly having to respond to sudden, disruptive stimuli place a severe strain on our cognitive functions. By contrast, natural environments are rich in the characteristics necessary for the brain to replenish itself.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-10)
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  3. It has been ten years since a turtle-necked Steve Jobs first held up a now ubiquitous white object exclaiming that it was a music player, a cell phone, and an internet communicator all in one. Charmingly — and uncharacteristically — shortsighted about his hopes for the device, Jobs was most effusive about how easily the iPhone would allow people to talk to one another.

    Flash forward to the present, 2017. When people say they’ve talked to someone, they rarely mean in person. And they almost never mean on the phone. An anecdote derived from having “spoken” with somebody is usually accompanied by a fluttering of fingers to indicate that the conversation was carried out over text. Or Facebook messenger. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. When is the last time you saw someone extend their pinky toward their chin and their thumb to the right eardrum in the ancient sign for “phone?”

    We can’t get much more cell-phone addicted than we are now. With few exceptions, we use our cell phones to tell us what to eat, whether or not our bodies need more sleep or exercise (yes, both), how to get where we are going…we even trust the secret guru buried inside of our SMS cards to tell us who to date. And with the progress being made in virtual reality, we can use our phones to have sex.

    The tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s unveiling came flanked with frantic articles about what could possibly come next — what could be around the corner when our smartphones already accomplish so damn much? Google Glass was superfluous and smartwatches a bit desperate, and as for everyone signing up for nanobot implants to be permanently connected to the Internet, thankfully, we’re not there yet.

    In a new book I have coming out, called Touch, a noted trend forecaster is tasked with answering just this question for a major tech company: what’s up next, in tech? Her answer is a disappointing one in respect to her employer’s bottom line. She’s convinced the world is on the threshold of a resurgence in face-to-face interactions that don’t require any technology at all.

    This premise is one that’s near and dear to my Luddite heart, but it’s also one that the former trend forecaster in me firmly believes. You see, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I worked as a consultant for boutique trend forecasting agencies, most of them in France. In an industry that prizes intuition, no one sits you down and tells you how to spot trends, but it only takes scrutinizing the past year’s “Best-Of” listicles to learn that trend forecasting, on a basic level, is a game of opposites and apexes. Take literature, for example: If 2015 was big in bleak dystopians, you can probably count on seeing the return of epic family sagas that pack a lot of hope. If the seven figure advances were going to the doorstoppers last year, next year, they’ll go to the novels that end at forty-thousand words.

    This see-saw pattern can hold true in tech, too. The key is to look for peaks and saturation points. Sophisticated entertainment systems and MP3 players paved the way for the return of the vinyl record. The seeming futility of smartphones (which were so instrumental in electing Obama) to prevent a nation from needling toward The Orange One led many of the disillusioned to leave the echo chambers of social media for the brick and mortar streets.

    It would seem we’ve reached an apex in mobile phones as well, which is an exciting place to be. 2016 was the first time that Apple’s sales for cell phones waned. The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t have much more to offer, in terms of versioning, than the iPhone 7, or, for that matter, the 6S or the SE. Plus, in the wake of an unforeseen election helmed by a hatemonger who’s physically incapable of putting down his phone, it’s really not that cool to be addicted to your cell. So yes. Indeed, the question begs. What in the world is next?

    I haven’t donned my trend forecaster fascinator in years now — its feathers are ragged, the beads have fallen off. A mother to a three year-old, I mostly use my intuition to divine whether or not my toddler is going to pee her pants. But I haven’t been out of the game so long that I can’t spot something around the corner: I think we’re about to see the rise of slow communication, heralded by the return of the dumb phone.

    I think we’re about to see the rise of slow communication, heralded by the return of the dumb phone.

    Because, let’s face it — sure, maybe the aesthete literary critic who roasts his own espresso beans has the time and willpower to flat out cancel his cell phone contract, but most of us do not have such bravura. What many of us do have, however, is the desire to maintain a healthier balance with our cell phones, which, weirdly, I think is going to be accomplished by the trend setters purchasing a secondary phone — a dumb phone — that only calls or texts.

    Just as smokers sometimes suck on straws or alcoholics survive cocktail parties with a death-grip on their seltzer, cell phone addicts need a replacement habit, too. But in order to top the fathomless bright connectivity of our touch-screens, it’s gonna have to be something super cool. And as hipsters on one-speeds the world over have proven, what’s cooler than something kind of ugly that doesn’t really work?

    Sure, Jasper Morrison has had a very sleek and overpriced dumb phone on the market, sitting stagnantly, for years, but I’m nevertheless convinced that secondary cell phones are about to trend. New-to-the-market The Light Phone is out to make the telecommunications downgrade easier with slim-as-hotel-card companion phones that let you keep your own phone number. Light Phones necessitate that their early-adopters go cold turkey on digital communication. At the time of writing, they can take calls, but they can’t text. The idea of changing our communication patterns so drastically is both overwhelming, and immensely appealing. With it becoming all too easy to know what others are thinking and doing at all times, (and eating, and wearing, and even evacuating in the case of certain over-sharers), it could become the height of sophistication to be unfindable again. Aspirational, even, to literally get lost because your dumb phone doesn’t have a GPS.

    It will also be a status symbol, a way to instantly communicate to others that you’re digitally detoxing. Likewise, secondary dumb phones can be used to accord a certain hierarchy to relationships: imagine what it signals to a potential partner if you show up with a dumb phone on a first date. Leaving your smartphone behind tells the people you’re engaging with that they’re worth being fully present for.
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  4. That idea of efficiency through speed brought by the tech industry has consequences for society. First, the immediacy of the communications creates moments of intense information overload and distractions. Like other moments of major revolution in information technology, people are racing behind to adapt to the increasing pace of information exchange. In the Big Now, the pool of instantaneous information has dramatically increased, however the pool of available understanding of what that information means has not. People and organizations are still seeking new practices and means to filter, categorize and prioritize information in a world obsessed with the production and consumption of the freshest data points (see Social media at human pace). Doing so, they animate almost uniquely their capacity to fast-check status updates and leave their ability for reflection unstimulated (see, in French, L’écologie de l’attention). The Big Now is not designed for people to step back and understand information in a bigger context (e.g. poor debates in the recent US elections, inability to foresee the 2008 economic crisis). It is only recently that alternatives have started to emerge. For example, the recent strategic changes at Medium proposes to reverse the tendency:

    “We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention”.

    Secondly, the asynchronous Internet diminished the frontiers between work, family and leisure. In response, the tech world proposes to ‘hack’ time and to remove frictions (e.g. Soylent diet) to free up time. The flourishing personal productivity books and apps promise peace of mind with time-management advice tailored to the era of connected devices (see The global village and its discomfort). However, like building bigger roads make traffic worse, many of these solutions only provide a quick fix that induces even busier and more stressed lifestyles (see Why time management is ruining our lives). In the Big Now and its cybernetic loops, the more efficient we get at doing things and the more data we generate, the faster the Internet gets back to us, keeps us busy and grabs our limited amount of attention. Besides the promises of time-compression technologies to save us valuable time and free us for life’s important things, in the past half-century, leisure time has remained overall about the same (see Fast-world values).

    Try to imagine another version of the Internet in which the sense of simultaneity that Adam Greenfield described moves to the background of our lives and leaves stage for temporal depth and quality. Connecting people to share and collaborate has been a wonderful thing. Today, I believe that giving us the time to think will be even better (see The collaboration curse). As an illustration, regardless of current methodological trends, creativity rarely emerges rapidly. Many ideas need time to mature, they need different contexts or mindsets to get stronger. This does not often happen when teams are in ‘sprints’ or a young start-up feels under the gun in its ‘incubator’. I participated in ‘start-up accelerator’ mentoring sessions in which I advised young entrepreneurs to step back and consider if their objectives were about speed and scale. Many of them were lured by that Silicon Valley’s unicorn fantasy. Not surprisingly, the first startup decelerator program has now been created, and socratic design workshops are becoming a thing for tech executives to reconsider what’s important.
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  5. Memories are the new Mercedes Benz. The shift to experiences rather than material things accelerated, often out of need, during the Great Recession. It follows academic research showing that people get more lasting pleasure from activities rather than possessions.
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  6. Harris is the author of “The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection,” a new book about how technology affects society. It follows in the footsteps of Nicholas Carr, whose “The Shallows” is a modern classic of internet criticism. But Harris takes a different path from those that have come before. Instead of a broad investigation into the effects of constant connectivity on human behaviour, Harris looks at a very specific demographic: people born before 1985, or the very opposite of the “millennial” demographic coveted by advertisers and targeted by new media outlets.

    These people, says Harris, are the last of a dying breed. “If you were born before 1985, then you know what life is like both with the internet and without. You are making the pilgrimage from Before to After,”

    Being in this situation puts us in a privileged position.”If we’re the last people in history to know life before the internet, we are also the only ones who will ever speak, as it were, both languages. We are the only fluent translators of Before and After.”

    That means being able to notice things like the reduction of interactions to numbers, and how that translates into quantifications of human worth. “I think it has to do with this notion of online accountability. That is, noticing that you actually count seems to be related to a sense of self worth,” he says over the phone from Toronto, where he is based. “So it’s like if a tweet gets retweeted a couple of hundred times, that must mean that my thoughts are worthy. If my Facebook photo is ‘liked,’ that must mean I am good looking. One of the things that concerns me about a media diet that is overly online, is that we lose the ability to decide for ourselves what we think about who we are.”

    occasional break can be helpful. “I think what you get is a richer interior light and the ability to see yourself in a critical light, living online. Because if you’re in the middle of something you can never see it properly.
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  7. Before I moved to Switzerland for almost a decade, American Reality was all I knew. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment making $30,000 a year in a job where I worked almost seven days a week with no overtime pay and received 10 days of paid time off a year.

    In other words, for the hours worked, I was making minimum wage, if that. The glamour of this job was supposed to make up for the hours, but in reality, working every weekend is a ticket to burnout — not success.

    My husband and I were so accustomed to American Reality that when he was offered an opportunity to work in Switzerland, we both thought about travel and adventure — not about improving our quality of life. It hadn’t occurred to us that we could improve our quality of life simply by moving.

    But without realizing it, or even asking for it, a better life quality came to us. And this is why, now that I’m back, I’m angry that my own country isn’t providing more for its people. I will never regret living abroad. It taught me to understand another culture. And it taught me to see my own. But it also taught me something else — to lose touch with the American version of reality.

    Here are seven ways living abroad made it hard to return to American life.

    1) I had work-life balance
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  8. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

    After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

    Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

    This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

    Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

    For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

    Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

    One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

    The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

    I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2015-06-13)
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  9. after a couple of interstate moves in just as many years, I’ve learned the value of owning less.

    Lesson One: Most Things I Owned Were Useless
    Lesson Two: I Only Buy What I’ll Use in the Future
    Lesson Three: Durability Matters, but Not for Everything
    Lesson Four: Almost Everything Is Fixable
    Lesson Five: The Less I Own, the More Time I Spend with What I Like
    Lesson Six: Cleanliness Is Easy When You Don’t Own Junk
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  10. The robots, they say, are coming for our jobs.

    Let them, reply the luxury communists.

    The new age offers a number of undeniable boons and advancements ... that promise to make drudgery redundant

    Cybernetic meadows and machines of loving grace

    Located on the futurist left end of the political spectrum, fully automated luxury communism (FALC) aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. The term may seem oxymoronic, but that’s part of the point: anything labeled luxury communism is going to be hard to ignore.

    “There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”

    Bastani and fellow luxury communists believe that this era of rapid change is an opportunity to realise a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.

    “The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” he says. “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.
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