Auto Appliances: Are Cars Uncool?

The Atlantic: “Not that long ago, cars were still unequivocal symbols of personal power—especially in America, where basic mobility is often impossible without one. But now cars are increasingly uncool. For one part, they’re a major source of carbon emissions, and thereby a principal cause of global warming. For another part, they’re expensive to own and operate, especially in big cities.”

“Cars once lived among us, their clear-coated steel body moldings and tinted glass windows offering counterpart to human flesh and tailored textile. But soon, they will live on the inside of technology services—as components and subsystems, just as do the microprocessors and batteries and GPS units and accelerometers that drive our smartphones. Automobiles are doomed and destined to become mere parts infrastructures for worldly conveyance. There they won’t even be seen, let alone desired.”

“Even near its end, the automobile still has its wits about it. The memory of speed and power and control persists, for a moment anyway, just before it turns into yet another borrowed appliance, to be used and also forgotten.”


Terms of Service: Ownership Not Included

Quartz: “When you purchase an ebook you must agree to the Terms of Service (TOS) that tell you what you can do with it … An overwhelming majority of internet users agree to them without reading them. In one experiment 98% of users failed to notice a clause requiring them to give up their first-born as payment.”

“Using contracts to make an end-run around property law predates the web … Licensing contracts provided software businesses with a tool to control what the buyer did with their software, without the overhead of negotiating terms with each customer … Licensing agreements have been supplemented by far more pervasive TOS contracts, which extend similar protections to websites and other services. Consumer protections have, if anything, gotten weaker. People who were once owners have been transformed into mere users.”

“Despite tremendous erosion of property rights, most consumers transitioning to digital media have so far avoided the pain of losing anything they really cared about. Few have had a favorite ebook deleted or been embroiled in a legal argument over their digital inheritance. The attitudes of young adults make ownership seem positively passé. Rates of homeownership are down, the ‘sharing economy’ is up, and everything that can be streamed will be streamed … However, it may also be that most people simply haven’t yet realized that they’ve given anything up.”


You Don’t Have to be Weird to be Weird

Slate: “About 15 years ago, an independent bookseller in Texas went to battle against the specter of mega-bookstore invasion. His weapon of choice was something a purveyor of books knew best: a word. And the word was weird … He printed 5,000 bumper stickers urging citizens to KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD … The stickers flew off the shelves. And the Borders bookstore was never built in downtown Austin.”

“Weird campaigns have spread to communities in more than a dozen states. What do they all have in common? The cities have fewer than 1 million people, but most are growing. Many are state capitals or county seats and most have a vibrant arts scene. They all seem to have a strong sense of what makes them unique, and a grassroots urge to stay that way.”

“Despite its countercultural bona fides, weird has economic power. From indie booksellers to microbrews and real estate, leveraging quirkiness is good for business. Weird isn’t just a way of being, it’s an economic strategy, one that has the rough-hewn, indie-rock air of an anti-strategy … Underneath it all, the affinity for weirdness harkens back to the oldest origins of wyrd, which conjured mastery over the fates.”


Grammar Police: Greenlighting ‘Green light’

The Economist: “Because linguists spend their careers trying to tease out what people actually do say and why, they get cross when people equate ‘grammar’ with a host of rules that most people don’t actually observe. Take the so-called rule against ending sentences with a preposition. In fact, saying things like: ‘What are you talking about?’ is deeply embedded in the grammar of English. ‘About what are you talking?’ strikes real speakers of English as absurd.”

“Sometimes our mental grammars don’t know what to do with unusual cases. Take the newish verb ‘to greenlight’, meaning to approve a project. What is its past tense? ‘Light’ has the past tense ‘lit’. But some people go for “greenlighted” (Variety, a film-industry magazine, prefers this) whereas others go for ‘greenlit’. Why the confusion? It’s because ‘to greenlight’ was formed anew from a noun phrase, ‘a green light’. One mental rule is that new words are always regular; hence ‘greenlighted’. But other people’s mental grammars see ‘greenlight as a form of the verb ‘to light’, an existing irregular verb with the past tense ‘lit’; hence ‘greenlit’.”

“This implicit grammatical knowledge overwhelms, in its intricacy and depth, the relatively few rules that people must be consciously taught at school. But since the implicit stuff is hidden in plain sight, it gets overlooked.”


Saks Downtown: Digitized Bricks

The Wall Street Journal: “The newest Saks store, dubbed ‘Saks Downtown’ in lower Manhattan, boasts a slew of web-inspired features aimed at making online and offline shopping a seamless experience … The layout leads shoppers in a circle, mimicking the endless browsing available online … Cash registers are tucked out of sight. Many employees do mobile checkout via iPad.”

“Fitting rooms have plush carpeting, flattering lighting and communal seating … Saks lowered the level of its highest fixtures to about 5-and-1/2 feet, so the shopper can see more of the store. Aiming to offer a range of options on the scale of a website, the small store is making big bets, with more than 1,000 pairs of shoes and more than 800 pairs of sunglasses on display.”

“Saks hopes its stores will benefit from offering online shoppers a customized personal-shopping experience. Visitors to Saks’s ecommerce site can connect with a real human sales associate, not an impersonal bot, which other retail brands are testing … Shoppers get several ways to connect to the employee: Live chat (including notification of whether the associate is available at that moment); appointment scheduling, whether in store, over the phone or online at a later time; and an email form to submit questions.”


Let There Be Li-Fi!

The Economist: “Li-Fi works with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), an increasingly popular way of illuminating homes and offices, and applies the same principle as that used by naval signal lamps … it encodes messages in flashes of light. It can be used to create a local-area network, or LAN, in a way similar to the LANs made possible by standard, microwave-based Wi-Fi.”

“Such LANs would … have two advantages over standard Wi-Fi. One is that light does not penetrate walls. A Li-Fi LAN in a windowless room is thus more secure than one using Wi-Fi, whose microwave signals pass easily through most building materials and can thus be listened to by outsiders. The other advantage is that light does not interfere with radio or radar signals in the way that microwaves sometimes do. Li-Fi can therefore be installed in hospitals, nuclear plants and other sites where Wi-Fi might create dangerous interference with electronic kit.”

“One business about to benefit from this selectivity is commercial aviation … It would mean that LANs could be set up in the cabin, distributing entertainment to passengers and permitting those with Li-Fi-equipped phones and computers to contact the outside world … The technology may even be co-opted as a navigation tool … to “eventually show passengers to, for instance, the correct baggage carousel for their flight. In the hypermarket they direct shoppers … to the locations of desired items.”


Silver Screeners: A New ‘Golden Age’ in Cinema

The Guardian: “In America and Canada, 15% of over-60s were defined as ‘frequent moviegoers’ in 2015, up from 14% the year before and 10% the year before that. It is a similar story in the UK, where between 2008 and 2015 the share of over-55s in the audience increased every year (apart from 2011), hitting a peak of 12.5% last year.”

“More than the actual films though, it is the surrounding experience at the cinema that is pulling this generation through the doors … comfort levels have been rising dramatically as ‘silver screeners’ attend in greater numbers.” For example: “An increase in depth, as well as the width, of seats means that often you now don’t have to stand up to allow others to get by on their way to the toilet.”

” … Unlike in multiplexes, independent cinemas look to create a welcoming environment for older people by making sure sound-absorbent materials are fitted into front of house areas so that customers can ‘hear one another without difficulty’ … cinemas are also increasingly convenient for a mature audience to access … instead of making the traditional move to seaside resorts, a large chunk of well-to-do retirees … are instead opting for market towns where they can continue to be active. As wealthy pensioners increasingly live in urban hubs, going to the movies has never been easier for them.”


Handle With Care: The Flatscreen Solution

The Verge: “Dutch bicycle manufacturer VanMoof found that it had a problem. As it shipped its products to customers, it found that they were arriving to customers damaged. The company came up with a genius solution: print a graphic of a flatscreen television on the side of the box.”

“By making its shippers think that they were transporting flatscreen televisions” damage to its bikes was reduced by “70-80 percent.” Bex Rad of VanMoof comments: “Your covetable products, your frictionless website, your killer brand — they all count for nothing when your delivery partner drops the ball.”


West Elm ‘Retails’ Boutique Hotels

The Wall Street Journal: “Furniture retailer West Elm is worried about following other chains down the rabbit hole of opening too many stores. So the company has another plan to sustain its growth: launching a chain of boutique hotels. West Elm will design, furnish and market the hotels, the first of which will open in Detroit and Savannah in late 2018 … Guests will be able to buy the room furniture and other décor online.”

“The hotel project thrusts West Elm, part of Williams-Sonoma Inc., into a fast-growing, but crowded field. Most of the major hotel chains have launched boutique hotel brands in recent years as travelers have come to crave unique experiences rather than the standardization that was once their biggest selling point … Industry experts say there is room for more entrants. Despite growing 24% over the past six years, the number of boutique hotel rooms still represents just 2% of the total supply.”

“To test its ideas for West Elm Hotels, the company built mock rooms in a Brooklyn warehouse … Guests who like the furnishings will have an opportunity to purchase them through an app they can download when they check in, or on West Elm’s website. No price tags will be displayed in the rooms, however.” West Elm says it “could eventually have as many hotels as retail stores.”