Top 10 Media Trends of the Year

  1. Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
  2. Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
  3. Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
  4. Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
  5. Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
  6. Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
  7. Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
  8. Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
  9. Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
  10. Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.

10 books that have influenced me

I was prompted recently by a Facebook chain to list the 10 books that have influenced me the most. It was fun to put together the list, and I gave it some thought, so wanted to post it here on the blog also:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch: Lewis Dartnell
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
Underworld – Don DeLillo
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies – Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
How Proust Can Change Your Life: Alain de Botton
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study – Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Hitch-22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens

Hey Keynes, whatever happened to our 15-hour work week?

A couple in a Hammock.

Has technology given us more leisure time or less? Keynes thought that we would work only 15-hour weeks in the 21st century, like Marketplace recently mentioned. We were supposed to produce enough goods and services to satisfy the population even if each person worked less. Instead it seems we work more and more, and have less and less time.

This is an interesting question in this age where we’re facing stubbornly high unemployment, that seems to have become structural. The Partially Examined Life podcast recently had an episode featuring Frithjof Bergmann. Bergmann says it’s the focus on constant growth that has led to the unemployment. He argues for what he calls “New Work”, where people work with what they enjoy and spend their leisure time doing work for the community. He argues that “jobs” is a relatively new concept, that goes against human nature. Based on his book detailing the “pleasures and sorrows of work”, Alain de Botton would certainly agree that most of the work we do is by necessity only. It is an attractive idea that we could achieve more leisure time to focus on higher human needs, but following Bergmann’s ideals might mean we all end up on a hippie commune doing organic farming.

Bergmann also argues that it’s the focus on constant growth in our markets and society that has led to the high unemployment we’re seeing. Cato Institute had a podcast the other week on the limits of growth. There, Brink Lindsey referenced Tyler Cowen‘s book The Great Stagnation, saying that growth was becoming harder and harder given that all the “low hanging fruit” has been plucked in terms of innovations. It’s inarguably true that creating smartphone apps is not furthering our civilization as a whole, and the tough problems facing us, like climate change, require a different level of innovation.

We also keep seeing inane company responses to the limitless search for growth, such as the mergers between Publicis and Omnicom, or between Random House and Penguin. Doesn’t the digital economy mean that companies need to become more nimble and faster? Instead, we’re seeing companies merge and create slow-moving behemoths.

It is certainly true that the big innovations are not valued by the market. VC firms don’t invest in the companies that are trying to solve the hardest issues, Pharma firms only buy up small biotech firms instead of making their own investments, and most tellingly of all, Google X, where they’re really trying to take moonshots and solve big problems, is valued as “neutral to benign” by the market.

Would it be possible to find a new model where we do just the work we enjoy and enjoy more leisure time, and where some people work on the issues most pressing for humanity as a whole? Or is it incompatible with our market economy? One of the solutions to the growth limits was also mentioned by Cato recently, in a podcast with Michael Clemens discussing how migration boosts GDP. Perhaps the French were on to something after all when they stipulated the much-maligned 35-hour week? They certainly have defined what we mean by leisure. Let’s all migrate there. As long as they abandon their 75% tax rate…

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Secular Age, On Being, De Botton and finding God everywhere

A recent David Brooks op-ed discussed Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age. I think my key takeaway was the quote that people are “incapable of being indifferent to the transcendent”. People are rejecting organised religions since they are too educated and too well-informed to be able to accept the questionable parts that come with them. But that doesn’t mean that they are content with a daily life that has no spiritual aspects.
One of my favorite books of recent years, as I’ve mentioned before, is Alain De Botton‘s Religion for Atheists. De Botton highlights a number of ways for today’s secular, hurried and discerning person to regain some of the aspects that religion would have given them had they been born a hundred years ago. Some of my favorites include treating museums as churches that open our minds to new influences, and filling our calendar with regular times for ritual, the way the church year makes introspection structured and regular by designating specific days for it.
According to Brooks, Taylor says people are moving toward a galloping spiritual pluralism. Everyone wants to have their own religion in our age of individualism. De Botton’s structured approach could help them get there. A podcast that looks at spirituality in a similar vein is APM’s On Being. In it, Krista Tippett explores all today’s differing facets of spirituality, and all the ways people have of finding their own God, and their own connection with a higher sense of being. It offers many interesting takes on where faith pops up in our secular world. For me, the most interesting ones are the ones where religion, technology and philosophy intersects, such as this episode on string theory and this one on exoplanets.
With the growth of meditation in Silicon Valley, and Tim Ferriss offering his version of meditating, we’re seeing more and more examples of people being able to marry spirituality with science and knowledge. Seems like there is still hope that we can all achieve spiritual fulfillment even in this secular age.

Regular reminder of our tininess in the universe – part 2


In the category of posts on the Alain de Botton-inspired idea of replacing religion in our secular world with other examples of contemplating something bigger than ourselves:

Beautiful picture of a spiral-formed galaxy on, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.


Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt 

Daily reminder of our tininess in the universe

I think in order to be happier people, a regular reminder of how small we are in relation to the universe, and what a tiny fraction of the history of the earth we occupy, can be in order.

I think I might have gotten this idea from Alain De Botton’s Religion for Atheists.

Often, this feeling might be best portrayed through an image. Here you can find today’s image: