- Inequality – The growth in inequality, both within countries and between countries, was one of the key themes of the year, from Obama’s speech in the beginning of the year to Thomas Piketty’s book which defined large parts of the academic debate.
- Commoditization of all assets – This was the year that the sharing economy really took hold, with all its many positive effects, but also giving a feeling that there is an ongoing commoditization of all assets – from the car you drive (Uber), to your apartment (Airbnb), to your time (Taskrabbit).
- Mindfulness – This was the year that mindfulness and meditation became huge, with the increased popularity of smartphone apps like Buddhify and Silicon Valley companies all competing to offer the most mindfulness-friendly environment.
- U.S. Energy independence – OPEC’s decision to not take action on their production the other week feels like a defining moment for the shale revolution and the US energy independence.
- Payments finally going mobile – There have been many promising mobile payment solutions, but now with the launch of Apple Pay, it feels like this might finally be about to take off. A group in Sweden have already implanted chips into their bodies, in order to not even have to whip out their smartphone.
- Robotics – Robotics is on the verge of a breakthrough, perhaps not yet in terms of consumer robots, but at least in terms of manufacturing and automation. Nowhere was this more clear than with Google buying up robotics companies left, right and center this year, like Boston Dynamics and DeepMind.
- Miniaturization – Another interesting Google announcement this year was the Google smart contact lens, a contact lens with sensors that can measure health stats, showing the enormous potential of miniaturization and sensors in everything.
- The rise of a Sino-centric Asia – With China forming its own development banks to rival the World Bank and IMF, it has thrown down the gauntlet to start shaping Asia in its image. The ADIZ in the East China Sea was put up last year, and one in the South China Sea seems to be just a matter of time.
- Immortality – This year saw a steady rise in the use of health-tracking devices, techniques to extend human lives, and not to mention diets with less calorie consumption meant to extend life.
- Smart Urbanization – The world is getting more and more urbanized, with more than 50% of the world’s population in cities since a few years back. The need is therefore for smart urban solutions. This year saw this trend taking shape, with architects, designers and entrepreneurs joining urban planners in designing smart solutions.
Slate is launching new podcasts left, right and center these days, which is of course a great thing. First we had Felix Salmon’s awesome finance podcast Money, then Mike Pesca’s inimitable, loquacious and erudite The Gist, and now recently, even a SCOTUS-themed podcast, Dahlia Lithwick’s Amicus. These are all great and you should check them out (I’m speaking like the card-carrying Slate Plus member that I am).
The latest addition to the roster caught my attention for a different reason, however. David Plotz, former editor (now head of Atlas Obscura, which is also great), has started a series of interviewing podcasts called Working. He was interviewed about the show in a separate podcast segment, and he described how he had been influenced to do the show by Studs Terkel’s 1970’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. The interesting thing was that Plotz himself realized, and acknowledged, that his selection of people was starkly different than Terkel’s.
Where Terkel had interviewed people from all segments of society, Plotz had stuck mostly to the creative classes (that is according to himself, since there have only been two installments so far). As mentioned, Plotz noted this himself, but he didn’t seem apologetic about it, or finding it a shortcoming, but rather he presented it as an intuitive and normal choice.
The fact that this feels normal seems very much in line with the rest of the current media debate, in line with the lack of debate and solutions about inequality that we can see in all media. There are much more stories on increasing productivity and how to squeeze a few extra minutes of valuable time into our days rather than how to create new levels of productivity for the masses.
Granted, podcasts are mostly an “elitist” media (an interesting discussion about the audience of podcasts can be found on a recent Mediatwits podcast), but it is largely the same in most other mainstream media outlets, except a few outlets that are clearly on the left, such as Mother Jones.
Given the potentially massive impact that inequality is bound to have globally, both in developed and developing countries in the coming decades, it seems like a vast hole in our media debate.