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2 of every 2 U.S. households have only wireless phones, but the growth rate of wireless-only households slowed last year.


2 of every 2 U.S. households have only wireless phones, but the growth rate of wireless-only households slowed last year.

That’s what happens with disruption — while it is happening, it seems like it is going slowly. Then all of a sudden things are different.
The future has already been a disappointment.

Paul Starr, The Second Machine Age, Reviewed 

Starr juxtaposes techno optimism and pessimism, spiraling about the core question: why doesn’t rapid innovation in technology and science lead to a/ higher productivity and b/ better economic outcomes for all?

Brynjolfsson and McAfee, the authors of The Second Machine Age, blame the former on organizational inertia, and the fact that value may not be falling, even when prices are (think about the music industry). Basically, they say our economics hasn’t caught up with the foundational changes in our economy.

Robert Gordon is a Northwestern economist who has long contended that technology’s benefits are largely overstated. His work suggests that growth might be less than 1% in the decades to come because of various ‘headwinds’ — like demographic change, declining educational quality, inequality, and economic adjustment (think music business).

Starr summarizes Gordon’s position on b/:

Unless we change our policies in such areas as education, health care, and taxation, the bottom 99 percent will not see much improvement in living standards. For the great majority of Americans, the problem is that productivity growth, whatever its real level, is not translating into higher incomes. The gains from growth are going to the top—and on this point Brynjolfsson and McAfee have no disagreement with Gordon.

Starr wants to end on a hopeful note, so he suggests that ‘we will find a way forward only when we can put growth and equality back together’.

But that is more of dream than a roadmap. Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century suggests that we might be moving into an era — the postnormal — when income inequality and the oligarchic conservation of wealth will become the new steady state. And technological innovation may be an engine for that, rather than a force for equality and a better future for all.

It heightens the level of uncertainty, anxiety and risk aversion, to know that you’re only a bad day and half a dozen tweets from being fired.

Ben Domenech, cited by Maureen Dowd in Who Do We Think We Are?

Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.

Ben Smith, cited by Maureen Dowd in Who Do We Think We Are?

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin J. Page cited in Are Cities Laboratories for the Future of Democracy? by Drew Reed

(Source:, via studio630)

The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.

Bill Watterson

Office as a City: A New Metaphor and Design Approach

Clive Wilkinson is an architect that recently worked with the Barbarian Group to resign its NYC offices, including a 1,100-foot-long ‘table’ that forms a moebius-like ribbon running around the 23,000-square-foot office. He was interviewed by Elaine Louie about the reasoning involved.

Mr. Wilkinson designed an “endless table” for the Barbarian Group, an Internet advertising company in New York. source: Michael Moran

Elaine Louie, Table Manners at Work

What does the table have to do with how a workplace should function?

The lesson of it was cohesion in the community and about people connecting as well as they could ever connect. It was about flexibility: You could expand or contract your business. Barbarian has a population of about 125, but it can expand to 175. The only thing you have to worry about is adding task chairs. It’s about open structure, about making villages in buildings, for taking urban design thinking into large workplaces.

What does urban design have to do with an office?

We’ve done a number of projects taking ideas of how cities and villages work. In those situations, people occupy neighborhoods, and they have a structure of space that is familiar, so it gives them a strong sense of place. There is a variety of spaces that have distinct character, with main streets that connect you.

This is much like the thinking behind the new offices of Square in San Francisco:

David Zax, Why Square Designed Its New Offices To Work Like a City

“We were very inspired by city design and by cities in general–by areas where people cohabitate, come together, and share things in a quick and easy manner,” Gorman says. “We wanted to bring that same sensibility to the office.” And so instead of talking about a main hallway when describing the office, Gorman explains how there’s a large “avenue” running from end to end. A coffee bar in the middle acts as a sort of “town square.” Glass paneled meeting rooms are named for San Francisco intersections, “6th and Divisidero,” “6th and Ashbury,” and so on (Square’s offices are principally on the 6th floor of its building).

The design of the office “motivates people to move around the office and interact in casual, unscheduled ways,” he explains–just like the well-planned public spaces of a great city. Early concepts for the office were motivated by old 18th-century maps of cities. “When I think about a city,” Gorman says, “I shop, I go get coffee, I go to the park, I go for walks. We wanted to create that same variety in the office.” In addition to its in-house café (and in-house debugger/barista), Square has been experimenting with pop-up stores and artisan merchants appearing within Square’s own offices.

I wrote on this topic, obliquely:

The new way of work is as big a break with the industrial model as the industrial model was with the time of artisanal and agricultural work that preceded the rise of steam power and electricity. Unlike that transition, however, we will not be looking for inspiration from armies, or the slave battalions that built the pyramids. No, instead we will look to nature, or the growth of cities for inspiration.

The fast-and-loose business that is emerging as the new way of work runs more like a forest or a city than a machine. We need to learn by imitating rich ecosystems, where the appearance of chaos yields to emergent order, and reject order imposed by fiat.

These approaches replace the hierarchy lurking in the dark shadows of the office, and replace it with the street, where everyone is walking the same pavement.

from OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2014

Americans work longer hours than other developed countries (1790 hours annually), like Denmark, which has the highest happiness in the world (1546 hours annually). And 45% of men and 20% of women work more than 40 hours per week, which in many case is uncompensated.