How Amazon surrendered in its war on bookshops – New Statesman [T]he number of independent bookshops in the UK been growing steadily since 2017. In 1995 the UK had 1,894 independent bookshops, according to the Booksellers Association. By 2016 the number had halved to just 867. But despite the pandemic’s effect on small businesses, in 2021 the number of independent bookshops grew 6 per cent, surpassing 1,000. […]
But in many ways, explains Roland Bates, who works at Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham, the very technology that once posed an existential threat to independents has become hugely beneficial. Wholesalers’ increased efficiency means many bookshops, Kirkdale and Chener included, are able to order books for customers to be available for pick-up the next day. Meanwhile, endeavours like Hive and Bookshop.org aim to offer a comparable service to Amazon Books while giving shoppers the ability to nominate an independent bookstore to receive a proportion of the sale, which Bates says was particularly useful as a revenue stream during lockdown.
Mark Zuckerberg’s augmented reality – The Verge Animating the push for AR glasses and Facebook’s rebrand to Meta is a desire by Zuckerberg to cast the company he founded as innovative once again, people familiar with his thinking say. The social network’s reputation has been stained by a series of privacy and content moderation scandals, hurting employee morale and faith in leadership. Regulators are trying to break the company up and curb its business of personalized advertising. And among its Silicon Valley peers, it has become known as a ruthless copycat. If the AR glasses and the other futuristic hardware Meta is building eventually catch on, they could cast the company, and by extension Zuckerberg, in a new light. “Zuck’s ego is intertwined with [the glasses],” a former employee who worked on the project tells me. “He wants it to be an iPhone moment.”
Remember those Amazon Bookstores I mentioned a while back, with their odd shelving arrangements? They started off full of promise.
Amazon begins a new chapter with opening of first physical bookstore – The Guardian Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the surprise initiative showed the strength of demand for hardback and paperback books. “This is a vote of confidence in the physical book and the physical book store,” he said. “Book stores have been imperilled in recent years, but even Amazon has seen the benefit of a physical browsing experience.”
Is Amazon’s brick-and-mortar store a facade for e-commerce? – Fortune The ideas brought forth in Amazon Books are novel—such as review cards for each title that feature an aggregate of Amazon.com user ratings and a critic’s review—but industry experts believe the store is more interesting in what it’s attempting to achieve: to drive online sales through a brick-and-mortar presence.
… and they’ve finally shut up shop for good.
Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expands – Reuters Amazon had aimed to reach shoppers in more places and bring its online touch into the real world. Its bookstores would pull from its vast data trove and showcase what people were reading, even the reviews they left on Amazon’s website. But the company’s innovations were not enough to counter the march toward online shopping that Amazon itself had set off. Its “physical stores” revenue – a mere 3% of Amazon’s $137 billion in sales last quarter, largely reflective of consumer spending at its Whole Foods subsidiary – has often failed to keep pace with growth in the retailer’s other businesses.
Amazon to close all Bookstores – Publishers Weekly The opening of its first store and subsequent national rollout gave rise to widespread speculation about what Amazon’s goals and motives were in opening the outlets, as well as a guessing game about where Amazon Books would next appear. Despite rumors that the company planned to open hundreds of bookstores, the chain’s impact on the overall bookstore business has been negligible.
Amazon is closing its terrible brick-and-mortar Bookstores – Curbed “Spending time browsing here was among my most dismal shopping experiences in recent memory: joyless, arbitrary, spiritually empty. And that was before a 20-something guy bounded into the store and started screaming: ‘Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!’” read a New York Times review of the 4-Star store in Soho. “Antiseptic and bewildering,” said The New Republic, which pointed out that readers generally didn’t care if books were on a lot of other people’s wish lists, had 4.8 versus 4.7 stars or were “hot on Amazon.” Many people noted that the bookstore’s selection was incredibly sparse, much more so than a normal bookstore, in part because the books were all displayed facing out to attract maximal attention and showcase their data points.
VR headsets are bulky and cumbersome, convincing virtual touch is a long way off, and I’ve no idea if virtual smell is a thing. But not to worry, enthuses philosophy professor David Chalmers, “these temporary limitations will pass.”
Adventures in technophilosophy: On the reality of virtual worlds – Literary Hub The physics engines that underpin VR are improving. In years to come, the headsets will get smaller, and we will transition to glasses, contact lenses, and eventually retinal or brain implants. The resolution will get better, until a virtual world looks exactly like a nonvirtual world. We will figure out how to handle touch, smell, and taste. We may spend much of our lives in these environments, whether for work, socializing, or entertainment. My guess is that within a century we will have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from the nonvirtual world.
And from this assertion it’s only a short haptic skip and a jump to his take on simulation theory and his belief that VR technologies will eventually “be able to support lives that are on a par with or even surpass life in physical reality.”
As much as I enjoy spending time in Second Life, I think I’ll leave the notion that virtual worlds could one day be indistinguishable from the physical world to the movies. Here’s Joanne McNeil’s take on VR and the metaverse.
Money isn’t the opposite of freedom, exactly, but capitalism certainly forecloses on our degrees of it. In a widely circulated interview The Verge conducted in December with the stars of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves laughed at the idea of NFTs and seemed largely unimpressed with Facebook and other “capitalistic platform” applications of virtual world technology, which he is otherwise enthusiastic about.
NFTs again. It’s hard to imagine them providing a solid foundation for the metaverse.
But other artists say that the past year’s crypto boom has been a nightmare. Among the problems is that anyone can “mint” a digital file as an NFT, whether or not they have rights to it in the first place, and the process is anonymous by default. “It is much easier to make forgeries in the blockchain space than in the traditional art world. It’s as simple as right-click, save,” said Tina Rivers Ryan, a curator and expert in digital art at the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo, New York. “It’s also harder to fight forgers. How do you sue the anonymous holder of a crypto wallet? In which jurisdiction?”
The big Bitcoin drop, explained – Wealthsimple “The market is still deciding whether [bitcoin] is going to be an alternate financial system or if it’s some kind of a scam,” Stephane Ouellette, of the Toronto-based institutional crypto platform FRNT Financial, told Bloomberg in December. After all, even if you do believe that cryptocurrencies will lead to a new technological era and change the financial world and all that jazz, bitcoin might not be the token that endures and defines defi. The big question is whether the panic late this week and the forced sales will continue to weigh on bitcoin’s price, or if crypto true believers and value seekers can outweigh these forces.
Curiosity has finally gotten the better of me. I’ve just signed up with Ziglu to buy a tiny fraction of an Ether and an absolutely miniscule fraction of a Bitcoin.
Money, done differently – Ziglu Money doesn’t need to be confusing. Buy and sell digital currency within seconds at great rates. Send or gift both traditional and digital currency to anyone – instantly. Payments in any currency to family, friends or businesses – instantly and anywhere.
I’m not the only one a little curious.
Crypto by the county – how attitudes vary across the country – Ziglu When we commissioned a poll at the beginning of the year to get a view of attitudes towards cryptocurrency across the country, we weren’t expecting such a difference in attitudes between regions of the UK. Londoners are over four times more likely to have invested in crypto than the Scottish; the Northern Irish are 50% more curious about crypto than the East Anglians.
Brits curious yet baffled by cryptocurrency – Finextra Of the three in ten people (31%) curious about investing in crypto, 62% have held back from buying any because they do not understand the market, while 43% say they do not know of a safe way to buy it. However, the nationally representative survey of 2,000 Brits, commissioned by money app Ziglu and conducted by OnePoll, also found that they would invest if they had a better understanding of cryptocurrencies (64%) and mainstream financial institutions start offering crypto to retail customers (36%).
CEO Mark Hipperson is the man behind Starling Bank, and is no stranger to tricky conversations with regulators and investors when starting things like this.
Ziglu wants to bring the challenger bank mindset to crypto – Tech.eu “So you’re launching a new bank that’s going to be an app only bank. Your website is not going to do any servicing, which was pretty unique at the time, it’s through this app only. You’re not going to deal with cash, you’ve got no branches, you’re not going to deal with cheques and you’ve not got billions of pounds in reserves like all the other big banks. And you think you’ve got a chance to compete in the marketplace?”
It was scepticism overcome as the app-only bank model has been normalised, he added, and people now expect that ease and usability in all their dealings with financial services.
There was that guy who accidentally deleted his entire company, but do you remember Michael Landy? He’s one of the Young British Artists, the one who methodically catalogued, disassembled and then shredded all of his possessions — all of them, including clothes, family photos, passport, artwork, car — over a two week period in a performance art piece called Break Down.
Michael Landy on Break Down – Artangel Certain people criticised Break Down as a spectacle, but a spectacle is passive, and this wasn’t. Shoppers wanted to know what was going on; you could divide them into two groups. People who had heard about the project (knowing faces) and people who walked in from the street (quizzical faces). Certain shoppers thought this was a new way of selling things – they would offer me money for parts of my car, little old ladies would bring back clothes, which they had bought at the C&A closing down sale. […]
One day a young woman approached me whilst I was on the platform. She asked would I consider swapping my dad’s sheepskin coat for what she had in her duffel bag. I told her I couldn’t swap it, but she was more than welcome to try and steal it. Eight months later I was with Gillian in Tesco’s in Bethnal Green and I saw exactly the same sheepskin coat, worn by a man, maybe one size smaller than my dad’s. I wondered whether she did steal it in the end and it was having a second life.
So where does one go after something like that? Back to the drawing board.
Break Down – Michael Landy – Google Arts & Culture Like a phoenix from the ashes, this drawing was part of the process of recapitulating an experience that left Landy with nothing. It amounts to an existential anti-shopping list. ‘Having nothing was a kind of regression, so I was interested in going back to being a child, to just having a drawing pencil and paper.’ Retrospectively, he traces the stages of the disassembly process in pen and ink, employing a line-by-line precision with the pedantry of a military re-enactment. He anatomises his life in terms of the humdrum, a vision of wheelie bins, goggles, odd socks and camera crews, scrutinising the idea that ‘somehow at some point we begin to create our own biographies from the things we own or possess’.
That was twenty years ago. How does he feel about it all now?
What was it like when it was all over? In the pub on the last night, he says: “I got very paranoid. I have talked about it as the happiest two weeks of my life, but it was also like witnessing my own funeral. People would come along who I hadn’t seen for years, and then I worked it out: I was only seeing them because I’d in a sense died.”
His work certainly struck a chord, and is as relevant today as it was then (sadly).
The man who destroyed all his belongings – BBC Culture Break Down – which remains Landy’s best-known work – is considered a provocative masterpiece of recent British art. Moreover, because consumerism in the West has only accelerated since 2001 – witness, for instance, the rise of YouTube vloggers such as Zoella who devote entire videos to rummaging through shopping bags in order to celebrate high-street ‘hauls’ – it has also come to seem remarkably prescient.
Yes we do, I think we are more than the sum of our parts.
Actually that cropped up afterwards with the artwork Acts of Kindness on the London underground. It refers to when we don’t have the economic means to offer material things, we have our kindness and humanity to offer, which actually gets overlooked a lot. People don’t even notice they have those elements but they are being kind and humane to others without even realising they are doing so.
I think that is what came out of Break Down too. People were really kind to me and really open and when I literally had nothing I started to think, what makes us human, and basically that was humanity and a connection between a person and a complete stranger, that kind of emotional bridge between the self and other.
We’re being encouraged to return to our offices, as everything’s fine now, apparently.
‘Stay at home’ message ditched as Gove urges more people to go back to work – Sky News Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Gove said: “We want to see more people back at work, on the shop floor, in the office, wherever they can be. Of course in some cases it is appropriate and convenient for people to work from home, but we want to make sure that where people can add value, where the economy can benefit from people being at work, that they are at work.
England to make masks mandatory in shops – Financial Times Government guidance on face coverings has been contradictory in recent days, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove saying on Sunday they should not become mandatory in English shops. There has also been confusion over advice to workplaces after ministers on Monday encouraged office staff to return to work where possible, although the official government guidance — which is for people to work from home if possible — has not changed.
So are you back in the office yet, or are you still dialling in from home? If the latter, this free e-book might help.
Take control of working from home temporarily – Take Control Books We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. In the middle of a global viral outbreak, you were told or asked to work from home—and you’ve never or rarely had to be productive where you live before. What to do? We’re here to take some stress out of your life with a new, free book that details how to set up a home office and balance work and home life for those not accustomed to it.
Perhaps you don’t intend to go back to the office full time.
Is the five-day office week over? – The New York Times “You should never be thinking about full time or zero time,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford whose research has identified causal links between remote work and employee performance. “I’m a firm believer in post-Covid half time in the office.”
According to a new survey by Morning Consult, 47 percent of those working remotely say that once it’s safe to return to work, their ideal arrangement would be to continue working from home one to four days a week. Forty percent would work from home every day, and just 14 percent would return to the office every day.
Great interest in 12-month Welcome Stamp – Barbados Government Information Service Ms. Mottley said: “COVID-19 has presented tremendous challenges to those countries that are tourism and travel dependent and we have reached a position where we recognize that part of the challenge relates to short term travel …. So, if we can have a mechanism that allows people who want to…take advantage of being in a different part of the world, of the sun, sea and sand, and … a stable society; one that functions well, then Barbados is a perfect place for you to come.
“Rather than coming for the usual week, or three weeks or a month, why not plan out your business, given the fact that all we have gotten from COVID-19 is uncertainty. So, we can give you certainty for the next 12 months … and you can work from here.”
What’s reopening on June 15? All of the lockdown restrictions easing on Monday – London Evening Standard All non-essential retail shops will be able to reopen from Monday, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed last night. Mr Sharma said the move will “allow high streets up and down the country to spring back to life”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, tailors, auction houses, photography studios, indoor markets, and shops selling toys.
Things might start to feel a little more normal for some, but for others less so.
It’s a difficult balancing act, with different parts of the country experiencing different transmission rates.
The UK may need local lockdowns. But can it make them work? – Wired UK Explaining to the public what scientific evidence local rules are based on will be key. “Under local lockdowns it seems very likely that people who live not very far from each other will end up receiving very different policing responses. So it will be important that those most affected understand the basis of those decisions, else they may feel they’re being unreasonably or unfairly dealt with,” says Stuart Lister, professor of policing and criminal justice at University of Leeds.
No change for me next week, though. I’ll still be working from home, logging in from the kitchen table with its view of our little garden and bird feeders. I could get quite used to this.
Remote work’s time has come – City Journal [I]t’s important to bear in mind that the pivot to remote work due to Covid-19 is being made under extraordinary conditions, rushed and relatively unplanned. Many will be attempting to work remotely while simultaneously providing child care and dealing with other pandemic-related exigencies. … The sudden expansion of remote work will feel especially socially isolating, since it is occurring amid general social distancing. In short, this is the worst version of modern remote work. It will get better.
Let’s hope so. The question we’re all asking is, when will all this go back to normal, whatever that new normal ends up being?
WFH = working from home. An abbreviation I hadn’t heard of until recently. It seems we’re all at it. Well, not all of us.
The great Zoom divide: How working from home is a privilege – New Statesman
Supporting the WFH and self-isolating economy is an army of factory and warehouse workers who are now busier than ever. There is much awareness and respect, rightfully, for medical staff who are at the frontlines of fighting Covid-19 – but what about those on the industrial frontlines? Who is protecting them? How can we keep essential supplies and functions running without exposing these workers to health risks? Is that even possible?
Avoiding Coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t afford – New York Times
For many workers, being sick means choosing between staying home and getting paid. One-quarter of workers have no access to paid sick days, according to Labor Department data: two-thirds of the lowest earners but just 6 percent of the highest earners. Just a handful of states and local governments have passed sick leave laws. Only 60 percent of workers in service occupations can take paid time off when they are ill — and they are also more likely than white-collar workers to come in contact with other people’s bodies or food.
But for those of us who are, there’s no end of advice out there, from kit to clothes.
Stykka designs a temporary workstation so you’ll stay the f*** home – Design Milk
When Denmark ordered people to stay home, Stykka got creative knowing many people had to share workspaces at home with their families or had to use the dining table. They challenged themselves to use only cardboard, zip ties, and a laser cutter, and in less than 24 hours, they not only had a prototype but they were ready to ship the desks out. Once received, the desk takes less than 10 minutes to assemble.
Don’t mute, get a better headset – Matt Mullenweg
When you’re speaking to a muted room, it’s eerie and unnatural — you feel alone even if you can see other people’s faces. You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the “unmute to raise your hand” behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening.
As population works from home, Walmart reports increased sales for tops but not pants – CBS News
Men’s fashion brand Suitsupply is getting in on both sides of the trend. The company recently posted a photo on Instagram of a model wearing a button-down, tie and blazer on top — and nothing but underwear on the bottom. “Working from home doesn’t mean compromising on style. Keep your look professional—from the waist up at least,” the brand wrote. Scrolling through the Instagram post leads to a picture that says, “Off-camera?” before featuring the same model, this time wearing a sweatshirt.
Zoom announces 90-day feature freeze to fix privacy and security issues – The Verge
Zoom has never shared user numbers before, but Yuan reveals that back in December the company had a maximum of 10 million daily users. “In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid,” says Yuan. That’s a huge increase that has seen people use Zoom for reasons nobody expected before the coronavirus pandemic.
Security and privacy implications of Zoom – Schneier on Security
In general, Zoom’s problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations. […] Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it’s in the spotlight, it’s all coming out.
Automated tool can find 100 Zoom meeting IDs per hour – The Verge
In addition to being able to find around 100 meetings per hour, one instance of zWarDial can successfully determine a legitimate meeting ID 14 percent of the time, Lo told Krebs on Security. And as part of the nearly 2,400 upcoming or recurring Zoom meetings zWarDial found in a single day of scanning, the program extracted a meeting’s Zoom link, date and time, meeting organizer, and meeting topic, according to data Lo shared with Krebs on Security.
Whereas I’m a little wary of some of the assumptions and theories behind a few of the posts on their Facebook page, the team at Design You Trust have managed to pick out quite a few thought-provoking and amusing images.
We’re surrounded by stuff, let’s get rid of it all. Jia Tolentino reviews The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism by Kyle Chayka, and wonders whether, beneath the vision of “less” as a life style, there is a path to something more profound.
The pitfalls and the potential of the new minimalism – The New Yorker
It is rarely acknowledged, by either the life-hack-minded authors or the proponents of minimalist design, that many people have minimalism forced upon them by circumstances that render impossible a serene, jewel-box life style. Nor do they mention that poverty and trauma can make frivolous possessions seem like a lifeline rather than a burden. Many of today’s gurus maintain that minimalism can be useful no matter one’s income, but the audience they target is implicitly affluent—the pitch is never about making do with less because you have no choice. Millburn and Nicodemus frequently describe their past lives as spiritually empty twentysomethings with six-figure incomes. McKeown pitches his insights at people who have a surplus of options as a consequence of success. Kondo recently launched an online store, suggesting that the left hand might declutter while the right hand buys a seventy-five-dollar rose-quartz tuning fork. […]
“The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism,” a new book by the journalist and critic Kyle Chayka, arrives not as an addition to the minimalist canon but as a corrective to it. Chayka aims to find something deeper within the tradition than an Instagram-friendly aesthetic and the “saccharine and predigested” advice of self-help literature. Writing in search of the things that popular minimalism sweeps out of the frame—the void, transience, messiness, uncertainty—he surveys minimalist figures in art, music, and philosophy, searching for a “minimalism of ideas rather than things.”
Along the way, he offers sharp critiques of thing-oriented minimalism. The sleek, simple devices produced by Apple, which encourage us to seamlessly glide through the day by tapping and swiping on pocket-size screens, rely on a hidden “maximalist assemblage,” Chayka writes: “server farms absorbing massive amounts of electricity, Chinese factories where workers die by suicide, devastated mud pit mines that produce tin.” Also, he points out, the glass walls in Apple’s headquarters were marked with Post-it notes to keep employees from smacking into them, like birds.
It’s not just a critique of style over substance, though.
The self-help minimalists say that keeping expenses low and purchases to a minimum can help create a life that is clear and streamlined. This practice can also lead to the conclusion that there is not only too much stuff in your apartment but too much stuff in the world—that there is, you might say, an epidemic of overproduction. If you did say this, you would be quoting Karl Marx, who declared that this was the case in 1848, when he and Friedrich Engels published “The Communist Manifesto.” Comparing a “society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange” to “the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells,” they contended that there was “too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.” Hence, they suggested, the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, which brings the periodic “destruction of a mass of productive forces”—as, perhaps, we experienced in 2008, before the rise of Kondo and company.
Sure, shopping on Amazon is not without its issues…
Amazon Choice label is being ‘gamed to promote poor products’ – The Guardian
Which? highlighted a number of examples of manipulation that seemed to lead to unwarranted selection as an Amazon’s Choice product, including a car dashcam that had at least 24 written reviews mentioning the offer of a free SD card in exchange for a positive review, and a pair of wireless headphones that had close to 2,000 reviews thanks to the use of a feature called product merging – the majority of the positive reviews were about unrelated products including acne cream and razor blades.
The subject might sound dry, but this photographic series from Jakob Schnetz looking at the trade fair industry offers us glimpses into a strange, strained, suited world.
Place of promise, a photographic series examining the capitalist world of trade shows – IGNANT
Over a period of five years, Schnetz visited more than 40 trade fairs, documenting on film an intriguing world driven by fierce competition to maximise profit. “In Germany’s exhibition halls the newest products are presented, the most efficient services are praised, and the best know-how is exploited,” he continues. “The place of perfect marketing is dominated by standardized scenery, live-shows, men in suits, and the tough fight for customers.” Nevertheless, the images in Place of Promise focus on the social occurrences of the shows, the in-between moments: the phone calls, the morning rituals, and the coffee and cigarette breaks.
And in some cases, these firms openly advertise deceptive marketing techniques, describing ways to generate fake product orders and social messages celebrating those fake orders.
These are their proposed categories of user-interface tricks.
Sneaking Attempting to misrepresent user actions, or delay information that if made available to users, they would likely object to.
Urgency Imposing a deadline on a sale or deal, thereby accelerating user decision-making and purchases.
Misdirection Using visuals, language, or emotion to steer users toward or away from making a particular choice.
Social proof Influencing users’ behavior by describing the experiences and behavior of other users.
Scarcity Signalling that a product is likely to become unavailable, thereby increasing its desirability to users.
Obstruction Making it easy for the user to get into one situation but hard to get out of it.
Forced Action Forcing the user to do something tangential in order to complete their task.
‘Urgency’ and ‘scarcity’ sound like pretty standard advertising methods that we should be very used to by now, but some of those others are very dubious. Here are some screenshots from the research paper.
Fig. 3. Three types of the Sneaking category of dark patterns.
Fig. 5. Four types of the Misdirection category of dark patterns.
What can be done? Here’s one idea they discuss in the paper which I like the sound of.
Fig. 10. Mockup of a possible browser extension that can be developed using our data set. The extension flags instances of dark patterns with a red warning icon. By hovering over the icon, the user can learn more about the specific pattern.
This Vancouver market is handing out embarrassing plastic bags to customers
Currently, East West charges customers five cents per embarrassing plastic bag that they take. They plan to continue handing out the specialty bags for the foreseeable future, but note that they’d rather no one take them. Instead, they hope to start a conversation about single-use plastic bags, as well as influence shoppers to bring their own bags – whether they are shopping at East West or somewhere else.
In the UK, a 5p levy was introduced in 2015 to discourage shoppers from using plastic bags. The supermarkets are supposed to be donate that money to good causes that benefit the environment. Is that really happening?
Are retailers ‘bagging’ the 5p plastic carrier bag charge?
What we found when we dug into the plastic bag levy suggests it has been managed in a way that can confuse customers and leave them unaware of the levy’s purpose or their option to return used bags. If customers believe their 5p is going to good causes but discover it’s actually going into marketing spend for retailers, they may lose confidence in the scheme.
At the Newark Public Library, shopping bags carry local history
The Newark Public Library in Newark, New Jersey, has an unusual collection that can’t be found in its stacks. Stored in the library’s Special Collections department, in one filing cabinet and 61 archival Solander boxes—some of which are so full their latches barely close—are over 2,000 shopping bags. Meticulously cataloged by geographic location, size, and theme, the collection records the history of graphics, culture, and everyday life from the mid-20th century to the current day.
Here’s a simple but very effective chart showing the rise and fall of various music formats. This brings back memories.
Visualizing 40 years of music industry sales
For people of a certain age group, early memories of acquiring new music are inexorably linked to piracy. Going to the store and purchasing a $20 disc wasn’t even a part of the thought process. Napster, the first widely used P2P service, figuratively skipped the needle off the record and ended years of impressive profitability in the recording industry.
Napster was shut down in 2002, but the genie was already out of the bottle. Piracy’s effect on the industry was immediate and stark. Music industry sales, which had been experiencing impressive year-over-year growth, began a decline that would continue for 15 years.
An interesting critique of the ‘Uber-for-X’ business model so favoured, still, by Silicon Valley. The gains are so marginal, compared to the wider impact of these businesses.
The servant economy The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand. These apps concretize the wild differences that the global economy currently assigns to the value of different kinds of labor. Some people’s time and effort are worth hundreds of times less than other people’s. The widening gap between the new American aristocracy and everyone else is what drives both the supply and demand of Uber-for-X companies.
The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news. As my colleague Esther Bloom pointed out, “For centuries, a woman’s social status was clear-cut: either she had a maid or she was one.” Domestic servants—to walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house, get groceries—were a fixture of life in America well into the 20th century. In the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War that created what Americans think of as “the middle class,” servants became far less common, even as dual-income families became more the norm and the hours Americans worked lengthened.
What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.
An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.
Elizabeth Warren proposes breaking up tech giants like Amazon and Facebook At a rally in Long Island City, the neighborhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms. Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.
“We have these giants corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Ms. Warren told the crowd, drawing applause. She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel “The Hunger Games,” in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.
“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said.
She’s far from the lone voice on this issue.
Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”
Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”
House of Lords report calls for digital super-regulator The chair of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he said.
“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.”
You can always take matters into your own hands.
Goodbye Big Five Reporter Kashmir Hill spent six weeks blocking Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting my money, data, and attention, using a custom-built VPN. Here’s what happened.