The Grey Swan Guild News Wrap — The Week That Was February 26, 2021
Volume #1, Edition #6
These are a series of stories and headlines we are tracking in the Grey Swan Guild’s Global League of Sensemakers Newsroom. Here is The Great, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what we observed this week.
The Great 😇
- Streaming in the night. We had an inkling that streaming services were the big winners of the pandemic. 2020 numbers are now out. The coronavirus pandemic has changed our entertainment behaviors. Consumers who subscribe to a paid streaming service pay for an average of five subscriptions, up from three before the pandemic. Worldwide viewing time grew 44% in Q4 2020 compared with Q4 2019. Netflix has more than 200 million subscribers globally, Amazon Prime 150 million, Disney+, 94.9 million, Hulu, 35.4 million, HBO Max, 37.7 million, and Peacock, 33 million. — Read the full report by Conviva.
- Good Samaritans. With an estimated 40 million Americans losing their home during the pandemic and 2 million households temporarily losing power during last week’s Texas blackout in the middle of a Winter storm, sheltering has become a primary need for many. Despite the pandemic, people have opened their homes to strangers to share heating and warm food. In Houston, Mattress Mack furniture store provided 3,000 meals and overnight accommodations to 700 residents. Already in 2005 and 2017, they had welcomed refugees from Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. Meanwhile in Canada, a couple launches a tiny home company with a clever 268-square-foot dwelling. The post-pandemic home could very well be micro-dwellings on wheels!
3. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad AI? While we still await the rise of the machines and the reign of Artificial Global Intelligence, latest developments in Machine Learning open new lines of questioning. Physicist Hong Qin reverses the classical theory of physics which consist in making observations, creating a theory based on those observations, and then using that theory to predict new observations. His novel computer algorithm accurately predicts the orbits of planets in the solar system without using Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. Basically, it bypasses all fundamental ingredients of physics, to go directly “from data to data”. In other news, a new artificial intelligence makes mistakes “on purpose”: Cornell University Professor Jon Kleinberg developed a chess program named Maia that learns from human error. Instead of learning how to destroy an opponent on the board, Maia focuses on predicting human moves, including the mistakes they make. Such AI might be better at working with people or negotiating with them.
The Good 😀
- Vaccines and Masks for All. The global sharing program designed to make vaccine access more equal delivered its first major shipment of 600,000 doses to the West African nation of Ghana, ramping up the largest mass immunization campaign in history. Altogether 92 low and middle-income countries will receive free vaccines through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative. At the same time, in the U.S. the Biden administration announced its plans to deliver 25 million washable cloth masks for low-income Americans nationwide through 1,300 federally approved health centers and 60,000 food distribution points.
- Reshaping the Art Scene. France’s heritage sites fight for survival, such as the Domaine of Chantilly who lost €6 million because of Covid-19 closures and is now asking for support from the public and the government. However, spared the shutdown orders imposed on other cultural venues, French art galleries have seen record numbers of visitors in the last three months and have come to symbolise the last bastion of a pre-pandemic world. For arts professionals, more patrons are a welcome relief for a sector hard hit by the health crisis and uncertain of its future. In Toronto, OverActive Media confirmed their highly-anticipated performance venue, projected to be completed in 2025. The $500 million project includes a theatre-style entertainment venue and hotel complex. It will be the first new sports or entertainment venue built in Toronto since BMO Field in 2007 and promises to be an unparalleled experience for fans and performance artists alike.
3. On an Island in the Sun. Holiday bookings surge after lockdown exit plans. Despite questions over the return of international travel (probably not happening until mid-May at the earliest), the UK’s biggest holiday firm Tui saw bookings for foreign trips jumped 500% overnight, especially bookings for July-onwards with Greece, Spain and Turkey as the most popular destinations. Thomas Cook had traffic to its website up over 100% on Monday, with most bookings for Greece, Cyprus, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile Airbnb introduces Flexible Search, allowing users to forgo putting in exact dates when they look to book lodging on the platform. In 2021 so far, one-third of the people searching on Airbnb have been flexible in terms of date and location. This feature aligns with a broader shift in how people will travel in the future. “The traditional travel industry was built around fixed destinations with fixed dates in mind, but that model no longer meets the needs of today’s travelers.” — Read Airbnb’s full report on Meaningful Travel.
The Bad 😬
- 500.000 Lives Lost. As the COVID-19 death toll reaches half a million in the U.S. and millions of U.S. renters are struggling with a loss of income and the insecurity of not knowing how long they will have a home, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is about to pass. The stimulus package includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, a $400 per week jobless benefit supplement and an extension of programs making millions more Americans eligible for unemployment insurance. It also puts $20 billion into Covid-19 vaccinations, $50 billion into testing, and $350 billion into state, local and tribal government relief. Critics say the package goes beyond its core mission of COVID-19 relief, risking a spike in inflation that could derail the economic recovery or further swell the nation’s $28 trillion debt.
- Labor costs. Since the start of the pandemic, total non-farm employment dropped from 152.5 million to 137.8 million, for a loss of 14.7 million jobs (-9.6%) in the U.S. Some sectors were particularly hard hit, with employment declining in hotels and motels (-38.6%), air transportation (-25.9%), and food services and drinking places (-25.6%). The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive short-term disruptions to the U.S. economy and labor market, but its long-term impacts remain unclear. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has revised its projections through two alternate scenarios: a strong impact scenario (strong avoidance of interpersonal contact) and a moderate impact scenario (transfer of activity from industries depending on gatherings to other industries such as grocery, health research and treatment, online events). In both scenarios, telework will be a driver to bounce back. But the mental health crisis related to working-from-home still need to be addressed. Interestingly, the new video call app Focusmate links home workers with strangers. You have just one minute to say hello to the other person (randomly chosen), before you then both sit in silence and do your work for 50 minutes.
3. Gaping inequality. The pandemic has encouraged potential buyers to move from urban apartments to suburban homes, and low mortgage rates have been fuelling the housing market. As a consequence, home prices in U.S. cities jumped at the fastest pace since 2014 (+10.4% in December 2020 vs. December 2019). Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle posted the biggest gains in prices. The Silicon Valley microcosm — which is often praised for its diverse population and abounding job opportunities — has become a case study of the gaping inequality: “The pandemic has made the rich richer while the poor are dying.” Affordable housing projects are now in discussion in the Bay Area. This is a challenge and an opportunity for Silicon Valley to be not only a global hub of high-tech, but also a national role model for addressing inequality.
The Ugly 😱
- Anatomy of an oil disaster. A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel’s biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, with authorities closing the country’s beaches and beginning a massive cleanup effort that could take months, if not years. The spill has affected 90% of Israel’s coastline, killed sea turtles and fish, and was possibly responsible for the death of a juvenile fin whale that had black liquid in its lungs from two weeks before. It is still too early to assess the full damage to fish. The country’s desalination plants seem to not have been affected, but it is not to be understated that Israel gets 75% of its drinking water from the Mediterranean.
2. Mom-shaming on Social Media. More and more individuals feel as if no one “genuinely cares” about them. College students report symptoms of depression, as their Zoom-led social life does not save them from social isolation. Pandemic loneliness is hitting first-time mothers especially hard, with phenomenon of mom-shaming on social media over best parenting practices. The online communities, which once supplemented in-person meetups, have become the primary source of information and connection for many during the pandemic. But they can also be a source of despair: mothers who got separated from their newborn by a plastic sheet at birth are now feeling shame as they receive online comments related to their inability to hold and nurse their baby.
3. Minister of Loneliness in Japan. In 2020, for the first time in 11 years, suicide rates in Japan went up. While male suicides fell slightly, rates among women surged nearly 15%. In October, the female suicide rate in Japan went up by more than 70%, compared with the same month in the previous year. Japan has seen a large rise in single women living alone, many of them choosing that over marriage which entails quite traditional gender roles still. But the pandemic has hit them badly, as most relied on temporary jobs. Japan appointed a Minister of Loneliness this month to tackle the country’s rising suicide rates.
Memes of the Week
Term of the Week
Herd Immunity. A well-known concept among epidemiologists, herd immunity became a household term when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Herd immunity refers to the protection from an infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient proportion of a population can no longer acquire or transmit infection, either through vaccination or immunity resulting from previous infection. Through herd immunity, the virus struggles to find susceptible hosts, and the chains of transmission break down, so even those who aren’t immune (for example, people who can’t receive a vaccine for health reasons) are protected. Herd immunity rarely occurs through natural disease spread alone, and it rarely brings an end to an epidemic. Most experts are certain it won’t end the COVID-19 pandemic and have highly advised against herd immunity as a response strategy, warning of the high morbidity and mortality that would result. However, now that vaccination has begun, herd immunity could be within reach. Source: Path.
Grey Swan Guild
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This Week’s Grey Swan News Wrap Editor: Sylvia Gallusser, Global Futurist, Founder @Silicon Humanism