NEWSWIRE: 4/3/18

  • The Chinese city of Shenzhen is readying a system that will use AI and facial recognition to identify jaywalkers, who will automatically be notified of their offense by text message. The initiative illustrates that, for all its potential, advanced data analytics pose some ominous ethical questions. (MediaPost)
    • NH: This is just the tip of the iceberg. Working with Alibaba and Tencent, the PRC is already implementing a nationwide "social credit system" that is expected to become official in 2020. It has been called "gamified obedience." And yes, it's just about as Orwellian as it sounds. Every Chinese citizen will have a SCS score--much like a FICO score, only this one will range from 350 to 950. Pioneered as a credit-scoring system by Ant Financial (a wonderfully named Alibaba affiliate), the score is already influencing more than just your access to loans. Depending on everything from your record of criminal and regulatory infractions to your (social media) record of criticizing government and your reputation in the eyes of your friends, neighbors, and employers, government will grant or deny social rewards. The worst citizens won't be able to buy plane or train tickets. The best will enjoy automatic check-ins at airports, get preferment on the job, and cut in line for the best apartments. This is how Uncle Xi, with the help of hi-tech AI, will channel China's deeply rooted "shame culture" into powerful support for his authoritarian regime, one which he hopes is durable enough to last well beyond his (apparent) lifelong tenure. Even in the absence of the new trade war brewing with Trump, the emergence of this SCS is steadily reducing the likelihood of Google's or Facebook's eventual entry into the China market. The brand blowback, by now, would simply be too high.
  • Today’s 30-year-olds have paid a median $93,400 in rent between the ages of 22 and 30, the highest of any previous generation of young adults. Millennials’ love of renting, combined with soaring rent costs, has been disastrous for their savings accounts. (RENTCafé)
    • NH: The original study is not rocket science: The authors use historical income by broad age brackets rather than mine Census earnings data for an exact year-by-year birth cohort match (say, through PUMS). But the overall story rings true, and doesn't need to be confirmed by three decimal points. Over the last forty years, rent has been rising as a share of household income for each half-generation (ten-year cohort) entering its 20s: For Boomers coming of age in the 1970s, the rental share was 36%; for Millennials coming of age today, it is 47%. The problem isn't just that rents are rising faster now they used to (though they are, primarily due to Millennials crowding into high-rent urban locales), but also that earnings are rising slower than they used to. Other burdens, such as higher student debt and evaporating health care coverage, further erode the typical Millennial's disposable income.
  • Using Census data, contributor Bill Conerly points out that working-age population growth will soon be at its lowest level since the Civil War. This is bad news for employers and for the economy as a whole, considering that employment growth must eventually revert down to population growth. (Forbes)
    • NH: He's preaching to the choir on this one. I've spilled a lot of ink on this sector trying to emphasize the profound impact of the Boomer retirement combined with the ongoing long-term fertility decline. It will result, over the coming decade, in a near-cessation of growth in the working-age population (conventionally described as age 18 or 20 to age 65). According to the 1860 Census, the U.S. population that year was about 31 million, only about three-quarters of the population of California today. Yet the absolute yearly growth in the workforce was as high then as it is today. By the early 2020s, when our margin drops further, we may have to delve deep into colonial times to find a parallel.
  • A new column debates the ethics of telling a white lie to spare the feelings of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Such ethical quandaries (Should I keep telling Mom that her husband died years ago?) likely will become ever-more common as low-SES Boomers bring higher rates of dementia with them into old age. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: From my personal experience, talking to elders with dementia is like talking to children: Truth is something you fashion to match their powers of comprehension. No big ethical issue here.
  • More than half (55%) of professionals of all ages say that Millennial managers' preferred method of communicating with subordinates is online messaging, compared to just 14% who prefer face-to-face interaction. While young managers likely prioritize efficiency over interpersonal interactions, subordinates would benefit from more face time with the boss. (Korn Ferry)
    • NH: This survey is well worth perusing. Only 8% of Millennial executive interviewees want "autonomy." 67% want either to "impact the organizational culture," "career progression," or a "good work-life balance." Compared to older generations of executives, nearly everyone (74% to 17%) agrees that Millennials put more value on a "clear advancement path." There is also widespread agreement that older generations of executives "work harder" than they do.
  • Net sales at Abercrombie & Fitch rose 5% YoY in 2017, an increase which some industry experts attribute to the company’s brand image overhaul. Once known for its hypersexualized ads and exclusionary tone, A&F has wisely shifted toward relatable, Millennial-friendly marketing that targets the average kid. (Fast Company)
    • NH: We'll see if this works. I was an expert witness in the EEOC's case against A&F several years ago (it went all the way to Supreme Court: the EEOC won) and got to see up close how A&F's "brand" totally self-destructed as it moved from an Xer to a Millennial customer base. The company is indeed moving in the right direction, as the recent direction of ANF's stock price indicates. But they still have a ways to go. Their flagship new ad, which gained rapturous reviews from veteran ad-industry Xers (a "beautiful ode," gushes Ad Age), is full of older-generation tropes about risking, screaming, screwing up, crying, and scars. Hello? These are just clothes, and you're trying to address a more upbeat, less angst-driven crop of kids. The ad is called "This is the Time." But it should have been called, "This was Their Time."
  • Contributor Kari Paul encourages parents who want to raise charitable children to lead by example. Whether through philanthropy or social-emotional learning, today’s parents are making sure than their Homelander children grow up to be model citizens. (MarketWatch)
  • The rise of fast fashion and casual workplace dress codes has put the dry cleaning industry in a tough spot. While today’s dressed-down consumers have less need than ever for professional dry cleaning, the industry hopes it can convince Millennials that the convenience of having someone else do your laundry is worth the money. (Racked)
    • NH: Two contrary trends are fighting it out to determine the future of dry cleaning. On the one hand, you've got a big new generation of upscale urbanites and professionals who want to look good at all times and are super-pressed for time. On the other, you've got workplaces moving toward more casual dress, vanishing opportunities (like church) for formality, and young people who prefer sharing before buying and, when buying, prefer fast fashion (H&M, Zara, Uniqlo) to luxury stores (Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom). So far, the trend that's winning has not been friendly to this industry.
  • Author Paul Taylor wonders whether the gun debate will finally get Millennials into the voting booth. Forecasters have been anxiously awaiting this generation’s bona fide political arrival—and Taylor says that if Millennials’ grassroots activism translates into actual votes, “America is in for a makeover.” (The Washington Post)
  • Although Boomers are the generation with the highest hepatitis C infection rate, only 13% were tested in 2015—virtually unchanged from 12% in 2013. Traditionally, screening for hepatitis C was based on the prevalence of certain risk factors—but Boomers’ high infection rates mean that all should get tested. (American Association for Cancer Research)
    • NH: The CDC issued its first-ever "generational alert" several years ago, asking all Americans born from 1945 to 1965--i.e., those who came of age from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s--to get tested. These cohort boundaries do bracket (on the older end) the rise of sex-and-drugs risk-taking among youth and (on the younger end) rising knowledge about the dangers of such activities plus the emergence of hep C antibody identifiers for blood transfusions. Nonetheless, few Boomers are paying attention to the man. They're still taking risks, even as they move into their 60s and 70s. 


      Too Much Screen Time? There’s an App for That. In America’s current tech-lash moment, plenty of consumers are trying to cut back on time spent with digital devices. (See: "The Next Big Thing: Tech-Lash Batters Silicon Valley.") Now, help is coming by way of the devices themselves. Mute, a free iPhone app, is a screen-time tracker that enables users to set usage goals—and sends notifications when users have spent too much time on their device. Meet your goal, and Mute will send you a congratulatory message. The Thrive app, available on Android and iOS, features a Thrive Mode that blocks all apps, notifications, and calls from anyone not on the user’s VIP list. (Thrive also allows users to see device usage patterns and total time savings.) Another app, called Forest, takes a gamified approach to digital detox: If left undisturbed, the app grows virtual trees. The longer users go without touching their phone, the more trees are grown. (Thirty device-free minutes grows one tree, for example.)