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NEWSWIRE: 10/22/18

  • In fashion, big is the new beautiful: Major labels like Calvin Klein are rolling out roomy, oversize collections. The fashion industry’s embrace of ill-defined silhouettes and multiple layers at the expense of bodycon styles coincides curiously with the timing of the #MeToo movement. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Sure, the rise of #MeToo is one angle. More women are assuming an I'm-not-here-to-look-good-for-men attitude. Might this ultimately lead to a more premodern approach to fashion, wherein women cover or shroud themselves in public? There may be something to this: See our piece last spring ("Trendspotting: 3/26/18") on the growing popularity of defiantly modest fashions even among non-Muslims. Weirdly, at a time when French Millennials have stopped going to topless beaches, French authorities are trying to arrest sunbathers dressed in burkinis. There's also the inclusivity angle. Behind the sniggers about "zaftig is back" and "shower curtain chic" is a desire for fashion that doesn't always showcase body shape. Of course, "[T]he idea of being comfortable and not pleasing someone else" (as one designer in this article puts it) is an existential threat to the fashion industry if it continues to gain momentum.
    • Which leads us to some bigger issues. The accelerating decline of apparel as an industry is already underway--driven by the evaporation of formal dress standards for work and travel; the rise of the sharing economy and "thrift shop fashion" among Millennials; and the metastatic spread of low-margin "fast fashion" throwaway dress. The dry cleaning business is in a free fall. Many high-end designers are abandoning the New York runway show. For the first time, Americans spend more on electronics than clothes (back in the 1980s, they spent ten times more on clothes). The industry may have to reinvent itself to survive. One more angle is how badly upmarket fashion brands were hit in the recent market sell off: While the 30-day total S&P is off -5%; the 30-day S&P luxury index is off -14%. Along with the hemline index, this may be one more cyclical indicator showing real weakness.
  • An op-ed written by two Stanford professors urges fellow Boomers to put their kids first in the midterms. Citing new faces like Beto O’Rourke, they say it’s past time to address aging infrastructure, housing costs, and student debt: “Their solutions may not seem perfect, or perfectly practical, to our generation. But at least these hopefuls are grappling directly with the intractable problems our kids will need to solve.” (Los Angeles Times)
    • NH: Here are two Boomers throwing in the towel and saying, we messed it up--time to hand the baton to our kids. Fifty-three years after Peter Townshend smashed his guitar while wailing out "My Generation," Boomers today are apologizing more than rebelling and talking to their kids about how to build more than how to destroy. Not that many of the California midterm contests are in doubt. Their last paragraph is punchy: "For the first time in our country’s history, the next generation will be worse off than our own. Our kids are wise enough to see their crumbling future and inspired enough not to despair in the face of it. Why not prioritize their needs in the midterm elections? Signs in our neighborhood read, 'Drive like your kids live here.' In that spirit, this November, vote like your kids live here. Because they do."
  • A new personality study reveals that Millennials score higher than any other generation in terms of perfectionist tendencies. Achievement-oriented Millennials have set high standards for themselves from an early age, and are unwilling to get by on “good enough.” (PsychTests.com)
    • NH: As the authors concede, some of this is a phase-of-life effect. When we're young, we worry a lot about our performance metrics and how others evaluate us. As we get older, we grow less dependent on external cues for our sense of self worth. Still, it seems very unlikely that young Boomers or young Xers would have demonstrated the steep age gradients shown in this survey. Many Boomers in their 20s told their parents off and could care less what the "system" thought of them. Many Xers in their 20s started out in risky free-agent career paths and gloried in experience born of failure. Much less of that is visible in Millennials--who tend to avoid risk, fear mistakes, seek day-to-day approval, strive for flawless performance, and generally struggle to please parents, teachers, and employers. This left-brained perfectionism is very comfortable with a credential-driven meritocracy; it is very uncomfortable with even temporary failure. See references to "Teacup Generation" (handle with care), strong on following directions, weak on resilience if something goes wrong.
  • Consumers are getting spooked by their smart speakers, which are listening to conversations unannounced after “waking up” by mistake. For Rheganne Mooradian, whose Alexa system consoled her after hearing her cry, the creep-out factor was just too much to bear: “I unplugged her instantly and I literally ran downstairs and shoved her in a drawer.” (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: These are stories fit for Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. Sure, the machines are merely running a sophisticated algorithm. But from time to time you think for sure they are sensing your inner self, providing evidence of "the ghost in the machine," to quote Dr. Alfred Lanning (himself killed by a machine in the movie version of I, Robot). Take this advice from Xer Matthew Hennessey (see: "Trendspotting: 9/4/18"): "I'm baffled by the popularity of things like the Amazon Echo. Why would you let one of the biggest companies in the world plant a bug in your living room?"
  • Fully 59% of U.S. teens say they’ve ever experienced some form of cyberbullying. A majority of these teens also say that the adults charged with protecting kids—from law enforcement officers to teachers to elected officials—don’t do enough to address the issue. (Pew Research Center)
    • NH: We're coming to expect this from the emerging Homeland Generation. Here are teens who want stricter laws and more intervention by schools to keep them safe. They mostly give their own parents a good grade for how they're handling the issue. While the Pew survey does not address whether this problem is getting better or worse over time, we know from other studies that bullying in general--and cyberbullying in particular--is trending down. One large survey showed that 13% of teens experienced bullying in 2014, down from 29% in 2005. Cyberbullying is directly correlated with the total daily time teens spend online, so the easiest preventative measure a parent could take would be to restrict this daily time.
  • A new piece contends that Millennials could reshape American politics—if they wanted to. This generation’s fresh, community-oriented perspective would be a welcome contribution to our current fragmented political system, if only more Millennials would start running for office. (CNN)
  • Boomers who aren’t ready to give up high-impact sports are embracing artificial joint replacements. Avid runners like 68-year-old Dave Heffernan recoil at the prospect of abandoning their active lifestyles, and don’t mind if their activities take a toll on their new artificial joints: “The plastic parts might wear out faster, but I’m OK with that.” (Star Tribune)
    • NH: Many Boomers reaching their 60s have developed a serious attachment--something resembling a religion or addiction--to strenuous physical exercise. They aren't about to give that up just because they need a new knee or hip joint. Increasingly, surgeons are giving a green light to this sort of post-operative stress, reflecting a long-term trend toward understanding that vigorous activity on balance enhances long-term survival. (Hard to believe that, once upon a time, post-operative heart-attack patients were basically told to stay in bed.) It's also true that no doctor instruction is about to stop these Boomers. Fortunately, the longevity of artificial joints was hugely augmented back around 2000 with the invention of crosslinked polyethylene, which is far more durable than earlier materials. Doctors still aren't seeing many failures nearly 20 years after its introduction.
  • Brooklyn nightclub House of Yes uses a novel, Millennial-friendly strategy to prevent sexual assault. The club enlists a team of volunteers who brief each and every partygoer on the rules (never engage physically without first getting consent); these volunteers then roam the crowd looking for signs of abuse. (Medium)
    • NH: A great example of a stronger and stricter young-adult peer culture. Gen Xers and even many Boomers hardly remember the chaperones and "madams" who once policed the dance floors, making sure that young people "behaved." Today, Millennials show signs of starting over again by policing themselves. The G.I. Generation did something similar in their youth: See The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s by Paula Fass, about how youngsters in the gin-fizz jazz age started cleaning up their own act. These kids later matured into the conventional midlife "squares" of the 1950s.
  • Automation is coming to a business once thought safe from technology’s reach: investment banking. The human element of deal-making is being augmented by new apps and services that help match buyers and sellers and identify the most profitable opportunities. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
    • NH: For investment bankers, digital automation nearly always complements--but cannot possibly replace--the dealmaker. This contrasts with portfolio management, where AI robotics, for many clients, can do a lot more than complement the PM's job. It can replace it. 
  • Thanks to Millennials, American cheese is no longer the big cheese. The staple beloved by the G.I.s is going the same way as mayonnaise, with sales of Kraft Singles and Velveeta slipping as younger “foodie” consumers reach for fancier alternatives like gouda. (Bloomberg Business)

                  DID YOU KNOW?

                  Big Food Searches for a New Recipe. Packaged-food companies have been hit hard by changing consumer tastes. Now, the industry is grappling with an existential question: How far do we bend to the (often ill-informed) whims of shoppers? For decades, food scientists worked to invent additives that aid in everything from preservation to visual appeal. But now, some are being asked to remove otherwise-useful ingredients just because customers can’t pronounce them. These mandates come at great cost: Conagra spent two years searching for an alternative to the mono- and diglycerides that act as thickening agents in its Marie Callender’s pasta sauces. And often, consumers aren’t even pleased with the end result: General Mills brought back its synthetically colored Trix cereal in 2017 after facing a barrage of criticism over its “depressing” all-natural version. But if broad-based appeal is the goal, Big Food may have no choice but to go natural, according to research chef Charlie Baggs: “[Xanthan gum] doesn’t sound like something your grandma would use. Who wants to eat that?”