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Will technology end the British class system?

My social streams are full of people I know sharing the results of the BBC’s ‘Great British Class Calculator‘, which works on the theory the traditional split of Upper, Middle and Working class doesn’t accurately reflect society any more, and there are now 7 levels of class which are seemingly based on whether you go to the theatre or like hiphop.

All interesting enough, and you can find out more about the results here.

But I think there’s a more important and interesting point, which is due to the immense impact of current and future technology on our lives.

 

No social mobility in the future?

Traditionally there’s been some movement possible between classes, although it may have been tough and taken many years or generations to achieve. Certainly the top of the working class and bottom of the middle class was a fairly permeable gap.

Now we’re looking at a near future in which most manual work is automated, objects are accessible via 3D printing, and robotic assistants are likely give us far more leisure time, the question I have is whether this will be possible in the future?

Either the current class position will be stratified, with no means for anyone to improve their situation, removing some motivation. Or it will collapse completely, and we really will see a world in which your Google Glasses will display someone’s status via their Klout score.

What happens to society if there’s no potential for social mobility, even over generations?

Personally I’ve met enough people from all backgrounds, all levels of wealth, and all levels of intellect to suggest that any class-based definition is completely meaningless. And moving to personal advertising, marketing and other targeting from broad demographics means it’s going to be less useful as a segmentation tool.

But what really interests me is what effect self-identification with a group means, and how our aspirations may be affected…

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Awesome books in the Amazon Spring Sale

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was young, my parents and some of my teachers did a lot to encourage me, and part of my routine as a child was to spend an hour or more engrossed in a book before I went to sleep.

It’s been vitally important in becoming a better writer, marketer and communicator. And I’m constantly being tempted and encouraged by the combination of a Kindle and Amazon’s one-click purchase and delivery over wifi. I still enjoy browsing bookstores and comic book shops when I get the chance, but having almost instant access to such a wide variety of niche topics and authors still amazes me.

Looking at my purchases over the years since I was given a Kindle, I’ve noticed the price point for impulse purchases tends to be around the £3 mark. I’ll sometimes pay more for an eBook if it’s something particularly useful for work, or accept the short wait for a secondhand print edition, but I usually can’t justify paying much larger amounts for something which I know costs almost nothing to store and transmit.

So I’m always interested in Kindle deals and sales – and the current Spring Sale which runs until April 4th has some brilliant books in in which I thought were worth highlighting as they cover business, marketing, motivation and also inspirational fiction. I’ve marked the ones I bought earlier this week to read, the ones I’ve already consumed, and the ones I’ve owned for a while and recommend.

 

Already Owned: Pattern Recognition by William Gibson – £1.99

I’m a big fan of science fiction, especially as it often informs the approach technologists take to the future. And William Gibson is the legendary author of a number of cyberpunk classics which have certainly had an influence on hackers, techies and innovation.

But Pattern Recognition is based in the current day, which makes it far more accessible to anyone turned away by the idea of science fiction. It still integrates the use of present and imminent tech in a fairly fast-moving tale which contains the usual Gibson level of detail when describing objects and surroundings. It’s the Otaku level of descriptions which I love, whether it’s street in London, an item of clothing or a piece of antique technology. And it’s just £1.99 for the Kindle Edition in the sale.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson – £1.99

 

Already Owned: Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson – £0.99

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this when it was published by Seth Godin’s The Domino Project. It was particularly appreciated as I studied American Literature for my degree, and Emerson was obviously a notable part of that.

All of the Domino Project books were designed to be relatively short, to allow you to read them quickly. But also to have long-lasting effects on how you think and act, especially with regards to motivation and business. The fact that Self-Reliance was written almost 200 years ago hasn’t changed the insight and inspiration contained in it, and this edition includes relevant quotes about the effect of the book by various industrial and influential people since. And it’s less than £1.

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson – £0.99

 

Just Finished: The Liberation of Loch Fyne Oysters by David Erdal – £0.99

I picked this up for three reasons. The first is that I’ve dined in one of the first Loch Fyne Restaurants, as it’s in Oundle near Peterborough, so I recognised the name. Secondly, it covers the history of the firm from founding and particularly when it became an employee owned company. And thirdly, it was less than a quid.

The author is head of a partnership that was set up to assist employee owned companies, and is able to provide a wealth of context around the Loch Fyne example, including other employee-owned businesses throughout the years, the benefits, and the pitfalls. It may seem easy to become employee owned, go open source, or latch onto other similar concepts, but it’s certainly no guarantee of success without a  lot of hard work and most importantly, a change in mindset. Well worth reading as a very human introduction to the concept for any business owner.

The Liberation of Loch Fyne Oysters by David Erdal – £0.99

 

Currently Reading: Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple – £2.19

I was quite surprised to see this available for such a cheap price as it was released fairly recently by Euan, who I’m pleased to say I’ve met and chatted with a lot online. I recommend keeping an eye on his blog, The Obvious? in addition to picking up this book. Having worked in a senior role at the BBC, he’s since consulted with a range of large businesses on the introduction and integration of social media tools.

I’ve only just started reading the book itself, but it follows the same style as Euan expresses in person and on his site – it’s about the people and approach you take, rather than the choice of specific social media tool. Thinking about your business needs and objectives in the right way, and the right approaches means you can cope with the constant changes in technology in a calm and positive way.

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple – £2.19

 

To Read:

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzeil – £2.09
The future involves a far greater integration between computer AI and human endeavour. And as an author, inventor, futurist and current Director of Engineering at Google, Kurzweil has been long recognised as one of the most insightful and influential people in this area. I honestly can’t wait to read this one!

Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey – £0.99

James McQuivey is a VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester. And picking up this book for less than a pound is definitely cheaper than buying a Forrester report! Plus the blurb on the Amazon page picks out some interesting examples of disruption from the book covering some wildly different industries, which is always a great way to become inspired.

Finance for Non-Financial Managers: In a Week: Teach Yourself by Roger Mason – £1.99

There’s definitely a balance in running a business between awareness of every important aspect, and bringing in the right resources to take care of areas which aren’t your strength, or become time sinks. I’m well aware that I’ll probably never become an accountant, and the finest detail of our finances require specialist help – my time is better spent elsewhere.

At the same time, as a business owner, I need to understand and be comfortable with all the financial requirements, and know what’s going on at any point in the process – and be able to dig into the finer detail as needed. So I’m always looking for resources which can help me to overcome any gaps in my knowledge, and reluctance to step away from the creative side to ensure that my business is stable and able to grow effectively.

 

There are hundreds of other books in the sale, and I’d love to know your thoughts on any that you pick up and read, or anything I’ve missed from the list above.

 

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Fenceless farming and flexible technology

I was fascinated by this article on The Atlantic website about virtual ‘fences’ and how they could change farming. By using a combination of GPS and deterrents, livestock could be moved around a territory to the best places for natural resources in real-time, which opens up a lot of possibilities for areas which were cost-prohibitive, as well as increased collaboration by groups of livestock owners, for example.

It’s well worth taking a look – I tend to find I get more inspired by seeing how technology is being used in non-marketing applications, and then applying that to my own areas of expertise, than simple watching the latest marketing trends and tools.

It’s interesting to think that in 20+ years, fences could be a symbolic symbol for humans, rather than required for animal control.

I also loved this insightful quote:

Anything that I can do in my profession to encourage flexibility, I figure I’m doing the correct thing. That’s where this all came from. It never made sense to me that we use static tools to manage dynamic resources. You learn from day one in all of your ecology classes and animal science classes that you are dealing with multiple dynamic systems that you are trying to optimize in relationship to each other. It was a mental disconnect for me, as an undergraduate as well as a graduate student, to understand how you could effectively manage dynamic resources with a static fence.

Given that humans are dynamic resources, it makes sense that flexibility is as important to us, whether that’s building businesses, or working with employees, etc.

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Could technology end vegetarianism?

I’m not actually sure ‘vegetarianism’ is a word, but on the bright side, according to Wiktionary, the collective noun for a group of meat-avoiders is apparently ‘a sprig of vegetarians’, which is quite cool.

Either way, I was intrigued by coverage earlier this week of Modern Meadow, which in shorthand summary will use 3D Printing to create a meat product. And I’d heard about food database companies like Foodpairing, but what caught my eye in this GigaOm report was the news that only is there a company making a plant-based meat substitute, but that it’s already on sale!

That’s right, apparently Beyond Meat is already in selected stores, such as Whole Foods, across America.

Apparently ‘These delicious plant-based strips have all of the convenience, taste, and tenderness you expect from real chicken’, with the listed ingredients ‘Water, Soy Protein Isolate, Pea Protein Isolate, Amaranth, Natural Vegan Chicken Flavor (Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavoring), Soy Fiber, Carrot Fiber, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Dipotassium Phosphate, Titanium Dioxide, White Vinegar’.

I’ll have to refer back to school chemistry to go through the ingredients, although Titanium Dioxide is used as a whitener in toothpaste, for example. And Dipotassium Phosphate is a food additive to prevent coagulation, apparently.

But more importantly – they’re growing freaking meat plants!

 

Now, how long do I have to wait before I can have a ‘steak tree’ growing in my garden? Or a ‘Taco with extra hot sauce bush’?

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Technology and Christmas…

Besides wishing everyone a Happy Holidays, I’ve been thinking about how technology has changed Christmas since I was a lad…

 

  • The pile of presents looks much less impressive with technology constantly getting smaller.
  • It’s very hard to wrap an app or digital download.
  • There’s no excuse that ‘there’s none left in the shops’ thanks to online stock checkers.
  • Christmas TV isn’t exciting at all when you can watch anything at any time.
  • Work may have stopped but emails don’t. Especially Christmas messages from every service you’ve ever used.
  • The need to Instagram every present being unwrapped, and pets in novelty reindeer antlers.
  • Spoiling the surprise with the habit of checking in to every shop on Foursquare.
  • Covering your tablet/phone in ingredients rather than digging out an old cookbook.
  • No need for novelty Christmas CDs thanks to Spotify. As if you haven’t heard them enough.
  • But at least you can follow Santa via NORAD’s online tracker.
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Interesting insights from James Dyson

Wired has a quick interview with James Dyson on their website.

A few things stood out for me, beyond the design ideas that it’s about taking things away, and the current impetus is to make things more efficient and effective to reduce energy consumption etc…

  • He started his company 20 years ago, at the age of 45. I seem to be collecting examples of people launching ideas and products in later life as I get older, to disprove the fact that all entrepreneurs, inventors and digital natives are 20 years old.
  • He spends a bit of time justifying patents – I think everyone on each side of the patent debates agrees that invention should be rewarded, but the devil is in the detail of how it happens.
  • “Well, the moment it works—having built, say, 5,126 prototypes, and you make your 5,127th and it finally works—you immediately lose interest in it. You don’t go off and buy a bottle of champagne and celebrate, because you’re on to the next thing. It sounds like an awful life. Well, it is quite stressful, but it’s hugely enjoyable too, because you spend your time examining why things didn’t work and trying to understand.”
  • And the next thing for Dyson is robotic vacuum cleaners. Which is probably where they really enter the mainstream.