Memia 2022.15: Politics needs a new user interface🗳️📱// 54 days in🇺🇦// methane mystery🔥// catching rockets🚀with helicopters🚁// pie in the virtual sky💸🥽// new Frontier🌄// 🌱🐤Pasturebird
Gerontocracy by apathy by design
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter, your regular scan across emerging tech and the unfolding future - as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
Since then, CNN reports that at least 44 Chinese cities are under either a full or partial lockdown as the national government continues to pursue a zero-Covid strategy in the face of the highly infectious omicron variant. However, political dissent is starting to make it past the censors…
Also in the last week…
🦠First some good news
Perhaps only for a moment (given China’s precariously perched position…), but this week worldwide deaths per million people from Covid-19 are at an all-time low since just after the pandemic started:
I’ve previously covered the Keeling Curve which charts the ever-increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Last week US environmental agency NOAA released data showing that concentrations of methane (more than 25 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere) accelerated faster than ever before in 2021 - but scientists don’t know the reason why: 😬
“…there’s a fear from scientists that even if we cut emissions from fossil fuels, methane in the atmosphere will continue to grow. Higher emissions may be coming from natural swamps, bogs, and marshes, and anthropogenic emissions from livestock and landfills are likely growing as well. Thawing permafrost from the North looms large, too.” - Jenessa Duncombe writing in EOS.org
🇺🇦54 days in
54 days after Russia invaded, the Russo-Ukrainian war has entered a new (decisive?) phase with the battle for the East and South of the country underway. It still feels like so much is at stake for the global geopolitical / “rules-based” order (and that there’s not a lot one can do practically to help from way over here in Aotearoa other than relentlessly express support).
This compelling Anne Applebaum/Jeffrey Goldberg interview in The Atlantic magazine with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky captures the shade of the present moment on the ground in Kyiv:
…he feels, viscerally, what so many Ukrainians feel. “There will be no complete victory for people who lost their children, relatives, husbands, wives, parents. That’s what I mean,” he said. “They will not feel the victory, even when our territories are liberated.”
At the other end of the Eurasian continent: worth listening to in full, this recent episode from China-watching Little Red Podcast asks whether the international geopolitical balance is shifting in favour of an ‘axis of autocracies’, portraying the Ukraine war as a “Win-Win” for China.
🚀🚁Catching rockets with helicopters
Closer to our shores, Rocket Lab is aiming to become the 2nd space company worldwide to reuse its rockets this week - by snatching falling Electron booster stages out of the sky with a helicopter shortly after launch from Mahia Peninsula, Aotearoa. (They’ve previously practiced it with replicas but this will the first time it’s been part of a real mission).🤞
🗳️📱Politics needs a new user interface
(This is one of those occasional weeks when I seagull into domestic politics, feel free to skip over…)
Jeez I’ve been even more tuned out this week from the soundbite yapping of talking-head politicians and interviewers on the radio.1
Clearly I’m not in the target demographic for anything the main parties are selling... but I wonder if my personal all-time lack of mainstream political engagement is a more widespread phenomenon given our current age of fracturing societal narratives…
Distilling just what it is that now makes me literally switch the radio off now rather than let it just drift on in the background, I’ve decided it’s not so much the content, more the delivery format: the information density of a 20-second soundbite on the Radio or TV “news” is equivalent to about 1 millisecond scrolling through Twitter or my Google newsfeed. And I’m so used to watching talks on YouTube at 2X speed that a pol in real time just cannot engage my attention, whatever they’re saying. (Not that I could do the job better… but my point is that the user interface itself is broken).
You wonder how the Tiktok generation could possibly be reached: hardly anyone under 24 even watches TV or listens to radio these days:
It’s no wonder political engagement continues to flounder in younger age groups. Who’s interested in listening to some boomer drone on about inflation or public transport when… (swipe next).
Last week I did some digging on the Electoral Commission website and came across some unsurprising stats from last election:
(And the 18-24 turnout of 78% was up from 2017 when it was only 69%, likely given a bump by JacindaMania at the time).
But current voter enrolment stats still show quite massive age-related differences:
Just LOOK at the difference between 18-24yos and 70+yos….. it’s no wonder there is structural intergenerational inequity baked in to our political system!!. (Here’s a meme I made if anyone wants to borrow. Fun tool: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator)
When you take into account these hugely lower voter registrations in younger age groups, this equates to literally hundreds of thousands of votes going missing every 3 years: basically the balance of power. Young people’s voices and needs are just absent from policy as a result. Gerontocracy by apathy by design.
Except: intergenerational inequity in Aotearoa is now so stark- and there are such heightened emotions about it - that we may just be at a tipping point. Personally I sense that under-30s political apathy can’t continue to be relied on by the incumbents. (I’d certainly back the Greens’ Chloe Swarbrick and perhaps Raf Manji and his team at TOP as about the only politicians to *finally* bring this missing chunk of the electorate into the fold at the next election.)
But to reach them, electoral politics needs a new user interface. And it shouldn’t be expensive to build: taking a leaf out of Elon Musk’s playbook, it just needs to be entertaining:
I’m envisioning meme campaigns targeting Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram with relentless snark to “get out the vote” from the under-40s. Something like:
(“Insert Party Name Here” reminds me of Richard Pryor’s “None of the Above” political platform in the film Brewster’s Millions😁).
Being serious, here are a few potential policy solutions to intergenerational inequity being thought about around the world, just from a quick scan. Pretty sure some of these would capture a few votes in the target demographic and could make for some ice-cold memes too:
In the US:
In the UK:
Universal Basic Capital: a £10K capital grant for every 18 year old on their birthday.
(And before anyone proposes means-testing… remember that right now in Aotearoa there is a “Universal Basic Income” of $817-$1076 paid to everyone over 65, whether they have the means or not...)
In France (more theoretical):
Targeted tax incentives or special tax arrangements to specific groups (young, poor etc)
Mutualization among senior citizens of the costs of dependency
Introduction of systems to “bind together the fate of different generations”
And in Aotearoa (TOP/Green):
If one or more political parties do manage to seize the balance of power by bringing under-30s out to vote… boomers have no idea what follows: emergency budget in the week after forming a coalition government and tax changes effective immediately. Land tax, student debt writeoff and $10K young adult grants operational by the following April…
Tech signals from near and far futures this week…
⚡Sea change moment
When you put it like this…
Tulip mania looks like it’s over
The logical outcome of selling encrypted certificates of digital scarcity took a while, but we got there in the end😂:
💸🥽Pie in the virtual sky
Notwithstanding, Citi Group released a lengthy report claiming that the “Metaverse” is a “US$8 trillion to US$13 Trillion opportunity”.. some margin of error there. Not a lot we haven’t heard before, but the analysis of “Money in the Metaverse” is probably the most notable, spanning at least five “form factors”:
Tech giants Shopify, Alphabet and Meta, together with McKinsey and others, have pledged to join Stripe’s Frontier fund, now a US$925M public-benefit corporation aimed solely at atmospheric CO2 removal:
It is relying on the law of exponential returns to get there:
The world eats a *LOT* of chicken. And boy, the birds have got bigger over time too. (Dig into this thread for more details if you have the stomach for it…) (h/t spotting John McDermott).
We’re all vaguely aware of the environmental, disease and animal welfare issues from intensive chicken farming. Certainly the videos from inside overcrowded, overheated, static chicken sheds are almost enough to put me off touching the stuff ever again…
So I thought this was a refreshingly simple alternative approach: PastureBird is a “regenerative” chicken farm in the US which rears its birds in mobile sheds which roam across fresh pasture daily. No antibiotics, no bacteria buildup, natural soil fertilisation and less stressed birds. Neat.
(I sit on the fence on this one...more complex than it seems!)
Four shout outs around the motu this week:
Aotearoa statistics legend Ross Ihaka reflects on the revolutionary statistical programming language ‘R’, which he and University of Auckland colleague Robert Gentleman developed in the 1990s and which is now widely used all around the world.
Peter Griffin wrote a provocative opinion piece in Stuff: Hey Russia, we’ll take your disaffected scientists.
“The economic collapse that accompanied the end of the Soviet Union led to an exodus of scientific talent from Russia. The same could now happen.
We should be inviting the best Russian scientists to relocate here, to contribute to our own research programmes, free of oppression and able to collaborate with colleagues around the world.”
(Also after current events in Shanghai and other parts of China, watch out for a new wave of Chinese middle class emigration as well in the next few years. Aotearoa’s opportunity in both cases.)
👁️The streets have eyes
Excellent in-depth data article by RNZ’s Farah Hancock on surveillance cameras in Aotearoa - and their unproven effectiveness at improving security outcomes:
“Millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money has been spent installing and running CCTV systems, but the eyes on our streets are not necessarily making us any safer.
...There are more than 10,000 CCTV cameras surveilling public outdoor spaces in New Zealand, a fleet of digital eyes owned by local or central government agencies...
In our biggest city, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council own about 5685 cameras combined…This amounts to four cameras per 1000 residents, and that doesn't include the cameras owned by Waka Kotahi, police, businesses, or installed at private properties. They're omnipresent.”
🔌🛥️Going (hybrid) electric on the water
Fullers360 announced Auckland’s first electric hybrid fast ferry for the Hauraki Gulf ferry network will come online in 2023. The ferry will carry up to 300 people and reduce carbon emissions by 750,000kg per year on the Devonport route alone.
(Last month Wellington’s Ika Rere (flying fish) electric ferry made its maiden passenger voyage across Te Whanganui-a-Tara)
Finally, three diverse links spotted on Twitter this week to entertain you:
Disney ghost town
From Architectural Digest: the story of Burj al Babas, an abandoned town of homogenous Disney-esque castles in northwestern Turkey - which was supposed to be a luxury urban development for wealthy foreigners but is now an eerie half-finished ghost town.
Ain’t never seen a watch like this. Kinda neat.
🐬🐬🐬Dolphins being awesome
Residents of Te Whanganui-a-Tara were given a treat last Thursday, magnificent sight:
That’s it for another week. As always, thanks for reading, especially to everyone who reaches out with feedback and links!🙏🙏🙏 Appreciated!
See you on Sunday.
(Gave up watching scheduled TV long ago…)