STATE OF AMERICA
Occupy 2.0 – Grungy 20-somethings full of scorn for America’s financial system but unable to articulate a concrete vision for reform — that’s the image most people associate with Occupy Wall Street, a series of anti-Establishment demonstrations launched around the globe in 2011. But now in 2012, less than a year after the last protester was removed from New York City’s Zuccotti Park, the movement has re-emerged as a series of laser-focused advocacy groups that are trying to effect change in a variety of sectors. Led in part by former Wall Streeters, these groups might still promote radical ideas (Occupy Bank wants to overhaul the entire U.S. banking system), but their approach to change is incremental, and this time around they’re playing by the rules. For example, instead of complaining about predatory lending, Strike Debt is raising cash to buy medical debt, then forgive it. “It’s a strategic initiative,” says movement organizer Amin Husain. “We’re affecting people’s lives in a positive way but also exposing the nature of the system.” Perhaps the best evidence that Occupy’s brand of direct democracy can offer both advocacy and efficiency is Occupy Sandy, their most recent grassroots movement which funneled hundreds of volunteers and crucial supplies to storm-hit New York City neighborhoods almost as fast as FEMA.
BRAVE NEW CONSUMER
Growing Interest In “Real” Products – Your sweater might be genuine wool but can you trace its fibers back to the very sheep from which it was shorn? This is the granular level of “realness” consumers now increasingly seek. There’s evidence all around us — whether it’s watching someone gush over the sleek design of a new phone and then seek out the perfect hand-carved, petrified-jungle-wood case to protect it, or the proliferation of farmers markets in big cities — people are looking for, and need, realness. The growth of urban centers, the decreased level of personal communication because of technology, and the rise of health scares from mass-produced food are a few of the many contributing factors driving the desire for “real”. There is a powerful urge to get in touch with what people believe is a real and more authentic world, and it’s leading us to a place where signs of realness take on greater value.
The Disruption Economy – The upending of traditional business models is spreading like wildfire through the economy, particularly in services that can be easily socialized such as the hotel business (Airbnb), the taxi industry (Uber) and the education market (Coursera). It’s important to note that the social aspect of these services is crucial to their success. For Airbnb the social element isn’t just a nice addition, it’s a key part of how it functions and why the barriers to entry and transaction costs are lowered as a result. For a former user, if they had not had the ability to see a homeowner was connected to a Facebook friend of theirs, they might never have used Airbnb (and they might never have accepted them as a renter). As New York venture investor Chris Dixon described in a recent blog post that startups such as Airbnb and Uber are “regulatory hacks” in the sense that they are designed to do an end-run around existing industry regulations in much the same way the early disruption in telecom was driven by startups that played fast and loose with the rules, eventually forcing regulatory change and becoming the norm. The list of these kinds of companies is only continuing to grow: Kickstarter and Indiegogo have not only helped entrepreneurs raise millions of dollars outside the traditional financing industry, they have also helped trigger changes to federal legislation around small business funding. Today’s regulatory hack is tomorrow’s mainstream industry.
Crowdfunding A Cure – On the popular site Kickstarter, tens of thousands of users have tapped friends, family and strangers to help finance everything from comic books to movies to a dream-enhancing sleep mask. Now, crowdfunding is even helping the sick to pay their medical bills. With U.S. health care costs at least $8,000 per capita, a group of new Web platforms are offering people an opportunity to ask the public for help. Of course families have long held informal fundraisers for such causes, but now creating pages on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe (where medical asks have trumped education and travel to become the biggest travel draw) and GiveForward allows patients and their relatives to raise a larger amount of money with the help of friends who spread the word via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. What starts as a family affair can eventually reach people all over the world.
ON THE RADAR
Culture Observation: This year GIF bested YOLO (You Only Live Once) as Oxford American Dictionary’s official 2012 word of the year. Originally, it was an acronym used as a noun referring to an outdated “graphics interchange format.” 2012 saw GIF gain traction as a verb, and its new meaning is as follows:
GIF (verb) – to create a GIF file, usually of an image or video sequence relating to an event
View This Site: Sharp Suits: A Creative Catharsis is an Irish art exhibit created by ad creatives who chose to turn frustrating client feedback into hilarious works of art. The exhibit includes interpretations of bizarre client requests such as “Can we make the pig sexier?” and “Can the snow look a little warmer?” While posters of the artwork are no longer on sale, past proceeds have been donated to the Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. View the gallery here
Watch This: Wanting to increase girls’ interest in the male-dominated field of engineering, Stanford engineering student Debbie Sterling came up with the idea of GoldieBlox – an engineering toy designed to encourage young girls’ interest in the field. GoldieBlox differs from other building toys on the market because it comes with a storytelling component which studies have shown is a big draw for young girls. Watch Sterling explain the concept of GoldieBlox in this video that has inspired enough crowdfunding to turn Sterling’s idea into reality.