Yesterday I Tweeted about my blog post on what productivity snake-oil looks like1. One of my good friends pointed me towards a great interview2 with a very successful blogger (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings), by a very successful personality (Tim Ferris).
1. You can read my post about what productivity snake-oil looks like here.2. You can listen to Tim Ferris’ interview with Maria Popova (about her blog Brain Pickings), on the Four Hour Workweek website.
Headlines about big data and algorithms as the infrastructure for modern companies seem commonplace in a world being eaten by software. I was surprised, then, to run across an article titled Pink slip for robots3. Here’s a brief summary:
Being asked if you want cash back at a grocery store or convenience store is one of those experiences you don’t really question—it’s just part of the normal shopping experience at many places. I couldn’t help but think, though, that there had to be more to the story than only convenience for the customer. There’s no fee collected by the store and it’s likely most of the competition offers the same service, so what’s in it for the store? I had a few theories, but decided to figure out what was happening behind the scenes.
The United States Postal Service is one of the largest civilian employers in the country4, but has been plagued with financial struggles, making news headlines several times over in the last decade. In 2010, for example, the organization posted a mind-blowing 8.5 billion dollar loss5. I remember the debate over ending Saturday service only a few years ago.
The causes of these problems (and their solutions) are large and complex, but the decline in usage of traditional ‘snail mail’ (due to digital communication) and the logistical transport efficiencies achieved at the demand of massive retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart have no-doubt shaken the foundations of historical postal services.
I recently took my car to the shop to be repaired. When the mechanic needed my approval to purchase a part, I received an SMS notifying me that I needed to call. They also called my phone, but the number wasn’t saved as a contact, so I ignored it (which made the SMS very handy).
When I called about the part, I asked the person on the phone how they were doing. They responded, “I’m doing pretty good, but we’re still trying to get set up on this new computer system.”
I found these icons above the aft lavatory on a Delta flight to Houston.
I’m not a designer, but everyone who I’ve shared this picture with responds with some variant of the question, “is the thing on the right supposed to be an electrical outlet?” No, that’s a popsicle hanging out with Tarzan in a bathroom.
The sign performs its job, so it’s hard to call it a failure, but I’m not sure I would have let this out the door.
I’ve always loved this bit about empowered consumers. Reads like it was written yesterday:
The dimensions of the latest trends in consumer behavior were outlined in an overview in the Harvard Business Review. This new zeitgeist, the august publication explained, is being fueled by “the efforts of consumers themselves,” who have lately “become articulate.” One of the defining features of this fresh paradigm is the new consumer’s “demand for information.” They are banding together, becoming “better educated and better organized,” with a “growing familiarity with the mechanics of advertising” and the endless range of gimmicky sales tactics. They have “suffered from deceptive and stupid advertising” long enough, and it is only inevitable that power should shift to them in an economy that has moved from scarcity to abundance. “These changes,” the article summarized, “have tended to make consumers more critical and to enhance their importance.” Such was the state of things . . . in 1939.