New Next Now (Trends for August 2017)

18 August 2017 | Keeping Up with the Trends

Saving the world, one video game at a time. Sound unbelievable? According to Rachel Ament (@rachelament) at @NPR, several indie game developers are hoping to do just that. Just this year, 17-year-old game designer Skylar Thomas partnered with PETA’s youth chapter to release Paintball Hero, a mobile app that lets players digitally rescue abused animals from farms and factories. Another game that’s making waves in 2017  is Andrew Wang’s The Cat in the Hijab, which simulates the harassment Muslims often endure in western countries. Both projects reflect recent efforts to drive activism through gaming—an exciting prospect for an industry long considered a source of leisurely entertainment… and not much more.

And yet, Ament rightly asks: “Does the impact of these ‘games for good’ reverberate off-screen?” In short, can activism-based video games truly make a difference?

There are no shortage of perspectives on this trend. Psychologist Mari Swingle, author of i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing Our Brains, Our Behavior, and the Evolution of Our Species, argues that gamers are more likely to embrace the message if they can make a personal connection in the game. Says Ament: “When we see ourselves in the game, our on- and off-screen lives tend to blur. We feel more connected to our on-screen actions, making us more likely to repeat them.”

Inner Void Interactive’s lead designer, Nathan Piperno (@NathanPiperno), recognizes the potential for activist games to reach a willing audience, but he advocates for a less conspicuous approach: “Players don’t want to be lectured… [b]ut they can be extremely perceptive if important themes are delivered organically in the game.” Still, Kahlief Adams (@Kahjahkins), co-producer of the popular gaming podcast “Spawn on Me,” believes that games can succeed in educating people about important topics: “Often we see folks who might not even know about a particular social justice issue… video games can be the perfect gateway into learning more.”

As an avid gamer, I tend to agree with Adams. Video games are still actively evolving, driven by developers and gamers alike who grew up playing Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog as children, but now crave more sophisticated, immersive experiences as adults. Recent critical and commercial successes like The Last of Us and Life is Strange prove there is undeniably a growing market for human connection and emotional resonance in video games. And because games, by design, invite players to “step into the shoes of another” and take on perspectives they might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience, the time for promoting social activism through gaming—in my view—has never been more ripe. [Read More Now]

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Peanut butter and… jellyfish? Everyone’s favorite stinger of the sea may be destined for the snack aisle at your local supermarket. According to @atlasobscura, jellyfish populations are spiking around the globe and that presents a major threat to power plants, fisheries, and tourism hotspots. But researchers in Denmark are working on a clever solution — turning jellyfish into snack food. Writes Natasha Frost (@natashamfrost): “The technique involves soaking the jellyfish in alcohol, and then letting it evaporate off to turn semi-sentient goo into crunchy, snackable discs.” The result? A low-fat, tasty crisp that’s high on antioxidants and good for the environment. Would you try it? [Read More Now]

The Eclipse and Science. 21 August 2017 will mark the date of a major solar eclipse. You have probably read about it, but have you read about the scientific aspects of it? Rebecca Boyle (@rboyle31) covers this extremely well. [Read More Now]

Making room for change. This month, @Entrepreneur guest writer and Intuit CEO Brad Smith (@IntuitBrad) offers three strategies for driving change even when your organisation is running smoothly. Evaluating metrics is key, Smith writes, both internally and externally: “Are you being aspirational enough? What are the biggest risks on the horizon?” It’s also important to augment your strengths and to never dive into radical change alone. Instead, listen closely to your stakeholders and build a unified vision together. Finally, Smith advocates for clear, open communication: “Don’t be afraid to repeat, repeat and repeat your plan for at least 90 days… be clear and specific about how this change affects people’s roles and responsibilities.” [Read More Now]

Have you a Patreon? If you are into the economic side of the internet, especially when it comes to culture, check out Adi Robertson’s (@thedextriarchy) story about the crowdfunding-type work of Patreon. A taste: “Patreon isn’t simply a replacement for record labels or TV networks, though. Instead it’s the ideal incubator for niche internet subcultures, where a small but dedicated group of fans can directly support work they care about.” [Read More Now]

Good health, better business. India holdings giant Tata is about to get a workout, thanks to new chairman Natarajan “Chandra” Chandrasekaran. The computer engineer-turned-CEO, also an accomplished marathon runner, is bringing his fitness philosophy to the struggling conglomerate: “You can’t perform if you’re not fit. If you want to run a six-minute mile, you have to bring your weight down.” Currently, Tata’s portfolio boasts hundreds of companies representing 700,000 employees and over $100 billion in sales, reports Clay Chandler (@claychandler) for @FortuneMagazine. While some of those holdings are performing very well—namely Tetley Tea and Land Rover — many others are falling behind, unable to compete with more streamlined rivals. Says Chandra: “To get to the next level we need scale. We can’t do it with multiple small companies. We need top companies…. We’ll definitely prune the portfolio.” [Read More Now]

Defying diabetes. Researchers at the University of Chicago have taken the fight to diabetes. Their weapon of choice? Genetics. According to Rachel Nixon in this month’s @NewScientist, the technique involves editing the gene that commonly regulates blood sugar and then administering the altered gene by way of skin grafts. Already, the treatment has yielded positive results in mice: each subject gained less weight and developed a stronger resistance to insulin, and the benefits lasted over three months. That’s an encouraging sign for those already struggling with the disease, given that skin grafts have long been used to treat burns. Says Timothy Kieffer, researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada: “I do predict that gene and cell therapies will ultimately replace repeated injections for the treatment of chronic diseases.” Now that’s exciting! [Read More Now]

We’ve made contacts! “The contact lens industry in the UK is worth £290 million, and over 125 million people wear lenses globally,” writes Camilla Hodgson (@CamillaHodgson). She also notes that a 28-year-old Harvard grad is shaking up the entire industry. [Read More Now]

Power up! Renewable energy tech is on the rise, thanks to a recent $286 billion investment windfall. What does that mean for the renewables industry? The answer is simple: microgrids. @Forbes contributor Lisa Wirthman (@LisaWirthman) reports that the demand for reliable energy is high, particularly among the biggest users—factories, apartment buildings, even cinemas. But many businesses are leaving traditional power grids behind, investing instead in microgrids that provide more stable and efficient centralised power at a much lower monthly cost. These microgrids can aggregate power from many different sources (including power plants), but they can also run entirely on renewables alone. Aron Bowman, COO for ELM FieldSight, says his company even offers a self-automated monitoring and control system “so [our customers] can just focus on running their business.” [Read More Now]

Top reads for summer. It’s not too late to start on Bill Gates’ summer reading recommendations for 2017. This year, the philanthropist and Microsoft cofounder has offered up some surprising titles, including comedian Trevor Noah’s powerful memoir Born a Crime and J.D. Vance’s runaway hit Hillbilly Elegy, which spotlights “the multifaceted cultural and family dynamics that contribute to poverty” in America’s Rust Belt. Gates’ most enticing suggestion, however, is Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Says Gates: “[Harari] argues that humanity’s progress toward bliss, immortality, and divinity is bound to be unequal… as innovation accelerates, it doesn’t automatically benefit everyone.” Many thanks to Thu-Huong Ha (@thuhuongha) at @qz for this great feature! [Read More Now]

Fact check! Who says kids can’t be forward thinkers? This month, @mental_floss contributor Kirstin Fawcett (@KirstinFawcett) highlights five perceptive youngsters who have recently won acclaim for correcting — yes, that’s right — correcting museums. One eagle-eyed 10 year old, Charlie, spotted a mistake at London Natural History Museum’s latest dinosaur exhibit: a collection of fossils supposedly belonging to an Oviraptor had, clearly, come from a Protoceratops. Initially skeptical, Charlie’s parents nevertheless alerted staff, who confirmed the flub. Says his mum: “Charlie has Asperger syndrome and tends to find a subject he loves and tries to learn so much about it, so it’s really nice that he’s been able to show what he’s learned and that knowledge base.” [Read More Now]

Taxi! Taxi! Just in case you missed this: The Facebook page for Climate Reality has a not-to-miss video on “Beijing is replacing its fleet of 70,000 taxis with electric cars” from the World Economic Forum. [Read More Now]

Co-working spaces. Read about the co-working space revolution happening in India? It’s big, says Suneera Tandon (@suneeratweets). To give you an idea, here’s one excerpt: “With millennials driving the workforce and the growing need to build communities, co-working spaces are shaping the future of work,” said Ramesh Nayar, chief executive at JLL India. The firm estimates that this demography is expected to generate demand for between 12 and 14 million seats over the next few years.” [Read More Now]

I’m the boss? Feeling anxious about managing a team for the first time? What’s your leadership style? This month, @HarvardBiz offers some insightful tips to help first-time managers break through the ice and maximize their potential. Contributor Amy Jen Su (@AmyJenSu) advocates for a clear and balanced approach, even during times of stress or difficulty: “Maintaining a stable and grounded presence increases the likelihood that your team will feel comfortable bringing you important information.” My favourite bit of advice, however, is to resist keeping your team in the dark. Says Su: “As a new manager, it’s also critical to share the WHY behind your vision, priorities, expectations…. Help connect work deliverables or professional development to what’s happening at the organizational level.” [Read More Now]

Technology fast-track. Tech is trending in Singapore as government funding initiatives continue to attract and support new start-ups. According to @SCMP_News staff writer Stephen Thompson, Singapore’s National Research Foundation Technology Incubation Scheme alone “has funded over 100 early stage technology businesses” since 2012. Various other state agencies have invested US$13.2 million toward a new biomedical facility, which will spearhead the use of 3-D printing for cutting-edge surgical and orthopaedic applications. Singapore’s minister for state and trade, Koh Poh Koon, estimates 26,000 more start-ups in Singapore since 2003—an increase of nearly 120 percent—and over 19,000 new jobs added. Many of these also include foreign entrepreneurs, thanks to the government’s removal of a key capital requirement in Singapore’s immigration programme. Says Koon: “[These foreign start-ups] complement local start-ups through the cross-fertilisation of ideas, catalyse new partnerships and good jobs for our people…” [Read More Now]

Kyle ElzyKyle Thomas Elzy researches and writes our monthly feature of what’s hot in the nextsensing world. He is a storyteller by trade. His professional background lies in copywriting, editing, scriptwriting, graphic/web design, and audio/video editing. He has collaborated closely with numerous museum, academic, corporate, and nonprofit organisations.