Amazon Dash, Amazon Prime, delivery drones and instantaneous gratification. “I want it now” is one of the big trends in tech at the moment, as if waiting a day or so for that new T-shirt is suddenly unacceptable. It feels like the ultimate end-point of consumerism; the asymptote (for all you maths-nerds out there) of a curve that started in the fifties and accelerated with the advent of e-commerce.
Since the mid-nineties, we’ve been hearing of the benefits of having a fridge that will re-order milk and a washing machine that will autonomously replenish detergent. Sure enough, the 2015 version has arrived with a tie-up between AmazonDash and GE Appliances. Both very laudable companies, but this hardly qualifies as saving the world. What’s different now with the 2015 vintage of this trend is the sheer volume, scale and audacity of the ‘instant availability’ industry. I mean, do I really need the skies swarming with drones so that I can get my detergent in under an hour? Especially given that it takes me approximately 3 minutes to get to my local shop (owned by a member of our community) to buy from a wide range of detergents thank you very much.
I understand that companies like Amazon have to be seen to be delivering the next big thing, but do VCs need to keep funding startups that will do your ironing in less than five minutes (there probably is one, but I haven’t checked)?
There are some serious problems in the world that could usefully harness the best brains and without wishing ill on the instant-delivery industry, I hope that we can get through this fad as quickly as possible so we can get back to the serious job of saving the world…
Tutorhub Q&A has a habit of throwing up left field questions that generate interesting answers. When I’m browsing though questions and taking a look at the myriad of answers, I often find myself thinking, “I didn’t know that”.
Given the recent debate about rising inequality, the intense interest shown in the work of french academic Thomas Piketty and the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, a question regarding the seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau reminded me that we’ve been here before. Rosie B’s succinct and elegant answer as to the importance of these two intellectual heavyweights to the French Revolution reminded me how often the great minds of the past can talk to us through time. It’s not just in science that our world today is built on the intellectual achievements of our forebears. It’s also a reminder of the importance of liberal arts at a time when we have a minor obsession with science, maths and technology.
Rosie B‘s response to the question on Locke and Rousseau reminds us how fresh and relevant these ideas are today:
Locke was the first with his rather bold ideas that essentially all individuals are born equal. We are born without innate ideas, simply the rules of society were what defined each individual i.e. the church determined what was morally acceptable and what was not. The society a person grew up in dictates who you are, according to Locke; we are all born with a “blank slate”.
Education is a sequence, from learning, though understanding to mastery and application. Understanding how to apply 400 year-old ideas to the world around us requires a mastery of the subject and considerable insight as to how they can be applied to the world around us. Few people are willing to necessarily make that effort, but for those that do, the rewards can be considerable.
Uber, in common with a number of prominent market platforms, allow both sides of the transaction – driver and passenger – to rate their experience. Your rating as a customer is not available through the app, but anyone who uses the service a lot should know that if your rating slips under 4.0, you may find it hard to find that ride home. You might even be surprised on the sort of things that irritate your Uber driver – things that lead to an ill-fated slide down the rating system. I love talking to Uber drivers because they are generally so positive about the service, but I was surprised that beyond the obvious issues like being drunk, being obnoxious or not being where you said you’d be, issues like asking for the music to be turned up too loudly could cause me to become a ‘bad customer’.
It made me think, ‘do rating systems actually change bad behaviours?’
The whole point of a rating system is for good drivers to get the most work and for bad customers to change their habits. But if I don’t know my rating, or how I’m rated, how can I change my behaviour? Perhaps it’s just a mechanism of protecting drivers from the worst of modern manners? What if I don’t even know there is a rating system?
Recommendation engines and rating systems have always suffered from the achilles heel of, ‘one man’s heaven is another man’s hell’. Unless the system has an intimate knowledge of my own personal taste and values, a 5-star mechanism will never serve a real purpose. Perhaps it’s just a ‘door close’ button a lift – it doesn’t do anything except make me feel better; that I’m in control of my surroundings…
I have a long standing interest in creativity and new ideas. It doesn’t matter if they are good ideas, bad ideas or downright appalling ideas; as far I am concerned, they all litter the path to enlightenment.
My second favourite book on the subject of ideas is long (it runs to over 700 pages) and most definitely not for the faint hearted: Ideas – a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud. My favourite is the exact opposite: short, colourful and full of non-contributory pictures. A cynic would say the pictures are there to fill up the empty pages, a believer might say they are there to provide a rest between powerful ideas. The Art of the Idea (John Hunt) has 17 observations that don’t nudge you in the right direction, they knock you over and give you a good kicking for not taking creativity seriously.
One of his most powerful observations is that ideas have moods. Environment matters – the prevailing mood will dictate people’s willingness to take risks and appear silly. This usually gets translated into something stiff like, “the house rules are that there are no bad ideas”, but Hunt is more subtle than that when he talks about mood. You immediately get the sense of what he’s talking about. It becomes easy to see why big companies find it so hard to be creative and how easy it is for someone with the wrong attitude or the wrong body language to ‘kill the idea’.