by Matthew Bower; The Baffler
“Listen and you’ll hear it humming along quietly in the background of your life. It’s the sound of other people’s labor. Alfred, yet another start-up in the on-demand service economy, promises to make it easy and affordable for you to finally tune that sound out.
Offering an “automatic, hands-off service,” that frees you to “live your life,” Alfred follows the model of companies like TaskRabbit, Wun Wun, and Handy in targeting busy urban professionals with the promise of providing menial tasks for a price. For $99 a month, this company adds the convenience of automation, so you can set and forget all of “life’s necessities.” The company will assign an “Alfred”—frivolously named for the butler of a fictional vigilante billionaire—to sort your mail, do your laundry, shop for groceries, or take on any number of other pesky chores, twice a week.
Alfred went live in New York last month after co-founders Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck—who began the project at Harvard Business School—closed a $2 million seed round with backing from Spark Capital and additional funding from SV Angel and CrunchFund. While there’s nothing especially new about this service, Alfred is perhaps the most explicit in a growing trend of glib marketing pitches to supplant face-to-face services with the user-centric gloss of an app. In thinking of labor as a function to simply switch on, Silicon Valley is selling an increasingly opaque view of workers’ livelihoods.
Automation has proved a lucrative concept for both on-demand service providers and ventures in the so-called “sharing economy .” It extends the logic of positing “There’s an app for that!” to real-world business opportunities. Underlying the recent criticisms mounted against ride-sharing start-up Uber , for example, is the company’s “disruptive” idea of playing high-tech intermediary between customers and service workers, in effect concealing exploitative wages and its workers’ lack of job security behind the seamlessness of a mobile interface. It should be clear that the only thing these service on-demand companies have actually “innovated” is the consumer’s experience—not the worker’s.”
2015 Will Be the Year Wearable Tech Gets Under Your Skin
by Charles Arthur, The Guardian
“Want to know how much ultraviolet exposure you’ve had on a summer’s day? Next year, a hair slide could tell you.
Need to monitor your heart’s electrical activity? A pair of headphones could do that and feed the data to your smartphone.
Both are just around the corner. For the past year or so, the main application of “wearable” technology has been for very simple tasks – measuring how many steps you’ve taken, guessing how many calories you’ve consumed doing so, and measuring your heart rate as you did so. But in 2015, we’ll be moving past that, experts say, with a panoply of products about to be launched. Apple’s Watch, expected to go on sale in spring, will take the wearable idea beyond eager technology and fitness users, to the general public. “It will probably get more uptake than anything so far, just because it’s Apple,” says Ruth Thomson, campaign manager for consumer product development at Cambridge Consultants, who has been following the wearables space intently. “They seem to have this magic method of getting people to buy things.”
Though its full capabilities aren’t yet known, the watch has already grabbed a tonne of publicity simply by being announced – eclipsing other smartwatches announced earlier this year from companies including Samsung, LG and Motorola. “There isn’t a mainstream smartwatch yet,” says Thomson. But she sees potential for wearables to expand beyond simple counting – steps, calories – into something that truly connects.
The UV hair slide is one idea Cambridge Consultants is working on; another is a suit embedded with technology that communicates with itself, so that the different elements “talk” to each other. “The next step is to make wearables truly wearable,” Thomson says.”
Future Perfect: Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future
by Iwan Rhys Morus, Aeon
efore the beginning of the 19th century, the future was only rarely portrayed as a very different place from the present. The social order, like the natural order, was supposed to be static, with everything in its proper place: as it had been, so it would be. When Sir Isaac Newton thought about the future, he worried about the exact date of Armageddon, not about how his science might change the world. Even Enlightenment revolutionaries usually argued that what they were doing was restoring the proper order of things, not creating a new world order.
It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.
The new technology of electricity seemed to be made for futuristic speculation. At exhibition halls in London, such as the Adelaide Gallery or the Royal Polytechnic Institution, early Victorians could marvel at electrical engines that promised to transform travel. Inventors boasted that ‘half a barrel of blue vitriol [copper sulphate] and a hogshead or two of water, would send a ship from New York to Liverpool’. People went to these places to see the future made out of the present: when Edgar Allen Poe in 1844 set out to fool the New York Sun’s readers that a balloon flight had just made it across the Atlantic, he made sure to tell them that the equipment used had been ‘put in action at the Adelaide Gallery’.
Bringing the future home, Alfred Smee, then surgeon to the Bank of England, told readers of his Elements of Electro-Metallurgy (1841) how they would ‘enter a room by a door having finger plates of the most costly device, made by the agency of the electric fluid’. The walls would be ‘covered with engravings, printed from plates originally etched by galvanism’, and at dinner ‘the plates may have devices given by electrotype engravings, and his salt spoons gilt by the galvanic fluid’. It was becoming impossible to talk about electricity at all without talking about the future.”