It has not been a good year for the "innovation economy"

Tech-solutionism met its match with Covid19.

Sree’s newsletter is produced w/ Zach Peterson (@zachprague). The tweet above by Dan Sheehan captures some of the debate we are having in the US about the role of government spending in recovering from this pandemic - and how we build back better, not just return to the old normal.

Scroll down for Read Something; Watch Something; a weekly tech tip from Robert S. Anthony (@newyorkbob), and much more.

TUNE IN: #NYTReadalong - our guest this Super Bowl Sunday is George Vecsey, longtime New York Times sports columnist, author of 30 books, including Coal Miner’s Daughter, w/ Loretta Lynn. Watch the recording: FB, YT, Twitter, LinkedIn.

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The last couple of years have produced a healthy amount of tech-skepticism that was harder to come by in, say, 2010. Back then, Big Tech was going to change the world—and it did in so many ways. But, the Covid19 pandemic has laid bare the limits of putting our hopes, and health, in the hands of the private sector.

Of course, without Big Tech, it’s likely that the economy would have ground to a complete halt. Schools at all levels run on video conferencing technology, and most businesses are no different. But so much of that innovation — a loose usage of the term, to be sure — was essentially one giant stopgap. What’s more, I suspect that there is a certain resentment of such technologies as they actually were at the center of more stress and anxiety, not necessarily convenience.

In fact, data shows that people who had jobs were working longer hours during the pandemic. It’s almost like we replaced the commute with more time spent working. I haven’t seen any more detailed studies on this yet, but I suspect that the increase in timed worked is not necessarily all gloom and doom. Many people have more control of the time they work now than they did in the days of office meetings and team lunches, and it makes sense that the hours would add up a bit if people are able to work outside of what we would call normal working hours.

Some people get more done early in the morning, others (especially those with kids) may find evenings more conducive to work. Having more flexibility about when we get work done during a given day isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I hope that employers adopt, or maintain, such an approach when things return to whatever “normal” will be.

Here’s a good breakdown from The Economist:

These are not insignificant increases, and an extra half hour of work every day adds up fast. Not surprisingly, women and people of color are feeling the effects of the last year more than other demographic groups.

Now, as the focus becomes vaccinating as many people as possible as fast as possible, I can’t help but be unimpressed with our distinct lack of ingenuity. The signup process is hard enough, but there is simply no reason that a single vaccine dose should be thrown out—and there is certainly space for Big Tech to step up. Honestly, if a series of ads can follow me around as I take a walk in New York City, surely a notification system for available vaccines could too.

I don’t have a specific solution here, but with all of our ride-hailing, food delivery, and logistics apps that literally track us to the hilt, it seems eminently possible that local officials could work out notification systems that would get more vaccine doses out. A simple scenario:

It’s 11pm, every vaccine appointment is done for the day, and there are still 100 doses left that will be thrown out. The hospital wants to get these shots into arms—anybody’s, really—so they use their alert system that feeds to the systems of DoorDash, Postmates, Uber, Lyft, and Amazon Prime. People with deliveries close to the hospital, ride shares passing by the hospital, and folks waiting for packages get a notification in the app with a link to simple form. They have two hours to get to the place for the shot—first come, first served.

This doesn’t strike me as something out of science fiction, it sounds like something that can and should be happening right now. It also reminds us of the things the tech giants have been saying for years about the revolutionary effects of the digital age.

The fact is that pandemic made some people wealthy, drove huge valuations, and produced technology that made it easier to connect. But it did not do much to inspire faith in the system. “Don’t be evil” sounds perfectly fine in a press release, but I’d rather see these corporate giants put their sizeable reserves of cash and talent towards being active, positives forces for good. Vaccine distribution is the perfect place to start.

- Sree

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Read Something

Often the best political writing comes from looking at things that are, rightly or wrongly, thought of as apolitical. Personally, I’m of the mind that how people treat service workers is a hugely important indicator of their politics, and this piece by Moe Tkacik nails it.


Cyber Goal for Super Sunday: No Tech Trips or Fumbles

By Robert S. Anthony
Each week, veteran tech journalist Robert S. Anthony shares a tech tip you don’t want to miss. Follow him on @newyorkbob.

Aside from clever commercials and side bets with friends, sometimes the best thing about the Super Bowl is the success of an unexpected hero or the untimely flop of a superstar. Technology has come a long way since Super Bowl I in 1967 when people were still buying black-and-white TVs, but also has a history of tripping and fumbling on Super Bowl Sunday—but fortunately not that often.

For example, in 2020 Fox Sports trumpeted that fans would be able to watch Super Bowl LIV in super-high 4K resolution when viewed via streaming platforms like the Fox Sports app on Roku. But the trumpets were silent on game day. Not one TV host said a word about the 4K broadcast—and for apparently good reason.

If you cued up the 4K broadcast on a Roku 4K TV, what you saw was faded and muted colors—and it sure didn’t look like 4K. The video was far better on the plain old 720p over-the-air broadcast.

And then there was 2013, when a power outage left Super Bowl XLVII fans in the dark for 34 minutes. A relay, a relatively simple piece of technology designed to protect the stadium’s power system from power abnormalities, proved abnormal itself.

For Super Bowl LV, high-speed 5G wireless technology is in the spotlight. Verizon has invested $80 million to upgrade the 5G infrastructure in the Tampa, Florida area, including around Raymond James Stadium, site of the game. According to Verizon, Apple iPhone 12 owners can use the Verizon 5G SuperStadium in the NFL’s mobile app to watch the game from seven camera angles if they’re in the stadium and five angles if they’re elsewhere.

Not only are 5G speeds faster than older 4G technology, 5G cell towers can handle far more connections in a limited area—like a stadium. The result should be smooth high-resolution videos—if everything works.

So, if you see someone in a stadium skybox staring nervously into a laptop, there’s a good chance that it’s not a coach or a team executive—just an everyday techie—who’ll have a lot to explain on Monday if things go sour.

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#WorthyThread

Congressman Andy Kim (D-NJ) lent a hand cleaning up the capitol after the January 6 siege by Trump supporters. I hope that day doesn’t fade from our collective memory any time soon — one of the saddest days in our country’s history. This short thread is actually quite moving, especially that first image in the tweet below.


Watch Something

Parody and satire have never been more difficult to pull off, and if you’ve noticed that articles from the likes of The Onion and McSweeney’s seem to just hit a little harder, you’re not alone. Trevor Noah’s Daily Show has thrived in the last year. He’s always been so good—the show is as smart as it’s ever been, and this piece on the childcare crisis, and the resulting crisis for working mothers, is a perfect example.


Odds & Ends

🗞  TUNE IN: #NYTReadalong - our guest this Super Bowl Sunday is George Vecsey, longtime New York Times sports columnist, author of 30 books, including Coal Miner’s Daughter, w/ Loretta Lynn. Watch the recording: FB, YT, Twitter, LinkedIn.

The Readalong is followed, on Sundays at 11 am-noon ET, by a new medical show I’m co-executive producing with surgeons Sujana Chandrasekhar, M.D. (@DrSujanaENT), and Marina Kurian, M.D. (@MarinaKurian), called She’s On Call (watch live or later).

After 250 episodes in 250 days, my global show has moved from daily episodes to 1-2 times a week. The best way to know when I’m on the air and see all my archived shows, is to subscribe to my YouTube channel or my Whatsapp alerts.

The Sunday #NYTReadalong is sponsored by Muck Rack. Interested in sponsorship opportunities? Email sree@digimentors.group and neil@digimentors.group.

🎧 Every Saturday, I host a call-in show on WBAI 99.5FM (@wbai) - "Coping with Covid19" - focused on being helpful, hopeful, and focusing on the pandemic's effects on society’s most vulnerable. Listen live Saturdays from 12-1pm ET, or later. And, of course, call in or tweet questions for us using the #wbaisree hashtag. Listen to a recent episode here!

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