Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most interesting topics covered this week are Policy (myth of urban poor), Food Technology (eating lab-grown chicken) and Futurism (the cultural blindspot)

Published: Oct 21, 2018

g_110097_bg_shutterstock_223235230_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock 

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, including investment analysis, psychology, science, technology, philosophy, etc. We have been sharing our favourite reads with clients under our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most interesting topics covered this week are Policy (myth of urban poor), Food Technology (eating lab-grown chicken) and Futurism (the cultural blindspot).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended October 19, 2018

1) It’s not what you know, it’s how you think [Source: Medium
In this piece, the author delves deep into how our mind can think clearer and better. Everything that happens externally is a result of our mind and thoughts. Based on popular psychology literature, some thinkers have codified the way we form habits into a simple loop: a trigger, a routine, and a reward. We see something in our environment that sets off the trigger; the trigger then leads to a routine we’ve internalized based on our past interactions in such an environment; finally, a reward at the end reinforces said routine. So our brain seeks patterns and that’s how habits are formed. Habits are a way of ensuring that we don’t have to think hard about what to do when a similar situation arises.

Nobody knows how thoughts emerge in our minds, but they play an important role in our interaction. When we are born, we can’t distinguish between things. But slowly our mind starts to recognize patterns and internalize them. Everyone has their own thinking patterns. No two individual can think exactly the same way. And our identities are borne from the convergence of these patterns. They create our subjective experience. If any given time we struggle to solve a problem, it indicates that our current thinking patterns are not adequately suited for the job. We need to change the thinking pattern to get the desired result.

How we train our mind to think is very important. Our pattern-seeking brain forms both habits of action and habits of thought that it embeds into our conscious and subconscious memories to reduce cognitive load. How we think about what is happening around us is arguably more important than what is actually happening around us. So, it all begins in the mind.

2) For doctors, delving deeper as a way to avoid burnout
[Source: NY Times
Siddhartha Mukherjee, the author of this article and also “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” and, more recently, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” throws light on occupational burnout. In his college days as a medical student, Siddhartha learnt that many residents, fellows and even senior doctors had packed their scalpels and stethoscopes and left medicine. The reason? Burnout. It was the late 1990s, hospitals were changing to electronic medical records (EMR), and although EMR had been sold to as a means to ease work flow and to ensure patient safety, a doctor’s day felt more robotic and dehumanized. The residents in the wards were spending bulk of their time documenting notes, checking off codes and pressing buttons to generate automated bills.

They felt overworked, and were discontent with medicine. Also, they felt detached from the patients. In 1981, the psychologist Christina Maslach, working with several colleagues, set out to create a test to measure occupational burnout. Eventually termed the Maslach Inventory, the scale assessed the risk of burnout by testing subjects along three basic dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. The first set of questions, nine in total, measured the feeling of being chronically overextended or emotionally fatigued in the workplace. The second, with five items, tried to capture the feeling of becoming detached or disconnected from the recipient of your services: toddlers in the case of kindergarten teachers, or patients in the case of doctors. The final dimension that Maslach identified, through eight questions, was a loss of personal accomplishment, a feeling that nothing was being achieved.

In one study, 42% of doctors reported feeling burned out. The worst affected were obstetricians, internists and intensivists. Doctors in subspecialties that require work in emergency-oriented conditions, and those who confront frequent lawsuits, and those who require constant documentation, surveillance and billing. The least affected were plastic surgeons and ophthalmologists — doctors who inhabit procedure- or skill-oriented domains. The most common reasons listed for burning out were the overwhelming strains of bureaucracy and paperwork, the vast quantity of time spent at work and a lack of respect from administrators and employers. But in all this, the author didn’t burn out, by burning a little more. He survived by deepening his commitments to research. He tried to increase his mastery within peculiar medical niches.

3) Going viral in the village [Source: Livemint ]
In this high-tech world, there have been many successful stories on YouTube. You can become famous or your video can go viral, as they say, with just one single video! This article talks about the success stories of some popular YouTube food channels like Country Foods (over one million subscribers), Grandpa Kitchen (3.1 million subscribers) and Village Food Factory (over 1.9 million subscribers) and also how rural India is making the most out of this technology. While in 2014, there were only 16 YouTube channels with more than one million subscribers in India, today there are over 300 passing that milestone. And almost every single week, two more are being added. Twenty of these are food channels, three of which are village food-related. Grandpa Kitchen is the No.3 online food channel in India.

According to a KPMG language report, State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2018 (YouTube channel analysis), of the 450 million Indians connected to the internet, 390 million are active internet users and 230 million are “language users”. Language users are those who prefer to use Indian languages other than English primarily while online. Ninety-five percent of video consumption in India is in vernacular languages, and the number of rural internet users has increased four-fold since 2012. That’s not all, some of the YouTubers are in their 80s, 90s and 100s.

Some of the YouTubers get calls from all over the world and are lauded for their videos. They also get requests for training. Most of the YouTubers are leaving their full-time jobs in order to pursue YouTube as a full-time career. Some have managed to earn more than Rs1 lakh a month. They are also mentored by experts at YouTube regularly, through workshops and online resources at the Creator Academy. While this trend is gaining popularity, it looks like the peak is far away.

4) The myth of the urban poor or why slum dwellers prefer to stay put (https://goo.gl/FFWjqr )
It’s said that most of the people in India live in slums because they can’t afford to buy or rent a decent house for themselves. However, a survey of 211 slum households from 21 slums in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, found out that the urban poor are a heterogeneous group, and many of those currently living in slums could afford to buy “simple,” decent housing. Of the surveyed families, 98% (206 households) had electricity. The remaining 2% (five households; data negligible) used kerosene lamps for lighting. For cooking, 73% (153 households) used liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), while the remaining 27% (58 households) used firewood. Also, most slum dwellers (72%) lived on encroached public land, and 11% (24 households) on encroached private land.

Out of the surveyed population, 74% could afford to buy a house, 18% could not, and 8% may not be able to sustain repayments, as their capacity to pay depends on other factors. But, many slum households face a dilemma: opting for better and more secure living conditions would mean losing some of the advantages of living in a slum like giving up the hope of free or subsidised housing.

These conclusions are important for policy implications, and they call for studies on the tipping point that might determine mobility out of slums. It is inaccurate to assume that all the urban poor would want to take advantage of measures that make it easier for them to buy their own housing. While the issue of encouraging mobility out of slums is related to that of enabling poor households to buy their own housing by removing institutional constraints, the two issues are different, and they call for different approaches.

5) How algorithms are controlling our life [Source: Vox.com ]
In this piece, the author talks about Hannah Fry’s, a mathematician at University College London, new book and how algorithms are quietly changing the rules of human life. So, what exactly are algorithms? They are invisible pieces of code that tell a computer how to accomplish a specific task. Think of it as a recipe for a computer: An algorithm tells the computer what to do in order to produce a certain outcome. Every time you do a Google search or look at your Facebook feed or use GPS navigation in your car, you’re interacting with an algorithm.

Hannah Fry feels that algorithms are changing our lives in all sorts of ways. From what we choose to read and watch to who we choose to date, algorithms are increasingly playing a huge role. And it’s not just the obvious cases, like Google search algorithms or Amazon recommendation algorithms. We’ve invited these algorithms into our courtrooms and our hospitals and our schools, and they’re making these tiny decisions on our behalf that are subtly shifting the way our society is operating. When asked whether our trust in algorithms is misplaced or are we making a mistake by handing over so much decision-making authority to these programs, Dr. Fry says, “Algorithms are not perfect, and they often contain the biases of the people who create them, but they’re still incredibly effective and they’ve made all of our lives a lot easier.”

She also feels that humans and machines don’t have to be opposed to one another. We have to work with machines, acknowledging that they are flawed, just as we are. And that they will make mistakes, just as we do. Lastly when questioned whether algorithms are solving more problems for human beings than they’re creating, Dr. Fry thinks they’re solving more problems than they’re creating and she is still mostly positive about this stuff. She has worked in this area for over a decade, and there are huge upsides to these technologies. Algorithms are being used to help prevent crimes and help doctors get more accurate cancer diagnoses, and in countless other ways. All of these things are really, really positive steps forward for humanity.

6) Why futurism has a cultural blindspot [Source: nautil.us ]
We often try to predict the future. We’ll have self-driving cars, robots will take over most of the jobs, etc. But we fail to predict one thing, and that’s cultural change. One futurist noted that a 1960s film of the “office of the future” made on-par technological predictions (fax machines and the like), but had a glaring omission: The office had no women. While for many it would be easy to predict the future pertaining to technology, they don’t give that much importance to cultural change. People in the innovation-obsessed present tend to overstate the impact of technology not only in the future, but also the present. We tend to imagine we are living in a world that could scarcely have been imagined a few decades ago.

We tend to take something that’s important today and predict the future based on that. Like today, technology is salient. Theorist Nassim Nicholas Taleb has perfectly summed up in Antifragile, “we notice what varies and changes more than what plays a larger role but doesn’t change. We rely more on water than on cell phones, but because water does not change and cell phones do, we are prone to thinking that cell phones play a larger role than they do.” While the technological past and future appear to be more different than they actually are, these cultural differences in time seem surprising.

Why is cultural change so hard to predict? For one, we have long tended to forget that it does change. And when culture does change, the precipitating events can be surprisingly random and small. As the writer Charles Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit, one of the landmark events in the evolution of gay rights in the U.S. was a change, by the Library of Congress, from classifying books about the gay movement as “Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes,” to “Homosexuality, Lesbianism—Gay Liberation, Homophile Movement.”

7) The lost art of concentration: Being distracted in a digital world [Source: Guardian ]
What’s common with today’s youngsters? Lack of concentration. We are so digitally connected that we can’t concentrate on other important stuff and are easily distracted. In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ. With our heavy use of digital media, it could be said that we have taken multitasking to new heights, but we’re not actually multitasking; rather, we are switching rapidly between different activities. This behaviour is a predominant reason for the poor concentration so many people report.

So why is concentration so important? Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. To make this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps towards behavioural change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. If we concentrate at the task at hand without getting distracted, we’ll be able to deliver faster with utmost accuracy. So, how can we concentrate better?

Here are a few ways which can help us to concentrate better: 1) Watching the clock: Starting with the second hand at the 12, focus intently on its progress around the clock face without allowing any distracting thoughts to intervene; Every time your concentration is interrupted by a stray thought, wait until the second hand is at the 12 again, and start again; 2) Physical exercise: Regular exercise activates the body and this is beneficial for the brain; 3) Enhance sleep: Avoid keeping any electronics like TV, computers, etc. in your bedroom. Also, avoid using cellphone before going to bed as it will deter your sleep quality; 4) Reading for pleasure: One thing that many people who feel they have lost the ability to concentrate mention is that reading a book for pleasure no longer works for them. Read for long enough to engage your interest, at least 30 minutes: engagement in content takes time, but will help you read for longer; 5) Digital apps: Avoid excessive use of apps and instead try reading a book, go to a movie (where turning off phones is required), take a walk, eat a meal without checking.

8) Why Brett Kavanaugh is the perfect symbol of American collapse [Source: eand.co ]
Umair Haque, the author of this article questions democracy and talks how tribalism has overpowered it. He says, Brett Kavanaugh, the prep school boy, the Ivy Leaguer, the DC partisan functionary, has become a predator and no one can touch him as he is atop American hierarchy. He further states that Kavanaugh has a license to abuse, demean, harm, and violate. What has the Brett Kavanaugh story taught us? That American institutions have failed, and failed badly, at producing the basic democratic goods of justice, equality, and freedom. And the more interesting question is: how did all this come about?

Ivy League students are meant to become leaders. They are taught, essentially, the following things — different fields, economics, politics, sociology, psychology, and so on, use different terms, but the underlying philosophy is precisely the same. Self-interest is all there is. He suggests American institutions teach Americans that democracy is being a dominant member of the tribe. The result is that Americans have for too long learned a perverse and backward set of values, and that is why America is a perverse and backwards country now. They are taught that cruelty, selfishness, aggression, egotism are good, not just for them, but best for everyone.

Instead of producing freedom, justice, and equality, a collapsing America was producing inequality, injustice, and exploitation. The author feels that only a fool would call any of this democracy. To make the point clear, in Europe, living standards are higher because democracy has matured — people enjoy more sophisticated notions of equality, freedom, and justice, like rights to healthcare, retirement, education, and so on. That is because in Europe, after the war, at least, democracy fundamentally opposed tribalism — whereas in America, democracy was and is still equated to tribalism. But if democracy is just tribalism — soon enough, you will have the loudest, most violent apes in charge. Hence, globally, America is leading the backwards charge among rich countries to make “democracy” devolve to people trying to, in little predatory tribes, take away one another’s rights — and worse, elites leading them proudly to that purpose. This is, properly said, the self-destruction, the suicide, of democracy — not the exercise of it.

9) Would you eat slaughter-free meat? [Source: BBC ]
Can you imagine eating a chicken that’s not butchered? Yes, Just, a food company from San Francisco, grew chicken nuggets from the cells of a chicken feather. In order to stop the slaughter of animals and protect the environment from the degradation of industrial factory farming, they’ve come up with this lab-grown chicken. Talking about its taste, the skin was crisp and the meat flavoursome although its internal texture was slightly softer than you would expect from a nugget at, say, McDonalds or KFC. Josh Tetrick, Just’s chief executive, says that "We make things like eggs or ice cream or butter out of plants and we make meat just out of meat. You just don't need to kill the animal."

It takes about two days to produce a chicken nugget in a small bioreactor, using a protein to encourage the cells to multiply, some type of scaffold to give structure to the product and a culture, or growth, medium to feed the meat as it develops. "So we could just literally grow any meat, poultry or seafood directly from those animal cells," Dr. Valeti says. "I think that is probably much bigger than sliced bread." Many Americans say they are eating less meat but US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures suggest the average consumer will still consume more than 222lbs (100kg) of red meat and poultry this year - about 20lb more than they ate in the 1970s.

As the idea sounds unique, most billionaire investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson are investing in this technology. But another question that remains unanswered is, if successful, will the people love to eat lab-grown meat? While some can get experimental, some like Ms. Linda Hilburn from Guthrie, Oklahoma says, "There's just something about man's creation that scares me. We've created havoc here. I kind of like the idea of God's creation."

10) 5-Hour Rule: If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible [Source: Medium ]
While learning is a life-long constant process, many people fail to spend time on learning or expanding their knowledge. All or most of the self-made billionaires today are voracious readers. Barack Obama used to read one hour a day while in office. Warren Buffett invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career. Bill Gates read a book a week during his career and also took a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career. They all invested time in learning. And today, learning is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.

In this high-paced world of technology, we get most of the things free today compared to 70s, 80s and 90s. If you’re not constantly learning, you risk losing your job, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85% of manufacturing jobs. Nowadays you get to hear that many are jobless and it’s hard to find a job. But, the irony is that the problem isn’t lack of jobs. Rather, it’s a lack of people with the right skills and knowledge to fill the jobs. People fail to see why they need to learn and adapt. Knowledge is the new money and it often serves as a medium of exchange and store of value. But, unlike money, when you use knowledge or give it away, you don’t lose it. Transferring knowledge anywhere in the world is free and instant. Its value compounds over time faster than money.

So, how do you learn the right knowledge and have it pay off? The author of this piece helps with 6 points which work as a framework. These are: 1) Identify valuable knowledge at the right time; 2) Learn and master that knowledge quickly; 3) Communicate the value of your skills to others; 4) Convert knowledge into money and results; 5) Learn how to financially invest in learning to get the highest return; and 6) Master the skill of learning how to learn.

Just as we exercise or eat healthy to be in good health, we also need to invest time in learning. Not learning at least 5 hours per week (the 5-hour rule) is the smoking of the 21st century. It’s also known that the busiest and most successful people in the world find at least one hour a day to learn. None of us can afford not to learn.

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