Six Months, Six Trends
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are the six trendiest trends from our past six months.
Corporations are bulwarks of our economy and often admired. But in popular narratives, bigger is rarely better. Corporate behemoths are cast as the bad guys, the Goliaths who trample the mom-and-pops and humble corner stores. The little guy gets our love and little else. In recent years, the B Corp — short for benefit corporation — has begun to frame a different story. And antiseptic as the phrase “corporate structure” may sound, this one could well upend how we think about corporations and how corporations think about us.
This week, OZY is celebrating our six-month anniversary with six roundups of of our best stories. Today we have six trends that deserve a second look.
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes in Astana — Kazakhstan’s futuristic new capital — to make you forget what little you may have assumed about the country. Until about a decade ago, Astana was “an insignificant provincial town,” according to Amanzhol Chikanayev, the city’s lead architect. That’s when longtime President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to move the capital to this empty stretch of grassland and build a city essentially from scratch — one to match his grand ambitions for the nation. With more than 63,000,000 tons of oil extracted per year in Kazakhstan, the country became the second-most leader for oil extraction among the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. After more than $10 billion in investment, most of it fueled by the country’s oil boom (it currently ranks 14th among oil exporters and is poised to rise), the result is a towering urban center of glass skyscrapers and gleaming domes, the physical embodiment of the country’s vision of itself as a 21st-century global player.
There’s a new star on the geopolitical stage: the city. According to a number of scholars, cities have usurped the role nation-states used to play. Credit metropolitan growth, or blame dysfunctional national politics. Nowadays, the modern metropolis has an Athenian city-state sheen about it. It’s mostly well-earned. While presidents fight their legislatures and party elders squabble over ideology, cities are quietly getting things done: ramping up early education, tackling climate change, luring investment, creating jobs and, perhaps most important, modeling effective governance. That’s why, scholars say, City Hall has become fertile ground for new ideas — and for mayors to build and demonstrate their leadership chops.
There’s no question that this century has seen rampant foodieism. Consumers petition against pink slime and GMOs. Menus wax poetic about purveyors. We demand that our hens roam free and our cows be slaughtered with care. Lost in the frenzy: the 1.4 million people who pick and pack produce in America’s fields. They’re vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, including outright slavery, and typically earn a pittance. Mostly, these workers are beyond the purview of elite “sustainability” concerns. Oddly, the foodie movement pays greater attention to animal welfare than to farmworker welfare. Have you ever checked whether the person who picked that organic arugula was paid a fair wage? Now, a new kind of labor rights movement is on the rise.
There is no denying that the humble Pope Francis has changed some people’s opinions of the Catholic Church for the better, but for many in the Western world, there’s still the question of female equality in the Vatican. Namely, why can’t women be priests, too? Pope Francis has made a big point of repeatedly stating how important it is that women become leaders and decision makers in the Catholic Church and how Catholics need a deeper theology of women. He even pointed out that “Mary is more important than the apostles.” But some see that as lip service when combined with how he has made it abundantly clear that women cannot be ordained. The Sistine Chapel’s got nothing on that glass ceiling up there.
Fitness buffs are going gaga for gadgets like the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP — for now. The stylish rubber bracelets can monitor your activity, sleep patterns and more, and even display the stats on a smartphone. But John Rogers thinks wearable health can do better. Today’s often clunky self-health trackers are “just hanging there,” said Rogers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. So Rogers has designed super-thin, barely there electronics that can stretch, wrinkle and flex with the skin. Harvesting power from radio waves, they measure a wide range of health data beyond what current gadgets can monitor.