12 Months and Counting

We’ve made it a year, so what now?

Crossing this invisible threshold has been an important moment for reflection, for better or worse, on everything that’s changed and what’s remained the same. During my most recent class with my students, the collective sentiment shared seemed to be “burnt out, but hopeful,” with an appetite for acknowledging the little wins that get us through the week or day and one step closer to reunions with our friends, family, barbers, bartenders and subway crushes. Certainly something that deserves celebrating. Also, the entire universe might be a Neural Network. Congrats, everyone! Now on with the show.

Can You Hear Me Now?

We’ve reached an interesting moment for audio. The meteoric rise of platforms like Clubhouse and the steady growth of podcasts has created new opportunities for narrative storytelling, brand marketing, and ad-hoc conversation. What’s more, the popularity of hearable technologies like Apple’s Airpods point to exciting future applications for audio and voice. While the majority of these offerings are squarely aimed at a broader audience, the upshot for the visually impaired population can’t be overlooked.

The thrill of a live sporting event is truly a multi-sensory experience. While non-seeing fans tuning in at home can hear what’s taking place on the court or the field, broadcasts tend to be light on delivering descriptive language that truly bring things to life. Enter Action Audio, a visual language rolled out at this year’s Australian Open Tennis Championships designed to take images of the actions on court and translate them into different sounds to illustrate forehands, backhands, nail-bitingly close shots, and more.

In December, IKEA famously announced that it was ending the publication of its popular print catalog after 70 years, citing people’s changing media habits as one of the reasons behind the decision. The company promptly translated the inspiration from its 286-page tome into a multi-part podcast that brings the content to life through descriptions of living situations for different families and how-tos around topics such as getting a better night’s sleep.

(Deep)Fake It Until You Make It

As already discussed in a previous newsletter, our ability to quickly and easily manipulate media is astounding. AI and sophisticated software can now conjure believable facsimiles of people and objects out of thin air and literally put words both real and imagined in their mouths. This technology has been used in ways both creative and downright frightening, raising ethical questions around ownership of identity and how to differentiate truth from fiction. As with any new gamechaning technologies, the morality and the rules that govern their proper use are struggling to catch up to the rapid implementation.

Artist collective MSCHF who sit at the forefront of culture and controversy have dropped a clever way to enjoy your classic literature in a much more modern vernacular. Project Gucciberg utilizes a deepfaked version of Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane to narrate chapters of popular titles like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Pride and Prejudice.”

The calming tones of the lauded landscape painter, the late Bob Ross, have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years for his ability to deliver comfort and joy through his popular PBS program “The Joy of Painting.” Hoping to recreate that magic for a new caffeine-fueled, extreme sports generation, MTN Dew unearthed a ‘lost episode’ from the series, featuring a resurrected Bob Ross bringing his signature style to bear on the soda brand’s neon green bottle.

While face-altering and swapping effects have become somewhat de rigueur in Hollywood, no production has perhaps used them to such a dramatic impact as the recent documentary, “Welcome to Chechnya.” The film explores the efforts of activists attempting to rescue LGBTQ citizens from threats of violence in the Russian republic of Chechnya. To protect the identities of the documentary’s subjects, while also preserving the emotional weight of their plight through visible expressions, the production employed cutting-edge face-swapping techniques to mask the victims rather than completely hiding them from view.

Little Sister Is Watching You

Data is increasingly the currency of the digital marketplace. Unfortunately, it’s traditionally been the big companies and platforms that capture and wield it and everyone else who seemingly gives it away, willingly or not, for free. Shifting that balance requires initiatives both big and small aimed at giving users back control over their information and the tools to make better use of it.

In an economy increasingly defined by gig work, a recent study by The Fairwork Project estimated as many as 55 million globally, on-demand employees often feel powerless to advocate for better pay and protections. A growing number of grassroots efforts created by and for gig workers seeks to reverse this trend, giving these groups tools to track data like mileage to ensure accurate compensation and even pool this information together for sale to transportation and other governmental agencies.

People’s bad first date stories are about to get a little less interesting and whole lot less scary with Tinder and parent company Match Group’s financial tie-up with Garbo, a nonprofit that allows anyone to run background checks with only a first name and phone number or full name. While the service won’t be free, it can uncover potential red flags like arrests or restraining orders for would-be beaus. This news comes on the heels of Bumble’s recent announcement that it will ban any members who use hate speech from body shaming to racist language.

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