During the U.S. 4th of July break, I finally read a stack of articles I had put aside months ago. I was most absorbed by the Time Magazine cover article ‘10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.’ You can read each of the ideas by clicking on the links below, but for those of you who have limited time, I’ve provided my own summary for the first five:
1) Living Alone Is The New Norm
2) Your Head Is In The Cloud
3) Handprints, Not Footprints
4) The Rise Of The Nones
5) Food That Lasts Forever
6) Black Irony
7) High-Status Stress
8) Privacy In Public
9) Nature Is Over
10) Niche Aging
Living Alone is the New Norm
In 1950, Americans who lived alone made up only 9% of households; in 2011 solitary households reached 28% which makes them tied with childless couples as the most common U.S. residential type. Solitary dwellers are primarily middle-aged women aged 35-64 but young adults from 18-34 are the fastest growing segment. Living alone is not just a U.S phenomenon: the percentages are 47% in Sweden, 31% in Japan, and 34% in Britain. Not surprisingly, only 3% of households in India are singletons.
According to sociologist Eric Klinenberg, living alone does not mean we are lonely. Instead, Klineberg claims it allows us “to do what we want, when we want and on our own terms.” When we are alone, we recharge and are more likely to create true connections when we spend time with other people.
Your Head is In the Cloud
I blogged about this phenomena last year under the similarly-titled ‘Our Memories Are Cloudy’. As I said then:
The research shows that we forget things we are confident we can find on the Internet but we are more likely to remember things we think are not available online. Furthermore, we are better at remembering where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the information itself.
The Time article claims that the average American spends ~12 hours consuming information which represents 34 GBytes of data. I would have guessed a higher number.
Handprints, Not Footprints
Gregory Norris claims we would be more effective in reducing our carbon footprints if we talked about the positive impact we have through the cumulative effect of all of our reductions. This is standard cognitive science at work; positive improvement goals are more motivational and easier to keep than negative reinforcement ones. Norris calls this approach handprints and allows people to track their own progress at handprinter.org. In other cognitive twist, if your friends improve their handprints because they learned about a technique from you, your handprint improves as well.
The Rise of the Nones
19% of Americans report they have no religious affiliation, double the percentage in 1990. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t spiritual; only 4% identify themselves as atheist or agnostic. Instead, they seem to reject organized religion as too rigid and institutional. These so-called ‘nones’ are creating smaller, more intimate worship communities which often meet in members’ homes.
Is this trend limited to the U.S.? The article doesn’t say and I can’t find any research for other countries.
Food That Lasts Forever
There’s a persistent urban legends that Twinkies last forever due to the amount of preservatives they contain. This myth seems to have been debunked and most estimates claim the real number is 25 days. Canned spam, on the other hands, is good for around 10 years.
Joking aside, food spoilage is a significant problem: 30% of all food in the U.S. spoils before being eaten and estimates are as high as 70% in developing nations. Spoilage is usually caused by bacteria. New techniques for controlling bacteria place food in a plastic pouch and subject it to very high pressure (87,000 psi). According to the article, fruit treated this way remained fresh for three years and a pork chop tasted ‘normal’ seven years later. I believe this technique could not only improve food safety but also significantly reduce the energy we use to cool and store foods.
How can we tie all five of these ideas together? Apparently, the seven-year old porkchop will be eaten by someone who lives alone, echews organized religion, and can’t remember the handprint Website.
Note: Time permitting, I’ll summarize the other five articles in a later post.