October 18, 2019

News ⚡ — Thursday, October 17

The Analogue Pocket is retro-gaming at its finest. A brain-less self-healing organism debuts at a Paris zoo. China bans the export of black clothing to Hong Kong.

1. 🎮 The Analogue Pocket breathes life into the Game Boy era | Tech Crunch
The latest addition to the world of video game hardware eschews the usual latest specs for a bit of 80s and 90s familiarity. The Analogue Pocket is a USD 199 device that mimics a similar experience to Nintendo’s iconic Game Boy franchise. With other adapters, it adds the full gamut of retro fun including Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and Atari Lynx.

2. 🐲 A new “organism” at Paris zoo has no brain but 720 sexes | The Straight Times
The newly debuted “blob” is “a yellowish unicellular small living being which looks like a fungus but acts like an animal.” The organism can self-heal within two minutes when cut in half. What makes it most interesting is that despite not having a brain, it can pass along learned knowledge if two blobs merged.

3. 🙅 China bans exports of black clothing to Hong Kong amid protests | South China Morning Post
The protesters who have taken to the streets of Hong Kong for the last four months, initially to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill, have adopted as their uniform black T-shirts, black jeans and black sneakers, often paired with a black face mask.

4. 💰 adidas wants you to trade in your old gear for vouchers | Business of Fashion
The German sportswear brand has teamed-up with Stuffsr to allow participants to trade in their old adidas gear for vouchers. The goal of the initiative, limited to the UK, is to help manage much of the waste generated by the fashion industry.

5. 🔎 Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly recording-breaking performances is forcing the IAAF to take a closer look | The Times
The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%’s recording-breaking resume is pushing the IAAF to look more into the shoe’s performative abilities. Various elite athletes have brought up the issue to the International Association of Athletics Foundation. Even before Eliud Kopchoge’s sub-two-hour record-breaking marathon, the ZoomX Vaporfly Next% already laid claim to the five fastest men’s marathon times ever.

6. 💦 Prescription pills are ruining America’s water supply | Axios
Despite being one of the world’s most advanced countries, the United States is staring at an impending water crisis. Traditional water sources are meant primarily for transport and storage and cannot handle new foreign substances and filter them properly, namely prescription drugs.

See all our recent News ⚡ updates here.

October 18, 2019

Food is the Next Frontier for Multisensory Art

These days when we think about multisensory experiences, our first thoughts might start to gravitate towards the audio-visual interactivity of AR and VR, but what about food? As a medium, it remains a rich but comparatively underexplored frontier if we think outside the box of cuisine and restaurant contexts, even if they’re innovative. What makes food so special and why should we use it as a mode of expression?

Why Food Might Be Getting Left Out

A New York Times article written by William Deresiewicz in 2012 argued that despite the emergence of a new dearth of literature, awards and media surrounding food and food culture that mirrors that surrounding art, our efforts to elevate our appreciation for food have only hit a cultural ceiling composed of varying layers of foodie-ism.

“But food, for all that, is not art. Both begin by addressing the senses, but that is where food stops. It is not narrative or representational, does not organize and express emotion,” he wrote. “An apple is not a story, even if we can tell a story about it. A curry is not an idea, even if its creation is the result of one.”

While he is correct to point out that in many ways, our obsession with food has not led to art but replaced it as a “vehicle of aspiration and competition,” we’d say there is still strong potential for it as a medium, as has been explored throughout history.

Food as Visual Medium

Let’s start with how we might come to perceive food (still discernible as food) as a visual medium:

  • Food as the subject, where it’s stylized and presented in its raw or prepared-dish form as the primary focus of the work.
  • Whole foods or images of food that are used to complete larger works.
  • Ingredients as the medium such as sculpted sugar or chocolate, and other instances where the ingredients are valued for their physical properties as a working material.
  • Consumable “almost too good looking to eat” items such as cakes incorporating strong influences from other fields such as fine art, architecture and hard sciences.

The point is that however they’re used, so long as we can discern it looks like food, food evokes an immediate understanding and intimacy whether we consume them physically or just visually. For those that understand the context behind certain foods, their visual forms become just as codified and capable of carrying nuanced messages as other mediums.

Experience and “Performance” Revolving Around Food

In the mainstream, we might be put off attempts to “say something through food” with the likes of Dining in the Dark or Ichiran’s ramen-booths-for-one some might write off as gimmicky hedonism. But if art is meant to express and change perspectives, the ability for that to happen through food can’t be ignored when we can directly participate.

We’ve written about Virgilio Martinez’ Central, which takes diners through the layered ecosystems of the Peruvian Andes as well as “Hawai’i” Mike Salman’s Chef for Higher cannabis dinner parties meant to heighten the senses while decreasing inhibitions. These and other unique concepts that are coming out of culture look to reimagine how we approach food from the dining perspective. As with any multi-sensory installation, we pay for admission to restaurant concepts that increasingly resemble galleries, where everything from the serviceware to music is curated from other artists. Here, we’re simply paying to experience the chef’s “set” that encodes history, culture, and vision through their take on genres, their trademark mix of flavor, texture and scent notes.

Even outside of the restaurant context, however, there are plenty of ways artists are exploring themes in ways that are uniquely designed around food as the medium, even if we might not label it as art right away. Take LA-based art collective Fallen Fruit Collective as an example: its Public Fruit Jam encourages strangers to negotiate and collaborate on making a fruit jam using each participant’s respective ingredients. Similarly, their Endless Orchard project allows citizens to plant, map and share fruit trees, making it both public art and social initiative.

Distilling and reassembling flavors and scents

Lastly, we see culture, constantly in search for new experiences, immersed in a phase of experimentation. Whether they’re rooted in the culinary or scientific tradition or both, globally-minded artists and audiences alike are taking to different combinations of flavors, smells, and textures, whether they’re old or new history.

It’s this deconstructed approach to the sensory properties of food — and necessarily, smell — that remains a vast playground for exploration at the individual level. They divorce our existing preconceptions around food and use their elemental flavors, textures, and aromas as emotional notes with which to assemble sensory experiences for different purposes:

  • Isolation: From trending flavors like yuzu-flavored everything to beanless coffee made by the same people behind Impossible Meat, both instances involve isolating the flavors we recognize and like while removing those we don’t.
  • Sense memory: Copenhagen-based “flavor company” Empirical Spirits seek to bottle scenes and memories through its science-influenced approach to taste and aromas.
  • Translation: Oki Sato of Tokyo and Milan-based design studio Nendo created chocolates that embodied Japanese onomatopoeic words to describe texture, effectively using food to translate meaning between formats.
  • Augmentation: Sometimes, these elemental properties are used to add an extra dimension to other art, such as Art of Bloom’s use of scent to support its recent AR exhibition in Long Beach.

The Takeaway

As we can see, food is difficult to frame artistically once it leaves the context of the farm, kitchen, dinner table and restaurant, but we’d argue that yes, it absolutely exists as art we’ve only begun to explore. Whether we get to taste it or not, food can be used as a medium of great depth and complexity as with any art.

If we were to compare it to sound, the next most powerful emotional medium we have, we have the ability to manipulate emotion through food with flavor and aroma notes, textures as timbre, the whole spectrum of color, the Scoville scale, among other factors. Combined in thoughtful ways, they record memories, encode messages, drive narratives and shape culture all the same.

October 16, 2019

News ⚡ — Wednesday, October 16

TikTok is figuring out its content moderation policies. Hong Kong’s retail rents drop. What happens to modern Millennial companies when VC money runs out.

1. 🔎 TikTok is seeking corporate law advice on how to handle its US content moderation policies | TechCrunch
As the darling of the social media world, the platform is seeking out legal advice on how to handle its US content moderation. Recent controversies around censoring Hong Kong protests will need to be addressed if it aims to become China’s first globally-dominant platform. Corporate law firm K&L Gates has been brought in to find clarity as it seeks to “strengthen its own internal moderation teams, moderation and content policies, and overall transparency,” according to TechCrunch.

2. 📉 Hong Kong’s retail rents dropped significantly in the last few months | Business of Fashion
Hong Kong’s traditionally vibrant consumer landscape has had a tumultuous few months as protestors turn out with regularity. Recent stats show a 10.5% drop in rent with a further 5-10% decline throughout 2019. Hong Kong has been an essential part of many luxury businesses with no visible replacement in sight.

3. 💰 Could Millennial lifestyles subsidized by VCs is coming to a close? | The Atlantic
Uber, WeWork, Peleton, and Casper each play roles within the lifestyles of many affluent Millenials. But as many of these companies fail to turn into viable businesses and the VC funding dries up, something will need to change. Perhaps it’s higher pricing, but as some others have mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily mean pricing changes but rather more focused and efficient marketing strategies versus changes merely splashing the cash with little return.

4. 🗺 78% of Millennial spend on “desirable experiences” | What’s New in Publishing
Events are a worthwhile consideration for moderate to large-sized publishers at a time when media is continually seeking new revenue streams.

See all our recent News ⚡ updates here.

October 16, 2019

News ⚡ — Tuesday, October 15

  • Guardian Design (Image Credit)

LeBron enters the China-NBA debate. China’s number one sports brand Li-Ning is poised for a big breakout. Salesforce CEO wants the ultra-rich to put trillions of tax dollars towards solving some of society’s biggest problems.

1. 🏀 LeBron James chimes in on the NBA-China controversy involving Daryl Morey | SCMP
LeBron James is the biggest name to enter the NBA-China battle. The LA Lakers star made the comment, “I don’t want to get into a… feud with Daryl Morey but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.” The comments have drawn immense backlash and further rocked the boat for a topic that has brought the league into a state of instability.

2. 👟 Li-Ning’s recent successes suggest it’s ready to give Nike and adidas a run for its money | The Fashion Law
China sportswear brand Li-Ning is looking to go toe-to-toe against some of its foreign competitors. The brand has seen its stock surge 200% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange while simultaneously expanding its styles beyond performance sportswear and into the realm of fashion to attract Mainland consumers.

3. 💸 Salesforce’s Marc Benioff calls for a new taxation system for billionaires | NY Times
The powerful tech CEO suggested that businesses should focus on helping impact society rather than profits. The suggested trillions of dollars in tax revenues would be applied to some of humankind’s most pressing issues including education, healthcare, and climate change. While it all makes sense, it’s no secret that corporates currently pay very little tax and a move to make them the highest taxpayers will certainly draw criticism.

4. 🌉 Da Vinci’s innovative but ultimately never built bridge gets put to the test | Popular Mechanics
Five hundred years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci pitched a uniquely designed bridge for Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire. Da Vinci’s innovative design didn’t win but the 218-meter bridge introduced a number of elements including an arch design to allow sailboats to pass and “wing walls” to support the bridge against strong winds.

5. 🤖 Can robots replace referees for bias-less judging in gymnastics? | NY Times
In subjective sports like gymnastics, robots are now being trained to capture and understand the nuance of the sports to help in the judging process. According to experts, AI still has a ways to go, leaving the final decision, rightfully in the hands of humans.

See all our recent News ⚡ updates here.

October 14, 2019

Artificial Intelligence Isn't the Creative Savior We All Thought It'd Be

For creatives, automation and AI have already made our lives easier in a lot of ways, but as we further incorporate them into our workflows to tackle the menial stuff, we might only be left with the hardest tasks. We look at an example of how introducing AI into Kickstarter’s approval process took away some of the joy and some of the darker consequences of leaving humans with only the toughest jobs.

No More “Slam Dunks”

For some time, we’ve tried to take a more optimistic stance on how AI will actually free us up creatively by saving us the effort of doing menial “soul sucking” tasks, leaving us to focus on the more enjoyable creative tasks. But an article in the Atlantic by former Kickstarter vice president of data Fred Benenson suggests our optimism might be misplaced. As it turns out, the most creative tasks are actually the hardest ones and enjoyable depends on how much challenge you still enjoy when tackling only these becomes your “one job”.

Benenson talks about how five years ago, it was company staff that were deciding which projects were approved to start soliciting money from the public. But when the number of both investors and investment-seeking creators exploded, they turned to AI to deal with the increased number, including periodic surges in new ideas.

  • Holiday weekends meant the approvals team was backed up with hundreds of proposals and the same number of frustrated creators waiting for a response.
  • Benenson oversaw the development of an automated system that considered each project’s stated purposes and its creator’s track record, among other factors.
  • High-scoring projects would immediately get approval, meaning the system soon took over 40 to 60 percent of the manual approvals for incoming projects.
  • Although it sped up the process, it also meant a dramatic drop in the average quality of projects that human reviewers would see. These were the ones that needed more nuanced consideration.

The outcome? It meant no more “slam dunks” — as in no more instances where a project was so strong or excited staffers so much that approving them was a no-brainer. What was left for them were all the tough calls or others with a dubious or even questionable level of promise.

The Balance of Mastery, Challenge and Enjoyment

In an email to Benenson, author and clinical psychologist Alice Boyes talked about the need for balance: “Decision making is very cognitively draining, so it’s nice to have some tasks that provide a sense of accomplishment but just require getting it done and repeating what you know, rather than everything needing very taxing novel decision making.”

Humans need a blend of mastery, challenge and enjoyment for a healthy mood. The exact mix differs, but all of those ingredients need to be there in some measure. What throws off the ratio is the introduction of AI systems that pass unclear or low-confidence decisions to humans, a trait of the best of these systems, according to Benenson.

Small and regular challenges that are well within our abilities, give us the sense of mastery and continuity (the feeling of progression) over our work as well as needed breaks from harder tasks. On the flipside, if every task we manage to complete is by the skin of our teeth because of exceeding difficulty, we never develop a sense of regularity or that we’re gaining something. We’re constantly fumbling over one finish line, unsure of how to get to the next one or where it is.

The Darkest Implications

To see how bad this could get once there are no more “easy calls,” consider the job of a Facebook content moderator. Where the platform’s AI is pretty adept at flagging certain content that obviously violates its standards, the technology just isn’t up to par. What’s left for the human moderator is to deal with not just a lot of the NSFW or NSFL content that ends up there, but a lot of stuff that isn’t objectionable at first glance, but that needs to a nuanced understanding of different contexts to see if it actually violates Facebook’s Community Standards.

In several articles for The Verge, Casey Newton has written extensively about the misery these contracted workers experience when they constantly need to tackle such tasks that are so granular or downright traumatic and perform them with a high degree of accuracy and efficiency. The issue is less that humans are being made to do these tasks (someone has to do it, to be sure), but the sheer volume of these tasks combined with a lack of ways to off-set that stress.

The Takeaway: AI as Subcontractor

Technology has always been about enabling us to do more, but perhaps this should be clarified to “greater” in the context of creativity whether we’re artists or creatives.

  • There is still some enjoyment in small challenges and some of the menial work because it reinforces our sense of mastery.
  • From plugins to machine transcription, Automation and AI still have a valuable role in saving time on repetitive, menial or low-difficulty-but-tedious tasks. But the question is what we do with the time saved (or gained, depending on how you look at it).
  • It’s tempting to feel obligated to fill that extra time indiscriminately with more projects or tasks (with no direction), but what about the act of distancing, switching to other tasks within your workload, or further refining the work that’s already completed?

To simplify this: where we’re sure we can do so, we subcontract parts of bigger projects to handle the workload. If we treat AI as a subcontractor (albeit a very efficient one), then we retain the power in the relationship as we should.

The problem is that issues arise in “no excuses” scenarios where we are subcontractors alongside AI where “it’s already done the ‘easy’ work for you. Why aren’t you handling an increased load of harder stuff?”

October 14, 2019

News ⚡ — Friday, October 11

  • Guardian Design (Image Credit)

US sanctions force Adobe to block users in Venezuela. Tattoo and graffiti legend Norm Will Rise has passed away. Eliud Kipchoge is the first-ever human to run a sub-two-hour marathon.

1. 👎 Adobe is blocked in Venezuela after US sanctions are put in place | Motherboard
New sanctions put in place by the Trump government will prevent Venezualan users from using Adobe’s various software and services. Adobe’s move is to comply with Trump’s Executive Order 13884 which prevents US companies from engaging in business activities with the country. In addition to losing access to critical creative tools such as Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere, the order also prevents Adobe from issuing refunds.

2. 🙏 Tattoo and graffiti artist Norm Will Rise has passed away | Monster and Critics
Norm Will Rise was seen by many as a critical part of the graffiti and tattoo world. His energy and knowledge of the graffiti world were instrumental in building the scene to what it is now.

3. 🏃🏿‍♂️ Eliud Kipchoge is the first-ever human to run a sub-two-hour marathon | reddit
The world-class runner did the impossible by clocking in at 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds in an event sponsored by Ineos. The feat was also previously attempted as part of Nike’s Breaking2 project which also featured Kipchoge as the protagonist.

4. 📝 Grammarly shows the importance of grammar with a new raise valuing it over $1 billion USD | TechCrunch
The grammar-based service aims to take some of the pain out of writing well by leveraging AI and machine learning to decipher style and create compelling, clear writing through a freemium model.

5. ✊🏽 The Hundreds partners with Obsidian to celebrate LA’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day | Highsnobiety
For the first-time ever, Los Angeles is renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. In celebration, streetwear staple The Hundreds is partnering with Obsidian, a collective of four Native American-owned brands to create a capsule collection. Proceeds from the capsule will go towards various benefits to help the indigenous community including Tiny House Warriors, an initiative to combat the Trans Mountain pipeline.

See all our recent News ⚡ updates here.

October 11, 2019

News ⚡ — Friday, October 11

  • Guardian Design (Image Credit)

Nike release a Black History Month UK Jersey. Blockchain-based music streaming service Audius has a piracy problem. Dyson cancels electric car project.

1. ⚽ Nike Black History Month UK Jersey | Nike News
Nike will launch a Black History Month football jersey, celebrating influential black British athletes. The jersey will be worn by members of England’s senior men’s national team during the international camp this October. They include Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane, and Jordan Henderson, among others. The jersey is available as of October 11 for Nike Members and October 15 on nike.com in the UK.

2. 🎧 New blockchain-based music streaming service Audius is a copyright nightmare | The Verge
Audius’ website says “music platforms were at their best when they listened to what artists and fans wanted – not corporations or major labels” and that uploaded tracks can “never be censored or removed.” That said, Audius contains infringing material that cannot be removed based on its statement.

3. 🚗 Dyson kills its electric car project and turns to solid-state batteries | TechCrunch

The company, known for its high-tech vacuum cleaners and fans, said that while its automotive team developed the battery electric vehicle first announced in 2017, it has decided to end the project. Dyson is still seeking a buyer to pick it up,

4. 🎤 Stormzy Featured on the Cover of TIME Magazine | Pitchfork
In TIME, the British grime star discusses his dedication to supporting black British culture. “There’s a whole side of blackness and black Britishness that doesn’t often fall under the kind of umbrella term that everyone uses of ‘black culture.’ It’s like black culture almost becomes music, acting, sports and just kind of celebrity and whatever. I was like, Yo, there’s theater, there’s literature, books, there’s ballet.”

5. 👀 China to require facial ID for internet and mobile services | Quartz
Last month, the Chinese government announced residents applying for new mobile or internet devices will have their faces scanned by telecommunications carriers with the regulations taking effect from December 1.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the state agency overseeing internet and technology regulation, wrote the decision was fraud prevention and to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in the cyberspace.”

6. 💨 Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions | Environment | The Guardian
The Guardian reveals links between over a third of all modern greenhouse gas emissions and 20 fossil fuel companies.

See all our recent News ⚡ updates here.

October 11, 2019

Making It Up 105: Bankrupt Forever 21 and esports apparel monetization

On Making It Up 105, Eugene and Charis discuss Forever 21 filing for bankruptcy and the evolving role of shopping malls. They also talk about the monetization of esports apparel and the possibilities for brands within the gaming industry.


00:01:22 Forever 21
00:20:12 Esports apparel
00:40:15 Banter


October 11, 2019

News ⚡ — Thursday, October 10

FIFA pressures Iran to let women attend soccer matches. Blizzard boycott after player punished for Hong Kong protest support. Libra fork will create stablecoin free of corporate control.

1. ⚽ FIFA must pressure Iran to let women attend soccer matches
After years of fighting for this fundamental right, Maryam Shojaei and other Iranian women have finally gotten the leaders of FIFA, the governing body that oversees all soccer, to start upholding its own rules prohibiting this discrimination. On Thursday, for the first time, some women will be able to buy tickets and sit in Iran’s largest stadium, Azadi.

2. 😡 Blizzard boycott after Hearthstone player punished for Hong Kong protest support

Players are boycotting games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone after a user was punished for supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong during a tournament. All those games are made by Blizzard, more formally known as Activision Blizzard. The latest grassroots movement has introduced Overwatch character Mei at the forefront of the Hong Kong protests. The belief is that if Mei becomes a symbol for democracy, this will in turn force China to ban Overwatch and Blizzard in China.

3. 💹 New Libra fork will create permissionless stablecoin free of corporate control

Announced at the Ethereum developer conference Devcon by Lucas Geiger, co-founder of blockchain infrastructure startup Wireline, OpenLibra will function as a stablecoin pegged to the actual Libra cryptocurrency. Libra is currently scheduled to go live late next year.

“We’re going to fork the code, fork the community and create a new cryptocurrency called OpenLibra,” said Geiger during his presentation at Devcon. “There is no token sale. No equity and no company behind this initiative.” This move would fall in line with cryptocurrency’s general philosophy of operating in a decentralized manner.

4. 📱 Essential reveals Project Gem smartphone with very long, unusual design
Photos provided to The Verge appear to show an elongated phone with a very, very tall UI composed of card-like apps, but with big buttons that look like they’d be perfectly at home on a smartwatch. It looks extremely small in his hands, too. The device has a large button and volume rocker on the right edge and a fingerprint divot around back, below what appears to be a single main camera.

5. 🌡️ Tokyo braces for the hottest Olympics ever
Next year, when the Summer Olympics return to Japan’s capital, they will open on July 24 and run until Aug. 9. The reason? Baseball and football dominate American television screens in September and October. July and August, on the other hand, are relative voids.

6. 💯 This magnetic wallpaper won Etsy’s first global design competition
Etsy recently announced the winners of its inaugural Global Design Awards. Small-business owners representing the United States, Greece, and Israel all took top prizes in their respective categories; these winning designs include a custom midcentury doghouse, upcycled sandals, and papercut wedding art—brand-perfect entries for the e-commerce site, which is known for its unique and handmade products.

October 10, 2019

How the English Language's Disproportionate Influence Skews Global Narratives

No one questions English’s status as the world’s go-to language for business, tech, tourism and academia, but that popularity has also made it disproportionately influential on news. In a chapter of Hostwriter’s Unbias the News: Why Diversity Matters for Journalism, journalist, writer and managing editor of the Global Investigative Journalism Network Tanya Pampalone looks at how English’s prominent status can lead to skewing of entire narratives. We break down an excerpt of that chapter published for GIJN and look at how this inequality also means missed opportunities for interactions between the non-native and non-English speaking world, creative or otherwise.

By the Numbers

Kai Chan, a distinguished fellow at the INSEAD Innovation and Policy Initiative, put together the Power Language Index in 2016, which measures which languages in the world hold the most influence based on five key factors.

  • (G)eography: countries spoken, land area, tourists (inbound)
  • (E)conomy: GDP, PPP, Exports, FX market, SDR composition
  • (C)ommunications: Native speakers, second-language speakers, language family size, tourists (outbound)
  • (K)nowledge & Media: Internet content, feature films, Top 500 universities, academic journals.
  • (D)iplomacy: United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Supranational Organizations (SNOs).

Based on these factors, Kai presented the world’s top 10 languages, their respective number of native speakers and their score for each factor:

  1. English: 460 mil (G1, E1, C1, K1, D1)
  2. Mandarin: 960 mil (G6, E2, C2, K3, D6)
  3. French: 80 mil (G2, E6, C5, K5, D1)
  4. Spanish: 470 mil (G3, E5 C3, K7, D3)
  5. Arabic: 295 mil (G4, E9, C6, K18, D4)
  6. Russian: 150 mil (G5, E12, C10, K9, D5)
  7. German: 92.5 mil (G8, E3, C7, K4, D8)
  8. Japanese: 125 mil (G27, E4, C22, K6, D7)
  9. Portuguese: 215 mil (G7, E19, C13, K12, D9)
  10. Hindi: 310 mil (G13, E16, C8, K2, D10)

These numbers don’t include the number of non-native speakers. In the case of English, Kai’s research reports over 500 million people who speak it as a secondary language. Other figures place the total number of English speakers at between 1.5 and 2 billion people.

The Perceptual Impact of English

This staggering influence of a single language that came about through various blends of colonialism, commerce, religion, media, and education, extends into many industries including that of news.

In their analysis of 54 million news items from 4,708 news sources in 67 countries in 2015, researchers Lei Guo and Chris J. Vargo found that wealthier countries both attract most of the world news attention and are also more likely to decide how other countries perceive the world.

Miraj Chowdhury, the Bengali editor for the multilingual Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), points out how two newspapers in Bangladesh have circulations of over 500 million, yet the English-language Daily Star with only 50 million dominates the international narrative about that country.

Quality withstanding, it represents a situation where a single source disproportionately shapes a perspective not because of what it does, but simply because of what it is. This dynamic has profound effects on both the news and journalism industries:

  • A story isn’t a story until it surfaces in English: Journalists Ben Nimmo and Aric Toler wrote about the Russian journalists who exposed the troll factory back in 2013, before it was involved with American politics.
  • Awards can’t judge non-English assess properly: Unathi Kondile, South African editor of a Xhosa paper, points out how judges can only properly assess Afrikaans or English written content. This means submitting Xhosa content for consideration becomes a waste of time.
  • Applications based on English ability, not talent: Journalists have to submit applications to international conferences and fellowships in English, which does not reflect their journalistic talent but does affect their chances.
  • Translations skew perspective towards English readers: Journalists quoting non-English-speaking subjects might be forced to translate terms that have no common or accurate English equivalent. Similarly, emphasizing interviews conducted in English can mean a less than accurate picture.

Linguistic Privilege

Seeing the ‘p’ word might trigger a few eye rolls, but in the context of a globalized world, this one can’t be ignored because it applies to basically anyone reading this analysis and because it remains a source of inequality far beyond the world of journalism.

Linguistic privilege is yet another package of benefits we can unwittingly receive whether we’re native or near-native speakers of English. It’s also one we’re less likely to feel because after all, we’re all speaking the same language, right?

Yet we aren’t always speaking it on the same level. When we interact with people who are non-native speakers (especially with a poor command of the language) or people with impeded speech, it’s easy to forget how uneven things are. To give some examples of how “not all languages are created equal.”

  • “A language is a dialect with an army and navy”: Many regions have a prestige variant of language that is still held in a high standard such as Received Pronunciation (the “Queen’s English”) for the UK and General American English within the States. While there are actually many accents and dialects of English, only a handful that almost always includes those two, command the same impact. This is why they dominate ESL materials and the aspirational goals of many learners.
  • The cool factor: If you take English, pair it with digital media and package it with modern aesthetics, it makes for a very effective vector for spreading language and its associated culture (and potentially politics) — and for having it be received more readily. It goes without saying, English is not one of the most widely spoken and officially supported languages, it’s one of the coolest too.
  • Mobility: Of all the non-native languages we’ll see while traveling, there’s a much higher chance it’s going to be English. Even if native words are not translated for us to understand, having them transliterated for us to reference (such as on road signs) is already enabling us to travel and move around with ease.

The Key Takeaways

It’s very easy to dismiss the issues of non-native speakers as “well, you gotta learn English. That’s the way the world works,” but this attitude might only be accurate for so long. The number of secondary-language English speakers is rising daily, and more and more people are growing up speaking more than one language.

This isn’t a call to “stop being ig’nant,” and go out and learn a foreign language (though there’s plenty of other benefits in doing so, even if they’re not cognitive). It’s a reminder to recognize the place English still has in our globalized world, where that reputation came from and how that can skew entire dynamics.

So next time you find yourself in situations where English is the lingua franca between you and another person:

  • Dial back: This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “dumb down” your language, but scale back the in-jokes, the pop culture references, the jargon and the slang. You might be understood better if you used less of them.
  • Slow down: We get it, it’s hard to be patient when time is money. But be aware of how stressful it is for some non-native speakers to try and communicate with you all the same. Consider slowing down when you’re speaking and process what people feel and intend versus purely the words they’re using when you’re listening.
  • Let them breathe: Similarly, if someone is translating for you on the spot, keep in mind that it is also a challenge and stress you don’t have the burden of. Let the person helping you know they can relax if you don’t need the play-by-play or be polite when you do want to know what’s being said.
  • Empathize: If there’s miscommunication, try to think from a communication problem-solving standpoint towards understanding and common ground versus whose understanding is to blame. Everyone’s seen the rude tourist who assumes they’ll be understood better by being louder, getting more irate and gesturing more wildly. Don’t be traveler.
  • Dig deeper: Assumptions already mess things up between native speakers, the same applies when communicating with non-English speakers. There’s no harm in asking questions to get the full story or more details. If there’s content or a good story on the line, it’ll be much better for it.

English, like a lot of cultural capital, is something that’s so widespread now that it becomes its own thing depending on the region. There are as many varieties of English as there are music genres.

In the case of a “foreign” accent, it often means another language is pulling on it, affecting the way it sounds and making it unique. Like with any sound outside of your comfort zone, it might sound strange and you might not appreciate all of its nuances, but recognize there’s a scene for it, one you gotta respect either way. Who knows, your next client, collaborator, friend or opportunity might come from it.

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