Issue 19: Innovating Beyond Email

 
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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter turning global technology shifts into a three-minute read. We’re thinking this week about common digital challenges in everyday life. – Joseph Dana, Senior Editor


THE BIG TAKE

Can We Innovate beyond Email?

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Email is broken. It’s outdated. Most of us rely on email possibly more than any other technology platform, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Email invites procrastination, even for the most goal-oriented among us. Messages arrive and can be discarded with little notice, confined to our ever-growing to-do lists. How often have you seen a friend or co-worker’s unread email badge hovering in the thousands?

Messaging platforms: Slack, the workplace messaging programme that has revolutionised offices from San Francisco to Abu Dhabi, was designed to break the inactivity of email. The application is certainly popular but its recent IPO on the New York Stock Exchange has been less than stellar. Maybe Slack or something like it isn’t the answer. Perhaps the problem of email is actually one of attention.

Reframing focus: The pace of modern life is uncompromising, which has a disastrous impact on our ability to focus. Technology giants like Yahoo and AOL are trying to make email more than a to-do list. Finding a solution to the problem of unruly inboxes is much more about human psychology than technological prowess. As advanced as apps like Slack are, they still can’t replace our ability to focus on deep work and the things in life that matter.


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the Internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to, and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master."

Gretchen Rubin, writer


OUR VIEWS THIS WEEK

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Facial recognition: You have probably heard a lot about facial recognition in the news lately. The controversial technology is deeply misunderstood and sometimes abused. This week, we took a close look at the debates around facial recognition. How can we use this powerful technology for good while ensuring necessary protections for people around the world?

What is a moon shot? On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, we decided to consider the moon shots taking place around us right now. In an increasingly connected world, new moon shots are emerging from unexpected corners. We uncover the modern moon shots that matter most.


SPOTTED ELSEWHERE

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Age of hover: Forget the enormity of swimming across the English Channel. The new challenge is to hover across the iconic body of water. A French inventor has successfully crossed the channel on a hoverboard. Cue the Back to the Future references.

The great hack: Netflix released a hard-hitting documentary about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the problem of data regulation. Anyone who has followed these issues closely will enjoy this film (like many in our office) but the real story is that Netflix decided to make it in the first place. The streaming film company uses data to determine the films it commissions. There’s clearly a desire to go deeper on these profound issues.


 

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