Jan 8, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Consider inviting your friends and colleagues to sign up. And if you have any tips or thoughts on what we can do better, just hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Email my colleagues Kaveh Waddell at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

1 big thing: The issue that unites the new generation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

To a degree not entirely fathomable to older Americans, the defining issue for today's youth aged 14–29 — crossing race, age, gender and political affiliation, whether rural or urban — is the long wave of deadly school shootings.

  • That's according to new polling suggesting a stark new generational divide that may influence U.S. politics for years to come.
  • “An older generation would not understand walking into a classroom ... and thinking, 'This could be a really easy room for someone to shoot up.' The same daily weight on an adult’s shoulders over bills or taxes is what children feel about living or dying,” said a student at Ohio State University, speaking with John Della Volpe, CEO of SocialSphere and polling chief at the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics.
  • Their crucible differs sharply from the prior generation's, Della Volpe tells Axios: "The issue connects young Americans unlike anything except 9/11 in the last 20 years."

What's happening: Over the last several months, Della Volpe conducted a series of conversations in person and by phone with 14- to 29-year-olds in five cities — Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles and Parkland, Florida. Then he did a poll of 2,235 people from the same age group.

Among his findings:

  • 68% said school shootings are the most important issue facing the U.S. And 70% advocated stricter gun control. That included 46% of Republicans and 47% of gun owners.
  • 79% said they support issuing gun licenses under the same regime governing driver's licenses.
  • But, but, but: 67% said having a gun at home makes them safer, and 53% said it is at least possible they will own a gun in the future for personal safety.

Pay attention to this: For coming-of-age youth, students being killed in school shootings has been formative in their thinking. They blame the older generation for not keeping them safe, and they vote. Della Volpe estimates that 31% of those polled voted in the midterms, nearly double the 2014 midterm turnout for this age group.

"I was personally struck by the heaviness of the trauma they are dealing with every day," Della Volpe said. "This is something you don't see in older millennials."

  • "This connects to stress. They don't feel it's going to get better."
  • "But they are beginning to see there is a way out of it by increasing their political voice."
2. Old Amazon, new tricks

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A fresh merchandizing campaign by Amazon raises new questions about its encroachment on a growing number of businesses.

Based on its possibly unmatched trove of commercial data, Amazon is micro-targeting its customers with free samples of small items like Folgers coffee and Maybelline mascara, report Axios’ David McCabe and Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: Amazon declined to comment on whether it intends to expand the pilot to its own private-label products. But look out for just that — for Amazon customers to start receiving samples of its own products, using its omniscience to squash retail competition.

Background: Amazon is already in hot water with regulators in Europe and India over its dual role as a marketplace and a merchant.

As we reported last year, Amazon has a mountain of data not only on what customers are purchasing, but also on what they’re thinking of buying. It can crunch these numbers to beat the competition by giving shoppers exactly what they’re looking for.

3. Sears' 9 lives

Even the mannequins are for sale. Photo: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star/Getty

Sears and hedge fund billionaire Eddie Lampert today won an 11th-hour court ruling staying the chain's liquidation. If he can get a $120 million ante together by tomorrow, he can take part in an auction next Monday that could perhaps save the chain along with its more than 50,000 jobs, CNBC reports.

Axios' Erica Pandey writes: After 126 years and a long, painful run-up, it looked like the end of Sears as we knew it. Now, though, Lampert is trying again to entice the board with a bid to buy the company out of bankruptcy.

Why it matters: Lampert's interest is not altruistic. Rather, he has long expressed interest in valuable remaining pieces of the Sears carcass, including Kenmore brand appliances and the company's real estate. If he is successful, he would finally get his hands on those and more.

The big picture: Sears’ demise seems inevitable. And if it folds, it’ll be the official death of the retail titan of the last century — a company so powerful that it could have posed a formidable threat to Jeff Bezos.

  • "Sears was a great brand with a tremendous history of innovation. They innovated catalog retailing, built incredible private-label brands; they brought store credit cards to the mass market and built Sears into the largest retailer in the world," Herb Kleinberger, a professor of retail at NYU, tells Axios.
  • "They could have been the Amazon-killer retail brand if they had only realized the power of their platform and invested intelligently in a transformation, much like Walmart is doing today."
Bonus: Mailbox
Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Yesterday we dove into the absence of hundreds of thousands of prime-working-age people from the U.S. labor force. We identified a number of reasons why they choose not to work or look for a job despite the red-hot market. But Future reader Kelly Tier, from Concord, California, adds another.

Here is Kelly's excerpted email:

There is one more reason many of us left the workforce: to stay home with our children. Making children a priority has been more important for those of us born after the late 1960’s. The recession also contributed to families making the decision to have one parent at home when they had trouble finding work and with the increased cost of daycare.

One problem that this has caused, however, is many of us wanting or needing to re-enter the workforce and not possessing the skills to do so.

4. Worthy of your time
Expand chart
Data: American Cancer Society Cancer Statistics, 2019; Note: "Poor" counties are those in which the poverty rate is between 21.18% and 53.95%, while "rich" counties have poverty rates between 1.81% and 10.84%; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Signs of an Amazon labor revolution (The Economist)

Cancer is killing more poor Americans than rich (Eileen Drage O'Reilly — Axios)

Hidden perks of a fake meat future (Clive Thompson — Wired)

The history of blood (Jerome Groopman — New Yorker)

Retailers are squandering their human capital (Marshall Fisher, Santiago Gallino, Serguei Netessine — Harvard Business Review)

5. 1 creepy thing: Too many cats
Video: Douwe Osinga

AI made a cat video, and it's not pretty.

Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports: Using an artificial intelligence technique called style transfer, Sidewalk Labs software engineer Douwe Osinga takes features of one photo — like eyes and cat fur — and creates a whole new image.

  • In the video clip above, Osinga's system mashed together a group of non-Picasso kittens nightmarishly.
  • It did so by learning from the features of the cats it saw in the original photo.
  • Several other videos, including a chill infinite zoom into a woolly carpet, are on this page.

"What I found interesting is that many people have strong, almost emotional reactions to these movies," Osinga tells Axios. "I think it is because ultimately what you see is a reproduction of the image, but also of what the network learned during training and so it magnifies details that set the tone for an image rather than the actual contents."

Bryan Walsh