Wednesday, 6 December 2017

In Finland, seniors are ‘VIP clients’ who get to take nurses out for coffee


Toh Ee Ming
Mr Seppo Käppi, 72, steers himself nimbly in a wheelchair around the Kauklahti Life and Living Centre for Senior Citizens in Espoo, the second-largest city in Finland.

The long-term care facility for senior citizens who require round-the-clock care has been his home for the last five years.

At Kauklahti, the 74 residents are mostly above the age of 75 and have conditions like stroke, severe diabetes or severe rheumatism. They each have a private one-room flat that they can do up with their own furniture, and are allowed to keep a small pet.

They are cared for by staff members who do not don uniforms.


The cheerful Mr Käppi looks forward to neighbourhood strolls, where he can request for a detour to the nearby bakery to “take the nurses out for coffee and cakes”.


The 10 taxi passes he receives per month allow him to take his wife, who lives nearby, to the market or head with friends to the capital city of Helsinki, about half an hour away by car, with a staff member tagging along.

As Singapore wrestles with the complex task of relooking care models and providing more diverse and conducive living options for its greying population, models in Finland may offer some ideas to the authorities and industry players here.

In recent years, there have been calls to move away from the typical six- to eight-bedded wards at nursing homes in Singapore, which cater to seniors who are no longer able to live independently or whose families are unable to take care of them.

In the Economics of Singapore Nursing Home Care study, released last year and commissioned by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, the norm of single or twin-bedded wards in a home-like environment is recommended. The study found that nursing homes incur an average cost of S$106 per resident per day, excluding government subsidies and grants. Single- or twin-bedded rooms would cost S$8 to S$13 more per resident per day, the study by global consultancy Oliver Wyman found.

The Ministry of Health has said models and arrangements of care need to be sustainable and affordable. It also said it would study the report and hoped to discuss the findings with the Lien Foundation.

On a recent study trip to Finland sponsored by consultancy Ageing Asia and Finland’s trade promotion body Finpro, TODAY caught a glimpse of the Nordic country’s initiatives that enable its seniors to age within the community, its hospital-to-home concept, as well as technologies that improve the lives of individuals, including those with dementia.

Underpinning the provision of care across all settings was the ethos of autonomy and freedom of choice of the elderly individual.

The Kauklahti centre has a gym, sauna, restaurant, round-the-clock nurses, a physiotherapist, chiropodist and even a hair dresser. Activities offered include an art circle, singing, cooking and exercise groups. Weekly meetings, with families invited to sit in, allow the residents to air their concerns and talk about meal preferences.

An electronic alarm system detects falls, while nurses supervise the residents’ medication and support their daily living activities.

“There’s good quality (here)...It’s a good place to live,” said Mr Käppi in Finnish via a translator.

HOME, OR HOME-LIKE
Espoo — with a population of about 275,500 inhabitants in 2016 — faced a conundrum some 10 years ago not unlike Singapore’s. Back then, Finland took a medicalised approach to eldercare and many were still in four or five-bedded wards in nursing homes, while staff consisted almost exclusively of nurses, said Ms Maria Rysti, specialist in services for the elderly under the City of Espoo’s Social and Health Services.

The city council changed the service culture and management style with its Ageing Policy Programme. It supported the transition for elderly citizens to live at home, or home-like environments where they can “live their own way of life” and be treated as “subjects, not objects,” said Ms Rysti.

The goal is to have 93 per cent of people aged 75 and above in Espoo living at home and, the rest, in home-like units, in 2018.

The city council spent about 15.6 million euros to build the Kauklahti Life and Living Centre for Senior Citizens, which began operations in 2012. It is the first of four such Life and Living Centres in Espoo.

Residents pay about 1,500 euros monthly (about 20 to 50 per cent of the total cost), and the Espoo city council and taxpayers fork out the remainder. The municipality tax in Espoo is 18 per cent this year.
Plans are in store for private developers to build 14 floors of housing for the elderly in a new shopping mall in Espoonlahti, one of Espoo’s urban centres, by 2021 to 2022.

By 2021, the goal is to not have any beds for long-term inpatient care in hospitals and other institutions. “Twenty years ago, people went to hospitals to die, but not anymore,” said Ms Rysti.

KEEPING THEM OUT OF THE HOSPITAL
At the new Espoo Hospital, which opened its doors in March, the elderly are treated as “VIP clients”. Owned and built by the City of Espoo, it provides treatment and rehabilitation services to the elderly.
For instance, an elderly with hip fracture is operated on at another hospital without delay and transferred to the Espoo Hospital’s orthopaedic rehabilitation ward on the second day post-operation.

Patients in Espoo Hospital also have shorter stays, which was cut from six to eight weeks to about two to three weeks, said Mr Juha Metso, the city’s deputy mayor and head of social and health services.

The 270 single-rooms offer privacy. Numerous areas overlook the surrounding forests. Artworks are scattered around the hospital’s grounds.

By the end of the year, patients will be provided with tablets that they can use to conduct video calls with their relatives, listen to the radio, watch television or catch up on the news or social media.

Rehabilitation kiosks have instructional videos that guide patients in their exercises, easing the load of therapists.

And instead of taking the approach that doctors “know all the answers”, staff “learn to listen carefully and ask what matters to patients”, said Mr Metso.

The person-centred approach is evident elsewhere.

At the Alzheimer’s Association of Helsinki’s day care centre, executive director Teija Mikkilä is aiming to offer more than the usual art and craft activities for clients with dementia. Male clients, for instance, may one day get the opportunity to tinker with cars.

For Mr Hannu Leinonen, 72, who has dementia and drops by the centre about twice a week, the centre’s “got good food, good company… It’s just enough for me”. Outside of the centre, he plays tennis and golf.

LIVING SMART
One of the newest housing areas east of Helsinki’s bustling city centre is the smart district of Kalasatama, where a new kind of housing community for seniors living alone has sprung up.
Called Kotisatama, the nine-storey red brick building consists of some 63 flats between 38.5 and 77.5 sqm in size, which can be owner-occupied or rented.

Completed in 2015, the building houses residents aged 50 to 80. The residents share a community kitchen and dining room, a mini greenhouse and spacious roof terraces overlooking the harbour.

Owned by a private housing corporation — the bulk of whose shareholders are the residents — Kotisatama was the outcome of a project by the Active Seniors Association, founded by in 2000 to introduce the concept of a housing community for the elderly.

The residents helped to design their own flats and common areas. The dining room chairs were chosen from 82 designs, and the library’s book selection was just as carefully curated. “No rubbish, only good quality stuff,” says the association’s president and resident Leena Vahtera, 70, with a chuckle.

Under an unusual agreement, residents also take turns in groups of 12 to 13 to do the cooking and cleaning. Groups rotate every six weeks.

It is here that 79-year-old Maija Valtonen has chosen to live, moving out of her former home in Vantaa city, about 18km away, to buy a flat in Kotisatama for 450,000 euros in 2015. She had retired at age 64, after 13 years as an acting professor at the University of Kuopio’s department of applied zoology and veterinary medicine.

“Although I’m 79, I still feel I want (to live life my way). It’s nice to own your home and to get that freedom… In a house like this, you always can find friends and a social life, and it (ensures some safety),” Dr Valtonen told TODAY from her bright and cheery living room. “I can lie in my bed or get up as early as I want to, or go out to see a (movie), do some shopping, go to a show or a concert… It is absolutely enough for me.”

On a typical day, she might attend a pilates class, go for a swim or do gardening.

WHERE RESIDENTS ‘ACCIDENTALLY’ MEET
Perhaps the housing concept more familiar to Singaporeans is the Generations Block near the west harbour of Helsinki, which consists of about 262 apartments for students, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Completed in March by three developers, including the non-profit social housing company Setlementtiasunnot Oy, the complex has creatively designed communal facilities — such as a bright red walkway simulating a Metro station — for residents of different ages and backgrounds to mingle.

There is the “living room” on the first floor where residents can gather for a chat and a cup of coffee, as well as woodworking and music rooms. A mini amphitheatre provides just the space to organise movie screenings and performances.

Finnish city folk are generally “shy and reserved”, and shared spaces are a way to help create “accidental meetings” and foster a strong community spirit, said service designer Kirsten Sainio.

Residents have already formed a rock band with members aged 24 to 70. Communal brunches are held on weekends, while some elderly residents help to look after the children of young families, said Ms Sanio. In turn, the seniors receive help from their neighbours when they need it.

The intergenerational living project was awarded the best social housing production of 2017 by the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland. Two similar projects are being developed in the cities of Tampere and Joensuu.

A LEG-UP WITH TECHNOLOGY
Technology is also a key component of eldercare in Finland. Nordic health technology company VideoVisit partnered the City of Helsinki’s service centre in 2014 to provide virtual care services.
Clients receiving home-based care, many of whom have dementia, get video calls reminding them to take their medication and for group exercise sessions.

Nurses are able to make nearly 10 calls per hour – or close to 50 virtual “visits” per work shift – with less need to travel, said VideoVisit’s business development director Markku Sani.

And instead of invasive cameras, Finnish company MariCare Oy has developed sensor floor systems that can detect when a person falls, enters or exits the room, and gets off the bed. The data can be sent to a nurse’s smartphone; meanwhile, the resident can “live a normal life”, said sales manager Tommy Dolivo.

About 3,000 rooms, mostly in nursing homes in Finland, France and Australia, are equipped with the Elsi smart floors.

There is no shortage of health tech startups in the country, which often clinches one of the top spots in the Global Innovation Index.

Ms Mervi Lamminen, for instance, started Auntie, a preventive therapy service that uses tools like a chatbot and video sessions with professional therapists. The two-year-old company, which has operations in Finland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, plans to work with nurses at the upcoming wellness clinic in the Smart Kalasatama district to identify at-risk clients, such as single parents, who may need the service.

Pushing the envelope in the field of rehabilitation is another start-up called Peili Vision. It aims to offer virtual reality solutions for patients, such as those recovering from brain injury and trauma, said co-founder Joonas Pöllä. Using virtual reality headgear, the patients can play games as part of their therapy, for instance.

The “friendly” start-up culture in Finland means Mr Pöllä’s company and others in healthcare are located in a hospital. This makes it easier to set up meetings with customers.

Among the ideas Singapore could adapt from Finland is the “block coach” employed at the Generations Block, who helps to kickstart communal activities, said Ms Janice Chia, founder of Ageing Asia.

Singapore’s public housing precincts are “naturally occurring retirement communities that are intergenerational”, she said. Community kitchens and void decks with better designs for residents to gather and hang out would also increase social interactions, participation and the vibrance of communities, she said.

While locals such as Active Seniors Association’s Ms Vahtera generally felt the eldercare system in Finland was good, the country also faces challenges such keeping healthcare costs in check.

Proposed laws that Parliament could pass next year will cut healthcare costs by about three billion euros between 2019 and 2029, even as the population is ageing. Its health expenditure stood at 19.8 billion euros in 2015, about 9.4 per cent of gross domestic product.

And like seniors here, some Finnish elderly worry about the day they become unable to take care of themselves. While individuals should plan early for their old age and the authorities should provide the services and infrastructure needed, Dr Valtonen noted: “People are getting older and older… I’m a bit afraid of what happens to me.”

“A decrepit, fragile senior living alone in her or his apartment may be like a prisoner (at) home and the Finnish society (may not have) the capacity to take care of these seniors,” said Ms Vahtera.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Hollow or smart cities?

Anjana Ahura

The future is not just bright but blindingly illuminated, if one buys into the buzz around “smart cities”. Bill Gates is rumoured to be building one from the ground up in Arizona, complete with autonomous vehicles. Google is giving urban planning a shot in a Toronto suburb.

Smart cities are being rolled out across the globe, particularly where populations are rising quickly, in countries such as India, China and parts of Africa. On paper at least, these urban fantasies share the same Fritz Lang aesthetic: metallic skyscrapers, pleasingly empty highways, attractive landscaping, lighting schemes to make eco-warriors weep — and very few people.

The mysterious lack of residents amid the glitzy imagery was noted by a sharp-eyed civil rights group in New Delhi. Earlier this year, the Housing and Land Rights Network published a report assessing how India was faring with its 2015 pledge to build 100 such cities by 2020.

Among its stinging observations are that “none of the images seem to portray mixed-income neighbourhoods, social housing, street vendors, women’s and children’s security…” Not even a stray cow, that most blessed of Indian roadblocks. If there is no room for the poor, the campaign group notes, then who are smart cities for?

Without factoring in such civic intangibles as social justice and privacy, smart cities may end up being dumb places to liveThe term refers to a networked city in which technology is ubiquitous and interconnected; real-time data are continuously collected and fed back in order to help authorities run things more smoothly and sustainably. For example, it might mean highway lanes switching direction to accommodate rush hour. Public lighting schemes could be dimmed when sensors detect empty streets. Monitoring the demographics of different neighbourhoods could help determine where new schools and surgeries should be built. Smart cities are imagined gems of modernity, where technological prowess meets aspirational living, smoothly spurring economic growth.

The nascent city of Dholera, while not technically one of India’s envisaged 100 smart cities, offers a flavour of this future. Dholera, in Gujurat, should theoretically benefit from the country’s vision of an industrial corridor running between the capital and Mumbai.

Unfortunately, the flavour is mostly bitter: its development threatens to displace around 40,000 residents, many of them farmers and fishermen with low levels of education. It is unclear where or how they would fit into a brand new Dholera. As a review of these techno-developments in Scientific American concludes, truly smart cities need to “find a satisfactory balance between the present and the future”.

Without factoring in such civic intangibles as social justice and privacy, smart cities may end up being dumb places to live. A shiny metropolis that has mastered the art of adaptive traffic flow might, in other ways, be inadvertently wired for unhappiness. If only data from connected residents are factored into city life, will this magnify the inequality between the digital haves and have-nots? If every lamppost and street sign is laden with sensors, what does this mean for privacy and anonymity?

More data, of itself, cannot automatically make life better. Some urban challenges are social or political in nature, and not necessarily in the gift of technology to solve. Narendra Modi may dream of new economic hubs but an estimated 84 per cent of India’s existing city dwellers do not have access to a toilet.

The idea that communities can be founded on technology alone finds eerie expression in China, where some sparkling new settlements remain virtual ghost towns. The lure of the new does not seem to be pulling people away from the rural areas of old. The political scientist William Hurst has referred to them as “hollow cities”, designed without reference to genuine human need. Instead of championing connectivity and efficiency, planners may need to research more deeply what people actually desire from their neighbourhood.

Even today, citizens are still drawn magnetically to old communities, or to new civic centres within reach of old ones. Why is it that some of the most desirable places to live are layered with centuries, even millennia, of human history? Historic cities like London and Delhi have expanded organically, somehow finding space for both grime and glitz, the rich and poor. Outsiders still flock to the cities to make their reputations and fortunes.

It may be overpriced, dirty and occasionally interrupted by stray cows — but, unlike the high-tech cities springing up today, the metropolis of old also seems to offer a connectivity that people actually want.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Africa must flush out the notion that being "modern" means aping the west

Chigozie Obioma is the author of The Fishermen and An Orchestra of Minorities. He teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

One of the greatest ironies in the history of the collapse of any civilisation must be the initial interaction between Africans and Europeans. The Igbos in the east of Nigeria, for instance, initially saw the Europeans as madmen of strange appearance and ill-formed ideologies. On banking, the Igbos wondered how an adult in his right mind could hand over his possessions for others to keep for him. By the end of the 19th century, the “madman” had overturned their civilisation, and they had adopted his.

The irony is especially relevant in these times when, given the relative failures of most former western colonies, there have been renewed calls for recolonialisation. In September, American professor Bruce Gilley wrote an essay arguing for a recolonialisation of some states, replicating colonial governance of the past “as far as possible” and even building new colonies from scratch.
If the very foundations of his arguments are flawed, it is because he, like most people today, has come to accept that the only metric for measuring modernity is through the western lens. This is the heart of the problem.

                                                                       Timbuktu in Mali

Colonialism across most of Africa was so thorough – especially among the former British protectorates – that in its aftermath Africa was essentially hollowed out. The civilisations of the peoples, their various cultures and traditions, their religions, political philosophies and institutions, were eroded or even destroyed.

Today most of the nations in Africa should not even be called African nations, but western African nations. The language, political ideology, socio-economic structures, education, and everything that makes up a nation, even down to popular culture, do not originate from within these countries. African nations have a total dependency on foreign political philosophies and ideas, and their shifts and movements.

It is the feeblest position a state and its people can be in, because it is a position of chronic subservience. It also means that whatever becomes normalised in the west will eventually be adopted in, say, Uganda or Togo.

This has resulted in Africa being slowly emptied of its essence, and becoming a relic, no different in substance from a statue or a museum.

Celebrations of Africa on the international scene mostly involve dancing, music, traditional fashion and other cultural artefacts – hardly ever showcasing African-originated economic ideas, social ideologies or intellectual theories. It is not that these do not exist, but the world has successfully convinced everyone – including Africans themselves – that everything African is inferior.

Central to this psychology is the proliferation of Africans being educated in the west. This trend has resulted in the rise of an army of western-influenced elites who continue the colonialism of their own people.

Imagine what can happen when an African nation with a high unemployment rate imbibes a gun culture. Consider the potential danger of a situation in Nigeria, where the Hausa man insists his culture is being appropriated by the Yoruba. Or the Christian Igbo embracing their identity, recruiting allies, and ostracising anyone who will not acquiesce with their cause.

But this is becoming Africa’s reality. Increasingly, our elites tell us that the way of the west is “modern” and “civilised”, echoing the early colonialists who dismissed our civilisations as “barbaric”, “archaic”, and “uncivilised” to install theirs. They tell us that our institutions are corrupt, that our societies are patriarchal, and that the African traditional religions are heathenish. As western supremacy entrenches itself in our psyche, we are developing a complex that embraces western ideas without considering whether or not they are compatible with our own political, social, economic and cultural system.

Although Americans may be rightly calling for “diversity”, given a history that excluded a major demographic population of black people, Nigeria’s struggle from inception has been how to unify its enormous diversity. It was the lack of that unity that resulted in the civil war of the late 1960s. This is the same for Angola, Rwanda and Uganda, to name just a few.

But this is of little concern to Africa’s elites. What matters is to find what the political currency is in the US or Europe, and to uncritically follow it. Whereas people in the west are de-emphasising patriotism and nationalism, Africans need these to build sustainable nations.

In fact, the lack of them, in favour of ethnic allegiance, has been the bane of most African nations, from Congo to Somalia: the result of the Berlin Conference of 1884, in which European leaders divvied up African territories among themselves, ignoring traditional ethnic borders.

In making a case about east Asia and citing the success of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others, Chinese philosopher Zou Shipeng argued that the west’s claim to its culture as the only pathway to modernity creates unfair hegemony. Is it possible, he asked, to achieve modernity solely through Chinese culture?

The Middle Eastern nations are another example of cultures that have accepted material modernity but have not been westernised ideologically. They have retained their political systems which, given their theocratic cultural framework, seem best suited for these countries. Every time western nations have tried to disrupt those systems and install a western-style democracy, it has failed.

This was also the case with the first two centuries of European contact with west Africans. The Portuguese and the Dutch traded with many west African tribes from the mid-15th century without colonising them. For 200 years, the Igbos had “Dane guns”, mirrors, and gins, among others, but held on to their own traditions and cultures. It could therefore be argued that the “modernism” orchestrated by western colonialism, isn’t organic to the Africans. Yet proponents of recolonialisation and the African elites fail to see this.

With the sudden unexpected rise in rightwing populism across the west, it is challenging to decide what a viable future may look like. One would think African nations would take this opportunity to think for themselves, to come up with unique African systems.

However, rather than do this, the African elite class largely insists that Africa is not western enough, and is trying to drag the continent, still grappling with western modernism, into the west’s evolving postmodernist regime.

The most viable pathway would be for Africa’s elite to look within the vast political and ideological resources on which successful civilisations (the Zulu, the Igbo, the Malian dynasties of Timbuktu, the Oyo empire, etc) were built. In most Igbo states, for instance, there was an egalitarian system where an older member of a clan represented his people in the elders’ council. There were no kings or presidents. Perhaps there could be a way to adapt this unique political structure to replace the western one which has so far failed.

We need to look into these systems and extract coherent policies that can help form workable and uniquely African social and political systems. This is the only viable path to preventing the continent from fully becoming western Africa – and the only way to ending the continent’s long-term political decay.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Generation Z are building business empires from their bedrooms using sites such as Depop and eBay

Suzanne Bearne
Entrepreneurial teens are selling hyped merchandise on resale platforms such as Depop – and earning mega-bucks. Every Thursday morning, a snake-like queue forms outside streetwear brand Supreme’s store in Soho as fans line up in the hope of walking away with bags filled with limited edition clothing “dropped” that day.

Among the fanatics are teenagers, and they’re not just there to boost the coolness of their wardrobe – they’ve come for the sole purpose of buying highly sought-after items to resell on Depop, a youth-targeted (54% of its users are aged 14 to 24) auction app.

And it’s not just Supreme they’re lapping up. Generation Z – those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s – are buying hyped merchandise from streetwear brands such as Bape, Nike and Yeezy to resell for significantly more on platforms such as Depop, eBay and Grailed.

Forget delivering newspapers or working shifts in the local supermarket. Instead, these entrepreneurial teens – many still at school or college – are devoting hours every week to reselling limited edition goods, a gig that’s earning them up to several thousand pounds a month.

Reuben Wall was just 14 when he became hooked on selling items online after he bought one too many Rubik’s Cubes by accident.

“I decided to sell the spare cube and I sold it for double the price that I got it for,” says Wall, now 18. He then re-invested the money in buying two more and sold those on eBay, before purchasing more. “Before long I had a whole tower of Rubik’s Cubes.”

From there he moved on to selling Japanese anime merchandise before settling on his current market – reselling streetwear from Supreme, Palace and Kith.

“When I saw how much certain items were selling for on eBay, I wanted a piece of the action,” says Wall, who is studying for a BA in music production at Northbrook Metropolitan College in Brighton. “I started selling mostly T-shirts, then coats and jackets because they go for a bit more.”

He says he will only buy hyped items, and reads comments and polls on Twitter to gauge the popularity of a certain product.

Sometimes items will “brick” (an item that doesn’t resell for much more than retail), so sometimes he takes a loss. He spends about three hours a day reselling, and makes a profit of between £1,000 to £2,000 a month. To help increase his chances of success, he lists the same items on multiple resale platforms.

While Wall spends the cash on rent, food and clothes, it’s also provided him with an enviable money pot worth £14,000. “I’m saving for a mortgage on a house,” he adds.

Like Wall, Scarlett Gillespie, who lives in Greenwich in London, was 14 when she started selling clothes on Depop. “When I didn’t wear something any more, I thought I may as well sell it on,” says Gillespie, now 15. She mainly sold branded clothes such as American Apparel, but soon realised she could earn more by buying and reselling hyped products from brands with a cult-like following. “I’ve bought Supreme rucksacks and tops from the drop at Supreme’s store on Carnaby Street,” she says. “I’ve only been once – and spent almost a whole day queueing and in the store – but I’ll often ask friends to buy stuff for me.”

Gillespie also seeks out products from labels such as Nike, Adidas and Ralph Lauren, and scours clothes markets. Like many of her peers, she discovers which products are in demand by checking streetwear-focused Facebook group The Basement. She recently bought a Supreme backpack for £120 and sold it for £180, handing her a tidy £60.

She earns an average £100 a month and “wherever I go, I look out for products to resell. My dad is always asking what I’ve sold. He thinks it’s cool.”

Many Depop resellers such as Lydia Clear, who has 9,942 followers on Instagram, create hype around their products by modelling them on the photo-sharing platform.

“There’s a whole market of Instagram influencers that sell clothing on Depop and these markets feed off each other,” says Petah Marian, a senior editor at trend forecasting firm WGSN. “They build up their influence and street credibility on the platforms – this helps them when they come to selling.”

But does this devalue the brands at all – or are they losing out because their products are being sold again through resale sites? (There’s no response to emails sent to brands such as Supreme, Nike and Yeezy.)

Marian says it’s a win-win for the labels. “It’s good for brands as kids are so attached to the items. It makes people buy into the brand more, and demand creates desire.”

Depop founder Simon Beckerman says the app, which has had more than 7m registrations, has “opened the doors” to a new generation using a marketplace for the first time.

“You have vintage sellers specialising in the 70s, people with a more Y2K [early 2000s] aesthetic, then there are of course the ones who are into the culture of the drop,” he says.

Beckerman says Generation Z aren’t afraid of building empires from their bedrooms. “There’s very little risk in trying,” he adds. “There’s so much uncertainty around us nowadays that being your own boss is a very appealing idea.”

This interest in reselling among teenagers forms a key part of Gen Z’s characteristics, says Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the Innovation Group at JWT Intelligence. “Gen Z are generally much more entrepreneurial and creative in the way they make money. They see themselves as brands, creators, marketers and are using social media to monetise their influence,” she adds.

Growing up as digital natives, spending time online to create their own Depop store or building hype around clothes on Instagram is second nature to this demographic.

“As a generation they’re showing a massive amount of self-awareness and agency, as well as being extremely creative and sophisticated in their understanding of brands and culture,” says Greene.

“The combination is that you have this micro-entrepreneurship being applied to lots of what they do. It’s also reflective of their interests generally. If millennials were the reality TV generation where anyone could be a celebrity, Gen Zs are the cohort who believe that anyone can have their own business.”

Ask the teenagers if they feel guilty about buying items and reselling for a significant mark-up, and it’s pretty much a resounding no.

“For those that genuinely support the brand, that want to buy clothes to wear and keep, it’s understandably annoying to be beaten to a product by someone just looking to make money on the exact same item,” says 18-year-old James Marshall Griffin, who lives in Southampton and resells hyped streetwear products by brands such as Supreme and Palace, making him about £600 to £1,000 a month.

“However, it’s inevitable people are going to do this when people are willing to pay sometimes 10 times the retail price within the first 10 minutes of the item selling out if they’re really eager for it.”
It’s a dog-eat-dog world for these entrepreneurial teens.

RAGS TO RICHES

The 17-year-old lives in Brighton and is studying for her A-levels.

Lydia Clear was only 14 when she caught the bug for selling clothes online.

“My mum used to sell on eBay, and so when I grew bored of my outfits I started selling them on Depop.”

It wasn’t until last year that she started buying clothes with the sole intention of reselling online for a higher price. “I started going to Supreme drops in London during the school holidays and I’d buy the most popular items,” she says. “I’d also often go to Adidas and Nike shops to buy hyped items that I’d heard about on social media.”

During one Supreme drop, Clear enlisted several of her friends to queue and buy products that she could sell on Depop. She spent a total of £300 on hoodies and T-shirts and made a profit of £1,000.
To create more hype, she also models the clothes on Instagram, where she has close to 10,000 followers, and add a link to her Depop store.

She spends about two hours a day reselling, and makes about £1,000 profit every month. She has saved up £8,000 so far from reselling. It’s certainly a win-win for her mum and dad. “I’ve told my parents not to give me any money – I don’t need any from them any more.”

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Businesses supply consumers the nostalgia they are seeking

Ben Ho is associate professor of behavioral economics, Vassar College
“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship: It’s a time machine…It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel: It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

Don Draper, the smooth-talking ad executive in the TV show Mad Men, knew the economic power of nostalgia. Brands and advertisers from Kodak to Coca Cola act as its puppet masters, pulling at heartstrings and lulling us into making purchases through the promises of the past. By tapping into our emotions, nostalgia encourages us to buy a piece of a memory—a moment in time when things seemed simpler and we thought we were happier.

The exploitation of nostalgia for economic gain is perhaps most readily apparent in the entertainment industry. In 2017, there have been 34 TV spin-offs of old franchises, including new versions of Dynasty, Twin Peaks, and Heathers. Of the top 10 grossing movies for 2016, only two were new properties. The others drew from films dating back to 1894, 1938, 1959, 1977, 1991, 1997, and 2003.

George Lucas in particular is often credited for taking full advantage of nostalgia’s powers. His first blockbuster, American Graffiti, was a 1973 film that yearned for the simpler times of the 1950s and 1960s. The 1977 space western Star Wars heavily referenced the western genre, which peaked in the 1950s. Lucas has now capitalized on Star Wars’ true value, which is how it lingers in our hearts: In 2011, decades after the original film screened and in a year where no new Star Wars movie was released, over $3 billion of Star Wars toys were still sold.

In video games, Nintendo has long profited from players wanting to revisit its 1990s heyday. The Pokemon and Zelda empires have both experienced recent renaissances, with the Pokémon Go app reaching three quarters of a billion downloads and a new Zelda game driving sales of their best-selling game console, the Switch. They also released a reboot of their NES Classic console last year, which they couldn’t make fast enough to keep up with demand.

 It’s not that we’ve run out of fresh ideas: It’s that the old ones are safer money-making bets. These companies tap into our emotional longing for simpler times; even Socrates yearned for the days before this new-fangled technology called “reading” ruined everything (paywall). Never content with the cards we’ve been dealt, we keep on turning old ones over, wanting to escape into their familiar embrace.

Marketers know that reminding us of positive memories also makes us buy more stuff. Experiments show that advertisements that induce more nostalgia makes viewers like the ad more, which makes them like the brand more, and therefore increases their likelihood to buy that product. When large populations begin to seek the comfort of the familiar, media creators can profit by catering to their teenage memories. It’s not that we’ve run out of fresh ideas: It’s that the old ones are safer money-making bets.

As a behavioral economist, my field attempts to simplify complicated, multifaceted social constructs like nostalgia by analyzing the general principles that underlie them. Based on my research, I’d like to argue that nostalgia’s economic prowess is caused by the interplay between two competing economic forces: depreciation and appreciation.

Depreciation of nostalgic value
One of the basic tenets of economics is the “law of diminishing marginal utility”: For most things we consume, we tire from repeated exposure. The second slice of cake is never as good as the first, and the third might give you a bellyache.

This may be an evolutionary response to balancing our need to explore our environment versus exploit it. Primitive man on the savannah had to decide whether to search for new foraging grounds on the other side of the mountain or continue using the food sources they already knew. Likewise, a typical business-school case study asks when a company should explore fresh business opportunities or continue relying on the prospects it already knows. Even if the existing options are still viable, we tend to have an inclination to seek out the new.

A simple example of whether an entity might be experiencing appreciation or depreciation can be seen by looking at Google search data. Economist Seth Stevens-Davidovitz argues that this data offers a uniquely honest window into the minds of internet users, revealing unexpected patterns in areas as diverse as our porn proclivities to predicting the flu and diagnosing cancer. Measuring what we are paying attention to is valuable because our attention invariably can be turned into dollars.

When you look at the Google search frequencies for the word Avatar—the name of the highest grossing movie of all time—the trend, as with most media properties, experiences a sudden spike in popularity and then a gradual exponential decay into obscurity. The further away we get from the original release the more the novelty fades, and consumers who have seen the movie once are less likely to want to see it again.
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Google Trends search results for “Avatar.”
Appreciation of nostalgic value
While depreciation is common to much of what we consume, it is also counteracted by an oppositional force: properties that gain appreciation over time. While the value of some properties wither away and depreciate as they grow older, others gain value with maturity and age.

The term “appreciation” is used in finance to describe how a financial asset like a stock tends to grow in value over time as the asset gains maturity. While most physical assets depreciate with age, some appreciate, like classic cars or vintage wines. But it can be risky to bet on appreciation. For example, the potential value a bottle of wine holds increases each year the bottle matures—but with each year that passes, the chance that the bottle turns into vinegar increases, too.

Economist Joel Waldfogel also likes to use the wine term “vintage” to describe the aging of media properties, as in “Star Wars has a 1977 vintage.” The wine metaphor is apt: It can be hard to predict whether a franchise will appreciate or depreciate with time. The value of a media asset—such as a movie or video game—depends on its popularity and the passion of its fans. Like a stock, the growth of these assets is not always smooth, and can be buffeted by societal trends.

One of the biggest appreciations of the past decade has been that of comic-book franchises. Here we look at the trend of the search term Marvel, whose movies have come to dominate the top-10 lists in recent years. Most of the comics that these new movies are based off—Spider Man, X-Men, and Iron Man and The Hulk from The Avengers—were created in the 1960s. So why the sudden appreciation now?
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Google Trends search results for “Marvel.”
Nostalgia as an economic force
Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky argues that our preferences for music (and other media) is formed in our teenage years and early twenties, when our brain is most primed to explore new things. For example, Spotify recently launched a time capsule playlist that features songs from when the listener was a teenager, and it quickly became one of their most popular features. This was likely because music and movies that trigger memories of our carefree younger years normally put us in a good mood and increase our likelihood to buy related products. Content creators know this and attempt to create value by triggering the happiest memories of those they target.

 Marvel fans who were teenagers during the comics’ heyday are at the peak of their spending power today. Marvel fans who were teenagers during the comics’ heyday are at the peak of their spending power today; their nostalgia for their younger years is helping drive ticket sales. But Marvel is also taking advantage of some compounding interest: today’s teenagers who are experiencing the franchise as something new and novel. Marvel’s comic-book business as measured by share price peaked in 1993 and then crashed just three years later, meaning that most millennials and Gen Z kids were either born or came of age too late to experience the hype the first time around. After the near-demise of Marvel, the modern movies are their first exposure of these properties, which creates a second demographic to drive the films’ success.

This is then compounded yet again by another component psychologists identify with nostalgia: its ability to induce feelings of social connectedness. The economic study of conformity concerns itself with how our consumption choices depend on our connections to other people. Memories acquire meaning not just in the connections made in our own mind, but in the connections of the collective consciousness. In work published by the Marketing Science Institute, my co-authors and I show how our consumption choices—such as TV shows and sneaker brands—acquire meaning based on how others in society decide what to consume. For example, watching Game of Thrones acquires an additional extrinsic value when we start talking about it around the water cooler.

This gives Marvel and other franchises from the late 1970s to the early 1990s—such as Star Wars (1977), Blade Runner (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993)—the perfect trifecta of economic forces to attract our entertainment dollars:
  1. Franchises that are 20 to 40 years old appeal to the nostalgic memories of those aged 35-55, which is the demographic where earnings and spending power begin to peak.
  2. Franchises from that era are also just old enough for younger generations to view them as novel media properties anew, thus circumventing depreciation.
  3. This ability to appeal to two different generations is amplified by our social connectedness, which reinforces the whole package.
And there’s arguably a fourth factor that will see this cycle repeat in decades to come: Fast forward another 20 to 40 years, and the millennials who are discovering Iron Man for the first time might feel nostalgic for the remakes (of the remakes), and the cycle begins anew.

So for those who complain that “nothing is new anymore,” we have no one to blame for these constant franchise reboots but ourselves. Firms supply the nostalgia that consumers are seeking, but there is a way to game the system: We need to become more aware of how sellers manipulate our memories to peddle their wares. As recent Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler has promoted, a better awareness of the social forces that drive economic behavior could help us all demand better media choices, which could in turn drive media producers to improve their offerings.

As for the next reboot that takes advantage of the holy trifecta? I have my bets on Titanic: 2020.