The Future of Crypto: Special Crystal Ball Edition

If you’re thinking of investing in crypto, take your time to learn more about the market in general and the performance of individual cryptocurrencies before you do. The recent crash of some cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin,  Ether, and Dogecoin, should give all investors pause.

One thing’s for sure. Few people expected cryptocurrency to become a major thing back when the first Bitcoin transaction was recorded in January 2009. Fewer still could have predicted how entrenched crypto would rapidly become in our economy, our vernacular, and our personal pocketbooks.  Crypto was too weird. Too nebulous. Too tough to get our minds around. Was it real money if you couldn’t hold it in your hand, buy a house with it, or spend it at the grocery store? There weren’t many souls brave enough to jump on the crypto bandwagon back then. But boy, have times changed.

By the most recent estimates, about 16% of Americans have invested in or traded cryptocurrencies at some point. Crypto enthusiasm is particularly strong among millennials and members of Gen Z. They represent some 94% of the crypto-owning community. And indeed, you can buy a house with crypto. And invest in a crypto retirement account. And satisfy your craving for a Subway sandwich or a latte from your local Starbucks, for that matter. So what does the future hold for crypto? We can expect it to be full of surprises. In May of this year, the price of Bitcoin reached its lowest level since 2020, for example. But recent adoption rates, market trends, and government interventions may offer some indication of where cryptocurrency is headed.

Tuning in to Crypto Advertising

When products are hot, they’re promoted. When products are promoted, they get hotter. For a pure gut check on how popular we can expect crypto to get, consider what you’re seeing while you’re streaming TV and between moves on Words with Friends. Ads for crypto exchanges, ads promoting crypto IRAs, and even highly-targeted ads wooing different ethnic groups to invest, are everywhere. Two crypto industry companies bought Super Bowl spots this winter. Celebrities are getting into the advertising game. And we all know how effective famous people are at promoting goods and services. By some estimates, advertisers have spent over $112 million on crypto campaigns since 2020. Compare that to the $165 million Colgate spends per year on advertising its toothpaste—a product that was launched in 1873 with much higher market penetration—and you can see how much cryptocurrency-related companies are investing in growing the market.

The Playing Field is Getting Bigger

Bitcoin was first sold in 2009. It took two years for the second cryptocurrency, Litecoin, to come around. Investors are trading more than 12,000 cryptocurrencies. The number of cryptocurrencies available for purchase doubled between 2021 and 2022. Crypto “retail” has grown at a phenomenal pace, as well. Today there are approximately 600 crypto exchanges worldwide. But because they are largely unregulated, that number is subject to change. Exchanges open and close every day. Crypto wallets are also proliferating. They’re often given away as freebies by crypto exchanges and many crypto investors carry more than one. The number of crypto owners reached 300 million in 2022, an increase of 178% in 2021. Some crypto market experts expect there will be a billion crypto owners by the end of this year. See advertising statistics above. And let’s take a look at the growing number of ways crypto owners can use and invest their assets.

You Can Buy a House with Crypto

There are two ways to buy a home with crypto. You can convert your crypto to dollars, Euros, or any number of fiat currencies and use that cash to make your down payment and monthly mortgage payments. But today you can also take out a mortgage using crypto funds directly. A financial technology company called Milo claims to have introduced the first purely-crypto mortgage. The company allows you to “borrow” up to $5 million for a home purchase.  It also boasts that you can finance 100% of your mortgage—no down payment required— and that you may be able to close on your loan in a single day. That’s a real boon in today’s competitive real estate market. Other lenders offer similar opportunities.

But crypto mortgages are different from traditional mortgages. While crypto lenders consider your crypto assets when approving you for a loan—something not all traditional mortgage companies do—they use your crypto assets to collateralize your loan. For example, if you want to buy a home worth $500,000, you’ll need to have crypto assets equal to that amount. Interest rates with Milo, for example, are adjusted every year, based on the value of Bitcoin. If Bitcoin’s value goes down, you may have to pledge more crypto to fund your loan or risk paying a higher interest rate.

Crypto mortgages are not for everyone. They are best suited to borrowers who have significant crypto holdings and other wealth reserves they can rely on when they tie up their crypto in a mortgage. The point is, however, that crypto continues to gain more influence in a wider range of financial sectors.

You Can Retire on Your Crypto Investments

The next financial sector that’s giving crypto its due as a growing asset class is the retirement savings industry. Once again, checking in with your favorite news channel or personal finance publication tells the story. There are now dozens of companies that can help you set up a self-directed IRA and fund it with crypto. Employees are also clamoring for crypto investing options in their 401K plans and the nation’s largest 401K management company, Fidelity, has announced that it will soon begin offering them. Others may follow suit, but legal experts warn that these management companies are putting themselves at serious risk of class action suits. The US Department of Labor, which regulates employer-sponsored retirement savings plans and devised the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, has expressed concern over this latest development in retirement investing, fearing a crypto crash and the devastation of millions of workers’ retirement savings that would follow. For now, Fidelity is limiting the amount of money employees can allocate to crypto in their retirement portfolios to 20% of their holdings.

If you’re not terribly risk-averse, crypto retirement investing is one route you might take towards diversifying your retirement portfolio. But the nearer you get to retirement, the riskier investing in crypto becomes. The crypto market is extremely volatile: Bitcoin has been known to lose half its value overnight. Analysts expect the market to resemble a roller coaster for years to come. Older investors, who would have less time to recover from a crypto crash, are advised to invest very lightly, if at all, in crypto, no matter how tempting it might be. Arguably, young employees, who have years of earning and investing ahead of them, are in a better position to manage that risk.

What About Regulation of the Crypto Market?

Conservatives revile it and liberals often cheer the phenomenon: follow the money and you’re likely to find government regulation close on its heels. But oddly, for now, the government has taken a pretty hands-off—or perhaps a wait-and-see attitude—toward crypto markets. That may be interpreted as tacit support for the growing crypto economy. For now, new regulations are few. Crypto is subject to the same capital gains taxes as stocks and other traditional assets when you sell it. It offers the same tax advantages when you hold it in a retirement account.

But government agencies are already making noises about regulations that may be coming. Joe Biden made a speech about it, issuing an executive order that federal agencies begin looking carefully at potential risks in the market. The SEC recently announced that it may require crypto exchanges to be registered and adhere to regulations around the custody of crypto funds. Exchanges are vulnerable to hacking and investors have lost millions to fraud by allowing exchanges to hold their investments for them. That’s one reason crypto security experts recommend holding your funds yourself in a crypto wallet.

The Bottom Line

We certainly don’t have a crystal ball that can reveal the secrets or future of crypto. No one does, so if an advisor or journalist speaks in absolute certainties about crypto, we suggest you give little or no weight to their prognostications. If you’re thinking of investing in crypto, take your time to learn more about the market in general and the performance of individual cryptocurrencies before you do. The recent crash of some cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin,  Ether, and Dogecoin, should give all investors pause. Our recommendation?  Follow the most authoritative financial press routinely to track cryptocurrency as it becomes further entwined with the general economy. Keep up with how the government is responding to crypto market developments, too. You’ll find your path. Or maybe you’ll decide not to veer off the beaten one when it comes to investing your hard-earned cash. One size plan or one portfolio does not fit all. So be sure to look out for yourself, above all.

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In Praise of Positivity: GeoSure Uses Psychology to Market Hope Over Fear

In a world where too many people are monetizing fear, psychological science and evolutionary theory show that human hard-wiring also responds to messages of agency, confidence, and trust.

Inspiring people to do what is best for themselves and the community is never easy.  We wish it were.  But human beings are messy and complex organisms. Unlike the computer generated algorithms that pervade our lives, we are not made of programmable bits and bytes.

That’s why there have been so many attempts – and many failures – to encourage people to behave well.  The billion dollar anti-drug campaigns of “Just Say NO” and “This is Your Brain on Drugs” of the 1980s are well-known failures. And it keeps happening. Recent vaccination and masking efforts have been less than an unqualified success.

Most of those attempts used fear.  Simply put, if you use drugs, your brain will rot; if you don’t get jabbed, you will get sick and die – but their effectiveness has been questionable at best.

On the other hand, positive messages  have been shown to convince people to avoid illicit drugs.  Likewise, communicating that getting vaccinated and wearing masks shows that you care about your loved ones and others can help convince people to wear masks (and roll up their sleeves.

GeoSure chooses positivity, safety and confidence over apprehension and danger. This is something we envisioned from GeoSure’s inception at. A data-driven startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, GeoSure generates real-time safety data for over 65,000 neighborhoods around the world. Safety scores – which cover eight categories including measurements for women, for LGBTQ, for nighttime movements – could easily be marketed from a fear perspective.

From the beginning, we wanted to flip the model upside down.

We choose hope, not panic. We choose empowering people with accurate data that enables them, and the larger community, to make smarter decisions.

We market to large enterprises – and to federal, state, and local agencies, including tourist boards – based on the empowerment, self-assurance, and emotional and physical well-being our data provides. The experience has been intentionally designed for the end user.  That’s different too.

There is strong evolutionary science behind our approach. After all, if we are well-meaning but scientifically off-base, we will not succeed in our mission.

GeoSure understands that human beings are  information processing organisms. Humans evolved with the ability to quickly identify and assess information that determines if they will survive or perish, whether it be the sound of a wooly mammoth or the odor of lethal mushrooms.  We no longer live in a thrive or die environment, but our biological legacy still responds as though we do.

For those hard-wired reasons,  not positioning GeoSure to deeply appeal to our fear instincts may seem counterintuitive. After all, there is a reason that the mantra of local news has long been “If it bleeds, it leads.”  Peril captures attention.

But let’s go one step deeper. In treacherous situations – whether the threat in our immediate environment comes in the form of a pachyderm or as data from a digital platform –  we are programmed to react in one of three ways:  fight, flight, or freeze.

But if you want to know if it’s safe to travel to a local restaurant at 9 PM in a strange city, the three “Fs” aren’t going to help.  What will help is the reassuring, authoritative, confidence-building experience that GeoSure provides. This emotional context is just as aligned with our evolved brains as waving the flag of fear.

In fact, we are programmed to both avoid danger and seek opportunity, both of which GeoSure makes possible. Opportunity is connected to pleasure and reward centers in the brain. GeoSure can reach those with its message about the adventure that motivated you to take this journey. Are you taking the trip to minimize danger?  Or to maximize positive experiences while feeling empowered and safe? GeoSure believes it is the latter.

What’s more, GeoSure encourages people to contribute to community safety.  There is a great deal of research that shows that people derive pleasure by pitching into the common good.

In short, we replace the short-term marketing of fright with the long-term promise of well-being.  Fear is toxic, the anxiety it causes results in emotional and physiological damage, including the release of cortisol which triggers inflammation.  By contrast, the positivity associated with GeoSure will generate what’s called “chronic positivity”. Are not employees and customers more composed, constructive, better decision-makers in a confident frame of mind than when disturbed and uneasy?

The arc of positivity extends from GeoSure to everyone in our network – the companies who offer our platform to employees and customers of partners cities, local tourist boards; and, of course, end users.

In some ways, this comes down to a cognitive bias known as the “availability heuristic”: whatever is familiar or comes easily to mind is assumed to be common or typical.  So when we are bombarded with negative information about something, we will think of that something as negative.  If we are instead presented with positive information, we will think of that something in a positive way. Which would you rather experience?

It’s that simple and profound.

GeoSure has proven, in the marketplace, that the psychological basis of hope versus disquiet, of confidence versus chaos, works.  We are accessible to more than 14 million users, made available through major employers and partners like AIG, SAP Concur’s, Tripit, Nike, and Deem.

In a world where too many people are monetizing fear, we have proved – using sound psychological science and evolutionary theory – that our hard-wiring also responds to messages of agency, confidence, and trust.  We choose positivity over negativity.

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Hypocritical ‘Guns of Omaha’ Take Aim at Robinhood

For Buffett and Munger to slam Robinhood for behaving in the same way as their portfolio companies, is a hypocritical moral sham.

Back in February of last year, Robinhood ran their Super Bowl commercial arguing that investors aren’t made, but born.  That trading stock is as natural as sticking your thumb in your mouth and reaching for the mobile dangling over the crib.

My reaction was not subtle.  I wrote that:

“In an era where millions are easily seduced by immediate gratification and self-flattery, and suspicious of any kind of earned expertise, Robinhood’s “We Are All Investors” ad might be the most dangerously misleading commercial in Super Bowl history.”

Now a year later Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are echoing my sentiments, and have launched the ‘Guns of Omaha’ on Robinhood, with an apocalyptic Munger saying: “It was disgusting. Now it’s unraveling… God is getting just. … There’s been some justice.”

At last year’s Woodstock of capitalism, Munger also absurdly stated:  “We don’t want to make our money selling things that are bad for people.”  (For the record, here’s what drinking a can of Coke – 9.2% of the Berkshire portfolio – does to your body.)

Buffett has been on the record saying that Robinhood caters to the gambling instincts of investors and promotes casino-like behavior.

Do you hear something?  That noise is my hypocrisy meter going bonkers.

Activision, which represents over 9% of Berkshire Hathway’s portfolio, made $5.1 billion from in-game purchases in 2021.  That’s gambling with no chance of an economic victory, just the ability to get to the next level.

But wait, there’s even more.  Bank of America, which owns Merrill Lynch and represents 12.8% of the Berkshire portfolio, is sounding very much like Robinhood.   In fact, while Robinhood has pulled back from their “we are all natural investors” appeal – their website now modestly promises “Investing is Simple Here” – Merrill Lynch tells investors that their online trading platform gives you “guidance, insights and tools to confidently put your investing ideas into action.”

That’s no different than what the Robinhood platform offers.  You don’t need the experts, it promises, just your own good ideas.

Lastly, if Buffett and Munger are going to ride their moral high horses into battle with Robinhood, they need to explain why Itochu, which represents 5.6% of the portfolio, is continuing to do business with Russia.

I hold to my original perspective that preying on our cognitive biases, minimizing the expertise involved in investing, and manipulating hopefulness is wrong and I feel the same way about the proliferation of seductive online sports betting advertising unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision. For Buffett and Munger to slam Robinhood for behaving in the same way as their portfolio companies, is a hypocritical moral sham.

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The UN Sets Historic Targets for Global Connectivity

It’s no longer enough to just say people “need to be connected to the internet.” We require clear targets, especially since 2.9 billion people remain offline. So now the ITU and the UN Sec-General’s office have put on paper what connection really means. It is a set of guideposts and a mandate for action.

Absolutely everyone in the world older than 15 should be connected to the internet at an affordable price. Every home, business and school should have access. And the entire population of the world ought to be covered by a modern mobile network.

These are not crazy goals. Those of us privileged enough to already live under such conditions can barely imagine not living a connected life. Yet more than one-third of the world’s population remains offline. It’s a scandal. That’s why it’s important, and even historic, that the UN has finally come up with clear metrics to tell us how well we’re doing in connecting the planet. This is a critical element in achieving the 17 ambitious goals for the planet that all nations of the world agreed to–if you can believe it–back in the heady and visionary days of 2015, called the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

Image credit: ITU

But there was always one SDG missing—to connect everyone. While Goal 9–about improving global infrastructure–did address extending the internet, it was a subsidiary goal mentioned pretty far down in the verbiage: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.” Well obviously even that understated goal was not met, as those 2.9 billion still-unconnected people could attest (if you could reach them to ask).

Many of us felt in 2015, and still feel, that it would be impossible to achieve almost any of the SDGs—which commit to reducing global poverty, ending hunger, and addressing the climate crisis, among other critical tasks–without connecting people so they could be informed and work together on all these challenges.

So it’s something to celebrate that the UN Secretary-General’s Acting Envoy on Technology, Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, together with the International Telecommunications Union, announced in April a set of concrete targets for digital connectivity for 2030. In effect this is a much-needed extension of the SDGs. The move is inspired by and connected to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres’ own Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which was itself a historic document released in 2020. (The UN under Gutteres, himself an engineer, has put far greater focus on digital issues than ever before.) These 15 new aspirational connectivity goals are meant to help set benchmarks so that from now on we can determine, for every country and geography, just how connected its people are. Up until now there has been no agreed-upon standard for what “connected” even meant.

In June, at the World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC) in Kigali, Rwanda, the ITU will release its first assessment of how well the world is doing to achieve these targets. In November Spatolisano and the ITU will launch a dashboard to track the progress of every country in achieving the goals.

Image credit: ITU

The targets are unequivocal about what constitutes connectivity. Everyone over 15 must have a mobile phone. Everyone should be able to connect to a modern mobile broadband network and/or have a broadband wired connection. All homes, businesses and schools must be connected. All fixed broadband connections should be 10 megabits per second (Mb/s) or faster. Every school needs access to a minimum speed of 20 Mb/s, with at least 50 kilobit per second available to each student. Every school gets storage of at least 200 Gigabytes. At least 70% of adults must have basic digital skills, and at least 50% intermediate skills.

Cost is addressed as well. An entry-level broadband subscription must be priced at less than 2% of average gross national income per capita, and also be less than 2% of the average income of the bottom 40% of the country’s population. Many countries are so far from such targets that the initial assessments are not going to be pretty, in some cases. But the point, of course, is to start methodically moving the needle in the right direction.

“Meaningful connectivity is key to achieve digital transformation,” says Doreen Bodgan-Martin, director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which worked on the targets. “Among today’s estimated 4.9 billion internet users, many have to limit their usage because connectivity is unreliable, too slow, or too expensive.” So the targets will, of course, also improve the internet experience for people who already have some access.

The WTDC in Kigali, June 6-16, will be a global gathering of representatives from all the world’s nations, to help further drive forward this urgent need for progress on connectivity and related challenges. Delayed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has returned with an even broader group of participants and this newly-ambitious mandate to bring everyone fully online by 2030. Anyone who cares about connectivity has cause to be there and participate in the many discussions. Major tech, telecoms and other companies, NGOs, and other groups that care about connecting the world are invited to take part.

Image credit: ITU

I myself will be there, and I’m quite excited about it. I’ve been working closely with the ITU for the last two years on a series of sessions as part of a related initiative called the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C). I’ve moderated multiple online and in-person meetings that have gathered participants from all over the world to examine various aspects of the connectivity challenge. In Kigali I will help moderate a three-day P2C meeting beginning June 6 that kicks off the 10-day WTDC gathering.

This issue should be a priority for every thinking person. The world faces a raft of grave challenges, notably climate change and the related challenge of climate-driven migration.  Getting people connected is a critical pathway to work on those issues, as well as move toward achieving all the SDGs. We must do it. All of our futures depend on it.

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Cities and Countries are Solving Real Problems In the Metaverse

Cevat Yerli wants a metaverse rooted in pragmatism, optimism and happiness. He’s not alone.

A generation that’s grown up on video games will help determine how the future plays out, so to speak.  “Gaming is the digital manifestation of our human nature,” says Cevat Yerli, a successful gaming entrepreneur who is the son of Turkish immigrants and was born in Germany.

Today Yerli is using his gaming chops to create a broader vision for an emerging metaverse.  It won’t be filled with Bored Apes or overdressed avatars, he says. His metaverse is called Internet of Life and runs on RealityOS, a 3D engine featuring real-time video twins of its users instead of avatars. He says it “will not be an escapist world like many of my American counterparts are building,” but rather a world where you can experience a rich digital life grounded in getting stuff done and solving major challenges. His vision of the metaverse is one rooted in pragmatism, optimism, and happiness.

Yerli’s first project with his new metaverse company, The TMRW Foundation, was created for the United Arab Emirates, a country that has invested heavily in building out a government metaverse. One of TMRW’s first projects was a metaverse service center for the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention. Residents can get health services and consultations from this government entity without leaving home or going to a conventional website.

Yerli, like so many metaversians, got his chops building super successful games built on components that would become the spine of Web 3.0: a realistic gaming engine, in-game currencies, motion capture animation, and user immersion. Transferring the gaming ethos to a more pragmatic metavese has become a battle cry for Yerli and others who see a purpose beyond just entertainment or brand building in this new web. And while everyone from banks to law firms are starting to hang out their shingles in the metaverse, some of the the loftiest ambitions are coming from governments like the UAE as well as private/public partnerships around the world hoping to solve citizen problems, from the most mundane to the most pressing.

Countries, cities, states and governments are creating digital twins of their physical spaces. Then, using feedback collected from the real world sensors and IoT devices, combined with AI models, they’re driving simulations of how things might play out in the real world. Imagine, for example, using a digital twin of a city to explore traffic routing, truck idling patterns or energy usage. You don’t need a headset so far for the new government metaverses, though it might be more fun if you donned one.

Unlike the metaverse of fashion and art, the metaverse of government will rely more heavily on IoT, 3-D visualization, open data and mobile data.  Long before you need to invest any money in building a new road or laying piping in a city, you can explore and test the ramifications of such moves in the digital metaverse. Challenges that lend themselves well to these sorts of digital twin metaverse worlds include pollution, public health, affordable education, crime, and extreme weather.

If Dogs are Like Their Owners, Metaverses are Like Their Countries

Government initiatives in the metaverse are numerous. They fall into 3 major categories: using digital twins to remedy issues, bringing a set of services to residents, or enhancing tourism goals (both physical and online) for real world visitors.

In the U.S., we’ve seen numerous efforts to monitor traffic patterns, utility usage, and movement through a city using digital twins and information collected from Internet of things (IoT). While many of those efforts would not properly be called “metaverse”-related, they move in the right direction (headset devices optional). Now Orlando, Boston and Las Vegas have created virtual replicas of their cities in the form of digital twins, allowing them to play out hypothetical scenarios to anticipate specific impacts of things like adding new buildings, changing streets or other land use decisions. Pittsburgh used such systems to help deploy adaptive traffic signals which change based on actual traffic to reduce commute times and fuel consumption. This “smart traffic system” has reduced travel delays in Pittsburgh by about 20 percent.

In places like Santa Monica, California the focus is on tourism, using the metaverse to provide virtual experiences where participants can collect digital tokens to unlock real world experiences. One of the most promising projects in the U.S.  is privately held, and known as Cityzenith. This company is hoping to drive carbon-free building in cities through its SmartWorld OS digital twin platform.  The platform connects every IoT item in a building or city – including data from thermostats, HVAC traffic lights, water usage, and energy consumption. “Buildings in cities produce 50-70% of total emissions”, says Cityzenith’s literature, “and in dense cities like New York and others, more than 80%.”

Seoul, South Korea has one of the most ambitious metaverse projects of all.  As part of the five-year metaverse Seoul promotion master plan, Seoul will invest $3.3 million to develop a platform to provide services to its residents. All of Seoul’s municipal administration departments, from traffic enforcement to tourism, will have metaverse offices. In Seoul’s “Metaverse 120 Center” residents will meet with avatar public officials in a virtual office for public services previously only available in person at City Hall.

Seoul sees many benefits of a governmental metaverse, including saving on time and travel, reducing language barriers, increasing access to services at convenient times, and also creating zones for cultural events, town halls and other community-building opportunities. Today Seoul offers cultural events in the metaverse to attract global tourism and has built a virtual city hall, where residents can have life-like interactions with city officials. Accessing key services from their homes will be a continuous rollout. By 2023, Seoul aims to create a metaverse where citizens can deal with civil complaints and consultations — virtually.

Passive Income

Taken to the extreme, government metaverses may ultimately become where we earn our living.  …There’s no shortage of creative ideas for income generation in the metaverse–property ownership, a job in a metaverse community, and of course investment opportunities.  And if you ask companies like Affyn the idea of a play-to-earn Metaverse is already reality.  Expect soon to see voting, renewing a passport, and projects to make streets safer by changing lighting and traffic patterns, and plenty of projects to move towards generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. These incipient governments in the metaverse may rewrite the rules of civic engagement. Or, as Cevat Yerli puts it: “The virtual world has to serve the purpose of making the real world better.”

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We Can Change Minds, Says the World’s Most Popular Climate Scientist

In an exclusive interview at the recent Techonomy Climate conference, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe said that the most powerful tool we have in the fight against climate change is effective communication. The tech is here. It’s time to change hearts and minds.

In an exclusive interview at the recent Techonomy Climate conference, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe said that the most powerful tool we have in the fight against climate change is effective communication. The tech is here. It’s time to change hearts and minds.

Hayhoe was interviewed by Jeff Nesbit of nonprofit Climate Nexus communications firm. He rightly called Hayhoe “the most popular climate scientist on earth.” She has an enormous following on social media, her TED Talk has millions of views, and her book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World is a recent best seller. (She’s an eminent professor at Texas Tech University and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, as well.)

Hayhoe’s core philosophy for fighting climate change is “talk about it.” And when doing the talking, remember that empathy, compassion, and connection are just as important as the science.

“Back in the day, people thought if we just tell people the facts, surely they’ll change their minds,” she said. Clearly that’s not working. Hayhoe said there are two main roadblocks when it comes to changing hearts and minds. One is psychological distance. “We humans see this as a distant issue in space or time rather than being something that matters to us here and now in ways that are relevant to us today.” And the second one is people just don’t think we can fix it. “Either we feel a stunning lack of efficacy and we feel like there’s nothing we can do that could make a difference, or there are many people who feel that the cure is worse than the disease. They feel the solutions would leave us worse off than we would be just coping with the impacts.”

Hayhoe thinks of the American public in various categories, based on extensive polling done on this topic in recent years. She said about 8% of Americans are ‘dismissives.’ “It takes a miracle to change their minds.” And she’s not in the business of miracles. “But,” she continued, “they’re only 8%.” As for everyone else, the sentiments are more heartening: 70% of Americans are worried, 83% of moms are worried, and 86% of young people are worried. Yet 50% of us feel hopeless and helpless and don’t know what to do.”

Politics, of course, plays an outsized role. “The United States is now more politically polarized than it’s been any time since the Civil War,” she said. But it wasn’t always like this. “At the time when the first national climate assessment was enacted in 2000, Gallup polls indicated that Democrats and Republicans were pretty much on the same page when it came to climate change.”

“Did the science change?” she asked. “No. The science has been solid since the 1850s, when scientists connected digging up and burning fossil fuels to increasing levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. What changed was that we started to see the impacts, here and now, and that meant that action was necessary. As soon as action became necessary, that is when the denial began.”

Despite more than 150 years of scientific evidence, we’re torn apart by politics. “And social media plays a role in that, because experiment upon experiment has shown that the social media algorithms, which are just generated to basically make money, deliberately tribalize and in some cases even radicalize us.”

Hayhoe believes, nonetheless, social media platforms are tools that can be used for both good and bad. In fact, she’s found ample success in changing people’s minds via social media. But she cited many faults with the platforms, and called out YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and most notably Facebook for their destructive policies.

Back in 2018, Facebook formally decided climate change was a political issue, and changed the way it moderated such discussions. The algorithm began downgrading Hayhoe’s posts. When she complained, administrators told her all she had to do was register as a political organization. “Over my dead and decomposing body am I, as a climate scientist, registering as a political organization.”

“A lot of social media companies went into this very naively. They didn’t realize how their platforms could literally be weaponized to foment dissent, to spread misinformation, to exacerbate the divisions between and within our societies,” she said. But we can no longer afford to be naive, said Hayhoe. “Companies are certainly making steps, but they are tripping over their shoelaces and landing on their faces.”

Connecting over what we all have in common is our best hope. “Research shows that if we talk about what’s happening where we live, here and now, in ways that affect us, like the safety of our homes or the quality of the air that we’re breathing, it can overcome our political divides because we’re focusing on something that we share that’s more relevant to our lives than something that divides us,” she said.

“We have everything we need to take action now,” she said. “In fact, we’ve already had most of what we need for quite some time now.”

But the tech doesn’t seem to be saving us. So what does Dr. Hayhoe recommend? “Every bit of warming matters, every year matters, every choice matters, and every action matters.” Quoting Bill McKibben she said “the most important thing an individual can do right now is not be such an individual.”

“We [must] look at how we influence the place we work, the place we live, the organizations that we’re part of when we use our voice…Call for action at every level, not just the federal level. Cities are much more nimble and much more bipartisan. States, corporations, universities, churches, neighborhoods, all kinds of organizations can take action together. That’s how change happens.”

Watch the full interview here.

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The Kids Metaverse is (Sort of) Open for Business

Grownups have gotten so excited about what they could do in the metaverse that they’ve all but ignored the kids. And for understandable reasons.

Grownups have gotten so excited about what they could do in the metaverse that they’ve all but ignored the kids. And for understandable reasons. Kids’ online safety and personal identification is a messy business. According to COPPA rules (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act)  you can’t market to children, hang on to their personal information, or engage them without the consent of their parents. In other words, it’s often a losing proposition for companies financially. COPPA was enacted in the early 90’s and is enforced by the FTC.  The Act is long in the tooth, created for a different sort of web. Most of the answers to frequently asked questions about COPPA on the FTC’s website begin with the murky qualifier…“it depends”.

As concerns grow that Meta’s Instagram can harm kids, Congress is batting around two new bills that would offer additional protection in a more immersive social and metaverse-enabled world. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (often called COPPA 2.0) are complementary bills designed to provide protections for a next generation of kids and teens and extend the protection to age 16 (COPPA protects only kids up to age 12).

There’s no shortage of things kids should be protected from on the evolving internet. A white paper from Common Sense Media, an advocacy group for children’s media, cautions that the dangers include physiological ones (cybersickness from wearing VR headsets, injury due to immersion in virtual worlds, and eye strain) as well as more insidious psychological ones (bullying, sexual aggression and harassment, misinformation and more).

But toy companies and kids’ media properties want in today on the metaverse goldrush. So right now they have at least two innovative options that can help them play it safe. They can create an in-game currency, the way Roblox does with its native currency Robux. Or they can create a digital NFT (non-fungible token) that has built in utility. The NFT is typically good for redeemable physical products or for services, like special events. Ultimately the metaverse is likely to be built on top of blockchains and cryptocurrencies (most commonly today the Ethereum blockchain). That will keep immutable records of what’s being purchased, collected or traded. But for now, most toy companies are avoiding that course, probably because for kids these crypto-phenomena are just too hard to understand and operate. (It will be a while before even most parents feel comfortable giving kids an Ethereum allowance. I’m sure it will happen, though.)

Meanwhile, toy companies are taking baby steps towards a metaverse–a more NFT-infused future where digital versions of their products can be created, collected and traded. It’s messy, but here’s how it’s shaking out:

LEGO  

Last week Lego and Epic (developer of Fortnite) didn’t announce anything super tangible, but said that they were joining forces to create a safer world for kids and families in the metaverse. Lego joined Sony in investing a total of $2 billion in new money into private Epic to drive the effort. Lego is one of the most iconic, trusted brands in kids entertainment, while Epic, a creator of highly-graphical virtual worlds with open chats and in-game currencies, caters to a slightly older (13+) crowd.

HASBRO  

Hasbro is taking a multi-pronged approach. It sells a physical board, a version of Monopoly, based on Roblox. Players move around a real-life Roblox themed board dressed as virtual avatars. Hasbro has also teamed with Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnite to enable users to play with virtual versions of its popular Nerf Blaster toy weapons.

Finally, it created Hasbro Pulse, a direct-to-consumer shop for all of its physical collectibles. It’s a place where people can create events, for example Hasbro Pulse Con, a special event with exclusive prizes and access  Recently Hasbro partnered with WAX (the Worldwide Asset eXchange™), a blockchain gaming platform, to offer digital collectibles. (It caters to the ages 16 and up.) The Power Rangers NFTs, also housed on the Pulse site, are redeemable for physical, limited edition collectible Power Rangers. So, for $199, as an example, you can receive a digital token with classic Power Rangers artwork and also get the physical figure. (In a series of confusing instructions on the Hasbro site, you’re be sent to the WAX platform to redeem your NFT.)

A Morphin Megazord NFT from Hasbro Pulse comes with a physical product, too. Photo: Hasbro Pulse

MATTEL

Mattel Creations focuses on attracting fans of collectibles, an older audience than the audience for playing with Barbie or Hot Wheels. Mattel is betting that those who grew up on physical collections of its coveted brands, including Barbie, HotWheel, and MatchBox, will want to engage digitally. All of them offer digital NFTs at auction, which each come with a redeemable physical product. Mattel has also announced plans to auction off digital art from its HotWheels collection, sell a GaryVee Collection of physical playing cards that coordinates with his company’s NFTs. and created an NFT event around Barbie.

Mattel will sell limited edition artwork of HotWheels vehicles as NFTS. Credit: Mattel

In all cases, the toy companies with expertise in production of physical toys are partnering with metaverse companies to create a “phygital” approach to play. Traditional toy makers playing with NFTs include MGA Entertainment’s partnership with Animoca, which is creating LOL Surprise Doll NFTS. WowWee Toys is partnering with GameFan (the largest creator of games on Roblox)  to bring beloved toys like Baby Shark into the metaverse. And Baby Shark, through another set of partnerships, offers an NFT token that takes the form of a musical video.

Beyond traditional toy companies, kids social media platforms are themselves pushing into NFT territory. Zigazoo, a popular (and COPPA-compliant) social platform for kids just introduced NFTs. Zigazoo’s NFTs were created by a 13-year-old female digital artist, Nyla Hayes, who has made millions on her digital art that portrays long-necked women. The art can be purchased as digital pieces that can be shared, incorporated into videos, or used as avatars. They also have built-in utility, unlocking adventures or levers of play.

Credit: Zigazoo

A package of these NFTs costs between $6 and $50, or kids can buy them with the in-app currency Zigabucks, earned making videos and logging into the app on multiple days. Zak Ringelstein, CEO of Zigazoo, told me he hopes to crack the kid’s NFT market by keeping fees for buying his NFTS low and shying away from digital wallets and complicated onboarding processes. “When kids and parents think of them as having the functionality of a real world trading card,” he says, “that’s when mass adoption takes place.”

Toy makers recognize the imperative to explore digital products. It’s direct-to-consumer. There are no shipping fees or supply chain challenges. They can create combos of physical and digital toys, using redeemable NFTs. They can create loyalty clubs for their NFT fans. And while minting and marketing NFTs can cost something, it’s a lot cheaper than creating physical objects and dealing with all the surrounding logistics.

So will you be buying your kids’ NFTs for the holidays?  Not so fast. Sales of NFTs have been dropping steadily over the past weeks, with analysts citing everything from over-saturation to inflation to the war in Ukraine as factors. And honestly, as a parent you should expect to spend inordinate amounts of time scrutinizing the fine print. After all, you’ve got to understand whether you’re buying a toy, an entry to a game, or a piece of digital art. For your kid it won’t matter, so long as they can just have fun.

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