Nestle Rethinks, Philadelphia Rebuilds, and Virtual Reality Reinvents


Photo: Allen

Nestle Tries To Go Both Ways
 Big Food is certainly a thing, but it’s not monolithic, and big industries can change when they have to. We saw it this week when Nestle broke rank with its peers to support lower sodium targets for processed food (Quartz). The company is supporting the FDA’s efforts to reduce salt consumption and it’s even lobbying Congress on the matter. When you’re a company as big and long-lived as Nestle, change is complicated. The company may now be trying to sell you diabetes pills alongside its sugary snacks (Bloomberg), but its empire “is built on a foundation of sugar” and that’s a hard habit to break. The company is attempting to “be part of the solution” and redefine itself as a scientifically driven “nutrition, health, and wellness company” (there’s even a “Nestle Institute of Health Sciences”), but it has a long, rich history to combat and top executives eager to differentiate between “sugar addiction” (they say it doesn’t exist) and “sugar habituation” (well, maybe). The company may indeed be planning for a healthier future. For now, though, it wants to sell you the disease and the cure.

How to Rebuild a Neighborhood
 The Philadelphia Housing Authority has a plan to revitalize a community by tearing down a failed apartment complex (NYT) and replacing it with a broader, more balanced set of structures, some residential and some commercial. It’s using the end of the Norman Blumberg Apartments as an opportunity to recreate the whole underserved Sharswood neighborhood so it can flourish and connect to the rest of the city. “We never really came up with a comprehensive approach that went beyond housing,” the Authority’s chairman said. “If you only focus on housing, what about the crime issues? What about amenities? What about the education?” Now Philadelphia may find out.

The New Language of Virtual Reality
 Each generation of new media starts by aping the previous generation. Early radio broadcasters read newspaper stories into microphones, and many of the first films were staged plays. After a transition period, the creatives figure out how to take full advantage of a new platform. That may be starting to happen with virtual reality (Venture Beat). The initial 360-degree stories we encounter force audiences to consider how differently to engage with art (the best of these feel like they place you inside). They also force creators, many associated with NewCos, to figure out how to immerse without using the powerful new tools to merely manipulate (which, it turns out, is quite easy). VR is a great example of how a new platform allows for not only new technical possibilities, but new creative ones as well, for those on a mission to create something truly different. A new language is being written right now.

Usurping Uber’s Data
 Uber got its start, in part, by sidestepping or challenging rules and regulations. And that’s what a group of Harvard Business School students are doing to Uber, tapping into the unicorn’s fare-price data to help ride-hailers find cheaper rides (Boston Globe). What the students are doing violates Uber’s API rules, which they claim are unenforceable.

How Democratic Is Internet Democracy, Really?
 Everyone got a good laugh when an Internet vote christened a new British polar research vessel “Boaty McBoatface.” Yes, it was silly, but it was also an example of what happens when an organization tests new ways of including the public in decisions. The fun appears to be over, though, with the British government deciding instead to name the ship RRS Sir David Attenborough (BBC). Boaty will live on as the name of a remotely operated sub-sea vehicle. It’s an amusing story, but also a more serious tale of pretend broader democracy when those in power still retain it.

Photo: Allen

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