The Long Game 91: Fitness but Free, Loneliness Epidemic, Optimism, No Filter
🐐 Michael Jordan, Old Music, Taiwan, Turkey, New Social Apps, Panama, International Sanctions, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
In this episode, we explore:
Fitness but free
Is there a loneliness epidemic?
Optimism and geography
No Filter: The Story of Instagram
New social apps
Old music vs. new music
Let’s dive in!
🌳 Fitness but Free
I had a minor injury last week, so I went for long walks instead of training in the morning, and I found Barcelona’s street workout equipment to be a fantastic addition to the quality of life of its population.
At a time of growing divisions in most countries, investing in public workout parks could be a simple measure to bring people together and help them get fitter and happier for free. There are pretty much zero downsides to this, and it will make everyone happy, which is rare in terms of policies.
From the team at Fitt Insider:
Just as urban planning has played a role in protecting us from infectious diseases like cholera, typhoid, and tuberculosis, design can help us address 21st-century epidemics, namly chronic ailments like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
In the case of the latter, though, our modern conditions are largely preventative. With that in mind, prioritizing green space, trails, and pedestrian-friendly cities is just the beginning.
As social distancing persists, exercising at the park may replace going to the gym. This summer, outdoor yoga classes could be a stand-in for boutique studios. And low-cost, equipment-free workouts will become the standard. An alternative to expensive or complex fitness regimens, COVID-era exercise could be a catalyst for simpler, more accessible forms of physical activity.
Ultimately, fitness is exercise you pay for. And, in many ways, COVID is serving as a reminder that the best things in life are free.
👤 Is There a Loneliness Epidemic?
There has been a lot of discussion around loneliness lately. The general idea is that while promising to make us more connected, technology actually made us lonelier.
I liked this report on the question:
One statistic that is often used to argue that loneliness is increasing, is that young people today are lonelier than older adults. This begs two questions: (i) Is it true that younger people are lonelier, and (ii) does this show that loneliness is increasing?
The report finds that younger people are more likely to report feeling lonely in rich countries.
However, the biggest question is whether people are lonelier today than in the past. Contrary to popular belief, the report doesn’t confirm this hypothesis.
In the ‘loneliness epidemic’ narrative, it is often implied that if we compare two individuals of the same age – one today and another one a generation ago – we would find that the one today is more likely to feel lonely. This is based on the idea that there have been societal changes – such as the rise of living alone – that make newer generations more likely to feel lonely.
In their study, Louise Hawkley and co-authors searched for evidence of these ‘cohort trends’ in the US, but didn’t find any. There was very little difference in self-reported loneliness of people born in different generations. Those that were born in 1920-1947 experienced the same changes of loneliness throughout their lives as those born in 1948-1965. It’s not the case that loneliness is increasing across generations.
It seems the loneliness epidemic is overblown. It doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem, but headlines often try to sensationalize things to get more attention.
It’s important to provide support to people who suffer from loneliness, just as it is important to pay attention to the policy challenges that come from large societal changes such as the rise of living alone. However, inaccurate, over-simplified narratives are unhelpful to really understand these complex challenges.
There is an epidemic of headlines that claim we are experiencing a “loneliness epidemic”, but there is no empirical support for the fact that loneliness is increasing, let alone spreading at epidemic rates.,
One last potential caveat to this: the report was published before the COVID pandemic.
🧠 Better Thinking
I came across this article on optimism in the new generation. I thought it was worth sharing. It explores where people are more or less optimistic.
It’s striking to see that people in wealthier countries are less optimistic than people in poorer countries:
In the six richest countries in the survey, about one-third of young people said they thought today’s children would be economically better off than their parents. They were particularly pessimistic in Japan, France, Britain and Spain.
It’s also interesting to see what factors young people think are the most important in determining success:
In the West, particularly the United States, many young people surveyed said that not everyone is born at the same starting line, and that success is not entirely within their control. The American dream has often been defined as a belief that those who work hard will live a “better, richer and happier life,” regardless of the circumstances in which they’re born. But this generation appears to have doubts — which matches a recent economic finding that since 1980, Americans are no longer likelier than not to earn more than their parents.
Young Americans still said hard work was most important to success, but the second-largest share said it was family wealth and connections. Older people in the United States were 40 percent more likely than young people to say hard work was most important, and half as likely to say it was family wealth or connections.
Finally, I think that no matter the current state of things, we should always try to stay optimistic for the long term and help understand young people that they have agency over the world's problems.
Pair with: Descriptive vs. prescriptive optimism
⚡️ Startup Stuff
📸 No Filter: The Story of Instagram
I picked up No Filter last week. It’s a book telling the inside story of Instagram from the early days to recently. I don’t like Instagram the product and recently deleted the app because I think it’s a net negative in my life. However, I admire what Systrom and the team managed to do in the early days. I already shared this episode with Kevin Systrom that I loved and watched multiple times. His philosophy around hard work, discomfort, intensity, and relentless testing of new ideas is essential for an early-stage team.
Here are some interesting elements of the book:
The app/product should be a daily part of your users' lives.
People feel both good and bad about using Instagram: Good because it allows them to create a well-crafted online persona. Bad because there are always others with seemingly better profiles.
Don’t give everything up for someone else’s vision.
Zuckerberg initially approached Systrom to join Facebook, but he declined to build his own product.
Prioritize useful over fun.
The early team wanted to work on photos.
They figured out that one day, people won’t carry their big cameras with them and instead use their phones to snap pictures – once the quality of the camera was better. Based on this idea, they outlined the most significant problems users in early 2010 faced when wanting to share a photo:
Images took a lot of time to load on a 3G network.
People were embarrassed to share their low-quality photos.
It was annoying to share photos on all currently available social networks.
With these points, they came up with Scotch, an app to easily share photos on other platforms.
If they don't use it, it's because it’s not great.
It’s also interesting to see that Systrom was evolving around the greatest in tech since the beginning (Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, the most famous investors, etc.)
The Instagram team remained very small until it got acquired by Facebook. The reason is that the founders were very selective about who they let in the team: the newcomers needed to be passionate about the product and ready to work very hard.
I was more interested in the early days than in the more recent product evolutions, so these are the insights I remember from the book!
Finally, Systrom on hard work:
📚 What I Read
🇹🇷 Turkey, you were doing so well!
This is an excellent explanation of what went wrong in Turkey’s economy recently.
That set Turkey up for a classic emerging-market “sudden stop”, where foreign investors decide to yank their money and the currency takes a tumble. That’s what happened in 2018 — you can see on the graph of Turkey’s current account, above, that the country swung from deficit to surplus in 2018. And you can see on the graph of interest rates that Turkey’s central bank had to hike rates to keep the outflow from being even worse.
But now let’s ask why Erdogan was so eager to encourage foreign investment into sectors that weren’t going to boost long-term productivity and which set the country up for a crisis. The fairly obvious answer is political instability. Turkey has never been a very stable country; it’s had frequent military coups, festering internal conflicts and foreign wars, and a persistent split between secularists and those who want to bring more religion into public life (like Erdogan). In 2013 there was a huge wave of protests against Erdogan, some of which were violently quelled with dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries. In 2016 there was a failed coup against Erdogan, followed by an extensive round of purges.
Thus, Erdogan has faced persistent internal challenges to his rule. And when populist leaders face challenges to their rule, a very common response is to pump up short-term economic growth in order to shore up political support, even at the expense of long-term productivity growth (in fact, China has done quite a bit of this as well over the years). So that explains why Erdogan has been eager to engage in big construction projects and funnel foreign money into real estate.
🇵🇦 Field notes: Panamá, SEZs, & Biotech
A great article by Devon Zuegel on the search for locations for a gene therapy/stem cell clinic.
I just spent a week in Panamá City, and figured I'd share my observations in case they're useful to anyone else interested in similar questions.
The purpose of the trip was to research locations for a gene therapy/stem cell clinic that my friend is planning to start. I also explored a few of Panamá's Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as part of my ongoing research about startup cities, as well as to learn about the opportunities they offer for businesses like my friend's clinic.
The fact that this was a goal-oriented trip actually made it even more fun. I recommend this as a way to organize your travels. For me, travel is most satisfying when I have a concrete goal—in this case, "where's the best place to open a gene therapy clinic in Central America?"—because it forces you to actually learn about the place rather than take whatever path just happens to be pre-paved for tourists. You bump up against real constraints in the real world, rather than interacting with some manicured narrative of what the place is about. Best yet, you learn about what its future might be, not just the past.
🇹🇼 Taiwan Can’t Wait
An exploration of what the US could do to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Such a fate is not inevitable, but until now, the United States has made it more likely by taking a complacent approach to the defense of Taiwan. By building Battle Force 2025, the United States and its allies can deter and if necessary defeat a Chinese invasion in the near term without disrupting the United States’ long-term defense investments and without depending on magical future technologies or budgetary miracles. Armed with a sense of urgency, the United States can defend Taiwan and, in the process, defend the free world.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
Thomas Tull: From Batman Dark Knight Trilogy to AI and The Rolling Stones
I didn’t know anything about Thomas Tull, but I found the man fascinating. He managed to be involved in so many things at the highest level. I greatly enjoyed this episode.
Evolution & The Modern Dating Market | Rob Henderson
A crazy stat from the episode: the bottom 80% of men compete for the bottom 20% of women, and the top 80% of women compete for the top 20% of men 🤯
This is a fascinating conversation on everything related to modern dating and online dating apps specifically.
🍭 Brain Food
🎵 Old Music vs. New Music
Do you feel old songs are still on top of the sharts and frequently featured in your favorite music streaming app?
In this article, Ted Goia explains that all the growth in the music business comes from old songs.
The new music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.
Just consider these facts: the 200 most popular tracks now account for less than 5% of total streams. It was twice that rate just three years ago. And the mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted to older music—the current list of most downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the last century, such as Creedence Clearwater and The Police.
I saw it myself last week at a retail store, where the youngster at the cash register was singing along with Sting on “Message in a Bottle” (a hit from 1979) as it blasted on the radio. A few days earlier, I had a similar experience at a local diner, where the entire staff was under thirty but every song more than forty years old. I asked my server: “Why are you playing this old music?” She looked at me in surprise before answering: “Oh, I like these songs.”
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇰🇵 Why Sanctions Don’t Work Against North Korea
Once again, we see that international measures have unintended consequences and often lead to the opposite of the results we wish.
🐐 Every time Michael Jordan "Took It Personal"
If you watched The Last Dance, you’d remember this part when Michael Jordan took it personal.
Pair with: The (Toxic?) Champion Mindset
🔧 The Tool of the Week
📱 New Social Apps
I was exploring a few new social apps last week. Some apps I find interesting:
What are the new social apps (2020+) you’re enjoying?
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
“The secret to all of this is not to be afraid of fear.”
— Alan Watts
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