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The real reasons we’re all obsessed with spy machines (I mean smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Real Estate Technology

Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

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Real Estate Technology

Curated newsletters help you learn literally anything you want

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) All the news you could ask for in a large quantity of topics, from independent journalists brought to you in a neat looking Newsletter Stack.

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Newsletter Stack

To say it has never been more important to stay up-to-date on world news than it is right now doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch, but the issue of where to start can be so daunting as to overwhelm people–a problem that Newsletter Stack attempts to fix, and quite handily at that.

Newsletter Stack is a curated news service that delivers “unfiltered and fresh takes” from independent journalists on a variety of topics (56, to be exact). These topics are expansive and range from things like artificial intelligence and technology to think-pieces on pop culture and wellness, and one can browse by featured collections–for example, “Adult Picture Books” or “Emerging Markets”–for a more immersive experience.

Should the urge strike, one might also find themselves browsing the reading materials of other curators, a list found immediately below the Newsletter Stack collections library. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch for anyone looking to consume information they know is interesting to like-minded (or dramatically dissonant) individuals.

Newsletter Stack even has a section of their website dedicated to news submissions if you come across a piece that fits their aesthetic. That aesthetic is actually a huge selling point for the service; while plenty of inbox news subscriptions (and even more established services like Apple News) allow you to curate topics and sources to your liking, Newsletter Stack places a heavy emphasis on independent authorship.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, one can browse a list of all current curators on the service’s website, search through their reading preferences, and see their recommendations.

Independence in an age of digital literacy metrics might be a sticking point for some folks, but Newsletter Stack makes it clear that they aren’t anti-mainstream media. In fact, it seems that the point behind this news subscription is much less holistic than other services (again, inbox subscriptions fall into this trap). At no point does Newsletter Stack make the claim that they should be one’s only source of news, and that’s incredibly important.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your knowledge using independent authors, and a clean interface, Newsletter Stack deserves a few minutes of your time.

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Real Estate Technology

Transplant, an interactive website, tells you where people are moving

[REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY] COVID-19 has been stated as the number 1 reason why people are moving; this interactive map gives you a picture of where and why people are moving.

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graph of popular states to move to

Location, location, location. That’s a lot of what it used to be about, right? Most people either liked their hometown and stayed there to work or moved away to attend college or work in another city.

Post college, many of us based our locations on work opportunities. You may have landed in one of the largest cities like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles if you were working in Media, Entertainment, or Finance. The San Francisco/Bay Area also had a ton of appeal if you wanted beautiful weather and to work in Tech. Then in the mid-2000s to now, there were certain cities that young people wanted to flock to for the work and lifestyles: Austin, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Nashville to name a few.

Since March 2020, many employees and companies have been working remotely. While working remotely (or working from home) isn’t necessarily a new concept (many people have been doing it for years since smartphones and laptops became normal work gear), we just haven’t really seen it on this scale before.

A normal “telecommuting” of the past was maybe work from home one to two days a week and be in the office for a majority of team meetings outside of travel obligations. Many companies are reporting that their productivity has not suffered due to their entire workforce working from home (because let’s be real, most are not working from coffee shops right now) and many larger tech companies have informed their employees that they will work from home for the remainder of 2020, or even indefinitely like Twitter and Square.

So, if you’re no longer required to be in a physical location, does this open up the opportunity to move to a new city?

Check out this new interactive website, Transplant.to, that collects data from folks about what cities they are moving out of, where are they moving to, and why. Some fun stats (keep in mind it requires user-generated content so will not be 100% factual because not everyone is reporting):

“Number 1 reason for moving? COVID.

Average miles that people are moving: 831 miles

Most popular city to move to (and move from): NYC

If you are moving, it’s interesting to see the data they are collecting on people’s why:

  • Want to live with family
  • Family friendly
  • Laid off
  • Growing a family
  • Rent is too expensive
  • Closer to family
  • More housing options
  • Can work remotely
  • COVID

If you’re not moving, you can also submit data around where you’re located and what your reasons for staying put are:

  • Rent is cheap
  • Happy with where you are living
  • COVID

There is no option to say maybe you aren’t moving because you are a homeowner and have no interest in trying to sell right now and/or you don’t know if your employer will call you back to the office so it may seem a little early to pull that trigger to move away.

But that brings up the next question – will companies start letting their employees know that it is OK to relocate and keep their jobs since there are no current plans to return to a physical office? Or will many relocate because they lost their job so there’s not a compelling enough reason to stay in that particular location? If that is the case, can we expect lots more data on this site to show people moving around the country?

It will also be really interesting to see what cities people land in because that means those cities had some kind of appeal (work opportunities or other?). You could predict that some of these will include the more “up and coming” and smaller cities (like those listed in AFAR’s The Best Small Cities in the United States in 2020) such as Reno, Savannah, Naples, and Santa Fe. However, according to the data, it looks like people might also be moving back to where they have family.

There are some companies that have let their employees know and it seems intuitive that some people may want to leave cities where cost of living is high and they could make a nice life in another city. This doesn’t come without some criticism, though.

Facebook, for example, has received some flak for saying they would explore cutting employee salaries to match the cost of living to the new cities they move to. From the employee side, it makes a more appealing case to take your high salary to a city with a better cost of living than stay in your apartment or home where it’s expensive and you can’t even get out and enjoy the city right now.

From the employer side, they are questioning the higher salaries that were normally matched to be competitive and within the cost of living of a city. If their employees no longer need that incentive to say, move to the Bay Area, then they could save money on their bottom line (aka overhead) for human capital.

It almost seems like a pendulum mid-swing. Many people moved to their current location due to work opportunities, but if they are no longer tied to that location, would they consider moving back to be closer to family?

We shall see which way the pendulum swings as we move in to the Fall of 2020. It could definitely look a lot different by 2021, especially after another round of leases are up. Through all the change and challenges, it seems like COVID has made a lot of people reassess what is important in their lives.

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