The home, household goods & services

Playing tags

Did you know that the average person mislays nine things each week and spends about 15 minutes a day looking for them? If this doesn’t sound like you, don’t read on. But if you are one of these people, the techheads have got an app that will help you find your keys, wallet, TV remote etc.

The answer is wireless sensor technology. A team at Ulm University, Germany, is testing a search engine, FindMyStuff, for physical objects and you can use it from anywhere. Tags, the size of stamps, can be placed on your precious items. These tags contain two types of transmitter – RFID chip and a ZigBee radio (2.4 GHz radio frequency). The furniture in your house is then fitted with RFID readers and ZigBee receivers, all connected to a WiFi router in each piece of furniture.

When your wallet manages to lodge itself under the cushion, its tag activates the RFID reader in the sofa, if it is within a 25 cm range. If not, it activates the ZigBee radio. The radio signal created goes to the WiFi router with a message saying “the wallet is in the sofa”, that appears on FindMyStuff. Just in case you don’t want the whole world to know where your wallet is, the system will carry heavy user authentication. The search engine could even be sold as a cloud service with smart furniture (I-Ikea perhaps?)

Other companies are coming up with similar ideas, using button-size Bluetooth wireless transmitters alongside a smartphone app. Bluetooth has a range of 30 metres and can be blocked by walls or other obstructions. FindMyStuff seems to address that problem. Then again, perhaps the problem has not been correctly defined – why on earth do people lose their stuff so easily?!

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 10 August 2013, Seek and ye shall find, P Marks.
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Search words: Google, FindMyStuff, wireless, sensor tags, lost, Stick-N-Find, Bluetooth, tracker button, smartphone, Ubicomp conference, ZigBee radio, RFID reader, connectivity, user authentication, 3D printing, Tile.
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Skipping generations

In America, 5.5 million (7%) children live in households headed by grandparents, more than a million more than in 2005. Most of them are white and own their own home but a higher proportion is black. Almost half of these families were lone grandparent families. In Australia in 2003, there were 22,500 Australian families where grandparents were guardians for those under 17 (ABS, 2005) and researchers have found grandparent – and multi-generation households - increasing. See KIPPERS for all.

This trend signifies a rise in so-called “skipped generation” families and provides an opportunity for developers to provide unique accommodation that caters for them. One is Pemberton Park in Kansas City, publicly subsidised apartments for over 55s or under 21s, where the ambience of a retirement home combines with a computer lab, children’s library and playground. Women head most of the 36 households and one grandmother describes it as a “support group in tricks and mortar”.

It could be argued that this was always happening informally but has become more obvious as childcare arrangements fall more heavily under the watchful eye of authorities. For example, new guardianship laws allow grandparents to register children with schools or doctors without cutting ties with missing or difficult parents. Military parents may ask for temporary guardianship while they are away.

Grandparents often struggle to understand the children’s schoolwork (particularly maths) and, trickier still, modern morals and technology. Though it is safe to say many parents struggle with these cross-generational issues too. Curiously, grandparents in the US example are getting younger, with a median age in the late 40s. In Australia and the UK, many older men and women would love to be grandparents but, because their children are delaying having children, they are denied the opportunity until they are much older, if at all.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 6 July 2013, Lexington: The silver-haired safety net.
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Search words: nuclear family, grandparents, US, black, Pemberton Park, matriarchy, retirement homes, guardianship, support group, generations, military parents, resilience.
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KIPPERS for all

While single-person households are the fastest growing demographic (See Singletons are not that green, below), and the individual takes striking precedence in our culture, there is another opposite trend: multi-generational households. In Australia, one fifth of households – 4 million people – are multi-generational. From 1981-2011, the number of these households in Sydney increased 51% to one quarter of households there, compared to population growth of 38% in that time.

Census data show that just under a third aged 18-29 are dependent students living with their parents (known as Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings: KIPPERS). The rest are non-dependants. It works the other way too – parents are choosing to live with younger family members, to reduce the loneliness of living alone, or to help out with children or chores by living close by. No doubt some of this is driven by the high cost of living alone in cities like Sydney and some by the high percentage of migrants who already have a more communal approach to family life.

A new university study, Living Together: The Rise of Multigenerational Households in Australian Cities, will investigate aging of the population, changing employment structures, and constrained housing supply as well as public policy and changing social and cultural views. Developers, architects and anyone involved in social services must take heed, as this trend is not going to go away.

Ref: The Australian (Aus), 15 April 2013, It’s all relative. N Robinson.
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Search words: multi-generation households, Sydney, population, individual, cohabitation, Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings (KIPPERS), dependence, independence, reciprocity.
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Singletons are not that green

The rise of the singleton has been well documented and the trend shows no sign of fading. There was a healthy 1 million increase in single households between the 2001 and 2011 censuses in Britain. Today, 30% of all households – 7.1 million – are made up of one person only, twice the number of traditional family homes, and prompting marketers to consider what kinds of goods and services solos might need (and how green they are). But importantly, not all singletons are the same.

Four types of singleton exist, as identified by Experian Marketing, and are more concentrated in cities like Nottingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle. The youngest category is the so-called struggling singleton, 18-25, and predominantly male. They have unskilled manual jobs or are unemployed, more likely to live in council or housing association flats, less likely to have a car, and tend to shop locally at places like Londis. Obviously this is not the most desirable group, from a marketing point of view, and the ripple effect of this group’s struggle is not explored.

The largest group, and the most attractive, are the starting out singletons, 26-30, who tend to live in new, inner city flats in London or on modern estates. They work in advertising, media or pharmaceuticals, for example, earn about 30,000 UK pounds each year, drive a VW and shop at Tesco. They are tomorrow’s high fliers and described as “eco-friendly” but “unwilling to give up their lifestyle”, which appears contradictory.

The wealthiest group are the suddenly singletons, early 40s, twice as likely to be divorced as the average Briton, but well paid, say, 70,000 pounds per year. They may use internet dating, shop at Waitrose and eat out regularly. They vote Conservative and “try to be green” but their lifestyles and working hours “make it hard”.

Finally, the senior singletons, over 70, live in places like Bournemouth and Edinburgh and shop locally and often in Marks and Spencer. More than half of them donate to charities, a third vote Conservative and many are “unconvinced that being green makes a difference”.

The article, while interesting from a marketing point of view, quietly reveals more about singleton attitudes to green issues. They appear not to walk their talk – or not talk green at all. Does this mean that families are more likely to put their green attitudes into practice? Or is simply a sign that overkill or greenwashing has engendered widespread cynicism – from young to old?

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 18-19 May 2013, Marketing adapts to singleton households. N Cohen.
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Search words: singles, households, England, Wales, marketing, lifestyle, Experian Marketing, demographics, London, high-fliers, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle.
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Why London is only for bankers

Did you know there are 2,436 bankers living in Britain, who are annually paid more than 1 million Euros? The other EU nations added together have only 739 bankers with that level of income. In Britain, there are also 114,000 non-domiciled residents with high flying incomes and new-money millionaires from developing countries, all of whom buy British property. The result? The middle classes, particularly those with small children, are forced to move further away from the city or completely out of it, just so they can afford to live.

One journalist describes it as the “hollowing out of London”. The high streets, once the preserve of Poundstretcher, pawnshops and Iceland, now teem with coffee shops, organic supermarkets and Pret a Manger. Many of the couples who lived in London in 2-bed flats are forced to leave for bigger places when their children leave primary school. Yet, she argues, it is the “middlers who provide the social glue”. City dwellers are as likely to experience the same kind of cohesion as others do in small villages, with shared activities and places to gather. This is changing.

As the middlers move out, to places like York or Norwich, the childless hipsters and the financial services professionals move in. They are too busy to be bothered with DIY, let alone social glue. Meanwhile, London property prices are predicted to rise by a further 6%, pushing out more and more people to make room for the rich, many of whom own but rarely live in their houses.

Unfortunately, when Londoners leave for rural or market towns, they are not always welcome. After all, they unwittingly help to push up property prices in those places and price the locals out. Even cities 90 minutes from the city have become desirable, though the commute time presses heavily into family time.

Part of the problem is that London is so pivotal to Britain, and there are no cities half the size, or even a third of the size, of London. Second, many non-domiciled residents do not have to pay tax on earnings from other countries, yet they still have access to Britain’s political stability, healthcare, good schools and the rule of law.

The question is how far can it go? If Sydney is anything to go by, or New York, or any of the other pricey cities, only the rich and the well-paid young will be left to claim the city’s heart. And one wonders if it will have any kind of heartbeat left.

Ref: Sunday Times (UK), 21 July 2013, It’s the middle class’s empty quarter. E Mills.
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Search words: London, super-rich, migration, Chelsea, South Kensington, bankers, millionaires, Pret A Manger, primary school, middle class, ethnicity, hipster, property prices, market towns, York, Norwich, planning, non-domicile, displacement.
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