The home, household goods & services

Shut-in high achievers have 21st century slaves

It used to be only royalty, celebrities or the rich who could afford to pay for someone to do all their jobs. Today, it’s the young, urban professionals who are paying to have their washing done, their gluten-free food delivered or their pet dog de-wormed – all at home. There are lots of start-ups, apps really, which now deliver just about anything.

This is the on-demand economy but it goes further than that – it guarantees that busy people are not burdened by their chores. Plus they can stay at home. This is the shut-in economy where shutting others out is just as important. As one food delivery service, DoorDash, cryptically says: “NEVER LEAVE HOME AGAIN”.

One service, Alfred, is for housekeeping of all kinds. It includes opening the door to take delivery of food services. It includes putting away the laundry that’s been delivered in the drawer. Unsurprisingly, 60% of Alfred’s clients are female. Even more unsurprisingly, 75% of ‘Alfreds’ are female. So here we see an underclass of women serving a higher class of women who can afford to pay them. (This has been going on for centuries.)

One high flier says one hour saved from doing chores is one hour she can earn $US1,000. Tech companies like it like that. They are happy to encourage their workaholic employees to live app-saturated personal lives so they can concentrate on just doing the work.

As one journalist writes: “The perfect cycle of productivity and consumption is created— and all without ever having to step outside.”

The question is whether the shut-in economy will spread outside the dense urban centres where the cool people live, and where deliveries are quicker and easier than in the suburbs. It goes a lot further than just being entertained at home, say with Netflix, rather than going out to the movies.

But hopefully, all these apps have their limits and we won’t end up with a bunch of people, agoraphobes or hikikomori, who never go out.

Ref: Smart Company, 31 March 2015, ‘Is the ‘shut-in’ economy taking off in Australia’ by B Carmody.
Matter Magazine, 26 March 2015, ‘The shut-in economy’ by L Smiley.
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Search words: sharing economy, shut-in, on-demand, Swift, GrubHub, Alfred, housework, Buzzy, DoorDash, Washio, VetPronto, hikikomori, productivity, consumption, food, laundry, apps.
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Smart homes

The dream is to create a home that anticipates your every need. We’ve been talking about the smart home for years but, until recently, most internet-connected devices have been incompatible and one device could not talk to another. So what if this continues to change?

For example, sensors in your car could talk to your house and advise of your likely arrival time based on real-time traffic conditions. Lights and heating could be switched on in advance and doors opened just as you arrive. Other applications might include washing machines that send you a text when they need emptying or security systems that liaise directly with the police.

Google is active in smart homes via its acquisition of Nest Labs, makers of smart thermostats and smoke detector systems. Meanwhile Apple has Home Kit, which controls locks, lighting, heating, CCTV and air conditioning via its set-top TV box.

No doubt all this will catch on, although a real concern is privacy, especially ownership and security of data. If everything in a building is increasingly connected, then the chance of malicious software infecting individual homes or offices rises too. The ability to infect or hack millions of buildings in a city could bring urban infrastructure and key utilities to their knees. We also think the more we are surrounded by technology at work and on our person, the less we’ll want our homes to behave like high-tech control rooms.

Ref: New Scientist (UK) 5 July 2014, ‘No place like smart home’, by P. Marks.
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Search words: Smart homes
Trend tags: Connectivity

Bespoke libraries

In an age of iPads, 60-second news bulletins and e-books, the private library appears to be making a small comeback. Heywood Hill, a London bookshop, has seen business grow at 20 per cent per year and one of its fastest growing services is the selection of books for private libraries.

Commissions can include a request for 1,500 books on aviation or 4,000 books on the history of modernism. Most of the books are old but not rare, and the attraction isn’t simply aesthetic. To some extent books are works of art and, to have an emotional connection with them, you need to experience and ideally own physical copies. Some buyers of bespoke libraries may have no interest in actually reading books but simply collecting them.

Other booksellers offer services including books and shelving, and lifestyle accessories, such as library-scented candles (50 pounds each by Byredo at Harrods). There are books bought by the metre and intended to give the illusion of reading as well as libraries as an alternative to wallpaper.

The fact we are being deluged by digital information, all of which is ephemeral, perhaps makes paper books more appealing. (We really like the smell of books, whether old or new.)

Ref: Daily Telegraph (UK) 3 July 2015, ‘Try some novel thinking’ by T. Choudhry.
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Search words: Books, decoration, furnishings, reading, old
Trend tags: Digitalisation

Adults living in their childhood bedrooms

According to a comprehensive study of 28 European countries, almost 50 per cent of young adults in Europe now live with their parents. This is partly a result of unemployment, but also because work and life in general has become more unpredictable.

Each country is different, with some showing a decrease, but in general it is increasingly difficult for them to become independent. Many young people regard themselves as worse off than their parents, which has never happened in history.

The report also highlights that 49 per cent of young adults are living in households that experience some level of deprivation with 22 per cent experiencing “serious deprivation”. Given the wealth of many of these countries, it is a disgrace.

Ref: The Guardian (UK) 24 March 2014, ‘The dependent generation: half young European adults live with their parents’ by S. Malik.
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Search words: Polarisation, employment, home
Trend tags: Polarisation

A future without ‘stuff’?

Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum in London, recently wrote a small piece on the future of things. One wishes he had written more as it was fascinating.

Sudjic observes that the sleek smartphone you probably have by your side right now has not only made extinct the clunky shared house phone in the hallway and the public telephone box down the street, but caused the mass extinction of countless other objects. Many of these we thought we couldn’t live without.

If you think about it, your smartphone is a 35mm camera, a GPS tracker, a music centre, an alarm clock, a diary, a notebook, a photo album, a compass, a VHS movie camera, a radio and a television.

The smartphone is also, indirectly, accelerating the demise of the bookshop, photo-processing laboratory, newsagent and even the local doctors surgery. It’s unfair to blame all this on digital technology. After all, the dining room was under threat from television and takeaway pizza long before mobile phones.

The interesting idea here is that if digital access challenges our need to own things so how then will we express our identity? Physical possessions define who we are and who we aspire to be, partly because they are visible. But if we switch to digital products and services, how does this work? Will we be defined by what we ‘like’ or who we are linked to?

Moreover, the psychological need to own things over time, which represents our life journey, is surely more difficult to replicate with ephemeral digital products? What will future generations discover when they look into our attics?

Ref: Style (Sunday Times, UK), 24 May 2015, ‘To have and to hold’ by D. Sudjic.
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Search words: Ownership
Trend tags: Digitalisation

The quiet revolution

According to the World Health Organisation, “exposure to excessive noise is second only to air pollution as a cause of environmental ill health.” Given that half of us now live in noisy cities and suburbs, this is cause for concern.

One problem is gardens. Gardens are meant to be havens of rest and tranquillity –where people can escape the hustle and bustle of large cities. But gardens need gardening and since the 1970s, power tools have taken over from human hands.

The worst offender is the petrol-powered leaf blower that produces a frequency and quality of sound that can be highly irritating. Hedge trimmers are equally grating. Yet, a hand-operated rake or broom can often be faster and more efficient, as well as quiet.

The Noise Abatement Society (established 1959) has created an international Quiet Mark for quieter appliances and machines. Meanwhile, the development of quiet garden machinery has become the primary goal of many manufacturers.

Let's hope the quiet revolution soon extends to vehicles and other noise-producing machines. By the way, if you want a prediction about future opportunities, we’d say that clean air and quietness are worth digging into.

Ref: Financial Times (UK) 21-22 February 2015, ‘Sound investment’ by M. Wilson.
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Search words: Noise, quietness, sound, gardens, work
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