Top Reads: November 2021

This month's issue of top reads covers milestones for impact startups, the dark side of the metaverse, and what it takes to become a time millionaire.

Top Reads: November 2021

[Did a friend forward this your way? I write about trends in tech and social impact – with a few takes here and there. If you're into it, please subscribe here.]

1. Facebook has stumbled. But let’s not forget the real good it has done across the world

The Washington Post | 5 minutes

Image: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images
“I spend a lot of time with tech companies around the globe trying to offer services to small mom-and-pop store owners, which can comprise 50 percent to nearly 90 percent of retail sales in rising markets. Almost everyone on every continent I visit is using a Facebook (now Meta) product to better their lives and businesses.”

An insightful opinion from Chris Schroeder, a brilliant investor and advocate for emerging startup communities. I was fortunate to meet him years ago, and was struck by his humility and curiosity. Despite the recent controversies, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram have supported livelihoods for many around the world.

2. Startup Fractional Roles (a Twitter thread)

I love this prediction about the rise of the portfolio entrepreneur. I've spent years working with founders, mentors and accelerators, and have seen examples firsthand.

3. Helion secures $2.2B to commercialize fusion energy

Techcrunch | 8 minutes

Image: Helion Energy
“Fusion energy has been a fiery dream for lovers of clean energy since the first controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction was accomplished some 60 years ago. The technology promises all the benefits of current-generation nuclear fission generators, at a fraction of the risk, with far less radioactivity when running, and with very little radioactive waste. There’s been one catch: So far, it has been hard to get the fusion process to generate more energy than it has been consuming to keep the reaction under control.”

This startup, backed by Sam Altman of YCombinator and OpenAI, is hoping to power data centers with affordable nuclear fusion reactors the size of a shipping container. The founders are right to focus on lowering the cost of electricity generation to commercialize.

4. Drone Startup Plans Drug Deliveries to Homes in Salt Lake City

Bloomberg | 4 minutes

Image: Zipline
"Since its founding in 2014, Zipline said it has flown over 15 million miles and made more than 215,000 deliveries, including hundreds of thousands of Covid vaccine doses, in Africa. Its drones launch from catapults and can fly up to 100 miles roundtrip — serving up to 8,000 square miles from a single hub. Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based company raised $250 million at a valuation of $2.75 billion.”

Zipline is using drones to deliver medical supplies to residents of isolated, rural, and vulnerable areas around the world. I've followed Zipline since their early pilots in Africa and wish them luck with this recent growth.

5. How Roblox Became a Playground for Virtual Fascists

Wired | 13 minutes

Illustration: Toma Vagner
"Ferguson still isn’t sure whether he participated in a fascist recruitment campaign. It was a role-play. Sure, the structure of the Senate and People of Rome normalized and even gamified fascism. And there were people like Malcolm who browbeat kids into adopting extremist beliefs. “I’ve never interacted with people who were like, ‘OK, we’re going to make more neo-­Nazis,’” he says. “But I feel like it’s inevitable. It’s indirect.”

A dark tale of bigotry and radicalization in the gaming world. The metaverse will be a Wild West, and we’re bound to see some horrible things come out of it. Like any tech, it can be wielded for good or evil.

6. Unlimited Sand and Money Still Won’t Save the Hamptons

Bloomberg | 18 minutes

Source: Zillow Group Inc, First Street Foundation, NYS Clearinghouse, and Microsoft Corp
“The current federal plan calls for bolstering communities including Montauk, Southampton, and Fire Island, where the average home values are $1.7 million, $2.8 million, and $1 million respectively. In Mastic Beach, a seaside area between Fire Island and Southampton where prices average $310,000, federal funds will be spent to acquire and destroy 14 flood-prone houses. As real estate gets more expensive, it’s usually cheaper to lift a house off its foundation than to buy it outright. “So then what you wind up doing is offering buyouts in certain less affluent neighborhoods,” says the Nature Conservancy’s Branco, who lives on Long Island’s southern coast. “Essentially the poor people are being asked to move, and the rich people are being helped to stay.”

Sea level rise is a certainty for Long Island, and its legal history and inequities put it at center stage in the inevitable coastal retreat worldwide.

7. These Batteries Can't Power a Car—but They Can Light Up a City

Wired | 8 minutes

Illustration: Allie Sullberg
“Many experts say “spent” EV batteries would be best used to store energy, where research suggests they could support power grids for up to 12 years. They could reduce the power costs for offices or homes by supplying it during peak periods, when utilities charge the most for electricity. They could provide back-up power for places that really shouldn't lose it, such as hospitals, eldercare facilities, and grocery stores, and places that don’t want to, like soccer stadiums. They could supplement renewable energy sources like solar and wind, storing energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing for moments when they’re not.”

Interesting article about EV battery re-use, the challenges and the promise of an electrified, circular economy. Energy storage will be a crucial part of a clean, resilient grid.

8. Business Schools Respond to a Flood of Interest in E.S.G.

NYT | 10 minutes

Illustration by The New York Times; Photo by Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times
“Demand for workers who understand E.S.G. will likely continue to grow, said Bethany Patten, the senior associate director of the sustainability center at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. In particular, she said, businesses will need to hire people to finance renewable energy projects and to disclose the risks they face from climate change, while investment firms will need analysts to evaluate exposure to climate change and make recommendations on sustainable investments.”

MBA programs are updating courses to meet student and employer demand. An educated workforce will help, but business policy needs to reward positive social impact practices – and reprimand bad actors.

9. Return the National Parks to the Tribes

The Atlantic | 22 minutes

“Parks, as they’ve existed for 149 years, have done a decent job of preserving the past. But it’s not clear that today’s model of care and custodianship best meets the needs of the land, Native people, or the general public. Nor is it clear that the current system will adequately ensure the parks’ future. That’s something Indians are good at: pushing ahead while bringing the past along with us. We may be able to chart a better way forward.”

Amid climate negotiations at COP26, it’s clear that society continues to overlook Indigenous peoples in its approach to healing the planet. This article highlights the ugly history of American National Parks, the case for the LandBack movement and the challenges ahead. This article is from May 2021, but remains more relevant than ever.

10. Time millionaires: meet the people pursuing the pleasure of leisure

The Guardian | 8 minutes

Illustration: Mark Long/The Guardian
“As a result, leisure has become a dirty word. Any time we scrounge away from work is to be filled with efficient blasts of high-intensity exercise, or other improving activities, such as meditation or prepping nutritionally balanced meals. Our hobbies are monetised side hustles; our homes informal hotels; our cars are repurposed for ride-sharing apps. We holiday with the solemn purpose of returning recharged, ready for ever-more punishing overwork. Doing nothing – simply savouring the miracle of our existence in this world – is a luxury afforded only to the respectably retired, or children.”

The aspiration of becoming a "time millionaire" is a worthy pursuit. In the US, we place long hours on a pedestal and worship professional growth. If you're launching a business or laddering up, you've chosen to hustle – get after it! But if your goals lie elsewhere, there’s no shame in pursuing a fulfilling life.

I hope you enjoyed these articles as much as I did. I wish everyone a happy holiday season!

Harriman State Park, NY