Marketers often benchmark their goods and services against the competition. For countries, the main benchmark for nearly a century has been Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States rules in GDP. While increasing GDP does correlate with some improvement in social conditions, it is purely an economic measure. As the measure of a country, a society, it’s narrow and incomplete.
In a recent retirement study by Transamerica, respondents of all ages said that they would need to save at least $1 million to feel secure in retirement. If we all did that, we’d be a society of millionaires. There’s a big disconnect here, though, because the survey also shows people are nowhere near on track to save a million bucks with the IRA and 401k plans available today. Designing better retirement accounts is a strong first step towards financial security.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a very long longitudinal study. For 75 years, the study has gathered data on two cohorts: 268 men who were sophomores at Harvard in 1938, and 456 boys who lived in low-income neighborhoods in Boston at the same time. A main focus of the study is alcohol abuse and alcoholism, but with so much data over such a long period of time, plenty of other findings await. One major finding relates to what makes people happy in the long run.
“Viral” has taken on a new, and mostly positive, connotation in the Internet era. A video, a photo, an article bursts onto the digital stage and suddenly everyone is talking about it, copying it, satirizing it, secretly wishing that they had something going viral. Remember the Ice Water Challenge or “Gangam Style“? The gossipy nature of viral ideas is one aspect of our social nature.
You might think of the social insects as builders: ants and termites, bees and wasps. Social mammals also build for the community. For instance, tunneling mammals like prairie dogs, voles and meerkats build communal networks of tubes and chambers.
In a recent presentation, research and senior TED fellow Genevieve von Petzinger showed 32 ancient graphical symbols that she found repeated in cave paintings and hieroglyphics arounds the world. This consistent set of symbols appeared 30,000 – 40,000 years ago and remained in use for thousands of years. It’s possible that this is the precursor to writing.
To continue bringing you topics of interest in the new year, I took a look back at what you read the most this year. Here are the top five posts published in 2015, as measured by your views:
The United States has one of the highest per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the world, ranked eighth by the World Bank. Certainly it has the highest score among countries with a sizable population.
Yet the U.S. comes in at 15th in the World Happiness Report. GDP is part of happiness in this report, but so are measures of social support, health, personal freedom, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.
In her TED talk, “Social Services Are Broken: How We Can Fix Them,” Hilary Cottam displayed a chart mapping 20 years of social services interventions in the life of one family (screen shot shown above). Color-coded shapes along two timelines mark each encounter in which schools, police and social services interacted with the mother, sister or son in a family. The inset timeline shows the accelerating nature of interactions with the system, while the main timeline shows the 50+ incidents that occurred in a single year.