Holiday Reading



Why do we go on holiday? Logically holidays make no sense. Why leave the comfort, convenience, connectivity of home to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to do what often amounts to very little? The answer is because holidays make us happy. You might say they make us human too.

The impulse to travel links to human inquisitiveness, but also to the need to take a break and discover one’s true self. As Terry Pratchett wrote in A Hat Full of Sky: ‘Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours…. coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.’ This is travel as discovery more than escape, although I suspect that for most people the need to rest and reconnect with themselves is paramount.

The continued popularity of holidaying is a sure sign that in an era defined by upheaval, some things remain remarkably consistent. One might imagine that in times of economic austerity, geo-political turbulence, climate concerns and technological change, the opposite might be the case — that we would all be holidaying at home, in virtual worlds or nowhere at all — but for a great many people this is simply not the case. Despite SARS, Asian Flu, 9/11, oil price shocks, climate change and the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Finland, which grounded large parts of the European airline industry, the travel industry has remained remarkably resilient — bouncing back quickly after short-term shocks.

A key reason for this is most probably work. In 2011, nearly 50 per cent of UK adults reported relatively low satisfaction with their work-life balance. A fundamental driver of most holidays is therefore the desire to unwind and escape from work or to get away from ‘life’ for a while. The middle classes probably have the strongest reason to take time off, because they work the longest hours. Full-time managers and senior officials in the UK are paid, on average, for 38.5 hours a week, but actually work for 46.2 hours. (ONS). Hence a need to stop, switch off and get away, even if all we do is drive 500 miles and spend two weeks tethered to work via a digital device.

If the future is fast, volatile, uncertain and full of work, then the desire to get away and digitally detox will presumably grow. The same will broadly be true if families become more atomized via the use of mobile devices, relationships become more virtual and people don’t see their loved ones as often as they’d like. We will all want to invent ways to physically reconnect and bring family and friends back together.

Read Destinations 2030, The Future of Travels & Holidays here.

(Photo: Richard Watson, all rights reserved).

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The Glass Cage and the Future of Automation

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Just written a review of the Glass Cage for Quadraphine magazine. Essentially I’m arguing that when it comes to the future it is the web of largely invisible processes built around our day to day lives , not rogue robots, that should cause us the most concern.

Article here. (less than 5 minutes reading).

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Naked Writing

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I received an email from friend (a company in Australia) the other day saying that a more natural tone/voice was finding its way into corporate communications. It don’t know if that’s true, but judging by the response I’m getting from my introductions to brainmail it could be. Frankly I’m a little bored with organisational spin and individual puff. I don’t know whether it’s a stream of consciousness thing or existential angst, but I’m increasingly letting it all hang out in plain sight.

Dear readers,

Stuck for something to read over the holidays? Why not start with some mind-expanding material in the form of brainmail issue number 95?

My own holiday plans have changed a bit. Arizona is postponed and we’re now off to look at the ruins of the Euro in Greece.

So what’s in issue 95? Loads of suspect statistics, most of which have probably been made up by some bloke in a pub. Also some inventions that may or may not stand the test of time. My personal favourites this month include burial plots for plus-sized people that should have eaten far fewer donuts and the live streaming of funerals (not related as far as I can tell). There’s also a statistic about walking speeds around the world (we’re generally walking faster, apparently, although why everyone is rushing is still very unclear to me).

BTW, it’s hard to believe, but brainmail is now on Facebook. Personally I can’t stand the thing, but the animals kept giving me a certain look. Apparently there’s significant pressure in the feline and canine worlds to emulate Katy Perry, although the fact that they’ve only got two followers has created a rather depressing atmosphere. All they do is mope around the house looking at screens all day wondering why they’re not famous yet (or maybe that’s my kids?).

Aaaaaanyway, your overdue issue links are right here…

Desktop/big screen version

Smart mobile/small screen version

Live long and prosper,

Best wishes


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The Chinese are coming

Chinese cambs

Actually they’ve been here for a while……

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Nice quote about ‘the future’

“When we talk about the future, we often aren’t talking about the future at all, but the problems of today”

Tim Harford

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Time to Think – Properly



I’ve got maps coming out of my ears! Doing 101 Global risks, a new 2015+ Trends & Technology Timeline, the Future of London and now the Future of the NHS (National Health Service). This last one is a treat because the deadline is 2018 and I’ve got access to 100+ consultants from across the NHS. Bliss.

Posted in Data visualisation, Healthcare & Well-being, Maps, Timelines | 1 Comment

Quote of the Week

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
- George Bernard Shaw

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Global Risks (China)

Richard watson risk map (draft)


Interesting news yesterday. The focus was very much on Greece, as you might expect, although what was happening in China was possibly a far bigger story and one that links to something I’ve got on my new risk map (early draft above).

If you missed it (which if you live in Europe you may well have) $3.2 trillion has been wiped off the value of the Chinese stock market in just three weeks. This may be linked to concerns about Greece, but there’s a far bigger story here in my view and one that I’ve been talking about for the past five years.

China currently has an export-orientated model. That’s fine, but it makes China hugely vulnerable to external economic shocks (such as Europe), especially when you have an imbalance of young men in the population.

It’s a bit like in that film speed, where there’s a bomb on a bus that will detonate if the bus travels at less than 50 miles per hour. China needs a certain growth rate (people used to say 8% but the figure is probably far lower than this) to keep its people happy.

If people in China (especially young men) have got jobs, homes and the prospect of buying things like cars then everyone is happy. But of Europe falls over economically this could send shock waves across China. In short the unspoken deal done by the government whereby people can get as rich as they like if they don’t criticise the ruling party blows up. People (especially young men) could be thrown out of work and potentially their homes. Hey Presto, Tiananmen Square the sequel, but this time with an overlay of social media.

Maybe that’s why the Chinese internal security budget exceeds its external defence budget. That’s what worries China!


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Weak signals (Digital v Human)

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A few things I’ve noticed recently. First my own behaviour. I never listen to voicemails nowadays – it takes too long. Second, have you noticed how few websites are now giving you the option to print an article? (see above). For me this doesn’t matter with small bits of information, but if you are trying to digest/understand something of significant length/complexity I think it does.

The other thing I saw yesterday, which is either a weak signal or a blip, is that digital solutionism seems to be suffering a few defeats. Facebook has said that it is returning to “the qualitative” – which I think means people, while both Apple and Google have started to use people to assemble playlists.

Is this a tentative embrace of human judgment, empathy and intuition or just a bit of PR manipulation?

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Could the Colonels return?

Here’s a thought. What odds do you think you might get on there being a military coup in Greece within the next 12-months?

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