Monday. 16/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Turn on, tune in, zone out

A confession. I saw Marriage Story in the cinema last week and got a bit bored. For much of the 137-minute-long, Netflix-backed drama my friend was mesmerised while I was stifling yawns – even though Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at the height of their powers. This has sparked some soul-searching: is there something wrong with my attention span? It’s a thought that has crossed my mind many times before but on every occasion I was distracted by something shiny, so never lingered on it.

Diminishing powers of concentration in the digital age have been the subject of countless studies, which have revealed such nuggets as the fact that the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds in 2000 (which doesn’t seem very long) but is now only eight – less than a goldfish? Meanwhile, Cal Newport, a US author and computer-science professor, has argued that “focus is the new IQ”, insofar as it is the most important form of intelligence in the 21st century.

Which begs the question: how do we improve our concentration? Google suggests meditation, exercise, hydration, chewing gum and drinking tea. I think a better idea is to ditch my smartphone, or at least delete some apps. As I head to Australia for Christmas, I will not be Tiktoking, Snapchatting or Instagramming (stopping that last one might be a fib). I’ve armed myself with weighty books and downloaded shows that last 60 minutes per episode and require an investment: Succession, Pose and Watchmen. And if you see me at an outdoor cinema in Perth, falling asleep during the The Irishman – the three-and-a-half-hour epic that is my new Everest – please shake me.

Politics / UK

Leading questions

There will be much soul-searching at the headquarters of the UK Labour party this week after one of its worst-ever election defeats. While pre-election data from YouGov put Conservative leader Boris Johnson’s approval rating at minus 12, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn ranked a dismal minus 40. That, according to former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, set the scene for a vote fought not on Brexit, as many had expected, but on the popularity of the opposition leader. “This campaign was about Jeremy Corbyn as opposed to whether there should be a second referendum on Brexit,” he told The Monocle Minute. Rudd, who is currently president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, led the Australian Labor party to victory in 2007 after 11 years of conservative rule. He says that Labour’s historic defeat ought to be a reminder that, when it comes to putting a cross on a ballot paper, trust and leadership matter. It’s advice that whoever takes up the challenge of leading the Labour party in opposition ought to heed.

Conflict / Venezuela

Closed doors

The Dominican Republic has become the latest country to impose tougher travel restrictions on Venezuelans. From today it will require Venezuelans to obtain a visa before entering the Caribbean island unless they can show another from the US, UK, Canada or the countries of the Schengen area and can prove that they are only visiting for tourism. Other regional countries have also recently increased their visa requirements, including Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Although the self-declared leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, has failed to maintain the interest of international media outlets – and Norwegian-brokered mediation talks have stalled – the humanitarian turmoil continues. The refugee crisis could well overtake Syria to become the worst in modern history, with a UN-estimated 6.5 million people set to leave the country by 2020.

Transport / Chicago

Architect of change

Chicago’s Department of Transportation clicked into gear this week after Gia Biagi, who previously led the urbanism and civic-impact team at architecture practice Studio Gang, was named as its new commissioner. Although she has an impressive CV (having also worked for Chicago’s parks department), this is no run-of-the-mill appointment. Transport commissioners in the US’s biggest cities – such as New York’s Polly Trottenberg and Los Angeles’s John Ly – tend to come from policy-heavy, political or legal backgrounds. But the selection of someone with experience in the design world could be a signal of intent: although Biagi will be expected to find policy solutions to tackle congestion and transit issues, the commissioner might also prove more demanding of the urban designers delivering the corresponding infrastructure – appropriate for a city that’s famous for its architecture.

Culture / New York

Artistic licence

Stockholm’s blockbuster photography museum, Fotografiska (pictured), opened its latest outpost in a landmark Manhattan building at the weekend, even allowing patrons to enjoy a glass of wine or two as they wandered through the gallery. This treat won’t be limited to opening night – Fotografiska encourages visitors to buy drinks at the in-house bar and enjoy them while perusing the art. It’s a marked point of difference from other galleries, which don’t permit drinks in exhibition areas. Fotografiska’s relaxed approach to liquor, combined with its welcoming interiors, makes visitors feel as if they’ve dropped into the home of a friend (who also happens to have an impressive photography collection) rather than a museum. The gallery has made its name with glossy, big-name shows and seems to be adding some rock’n’roll spirit to the world of photography.

M24 / Eureka

Waterdrop

Martin Murray, founder and CEO of Austria’s Waterdrop, has created the ‘microdrink’: an effervescent, compact cube made of plant and fruit extracts that can be added to tap or filtered water. It’s a response to the large carbon footprint of the drinks industry, which ships glass and plastic worldwide.

Monocle Films / USA

Dallas street style

Texas is about big money, big cars and big characters; we meet the new generation adding some welcome cool to the cowboy chic.

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