Tuesday 18 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 18/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Machine learning

It has been a fraught quarter for technology firms, with employment figures showing that more than 166,000 jobs have already been axed from the sector globally this year – more than the total trimmed in 2022. And as thunderclouds massed over Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) last month, a wider downturn felt, to many, as inevitable as April showers. Luckily, there might be a few silver linings to report. First – and fortunately for the global economy – job-shedders from Apple to Zoom seem to be rebalancing their books, rather than restaging the bursting of the dotcom bubble. SVB’s collapse, meanwhile, has created a wobble on Wall Street, rather than a 2008-style bank run. So far.

Technology is, by its nature, a hopeful pursuit. It might yet help us to patch up the environment, ensure global security or have better conversations. But before we get too carried away praising the next tech bro to launch a moon mission, an “everything app” to (further) distract us or a chatbot to sit your children’s exams, shouldn’t we take a moment to tentatively reinsert some common sense into how we talk about these firms? Or, better yet, raise our expectations of what a business can and should aspire to be?

Remember, there’s more than one way to value a company, including by the good it does and the way that it treats its customers and staff. For all the glib, head-in-the-clouds chatter about “freedom”, “connectivity” and “disruption”, many technology firms are failing to live up to their early optimistic ideals as they cut corners and flog offices to save the bottom line (to say nothing of the data-dredging, tax-avoiding, rare-earth mineral-mining and all that running on filthy grids).

The same industry that set about improving the world and finding fresh solutions seems to be falling short of even the modest benchmark of offering a pleasant place to work. Those seeking a brighter outlook for the industry and those who work in it should start by fixing the roof while the economic weather holds. Meta’s profit was €21bn in 2022: surely enough to invest a little more in its staff and keep the Menlo Park office (pictured) in cereal?

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. For more ideas, insight and analysis, subscribe to Monocle magazine today.

Image: Getty Images

Security / Japan

Playing it safe

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, vowed to tighten security at this year’s G7 summit, which takes place in Hiroshima next month, after being targeted in an attack. On Saturday a small explosive device was thrown at the Japanese leader at a campaign event in Wakayama. A 24-year-old man has been arrested in relation to the incident. While Kishida (pictured) escaped unhurt, the attack has sent shockwaves throughout Japan, evoking painful memories of the assassination of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, last July. “The wide and persistent coverage of Abe’s demise produced a copycat terrorist,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, a foreign-policy analyst and former special adviser to Shinzo Abe, tells The Monocle Minute. “For the summit, there will be a show of force, with thousands of uniformed police officers assembled and only a few occasions for the G7 leaders to mingle with the public, as has been customary over the years.”

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Thailand

Democratic deficit

Human Rights Watch has warned that Thailand’s elections, scheduled for 14 May, are unlikely to be conducted freely or fairly. The vote will take place under a system overseen by the incumbent prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, a former army officer who came to power in 2014 after a military coup. Critics say that the same system helped him to get elected for a second term in 2019. Under the current provisions, the 500 members of the lower house of parliament are elected democratically but the 250-member senate is appointed by the junta.

A successful candidate requires a majority of the combined 750 seats (376 votes). It’s far from a done deal, however. Chan-ocha (pictured) is losing support amid economic woes and political unrest. “There’s quite a bit of excitement [about the election],” Monocle’s Bangkok correspondent, Gwen Robinson, told The Globalist on Monocle Radio. “For the first time in a while, there is a chance that opposition parties could gain a substantial foothold.”

Image: Lesha Berezovskiy

Hospitality / Kyiv

Food for thought

It’s more than a year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the grinding conflict shows no sign of abating but that hasn’t stopped residents of Kyiv from going out. In fact, a curious milestone has been passed: according to the city council, there are now more bars and restaurants in the capital than before the invasion. The unlikely surge is in part thanks to economic incentives but has also been driven by those returning to Kyiv and arrivals from other regions seeking refuge under the city’s anti-missile defences.

“Since the beginning of the war, we have faced numerous challenges but our team and clients have grown even stronger,” Pavlo Huk, co-founder of the Pure & Naive bistro and wine bar, tells The Monocle Minute. “We had to make some adjustments to our business, such as our operating hours and supply chain, but we continued to operate. For Kyiv residents, resilience is the ability to adapt to new living conditions without giving in and while maintaining hope for a peaceful future.”

Image: Alamy


Out of the labyrinth

In some respects, it’ll feel like business as usual for the almost 370,000 professionals from 188 countries expected to visit Fiera Milano Rho for Salone del Mobile over the next five days. Opening today, the world’s largest furniture fair has returned to its usual April spot in the calendar for the first time since 2019. Despite the sense of familiarity that this brings, the latest iteration of Salone will have significant differences.

“We have redesigned the entire experience,” the fair’s president, Maria Porro, tells Monocle. All of the stands, for example, will be placed on one floor and like-minded companies will be grouped together. “The journey through Salone will be easier for visitors, agents and traders,” says Porro. “It will let some new companies in, make some more visible and help others to be discovered.” It’s a rightsizing of sorts that will make navigating the fiera more straightforward – a welcome change from the maze of staircases that visitors previously had to negotiate.

Don’t miss our ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ newspaper, on select newsstands from today and packed with insights for visitors or those interested from afar. You can also tune in to Monocle Radio all this week for coverage of the fair.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Concierge

Basel, the Atacama Desert and Newport

Monocle’s Gaia Lutz treks across Chile’s Atacama Desert, Iain Ainsworth of The Aficionados tells us about his favourite stays in Europe, Christopher Lord sends us a letter from Newport, Rhode Island, and private concierge Cristina Bally joins us to talk all things hospitality. Plus: the latest travel news with Zina Bencheikh of Intrepid Travel.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: April issue, 2023

What’s in store for retail? Monocle’s Retail Survey checks out the global benchmarks in shopping, while our spring Style Directory rounds up the labels, designers and products on the radar of the sharpest dressers. Elsewhere, we go in-depth on the mystery of who blew up Nord Stream and reveal Paris’s best sandwich – and how to make it.


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