The pavements of London’s Bond Street are still quiet. The one-time UK center for international tourists willing to drop huge sums on luxury watches has been reliant on a much smaller native market, with shoppers more likely to search for that one special purchase than splash liberal amounts of cash around.
Despite being concentrated in a specialist niche, the luxury watch world had always been outward-facing, its brand names a language understood wherever you were in the world. But Covid-19 has changed that, perhaps for the long term.
Faced with lockdowns last year, many high-profile brands, including Audemars Piguet, Hermès, and Rolex, halted production altogether to focus on shifting existing stock. Swiss watch exports plummeted.
But a lot can change in a year. In June 2021, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the industry’s leading trade association, reported that exports were at almost CHF 2 billion ($2.15 billion), exceeding the 2019 baseline by 12.5 percent and representing an increase of 71 percent over June 2020. Richemont Group (whose brands include Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Montblanc) has seen its share price rise significantly. Swatch Group (Omega, Hamilton, Tissot, and more) saw its share price return to pre-pandemic levels. Watches of Switzerland, the UK-based retailer that has expanded into the US market and is listed on the LSE in 2019, is trading at a record high, with its price up 78 percent in the last six months.
It’s not just the usual names that are doing well. The pre-owned market, previously a pariah of the luxury watch world, is booming. One of its biggest players, Chronext, was expected to launch an IPO in October in hopes of raising $247 million but has since postponed these plans, citing unfavorable market conditions. Chronext joins European companies across a range of sectors in putting plans on ice amid volatility in worldwide equity markets, thanks to soaring energy prices and faster-than-expected inflation. Once the company does list, however, rival pre-owned watch marketplace Chrono24 is expected to follow suit.
“I’m not surprised how quickly consumers embraced pre-owned,” says Chronext CEO and cofounder Philipp Man. “Driving this growth in demand is the next generation of consumers, who have a new definition of luxury and a new approach to shopping.” Man describes this new consumer as one who wants direct access to even the most sought-after models and demands immediate availability—something that could be read as an indirect criticism of brands like Patek and Rolex, with long waiting lists, scarcity as the norm, and—amazingly—no direct ecommerce channels. Man says the future of the industry is in the hands of Generation Y and Generation Z (or Zoomer) customers, who are digitally savvy and expect brands to have an online presence as a matter of course.
In November 2019, Matt Hancock, then the United Kingdom’s health secretary, unveiled a lofty ambition: to sequence the genome of every baby in the country. It would usher in a “genomic revolution,” he said, with the future being “predictive, preventative, personalized health care.”
Hancock’s dreams are finally coming to pass. In October, the government announced that Genomics England, a government-owned company, would receive funding to run a research pilot in the UK that aims to sequence the genomes of between 100,000 and 200,000 babies. Dubbed the Newborn Genomes Programme, the plan will be embedded within the UK’s National Health Service and will specifically look for “actionable” genetic conditions—meaning those for which there are existing treatments or interventions—and which manifest in early life, such as pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
It will be at least 18 months before recruitment for participants starts, says Simon Wilde, engagement director at Genomics England. The program won’t reach Hancock’s goal of including “every” baby; during the pilot phase, parents will be recruited to join. The results will be fed back to the parents “as soon as possible,” says Wilde. “For many of the rare diseases we will be looking for, the earlier you can intervene with a treatment or therapy, the better the longer-term outcomes for the child are.”
The babies’ genomes will also be de-identified and added to the UK’s National Genomic Research Library, where the data can be mined by researchers and commercial health companies to study, with the goal of developing new treatments and diagnostics. The aims of the research pilot, according to Genomics England, are to expand the number of rare genetic diseases screened for in early life to enable research into new therapies, and to explore the potential of having a person’s genome be part of their medical record that can be used at later stages of life.
Whole genome sequencing, the mapping of the 3 billion base pairs that make up your genetic code, can return illuminating insights into your health. By comparing a genome to a reference database, scientists can identify gene variants, some of which are associated with certain diseases. As the cost of whole genome sequencing has taken a nosedive (it now costs just a few hundred bucks and can return results within the day), its promises to revolutionize health care have become all the more enticing—and ethically murky. Unraveling a bounty of genetic knowledge from millions of people requires keeping it safe from abuse. But advocates have argued that sequencing the genomes of newborns could help diagnose rare diseases earlier, improve health later in life, and further the field of genetics as a whole.
Back in 2019, Hancock’s words left a bad taste in Josephine Johnston’s mouth. “It sounded ridiculous, the way he said it,” says Johnston, director of research at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in New York, and a visiting researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “It had this other agenda, which isn’t a health-based agenda—it’s an agenda of being perceived to be technologically advanced, and therefore winning some kind of race.”
The testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen sparked the latest flare-up in a never-ending series of revelations on how companies and governments mine and commercialize our personal data. In an attempt to put consumers back in the driver’s seat, recent updates to data protection regulations such as the GDPR in the European Union and the CCPA in California have mandated transparency and control as critical pillars of privacy protection. In the words of the European Commission: “It’s your data—take control!”
Empowering consumers by giving them a say is a noble goal that certainly has a lot of appeal. Yet, in the current data ecosystem, control is far less of a right than it is a responsibility—one that most of us are not equipped to take on. Even if our brains were to magically catch up with the rapidly changing technology landscape, protecting and managing one’s personal data would still be a full-time job.
Think of it this way: Being in charge of your sailing boat is absolutely wonderful if you are drifting along the Mediterranean coast on a beautiful day. You can decide which of the many cute little towns to steer toward, and there are really no wrong choices. Now let’s imagine being in charge of the same sailing boat in the middle of a raging thunderstorm. You have no idea which direction to go in, and none of your options seem particularly promising. Having the “right” to control your own ship under these circumstances might not be very appealing, and could very easily end in disaster.
And yet, that’s exactly what we do: Current regulations drop people in the middle of a raging technology sea and bless them with the right to control their personal data. Instead of forcing the tech industry to make systemic changes that would create a safer and more amenable ecosystem, we put the burden of safeguarding personal data on consumers. Taking this step is protecting the creators of the storm more than the sailors.
For users to be able to exercise control over their personal data successfully, regulators need to first create the right environment that guarantees basic protection, in the same way the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the investment world and protects individuals from making bad decisions. Under the proper conditions, individuals can choose among a series of desirable outcomes, rather than a mix of undesirable ones. In other words, we first need to tame the sea before handing individuals more control over their boats. There are a few steps that regulators can take immediately to calm the waters.
First, we need to make it costly for companies to collect and use personal data by taxing companies for the data they collect. If they have to pay a price for every piece of data they gather, they will think twice about whether they really need it.
Regulators also need to mandate that defaults are set to sufficient levels of protection. Users’ data should be guarded unless they choose otherwise, a concept termed “privacy by design”. Nobody has time to make privacy protecting their full-time job. Safeguarding information needs to be easy. Privacy by design reduces the friction on the path to privacy, and guarantees that basic rights are automatically protected.
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Dame’s sex toys all sport a similar sleek and approachable design, and you can see that here in the Arc vibrator. Gently curved with a soft bulbous end, it’s designed to provide rumbly, diffuse stimulation to the G-spot (but with a careful partner you could use it for the p-spot as well). It might be a bit big for some people, so make sure you take a look at the dimensions and compare it to an internal toy you already have and use.
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Everyone should use lube. No matter your genitals, gender identity, sexuality, or kinks, if you’re spending time with genitals you should have lube on hand. It’ll make everything so much better. For real. Water-based lubes are your best bet for everyday use. They’re water-soluble, so they won’t stain your sheets or clothes, and they’re usually made of body-safe aloe. Great for solo or partnered use! This is one of our favorites.
One of the original suction toys, the Womanizer Premium has been around a while. The name is unfortunately very gendered, but if that doesn’t bother you it’s a solid pick for powerful suction. If the name is a sticking point, I’d recommend the Dame Aer instead.
We haven’t tried it ourselves yet, but this looks like a fun little kit for couples. It’s a boxed set of sex toys that includes a vibrator specifically designed for the penis and another vibrator designed to go around the penis but also stimulate a clitoris or neo penis. It also includes a few spicy bedroom games, a massage candle, and a cute little hair scrunchie.
This is a vibrator designed specifically for those of you who like rumbly, diffuse stimulation while lying on top of a vibrator. The Laya ii is contoured and designed for this orientation, so it won’t poke you anywhere sensitive the way a standard vibrator might if you lie on top of it. It’s also on our best-of list.
Whether you call it a harness or strap, Fun Factory’s Tomboi is a good pick for couple play. Designed like a pair of briefs, it’s comfy and holds your toy in place no matter how vigorously you’re using it. This type of strap is one of my favorites because it’s so approachable and comfortable to wear.
This little toy is fun to use all on its own or as an accompaniment to the Tomboi harness above. It fits right in the o-ring, and it’s great for anyone who isn’t looking for size. Small and approachable, great for all kinds of internal play.
Pulsators are another relatively new kind of toy. Shaped like traditional vibrators, they actually pulsate back and forth to simulate thrusting. It’s a new experience for many, but if you’re a fan, it’s hard to go back to standard internal vibrators. This one has a flared head to mimic the shape of a penis and features medium-to-high intensity levels.
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There are plenty of things in this world that might keep you up at night. There’s COVID-19, of course, but if you’re anxious like me you could probably rattle off a very long list of additional fears: getting hit by a car, cancer, being poisoned by an ill-advised gas station meal, getting caught in a wildfire, electrocuting yourself plugging your laptop in at a dodgy cafe. But what is likely not high on your list is fungi. Unfortunately, that might be changing.
In 2009, a patient in Japan developed a new fungal infection on their ear. The highly transmissible Candida auris fungus had been previously unknown to science (and resistant to the drugs available to treat it), but within a few years, cases started emerging in Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and South Africa.
Scientists assumed that the spread was due to human travel, but when they sequenced the cases, they were surprised to find that these strains weren’t closely related at all. Instead, scientists were seeing multiple, independent infections of an unknown fungal disease, emerging around the world, all at the same time. About a third of people infected with Candida auris die from the infection within 30 days, and there have now been thousands of cases in 47 countries. Some scientists think this sudden boom in global cases is a harbinger of things to come.
Humans should consider ourselves lucky that they don’t have to constantly worry about fungal infections. “If you were a tree, you’d be terrified of fungi,” says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins university who studies fungal diseases. And if you happened to be a fish, a reptile, or an amphibian, fungus would also be quite high on your list of fears, were you able to enumerate them. (Fungal infections are known to wipe out snakes, fish, corals, insects, and more.) In recent years, a fungal infection called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (chytrid) has decimated amphibian populations around the world, with some scientists estimating that chytrid is responsible for population decline in over 500 amphibian species. To put that into context, that’s around one out of every 16 amphibian species known to science.
One of the reasons fungal infections are so common in so many creatures is that fungi themselves are ubiquitous. “This is dating myself, but you know the Sting song “Every Breath You Take”? Well, every breath you take you inhale somewhere between 100 and 700,000 spores,” says Andrej Spec, a medical mycologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “They’ve made it to the space station. They are absolutely everywhere.”
Humans can and do get fungal infections (athlete’s foot, for starters, and fungal diseases are one of the leading causes of death for immunocompromised people with HIV). But people are generally unlikely to fall to a fungus for one big reason: humans are hot. (Although, if you want to be the pedant at a party, you might enjoy learning that humans are generally not, in fact, the commonly cited 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That number comes from a German study done in 1851. In fact, human body temperature seems to have been cooling recently, and the global average is between 97.5 and 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit.) Warm-blooded environments, in general, tend to be too warm for a fungus to survive. One of Casadevall’s studies estimated that 95 percent of fungal species simply cannot survive at average human internal temperature.
You can see this temperature barrier in action when you look at animals that hibernate, which requires dropping their internal temperatures to survive the winter. Bats, for example, have recently suffered huge declines due to white nose syndrome, which infects them while they’re hibernating and therefore cooler than usual.
For Casadevall, these findings support his theory about the animal world’s long history with fungi. He argues that perhaps our warm-blooded natures evolved specifically to avoid the kinds of fungal infections that can wipe out cold-blooded populations.
Few people “plan for how their own deaths will impact social media,” says Katie Gach, a digital ethnographer at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who studies how people manage, and don’t manage, post-mortem social media data. To some of her subjects, “legacies” are reserved for celebrities, so “regulars” like them need not consider a parting note. If people do think about their social media legacy, she says, “they only know who should be making those decisions after they have died,” like telling their spouse their Facebook password to delete their account. Beyond that, most see social media as the wrong medium for the message, “as a tool for communicating in the moment, not as a meaningful record.”
Beyond this, decades into the internet being a daily part of our lives, most of us still either don’t know how to or are too uncomfortable to grieve online. In a 2017 study, Gach and fellow digital death researchers Casey Fiesler and Jed Brubaker found “grief policing” to be common online, where users import social norms of grieving into social media. This leads to bitter disagreements about what’s appropriate, and often shaming individuals for not expressing enough grief, for seeking attention through public grief, or exploiting death for personal gain.
For all these reasons—along with good old-fashioned fear of death preventing any planning for our ends—the vast majority of online death announcements today either feel like or are literal copy-and-pasted versions of the rote local newspaper obituary. Because this formula—date of death, age, who the deceased is survived by, where to send money in lieu of flowers—is all data, no life, these messages often get lost in our endless newsfeeds. Person A switched jobs, person B is divorced, person C died, Pete Davidson got a tattoo of Salt Bae on his thigh.
Why should we care how our deaths look on Twitter when we’re dead? While Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse announcement earlier this fall was met with mostly jeers, eyerolls, and trepidation, it should remind us how close society is to a world where the digital space is a part of our corporeal (and not only experiential) being, where institutions like birth, love, and death have the same gravity as they do in the physical world. To prepare for this Ready, Player One existence, we should start to think now about the ways to curate this world with the tools to die in a meaningful way.
Thankfully, there are already communities that are helping to craft the art and ethics of dying gracefully in cyberspace. Megan Devine, a psychotherapist, has created Refuge in Grief, an online community that focuses on reframing grief as an illness or problem to be solved to one built around compassion and understanding. Another community, the Order of the Good Death, even uses the slogan “Welcome to the Future of Death,” as a portal to critical questions about death, like how to make it more eco-friendly and equitable. The “death positive” movement, which aims to remove the taboo around talking openly about our own deaths, has also had room to flourish online, where the disembodied forum has allowed for people to more easily move beyond the taboo. Even social media platforms themselves have started to wake up to death. After years of complaints, Facebook, which has a lot of control over how grieving unfolds, in 2019 started to allow a legacy contact to have more control over the activities of the deceased.