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To Keep Gen Z, Companies Need to Level Up

To Keep Gen Z, Companies Need to Level Up

In 2024, there will be a paradigm shift in employee-employer power and trust dynamics. It’s part of a generational redesign of work from being like a game of Tetris to becoming like a game of Roblox.

Growing up, I spent countless hours playing Tetris on my Nintendo Game Boy. There was something mesmerizing about slotting the flat-sided blocks together that fell from above. The design of the game was clean, precise, and simple. It gave the player a sense of order and control. I showed my 12-year-old son Tetris and asked if he wanted to play. “Why would I?” he quickly replied. “You can never beat the system.” And, in this sense, he’s right.

Organizations by design used to be a lot like a game of Tetris—top-down, hierarchal, with clear rules. Work had fixed boundaries around hours, physical locations, and roles. Importantly, these boundaries were mostly set by the employer, not the employee.

While I’m part of Generation Tetris (or Gen X), my son is very much a member of Generation Roblox (Gen Z). In his world, just like in the game of Roblox, there are endless possibilities of realms you can create and roles you can play. You can invent your dream job, build bridges or spaceships, take care of a farm, or live in a mansion on the waterfront. At its heart, Roblox is about self-authorship. But the feeling of control comes from being a creator, not organizing blocks. He loves Roblox because, in his words, “It’s my world and my rules.”

The world of Tetris and the world of Roblox are in many ways a powerful metaphor for a profound power and trust shift happening in the world of work. Gen Z (and Y and Alpha that will start to enter the workforce at the end of this decade) have little interest in a way of working designed like a game of Tetris. The rules, rewards, and reporting structures don’t make any sense to them. Given that, by 2025, 27 percent of the workforce in OECD countries will be Gen Z, it’s a pressing problem to fix. By 2030, the Roblox generation will be the majority, with over 58 percent of the workforce made up of Gen Z and millennials.

According to the World Economic Forum, almost two-thirds of Gen Z would prefer to work for themselves or a startup. 80 percent of Gen Z workers globally are looking to find a job that better aligns with their values. About half report they would quit their job if it interfered with their work-life balance. The solution proposed to these changing work dynamics is often flexibility. Yes, younger generations want or expect more flexibility, but focusing on where and when people work is missing a deeper paradigm shift—people’s relationship to organizations has been transformed.

In many ways, the design of Tetris reflected a “power over” way of thinking about leadership: “If I tell others what to do, they will follow.” You don’t get to invent rules and boundaries; they’re inherent in a linear, top-down system. Roblox, on the other hand, represents a “power with” dynamic. There are no corporate ladders to climb or hierarchies to navigate—unless you invent them. Engagement comes from the game design being collaborative, autonomous, personalized, and peer-driven.

According to a recent report by Gartner, employee engagement has 3.8 times as much influence on employee stress as work location. In other words, how people experience their everyday work—their feelings of involvement and enthusiasm—matters more in reducing stress than where they are doing their work. Gaming designers understand this, but most organizations don’t. In 2024, leaders will have no alternative but to accept that you can no longer play Tetris in a Roblox world.

WIRED has teamed up with Jobbio to create WIRED Hired, a dedicated career marketplace for WIRED readers. Companies who want to advertise their jobs can visit WIRED Hired to post open roles, while anyone can search and apply for thousands of career opportunities. Jobbio is not involved with this story or any editorial content.

Inequality Is a Health Risk—and It’s Getting Worse

Inequality Is a Health Risk—and It’s Getting Worse

In 2024, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the United States and the United Kingdom will grow, although postmortem reviews conclude that 80 percent of maternal deaths in high-income countries are preventable. Rates in high-income countries across Western Europe and Asia did decrease between 1990 and 2010, yet in some of these countries, like the UK, MMRs have risen over the past decade. The US MMR has been an outlier throughout, almost doubling in the first decades of the 21st century.

Reasons to support the prediction that MMRs will go up include the continuing consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, MMR increases in the US and UK predated Covid, suggesting the pandemic exacerbated deeper problems.

Neglect and systematic bias in medical care systems is one of them. In the US, critical challenges to improvement include the lack of universal health insurance and the increasingly competitive health care system: The US has hemorrhaged maternity care providers to the point that 36 percent of US counties, mostly rural, have none. In the UK, health care is theoretically available to all, yet the NHS has suffered insufficient investment in its facilities and equipment. Half of NHS Maternity Units are now judged substandard; shortages of midwives have hit crisis proportions. Obstetricians and midwives in both countries are suffering burnout and choosing to strike, practice abroad, retire, or change profession.

Racial and class inequity is entrenched. The highest MMRs and largest increases are in minoritized, working class, or deprived populations. Devastating as inadequate health care systems are for these groups, the fundamental causes of their health inequities are adverse living conditions, including the stigma and discrimination they face. Robust scientific evidence that the multiple systemic assaults with which they must contend in their daily round—material hardship, environmental toxicity, decaying municipal infrastructure, and structurally rooted psychosocial stressors—chronically activate their human physiological stress response.

Combined, the stressors and the tenacious coping they entail cumulatively damage health down to the cellular level, in effect accelerating biological aging. Such erosion, called “weathering,” leaves the marginalized, maligned, or exploited to suffer multiple infectious and chronic diseases, functional limitations, and even death, long before they are chronologically old. In populations subject to the most severe weathering, the increasing trend of having children at older ages increases the risk of adverse maternal and infant outcomes. Maternal mortality is a barometer of weathering’s contribution to excess deaths, as the physical stress of pregnancy is harder to withstand for a weathered body, while other manifestations of weathering often become life-threatening only after the reproductive ages.

In 2024, weathering will keep being fueled by racism, classism, xenophobia, political polarization, resentment, white nationalism, and austerity budgeting. Brexit, one outgrowth of this resentment, now exacerbates UK labor shortages, supply-chain bottlenecks, inflation, and a reduced gross domestic product. Neither the US nor Western Europe fully embrace their minority or immigrant populations.

In 2024, this problem will intensify as wars and climate change increase the flow of immigrants of color. Despite the facts, the official stance of the UK Equalities Minister is dismissive of systemic racism as a cause of health inequality. The 2021 Report by the UK Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities turns to an unsubstantiated victim-blaming shibboleth, inferring that inequity stems from the failure of minoritized populations to exercise agency and take advantage of apparently abundant health-promoting opportunities. In the politically polarized US, active and influential populist movements seek to whitewash American history.

In 2024, countermovements to take racist and classist history seriously will continue to run up against strong undercurrents of political scapegoating and zero-sum thinking throughout both countries, increasing the severity and reach of weathering.

Big Tech Won’t Let You Leave. Here’s a Way Out

Big Tech Won’t Let You Leave. Here’s a Way Out

The platform is the canonical form of internet business: a two-sided market that facilitates connections between end-users and business customers. Uber connects drivers with riders; Amazon and eBay connect sellers with buyers; TikTok and YouTube connect performers with audiences; social media connects people with something to say with people who want to hear it.

And yet, lax competition law has allowed companies to consolidate, cornering their markets. Consolidated sectors, meanwhile, find it easy to sing with one voice, blocking the passage of unfavorable regulation (there’s still no US national privacy law) or its enforcement (the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation shows that Ireland is even more valuable as a lawless regulation haven than it ever was as a mere tax haven).

Undisciplined by competition or regulation, platforms are free to slide into “enshittification,” in which the company extracts value from both sides of the two-sided market, relying on lock-in to keep users and business customers from defecting to a rival. The year 2023 was when the platforms soured: Twitch, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, and Discord all spiraled into terminal enshittification, transferring value from users to shareholders, leaving behind shambling half-dead things that were disagreeable, but un-quittable.

The secret to that un-quittability is high “switching costs”—the economists’ term for the things you have to give up to leave a service. You hate Facebook, but you love connecting with your communities, friends, and customers. They’re holding you hostage on Facebook’s behalf—and you’re holding them hostage, too. Facebook literally banks on these high switching costs: The US Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case against Facebook revealed internal memos in which a product manager explicitly sets out to design features that “make switching costs very high for users” in order to make it “very tough for a user to switch” to a rival service.

Regulators are increasingly alive to the fact that Big Tech deliberately designs its products to impose high costs on users who have the temerity to prefer their competitors. If a company fails to offer official means for users to take their data with them, or to continue to communicate with the contacts they leave behind when they change platforms, those users have little recourse. The once-common practice of reverse-engineering a rival platform to make an unofficial, interoperable bridge—say, a tool that scrapes your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other messages for a common inbox on a new, privacy-respecting service—have been effectively outlawed by anti-circumvention laws, patents, copyrights, and exotic contract theories like “tortious interference.”

Despite these barriers to exit that keep users tethered to bad platforms, most of the regulatory response to Big Tech has been aimed at making it better, rather than making it easier to leave. We keep making rules obliging Big Tech to police disinformation, harassment, and a host of other evils, but with the passage of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), we’re finally focusing on making Big Tech less important to its users, and thus less sticky.

The DMA lets the commission draft per-service rules to facilitate “interoperability”—connectivity—with new services. This isn’t mere data portability, or downloading a blob containing all the messages you’ve sent and the photos you uploaded. It’s the ability to leave a service, set up elsewhere, and resume the conversations and transactions you left behind. For example, under the DMA, it should be possible to leave Facebook and set up on a community-run Mastodon server, and continue to participate in group discussions and exchange individual messages with the people who aren’t ready to leave (yet).

In the UK, the long-overdue Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill finally gives enforcement powers to the Digital Markets Unit at the Competition and Markets Authority, which has dozens of smart engineers and policy people on HMG’s payroll, all champing at the bit to turn their detailed market studies into policy. If the bill passes, they’ll have broad latitude to fashion remedies for each dominant service, including interoperability mandates obliging walled gardens to install gateways for new market entrants, making it easy for users to leave without isolating themselves from important social relationships.

In the US, multiple interoperability bills with broad bipartisan support have made it out of committee, only to be denied a vote after intense lobbying by the tech sector. But if the UK and EU impose interoperability on tech firms, it won’t matter whether America’s captured legislature can’t manage to add its own—users all over the world will get the benefits of interop and its incineration of switching costs.

These remedies will start to come online in 2024. I believe we will see one or more of the Big Tech platforms facing a legal requirement to facilitate their users’ departure: “Mr. Zuckerberg, tear down that wall(ed garden).”

Global Emissions Could Peak Sooner Than You Think

Global Emissions Could Peak Sooner Than You Think

Every November, the Global Carbon Project publishes the year’s global CO2 emissions. It’s never good news. At a time when the world needs to be reducing emissions, the numbers continue to climb. However, while emissions have been moving in the wrong direction, many of the underpinning economic forces that drive them have been going the right way. This could well be the year when these various forces push hard enough to finally tip the balance.

In 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said it expected global energy emissions to hit their peak by 2025. This estimate marked a big change from the year before, sparked by accelerated investments in low-carbon technologies following the war in Ukraine. Rystad Energy—another research and analysis group—also expects a peak by 2025. Ember Climate—the leading source on global electricity data—estimates that emissions from global electricity already peaked in 2022. Analysts might disagree on the exact date, but it’s clear that a peak in emissions is now well within our grasp.

The world is already steadily decarbonizing its electricity. Solar and wind are growing quickly, and in 2024 these two sources of renewable energy could outstrip the increase in electricity demand. If this happens, coal- and gas-burning will go down, and so will emissions.

Unsurprisingly, when we actually reach peak emissions will depend a lot on the world’s largest emitter, China. In 2023 its emissions were still rising. This is partly due to its continued recovery from Covid-19. An ongoing drought also means its hydropower output has dropped. These factors highlight, again, how difficult these things are to predict: One unexpected event can always flip a peak into another record-breaking year.

China’s peak, however, is going to come soon, because of record-high deployments of solar and wind, and an increase in nuclear power. Soon, the country will be adding enough sustainable energy to cover its growing electricity demand. China’s solar and wind output is already enough to cover the total electricity use of some of the world’s largest economies like Canada, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and even the world’s most populous country, India. In 2023 alone it could add enough to cover the UK’s entire electricity use.

Another reason why the peak in global emissions might arrive in 2024 is the electric car revolution. Global sales of petrol and diesel cars peaked half a decade ago, and the IEA estimated that almost one in five cars sold globally in 2023 were electric. Previously, the agency hadn’t expected this milestone to be reached until 2030. (In 2020, this figure was just 4 percent.) This move to EVs will start to eat into global oil demand, until its peak arrives too. According to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this could be as early as 2027.

Of course, peaking emissions is just the start. The world needs to then reduce emissions, and quickly. But the downslope will be easier than the turning point, as the energy transition will no longer be in its infancy. 2024 will hopefully mark the beginning of a mature low-carbon global economy.

A Key to Detecting Brain Disease Earlier Than Ever

A Key to Detecting Brain Disease Earlier Than Ever

Earlier this year, Parkinson’s disease (PD) research entered a new era when the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced a momentous scientific breakthrough—the discovery of a biomarker for PD. It meant that, for the first time ever, we can now pinpoint the earliest known signs of the disease in Parkinson’s patients.

This long-awaited new procedure is called the “alpha-synuclein seeding amplification assay” (SAA), and it’s capable of detecting the misfolded alpha-synuclein in spinal fluid—the wayward protein clearly linked to Parkinson’s. It separates, with a stunning 90 percent specificity, those who have evidence of PD pathology in their cells from those who do not. It does so even before the emergence of symptoms, much like the way high blood pressure or cholesterol levels are used to detect cardiovascular risk long before a heart attack lands someone in the ER.

It would be hard to overstate the implications of this development for people living with dysfunction in their alpha-synuclein. For one thing, we’ve never had a way to know who these people are—that is, until the moment of diagnosis, by which point ongoing damage to brain cells is already well underway. As for the diagnosis itself, which for most people comes as a bolt from the blue, it has always been frustratingly subjective and essentially based on a physician’s opinion following a brief once-over in the doctor’s office—not very useful for medical care provision, let alone biomedical drug development.

The new SAA test is already being integrated into drug trials as the first measure that can objectively identify people with the biology we’re targeting—offering drugmakers increased assurance that they are testing experimental treatments in the right populations. For biopharma firms weighing a decision to enter or stay in the high-risk neurological disease space, this changes the value proposition of investment on its face. In 2024, we will see a ramp-up of potential new drugs entering the pipeline and progressing along their path toward pharmacy shelves.

What’s just as remarkable is how the SAA breakthrough was arrived at. The search for the biomarker required finding and studying “needles in a haystack”: people without any traditional symptoms of PD and unwittingly living with increased risk for the disease. It was critical to figure out what biology set them apart from those who don’t get Parkinson’s. But how do you find someone who doesn’t know they’re being looked for?

As it turns out, your sense of smell is a surprisingly good predictor of brain disease. (We’re talking here not about the short-term smell loss associated with Covid-19, but significant and enduring smell loss that persists over years.) For a while now, researchers have known about the link between smell loss and neurodegeneration, especially in the presence of certain other risk factors, such as a diagnosis with REM behavior disorder (RBD), a sleep disorder. Research shows that half of those over age 60 are living with some degree of smell loss, yet the majority don’t realize it until they’re tested. If you couple this with the fact that all major brain diseases—Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, Huntington’s—are associated with some amount of smell loss, this is astounding.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s large-scale observational study of Parkinson’s set out to use poor smell as one of its criteria for finding and enrolling at-risk individuals. (We should note that, for this risk group, it’s still unclear if or when the disease may eventually show up.) The highly sophisticated screening device used? A humble scratch-and-sniff test, albeit the scientifically validated variety.

Until the SAA biomarker was validated, a reduced sense of smell couldn’t be objectively linked to the presence of underlying Parkinson’s disease biology. But now we can report that the test accurately diagnosed disease in 99 percent of people with poor smell and so-called sporadic Parkinson’s (in other words, those with no genetic mutation).

In 2024, we will begin to see a sea change in the possibilities around screening for and predicting PD and, very possibly, other diseases of aging. An annual scratch-and-sniff test may soon become as commonplace as your mammogram or colonoscopy. In 2024, with widespread adoption, this simple, cheap, and accessible mechanism will radically alter the landscape of what’s possible in Parkinson’s research and care.