DataDownload: 2020 was a canary, not a black swan

NYC Media Lab
7 min readJan 2, 2021


DataDownload: 2020 was a canary, not a black swan A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser

Soundtrack for 2021?

1. Positive Vibrations (Bob Marley & The Wailers)
2. I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
3. (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon)
4. Feeling Good (Nina Simone)
5. A Change Would Do You Good (Sheryl Crow)

Or, listen to them all on Spotify.

Song ideas — email me and I’ll add them and share. Happy New Year everyone.


Steven Rosenbaum
Executive Director
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read How 2020 Will Shape the Next Decade, According to 8 Design Experts

Fast Company gathered design experts like Impossible Foods’ VP of Creative Giselle Guerrero, Walmart’s Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside, and Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis to think big and predict what we’ll be seeing in the decade to come. Here’s a snapshot of what eight experts envision:

  • Learning pods: “Learning pods will alternate between two experiences. The first will be nature-based curriculums whose lessons are enhanced by Indigenous knowledge, sensory technologies, and augmented reality. The second will be community schools in modified home environments.”
  • Smart hospital rooms: “We will redesign hospital rooms with enhanced ventilation systems and viral sensors that continuously detect levels of airborne pathogens. You will be able to visit your family member in a hospital during the next pandemic because you will be given a powered air-purifying respirator helmet.”
  • Rethinking aging: “The perception of what it means to be old is changing. The New Old exhibition curated by Jeremy Myerson at the Design Museum a couple of years ago addressed this, and there is growing interest in products and services with a more modern aesthetic that do not pander to a dated view of what old age looks like.”

12 min read

Read more A Look Ahead at 2021 Through the Rearview Mirror of 1921 Magazines

In a 1921 issue, the four-year-old Forbes magazine encouraged readers to “hasten the business and employment recovery after the war and the pandemic by purchasing things, investing in the country, and to adopt a more cheerful and courageous attitude,” which doesn’t sound too far off from Marc Andreessen’s It’s Time To Build. Meanwhile, Scientific American was celebrating labor in the US and W.E.B. Du Bois’ NAACP magazine The Crisis covered civil rights, history, politics, and culture at the time. Poynter explores the impact of magazines at the start of the Roaring ’20s, as reflectors of society and initiators and motivators of change and new ideas, during a time of war, pandemic, and civil unrest.

8 min read

Read More Tech+Media Reliable Sources — Media Stories to Watch in 2021 Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy’s Reliable Sources newsletter wrapped up 2020 with fourteen media world stories to watch in 2021:

  • Will all the huffing and puffing over Section 230 amount to anything?
  • How many digital media companies will be rolled up and in which combinations?
  • Will a series of retirements spark leadership changes in major newsrooms?
  • What are the next steps in the growing biz of newsletters? Which alternatives to Substack will flourish?
  • How will the Warner Bros. rollout of movies in theaters and on HBO Max impact Hollywood?
  • And more…

16 min read Read More 10 Predictions for Media & Entertainment in 2021 (Guest Column)

Reliable Sources touched on the impact of streaming on Hollywood above — Variety gives their own predictions for the media and entertainment industries: taking baby steps to re-introduce out-of-home entertainment, the return of big-ticket M&A, the continuing rise of the esports industry (the US esports audience is larger than any major sports league’s except the NFL’s), and the expansion of algorithm-driven entertainment. One of the more interesting predictions… new bundling models:

The shift from single transactions to subscription-based recurring revenue bundles accelerates. Amazon Prime showed the way, and Apple One — a new convert — adds both hardware (iPhones, Macs) and ad-free search to its services bundle. Not to be outdone by its tech-savvy brethren, Disney adds new perks (theme park passes, merchandise and, yes, even Disney cruises) to Disney Plus.”

8 min read Read More 2020 Isn’t a Black Swan — It’s a Yellow Canary

“Calling 2020 a black swan takes away from the fact that COVID-19 and the misinformation surrounding it were utterly predictable.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines a black swan event as “an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

Nieman Lab writer An Xiao Mina thinks the popular label is inaccurate. Nor does she exactly agree with policy analyst Michele Wucker’s notion that 2020 was a gray rhino event: “obvious, visible, coming right at you, with large potential impact and highly probable consequences.” She sees 2020 as our canary in a coal mine event — a bright, flashing warning of what needs to change (and what’s needed to change for years):

“COVID-19 is the yellow canary for the societal methane we’ve allowed to fester around us. It is a biological entity with sociological roots and geopolitical effects. And as it harms Black, Indigenous, and people of color and global south communities more than others, as it strikes the elderly and the infirm and the underpaid and refugees and migrants. And as the response becomes politicized, we are reaping the visible consequences of decades of neglect.”

8 min read

Read More What We’re Watching Simpsons Predictions For 2021

As Butters from South Park adamantly pointed outThe Simpsons already did it. With each Simpsons episode written months before airing, the writers had to make predictions — and some turned out to be accurate… eerily so:

5 min watch

Watch Now What We’re Listening To 2021 Predictions Special: The Future of Markets, Healthcare, and Media

Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway are joined “by a slew of Friends of Pivot to look ahead at what to expect in markets, acquisitions, automation, work culture, healthcare, and media.”

68 min listen

Listen Now Virtual Events Free Event: Unlocking Innovation — Harnessing the Power of Software Developers
Date: January 7, 2PM-2:30PM EST
In this talk, Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio and author of the soon to launch book Ask Your Developer will chat with Lean Startup author Eric Ries. Register Here.

Free Event: New_Public Festival
Date: January 12–14
Join an extraordinary, carefully crafted group of designers, urbanists, technologists, builders, artists, and civic futurists to help envision the future of digital public space. Register Here. A Deeper Look 2021 Will Still Have Masks…

The end of 2020 is all but symbolic. We’re still going to be practicing the same precautions we’ve been following for most of the past year, and the true effects of new vaccines won’t be known for months. Wired does a deep dive into why things will remain largely the same in 2021… “the Magic 8-Ball version of 2021 is: Ask again later.”

9 min read

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