Saturday, February 26, 2011

Modern China

The Modern Middle Class is the future of China. This is the generation born after the ‘80’s of the previous century. They are often referred to as White Collar Workers because this is the first generation that has benefited from the boost of higher education that Jiang Zemin announced in 1998. Chinese universities and colleges produced 830,000 graduates a year in 1998. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising. They are the catalyst for the next wave of chance that China will go through; they will enable China to move from being the factory of the world to being a place where brainpower brings forth intellectual superiority and innovation.
The upwards mobility of the Modern Middle Class was provided by their parents hard work and investments. They are enjoying unprecedented prosperity and liberty. Similarly to how it happened in the Western World, where urbanization and modernization lead to independence and freedom, this new generation of Chinese is starting to discover that they can determine the path of their own life. They are starting to live more independently of their family and parents, less reliant on stability they job-hob, they might take a gap-year, a sabbatical before building their career, go live with their friends instead of family and marry somebody they love.
It’s clear that working in the office demands a different mind- and skill-set, the TV-show GoLalaGo is providing the new generation of office-workers with clues on how to behave and dress in the office to have success. At the same time there is an awakening conscience that a work-place with more emphasis on health is better; wearing flat shoes, go home in time, wearing glasses instead of lenses and drinking various kinds of tea throughout the day to balance energies and counter the radiation from the computer.

So ironically the Chinese Modern Middle Class is turning to tradition to live a modern life. Traditional Chinese Medicine is immensely popular with this generation it has proven itself over centuries, in their eyes the Western medicine has often enough proven itself to fail. Also a number of other Chinese traditional activities such as martial arts, meditation, Han Costumes and calligraphy are gaining popularity.

When it comes to personal care and beauty this development can clearly be tracked, the modern Chinese consumer easily uses foreign brands in combination with classical Chinese skincare products. On one hand, it is for nostalgia, on the other hand, more and more young people pay attention to quality, brand and their consumption is more rational.

Western brands have done well so far in China as they are aspirational, they represent progress. But what to do when the Chinese return to their own traditional values? What can Western brands do to stay in the game? How can Western brands remain relevant in terms of promise?
Published in edited form in Philips Design New Value News March 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

repair or die?

Recently I took some time off, I needed a moment of zen to catch-up with myself after a very busy period. At the end of my leave I discovered that I had been spending my time mainly on activities that are a complete waste in current economic terms. But did I feel good? Yes, I felt completely in balance and had a strong sense of reward.
So what had I been doing that made me feel so good? Well first of all I had cleaned up the house, repaired and ironed a huge pile of clothes. I had also cleaned up in the house of my mother in law. I had cleaned up and organized my dormant studio. I had cleaned and repaired my knitting machine with the intent of using it of course but never made it that far. To repair the knitting machine I needed some special screws, it turned out a partner of my husband had a huge box of tiny machine screws that he had once reaped off the floor in a industrial multi-nationals innovation laboratory. They where going to throw them away. He had spent a lazy Sunday sorting them all by sort and size.
All this repairing is not worth it. Officially. Economically. If you would count my time (against my hourly corporate rate) it is absolutely nuts. Economically it would have been a better deal to keep working and buy new stuff. But there are some things that cannot be expressed in money, at least not yet. And that I also think we don’t understand properly yet. We only have a hunch.

Modern society is very demanding it puts a big toll on people, Just last week British scientists published a study in Annals of Internal Medicine, that shows that if you work too much, you have a higher risk of coronary diseases and of dying early. If you work more than 11 hours a day you chances of a heart attack are 67% higher. The Japanese have known for long, they even have a word for it; Karoshi.
A big crafter myself I know that knitting is a soothing activity, but last week I stumbled over this video where Knitspeak author Andrea Berman had been monitored with biofeedback devices whilst knitting, and guess what? Knitting did bring down her stress-factor (measured via electro-dermo measuring) significantly compared to the base-line.

Repairing is maybe another such activity (at least it works for me) it is much talked about for the moment, mainly for it’s semi-sustainable aspects throwing away less (expensive stuff); Platform 21; repair manifesto, or Witte de Wit; making is thinking that shows cases of absurdly time-consuming activities. 
Thonet chair repaired by Harco Rutgers, photography by Leo Veger

So let me put this plea and hypothesis forward;
We need more and better understanding of the damage we make to our body and health when we work too much, too long and too hard. In parallel we need to understand much better what it is that we can do to compensate the stress; we now know that yoga (see Mastermind aug 2010), knitting and repairing probably is good. But what else is good? Immersion in nature? Shopping? And the correlation, what is the correlation? We have now come to a point where 1/2 hour of exercise is recommeded per day, but how much knitting is recommended to balance out a day in the office?
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