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Recommended Reading 2021

Table of Contents

I enjoy reading about a variety of topics, especially on long train rides and on lazy Sunday mornings. In “Recommended Reading”, I regularly collect articles that I have read on Pocket and found inspiring. The list below covers the year 2021.

In English #

  • In Pursuit of the Perfect Bowl of Porridge (Eater): A feel-good story about the Porridge world championship.
  • How mRNA Technology Could Change the World (The Atlantic): “I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.” In principle is the billion-dollar asterisk. mRNA’s promise ranges from the expensive-yet-experimental to the glorious-yet-speculative. But the past year was a reminder that scientific progress may happen suddenly, after long periods of gestation.
  • Riders Are Abandoning Buses and Trains. That’s a Problem for Climate Change (New York Times): If commuters shun public transit for cars as their cities recover from the pandemic, that has huge implications for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, if transit systems continue to lose passenger fare revenues, they will not be able to make the investments necessary to be efficient, safe and attractive to commuters.
  • Traffic Wars: Who will win the battle for city streets? (The Guardian): But statistics have not dispelled a popular narrative that car reduction measures are unwanted policies imposed by the “metropolitan elite” on the poor. McNamara is eager to frame car reduction measures as a class war. “And let’s be honest – the working classes are losing badly,” he said. McNamara is playing on familiar stereotypes. In the 2010s, the folk figure of the hipster had three essential characteristics: a beard, a love of artisan coffee and a fixed-gear bike. The urban cyclist does not cause gentrification, but he becomes a powerful symbol of it.
  • What’s beyond the surface of our skin care obsession? (The Walrus): Skin care, the pandemic and the psychology of pimple popping.
  • The mRNA vaccine revolution is just beginning (Wired)
  • The Promise and Peril of a High-Priced Sleep Trainer (New Yorker): The mystery of infant sleep only deepens when you observe it. Babies don’t care about time, but time slowly grows in them.
  • My Dad’s Last Tour de France (Outside): Bike racing is unlike any other sport I know of. It’s an endurance sport on vehicles. A vehicle sport on open roads. A team sport with an individual winner. Life’s metaphors, its various struggles and successes, seem to play out in a more dramatic fashion in a bike race.
  • Fitbit Detects Lasting Changes After Covid-19 (New York Times): In a paper published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers studying Fitbit data reported that people who tested positive for Covid-19 displayed behavioral and physiological changes, including an elevated heart rate, that could last for weeks or months. These symptoms lasted longer in people with Covid than in those with other respiratory illnesses, the scientists found.
  • The Farmers Market is Moving Online (The Verge): Donck and Jarrard were among the farmers who took the leap. When food distribution chains collapsed and people turned to local food, the pair made the snap decision to eliminate their old-school CSA program, lean into their relationships with two tech-based distribution platforms with which they’d already worked, and transition the rest of their business to sales and distribution platform Barn2Door. Now, late-pandemic farming looks like skipping the market, staying in bed for hours longer on Saturday, and enjoying a cup of coffee together — all while quadrupling business by selling online.
  • How a Board Game About Birds Became a Surprise Blockbuster (Slate): The lack of real competition in Wingspan, its physical beauty, the grand themes it smuggles into the family rec room—they’re all enough to make you think about what a game actually is. What are the requirements for play? Does a game even require fierce competition, or scoring? Is Wingspan actually a game at all, or is it something slightly different? Is it art? If it’s an art form, it’s a collaborative one. Unlike a painting or a movie, the game, on its own, is not yet complete. “You’re sort of creating a platform for them to have this experience,” Hargrave said. “And you want to send them signals about what the game wants them to do that are consistent with the experience that you want them to have.”
  • What I Learned When I Rented My Parents’ Former Home as an Airbnb (The Atlantic): We also realized that we weren’t simply inheriting a house or a piece of land, but a way of life, a philosophy, a set of values that we all respected but didn’t fully subscribe to. No, we all decided, it wasn’t right — or perhaps the right time — for any of us. With heavy hearts, we decided to let it go.
  • Why do we work too much? (New Yorker): Our tendency to work twenty per cent too much is neither arbitrary nor sinister: it’s a side effect of the haphazard nature in which we allow our efforts to unfold. By thinking more intentionally about how work is identified, how it is prioritized, and how it is ultimately assigned, we can avoid some of the traps set by pure self-regulation.
  • America Has a Drinking Problem (New Yorker): Having combed through decades’ worth of literature, Creswell reports that in the rare experiments that have compared social and solitary alcohol use, drinking with others tends to spark joy and even euphoria, while drinking alone elicits neither—if anything, solo drinkers get more depressed as they drink.
  • I Can’t Stop Buying Fancy Popcorn (Grubstreet): In recent years, though, my relationship with popcorn changed amid what I like to call the gourmet popcorn renaissance, and I have joined the ranks of the devoutly converted. Old cult favorites have reached new levels of popularity, and new pre-popped options are cloud-like vehicles for inventive flavors from salty to sweet. The variety of delicious gourmet popcorns currently has me hooked on a few bags a week, and constantly scanning bodega aisles and websites and online forums (yes, they exist) for new and exciting combinations.
  • Fredagsmys: The unlikely symbol of Sweden’s “cosy Friday” (BBC): A 2020 nationwide survey found that tacos were still the most popular weekend meal choice in Sweden, although growing numbers of Swedes are swapping meat fillings for more climate-friendly vegetarian alternatives. Jonas Engman at Stockholm University believes fredagsmys has become an “institutionalised ritual” in Sweden, especially among its middle classes, which are growing rapidly. “So, to me, it’s very hard in the coming decade or two, to see that this is going to disappear,” he says. “Swedish people are quite keen on routines and traditions, and I think that it’s almost like a nostalgic thing that if you had tacos as a kid on a Friday night, you might want to continue with the same,” agrees Tegsveden Deveaux. “Even when you pick up your kids at school, the teachers will go ‘enjoy your fredagsmys tonight!’. You can’t really avoid it.”
  • My Time With Kurt Cobain (New Yorker)
  • The Odor of Things (Harper’s Magazine): The invigorating blue-green scent that Americans are likely to recognize as the standard for laundry detergent — think of Tide — is largely attributable to synthetic aldehydes that do not necessarily smell like anything in nature but are good at covering up the unattractive odor of cleaning products. Aldehydic fragrances were added to detergents beginning in the mid-twentieth century; before then, American “freshness” was likely to smell more plantlike, less abstract. (Tide’s original scent was rose.)
  • I’ve seen a future without cars, and it’s amazing (New York Times): In most American cities, wherever you look, you will see a landscape constructed primarily for the movement and storage of automobiles, not the enjoyment of people: endless wide boulevards and freeways for cars to move swiftly; each road lined with parking spaces for cars at rest; retail establishments ringed with spots for cars.
  • How Shopify Outfoxed Amazon to Become the Everywhere Store (Bloomberg)

In German #

  • Everdrop: Die Aufschäumer (Die Zeit): Auch im Familienunternehmen Werner & Mertz, das mit seiner Marke Frosch seit 1986 ökologische Reinigungsmittel produziert, ist man skeptisch. Eine Zusammenarbeit mit Everdrop hat das Unternehmen abgelehnt, aus Sorge, das Vertrauen seiner Kunden zu verspielen. “Das ist eine gute Story”, sagt Reinhard Schneider, der Chef. “Mit der chemischen Realität aber hat sie nur wenig zu tun.”
  • Tegut Teo: Kauf’ ich! (brand eins): Am Beispiel Teo zeigt sich jener klassische Kulturkampf, in dem sich Klienten und ihre Berater aufreiben, wenn die einen „Mut“ sagen, obwohl sie „Mittelmaß“ meinen, während die anderen glauben, ihre Arbeit würde zwar bezahlt, aber nicht wertgeschätzt. In den meisten Fällen geht man irgendwann enttäuscht-ermattet auseinander. Im besten Fall entsteht so etwas wie Teo.
  • Gezeichnet über alle Grenzen (FAZ): Ein Porträt des Kinderbuch-Autors Helme Heine und sein Leben in Neuseeland
  • Handwerk: Klempner gründen Kollektiv (Süddeutsche Zeitung): Mitten in der Corona-Pandemie hat sie 200 Unternehmen befragt, bei denen Entscheidungsgewalt, Firmeneigentum oder beides in den Händen der Mitarbeiter liegt. Kein einziges davon habe sich während der Pandemie aufgelöst, sagt Grenzdörffer. “Stattdessen sind die Leute kreativ geworden.” Sie spricht von einer “stärkeren Krisen-Resilienz demokratischer Betriebe” im Vergleich zu normalen Firmen, da sie langfristiger denken. “Maximaler Profit ist oft nicht das Ziel. Dadurch entsteht eine gewisse Unabhängigkeit von externen Wirtschaftsdynamiken.”
  • BioNTech in Marburg: Nur nichts verschütten (Die Zeit): Poetting, der Produktionsleiter Oliver Hennig und zwei weitere Kollegen saßen in einem Raum, jeder in einer Ecke mit viel Abstand, und planten die Zukunft. Die ersten Studien zur Impfstoffentwicklung liefen da schon, und sie wussten, dass das etwas werden könnte. Parallel zur Forschung galt es, die Produktion aufzubauen. Im Falle einer Zulassung wollten sie sofort liefern können. Sie wussten, sie hatten sechs Monate Zeit, weil es so lange noch bis zu einer möglichen Zulassung dauern würde. Sechs Monate für ein Herstellungsverfahren einer komplett neuen Technologie. Ohne Produktionsstätte. Ohne viele Mitarbeiter.
  • Warren Ellis: “Für die Freunde meiner Kinder bin ich nur noch der alte Kauz” (Die Zeit): Ein Interview mit dem Nick-Cave-Mitstreiter. Ellis: Für die Freunde meiner Kinder bin ich nur noch der alte Kauz, der einen 20 Jahre alten Kaugummi in der Schublade liegen hatte. Sie finden die Story einfach irre. ZEIT ONLINE: Nun, wo die Geschichte draußen ist: Wie geht es weiter mit dem Kaugummi? Ellis: Ich habe dieses Jahr einen Wildpark in Sumatra für Tiere mit besonderen Bedürfnissen eröffnet. Dort möchte ich eine riesige Steinskulptur des Kaugummis aufstellen lassen. Mir gefällt der Gedanke, dass sich Affen und Bären daran reiben können. Was den echten Kaugummi angeht: Letztes Jahr gehörte er zu den Exponaten der Ausstellung Stranger than Kindness, die Nick Cave in Kopenhagen mitkuratiert hat.
  • Wir können es besser (Medium): Es geht um moderne Verwaltung, aber eigentlich um so viel mehr. Wenn wir Regeln nur so eng wie möglich auslegen und ›Das haben wir noch nie so gemacht‹ ein Grundprinzip ist, ist es schwierig, den Status quo weiterzuentwickeln.