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The forest of unread books: A future library in Norway
It was sweeping needles, leaves and soil lumps, drawing a pattern on the sandy pathway. The whiteness of the cloth contrasted with her black attire and the dark thick forest. As the path went up and down, the crowd following the woman at a distance would lose sight of her, only to see her again in a short while, like a white signpost.
Once the procession reached the clearing surrounded by old trees, the woman in black kneeled down in the centre. She began to wrap something with the cloth, already quite tatty after the walk. Her face was tense and her hands were shaking as she tried to tie up the bundle with a string. Eventually, she brought her emotions under control, tightened the knot, and held the bundle to her breast. The onlookers formed a circle around her, maintaining, however, a respectful distance. They didn't want to disturb this intimate moment: a moment of farewell.
The people who gathered there to view the ceremony sat on the moss and May-dewed grass. They walked carefully, making sure not to trample on dozen-centimetre-tall spruce trees with red ribbons tied around their tops. One could already see this year's bright green growths on the saplings.
The woman in black was the 49-year-old South Korean writer Han Kang, who won the Man Booker International Prize 2016. The thing she wrapped with the white cloth was a manuscript. When the spruce saplings with red ribbons grow, they will become her book. It will happen, however, in the year 2114. Until then, for nearly 100 years, Kang's manuscript, in a tatty cloth, will have remained hidden from public view. Neither the writer nor her 18-year-old son will live to see its publication. The onlookers who gathered that day in the Nordmarka forest in the hills outside of Oslo won't bear witness to it either. 'Future Library' is being created for the generations to come, in the hope that in 100 years' time humanity will still exist and want to read books.
Future Library is a project conceived by Scottish conceptual artist Katie Paterson. Each year, on the clearing where future books are growing, a writer selected by the Future Library Trust hands over their manuscript. Its content, form, volume and other details – except the title – will remain secret for 100 years. The first contributor who arrived in Oslo in 2014 was Margaret Atwood, renowned for her dystopian representations of the future. She was followed by British novelist David Mitchell, Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, Turkish author Elif Shafak and, in 2019, Han Kang. The next contributor is Karl Ove Knausgård, who will hand over his manuscript on the forest clearing in May 2020. From among all the writers, he will have the shortest distance to cover to get there: he is a Norwegian, born in Oslo and still living there. There is space for 94 more authors.
59°59'10.0 N 10°41'48.6 E
Take Line no. 1 (T-bane) in downtown Oslo. While still within the city limits, the train goes above ground and up the hills overlooking both the fjord and the capital. At the end of the line, Frognerseteren station, follow the signs to the restaurant. Once there, follow the forest road lined with streetlights – in winter-time they light up the cross-country skiing route. After a slightly more than kilometre-and-a-half-long walk, enter a much narrower and steeper path. It is the start of the trail that climbs up to Frønsvollen hill. After 100 metres, you will see a sign in both English and Norwegian: 'Future Library Forest' / 'Framtidsbibliotekskogen.' You are here.
of unread books
growing over 100 years
Katie Paterson didn't expect her idea to turn into something more than three lines of text in the haiku-like form: that is how she tends to note down her project-related thoughts. Future Library has become, however, a large-scale undertaking; or, perhaps, it is still becoming one since there seems to be no form that could contain the project that unfolds over 100 years.
"I began by drawing rings," she tells me. "I would draw tree's growth rings, imagining each to be a subsequent book chapter. I was pondering the relations between the tree and the book, the forest and the library – their interfusion. As I immersed myself in thoughts, I would doodle more rings on the sheets of paper."
Paterson is 38 years old. Her art often engages with the cosmos and brings to mind scientific research projects, like her map of the sky with 27,000 dead stars or clocks that tell the time on different planets. Some of her artworks – for instance the bulb that emits the light of a full moon, or the spinning wheel that contains all the colours of the universe – were created in collaboration with scientists and engineers. She even invited the European Space Agency (ESA) to one of her projects. They helped her return to space a Campo del Cielo meteorite, which had travelled through our solar system for 4.5 billion years before it fell to Earth. Recently, NASA has expressed their wish to collaborate with her. One might look at Paterson through the prism of the places where she has exhibited: Tate Britain, Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, or Turner Contemporary. This doesn't make much sense, however, since what is equally important are her open-air projects, located far from famous galleries. One fine example is "Hollow" – an installation in the grounds of University of Bristol, which is composed of 10,000 wood pieces, each from different tree species from all parts of the world. Another project invites people to go to the beach and make sand replicas of the most famous mountains. Participants are provided with special Kilimanjaro- or Stromboli-shaped molds, and when the high tide washes their replicas away, they might ponder time and transience, which also come to mind in the context of Future Library.
"Immediately after receiving the invitation to become a writer for Future Library, I imagined the world one hundred years from now. The world a long time after I myself have died, when my child, however long they manage to hold on to life, will likely no longer exist, and neither will any of the ones I love, any of the human beings who are living and breathing together with me on the Earth in this moment. It was a frighteningly lonely image to conjure. But, cutting across that desolateness, I kept on imagining. Imagining the world one hundred years from now which, since even in this moment time is owing without fail, will arrive as an inevitable reality. The trees of the forests around Oslo, that will grow thick and dense in those hundred years. The leaves and branches of spring, the afternoon sunlight that will shine down on them. The evenings and cold, still nights that will come without fail," said Han Kang quietly, standing in the centre of the clearing, surrounded by the spruce trees that will become books, and one of them – her book.
To understand how much can change over the coming century, imagine that in May 1914 – 100 years before the first manuscript was handed over to Future Library – the Great War hadn't broken out yet. It turned out to be the First World War, as 25 years later humankind decided to prove that it is capable of even more horrendous acts. Soon, such terms as the Holocaust, D-Day, or Little Boy came into use. People didn't even dream of the internet or mobile phones, not to mention mobile phones with internet access. It wasn't until 1926 that Henry Ford started to close his factories over Saturdays and Sundays, thus introducing the idea of the 'weekend'. In most European countries, women were granted suffrage after 1918. In the US, the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote in 1920. It wasn't until 1964 that the US abolished racial segregation. 100 years is a very long time.
"Sometimes I imagine the world in the year 2114. I guess that the most optimistic scenario is the one in which no radical changes take place; the one in which everything stays almost exactly the same, with minor differences only," says Paterson.
The curators decided to equip Future Library with a printing press and instruction manual in case 100 years from now humans lose their ability to produce paper books (provided, of course, that humankind survives). On the eve of Han Kang's manuscript handover, an informal dinner for Future Library's friends was held in a theatre in Oslo. At this small event, attended by slightly over 40 international guests, Anne Beate Høvind, the project technical director, entered the stage and discussed some unexpected practical problems. As she explained, the presses intended for industrial printing are not supposed to be turned off. "Once switched on, the machine operates continuously. When switched off, especially for a long time, it starts to rust," she clarified and added, smiling: "The printing problem hasn't been solved then. Well, I'm going to worry about it later, in about 10 years…"
Overpowered by emotions, Han Kang didn't come to dinner. On the following day, she admitted to having a moment of doubt as to whether to condemn her book, the writing of which took such an immense effort, to a 95-year-long oblivion. Kang has a delicate voice. When she speaks, it is as if she was whispering. She seems fragile and shy, yet in her works she deals with the thorniest issues.
Kang's most recent work, published in English under the title White Book, is an attempt to confront her own history. The narrator is her older sister, whom she never got to know since she died only two hours after birth. Their parents said that if she had survived, they wouldn't have decided to have more children. When Kang's mother was pregnant with her, she seriously considered having an abortion. The idea for the book, in which each chapter is a description of something white, was conceived far from Kang's hometown, but close to the editorial office of "Przekrój". She was working on it during a four-month residency at the University of Warsaw's Faculty of Oriental Studies. Although she felt lonely and isolated, since she didn't know the local language, she took to Warsaw at first (and liked it "till November", as she emphasized). She enjoyed strolling around the Łazienki Park, but the ubiquitous remnants of World War II kept haunting her. She was thinking about destruction and reconstruction, and realized that her sister's spirit was part of her. And since for her the colour white represents both life and death, she decided to hold a roll of white cloth during the manuscript handover ceremony in the Nordmarka forest.
"On the one hand, it felt like a wedding ceremony, with the cloth as a veil. It was a wedding of the book and the forest. On the other hand, it seemed like a ceremony celebrating the birth of a child, in this case a new book. At the same time, I had a strong impression that it was a funeral, with the cloth as a mourning dress: the funeral of my book," observed Kang.
At the ceremony, Kang, almost whispering, shared her dimly optimistic vision of the future: "And the moment I eventually write the first sentence; I have to believe in the world one hundred years from now. In the uncertain possibility that there will still be human beings who have survived, and who will read what I write. I have to hope that human history will not yet have vanished as a phantom, that this planet will not have become a huge ruin or grave of humans. It is a hope whose foundation is shaky, like the assumption that the people who run this project, and the writers of the present and future, who will die and be born in the course of the next hundred years, will continue this work as though carrying embers forward. Yet I have to believe, even in the tenuous possibility that a paper book's fate will be to survive long enough to reach the world one hundred years from now."
The story of Future Library is not only a story about faith and hope, but also fear. If predictions prove correct, in 2114 those humans who have survived will be too busy fighting for water or habitable land to think about an art project that dates back 100 years. According to the Australian think tank National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough), so many regions will become inhabitable around 2050 that great masses of people will have to move, nations will dissolve, and the world order as we know it today will collapse. Over a billion people will be forced to migrate and two billion will have limited access to water.
The coming of the Anthropocene, the epoch in which human actions exert an impact on natural processes, has been discussed for almost 100 years. Although the term itself hasn't been officially recognized yet, the Anthropocene doesn't seem to care much. One million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction, glaciers are melting, and the temperature is rising regardless of the fact that the term hasn't been accepted.
Half a century ago we landed on the moon. We boasted about being able to see from there a man-made artefact: the Great Wall of China. It turned out not to be true: the Great Wall is too narrow to be seen from the Moon with a naked eye. We can see from space, however, Dubai's artificial palm-shaped archipelago for the rich, Almeria's greenhouses with roofs made of white plastic (which cover an area half the size of Warsaw), open-pit mines, the cutting-down of the Amazon Rainforest, the illuminated India–Pakistan border, and the earliest evidence of the Anthropocene: the Pyramids of Giza. It isn't necessary to fly into space, however, to see what is happening on the Earth. 18 of the 19 hottest summers – those with the highest average temperatures – have been reported since 2001, with 2016 as the warmest year on record. This data is provided by NASA, but the numbers given by Climatic Research Unit and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are almost the same. In their October 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) alerted us that there are 12 years left to prevent the catastrophe. 12 wasted months later there are 11 years left, and the clock is ticking…
Paterson claims, however, that Future Library makes her optimistic: "It is the forest that has such an effect on me. Whenever I'm there, I'm reminded of how old it is. Primeval forests are beyond time – when humans enter them, it is as if they travelled into the distant past. Hopefully, the forest we planted will be like that as well: the saplings on the clearing will grow as tall as the trees surrounding them. My optimism is tempered, of course, when I see what happens to our planet. I know that a lot of my projects immediately bring to mind climate change. This is also true for Future Library. I'm perfectly aware that the Earth is in horrific crisis, but it is not the struggle against the crisis that should define my art. My goal is to stir people's imagination. I'm interested in the entanglements and interfusions. The forest is turned into paper, the paper into a book, the book into a library, which, in turn, connects future readers with the authors who lived in the past. Future Library is mostly a project about time. It has to do with the environment and ecology as well, of course, but I'm not vain enough to claim that I can change the world through art."
Nevertheless, she does change something. While you're reading this text, the manuscripts are held in a safe in Oslo Public Library, Deichmanske Bibliotek. Han Kang's new work lies next to the oldest book in the collection: a handwritten manuscript of the Vulgate bible of Aslak Bolt, written in 1250. Next year, the library will relocate to a new facility situated next to the famous Oslo Opera House in the Bjørvika neighbourhood, which has been undergoing urban redevelopment, or rather, has been built from scratch. Bjørvika – until recently an industrial port area – in now a modern neighbourhood, characterized by steel and glass design. The final touches are now being put on office and apartment buildings. The Opera House, the new Munch Museum and the new library are meant to be the flagships of this revamped neighbourhood, situated by the fjord.
On the top floor of the new library, which will be fully operational by spring 2020, there will be a room made from wood. In this specially-designed room there will be 100 removable drawers, where manuscripts will be kept. Those which already hold manuscripts will be delicately illuminated. Each author will be able to choose their drawer. Han Kang was the first to chose. Other writers who have already handed over their manuscripts will come back to Oslo and have their pick.
As Paterson explains: "The room is made from the trees cut down in the Nordmarka forest to plant new trees for Future Library. Manuscripts will be safe there. As for the forest itself… well, there is not much we can do. Ideally, we should leave it alone."
It is not a coincidence that this project was developed in Oslo. It is, in fact, a municipal project: the only person who could officially accept Han Kang's manuscript is the mayor of the capital of Norway—Marianne Borgen. Only in Scandinavia can a high-ranking official show up on the forest clearing, get there on foot and without security, and instead of turning their speech into a rally, thank previous generations of politicians, who 120 years ago decided that Nordmarka should be under protection and that it should be the people's forest.
In 2018, electric cars accounted for over 49% of all new cars bought in Norway. The government exempted their owners from the car tax and the 25% VAT, while Oslo city council waived parking fees and congestion charges. This exemplifies how systemic solutions are far more effective than individual spurts. Which doesn't mean, however, that you, Dear Reader, should go back to using plastic straws or drinking water from plastic bottles, waiting for politicians to tackle the climate crisis.
Future Library is one of the projects that accompanies the redevelopment of the Bjørvika neighbourhood. As Høvind clarifies: "The city council announced a competition for public art projects that engage with the nature of time." A few steps away from the Opera House, you can also find the Losæter city farm. On this quite big plot of land, local people grow vegetables and fruit. There are chickens roaming around the rows and a beautiful arc-shaped bakery made from wood and glass. The city employs a farmer who takes care of the land, relying on traditional agricultural methods. This project was conceived by the American artist Amy Franceschini. The room of unread books is not far from the farm.
Paterson expresses her hope that "future generations will somehow benefit from the project." "These are just books," she says, "but they show that we think about those who haven't been born yet. They demonstrate that not all of us want them to inherit nothing but havoc and devastation."
Høvind also imagines the world 100 years from now: "I'll be dead … that's all I know. I'm scared, but I do whatever I can because of a sense of great duty. I believe that we need projects rooted in cathedral thinking," she explains.
'Cathedral thinking' is a term that applies to projects that don't unfold over years, but over generations. It is thinking and designing in a non-egotistical way, where the satisfaction is derived from the process itself, not the final result. As its name suggests (and as those who haven't come across the term before can quickly infer), cathedral thinking has its roots in the Middle Ages and the building of cathedrals. The idea and its execution were separated by hundreds of years, and subsequent generations continued to work on the same design. The builders knew they would never witness the final effect of their work. At that time, such future-oriented thinking was motivated by the desire to secure one's place in heaven. Today we need it to make heaven on Earth. Or, at least, to escape hell.
Cathedral thinking optimistically assumes that the future matters, stoically forcing us to ponder the meaning of life and the passing of time. "I'm sure I won't have a chance to read the books collected in Future Library, but this young boy here… who knows?" Paterson points at her son, who is sitting on her lap. "His life is still being measured in months, not years. He is intimately related to this project. I was in the forest while pregnant – back then spruce saplings hardly protruded above the ground. Last year we went there together again, and I had to carry him around. This year he was the loudest participant of the ceremony. He will be growing together with the forest."
Han Kang closed her speech on the Nordmarka forest clearing with the following words: "If it is possible to call prayer the moment when, in spite of all the uncertainty, we have to take just one step towards the light, in this moment I feel that perhaps this project is something close to a century-long prayer." She could reveal only one fact about her book: its title. "My Dear Son, My Love," she whispered.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Mąkowska.
- Bradbury, Borges, and the Future of Media - Big Think ›
- The Future of Libraries and Bookstores lies in their own Past - Big ... ›
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.
A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.
- Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
- 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
- A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
More than half of 18 to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting their job. And they're not the only ones.
In a report called The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft found that as well as 54% of Generation Z workers, 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation.
Similarly, a UK and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in the next six months to a year, while a US survey reported that 42% of employees would quit if their company didn't offer remote working options long term.
New work trends
Based on surveys with over 30,000 workers in 31 countries, the Microsoft report – which is the latest in the company's annual Work Trend Index series – pulled in data from applications including Teams, Outlook and Office 365, to gauge productivity and activity levels. It highlighted seven major trends, which show the world of work has been profoundly reshaped by the pandemic:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world
"Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says in the report. "Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work."
Organizations have become more siloed
While the report highlights the opportunities created by increased flexible and remote working patterns, it warns that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With the shift to remote working, much of the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. In its place are scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts. The loss of in-person interaction means individual team members are more likely to only interact with their closest coworkers.
"At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished," the report says. "This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic."
Burnout or drop out
One of the other consequences of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. And for those who have most recently joined the workforce, this has been a significant challenge.
The excitement of joining a new employer, maybe even securing a job for the first time, usually comes with meeting lots of new people, becoming familiar with a new environment and adapting to new situations. But for many, the pandemic turned that into a daily routine of working from home while isolated from co-workers.
"Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time," says LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders, quoted in the report. "It's very hard to find their footing since they're not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking and training that they would have expected in a normal year."
But it is perhaps the data around quitting that is one of the starkest indications that change is now the new normal. Being able to work remotely has opened up new possibilities for many workers, the report found. If you no longer need to be physically present in an office, your employer could, theoretically, be located anywhere. Perhaps that's why the research found that "41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year".
In addition to that, 46% of the people surveyed for the Microsoft report said they might relocate their home because of the flexibility of remote working.
A hybrid future
In looking for ways to navigate their way through all this change, employers should hold fast to one word, the report says – hybrid. An inflexible, location-centred approach to work is likely to encourage those 41% of people to leave and find somewhere more to their tastes. Those who are thinking of going to live somewhere else, while maintaining their current job, might also find themselves thinking of quitting if their plans are scuppered.
But remote working is not a panacea for all workforce ills. "We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important," the report says. "We're social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team – and even specific roles."
Bosses must meet challenges head on
Although the majority of business leaders have indicated they will incorporate elements of the hybrid working model, the report also found many are out of touch with workforce concerns more widely.
For, while many workers say they are struggling (Gen Z – 60%; new starters – 64%), and 54% of the general workforce feels overworked, business leaders are having a much better experience. Some 61% said they were 'thriving', which is in stark contrast to employees who are further down the chain of command.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president at Microsoft 365, writes in the report: "Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, 'Hey, how are you?' and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them."
Buildings don't have to be permanent — modular construction can make them modifiable and relocatable.