How is the passion economy changing the way we look at jobs?

The rules have changed, and so have we.

ADAM DAVIDSON: I think a lot of people don't realize that he world we have lived in for the last hundred years is just a blip in human experience, that it started to feel just normal that people work in big companies, people have things called a job and a career path and that people make more money in their forties than they did in their twenties. And they'd make even more money in their sixties and that kids make more money than their parents did. And that there's this sort of general sense of progress. That's this weird little thing that happened to happen in the twentieth century and really would have been seen as utterly confusing and unlike basic human nature at almost any other time in history.

And there's a lot that was wonderful about that blip. It really transformed the world. Far fewer children died in infancy. Mothers didn't die giving birth. People lived much longer lives, they had more to eat, they had more comforts. Things like pain relievers. Things like international travel, international communication. All the things that we associate with the modern world came about because of the widget economy. Because of that blip.

But we're now shifting away from the widget economy into a new kind of economy. So what fueled that growth in the twentieth century was the mass production of the same sort of thing, getting better and better and making the same stuff faster and faster, cheaper and cheaper and getting it to more places. And that is a form of growth that is revolutionary. It's more growth than ever existed by far anytime in human existence. But it is about sameness. It's about turning people into variations of the same thing. You have a job. It has a title. You have to suppress who you are to satisfy the needs of that job. Products are not designed to match some particular person's unique interests and passions. Coca Cola is for everyone everywhere on earth. Ivory soap is for everyone everywhere on earth.

And this new economy, the passion economy, it comes out of the widget economy but I see it in most ways as a real advance, a progression from the widget economy where the secret to growth, the secret to economic opportunity is not making the same thing billions of times as quickly and cheaply as possible, but creating special things that only some people want but they want a lot. They want it in a way that nobody wanted the widgets of the widget economy. And that is a totally different structure of an economy.

It means probably still having some big organizations but also a lot more smaller companies, entrepreneurial companies. It means a much more chaotic but I think ultimately probably more satisfying career path where you're not just junior ad sales and then you're ad sales and then you're senior ad sales and then you're manager of ad sales. But rather as you're finding your unique passions and the things that you uniquely provide your career might kind of bounce around a little bit. You'll be finding who you are, who your customer is, who your audience is. And it won't be quite as linear. I do think overall for people to understand and embrace the passion economy it will be better. You'll make more money in concrete terms but I think it will be more chaotic, a little more confusing, a little more confounding at least according to the rules we have because the rules we have are the ones that were made for the widget economy. And this economy is wildly different.

  • The widget economy has given way to something entirely different: the passion economy.
  • Whereas the previous economy was fueled by mass production and homogeneity, growth in the passion economy involves more specialized products that less people want more intensely.
  • This shift creates more dynamic, less linear career paths that evolve and change as you do. Ultimately, this will lead to more fulfilling and better paid work.



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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can last over a year, new study finds

We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Surprising Science
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Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

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