Good morning, Quartz readers!
Here’s what you need to know
The US authorized the Pfizer vaccine for older children. The Food and Drug Administration is making the shot available for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Joe Biden denied that US unemployment benefits are too generous. “We don’t see much evidence of that,” said the US president, responding to criticism over 7.4 million unfilled positions.
The coronavirus strain first identified in India is officially a “variant of concern.” The World Health Organization offers more details today, while the Indian government still resists a national lockdown.
China’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades. The census confirmed a rapidly aging society as births continue to fall.
The US, UK, and EU appealed for calm in the Middle East. Israeli airstrikes killed at least 22 Palestinians, according to health officials in Gaza, following rocket attacks blamed on Hamas.
The US pipeline cyberattack forced American Airlines to change major routes. The company is responding to fuel shortages caused by the DarkSide hack, which is believed to originate in Russia.
US channel NBC canceled next year’s Golden Globes broadcast. As criticism over the organizers’ lack of diversity grows, Netflix is also refusing to participate until it sees reform.
Naomi Osaka cast doubt on the Tokyo Olympics. The tennis superstar, who represents Japan, said the city’s state of emergency is “a really big cause for concern.”
What to watch for
Queen Elizabeth II opens a new session of parliament today with a speech outlining the government’s plans for the year ahead. It will be her first public appearance after the funeral of her late husband, Prince Philip.
She will unveil a series of new bills dealing with issues including:
- Post-Brexit reforms to government procurement and state aid
- Voting fraud
- New rules on asylum
- Educational measures such as a new student finance system and a lifetime skills training program
Charting Africa’s internet shutdowns
Many leaders seem threatened by digital media, and research shows that 2020 saw 156 full or partial shutdowns of the internet or social media like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. While South Asia accounts for almost three-quarters of these shutdowns, Africa was the next most affected region, with 20 shutdowns affecting 12 countries.
Governments have given varying justifications for these moves. These include: combating hate speech and fake news in Chad and Ethiopia, suppressing violence in Sudan, and preventing exam cheating in Algeria and Sudan. Disruptions in Mali in 2020 coincided with anti-government protests, while shutdowns were timed around elections in Burundi, Guinea, Tanzania, and Togo.
Escape the news cycle
The Weekly Obsession email is a welcome afternoon reprieve from your typical daily news. Every week, we’ll hit your inbox with a deep dive on a single surprising thing—from topics you think you know, to those you’ve never even heard of.
Not convinced? Learn more about the 2×2 matrix, rice cookers, and even Rasputin. If we’re obsessed, there’s a good chance we can convince you it’s for good reason.
A few unexpected perks of in-office work
According to recent surveys of employees working remotely during the pandemic, people miss their colleagues, but they’re also tired of being in constant contact—with their colleagues.
Perhaps what some actually miss are the specific modes of conversing that require both non-verbal communication and spontaneous encounters, writes Lila MacLellan:
😜 Teasing is one example of a communication style that has disappeared. Dachner Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, explained that we use linguistics as “above all, exaggeration to signal that we don’t mean precisely what we’re saying.”
🤫 Gossip can have a cruel edge of course, but for the most part, it’s harmless and often bursting with useful nuggets. Not only is there now less to gossip about remotely, but the pipes are also frozen by fear.
👂 Eavesdropping can allow those with less status to keep tabs on the powerful to a degree, and supplies currency workers can use with superiors. But today, with keystroke tracking and other measures, the ability to eavesdrop sits with those who already hold power.
✦ Psst. You didn’t hear it from us, but if you don’t have a Quartz membership, you can try it free for a week. Then you can tease your coworkers about not having read the latest from Quartz at Work.
💡 Energy companies are the firms most likely to pay cyberattack ransoms
🥵 Meituan’s CEO is in the hot seat over a classical Chinese poem about book burning
🙅 “You’ve got to shut down,” Biden’s chief medical adviser tells the Indian government
💰 Worried Indians are saving more during the pandemic despite layoffs and salary cuts
💉 Covid-19 vaccines have triggered the next wave of pharmaceuticals
The Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest is back on. The 40th annual competition will feature its parade of faux-Papas after skipping a year due to the pandemic.
Thousands of UK rail workers got played over a phishing test. They thought they were getting bonuses.
Leopards escaped a zoo in China. Now, nearby residents are upset about not knowing for weeks that three big cats were in their midst.
Rapper J. Cole signed on to play in an African basketball league. He’ll join the Rwanda Patriots BBC for three to six games.
Gwyneth Paltrow went “off the rails” in lockdown. She says she ate bread.
Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, leopard sightings, and genuine non-phishing emails to email@example.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Hasit Shah, Mary Hui, Tripti Lahiri, Annabelle Timsit, Susan Howson, and Jordan Lebeau.