High-School Dropouts and College Grads Are Moving to Very Different Places

The ability to attract skilled workers is a key factor, if not the key factor, in the growth of cities and metro regions. Cities themselves are understandably keen to tout when their populations are growing, but just tracking overall population can mask the underlying trends that will truly shape the future of our metro areas.

A few weeks ago, I looked at the different places both recent immigrants and U.S.-born Americans are moving since the recession began. But, as I noted then, even these big-picture figures tell us little about the educational levels and skills of the people that are moving and staying.  Writing in The Atlantic several years ago, I pointed out that the “means migration”—the movement of highly educated and highly skilled people—is a key factor that shapes which cities will thrive and which will struggle.

What the United States has been seeing is, so to speak, a big talent sort. There have been very different patterns of migration by education and skill, with the highly educated and highly skilled going some places and the less educated and less skilled going to others.

With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) research team, I’ve dug into the numbers on the net migration of Americans by education level, a set of data that tells us about where people of different skill levels have been moving and staying. Karen King, a demographer, broke down American Community Survey data, tracking “net domestic migration” from 2011 to 2012 for several key educational categories: adults that did not complete high school; those with a high school degree or equivalency; those with some college or an associate’s degree; adults who hold a bachelor’s degree; and those with a professional or graduate degree. These data show only one year, rather than longer-term trends, but they effectively track the current net flow of people—that is, the ability of metros to both attract and retain American workers. (Keep in mind that net domestic migration tells only part of the story of population change, as the influx of immigrants and natural growth through births and deaths also affect overall numbers.)

The interactive map below, which MPI’S Zara Matheson made with support from ESRI, lets you click through and explore migration by educational attainment for each metro. The size and color of the overall bubbles shows the magnitude of net domestic migration, and the breakdown by education level is available when you click.

 

 

The chart below breaks out the net migration patterns by education levels in the 20 largest U.S. metros.

Zara Matheson

The chart shows the very different patterns of migration occurring across America’s metros. Keep in mind that many of the country’s biggest metros are still gaining overall population, as immigrants continue to flow into places like New York and Los Angeles. But these places are seeing a net loss of Americans of all education levels.

The metros that are attracting educated workers include knowledge and tech hubs like San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, and Denver, and also Sunbelt metros like Phoenix, Charlotte, and Miami.

When we look at just those with professional and graduate degrees, the pattern comes into sharper focus. There have been significant net inflows of educated workers to the true meccas of knowledge work: Seattle, San Francisco, D.C., Denver, San Jose, Austin, and Portland, as well as the banking hub of Charlotte.

These metros, particularly ones with higher costs of living, have been able to attract and retain skilled workers, even while the less-skilled have departed. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Miami all saw their ranks of educated residents grow and less educated residents shrink. Lower-paid workers are being priced out, and the jobs that can attract new residents are reserved for the most educated. Boston is one of the few places attracting and retaining more unskilled workers than skilled ones, a perhaps unexpected trend, given its reputation as a center of education and knowledge work.

The pattern for the less educated looks substantially different. The top ten metros that saw the largest net gains among those with just a high school degree were all in the Sunbelt, including Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Florida’s Fort Myers, Tampa, and Sarasota. And when we consider those without a high school degree or equivalent, the places with the largest net gains were mainly Sunbelt tourist destinations with thriving service economies like Fort Myers and Daytona Beach, Florida, and Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The chart below provides a summary of the five metros that saw the largest net growth in population by level of education.

To better understand which factors are associated with the migrations of highly versus less educated people, my MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a correlation analysis on several key demographic characteristics. She excluded the greater New York metro from her analysis because its unique migration pattern is an extreme outlier. Here are some of the most interesting findings:

  • Larger metros have the edge in attracting and retaining college grads. The size of the population was positively correlated to the net growth in the number of college grads (.30)
  • College grads also tend to be drawn to wealthier metros. The net migration of college grads is positively associated with both per capita income (.28) and economic output per capita (.24).
  • College grads are also moving to and staying in metros with larger concentrations of high-tech industry and venture capital, two key indicators of robust knowledge and tech hubs. The net migration of college grads was positively associated with high-tech industry concentration (.26) and even more so with venture capital investment (.31).  While much has been made of the economic advantages of meds and eds, the net growth in the number of college grads was negatively associated with the share of the economy made up of educational and medical institutions (-.25).
  • While some economists argue that college grads are attracted to places with large concentrations of other college grads, we find this to be less the case. The net migration of those with at least a bachelor’s degree was only modestly positively associated with the percentage of the population made up of their educated peers (.15) and the proportion of the metro’s workers who are members of the creative class (.12).
  • And while economists have also pointed to warmer, sunnier climates as a driving factor in where Americans are heading, we find only a modest correlation between mean January temperature and the net migration of college grads (.20).
  • College grads are moving to and staying in places with larger concentrations of artists and cultural creatives and higher levels of diversity and tolerance. The net migration of college grads was positively associated with the share of artists, designers and cultural creative (.24). This was the strongest association of any high-skill occupation group, including science and tech workers and professional and management positions, and thus suggests that college-educated workers are drawn to metros with abundant cultural offerings as well as job opportunities. The net migration of college grads was even more closely associated with the concentration of gay and lesbian people (.38). In fact, this correlation was the strongest of any in our analysis. This suggests that open-mindedness, tolerance, and diversity continue to play a substantial role in the migration of highly educated people.

In contrast, our analysis finds that the places where the number of workers without a high school degree is growing are at the opposite end of the economic spectrum: smaller places with lower wages, less robust economies, fewer cultural amenities, less high tech industry, and less tolerance. The net migration of those without a high school degree is negatively correlated to population size (-.24), economic output per capita (-.22), high tech concentration (-.24), artists and cultural creatives (-.32) and tolerance toward gays and lesbians (-.12). And we find no correlation between the net migration of the less educated and climate, measured as mean January temperature.

This analysis points to an ongoing and very real sorting process. Overall, larger and more vibrant metros with strong knowledge economies, abundant artistic and cultural amenities, and open-minded attitudes are the ones that are attracting and retaining the most college graduates. On the flip side, these metros are losing less-educated residents who are increasingly unable to make ends meetThey are instead moving to smaller, less affluent, lower-cost places. In fact, we found no statistical association whatsoever between the movement of college grads and the net movement of those who did not finish high school. These very different migration patterns reinforce the ongoing economic and social bifurcation of the United States.

In The Future, Everything Is a Game

“The future is now,” video games companies want us to believe. But if “now” is just the present, shouldnt the real future be more impressive than Xboxes and PlayStations and Wiis? During Los Angeles’s annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, Echo Park gallery iam8bit launched an exhibition exploring “The Future of Gaming,” as illuminated by some of the medium’s brightest thinkers and creators. The gallery’s owners, Jon Gibson and Amanda White, solicited theories from the likes of The Secret of Monkey Island designer Tim Schafer and Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, among many others. Then they had artists bring those theories to life.

Schafer’s is a highlight: “In the future, we will play games while floating naked in a tank of warm, sensory-depriving gelatin. Games will be distributed chemically, into the gelatin, and absorbed into the player’s skin. The gelatin will be Lingonberry-flavored, and the games will encourage good citizenship.” He’s probably at least half kidding, but who can say for sure?

“Getting so many luminaries from the gaming industry involved was really humbling and special for us,” White told ANIMAL after the exhibition’s opening. “We were lucky enough to get pretty quick and enthusiastic responses from the people we approached with the idea.”

“The Future of Gaming” was born when LA’s Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences challenged iam8bit last fall to spice up the D.I.C.E. 2014 summit’s attendee lounge. The event’s theme was “The New Golden Age of Gaming,” but White and Gibson decided to look past the present into the “distant future,” White explained. “The reception for the show was positive, so we thought, why not make this into a bigger exhibition for public consumption?” she said.

The theories on display are as varied as their progenitors. Game designer, TED Talker and Carnegie Mellon Professor Jesse Schell predicted that “we will learn about our ancestors by talking to the avatars we inherited from them.”

Schell’s artist, Travis Chen, crafted a flowing, layered woodcut. Game Developer Conference General Manager Meggan Scavio wrote that “people will be ranked on public leaderboards by the types of games they play, how well that play them, and the frequency of play (the more the better), thus allowing for the proper vetting of job applicants, business partners, and even personal relationships.” Seattle-based Kelice Penney made a necktie sewn with real-life power-ups to go with.

Philadelphia artist and designer Jude Buffum relished the chance to use pixel art to visualize a quote from Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning about the blurring of the lines between games and real life.

“You are the game of the future, where every bit of energy exerted thru your digital daily life will be captured toward more real world incentives,” Lanning predicted. “Each beat of our heart, calorie we eat, footstep we make, and mile gained thru our day will be captured, converted, and gamified into cost saving incentives that just ‘can’t be beat.’ Our decreasing privacies increasingly offered as the willing sacrifices made at the altar of savings, incentives, and reward points. Three billion years of progress will have finally evolved us into the hairless walking coupon.”

Buffum’s imagery is bursting with timers, high scores, fuel gauges, and fast food logos. A figure—hairless, evidently said “walking coupon”—fights its way through the piece, shrieking at the center. “[Gaming] started out very innocent, which is where I go to with my art,” Buffum told ANIMAL at the show’s opening. “But I like sort of running that through a filter of more modern times.”

He believes the turmoil Lanning anticipates might really come to pass. “Everything is becoming gamified. It’s not just our games — it’s our lives, it’s our commerce, it’s corporations. Everything is being quantified, coded, scored, and people are just giving up,” Buffum said. “It’s powerful technology and it could take society to a very bad place.”

Particle physicist and game designer Seamus Blackley, who helped create Microsoft’s Xbox around the turn of the century, imagines games of the future being just as omnipresent, but somehow more benign.

“The future of games is ubiquity,” Blackley hypothesized for the exhibit. “Every device and interface will need to entertain or be ignored. From supermarket checkout to your tax filing, we are training people already to ignore the boring. So. Games on everything all the time. As tech pervades, games follow. Do we control everything with smartphones? Then the games go everywhere from the phones. Do we have network computers in every object in the home? Then the games will follow. Just as games flowed into televisions and then computers and then mobile, they will be central to it all.”

Illustrator Kevin Stanton drew flowers, bees and butterflies with Xbox and PlayStation symbols on them to accompany Blackley’s quote. “Old guys like me, who started out in games when it was seen as a negative career choice, and people thought that it was just some sort of fad, feel hugely vindicated by the fact that games are so mainstream now and everybody expects everything to be a game,” Blackley said. But will the gamified, dystopian future envisioned by Lanning and others in iam8bit’s exhibit come to pass? Blackley doesn’t think so, because life is a game, and there’s always someone watching to make sure you’re following the rules.

“At the end of the day, morality becomes crowdsourced because everybody knows what everybody else is doing,” Blackley said, and that applies to companies as much as individuals. “Good and evil have always been gamified,” he continued. “That’s what good and evil are: good and evil are rules in a game.”

White said “The Future of Gaming” is part of iam8bit’s “bigger, grander mission” of “making the world a better place by giving people experiences that expand and open their minds.” The exhibit runs through June 22nd. (Lead Image: Naomi White x Seth Killian)

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, was an adolescent boy in a small Alabama town in the early 1970s when he saw something he couldn’t forget.

Bicycling home on a new 10-speed, he passed a large cross in flames in front of a house — one that he knew belonged to a black family. Around the cross were Klansmen, dressed in white cloaks and hoods, chanting racial slurs. Mr. Cook heard glass break, maybe someone throwing something through a window. He yelled, “Stop!”

One of the men lifted his conical hood, and Mr. Cook recognized a deacon from a local church (not Mr. Cook’s). Startled, he pedaled away.

“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,” Mr. Cook said of the burning cross, in a speech he gave last December.

In the speech, he said his new awareness made him feel that no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that need to be acted upon. And then came the segue: His company, Apple, is one that believed deeply in “advancing humanity.”

Tim Cook Receiving the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award Video by Auburn University

Mr. Cook, who is 53, took over leadership of Apple nearly three years ago, after the death of Steve Jobs, the company’s revered founder. Like Walt Disney and Henry Ford, Mr. Jobs was intertwined with his company. Mr. Jobs was Apple and Apple was Jobs.

At the time, Mr. Cook was well regarded as a behind-the-scenes operations guy, but he was a relatively unknown quantity outside the company. He can be intensely private; for instance, the details of the cross-burning episode, like his reaction and the appearance of the deacon, he has shared with friends but not publicly. Even offering the outlines of that story in front of an audience, however, indicates how he is slowly beginning to reveal his own personality and style, and to define Apple leadership in his own image.

This is happening as Mr. Cook, who declined to be interviewed for this article, finds himself not only in the limelight, but also under scrutiny. Of late, the company has hit a snag that was years in the making: Its sales now are so large that many investors worry that it can’t continue to match the growth that brought it from $65 billion in sales in the 2010 fiscal year to $171 billion in 2013. In fiscal 2013, sales grew a mere 9 percent, far below an average just shy of 40 percent a year from 2004 to 2013. Profits slimmed. And the stock price fell nearly in half from its 2012 peak to the middle of 2013, vastly underperforming the market.

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It is hard for all of us to be patient. It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim.

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief

Investors have clamored for Apple wizardry — a much-anticipated iWatch or iTV, perhaps. To these critics, Mr. Cook is uninspiring, his social views window dressing, when what they want is magic.

“Where is the grand design?” asks Laurence I. Balter, chief market strategist at Oracle Investment Research. Mr. Balter credits Mr. Cook as having great skills in operations and in managing the supply chain, which entails getting the raw materials and machinery in place to build things — but not with having the vision to design them. “All we hear from Cook,” Mr. Balter says, “is there are some great products coming down the pike.”

Mr. Balter calls Apple a financial “Rock of Gibraltar”— it is sitting on $150.6 billion of cash — but he says he has serious questions about whether it can continue to be a hypergrowth company. Is it a stock for growth investors, he asks, “or widows?”

“Show me the product,” he says. “Show me the ingenuity.”

To shore up shareholder faith, Mr. Cook split the stock, increased the dividend and engineered a $90 billion buyback — steps that helped shares rebound almost entirely. He has taken other steps to strengthen the company, like pushing Apple products into China, a potentially huge market, and acquiring talent, most recently spending $3 billion to buy Beats, a music company that brings Apple two major music-industry shakers and deal makers, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

Reflecting his personal views, Mr. Cook is trying to broaden Apple’s brand, too, taking to Twitter and other public venues to express support for environmentalism and gay rights (and for Auburn University football). He has also emphasized the use of sustainable products at the company. Early in his tenure, playing catch-up with other corporations, he established a program to match employee charitable contributions; he has upped the company’s own giving, too.

Jonathan Ive, the head of design at Apple and a name nearly as adored by its followers as Steve Jobs, says Mr. Cook has not neglected the company’s central mission: innovation. “Honestly, I don’t think anything’s changed,” he said. And that includes the clamor for some exciting new thing. “People felt exactly the same way when we were working on the iPhone,” Mr. Ive added.

“It is hard for all of us to be patient,” Mr. Ive said. “It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim.”

Spirit of Hardware Past

There is a mythology, with some part of truth, that Mr. Jobs was the soul of the design process, the company’s Innovator in Chief. For the original iPhone, Mr. Jobs checked in weekly with engineers, according to Francisco Tolmasky, a former Apple engineer who worked on the phone’s browser.

“Steve was really adamant,” Mr. Tolmasky reflected, adding that Mr. Jobs would say: “’This needs to be like magic. Go back, this isn’t magical enough!’”

Almost daily, employees would spot Mr. Jobs having lunch on Apple’s campus with Mr. Ive. These days, Mr. Ive said, he meets three days a week with Mr. Cook, generally in each other’s offices. But Mr. Ive said the design processes are essentially unchanged.

I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with the next big thing. They’ve lost their heart and soul.

Michael A. Cusumano, M.I.T. professor

“Steve established a set of values and he established preoccupations and tones that are completely enduring,” Mr. Ive said. Chief among them is a reliance on small creative teams whose membership remains intact to this day. The philosophy that materials and products are intertwined also continues under Mr. Cook. For instance, when the company decided to use titanium to build a laptop, Mr. Ive said, he and Mr. Cook and Mr. Jobs thought about how to push the boundaries of the metal to get the look and feel they wanted. And Mr. Ive pointed to another enduring value: a complete focus on the product.

If Mr. Jobs was maniacal about design, Mr. Cook projects “quiet consideration,” Mr. Ive said. Mr. Cook digests things carefully, with time, which Mr. Ive said “testifies to the fact he knows it’s important.”

Lower-level employees praise Mr. Cook’s approachability and intellect. But some say he is less hands-on in developing products than his predecessor. They point to the development of the so-called iWatch — the “smartwatch” that Apple observers are eagerly awaiting as the next world-beating gadget. Mr. Cook is less involved in the minutiae of product engineering for the watch, and has instead delegated those duties to members of his executive cabinet, including Mr. Ive, according to people involved in the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to press. Apple declined to comment on the watch project.

Mr. Cook appears to be interested in the smartwatch’s broader implications — for instance, that a watch might monitor heart rate and other vital measures, thus improving health and limiting doctor visits, according to these people. The watch is expected to be released in the fourth quarter, these people said.

Mr. Cook has also looked outside of Apple for experienced talent. He has hired executives from multiple industries, including Angela Ahrendts, the former head of Burberry, to oversee the physical and online stores, and Paul Deneve, the former Yves Saint Laurent chief executive, to take on special projects. He also hired Kevin Lynch, the former chief technology officer of Adobe, and Michael O’Reilly, former medical officer of the Masimo Corporation, which makes health monitoring devices. Not to mention the music men of Beats.

Mr. Cook is amassing a creative brain trust, according to Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, who befriended Mr. Jobs and worked closely with him and Apple’s team on developing a U2-branded iPod, as well as on charitable work in Africa. Mr. Cook is not saying “I’m here to replace him,” said Bono, who is a managing director and co-founder of the venture capital firm Elevation Partners. “He’s saying, ‘I’ll try to replace him with five people.’ It explains the acquisition of Beats.”

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Craig Federighi, head of Apple’s software engineering. Mr. Cook has assembled a team of creative people — and has given them center stage. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

That doesn’t mean Mr. Cook is uninvolved in product decisions. Since he took over, the company has released a number of upgrades, including a smaller tablet, the iPad Mini. Mr. Cook “thought the world would love a smaller and less expensive tablet,” said Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney and a member of Apple’s board. It was a product that Mr. Jobs thought did not have a market, he said.

Sales of the iPad Mini quickly exceeded those of the normal-size iPad, according to analysts. Gartner and ABI Research estimated that within the first year the smaller tablet went on sale, it accounted for 60 percent of overall iPad sales.

Still, some product iterations have brought mixed results. Last year, Apple for the first time introduced two new iPhones instead of just one: the high-end iPhone 5S, which sold like gangbusters, and the lower-cost, plastic-covered iPhone 5C, which disappointed.

What makes Apple’s challenge particularly daunting is the law of large numbers. Its sales are so big that even another new strong product — unless it’s a gigantic hit on the order of the iPhone — won’t lead to the kind of growth to which some investors have grown accustomed, noted Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst who covers Apple for Bernstein Research. He put it this way: If Apple makes an iWatch and sells 10 million units in the first year, it would add a mere 50 cents to its earnings per share, barely a single percentage point.

“Most people would say, if you sell 10 million units of something that would be incredible,” Mr. Sacconaghi said. But not so with Apple. “There are very few things that could move the needle,” he added.

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor in the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., said he thought Apple no longer had the juice to create the world-beating product it needs. Professor Cusumano, who is working on a book about innovation, visited Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., last fall and has talked to a half-dozen current and former employees about the company culture. He concluded that Apple without Mr. Jobs lacks a visionary to synthesize disparate ideas into a magical whole.

“Jobs would figure out how to put the pieces together,” Professor Cusumano said. “Everything just filtered through his eyes.”

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with the next big thing,” he added. “They’ve lost their heart and soul.”

‘Just and Right’

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Inevitably, Tim Cook draws contrasts to the high-profile, hands-on style of his predecessor.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

If Mr. Jobs was the heart and soul of the company, Mr. Cook seems to be trying to cast himself as a different sort of leader. His Twitter feed is a mash-up of Apple hoopla and cheerful promotion of human rights and environmentalism. He wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in support of proposed federal legislation protecting gay, lesbian and transgender workers.

He often quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy but doesn’t much talk about the origin of his political views. The speech he gave last December, in which Mr. Cook mentioned the cross-burning, started to give some hints. “Since these early days,” he said, “I have seen, and I have experienced, many other types of discrimination.” All of those, he continued, “were rooted in a fear of people that were different than the majority.” Apple declined to say what he meant by the reference to discrimination he experienced, but it did confirm the details of the cross-burning story.

The speech was given at the United Nations, where Mr. Cook was accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn, his alma mater. He graduated from the university in 1982 with a degree in industrial engineering. He worked at IBM while earning a graduate business degree at Duke, then went to Intelligent Electronics and Compaq. In 1998, he was approached by Mr. Jobs when Apple was struggling, but as Mr. Cook recounted later in a 2010 commencement speech at Auburn, he saw it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius.”

He rose to become executive vice president for worldwide sales and operations in 2002. In the period after he became C.E.O. in 2011, the working conditions in Chinese factories used by major tech companies, including Apple, came under increasing scrutiny. By April 2012, after suicides and accidents among Chinese factory workers, a quarter of a million people had signed a petition on Change.org urging Apple to improve working conditions in the factories. Apple since 2006 had already commissioned public reports on troubling practices inside many factories. In 2012, it also began publishing an annual list of its major suppliers, their locations, and what is made at the major ones, as well as reporting the working hours for more than a million factory employees.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Mr. Cook’s building of a production plant in Arizona and a Texas factory for making high-end Mac computers domestically was “a tremendous vote of confidence for an iconic company that previously shipped jobs overseas.” (A majority of manufacturing is still done outside the United States — for instance, an estimated 90 percent of the iPhone’s hundreds of parts are made abroad.) Ms. Jarrett also praised Apple’s donation of $100 million to equip schools with technology, including iPads and high-speed Internet

Apple also made a quick transition to using 100 percent renewable energy sources in its data centers, which makes it “the most aggressive of the companies that we evaluated in getting renewables online,” said Gary Cook, a senior policy analyst at Greenpeace.

Ryan Scott, the chief executive of Causecast, a nonprofit that helps companies create volunteer and donation programs, called Mr. Cook’s charitable initiatives a “great start.” But Mr. Scott added that its programs are “not as significant as what other companies are doing.” Apple’s ambitions “could be much higher,” he said, given its money and talent. By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.

Apple, too, has faced accusations from government officials on a number of troubling issues, including strategies to minimize its corporate taxes. (On the tax issue, Mr. Cook, told a Senate panel last year that Apple is the nation’s largest taxpayer and pays what it owes.) Last July, a federal judge ruled that Apple had illegally conspired with publishers to try to raise prices in the e-books market; Apple is appealing.

Mr. Cook’s public emphasis on social issues nonetheless puts him “on the cutting edge of an emerging new mind-set in corporate leadership about values and value creation,” said James E. Austin, an emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School. But Kellie McElhaney, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, said she “gets nervous” when C.E.O.s talk about doing what is “right” without making a business case.

“Right to whom?” she asked.

That’s a view shared by some investors. At a shareholder meeting on Apple’s campus in February, one shareholder — who later described himself as having free-market values — asked Mr. Cook whether Apple should avoid embracing environmental causes that lacked a clear profit motive.

Mr. Cook did not respond by saying, as many executives would, that environmentalism is pragmatic and good for the bottom line. His reasoning was moral.

“We do things because they’re just and right,” he said. He has a slight Alabama drawl and a cool delivery, but there was underlying pique in his voice when he rejected the idea that everything must be measured by return on investment. He concluded by telling shareholders, “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear R.O.I., then you should get out of the stock, just to be plain and simple.”

He received rousing applause from the crowd, which included Al Gore, a member of Apple’s board. But the shareholder who asked the question, Justin Danhof, mourned that “I’ve never had a C.E.O. react that way.” In the following days, some stock analysts echoed the dismay, with one columnist, Robert Weinstein of The Street, wondering whether Mr. Cook “is shifting Apple’s focus from an aggressive luxury tech innovator into more of an increasingly philanthropic-focused company.”

Lennon vs. Ringo

Two weeks ago, Mr. Cook stood on stage at the company’s annual developer’s conference in San Francisco in front of 5,000 enthralled software developers. These are the makers of apps for the iPhone and other gadgets, and Mr. Cook promised them something he called “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store.”

To tell the developers about it, Mr. Cook said, “I’d like to invite my colleague, Superman, back to the stage.”

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Mr. Cook watched with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters as Nate Mendel, also from the band, tried out one of the phones at a company event.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Of course, for years, the only Apple superhero was Mr. Jobs. As Mr. Cook walked toward the darkness, stage left, there was a moment of mystery. Then out sprang Craig Federighi, head of Apple’s software engineering. He passed Mr. Cook and headed into the limelight to describe the new release. It was not a new consumer product, but a set of software tools called a developer’s kit, which would help developers build better apps.

If the rest of the world yawned, the developers stood, and whooped.

Afterward, devotees like Jordan Brown, 25, and three of his colleagues, roamed the convention center.

The four men, who are with a health care app company called Orca Health, had traveled from Salt Lake City and had spent the previous night on the sidewalk to get a good seat at the keynote address. They were scruffy-faced and exhausted, but adrenaline-fueled. Mr. Brown said he viewed Mr. Cook “as someone making sure everything is clicking, but he’s not inspiring.” Mr. Federighi, on the other hand, “resembles Steve,” he said.

Mr. Brown’s colleague Chad Zeluff, 27, who saw Mr. Jobs deliver the keynote in 2007, put it this way: “Jobs is to Lennon what Cook is to Ringo.”

A floor away, Mr. Cook was surrounded by young developers, eagerly snagging selfies as the chief executive mingled post-keynote. Ringo is still a Beatle.

The Utah developers generally expressed support for Mr. Cook. It would be enough, they said, if he put the pieces together. And they said Apple was doing a good job in software innovation, which can add new features to existing devices even if Apple doesn’t produce a new gadget.

They hadn’t heard much about Mr. Cook’s social activism. “I was barely aware of it,” said Gary Robinson, 35, the oldest of the Utah developers. “It’s good, and important.

“But it’s not what matters to me,” he added. “It’s not why I’m here.”

As the conversation continued, though, the developers expressed some cracks in their confidence. For instance, their company has been building apps exclusively for the iPhone for three years, but in the last two months it has also started building apps for Android systems.

They found one thing particularly jarring in the keynote: Apple did not hew to its tradition of pairing hardware and software. Specifically, Apple introduced a program called Health — which helps consumers and doctors monitor health status, like heart rate or glucose levels — but did not also introduce a piece of hardware to measure those results. That is something the new smartwatch is rumored to do.

“They just released the software,” said Mr. Zeluff, sounding surprised.

“It’s something Steve wouldn’t have done,” Mr. Brown said. It’s an impossible comparison. But it’s the one that Mr. Cook is being held to, at least until he makes enough magic of his own.

Absurd Creature of the Week: The 120-Foot-Long Jellyfish That’s Loving Global Warming

In the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” our hero is strolling along a beach when he comes across a man in his death throes, staggering and screaming before shouting his last words: “The lion’s mane!” His name is Fitzroy McPherson, and all over his back are thin red lines—which Sherlock notices because he’s a detective and all—as though the man “had been terribly flogged by a thin wire scourge.”

McPherson’s colleague, a mercurial fellow named Ian Murdoch, becomes a person of interest. He had, after all, once thrown McPherson’s dog through a plate glass window. But that suspicion falls to pieces when the dog-hurler himself staggers into Sherlock’s home in comparable agony, all marked up with the same red lines.

And then the answer hits the great detective. With a police inspector and a guy named Stackhurst he hurries to the beach and finds the culprit: “Cyanea!” he cries. “Cyanea! Behold the Lion’s Mane!” It’s a great jellyfish among the rocks. Shouts Sherlock: “It has done mischief enough. Its day is over! Help me, Stackhurst! Let us end the murderer forever.” And with that they push a boulder into the water, crushing the critter.

That’s a whole lot of animal cruelty in a single short story, and the severity of a sting from a lion’s mane jellyfish, known scientifically as Cyanea capillata, is highly exaggerated here. But this critter is actually far more remarkable than its fanciful villainization. What Sherlock failed to mention is that this is the world’s largest jellyfish, with a bell that reaches a staggering 8 feet wide and tentacles that grow to 120 feet long, far longer than a blue whale. And this monster is really, reallyloving the whole global warming thing, conquering more and more of Earth’s oceans in massive blooms. So please, if you will, welcome our new giant gelatinous overlords.

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It’s those seemingly endless tentacles, hundreds and hundreds of them, that make this incredible growth possible, according to Lisa-Ann Gershwin, a marine biologist with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. “They’ve got all of these fishing lures out there at the same time,” she said. “Every single tentacle is out there to catch something. They can find so much food simply by multitasking, really.”

Lion’s manes will take just about anything, from the tiniest zooplankton—little critters and fish larvae and such that drift in the open ocean—to smaller jelly species and even their own kind. Their mighty weapons are stinging cells known as nematocysts, which on contact fire poisonous barbs into the prey (think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, only nematocysts didn’t used to get me in trouble for spending so much money in arcades).

Though nowhere near as powerful of the notoriously deadly box jellyfish, the sting of the lion’s mane is more than enough to incapacitate small critters—and dish out searing pain to humans. (Gershwin herself once had a lion’s mane sting her foot, which “went all red and puffy” and felt like it was being stabbed with “thousands of needles.”) Thoroughly ensnared by the tentacle’s innumerable spines and none too healthy on account of the poison, the prey is reeled in. The lion’s mane can do this a single tentacle at a time, contracting the muscles in each until the prey reaches its curtain-like “oral arms,” folds of tissue in its bell.

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From here the prey passes into the jelly’s mouth, which is really just a hole in its body that also functions as its anus, and finally moves into the stomach. “And then they have a circulatory system of canals where the nutrients from the stomach are just dispersed out to the rest of the body through this network,” said Gershwin. “It’s really, really simple, but it works really well. I mean, they’ve been doing exactly that for 600 million years, and it works so well they haven’t needed to change it.”

That’s quite an evolutionary sweet spot. Such a sweet spot, in fact, that the lion’s mane never bothered to evolve true eyes. Instead, these jellies have extremely rudimentary eyespots and can do nothing more than detect light and dark—no shapes and certainly no colors (interestingly, box jellyfish have eyes more like our own, complete with lenses and such, presumably so they can observe the terror they strike in humans). And a brain? Not really necessary, as it turns out. They do have nerve bundles that essentially automate all of their processes, but these are nothing like a brain as we would recognize it.

“A brain is kinda overrated, really,” said Gershwin. “We find it kind of entertaining, and a little bit important, but they do all the stuff they need to do without a brain. But so do venus fly traps. Lots of things can actually do kind of sophisticated behaviors without a brain.”

Reproduction for the lion’s mane, though, is quite sophisticated. Males release sperm threads into the water, and females hoover them up with their mouth-anus thing, a totally unscientific term that I just made up. Her eggs are fertilized internally, and when they hatch, the larvae roam around a bit inside her, then drift off to settle on the seafloor.

But these larvae don’t turn right into what we would identify as jellies, in what is known as the medusa stage, named after the mythical lady with snakes for hair. Instead, they become little white tubes with frilly ends called polyps, which wait until conditions are just right to actually clone themselves hundreds of times over, releasing baby jellies into the water column. Though scientists have yet to do genetic testing on this, Gershwin suspects that huge blooms of lion’s mane jellies could in fact all be clones from a single tiny polyp. It’s a bit like Attack of the Clones, only interesting.

Sting Operation

And boy have they been blooming. Populations of jellyfish like the lion’s mane seem to be exploding in the world’s oceans—because, bluntly put, we’ve goofed. Global warming, overfishing, pollution, basically anything terrible we’ve done to the seas have been an absolute boon to jellyfish, according to Gershwin. Data on jellyfish populations is scarce, so nothing is yet definitive, but as Gershwin puts it, “we now find ourselves in the unexpected position of knowing that we have serious problems with stings to tourists and cloggings of power plants and salmon kills and whatnot, but really having little idea about the speed and trajectory in terms of long-term view.”

As humans, it’s clear we need to tackle the direness that is global warming, but the lion’s mane and its jelly comrades would really prefer that we didn’t. Not only do jellies grow faster in warmer waters, temperature is a pivotal factor in their reproduction. In some species, polyps will only develop as days grow longer in summer, but others instead wait until the water climbs to a certain temperature. Thus ever-hotter oceans in these times of global warming could make for more blooms.

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In addition, global warming is monkeying with oxygen concentration in our seas, which is also great news for jellies. “Colder water holds more dissolved oxygen than warmer water,” said Gershwin. “So even a really slight warming—a degree, a half a degree, a quarter of a degree—we may not feel it, but it changes the amount of oxygen that the water can hold.”

And jellyfish are really good at living in oxygen-deprived water. Pretty much everything else in the sea? Not so much. “High-rate breathers,” such as beefy fish that need lots of oxygen to power their muscles, die off when jellyfish lazily cruise around, not the slightest bit fazed.

Then there’s the inflow of our sewage and fertilizers, nutrients that microscopic plants calledphytoplankton go ga-ga for. Their populations explode, and are then eaten by their animal counterparts, zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by jellies. But when blooming phytoplankton die and decompose, the bacteria that feed on them suck still more oxygen out of the water.

Add all of this to the fact that we’re overfishing the hell out of our oceans—eliminating not just jellyfish predators but also their competition—and we have a gelatinous, stingy mess on our hands. “It’s probably really tempting to think about jellyfish as these evil beings, we should extinct them because they’re bad,” said Gershwin. “But what they’re doing, whether it’s stinging us or eating all of the fish eggs and larvae or clogging up power plants or whatever, they’re just responding to what we’re doing.”

So we just may have unwittingly assembled an ever-growing army of jellies, led by the outsized lion’s manes, for all-out assault. And this time there won’t be a boulder-wielding Sherlock Holmes to come to the rescue. Which is just as well if his associates insist on throwing dogs through windows.

Browse the full Absurd Creature of the Week archive here. Have an animal you want me to write about? Email matthew_simon@wired.com or ping me on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Mr. Ten Percent: The Man Who Built — And Bilked — American Soccer

In the middle of 1989, suburban soccer dad Chuck Blazer had just lost his job, had no income, and was struggling with debt.

But he did have a few things going for him: He was audacious, with a keen eye for opportunity; he was a splendid salesman; and he knew a vast amount about the world’s most popular sport. Not the fine points of on-field strategy — he’d never actually played the game — but rather the business of American soccer, which was, back then, woeful. Compared to baseball, basketball, and football, soccer was a starving runt. Multiple professional leagues had flopped. TV networks couldn’t even figure out how to fit commercials into the 90-minute, time-out-free games, and they rarely bothered to broadcast the sport. The United States national team hadn’t qualified for a World Cup in nearly 40 years.

A quarter-century later, American soccer has become an athletic and economic powerhouse, due substantially to the contributions of Blazer. He helped win Major League Soccer’s first real TV contract, and just last month the MLS inked a $720 million TV deal. The U.S. national team, which he helped promote, is now a World Cup mainstay, ranked higher than powers such as France and the Netherlands. And more people in America are playing soccer than any team sport save basketball.

Blazer’s influence wasn’t limited to these shores: He helped organize the Gold Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Club World Cup, lucrative tournaments that improved the play of national and professional teams around the world. He also became the first American in almost half a century on the executive committee of FIFA, instilling a business-first culture in world soccer’s governing body and persuading it to take control of its own television rights, turning the money-losing organization into a profit machine.

Much of Blazer’s wealth and influence can be traced back to an extraordinary contract he made with the organization that runs soccer from Panama to Canada, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF. It entitled him to 10% — under his unilateral interpretation — of just about every penny the organization brought in. That document provided him an intoxicating personal incentive to grow the sport, earning him a life of spectacular luxury and an unforgettable nickname: Mr. Ten Percent.

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International soccer has a notorious reputation for corruption and intrigue, one that contrasts sharply with its squeaky-clean image in America. For millions here, the sport represents an antidote to the cynical, alienating gloss of the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Don’t buy it. American soccer came of age under the watchful eye of a man who is half soccer dad, half globe-trotting rogue, who ultimately would be called a swindler by the very organization that he led for 21 years.

Blazer’s version of the Horatio Alger story would end with his downfall, as the powerful men who aided his rise eventually turned against him — and he them — exposing his secrets and laying bare his voracious self-interest. He would, finally, be stripped of his rank and cast down from the soccer firmament.

Blazer, 69 years old, declined multiple requests for interviews, citing recent surgery, and he did not respond to a detailed letter delivered to his residence last week seeking comment. The information in this article was taken from interviews with more than three dozen people involved in soccer or other aspects of Blazer’s life, as well as public documents, court records, commissioned investigations, news clippings, manuscripts, histories, biographies, and monographs about the sport. Full source notes can be foundhere. While pieces of Blazer’s story and his dramatic departure from soccer have previously been covered, this article offers the fullest account of his entire career.

“I’m perfectly satisfied that I did an excellent job,” Blazer said in one of his few recent public statements. “I spent 21 years building the confederation and its competitions and its revenues and I’m the one responsible for its good levels of income.” Indeed, Blazer has maintained repeatedly he was entitled to everything he got under the terms of his contract, and that CONCACAF still owes him millions of dollars.

Many people who helped develop soccer in the U.S. have praised Blazer’s commitment, hard work, and, especially, vision for the sport. “Chuck is one of the most important people in the history of soccer in this country,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said. “Not every American knows that the man behind the scenes pushing this sport is Chuck.”

International soccer’s most lurid scandals typically involve match fixing, as happened recently in Italy and China, or blatant bribery. But ironically, the most abused loophole of the sport’s international governance may be its radical commitment to democracy. In FIFA, and in each of the six regional confederations that govern the sport, every member nation is granted exactly one vote.

The tiny island of Montserrat, population scarcely 5,000, has the same voting power as China, population 1.3 billion. This means that CONMEBOL, the 10-nation South American body that oversees soccer powers Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, with nine World Cup titles among them, is the planet’s weakest confederation. The Confederation of African Football, with 54 members, none of which have ever advanced beyond the quarterfinals, is as strong as the organization representing Europe and part of Central Asia.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this setup creates the potential for manipulation, particularly when dealing with small, poor countries with virtually zero stake in the integrity of the sport because their teams have almost no hope of ever playing in soccer’s most important events.

That simple fact brought the unemployed Blazer in November 1989 to Port of Spain, where the U.S. national team was playing Trinidad and Tobago for a final shot at qualifying for the World Cup the following year.

 

Chuck Blazer with Jack Warner in 2008. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

A large American contingent was there to root for the red, white, and blue — which won the game and finally made the World Cup thanks to a legendary Paul Caliguiri goal known as the Shot Heard Round the World. But Blazer wasn’t just there to cheer; he came to strategize with his pal Jack Warner on how they might conquer CONCACAF.

 

The two first met in 1984 when both served at CONCACAF, Warner representing his native Trinidad and Blazer the U.S. They became fast friends while attending the 1986 World Cup in Mexico together; Blazer, whose garrulous enthusiasm and love of costume parties contrasted with the acerbic reserve of Warner, would come to call the diminutive former schoolteacher his “best friend.”

At first, his cut amounted to 10% of almost nothing. Warner, in remarks last year, recalled that Blazer’s wife initially paid CONCACAF’s rent in the Trump Tower, where the confederation set up offices. But the document’s language gave Blazer a very personal incentive to transform CONCACAF into a cash cow.

 

Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access

Google plans to spend $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the world. Associated Press

Google Inc. GOOGL -1.28% plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe, people familiar with the project said, hoping to overcome financial and technical problems that thwarted previous efforts.

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Google plans to spend $1 billion on a fleet of satellites that would connect unwired regions of the world. Wall Street Journal senior correspondent Andy Pasztor joins the News Hub with details. Photo: Getty Images.

Google plans to spend $1 billion on a fleet of satellites that would connect unwired regions of the world. Wall Street Journal senior correspondent Andy Pasztor joins the News Hub with details. Photo: Getty Images.

Details remain in flux, the people said, but the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.

Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., who recently joined Google with O3b’s former chief technology officer, the people said. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project, according to another person familiar with the hiring initiative.

Mr. Wyler has between 10 and 20 people working for him at Google and reports to Craig Barratt, who reports to Chief Executive Larry Page, one of the people said. Mr. Wyler couldn’t be reached.

The projected price ranges from about $1 billon to more than $3 billion, the people familiar with the project said, depending on the network’s final design and a later phase that could double the number of satellites. Based on past satellite ventures, costs could rise.

Google’s project is the latest effort by a Silicon Valley company to extend Internet coverage from the sky to help its business on the ground. Google and Facebook Inc.FB -0.35% are counting on new Internet users in underserved regions to boost revenue, and ultimately, earnings.

Google’s Project Loon is designing high-altitude balloons to provide broadband service to remote parts of the world. In April, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones to provide similar connectivity. Facebook has its own drone effort.

“Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable,” said Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm. “Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access.”

Google’s efforts to deliver Internet service to unserved regions—through balloons, drones and satellites—are consistent with its approaches to other new markets. Even if one or more projects don’t succeed, Google can often use what it learned in other areas.

A Google spokeswoman said the company is focused on bringing hundreds of millions of additional people online. “Internet connectivity significantly improves people’s lives. Yet two thirds of the world have no access at all,” she said. She declined further comment.

Tim Farrar, head of satellite-consulting firm TMF Associates, expects Project Loon’s balloons eventually to be replaced by Titan’s drones. Drones and satellites complement each other, he said, with drones offering better high-capacity service in smaller areas, and satellites offering broader coverage in areas with less demand.

Mr. Farrar worked as a consultant for Teledesic LLC, which tried to build a constellation of low-earth-orbit satellites to deliver Internet service in the 1990s. Teledesic, backed by Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.37% and telecommunications entrepreneur Craig McCaw, considered using drones to provide additional capacity for the satellite system in some areas, he said. The more than $9 billion project halted satellite assembly in 2002 amid technical hurdles and cost overruns.

Earlier, Iridium Satellite LLC went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization less than a year after starting voice and data services in 1998.

History is replete with ambitious satellite plans that failed, according to Roger Rusch, who runs TelAstra Inc., a satellite-industry consulting firm. Google’s project will end up “costing far more than they can imagine today,” he said, perhaps as much as $20 billion. “This is exactly the kind of pipe dream we have seen before.”

Google also will have to overcome regulatory hurdles, including coordinating with other satellite operators so its fleet doesn’t interfere with others.

O3b, in which Google was an early investor, has been working on providing broadband Internet connectivity from satellites weighing about 1,500 pounds each. O3b has been planning to launch about a dozen satellites, aiming to serve large areas on either side of the equator.

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Google hopes to cover the entire globe with more, but smaller, satellites weighing less than 250 pounds, the people familiar with the project said.

Jamie Goldstein, an O3b director and a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, which backs the company, said he couldn’t comment on what Mr. Wyler is working on, citing a nondisclosure agreement with Google. An O3b spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

During a conference in March, Google CEO Mr. Page mused about spanning the globe with Internet access delivered by Project Loon. “I think we can build a world-wide mesh of these balloons that can cover the whole planet,” he said, noting that they are cheaper and faster to launch than satellites.

But satellites are more flexible and provide greater capacity. In recent years, costs to build and launch satellites have dropped sharply, according to Neil Mackay, CEO of Mile Marker 101, an advisory firm.

Consultant Mr. Farrar estimated that 180 small satellites could be launched for as little as about $600 million.

If Google succeeds, it “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World to even some suburban areas of the U.S.,” said Jeremy Rose of Comsys, a London-based satellite consulting firm.

Google also is hoping to take advantage of advances in antennas that can track multiple satellites as they move across the sky. Antennas developed by companies including Kymeta Corp. have no moving parts and are controlled by software, which reduces manufacturing and maintenance costs.

Kymeta hopes to sell its ground-antenna systems for hundreds of dollars, said CEO Vern Fotheringham. They would substitute for phased-array antennas which cost roughly $1 million a decade ago, he said.

Kymeta supplies antenna technology for O3b and worked closely with Brian Holz, a former O3b chief technology officer. Mr. Holz recently joined Google’s satellite project, along with Mr. Wyler and David Bettinger, technology chief of satellite-communications company VT iDirect Inc., Mr. Fotheringham said.

Technology news website the Information reported on May 27 that Google had hired Messrs. Holz and Bettinger for a satellite project.

“Google certainly has the resources to do something exciting in this area,” Mr. Fotheringham said. “We and everyone else in the industry are keen to hear more about what they’re working on.”

—Evelyn M. Rusli contributed to this article.

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Sleepy brains neglect half the world

Damage to certain parts of the brain can lead to a bizarre syndrome called hemispatial neglect, in which one loses awareness of one side of their body and the space around it. In extreme cases, a patient with hemispatial neglect might eat food from only one side of their plate, dress on only one side of their body, or shave or apply make-up to half of their face, apparently because they cannot pay attention to anything on that the other side.

Research published last week now suggests that something like this happens to all of us when we drift off to sleep each night. The work could help researchers to understand the causes of hemispatial neglect, and why it affects one side far more often than the other. It also begins to reveal the profound changes in conscious experience that take place while we fall asleep, and the brain changes that accompany them.

Hemispatial neglect is a debilitating condition that occurs often in people who suffer a stroke, where damage to the left hemisphere of the brain results in neglect of the right half of space, and vice versa. It can occur as a result of damage to certain parts of the frontal lobes, which are involved in alertness and attention, and the parietal lobes, which process information about the body and its surrounding space.

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In clinical tests, patients with hemispatial neglect are typically unaware of all kinds of stimuli in one half of space – they fail to acknowledge objects placed in the affected half of their visual field, for example and cannot state the location of touch sensations on the affected side of their body. Some may stop using the limbs on the affected side, or even deny that the limbs belong to them. Patients with neglect can usually see perfectly well, but information from the affected side just does not reach their conscious awareness.

In 2005, researchers at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge reported that reduced alertness dramatically alters spatial awareness in healthy people by shifting attention to the right so that they neglect visual stimuli to the left. To investigate further, they recruited 26 more healthy participants and tested their spatial awareness while they fell asleep.

To do so, they took the participants one by one into a dark room and told them to sit back in a comfortable reclining chair and relax. They recorded the participants’ brain wave patterns using electrodes attached to the scalp, and measured their reaction times, to determine exactly when they started getting drowsy, then played sounds to either their left or right, and asked them to indicate which side each one came from by pressing one of two buttons.

Again, the researchers saw that reduced alertness caused a rightward shift in spatial attention. During the few moments of drowsiness just before falling asleep, the participants consistently mislocated sounds played to their left, and said that they had been played to the right.

“This is an exciting development,” says Masud Husain, a clinical neurologist at the University of Oxford who studies neglect in stroke patients. “It suggests that while falling asleep the healthy brain behaves in a similar way to stroke patients who have difficulty keeping alert.”

The findings further suggest that the attentional deficits associated with hemispatial neglect apply to sounds as well as to sights and bodily sensations, and also provide clues about why, in the vast majority of cases, neglect only persists after damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. “Both groups appear to have particular difficulty attending to information to their left, consistent with the view that frontal and parietal regions of the right hemisphere play a key role in maintaining alertness.”

The study also provides clues about the brain mechanisms underlying neglect. “People don’t necessarily miss items on the left as they become more drowsy, but instead respond as if they had come from the right,” says Husain, “as if their perception of space becomes skewed to the right as their alertness declines.”

“The implication is that right hemisphere brain mechanisms that are crucial to representing space around our bodies also interact with processes that keep us vigilant and alert,” he adds. “The results are intriguing but need to be confirmed, perhaps with a more precise method than pressing buttons.”