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Middle class gained on Twitter, with many people taking note of Thomas Friedman’s The Virtual Middle Class Rises . Friedman’s op-ed is about how cheaper computing is enabling people who earn only a few dollars a day to access the “kind of technologies and learning previously associated solely with the middle class.” Such access is driving social change and social protest, he says. It’s a trend also observed by sociologist and author Saskia Sassen in an interview with The Hindu, Why the Middle Class is Revolting , though Sassen’s vision is more pessimistic. Another trend—a sharp, decade-long rise in “middle class” jobs in developing countries—is enlarging the middle class in the developing world and promises ultimately to drive global growth, says the International Labour Organization in a new study . ILO says nearly 1.1 billion workers (42%) earn between $4 and $13 a day, which is middle class wages in the developing world. The number of middle class workers in developing countries is expected to grow by 390 million to reach 51.9% by 2017. The report notes, however, that “progress in poverty reduction has slowed” and the number of “near poor” is growing. Also check out the Guardian’s datablog  on the report.
Are we at the cusp of a “brave new world” in which solar power is competitive with coal and natural gas? Semiconductor entrepreneur Brad Mattson blogs we’re about to see “the true, economically driven birth of a global solar industry.” Solar panel prices have dropped 85% in the last four years to almost one-eighth their previous price, he says. A new discovery  by Norwegian scientists may help drive change; the scientists say sunlight-trapping “microbeads” will allow for the manufacture of solar cells that are 20 times thinner and cheaper than today’s. Microsoft researchers are asking: ”What if there was a giant computer model that could dramatically enhance our understanding of the environment and lead to policy decisions that better support conservation and biodiversity?” Their new paper  in Nature (subscription required) urges other researchers to join the effort.
More than 184,000 people “liked” the Smithsonian’s story about a Russian family  cut off from the world for 40 years. Find another good longread in National Geographic about the isolation of Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz people, and how a wished-for new road could change a harsh but longstanding way of life.
“A new consumer class is emerging, but is not yet large enough to constitute an independent engine of growth.”
“As odd as it may sound, this is an exciting time to be in the solar industry. It is an industry poised for massive growth.”
”Finding solutions to climate change and ecosystem preservation is too big of a challenge for any one entity to tackle in isolation. And that’s exactly why we think that computer modeling has potential.”
“Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of the most remote, high-altitude, bewitching landscapes on Earth. It’s a heavenly life—and a living hell.”
Longreads is a regular feature on the Voices blog highlighting development research and in-depth reporting.