Here is my list of top 10 trends for 2008. The list is neither exhaustive nor 100% serious. It is merely a list of a few emerging trends that could impact on our lives in 2008 and beyond. They are conversation starters – especially if you are involved in innovation and want your idea to make sense in the world in which it is finished rather than the world in which it was started (with thanks to Ray Kurzweil for that last thought).
1. Rhythm & Balance
The speeding up of more or less everything, caused (some say) by everything from technology to globalization, is making some people feel uneasy. One consequence is an aspiration to slow things down a little. Some people are actively trying to regain control by cutting down on work hours or limiting the amount of emails they receive. Others are embracing ‘slow food’, which in turn is creating an interest in living in balance with the rhythms of the natural world. Hence seasonality is becoming important, not only in fashion but in food too. Balance also refers to the need to find equilibrium. For example, with food some people tend to swing between excessive indulgence and complete abstinence. This isn’t healthy. Neither is excessive work if this destroys your health or your family. Another point that is connected is that our digital connectivity is making individuals more aware of the whole. We are thus starting to see the bigger picture of the planet and our place on it and as a result we are seeking to work with nature rather than against it.
2. Karma Capitalism
The old capitalist model was red in tooth and claw. It was shareholder driven and its motivation was money. This model was refined in the caring sharing nineties to include stakeholder concerns and is now being reinterpreted once again to include a much broader awareness of societal impacts at both a local and international level. For example, companies are starting to move away from the idea that they are money machines reacting to the market and are embracing a more proactive model in which shareholders, employees, customers, society and the environment are all deemed equally important. Outsiders are now collaborated with rather than manipulated. An example of this shift from competitive capitalism to collaborative cooperation is the fact that the classic management text of the 1980s, The Art of War, has more or less disappeared from bookshelves and has been replaced by the more introspective Bhagavad Gita, which is perhaps more in line with the post-Enron, post-Bush (almost), post Blair zeitgeist.
3. Making things
Make magazine is a ‘how to’ magazine that was launched in 2005. The publication is devoted to making things with your hands. It is also about how to hack technology and combine low-tech and no-tech with high-tech. Stories have included features on knitting, recycling plastic bags into fabric and DIY coffee roasting. So why is it successful and what on earth is going on? The answer is twofold. First, the Internet has allowed people with weird and wonderful interests to find each other. Hence hobbies that everyone thought had died out are now enjoying a renaissance because individuals and small groups all over the world find it easier to find each other. Second, as life becomes faster and more virtual, people are looking back to the old ways of doing things, especially if the rest of their lives is dominated by the insubstantial, the intangible and the impermanent.
4. Something for nothing
In the future you will still have to sing for your supper but at least some of the lunches will be free. One of the emerging business models in the closing half of 2007 was giving stuff away for free in the vague hope that customers could one day be persuaded to part with money to upgrade their experience (or subscription). This has been labeled ‘Freemium’ and is, perhaps, the way that all digital products and services will be ‘sold’ in the future.
5. Industrial provenance
The more the world becomes globalized and homogenized, the more people will worry about cultural identity (i.e. where they come from). This is partly a reaction to US immigration and the rise of the European super-state but there is also a genuine worry about where products and ingredients come from and in particular the quality of products being produced by nations like China. Food provenance and traceability are well-established trends but with the emergence of ethical and environmental concerns the issue of where things come from is moving centre stage in other areas too. This links with trends like authenticity but also connects with fair trade initiatives and carbon emissions. In the future people may Google airlines to find out where maintenance is carried out and where certain aircraft parts are manufactured. Or how about researching the human rights policies of certain countries before booking a holiday or refusing to drive certain types of car based on where the rubber comes from or where the engine is manufactured?
According to Bill Gates, robotics is the next big thing. But why hasn’t robotics taken off before? The answer is that many of the basic tasks required of the ideal all-round robot still can’t be done or cost too much to do. For example, orientation and the visual recognition of objects are still very tricky and getting a robot to tell the difference between an open door and an open window is practically impossible. Thus, until robots can quickly sense and react to their environment they will not become ubiquitous and uses will be limited. However, this is all about to change due to the convergence of a handful of trends. First the cost of computing power (processing and storage) is dropping fast. Second, voice and visual recognition technologies and wireless broadband connectivity are similarly dropping in price and increasing in availability. As a result robots will soon start to multiply. According to the International Federation of Robotics around two million robots were in domestic service in 2004 and this figure is predicted to rise to 9 million by the end of 2008. Meanwhile, the South Korean government is aiming to put a robot in every home by the year 2013. As a result personal robots could soon be cleaning floors, dispensing medicine, folding laundry and keeping an eye open for intruders.
7. Data visualization
When IBM launched its PC back in 1981 it had no graphic capability whatsoever. These days we all seem to relate best to information when it’s delivered in short snack-sized sound-bites or when it’s a picture that replaces a thousand words. One of the key challenges for the twenty-first century will be how to cope with the almost infinite amount of information that will be produced. According to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, one of the most valuable skills in the future will thus be the ability to select and synthesize information. This in turn means the ability to develop criteria for filtering what’s valuable and what’s not will become highly prized. One way of doing this is through the use of information design, information aesthetics or data visualisation.
8. Reality mining
Mining data isn’t new but it’s becoming more universal and interesting because software to filter or analyse large volumes of data is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and powerful. For example, around 2,000 résumés per day are sent to Fortune 500 companies in the US, with around 90% sent in by email or via company websites. As a result, companies are using word-scanning software to decide who’s worth seeing and who isn’t. Equally, Centrelink – Australia’s benefits agency – uses what it calls a Job Seekers’ Classification Instrument to work out the probability that a claimant will become long-term unemployed and adjusts the help that’s made available to the claimant. Both are forms of prediction.The upside of this predictive analysis is that goods and services can be personalized to the individual. The downside is that data collected by one company or government department could be passed on to others without permission. Indeed, it is unlikely that you will ever be given sight of ‘your’ data, which means that if for some reason there’s a mistake and you have been incorrectly labeled there’s very little you can do about it.
Are you getting hot and bothered about global warming? Does a cup of carbon-neutral cappuccino or a packet of environmentally friendly potato chips make you go enviro-mental? If so you could be suffering from environmental cynicism or eco-exhaustion. In short, people are getting fed up with being told how to behave, especially from hypocritical and holier than thou politicians and celebrities that are driving a Toyota Prius one minute and stepping onto a private jet the next. None of this is to say that acting on behalf of the environment is a bad thing. It’s simply that in a great many instances this newly found environmental consciousness is nothing more than marketing hype and public relations spin – something green that’s cynically added to products and people to make them appear whiter than white. For example, a survey by ICM of 2000 British adults discovered that 23% were “bored with eco news”. The poll also found that 18% of people had exaggerated their commitment to the environment because it was “fashionable”. Meanwhile, there are rumours that Porsche is planning to produce a hybrid version of its 4WD Cayenne, while in Canada a fur company is positioning its fur products as an ethical eco-fabric with the slogan: “Protecting nature, while pampering yourself.” Enough already.
10. Fantasy & escape
People can’t deal with too much reality. As people’s lives speed up (thanks to technology and connectedness) and become more pressured (thanks to increasing expectations and less security in everything from relationships to employment) people become anxious. Add the threat of terrorism or rising interest rates (or a US recession) and people can get very anxious indeed. One solution to this anxiety is learning. Find out what’s really going on and try to do something about it. Another solution is withdrawal. Escape into a virtual world of your choosing or perhaps just go to the movies and switch-off for a couple of hours.