Why would any of us risk ridicule by predicting trends? Because we’ve
shrunk the future. The velocity of change has accelerated in the last
decade, and there’s no sign it will slow anytime soon. So let’s forgo
a long, thoughtful look into the deep future; it’s sufficient now
merely to have a good sense of what’s around the corner.
1. Start with the ascent of China and India, now collectively
referred to as Chindia. Smart, cheap labor has made these two
countries, Himalayan cousins if you will, the offshore suppliers of
choice for the U.S. computer industry. But that’s yesterday’s news.
Today’s headlines reveal an educated class of professionals who no
longer dream of snagging jobs abroad. Today they’re asking: Instead of
making chips and assembling computers, why not create and manufacture
high-end products? Why build prosperity for others when it’s possible
to do it for yourself—and, in the process, turn the U.S. into the Old
World? Yes, we’ll still see these countries churning out fake Polo
shirts, but increasingly we’ll also see India and China rocketing up
to challenge Japan and South Korea.
2. Move on to the globalization of everything. Once, we may have
taken globalization to mean that the world would be America’s factory
and marketplace. Now it’s clear that, to borrow Thomas Friedman’s
phrase, the world is flat. Instant access to the Internet around the
globe means it doesn’t matter where you live. All that’s important
now: what you know and how you can contribute.
3. And it turns out that just about everyone wants to weigh in,
whether the topic is culture, politics, fads or celebrity follies.
This universalizes every news flash—let a big name stumble, and the
entire world hits the keyboards to talk about it.
4. Time is becoming the enemy. “How do you know you’re in New York?”
asks the sign at the copy shop. The answer: “Everyone needs it right
now.” So much to do, so little time—to the extent that time has become
more precious even than money, which has no inherent limit to its
supply. Paradoxically, we lose more time whenever we accessorize with
another handheld communications device designed to make our lives
5. Life is good if you’re a brand. Better get busy if you’re not,
because branding is no longer just for businesses. As an individual,
you’re a cipher; as a brand, you’re instantly recognizable and
respected. For what? For successfully branding yourself, of course!
It’s the ultimate interpersonal shorthand. You may never need to
explain what you “do” again.
6. There are no boundaries or straight lines today—just a blur.
Nothing’s in sharp focus. Plastic surgery renders age meaningless; men
use as many cosmetics as women; “reality TV” is cast as carefully as
dramas; and product placement makes programming look like advertising.
And it’s all served up so professionally, you can’t get a fix on
anything. From now on, we’ll put quotation marks around “reality.”
7. Antisocial is the new normal. People on the street wear their iPod
earbuds, or maybe they’re Bluetooth-enabled. Either way, they’re in
their own private bubbles—turning public space into private. Who are
their role models? On TV, they are House, the nastiest doctor in
television history, and Entourage’s seething agent, Ari Gold. Clearly,
the new message is “Do not disturb.”
8. We want real food. TV ads for foods laden with fats and chemicals
used to amuse us; now they’re repulsive. We’ve elevated chefs to
celebrities, turned cooking into an admired hobby and gone back to the
past for edible inspiration. In a time of high-tech factory farming on
one hand and all types of food randomly labeled “organic” on the
other, the only word that rings true for us now is “authentic.”
9. We are steadily redefining family. The Ozzie and Harriet family of
married mom and dad, two kids and no live-in grandparents may have
reflected 1950s America but has long since ceased to be a demographic
reality. Today’s families are defined only by affection, and they’re
as individual as the people who create them: extended, single-parent,
gay and unmarried couples with kids. Pets? Friends? Who says they’re
10. We just might be coming around to the hard truth that global
warming is no myth. Naomi Oreskes, professor of history and science
studies at the University of California, San Diego, got tired of
hearing claims that “most” scientists disagree with the notion of
global warming, so she read every piece of science written on the
topic—and not one scientist called it merely a theory. Ever since
Hurricane Katrina, it’s become harder for skeptics to win converts.
Taken together, these trends suggest a world of paradox: convulsive
economic changes in the global economy, more struggle for control and
consistency in our private lives. We’ll be enclosed in our bubbles
during leisure hours, in battle mode during the workday. Can these be
integrated? Not likely. If there were a final trend, it would be that
it’s extremely unpopular to look at the big picture.