January is always a fun time of year on the Future Conscience blog, because it’s when I have to lay some trend-catching credentials on the line and put down solid predictions for the coming year. We get to condense the many news items and other indicators put up on the @FutureCon Twitter stream into good use, and they’re particularly fun because looking back can often prove just how quickly things change.
Spotting trends over the next 12 months is certainly an easier prospect than the futurist predictions spanning decades – but it’s also easier for people to realise how spectacularly wrong you got it! I’m going to claim five out of the nine predictions I had for 2013 as correct – so can that number be improved as we look towards seven trends that will arise in 2014?
1. Facebook has peaked
For some reason people always seem to think that the latest fad will last forever, and with something as socially revolutionary as Facebook you can certainly understand why many continue to hold that notion in regards to the largest of the social media oligarchs. Yet, we’re starting to see data come in that says otherwise. I’ll take it one step further than that: Facebook has peaked.
People are beginning to abandon the site for a number of reasons, and that trend will continue and accelerate into 2014. Whether it be because of increasing concern about privacy; fatigue around the interface; a changing perception of online that demands more spontaneous, ephemeral communication; weariness of how narcissistic we’ve all become; or just the fact that it’s now where your mum and dad hang out – there’s a hundred reasons for people to start moving away from Facebook, and very few keeping them there beyond the sheer weight of having a peer group all in the one place.
Yes, this prediction is strongly biased by the fact that I’ve finally managed to claw myself away from the siren call – and saying that something has ‘peaked’ at 1.3 billion users can hardly be considered a criticism. But the writing is clearly on the wall (sorry, timeline…or whatever), so expect to see major shifts in strategy from Facebook this year to try and mitigate the impact. Given the company’s purchase of Instagram, there’s a lot more twists and turns to come…but you’ve got to admit how good it sounds to say ‘Facebook has peaked’.
2. Feminism reaches a new level
Fourth-wave feminism is going from strength-to-strength, finding footing and solidifying into a recognisable and consistent push for gender equality around the world. Throughout 2013 we saw a lot of evidence of the feminist perspective becoming a mainstream social narrative. From FEMEN protesters, the impact of Sheryl Sandberg leaning in, to Malala Yousafzai becoming a global role model, the issue of gender equality in all aspects of life is an unavoidable topic. No longer relegated to the realms of niche radicalism; feminism is a serious force in corporate restructuring, political activism, media reform, and multicultural development.
This new wave of activity and mainstream attention does come with its own internal struggles and hypocritical behaviour – but the key message is loud and clear for all to hear: we’re no longer debating feminism. We’re trying to figure out how best to implement a truly equal and inclusive perspective across the globe. The feminist movement in 2014 will build off of the many successes in the previous year, and expect ‘fourth-wave feminism’ to become a key phrase in the soundbites of the Twitterati. Feminism is going to be unashamedly in your face this year, and thank God for that!
3. Alternatives arise from grassroots
As the corporate world moves towards ever closer integration, a new breed of grassroots innovation is developing that seeks to circumvent the often oppressive strangle-hold that such integration brings. These kind of DIY platforms are seeking to undermine the centralised model of product and service ownership – preferring instead to allow communities to form their own agendas and pathways, often in the pursuit of some ideal of what terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ truly mean.
Consider just three prominent examples. The Pirate Bay’s constant and direct challenges to the entertainment industry, as they now seek to build upon their PirateBrowser by developing a new P2P network. Bitcoin has found an eye-catching degree of success at reinventing the basis of transactional trust – an astonishing attempt from a still anonymous source to completely revolutionise the power structures of our global financial system. Whilst the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network provides a free, super-fast version of the internet that promotes local community building and cultural development.
The similarity across all three is that when faced with the challenges of immovable corporate institutions, the key to success was to build an alternative. The fascinating thing is that these same monolithic institutions provide the cheap technology and global information networks available to facilitate such truly grassroots alternatives. Expect to see a lot more of this emerge in 2014, along with an increasing backlash from those with profit margins on the line.
4. We welcome our robot friends/overlords
Technology spearheads revolution in the labour force, and the degree of intricacy we are now capable of harnessing with industrial
robotics is set to bring about another massive shift. China is leading the way, with huge amounts of capital both social and financial invested into developing a new era of robotics. In the meantime Google pushes ahead with their attempts to rule unchallenged over the future, and their purchase of Boston Dynamics indicates that maybe their fleet of delivery drones isn’t quite the publicity stunt many people thought it to be. All of this points to an increasing role for advanced robotics in our lives, and not just behind the scenes but in the way that we conceive how society works and functions.
Worryingly, this means that developments will also continue in the militarisation of robotics. The DARPA Robotics Challenge to build a humanoid robot is seeing remarkable feats in engineering – and no futurist is naive enough to believe that these technologies will only be used for life-saving purposes. However, for this year at least, the focus will be on the positive impact of our new robotic brethren. As they begin to develop manufacturing skills beyond human capability, as they look and act more recognisably like us, as they fill our shopping malls and assembly lines, we’ll start to become increasingly familiar with the idea of a future deeply embedded with robot relationships – be they friend, or foe. Expect a lot of debate about this, and even more commercial announcements and partnerships.
5. The Year of Medicine
Newspapers love to run the latest news of a cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS, usually whilst overlooking the long research and clinical testing processes required to bring anything that shows merit to fruition. However, the sensational headlines do point to fundamental truths about the accelerating nature of science and the leaps in medical research that we have seen and will see to an increasing degree.
The futurist community is used to hearing about the big steps being made in technological therapies for many different kinds of disability, and areas such as gene therapy and longevity research hold tantalising glimpses of what the future may hold. The public is becoming better versed in the vernacular of medical advancement, and news of successful treatments is increasingly sought out as baby-boomers face their own mortality. Decades of highly-funded medical research is coming into contact with exponential advancements in processing power and technological development, the perfect storm for some truly astonishing medical breakthroughs over the coming years. It’s likely that we get a few big ones this year, as medicine reclaims its position as king of the futurist crowd having lived in the shadow of technology counterparts for the past decade.
6. Wearable technology takes off
So maybe Samsung’s smartwatch didn’t quite hit the mark, and yeah Google Glass increasingly feels like it’s going to be relegated to the unpalatable realms of geeky-hipsterdom for a few years to come (although waves are being caused with how law enforcement deals with this new tech). Don’t let these first missteps fool you though, wearable technology is the next big frontier for a lot of companies – and they’re going to crack the market sooner rather than later. Everything requires a few iterations to really come to fruition, and 2014 is the year that wearable technology begins to truly find its stride. The impact will mostly be in the realms of product previews, the majority of which won’t actually be released this year, but our news feeds and wish lists will quickly begin to fill with the latest must-have piece of wearable tech. This process will be helped along significantly through the development of medical uses and other beneficiary forms outside of fashion or purely social utility.
Another factor to consider is that the learning curve for DIY engagement with wearable technology is getting easier and easier - Arduino variants such as the Lilypad are proving to be a great success and igniting the imaginations of many. This continues the theme of grassroots innovation, and it’s great to see that small teams with little initial funding can produce amazing things as a new landscape of innovative possibility opens up.
7. Rise of a videogame culture
I’ve discussed this in more detail in a recent post, but 2014 is the year that gaming takes another big leap in its unstoppable journey towards cultural domination. We’ve already crossed the sales thresholds – the gaming industry is now worth more than the music and film industries – and adoption of smartphone technology has meant that mobile gaming took over the world one Angry Bird at a time. Now comes the next step, the battle for your living room. Long dominated by cable television boxes, as our viewing habits begin to shift online (thank you, Netflix) so the desire to have a single device resting under our television will increase.
By far the best option in the short term is a console – you’ve got games, music, movies, television, internet, communications…everything under the one hood. The increased cost of consoles over other traditional options will also be mitigated by the ongoing leaps in narrative depth and emotional connection that we are seeing modern games bring to the table. PS4 and Xbox One have come out of the gate strongly, bucking the usual slow start for a new generation of consoles, and by Christmas 2014 will be absolutely booming. Unfortunately Nintendo dropped the ball with the Wii U, but they have more than enough cash reserves to weather the storm and the 3DS will be the global mega-seller that they need to keep moving.
Outside of the console wars, eSports will deepen their infrastructure and emerge out of the fruitful confines of the Korean market, so expect to see an increasing level of coverage of League of Legends, DoTA 2, Starcraft 2 and other finely tuned competitive games as the stacks of prize money get bigger and the communities get stronger (and hopefully, less misogynistic). Top all of this off as a new era of virtual reality begins with the launch of the Oculus Rift (and its utter domination of YouTube let’s play videos for at least the first month), and you can see why things are looking very bright for gaming culture in 2014.
So there you have it – another year, some more predictions on the Future Conscience blog. There’s enough hiding in the archives now that I’ll make sure to do an update post soon, see just how many of them have really panned out. If you’ve got anything to add, let us know – and please share this post to help support the blog. Think that my predictions are ridiculous, or pointless? I’d love to hear why in a comment below…