The annual Flux Trend briefing – The State We’re In – is an eagerly awaited executive summary of where the world is, and where it’s going.Using the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S. – representing six trend pillars that will shape how we will live, work and connect in the coming year – Flux not only identifies new pivotal trends but also the undercurrents that have intensified from the year before.
We enter 2023 with a common consensus that we’ve entered an era of “polycrisis” (or permacrisis). The Financial Times brings this state of mind into sharp focus with this explanation: “A problem becomes a crisis when it challenges our ability to cope and thus threatens our identity. In the polycrisis the shocks are disparate, but they interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts. At times one feels as if one is losing one’s sense of reality”, which aptly describes how 2022 unfolded.
Not only does it feel as if we’re losing a sense of reality, but that the world is unravelling.
“Ontrafel” is the Afrikaans word for “unravel” and it somehow has a “mouthfeel” that more accurately describes the helplessness most people felt throughout the year.
2022 was meant to be the year of re-emergence and recalibration after lockdown.
But this was not meant to be.
Instead we were diverted onto new uncertain futures and in the midst of our distraction we put more of our faith and reliance on automation and algorithms.
The unravelling of an old world order is not a bad thing. It’s very necessary.
But we need to ask, will we be the architects of a post-pandemic world, or will we cede that responsibility to the machines?
Here are some key trends emerging from our 6 pillars.
TECHNOLOGY: The AI Creative Economy
Last year we tracked the “rush hour in the Metaverse”. Brands and businesses were staking claims in this virtual realm without quite knowing why and what the outcome would be, but understanding instinctively that they needed to do so.
The Metaverse economy is now starting to take shape as the technologies required to play in this parallel universe become more accessible. Landmarks are being built, countries are creating cyber services for their citizens, universities have opened, and retail brands have started to trade.
As the Metaverse grows and evolves, so too is a new AI creative economy, one that is raising many eyebrows. An algorithm won an art contest and ignited controversy in the art world, while Ai-Da, the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist, was invited onto a panel at the global culture summit in Abu Dhabi.
Machine writing is becoming more sophisticated and the new AI chatbot – ChatGPT – can code, compose music, write essays, movie scripts and answer questions more efficiently than Google. It can also admit mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.
RETAIL & MARKETING: Dark advertising and discovery commerce.
Algorithms are now integral to retail, specifically as e-commerce evolves and social commerce rises, but online shopping has always been more intentional than serendipitous. New platforms together with AI are changing that and recreating impulse buying, digitally.
We’ve all had the creepy experience of speaking about a product and then seeing advertising for that same product almost instantly on social media. Now virtual product placement (VPP) and dark advertising is set to enhance that creepiness.
VPP allows brands to insert a product placement in post-production and not only customise the offering to specific audiences, at specific times, but also enable the advertiser to monetise the content multiple times.
Dark advertising allows companies to generate ads that are only visible to their targeted audience rather than the public. The adverts are also transient so even a targeted customer who clicks on the ad will not see the same advert on the business’s account page. It’s stealthy and very effective.
ECONOMY: Reconfiguring supply chains and workforces
“Friend shoring” (the business strategy of running supply chains only through countries that are close political partners) is taking shape but the risk it brings to geopolitics has yet to unfold. CPR – corporate political responsibility – reared its head as the war in Ukraine intensified. Mixing business with pleasure might be easy but mixing business with politics is a slippery slope but more multinational companies will be forced to declare their allegiance.
While global supply chains are being reconfigured, so too are work forces around the world. Flux Trends’ Lockdown Life Audit research has tracked how the pandemic has re-shaped workforces around the world. Disabled workers are now benefiting from remote work policies, as are female workers, while nomadic workers and families who semigrated are boosting small businesses in small towns and second tier cities.
But while businesses scrambled to recoup and recalibrate in 2022, climate change is starting to negatively affect global economies, food security and the reality of human displacement is becoming a geo-political issue.
NATURAL WORLD: Climate Colonialism and Climate Relocations
Climate change is now not only flagged as high risk for many businesses (specifically insurance companies who are seeing an increase in claims attributed to extreme weather), but the agricultural sector is feeling the heat.
Farmers around the world are being forced to change the crops they grow because of the now discernable impact of extreme weather. This in turn is a concern of governments in countries that are classified as “one crop countries”.
Other governments like Fiji have begun the monumental task of moving entire villages or towns away from the coast to higher ground because of rising sea levels. It’s not just homes that must be moved but also schools, health centres, and infrastructure like roads, electricity, water and even burial grounds.
“Climate colonialism” became a topic of debate at COP27 when a historic deal for a global fund for “loss and damage” was brokered. It provides financial assistance to poor nations who have ironically contributed least to climate change, but are suffering the most.
DIPLOMACY: A Fork in the Road
The evolution of the Metaverse has not only enabled countries like South Korea to create a digital, public service platform in the form of “Metaverse Seoul” – a virtual environment for civic administrative services, including economy, education, culture, and tourism – but for smaller nations to build a virtual “micronation” of itself.
The tiny pacific island nation of Tuvalu has begun to build a digital copy of itself in the metaverse to preserve its history, culture, and land amidst the threats of rising sea levels and climate change.
Back in the real world the resurgence of pre-pandemic populism has seen the rise of right-wing movements, which have now been voted into government.
“What we are seeing is the rise of anti-establishment parties that promise something radically different,” says Sam Van der Staak from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). “Right-wing vs left-wing is a misrepresentation, it’s really about citizens expressing that they are not happy with politics and what the whole system of government is delivering.”
SOCIO-CULTURAL: Altered States
A study in America has discovered that the brains of US teens changed physically during the first year of the pandemic, ageing faster than normal resulting in the teens’ brain ages being older than their chronological age. The area in the brain that was altered is called the amygdala, which helps regulate fear and stress.
But the more we move into, and inhibit, a virtual reality a new psychological disorder is emerging – Avatar Dysmorphia. As we become used to embodying fantastical avatars, the likelihood of disliking our human form and its limitations begins to increase.
Potentially exacerbating the problem are new technologies that can “connect you with the dead”. With our – now vast – digital footprints, platforms like DeeNostalgia and HereAfter AI are able to harvest images, recordings, and footage of recently deceased people to create a virtual form that people can “interact” with.
The lines between reality, virtual reality, past and present are blurring. Fast.
By Dion Chang is the founder of Flux Trends.
For more trends affecting businesses visit: www.fluxtrends.com