Trends 2019: We are now in a different world

The debate has reached a new level. Tech is mainstream now, and the real questions are on the table. In 2019, you'll need some answers.

The tech industry, and we’re of course a part of it, is a crazy beast. There’s always a lot of talk about tech itself, and people still listen to Apple’s keynotes, hoping for one more thing to revolutionise the world one more time. True, tech trends change fast, but what changes even faster and with more profound consequences are human behaviour and consumer expectations. This change in turn is enabled by tech, and it also drives tech.

It’s the time of the year when tech trends have their high season. By the way, some people now publish their trend forecast for the new year as early as in May, which is a bit funny. While browsing through the predictions for next year, I found lots and lots of the usual suspects that have been on the hype cycle for years now, like artificial intelligence, blockchain, the cloud, or VR/AR. Not to mention voice interfaces, chatbots, and smart speakers.

A certain disconnect

While all of this is still relevant, there’s a certain disconnect from the debate we had for at least two years now. In hindsight, the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States marks the end of tech’s innocence, foreshadowed by the Brexit vote in June 2016. And it’s not only tech, but also marketing that lost its innocence, since both Brexit and the Trump election have most probably been enabled by the (ab)use of marketing tech in general and Facebook in particular.

Granted, neither tech nor marketing was ever really innocent, but I hope you get my point.

Mark Zuckerberg’s company still doesn’t seem to get it, and so Facebook will very likely go down in history as the worst example of a tech giant that doesn’t take responsibility for the damage it does. Facebook and Google are now the biggest empires in history, and with great power comes great responsibility.

The quest for value(s)

Which brings me back to the topic. If there is one major (meta) trend, then it’s the quest for value(s), relevance, sustainability, responsibility, meaning, purpose, privacy, and ethics. Compare this list to the items mentioned above, and you’re witnessing a huge shift. This is brilliantly captured by Fjord Trends 2019. (Here’s the disclaimer: Fjord is part of Accenture Interactive, as is SinnerSchrader, who hosts NEXT.)

Tech has left the buildingIt’s the end of tech. We’re no longer debating the latest technologies, gadgets, social networks, or apps, as if they were an end in itself, and something the rest of the world simply must adapt to. At least, this kind of debate now sounds boring and deeply inappropriate. Instead, it’s about how tech can solve real problems and make the world a better place, and not a worse one.

In a way, that’s a return to the roots. But not with the same kind of naïveté. We’re now better informed from two decades of digital progress, that turned out to be retrogression in some respect.

It’s still day one.

We can write off two decades (since the dot-com craze) as a phase of building the foundation, of experiments and learning, and start again from scratch, with all these powerful digital technologies at hand, to build something meaningful. To an extent, the stock market has already done a write-off regarding big tech over the past months.

And if two decades are not enough – we can also write off three decades since the invention of the web, or five decades since the invention of the internet. The web turns 30 in 2019, and the internet turns 50.

To sum things up:

  1. It’s all about value and values. Tech that doesn’t provide value, but only exploits it, will increasingly get under pressure.
  2. The relevance question is growing in importance. Consumers will scrutinise brands and products with regard to their relevance.
  3. Sustainability can no longer be ignored. This applies to all aspects of any business. Expect profound changes.
  4. The tech industry needs to take its responsibility seriously, or it will be forced to do so through further regulation. GDPR was only the first step.
  5. Without a clear purpose, your brand will get more and more in trouble. Consumers, employees and shareholders demand clarity these days.
  6. Privacy and data are renegotiated. Consumers are no longer willing to give up their personal data for glass beads like they did in the past.
  7. It all comes down to ethics. Pure lip service no longer suffices, stakeholders demand results.

We are now in a different world.

It’s terra incognita, unknown territory. In a way, and in retrospect, a certain German politician was exactly right five years ago:

The internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us. And it also enables our enemies. It enables enemies of a free, liberal order, to use it, to abuse it, to bring a threat to all of us, to threaten our way of life.

While that’s precisely what happened over the last couple of years, the trends now point in a better direction. The debate has reached a new level. Tech is mainstream now, and the real questions are on the table. In 2019, you’ll need some answers.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash