Trends 2020: fixing our mistakes, building better and with purpose

Amid the chaos and confusion of the end of the decade, can we find some positive, creative and sustainable ways forward into the new one?

Gazing into the crystal ball for 2020 trends reveals nothing but the mists of mystery. The Magic 8 Ball says “Reply hazy, try again”. Confusion and uncertainty reign in a way I haven’t seen in the eight years I’ve been writing for this blog. The arrow from where we are to the future seems to be broken, with our political, financial and (worst of all) climate systems in turmoil.

Every remaining ounce of my common sense is telling me to step away from trends for 2020, to focus on the problems of the here and now, and not to make a fool of myself by trying to navigate this culture storm.

But this is still NEXT, and peering through those mists to find the best way forwards is what we do. So let’s marshal our courage, find a spark of hope and peer through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity to see what people make of the year to come.

And, as ever, we start with tech.

Tech’s social debt comes due

There was a time that you could look to the technology world for exciting Things To Come. But even lists of tech predictions for next year look, well, dystopian. Any list that has these three things on it can’t help but raise fear as much as excitement:

  • The internet of bodies
  • “dirty data” is the new “fake news”
  • Deepfake for the masses

Really? We’re going to connect our bodies to the internet, courtesy of the same people who have been happily collecting our social media and browsing data for decades? Sure, you could choose a smaller, independent company. But then — they get bought. And also, the more biological data they have about us, the more digital egos can be complemented by digital biological models, and that’s way more than I want tech companies knowing about me.

In fact, I suspect that new tech will have a greater struggle to find acceptance through 2020 and into the rest of the next decade, simply because people have been bitten before.

A reckoning does appear to be coming (although I did predict that for this year…), and we’ll probably see more early tech CEOs “do a Larry and Sergey” and try to exit the stage before the bill becomes due…

The frightening face of Fintech

How about financial innovations? The Fintech boom is a big thing, right?

Ayup. The GlobalWebIndex report says it will be important:

As consumers continue to grapple with taking control of their online identities, they might soon have to start worrying about their financial identities too. Both Facebook and the Chinese government are preparing to roll out their own digital currencies next year, meaning more scrutiny and awareness is likely to be placed on where and how people are spending their money in their day-to-day lives.

Oh, goody. Not only are we being tracked through our social networking and our web browsing, but through our new currencies, too. Great. This, in a sense, is a good thing. We’re not as naive as we were 15 years ago. We’re approaching new technologies with a more nuanced view, and an awareness of the potential risks. If that’s a trend in 2020, it will be positive for all of us.

The return of retail

However, the same report also picks out the reinvention — the humanising — of retail as one trend. That’s an interesting call. The high street apocalypse has become particularly acute in many countries in the last few years, and with it has come a depression in property prices and rents. That, in turn, allows smaller, more experimental businesses to get access to prominent premises.

Hey, it’s the cycle of innovation, again. And perhaps that’s one of the key trends that will emerge in 2020. We’re in the downswing of the last major innovation cycle – where the problems it caused are just as evident at the boons it has brought. Perhaps, as a new decade dawns, we should be looking for new shoots of innovation in the rubble left behind by the previous wave of innovators.

And, if we’re really hunting for silver linings here, the global recession they’re predicting for next year could help that process along…

Green pressure and metamorphic design

Oh, dear. Perhaps we could turn to regular NEXT speaker David Martin's firm Trend Watching for something more positive to complement this idea?

Here’s their five predictions for the year to come:

  1. Green Pressure — In 2020, consumers move from eco-status to eco-shame.
  2. Brand Avatars — Human brands take powerful new form.
  3. Metamorphic Design — Consumers demand relevance as a service.
  4. The Burnout — Smart brands rush to help those burned by the pressures of modern life.
  5. Civil Media — Why the future of social is meaningful connections.

Now, that’s more like it. There’s an underlying theme there, isn’t there, of a demand for purpose, and for meaning, in both our networks and our products. And could it be that many consumers are ahead of business here?

Consumer demand for a better world

Hearteningly, Brandwatch’s 2020 trends research indicates that people are as interested in renewable energy as they are in AI — but it would be hard to predict that both from the digital column inches each subject has received. It’s perhaps indicative of how focused on consumer-level tech the past 15 years of thinking and discussion have become that we continue to miss the bigger picture stuff, especially at the infrastructure level. Much of the changes we’ve seen in tech in the past 20 years have been born of the massive infrastructure innovation we call the internet.

While we’re unlikely to see that level of innovation any time soon, we do need to start thinking both bigger AND smaller. Bigger, because the climate crisis will require worldwide action, and smaller because we need meaningful connections, not just global ones.

And perhaps that’s one key message for us all — including Martin and I here on the NEXT blog — that we need to broaden our definition of what technology is. While it has been part of the Genesis of many of the problems we face, it has to also be a part of the solution.

If we can apply the same amount of enthusiasm and talents to using tech to solve genuine, life-threatening problems as we have to making misinformation so much more efficient, then perhaps we have a winning strategy for the decade to come.

The Trend Watching five point list is a great starting point. Time to roll up our sleeves, folks, and get to it. We’ve got work to do. The 2020 trends that matter are reinventing and reworking our systems. And that's a big job.


Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash