Now that the New Year is underway, it is time to use my futurist skills and make some forecasts about things that I think will become prominent in the years ahead. So here it is, my second annual Six Forecasts for 2016! Those who wish to critique my 2015 version of this second annual blog can review it here.
A simple way that futurists develop balanced insights about the future is through the use of the STEEP methodology. This acronym simply stands for Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic and Political factors. By default, each one of us tends to gravitate to one or two of the STEEP categories. However, robust future insights are a result of considering more than what we look at naturally. This also helps us avoid biased or unbalanced views of the future. So here they are, six forecasts for ’16!
- Environmentalism 2.0 – As the reality of a globally changing climate takes hold of our consciousness, I believe we are going to begin acting differently as individuals. Things such as disaster preparedness home kits, Facebook apps which help you contact people amidst disasters (Safety Check) and supplementary insurance will become mainstream. As an example, I purchased home flood insurance for the first time this winter because it is an El Nino year in California!
- Friends for hire – As technology changes our relationships (both literally and virtually), we will migrate to looking for new ways for real-life interactions. Welcome to Friends for Hire! While this service in the U.K., Australia and Japan allows you to rent someone to hang out with, this will have a more practical side as well. As retirees hit the years when they need personal care, healthcare services which provide more than just physical care will flourish. Expect friend-matching to migrate towards the quasi-scientific methods used by on-line dating agencies!
- Big data ethics – We are getting used to web sites referring products to us (via ads) based on them scouring our surfing habits. Our composite surfing profile has led to the rise of big data (see Understanding the Implications of Big Data). As this data is used in non-traditional ways (for example, to assess your loan worthiness when you apply for a mortgage), we are going to enter an entirely new level of ethical implications of data and how it is used. Look for the ethics of big data to become a dominant issue in the next decade.
- The rise of the shrinking middle class: This is a repeat from last year but I think it is really important! The gap between rich and poor (measured by something called the GINI index) has historical links to societal stability and peace (indicated by a low income gap) and instability and unrest (a high income gap). Between 2009 and 2012 the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains. This does not bode well for the middle class in America and we will begin to see more signs of unrest and this gap increases. I believe we are also seeing this trend manifest in other parts of the world.
- Wearables 2.0 – In the past decade we have witnessed the growth of smart clothing. Fitbits, Apple Watches and clothing that ‘plug in’ are becoming normal. Look for this to disappear in the next five years. WIRED magazine notes, “Look for fitness and fashion companies to integrate sensors and trackers in a way most people never notice”. This will be done with sensors invisibly woven into your fabric, jewelry with a simple LED or shoes with computer chips in the sole. The next wave of wearable tech will be virtually invisible.
- Politics 2.0 – I believe major shifts are occurring in global politics. Political power is shifting from a ruling minority to the populace majority. This is occurring in different ways in different places. In Egypt we witnessed the overthrow of a dictator in 2011. In China we saw an Occupy movement protest heavy-handed democracy in 2014. In America, two of the current leading Republicans are not politicians at all (Ben Carson and Donald Trump). While I do not know exactly how a reshake of our political systems will occur (and it will be different in different locations), a growing disenfranchisement with ineffective political systems will be a strong theme in the decade ahead.
Whatever actually occurs in the years ahead, I wish all of you a safe and joy-filled 2016!
Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman