Trend spotting in 2021: here’s what to expect in the new year

 ·31 Dec 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the ways we live, work, socialise, and move around the world. While we struggle to understand the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic the ‘Zoomsday’ predictions report may help us understand where the global community is heading in 2021.

The 11 trend sightings, delivered by author, trendspotter and cultural commentator Marian Salzman represent ‘prophecy’ for shifts that will make their mark in the coming months. They provide indicators that will shape the next ‘normal’ and reshape our thinking as we move into our post-pandemic future.

The trends are centred around the change in lifestyles, for example the rethinking of ambitions, the end of the traditional eight-to-five workday, a re-evaluation of social circles and how businesses may start to look beyond profits.

“We are more divided, more sceptical and less willing to put aside partisan ideology in service to the greater good. Our calendars have advanced, but society appears to be moving—sometimes at hyper speed—in the opposite direction,” said the report author Marian Salzman senior VP of Global Communications for Philip Morris International.

“I use a futurecasting pattern recognition when compiling these annual reports by recognising, detecting, and connecting signs and symbols that tell stories and shed light on where cultures, communities, and society at large are moving,” she said.

“These trends cover all aspects of life as we head into what I hope will be a ‘boring’ 2021.”

Zoomed in (and out)

“Zoomed in (and out) is all about revamping lifestyles and rethinking ambitions,” she said. “Covid-19 has given the world time and mental space to consider how we have been living – and whether it’s been worthwhile.”

“We will continue to zoom in on our personal and professional lives – tweezing out what is essential and eliminating pain points – and in our new places (reconfigured living spaces that act as hubs for work, schooling, entertainment, fitness, and more).” she said.

“At the same time, we will be zooming out to consider more fully the broader community and the impact we wish to have.”

Scrambling time and space

Salzman believes 2021 will see some companies retire the agrarian clock and think instead about a 24/7 workweek in which individuals fit work, socializing, errands, and relaxing into hours that suit them – as we scramble with time and space.

The return to ‘we’ she said, will see people re-evaluating their social circles, focusing less on proximity and more on below-the-surface connection.

A return to ‘We’

Covid-19 has kept most of the world in their homes. “It has awakened in some of us to the first inkling of community in a long while,” she said.  “We feel the absence of touch even more acutely and are gravitating toward shared experiences, from virtual raves to family Zooms.”

“People will look for more digital detoxing and a smarter blending of our two worlds (digital and real) as more of us begin to recognize the cost of giving up too much of our ‘real’ estate.”

Drones and droids

Has there ever been a better time for droids to take over? “Automation will be more pronounced than ever,” Salzman said.

She questions the automation of jobs – “This pandemic may prove an unstoppable accelerant as businesses are reminded that human employees are a point of weakness.

“Seeking to address this vulnerability, Alibaba set up an unstaffed grocery at a hospital in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic, and drones were deployed to deliver medical supplies and Covid-19 test kits in Spain, Indonesia, and China.

“What other jobs will soon be automated? Already in our sights is a robotic sous chef and an AI nanny.”

However, she pointed out that the extreme end of this trend is that humans may lose jobs although it may take time before we see this in full blast in a developing country like South Africa.

Battle Ready

Another trend is emergency preparedness. Salzman explains that retailers may stockpile more on essential items.

“We can also expect to see apartment complexes competing on emergency preparedness versus fancy gyms and the emergence of crisis concierge services that can arrange in-home healthcare visits and access to in-demand medical equipment,” Salzman said.

Redefining essentials

Covid-19 has changed our priorities and people have started to think of ‘shared prosperity’.

She says that the existential threat of Covid-19 puts Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into question. With more people working and attending school at home, she asks what is required to be a ‘have’ in 2021? and, is universal broadband a luxury or a necessity?”

In 2021, she said to watch for increased support for racial and economic justice, resource sharing, and serious discussions of concepts that once would have been dismissed as radical, such as a universal basic income.

Corporations as change agents

There’s nothing new about businesses incorporating purpose beyond profits. “The pandemic has accelerated that shift and the growing sense that the challenges we’re facing are too massive and complex for governments to handle alone.”

Rethinking Place

New property lifestyles and trends will emerge as well, Salzman noted. “In the short term, we can expect a continuation of the trend toward tiny (maybe even mobile) houses in far-off locations.

“In the longer term, cities less dominated by business districts and commuters will seek to create new ways to attract residents, including more green spaces, more affordable housing, and smarter infrastructures.”

Making peace with uncertainty

Salzman is known for her trendspotting but she emphasizes that she is no clairvoyant. In her 2020 report she predicted the wearing of facemasks however, not for the same reason they’re being used today.

Moving forward, she sees people coming to terms with uncertainty and a pervasive sense of being unsettled.

Read: Apple hits record after December surge sends it past Amazon

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