How The Future Looks

MP900443793Lately I have been reading a lot of predictions for 2012. It’s hard not to – everyone from editors to researchers to artists are speculating about trends all over the place. It seems a normal New Year’s diversion – to get ahead of the pack by figuring out what is in store for us. I’ve found that reading an abundance of predictions at once can have quite an impact. For some people it is inspiring and engaging; creating an “I can’t wait to experience that” kind of feeling. Others might feel irritated, frightened or annoyed – like wanting back the peace-of-mind of current reality.

No matter how thinking about the future impacts you, it does seem like January is a good time to do so. Here are the changes I am personally noticing about how we live and work.

• The pace of change will be slowed by what people can handle. As I look at all of the new technology, gadgets and processes that are becoming available I could easily be sucked into thinking that the people using them are super-fast too. This holiday season I experienced airport line-ups and general mash-ups. Sure there were smart-phone apps and kiosks to print out boarding passes. But put all that in the hands of people – cranky, tired, confused and just plain rude passengers and you quickly see the result. Slick technology will never trump our plain-old less-than-perfect human nature.
• And because of that, we will avoid each other. On-line shopping is taking off – I think even the die-hard paranoids are figuring out ways to use PayPal. Delivery services and courier companies have it made. One of the benefits is, let’s be honest, not having to drive, wait in line or deal with a sales clerk. During the busy season, I can avoid the crowds and perhaps avoid the cold and flu germs it carries. So I can order a gift, wrapped, and have it delivered to another town. I get my prescription by touching a keypad on my phone, and I can order what I want on my pizza without talking to anyone. Cool.
• Adding to our physical isolation. Political correctness has removed any physical contact from the world of work or school. So has the fear of a pandemic. Aren’t you amazed at how many anti-bacterial hand stations have sprung up? (Another industry I should have invested in.) Yet the desire to touch is seen in our renewed attention to the tactile: Interior decorators are plugging grass wallpaper and faux-fur cushions and throws. There has been a resurgence of actual concrete products accompanying the virtual; e-books released as hard-covers with linen pages and rough edges. Retro kitsch pieces – which touch us nostalgically – are snapped up off e-bay. And spa services like massages and pedicures are used to alleviate stress by bringing physical touch to us. Admit it; touch screens are our new playthings.
• Less cars and home phones. A number of my friends and family members no longer have land-lines – they rely solely on their cell phones. Think about how quiet your home phone has been lately (not counting solicitors or politicians). I predict many people will avoid buying cars too – the price of gas, maintenance and insurance is too high and public transit continues to improve. I hope those one-driver vehicles clogging our highways will start to fill up with carpoolers – workmates with a shared commitment to be “green.” Zipcars has a Toronto and Vancouver location offering shared car ownership and advertise they take 15 cars off the road. Employers who think they can advertise entry level jobs with a car required will have to get real.
• Simple and integrated will be demanded. Many predictions say we desire to better integrate the disparate and fractured aspects of our world – the multitude of competing technologies, products and channels. I agree: It’s tiresome to jump gaps between tools meant to serve us. If it’s not intuitive and useful, I don’t want it. I’m sick of companies competing instead of collaborating so their products work together. How many pass-codes can a person remember? The best appliances will be those that I can just buy and use, without having to read a 40 page manual. Once you use a phone that can type your spoken texts it’s hard to go back to manual texting. Same for customer service – efficient, fast and friendly please. Fix it before it breaks if you can. Some companies are now offering to take back their used products when you’re done with them, for recycling or redistribution. Nice.
• Hey, pay attention here!! In a world with a smorgasbord of information at your fingertips (thanks Google) and many jobs structured around multi-tasking, people are forgetting how to pay attention. Reading Tweets makes it seem like an essay this long is a novel. People read email on their morning 5 km runs. We’ve learned to skim the surface and have trained our brains to hunt and peck. The constant stimulus makes anything normal speed seem boring. Of course conflicts flare and misunderstandings spin out of control because text-messages are written furtively, quickly, in the dark at the opera: “Hey, it was a slow part!” Every conversation is a side-bar. In a world like this, intimacy is lost. How rare become the skills of patience, listening and focusing. I think many people will confuse attention with love. Mindfulness and meditation practices will continue to gain in popularity and that will help. In the future schools might re-teach concentration, memorization and paying attention.
• Mini-vacations mean leaving the device off. The pervasive social network and over-stimulation of 24/7 availability has started to create a backlash. With so little privacy and so many attempts by marketers to niche them together, people are starting to long for their own space. Coming off the grid, even for a few hours, feels like leisure and relax time. Anyone who has forgotten their phone and then felt the unexpected freedom knows what I mean. Brave souls are going further to open up space for random discovery and spontaneous events to occur. They are turning off the GPS and checking out tripped-upon restaurants before seeking smart-phone peer reviews. Then, after the surprise delight, deciding to not share their experiences on-line but keeping them secret and personal.
• No matter what, the future arrives one day at a time. Thinking about change and the future is strange because it’s such a cognitive experience. You might decide to think about the future today, or to remember the past. As an escapist pursuit it can be fun and nurturing. But the present moment is where everything happens. Our lives arrive one moment after another. Have fun using your brain to plan, daydream or anticipate – but be mindful of this present moment. It’s all there actually is.

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