Futurist Will Higham offers his pick of emerging sociocultural developments that could present a commercial opportunity for businesses this year
1. RISE OF THE CO-BOTS
Demand is growing for augmented intelligence systems that will enable, rather than replace, human workers. Although only five per cent of jobs can be fully automated, according to McKinsey, 60 per cent could have almost a third of their activities automated. See also: smart clothing and “human” technology that responds intuitively to speech, gestures and even thoughts – turning today’s voice assistants into tomorrow’s digital colleagues.
2. TAKE IT EASY
The co-bot trend can be seen as part of a wider backlash against the forward rush of change. Developers are designing so-called calm tech to be less obtrusive. “Slow leisure”, behind the resurgence of vinyl records and board games, will continue – sales of cassette tapes rose 90 per cent last year. The fitness industry is shifting its focus from high impact to slow intensity. Travel is decelerating too, with renewed interest in ocean cruises and railway holidays.
3. RETURNING JAPANESE
Japan is enjoying a long-awaited economic and cultural renaissance, as it finally shakes off the pernicious effects of its “lost decade” and Tokyo looks forward to hosting the 2020 Olympics. The country’s mindful, minimalist approach to interior design – epitomised by the ikebana school of style – is proving increasingly influential around the world, for instance.
4. WABI-SABI SAVVY
Another Japanese cultural export hitting our shores this year is wabi-sabi: a lifestyle that celebrates imperfection. Having had success retailing misshapen fruit and veg, some supermarkets are set to sell “wonky” meat. Crafters are upcycling damaged pots and clothing, while home-made goods – from DIY beauty creams to tie-dye T-shirts – are hip again. Wabi-sabi will drive two further trends: the wider discussion of once-taboo topics such as mental illness; and the growth of adulting, whereby kidults grow up and learn life skills such as budgeting. Better late than never…
5. WEST WORLD
Americana is back in vogue – think cowboy boots, lace and fringing. This fashion revival has been inspired by a reassessment of US heritage, and the development of a strong feminine aesthetic for the #MeToo era. Another key aspect of this is a growing fascination with Native American culture – from interior designs featuring beadwork and crocheting to one of the key spiritual trends for 2019: shamanism.
6. THE NEW WAVE
Thanks in part to our heightened awareness of the ecological problems affecting the oceans, there’ll be increased interest in the life aquatic. Many of the year’s fashionable colours will be sea blues and greens, for instance. Chefs will be using seaweed butter, kelp noodles and water-lily seeds in their dishes. There’s even talk of a British seaside style revival.
7. SURREAL LIFE
Last year saw big exhibitions of surrealist art, from the Tate Modern to the Hepworth Wakefield. Expect to see more examples of graphic design in this style – look out for work, incorporating fluids and vivid hues, that conveys feelings of dreaming, floating and flying.
8. HOME HEALTH
According to research by YouGov, we Brits spend 90 per cent of our time indoors, mostly at home. This factor is becoming the focus of a growing health concern. Nearly half of us worry about the effects of domestic cleaning products on our health, driving a demand for microbiome-friendly products that won’t harm the immune system. This is another manifestation of the growing interest in gut health. The trend towards biophilic architecture – especially the use of indoor gardens to improve air quality in buildings – is set to grow too.
9. VEG FOR THE EDGY
Today’s anxious consumers want comfort food, but don’t want to worry about its harmful effects. Hence the demand for healthier fare, such as fat-free soya kebabs from What the Pitta! (pictured) and vegan faux-meat snacks including mushroom jerky, pork-free rinds and “baconless bits”.
10. TEND AND BEFRIEND
Scientists recently suggested that “fight or flight” might actually be an exclusively male reaction to stress, while the female response is more “tend and befriend”. It’s a great name for our final sociocultural phenomenon, as Britons divided by Brexit try to build bridges and re-establish some community spirit. As with all this year’s trends, “tend and befriend” has implications for businesses. Positive communal marketing campaigns are likely to succeed, for instance, while the growth of co-working and co-opetition is set to accelerate.
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