08 Feb 21 10 trends for 2021 – and not all about technology or Covid!
The start of a year invariably leads to a flurry of articles and prognosis about key trends for the future. Many of these are extrapolations from the recent past – like “Work From Home (WFH) will continue in 2021”.
Thanks, but who didn’t know that?
Several mega-trends are already underway, and somewhat obvious, though they still have time to run. Most of these centre around technology and how it’s going to take over the world (actually, it already has!). Let’s dispense with these quickly – and then move on to some of the not-so-obvious.
- Technology, technology and more technology: This Covid business has provided additional tailwind to all kinds of tech – fintech, edtech, regtech, e-payments, e-commerce, digitalization, OTT and what not. This wave – fuelled by AI, data, automation, IoT, smart factories, robots, 3D printing, AR, VR, OTT media etc., etc., etc. – will move on inexorably. We may benefit or suffer due to this, but cannot prevent the digital onslaught. That’s the end of my take on tech – there are plenty of tech gurus who have written reams on this.
- Governments will spend more on healthcare: Again fairly obvious. The pandemic has highlighted gaps in healthcare delivery in every country, and governments are under pressure to spend more on health. As a corollary, providers of health services or products will continue to make hay.
- Digital Money: Cash will slowly fade. When the pandemic first hit, panicked consumers stocked up on cash. However, tech (again!) came to the rescue. Today, almost every business allows digital transactions – including road-side vendors. Why do we need cash? Even crooks have migrated to Bitcoin!
- WFH effects: Work from home will change our choice of homes, furniture, lifestyles, and what not. Already happening, and will continue.
In the rest of this article, I’ve tried to pick out some trends that are slightly less obvious (at least to me), but definitely worth watching. These are not necessarily the most important/significant, but those that occurred to me (or were suggested by my wife!). Some are positive, others scary – so here goes!
- The death of the suit
An interesting side effect of WFH is that suits and ties are no longer de-rigueur. We’ve all got used to seeing clients in T-shirts and casual wear. Even if many of us eventually go back to face-to-face meetings, we may not want to wear suits. It’s much cooler (and lighter on the pocket) to wear “normal” clothes.
- Get ready for turmoil, protest and dissent
Much has been written about rising inequality, now made worse by Covid. There are millions of people without jobs or savings, and poverty is rising everywhere. Angry and unemployed people have less to lose by disrupting a system that doesn’t work for them. Social media feeds and reinforces existing prejudices and divisions. Petty crime, organized crime, political protest, random violence, hate crimes… will occur more often. Not good news, except for those that sell weapons or security products and services.
- Regulators will harass big-tech firms even more
Nobody likes monopolies, especially not governments and politicians. A slew of fines, restrictions and legal actions on big-tech firms are already underway, in the EU, Australia, India and elsewhere. The gigantic market capitalizations only encourage predatory bureaucrats and politicians. Expect more, much more… of the same.
- Governments will invade your privacy
George Orwell’s Big Brother prediction (from the book 1984) is actually coming true. China is probably the most advanced in terms of knowing everything about its citizens (and others) – where they go, how they look, what they buy, what they say – and more. The attraction of snooping technology for all governments and politicians is obvious. Why should they not use technology to suppress dissent and undermine rivals? Especially since the rationale i.e. preventing terrorist threats/violence, is sufficiently strong for them to get away with it.
- Partying with a vengeance
Many people, especially the young, are fed up of being locked in and told what they can do or not do. Sooner or later, Covid infections will decline and hopefully some of the vaccines will work. Either way, more people will get frustrated with restrictions. Whenever people decide to start throwing out caution, they will do it with a vengeance. Despite rising cases, this is already evident with small sections of the population in different countries – but by mid- or late-2021, it will become widespread.
- Mental health & alternative wellness
The forced loneliness or lack of social interaction induced by the crisis is already impacting behaviour. Some are depressed, others paranoid, and increased joblessness will not help. In modern society, mental illnesses have grown rapidly; aided by stress, competition and intense social media induced peer pressure. Covid has only accelerated this trend. Expect a big demand for mental health professionals and services; including alternative wellness themes like yoga, qi gong, meditation and such like.
- Migration away from the Megalopolis
In India, thousands of young (and not so young) professionals have rushed to Goa – there is no longer any need to be fixed in polluted and crowded metropolises like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. In the US, Wall Street types are moving to warmer climes like Florida. People are selling small homes in Silicon Valley and trading these for villas in picturesque small towns. If you could work from anywhere, why not choose a cheaper, less-crowded and more scenic location? Expect real estate prices to follow this trend (already happening!)
- Social media – from friends to marketing
Once upon a time social media was about keeping in touch with friends, and later, business contacts. Today, marketers have taken over – whether for corporations, businesses, politicians or celebrities. A vast majority of content today is promotional – even content put out by individuals seeks fame or money, or promotes an ideology. Everybody is selling, and most platforms are now dominated by professional sellers – including the trolls.
- Cybercrime will take off
Millions of relatively less tech-savvy folk have been pushed onto the digital bandwagon. Many have not even heard of software viruses, hacking or phishing. Expect the cyber-criminals to have a field day. Some governments and corporations too, will have few qualms about stealing trade secrets. Good time to be a data security expert or ethical hacker.
- The rise and rise of China
Not because Trump lost the election, but because of their leadership and politics and growing economic heft. China’s economy has actually become stronger (in relative terms) thanks to the pandemic. They are world leaders in all kinds of tech stuff, including weaponry. Their manufacturing capabilities are unsurpassed. They will continue to bully others, expand their hegemony and influence, and enrich themselves.