From corona cocooning to a cyberpunk future
by Louise Burgers. From icon toppling to a cyberpunk future, what we are witnessing is a “socioquake” in our current world order.
by Louise Burgers. From icon toppling to a cyberpunk future, what we are witnessing is a “socioquake” in our current world order which will topple governments, work habits and social norms. Life will never be the ‘normal’ we knew before. Everything is changed.
In her intro to her latest ebook from her BrainReserve thinktank for clients, Faith Popcorn says she is used to being asked to predict life in two to 10 years; but she has never heard such questions expressed with such “fear, desperation and urgency”, as in past months as COVID-19 ravages the planet. She maintains our species survival will endure, thanks to technology. Many have bemoaned the pervasiveness of technology in recent times, but in this instance, the advances in tech will enable humans to survive and thrive in an era of pandemics, Popcorn says.
‘Social distancing’ is probably one of the words of 2020; alongside ‘coronavirus’ and the overused ‘pivot’. But there is no doubt that minimising physical interaction is critical to stopping the spread of disease. Popcorn predicts the end of traditional offices (and hopefully this is the death of open plan too): “Minimising face-to-face human contact is critical to stopping the spread of pathogens. As traditional offices end, occasional coworking will be a new model — with most of our time spent solo in our deeply decontaminated spaces. We’re already on a path to this: Magic Leap bought Mimesys, a Belgian start-up that creates holographic teleconferences. Microsoft is paving the road to our virtual future with HoloLens technology — most recently showing off how holographic avatars can seamlessly speak foreign languages.”
There are of course, many opportunities that await brands in this new hopepunk world, which will be more cyberpunk with a bit of steampunk for aesthetics, in its design going forward.
In fact this pandemic has hastened the end of the old paternalistic office structure and 9 to 5 working which only benefited a few; certainly not modern families or those who had to commute from outside major metropolitan areas, juggling childcare and family responsibilities, while trying to fit in downtime. This is part of the Icon Toppling Trend – a “socioquake” transforming mainstream culture as pillars of society are questioned and rejected – in action, says Popcorn: “Those past institutions have lost our trust. Just as we no longer can look to our governments to give us the straight truth and share facts and life-saving intel. Tech and communications firms like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft, Google, and Comcast offer services for free for those currently sheltering in place. Many workers post-pandemic are likely to lobby for a permanent office-free situation. Office space will be recognized as unnecessary and expensive.”
Virtual tribes are now a thing, with Wine O’Clock Zoom getogethers and the Clanning Trend – where people of similar beliefs, causes and values connect, often virtually. What would we have done without our own tribes under lockdown – whether on WhatsApp or Facebook or other platforms – to keep our spirits up, especially when we had no spirits during South Africa’s hard lockdown? This is quite a dystopian thought from Popcorn’s BrainReserve, but a welcome idea nonetheless: “We’ll be able to sit in our sterile spaces and interact in real time with anyone on the planet. All of the office and coworking space we have now will morph — some will become residential, some will become wellness clinics, and some will become a new kind of ‘fifth space’ where IRL and digital interactions occur over food, entertainment and commerce — a wonderland of humans, bots and avatars engaging. Some will be bulldozed and replaced with parks.”
New work worlds
Creating interactive, hack-proof, disaster-resistant platforms for professional and personal engagement. There were a series of tweets posted in one of my WhatsApp lockdown ‘clans’ about a particular company’s lockdown team meetings moving into a virtual game world to make them more interesting to everyone; where team members had to fight off wolves and other dangers occasionally. It would certainly make the interminable meetings and webinars more engaging for everyone suffering from “Zoom fatigue” – which is also now a thing. Popcorn cites climate change, as well as pandemics, for this shift in behaviour, not just the current COVID crisis: “Our future holds not only pathogens but intensifying, unsettling weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis) and staying connected will be a basic human need. Whatever level of connectivity our most important resources have — government offices, hospitals — the average consumer will demand. They will not be forgiving if their provider of choice fails them.”
Apps linked to tracking our health to prevent the current Covid panic in the absence of testing capability in most countries, has left us fearful and uncertain and unwilling to leave home and expose ourselves to COVID-19, which is a death lottery – we don’t know who has it, we don’t know if we’re asymptomatic, and we don’t know if we will be the ones who get very sick or die from it. Popcorn predicts that people will eventually agree to have chips implanted in our bodies to monitor our health and send out an alert if a dangerous microbe is detected – thereby stopping pandemics before they start.
COVID-19 is not the last global pandemic that is predicted by the futurists – it was a long time coming and is the first in our lifetimes, but it won’t be the last, according to predictions. So many of the learned consumer behaviour now, such as contactless delivery options, will proliferate. From robotic sous-chefs from Dexai Robotics to pizza vending machines from Basil Street; to AI-activated robo-bartenders, the tech is there. A pandemic such as this has accelerated much of the innovation already being developed. Popcorn also sites drones and driverless trucks – already being used in the US to deliver food. UDelv has been testing driverless delivery vans since COVID-19 accelerated; and at Design Indaba in 2019, drone delivery systems have become the norm in remote areas in Rwanda for essential medicines and blood deliveries to hospitals and remote clinics in the mountainous regions. Serve in the US has a delivery bot that will deliver packages direct to the door.
With future pandemics predicted and with the lessons from this one, it is inevitable that learning must go online, and interactive options need to be developed. “Education will shift to become virtual — the post-pandemic classroom will be a VR headset. No kids coughing on one another; immunity will be managed by dosing and genetic tweaks. In Tomorrow’s world, VR and AR will blend into deeply engaging and personalized lessons — like Clio’s Cosmic Quest from Within — and gamification will make it socialized,” the Popcorn report states.
I know it is a strong future trend, but I don’t know if I could ever get used to travelling virtually to a destination – maybe the younger generation, so used to gaming worlds, may find it easier than those of us who grew up in an analogue world. Microsoft’s Dreamwalker immerses the individual into a virtual world so you can travel to exotic destinations. In fact, “germfree floating pods” will be the way people want to travel in the future, linked to IoT devices to detect and eliminate germs. With the rise of esports, there is no doubt that much sport could find itself playing in studio-stadiums; as could bands.
Maybe it will only be the analogue generation that remembers cheering for your favourite team and trading insults in the stands; or head-banging and raving to favourite bands and DJs IRL in the future; with the stink of sweat, beer and piss all around. In a future sanitised world, that visceral experience could all but disappear. How sad. I hope it doesn’t materialise in my lifetime. In fact, future generations could participate in all sports and entertainment with their avatars, says Popcorn: “Instead of buying tickets for the bleachers, we’ll be paying for the right to take the playing field with our heroes. Odds are, the athletes themselves will be replaced someday by avatars, too. Consumers and marketers will create endless permutations of elite athletes, displaying all kinds of personal charisma and off-the-charts abilities, to delight future sports lovers.”
We’ve seen it already: matching masks for your outfit of choice, blinged out masks, masks with your favourite sports team – and in
South Africa, your political party of choice. “The way we dress and present our primped selves to others will be turned on its head as our relationship with inner and outer spaces shift. With the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen celebrities like Naomi Campbell in hazmat suits (she told her 8.6 million Instagram followers, “Safety first”) and Gwyneth Paltrow in a protective mask. In tomorrow’s world, when pathogens are detected, we will be cloaked in germ-impenetrable hooded jumpsuits and cloaks, the ultimate in disposable fashion and evidence of our Small Indulgences and Being Alive Trends being cross-pollinated. Some may have designer logos, of course.” There are already virtual fashion shows with virtual supermodels and influencers being hosted by brands such as Trashy Muse. This will be the norm in the future, with style for our avatars as much in demand as clothing for ourselves.
As the report predicts: “Beauty will similarly shift away from the products of today to the filters and projections of tomorrow. As everyday human contact fades as we try to keep ourselves safe from germs, filters for social media and virtual communications become the new makeup. The recent gleaming cyborg-style filter that stormed social media shows one way we’ll alter our appearance for those viewing us. Creators will jump in and market an array of looks, expressing individuality in the new era of ongoing social distancing.”
As Popcorn concludes: “In truth, technology will serve us, uplift us, sate us, and secure us as new perils emerge. When the next pandemic occurs — and it will — the very human skills that allow us to build solutions using code and hardware will be invaluable. That creativity will keep us safe when nature wreaks havoc. No more bemoaning the rise of data. Let’s recognize and uplift its power to protect our species.”
*For the full report and all the trend links and sources, go to: https://faithpopcorn.com/.
Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.
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