From the displacement of current tech behaviours to the extreme evolution of influencers, futurist Tracey Follows maps out some of the changes we could see in the new decade and how they might impact media
We just can’t name it yet, so let’s not even try.
Eras or decades can only be properly named once they come to an end; when we have some perspective and are able to look back on the events and patterns as they played out over time.
But at the other end, we start the decade with a very mediated #RoyalCrisis.
Not only has it provided a steady stream of media content for the press and TV in a wet and windy January, it has beautifully illustrated the clash between the old system and the new. Personalities aside, it shows that the workplace of the future has to accept people as they are, not as the company insists they should be.
At the end of the last century it was those who had authority (via position or tenure) within a centralised hierarchy who held the power. Now, in flatter, agile and decentralised network-based working environments, it is those with authenticity, personality and integrity who command most respect and have most influence.
That is a function of a networked peer-to-peer organisational model where power is distributed across the network, and an organisational trend that means the future will feature fewer restrictive rules. Rather, we will be creating the right conditions in which more people and products and ideas can flourish.
With that in mind, how could the media landscape change?
As I wrote before Libra was announced, a world bank digital currency will come about in the 2020s. Of course Facebook would like to be the provider of this, and they have already made some headway – though plenty of regulatory challenges exist to block them.
Or it could be a national bank that attempts to provide a worldwide digital currency, perhaps China’s People’s Bank or Abu Dhabi’s Central Bank …perhaps even the European Union, if they could transform the Euro into a digital currency available to use anywhere in the world, anywhere in any virtual world?
Because that will be the prize; to become the ubiquitous digital currency that straddles the physical and virtual worlds, that can be pinged from your smartphone straight to another smartphone, that resides in a digital wallet over which you have almost total control and you – the user – manage in your own way.
The pace of change in digitisation necessitates this innovation, and the technologies which include Blockchain, are already available. A flatter and faster decentralised currency that is a universal standard everywhere, and deployed digitally, will turbo boost e-commerce, augment advertising, wearables, virtual gaming …virtually anything.
Though of course there is every chance that while this decentralised deployment of product will come to market, it will end up being controlled by a monopoly. Who that is, only time will tell.
Connectivity will be dispersed throughout the environment, in the walls and inside what you wear. Materials science will create shape-shifting products that appear to be one thing one moment, and then serve an entirely different purpose the next. It is one way to tackle sustainability – to make materials multi-purpose. This is media and communications becoming decentralised and networked so it exists all around us. It means say ‘bye bye’ to your smartphone device. Because you won’t need it. Your clothing and other everyday furniture will be directly connected and operating on gesture, facial and voice recognition.
We’ve bred an entire generation of tech-neck sufferers, so what will happen when people once again spend time on their own not staring down at a small handheld screen, or are forced to actually look at another person during a real conversation, god only knows.
I’m not sure we can ever go back. Maybe people will just ask their avatars (think next-stage Alexa; a three dimensional hologram) to do it on their behalf instead.
I would expect a start-up, perhaps a company we have not even yet heard of, to make its mark in delivering the consumer solutions for this. In the way Spotify re-engineered how we connected to music and Netflix re-programmed how we consume cinema, one should expect someone or something to come out of nowhere and displace the behaviours Apple has spent the last ten years addicting us to.
The rise of influencers and the emergence of deep faked content in various forms will merge to create a burgeoning industry of fantastical dreamscapes, otherwise knows as ‘lives online’.
For some time we’ve seen deep fakes used in entertainment and porn, misrepresenting people and their identity or misrepresenting what they say or do. It will only get harder to detect the real from the fake. And if people want to play Faceapp and see what they look like ten years from now, just for the likes, then the entertainment factor is going to override any concerns about privacy, security or authenticity.
The question is, what’s next after influencers? The answer: fake influencers. Or real influencers with fake content. At the moment an influencer is a broadcaster. Broadcasting out their lifestyle image and partnership deals they speak to their millions of followers. But that is still essentially a one-to-many model. Soon, influencers will be able to version their content so that they are creating imagery which has particular appeal to each and every follower.
Soon, influencers will be able to version their content so that they are creating imagery which has particular appeal to each and every follower”
We’ve all seen the photo galleries of stock images that are ready to use in social media. One features 25,000 photos of the ‘most diverse stock photos ever’. They are diverse because they are AI generated. None of the ‘people’ to be featured in the content are real.
Infinite diversity, infinite variations of faces and features, infinite uses and choices. Remember those ‘pen portraits’ retail marketers used to do of their ‘core customer’? Well now they can do pen portraits of every single customer and mirror them back to their actual customer in influencer advertising.
There are lots of rabbit holes we could go down here as we chase the consequences of this but essentially, the emergence of synthetic media – media which is no longer a representation online of what exists in the real world, but a virtual representation of what the virtual world requires – is about to be embarked on.
The connection between real and virtual worlds will be either lost and disconnected completely, or will merge and blend to become ‘one’.
Either way, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Our old anchors that once physically grounded us are disappearing and the virtuality of everything will redesign the systems we need for a decade that will be ten times more mediated than the one we are leaving behind.
Facial recognition, natural language processing and gesture control – and other biometrics – along with the building of virtual digital twins for testing and designing will make the old ways of ‘planning’ redundant.
I see that ‘Sussex Royal’ have trademarked baseball caps and t-shirts. Niiice. But that’s not where this game is headed.
If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle really want to exploit their new found freedom and entrepreneurial media ambitions, they should protect the holographic image of themselves, their voices and all audio relating to them, trademark gaming and simulations using their 3D body scans and have a second baby that they can announce to the world on Instagram.
Of course they don’t need to actually, you know… they can just give birth to a synthetic one online. Far less painful, and it can have whatever hair colour you like.
Tracey Follows is the founder of futures consultancy Futuremade