Welcome to the future
From voice-activated houses to bars with no booze, the ideas shaping tomorrow's world are up for debate in Dublin this week. Tanya Sweeney reports
The writer William Gibson famously said that "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed". It's something that rings true for the trend predictors of The Future Laboratory. You may think the future doesn't exist yet, but it's their job to be aware of trends and shifts in technology, culture and human behaviour, almost before they officially happen.
"We're part think-tank, part consultancy," explains CEO Trevor Hardy, "and a group within our company spends their day researching, analysing and documenting forces from a consumer perspective.
The purpose of this is to help businesses and brands be more confident and prepared for when things are coming so they can position themselves for the future."
That vision of the future will get an airing this weekend, when The Future Laboratory will join other speakers from the worlds of media, design, fashion, art and publishing at Dublin's RDS for The Future, a festival about the ideas, innovations and attitudes that will shape the coming years.
For anyone keen on keeping up to speed, or even taking a punt on what the world might look like for us soon, these are the people to listen to.
OK, so it might be nearly impossible to truly pinpoint where we will be in 10 or 20 years' time, but it's not for want of trying on the part of these world-renowned trend predictors and innovation specialists. And if the current findings of the Future Laboratory are anything to go by, we are certainly in for an exciting couple of years ahead…
The new masculinity
Hardy observed that traditional masculine values - leadership, strength, striving for wealth - will take a knock as all people become more aware of their emotional side.
"A new kind of male consumer who is not wedded to traditional gender ideals will emerge," says Hardy. "More than one-third of US Generation Z consumers believe that gender does not define a person as much as it used to.
"There's been a rise in a different kind of femininity - more upfront and impassioned - and that puts pressure on the idea of what it means to be a man."
The death of the American dream
"As the American dream fades, citizens in emerging markets, such as China and
Africa, are driving positive definitions of national identity," observes Hardy.
"People all over the world used to strive for the 'Land of Milk & Honey', the American dream, or 'go west'.
"There was a sense if you wanted to be successful, you had to leave Nigeria or Shanghai, but what is likely to happen is that a lot of young people will discover the new hope or the new dream closer to home."
'Stuff' will not matter
In the coming months and years, expect the world to realise that the accumulation of more stuff doesn't lead to happiness or fulfilment.
"That's already causing tangible changes right now," says Hardy. "Shopping centres used to trade on the whole idea of abundance. Now they are more focused on creating an experience. Shoppable emotions will take the place of products in the next wave of retail experimentation. Brands will provide emotional experiences instead of material purchases. Pollution, stress and 21st-century anxieties are pushing consumers to look for experiences that offer sanctuary. Home and offices will be places of well-being, rather than temples to our stuff." Apple Happiness, anyone?
'Reality+' in the home
"No longer restricted to a flat screen, information in the 2020s will take the form of a sensory experience outside of our devices," Hardy reveals.
Not only will the heating, security, gas, electricity and audio-visual in the home all go through the one system, it's likely that in the next decade, most houses will be voice-activated. Like with Amazon's Alexa now where you can turn on your television by saying 'TV on', you'll be able to do the same with your cooker and heating.
"The two big things we've seen for the next few years will be voice activation and augmented reality in the home," says Hardy. "It might be virtual reality, but it's likely it will be more a mixed kind of reality where multi-sensory technology will make the bedroom, den or kitchen an enhanced version of that room."
The future of the smartphone
Trend predictors have observed brands are already aware that smartphones isolate people, and are seeking to right that wrong. "Phones make a very social creature quite anti-social, and there's an entire generation that needs to be socially re-skilled," says Hardy. "The smartphone will likely be re-imagined as a gateway device, as opposed to the main experience as it is now. There's a growing sense that, in relationships, we have lost a lot in terms of quality. People have thousands of friends and no relationships. So brands will be focusing on how to redress that."
Will the robots take over?
Fear not. "Our view is that we're getting to a place where a combination of man and machine, rather than one relying on the other, will be more powerful," says Hardy. "A person, for example, will be able to become a more informed shopper through a device like Alexa."
The Future Laboratory has profiled a lot of businesses and found a massive spike in interest in the cocktail culture.
"We've found that with people under 30, their alcohol consumption is significantly lower than in other generations, and there has been research into the idea that younger people are very much interested in going to bars and not drinking," observes Hardy.
"They go as a destination, not to get drunk, and they drink spirits, but in a much lower volume. Drinks brands are now looking at creating low-alcohol variants."
The future of food
It's widely estimated that there will be between nine to 10 billion of us living on earth by the year 2050, meaning that global food shortages will be rife. According to figures, the global edible insects market is expected to increase up to 40pc by 2023. And in the current climate of high anxiety, Hardy has noticed an uptick in well-being.
"There will be an intersection between wellness and food. It's already happening to some extent but we will be focusing, for example from a beauty perspective, on what you can put inside the body, as opposed to on the body."
Waste will also be big noise in 2018 and beyond: "It won't just be about how to waste less, but we will realise that the things we have been throwing away are nutritious, delicious and actually covetable."
The return of old media
In the future, we will likely be grateful for news or information blackouts, whether self-imposed or otherwise. "They won't make people less informed about the world, but they will help them feel less overwhelmed," says Hardy.
"There's a feeling that there's almost a societal pressure to know everything all of the time just because it's available. In the future, people will still want to be informed but will be more aware of how susceptible they are to burnout because of their ability to work anywhere and anytime."
The Future Laboratory's research on culture has also thrown up an interesting quirk. "We were surprised to find that physical book sales are on the increase, and things that were under threat, like good craft or journalism, will prosper again," notes Hardy. "There will be a return to the appreciation of great cinema, culture and writing."
The Future takes place tomorrow and Saturday at the RDS, Dublin. For more information, see www.the-future.is.
Dublin Information Sec 2017, Ireland’s cyber security conference, addresses the critically important issues that threaten businesses in the information age. For more on INM’s Dublin InfoSec 2017 conference, go to: independent.ie/infosec