Is this a trend, a counter-trend or a fad?
It’s not a trend to my mind – not large enough in scale or fast enough in velocity. It could be a classic counter-trend. The bigger a macro-trend the greater the chance that a micro-trend will emerge as a balancing force in my experience (e.g. globalisation drives localisation, fast food drives slow food, digitalisation drives craft). I think this is a fad driven by a certain demographic (nostalgic), but also a kind of reverse /ironic status.
In the case of phones though, there’s also a real need. The low-cost dumbphone was originally designed to appeal to poor users in Asia and especially Africa. They now appeal to people seeking a cheap phone that won’t get stolen, won’t break if dropped, won’t act as a tracking device and won’t run out of battery life in an emergency.
The Nokia 3310, for example, isn’t the future of phones, far from it, but it is part of a longing for simplicity. It’s one species within a complex ecosystem of technical diversity.
If we don’t need to drive, we might find that we rather want to. We may return to the early days of the motor car when we drove for fun, not to go anywhere.
I had an interesting question from a workshop with EDF Energy a few days ago. I was talking about strong trends spawning counter-trends. Examples might include globalisation and localisation or fast food and slow food. So the question from EDF was has a counter-trend ever become stronger than the original trend?
It’s hard to think of anything, although localisation is building to the point where it could take over much as it did before in 1914 (some might argue). Anyone got any thoughts?
So much to think about at the moment, which is why I’ve been rather absent of late. I’m working on something looking at the future of water, some provocation cards for a Tech Foresight 2016 event and something on risk for London Business School.
But more interesting than all of this is something I heard on the radio this morning. Don’t even ask why I was listening to Katy Perry but I was and a song called Part of Me came on. One of the lines was:
“I just want to throw away my phone away. Find out who is really there for me.”
Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to this, but there’s another song I heard not so long ago by James Blunt with the line:
“Seems that everyone we know’s out there waiting by a phone wondering why they feel alone.”
And last week someone was telling me how students at an art college had abandoned ‘digital installations’ in favour of painting and drawing. Are we seeing some kind of rebalancing emerging here?
Oh, the quote…
“If we allow our self-congratulatory adoration of technology to distract us from our own contact with each other, then somehow the original agenda has been lost.” – Jaron Lanier.
Still working through whether or not there might be a good graphic in the linkages between scientific fact and speculative fiction. In this vein, came across this today, which is one of the best things I’ve read about trends and counter-trends, especially with regard to technology. Full article from the Guardian here.
“It’s always wrong to extrapolate by straightforwardly following a curve up,” he (Kim Stanley Robinson, a sci-fi writer) explains, “because it tends off towards infinity and physical impossibility. So it’s much better to use the logistic curve, which is basically an S curve.” Like the adoption of mobile phones, or rabbit populations on an island, things tend to start slowly, work up a head of steam and then reach some kind of saturation point, a natural limit to the system. According to Robinson, science and technology themselves are no exception, making this gradual increase and decrease in the speed of change the “likeliest way to predict the future”.
“We might be in a very steep moment of technological and historical change, but that doesn’t mean that it will stay that steep or even accelerate.” Practical and theoretical constraints, which go beyond even problems such as climate change with which we’re struggling now, will eventually slow us down, Robinson continues. “What I’m assuming is that there are some fundamental issues that are going to keep us from doing things much more spectacularly than we are now.”
It strikes me that if you want to spot trends or engage with the zeitgeist a good way to start is to look at what people are reading, watching or listening to. A good example is the recent US best seller book list. Top of a recent list were a biography of Elon Musk and the story of the Wright brothers. What can we make of this? Possibly that the US is thinking about invention and new technology, but also that it is looking backwards to an era of great achievement and invention.
More interesting though is a book about wood (not in the list, but I’d predict a Christmas best-seller for 2015). I’m no Rorschach test expert, but I think this book might possibly tap into or illustrate a general mood. The book in question is Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Norwegian Way by Lars Mytting. Huh?
I think the reason this book is being picked up is twofold. Most fundamentally, this book is a reaction to a crisis of masculinity. Same with beards – are there any beard books? Second, it is symbolic of a human need to disconnect and engage with nature using our hands. That’s what I think anyway.