Though hindsight invariably provides us with the answers, it’s often tricky at the time to work out how certain trends come to pass.
Take, for example, the curious fashion statement that became ubiquitous amongst late 17th century French noblemen which saw them taking to wear the most flamboyant and frankly ridiculous bouffant wigs. Though initial reactions to these woollen manes ranged from awe to stifled laughter, onlookers were united in their surprise. Why on earth are they wearing these things?
Of course, we now know that the trend began when King Louis XIV succumbed to male pattern baldness and lurched at the only option available in order to conceal what was at the time, an unfashionably sparse scalp. And, back in those days, if a monarch did it, everyone did it, which why late-Renaissance portraits of the French aristocracy depict the men looking as though they each have a pedigree Bichon Frise stapled to their heads.
Today, trends continue to emerge that initially startle the watching world. Some soon die out, some stand the test time, and a few go on to shape how we live the rest of our lives. In this piece, we look at a surprising trend that took hold in 2010, one taking hold today, and another that might emerge in 2030…
10 years ago
2010 might as well be a hundred years ago now. To refresh your memory, it was the year Downton Abbey first hit our screens, we all found ourselves rooting for a group of trapped Chilean miners, and European flights were cancelled in their millions as a result of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, blowing its top with all the fury you would expect from a geological feature that was apparently named by someone head-butting a keyboard.
As far as trends in 2010 go, it’s hard to look past the one that changed the way we thought (and still think) about personal computing; the iPad. The success of Apple’s flagship tablet defied the predictions of many who dismissed it as an unnecessary product. The joke at the time went something along the lines of, “Want to know how you can get a free iPad? Hold your iPhone closer to your face.” The gag betrayed the chief reservation amongst sceptics that the device was nothing more than an over-sized iPhone, moreover one that couldn’t even make calls and would thus inevitably fade into insignificance. Boy, were they wrong.
Consumers loved the new device. A whopping 300,000 were sold on the first day of its release and the wildly positive reviews led to a clamour to bag what quickly became as much a fashion accessory as an everyday tool. Some capitulated to the hysteria more dramatically than others. Wang Shangkun, a teenager from the Anhui Province of East China, became so frantic about acquiring an iPad of his own that he sold his right kidney on the black market to finance one. Now in his 20s, Shangkun lies bed-ridden and reliant on dialysis after his remaining kidney failed. A cautionary tale for those of you contemplating selling your internal organs to subsidise your next purchase.
It wasn’t just consumers who fell hard for the iPad. Within 90 days of its launch, it had managed to penetrate 50% of Fortune 100 companies and today, over a third of a billion of the intuitive rectangles are peppered around the globe, many in schools, colleges and universities.
10 years on
A decade on, it’s fair to say that times have become a tad divisive. Nailing one’s colours to the mast, even if it’s to inoffensively suggest a top global trend, is to invite an army of trolls and bots to castigate you personally with all the hateful ferocity of a Gatling gun. However, we shall persevere, nonetheless.
Keeping with the theme of divisiveness, trolls and bots, the trend which we feel has been most surprising, given its unprecedented impact on the political and thus social landscape, is the way personal data and social media is being used within democratic exercises.
Not long after Britain had voted to leave the European Union and as Donald Trump was making himself comfortable in the Oval Office, questions began to surface as to how the electorate had been targeted online. Investigations (many of which are still ongoing) began the attempt to discover who was behind the multitude of suspicious new social media accounts advocating for both outcomes, and whether the way in which political parties and politicians themselves were behaving on the various platforms, was within the boundaries of the law.
At the heart of these investigations was data. More specifically, our personal data and how it was being used to influence our decision-making. It is now known that political bodies employed data harvesting companies to analyse our online behaviours and disseminate content to individuals they perceived to be persuadable. Then there were the ‘bots’; software which posts autonomously, often with inflammatory material designed to incite and muddy the picture as to what true political consensus really is. Adding to the worry, is that a significant number of these bots appear to have originated in countries external to the ones holding national polls.
Unless robust rules are imposed to regulate both personal data usage by political entities and how and who they target with online content, then this quite shocking trend of the day has the potential to take us into unchartered and even dangerous territories. Some are claiming it already has.
In 10 years’ time
With technology moving at a scary pace, social attitudes changing on a seemingly daily basis and the spectre of climate disaster hanging over us like a swaying guillotine blade in a not-so-gentle breeze, predicting with any accuracy what the top trends of 2030 will be becomes little more than guesswork.
For this reason, rather than commit ourselves to a specific innovation we believe might take hold in a decade’s time, we’re going to look at the evolutions that are taking place right now that will form the basis for new trends to emerge. Privileged as we are to work alongside some of the most innovative businesses in the UK, Konductor is exposed to deep insight into how these companies are creating the building blocks for future trends to develop as well as tearing up traditional methodologies.
Take, for example, the laborious and stressful process of buying a house. The entire procedure, from beginning to end, is so convoluted that whole industries have emanated from it. Today, there are companies already taking steps to automate the process so would-be house-buyers track their progress and are prompted for action all through an intuitive little app.
One might also look at cyber security. For the general consumer, this has consisted for years of installing malware and hoping for the best. However, there are companies right now who are developing solutions infused with Artificial Intelligence which, having identified and dealt with an intrusion, then autonomously adapts to be extra vigilant to any malicious program bearing similar characteristics. Computers, rather than having just protective layers installed, end up with fully functioning digital immune systems.
In terms of the tearing down of traditional methodologies, we are already seeing businesses think very differently about how they advertise. As people become more intertwined with the internet and as their digital footprints become more edifying, the way businesses advertise the likes of job vacancies and special offers will deviate drastically from mere column inches. Either offline or online.
As legacy systems and approaches wilt away, and as technologies and our expectations of them develop, if we were to focus on an area where fascinating trends might develop, it would be the redefining of how we communicate. With automation returning to us the currency of time and the dynamic of conversations evolving in such a way as to be unlike anything humanity has ever experienced, innovations could hit the market which ensure users retain control of what they hear and how they use their voice in exceedingly sophisticated ways. What these innovations look like is anybody’s guess, but as the world gets noisier, the way we cut through doesn’t just need to change, it has to.