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What to expect in 2021

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2020 - 12:00am

There will be a lot of changes in lifestyles and rethinking of ambitions, traditional eight-to-five work may come to an end, and more people will reevaluate their social circles. Businesses may also start looking beyond profits.

These are just some of the trends we may see in 2021, says trend spotter and cultural commentator Marian Salzman.

In a virtual press conference last Monday, Salzman launched her “Trends for 2021: Zoomsday Predictions” reflecting her approach to future-casting centered on pattern recognition – detecting and connecting signs and symbols that tell stories and shed light on where cultures, communities and society at large are moving.

Zoomed in (and out)

Trend No. one is about revamping lifestyles and rethinking ambitions. COVID-19, she said, has given the world time and mental space to consider how we have been living – and whether it’s been worthwhile.

“We will be zooming in on our personal and professional lives – tweezing out what is essential and eliminating pain points – and on our new places (reconfigured living spaces that act as hubs for work, schooling, entertainment, fitness, and more). At the same time, we will be zooming out to consider more fully the broader community and the impact we wish to have,” she said.

Scrambling time and space

Salzman believes 2021 will see some companies retire the agrarian clock and think instead about a 24/7 workweek in which individuals fit work, socializing, errands, and relaxing into hours that suit them.

Return to ‘we’

COVID-19 has kept most of the world in their homes. Thus, Salzman said, people will reevaluate their social circles, focusing less on proximity and more on below-the-surface connection.

“COVID-19 has awakened in some of us the first inkling of community in a long while... We feel the absence of touch even more acutely and are gravitating toward shared experiences, from virtual raves to family Zooms,” she said.

Real gets unreal, vice versa

People will look for more “digital detoxing and a smarter blending of our two worlds as more of us begin to recognize the cost of giving up too much of our ‘real’ estate,” Salzman said.

Drones and droids

Has there ever been a better time for droids to take over? Automation will be more pronounced than ever, Salzman said, and I agree.

“(T)his pandemic may prove an unstoppable accelerant as businesses are reminded that human employees are a point of weakness. Seeking to address this vulnerability, Alibaba set up an unstaffed grocery at a hospital in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic, and drones were deployed to deliver medical supplies and COVID-19 test kits in Spain, Indonesia, and China. What other jobs soon will be automated? Already in our sights: a robotic sous chef and an AI nanny,” Salzman said.

However, the extreme end of this trend is that humans may lose jobs although it may take time before we see this in full blast in a developing country like ours.

Battle ready

Another trend is emergency preparedness. Salzman said retailers may stockpile more on essential items.

“We can also expect to see apartment complexes competing on emergency preparedness versus fancy gyms and the emergence of crisis concierge services that can arrange in-home healthcare visits and access to in-demand medical equipment,” she said.

Redefining essentials

COVID-19 has changed our priorities and people have started to think of “shared prosperity.”

It’s quite a buzz word, too, among Philippine tycoons and I hope it would indeed be the new normal in business.

“The existential threat of COVID-19 puts Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into question. With more people working and attending school at home, what is required to be a ‘have’ in 2021? Is universal broadband a luxury or a necessity?” Salzman said.

“In 2021, watch for increased support for racial and economic justice, resource sharing, and serious discussions of concepts that once would have been dismissed as radical, such as a universal basic income.”

Corporations as change agents

There’s nothing new about businesses incorporating purpose beyond profits.

But the pandemic has accelerated that shift and the growing sense that the challenges we’re facing are too massive and complex for governments to handle alone, Salzman said.

I see this trend in the Philippines as well, as conglomerates stepped up to produce alcohol and personal protective equipment to support customers and communities.

Rethinking place

New property lifestyles and trends will emerge as well, Salzman noted.

“In the short term, we can expect a continuation of the trend toward tiny (maybe even mobile) houses in far-off locations. In the longer term, cities less dominated by business districts and commuters will seek to create new ways to attract residents, including more green spaces, more affordable housing, and smarter infrastructures.”

Making peace with uncertainty

Salzman, senior vice president for global communications at Philip Morris, is known for her trends but she emphasizes she is no clairvoyant.

Moving forward, she sees people coming to terms with uncertainty and a pervasive sense of being unsettled.

It is a scary thought, but I agree. I’m sure we will see more uncertainties ahead, far beyond the pandemic, but if we take to heart the lessons of 2020, I am also sure that we will be able to face the future well -- uncertainties, pandemics and all.

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Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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