The annual Flux Trends release – The State We’re In – is an overview of where the world is, and where it is going, using the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S. Each letter represents a key sector that will affect how we live, work or play in the coming year. It’s an executive summary of global dynamics and winds of change.
The 2020 edition is titled, The Politics of Rage & Polarisation: A Quest for Middle Ground.
Globally, economic inequality, differences in political ideology and personal views are growing more extreme and divisive. Twitter reflects both the rage and toxicity we live with. Hope of finding common ground has receded, so the search for middle ground becomes all the more important. Middle ground is compromise; common ground is problem-solving.
Finding middle ground only addresses the symptoms of conflict, not its causes. It will only mask tensions, not resolve them: but we have to start somewhere. Middle ground points to an equitable solution. It won’t be perfect and will be temporary, but it should quell the anger.
To paraphrase Taylor Swift: “We need to calm down.”
TECHNOLOGY: Global connectivity and the prospect of 5G
South African Data Network provider Rain launched 5G network in parts of Johannesburg and Tshwane last year. The company plans to extend the network in major metros around the country by the end of 2020.
Meanwhile Google, in partnership with ThinkWifi, has launched free WiFi in South Africa. “Google Stations” are WiFi hotspots available in over 100 locations around Philippi, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Langa and other “underserved” areas in Cape Town.
In China, LinkSure has ambitious plans to provide free internet for the whole world.
Dubbed the LinkSure Swarm Constellation System, the company plans to have its first 10 satellites in Earth’s orbit by the end of 2020.
While high-speed connectivity is a common goal, issues of privacy and the growing sophistication of deep fakes are making people wary of the personal data they trade with companies.
The middle ground? San Francisco has come up with a proposal to establish the “Office of Emerging Technology” to help the city monitor the next wave of devices and services spawned in Silicon Valley.
RETAIL & MARKETING: Sustainability – the new USP (unique selling proposition)
Kudos to the eco warriors and diversity activists. In the past 18 months their influence has mapped out a new trajectory for retail brands, one that is more inclusive and sustainable. Transient ownership – which includes new circular economies and a booming rental market – is rapidly changing business models for many retailers. This will in turn impact landlords, mall owners and property developers. The “shop till you drop” mantra is evolving into a “rent or recycle it” mindset. Transient ownership has truly arrived, along with the new rules of engagement and communication.
The middle ground? Underground in this case. The ripple effect of transient ownership can be found in Paris where underground parking basements have been turned into urban mushroom farms because car ownership has declined so significantly. Many basement parking lots now stand empty.
ECONOMY: Caught in the Political Crossfire.
While many countries and multinational companies, find themselves caught in the crossfire of Trump’s trade war with China, the politics of rage are also starting to affect multinational businesses. Support for the protesters in Hong Kong has had a direct impact on global brands, especially those who do business in China.
Issues of sustainability are also changing the business landscape as the focus shifts from a company’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) policy to its ESG (environmental social governance) rating – ideally backed up with a B Corporation listing. A blinkered focus on the bottom line and shareholder primacy is fast becoming detrimental to any future business model.
The middle ground? If data is now considered to be more valuable than oil, then there is a growing argument that companies mining our data should not only be paying us for it, but also that the data itself (i.e: the content we create) should be classified as labour. A new profession – the personal data broker – is already on the radar.
NATURAL WORLD: Child activists and circular economies
The war on plastic has become, not only the epicenter for other sustainable issues, but also a rallying point for child activists. It’s not just Greta Thunberg and her cohort of global Gen Z climate change activists, but an even younger demographic who are starting to challenge multinational companies on their continued use of plastic. Trading in plastic, in the form of reverse vending machines that reward the recycler with vouchers or public transport access, is becoming a global phenomenon.
Circular economy models are sprouting and spreading rapidly. From looped systems for cleaning products, to items of clothing that are deconstructed down to their fibers and re-engineered into new fabrics, to systems eliminating food waste, global consumption patterns are shifting radically.
The middle ground? In a surprise turnaround, the milkman who delivers your daily supply of milk – in glass bottles – has made a comeback in the UK. Customers wanting to reduce their reliance on plastic are opting to join this circular economy.
DIPLOMACY: The era of democratic deadlock
Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman tracked the impasse that many countries have reached: “Deadlock is caused by the fracturing of two-party systems, the polarisation of politics, with the re-emergence of the far-right and the far-left making compromise harder to achieve”. This is becoming evident in countries like Spain, Germany, Israel, the UK and the US. Even South Africa’s three main political parties have divisive factions.
And while politicians engage in a political tug of war, civil protests are on the rise.
At the close of 2019, the number of global hotspots where civil protests have erupted was growing at an alarming rate. Almost all the protests were triggered by something small (like the 20-cent tax for using WhatsApp in Lebanon), but the common thread was economic inequality and non-delivery of services.
Inequality and populist politics can translate into national industry protectionism, which in turn, could lead to de-globalisation, altering geo-political dynamics.
The middle ground? Economists and analysts are already talking about a move towards regionalisation, where the world splits into separate spheres of influence – e.g. a US-led bloc and a China-led bloc.
SOCIO-CULTURAL: The Jokers and the Ecosexuals
As civil protest spreads across the globe, pop culture is being incorporated into the narrative in the most unusual way. After the release of the movie The Joker last year, protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, Santiago, Chile, Catalonia and Hong Kong have been spotted wearing a Joker mask or painting their faces like the Joker.
The story of The Joker delves into the failures of neoliberal capitalism, and its unintended consequences: it mirrors what is happening in parts of the world.
Aidan McGarry, a lecturer in international politics at the University of Loughborough in the UK explains the symbolism: “He is a symbol of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the ignored, the abused. But the mask also carries a warning – basically, ignore me at your peril. I will strike back.”
The middle ground? Ecosexuality is now a thing. Sustainability now has a “sexual identity” and the ecosexual community wants to show the Earth some love. Their manifesto? “We shamelessly hug trees, massage the earth with our feet, and talk erotically to plants. We make love with the Earth through our senses. We celebrate our E-spots. We are very dirty.”
The ecosexuals have clearly calmed down and found some middle ground.
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