The global economy’s habit of teetering “on the verge of an abyss” is why a leading futurologist says few people can foresee the next month or two, let alone the full year ahead.
Ross Dawson, who pre-empts trends for a living, was too modest to point out that he is among those special few – yet his ‘Zeitgeist 2011’ is compelling proof that he probably is.
With implications for all workers, notably PR and media types, it reveals eleven regions of the “hyper-connected world” that will be shaken up the most over the next 11 months.
Among them is work, or specifically “the end of [the] 9-to-5” – a process Dawson says started when work outgrew its traditional environment - the workplace or employer’s office.
During the coming months, he believes organisations will respond to this evolution “by offering flexibility to avoid traffic, pick up the kids, and manage personal affairs at work.”
For atypical workers, such as online freelancers with a potentially global reach, the future is “phone calls at odd hours” and finding “primary clients or suppliers in far-flung places.”
Technology will be central to bringing this about, though not for everyone. According to Dawson, some individuals will effectively opt-out of the increasingly networked world.
“We are all facing a fundamental choice that will shape our lives. Many dive headlong into a world of always-on connection, open social networks, and oversharing,” he said.
“[But] a few cry halt and choose to live only in the old world of tight-knit personal communication. The result is a divided society.”
Still, the “many” being greater in number than the “few” presents PR workers and marketers with the problem, and potential, of technology allowing customers to be heard in almost real-time.
“The time it takes for a powerful new brand to grow is the same it takes for an old brand to be trashed: next to no time,” Dawson wrote in his ‘Brands in the blender’ prediction.
“As reputation shifts from corporations to individuals, trying to keep control has the opposite effect. Chopping and remixing brand identity is better done by choice than by others.”
Another PR issue is what the futurist called the ‘Wrath of Crowds’ – how “mobs can egg each other on and amplify their voices to ravage [corporate] reputations,” he wrote, pointing to BP and Nestle.
And in 2011, it will be the modern-day corporation, not a government or state body, which will fret most about their “inner workings being unmasked,” according to the Zeitgeist's number 11.
“WikiLeaks moving into the crosshairs marks the point when society becomes transparent,” Dawson said. “As individuals we are already scrutinised by marketers who know us better than we do... Many [of us] rail and flail but there is no going back.”
He believes journalists also have no reverse switch to flick, thanks to the rise of social networking websites making news more tailored to an individual’s interests than any editor can.
“Who goes to the newspaper front page or 6pm news for their news fix?” Dawson asked, seeming to suggest such traditional news outlets are losing out.
“As more of us share what we like and who our friends are, individually curated news is at each of our fingertips. Web, tablets, and mobiles will offer us the all the news that fits who we are.”