While many of us today see a disconnected society, dysfunctional governments and weakened leaders, change is inevitable. As we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the words of South African Bishop Desmond Tutu are instructive: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery; only today is a gift, and that's why it's called the present."
December is a month that provides us the opportunity for reflection — to take stock of where we've been this year and where we want to venture next year.
The website nowandnext.com, published by Richard Watson, recently compiled "What's Next — Top Trends in Society and Culture." Here are its predictions for the future:
SPEEDING UP. Because of the Internet, computers, technology, globalization, relatively inexpensive travel and mobile devices, there's now 24/7 access to goods and services, so we'll be more obsessed with speedy results and outcomes. Faxes and voice mails may already be too slow and cumbersome.
ANXIETY. With wars and unrest percolating around the globe, Americans feel anxious, distrustful of governments and politicians, and uncertain about the future. With technology now ubiquitous, people will yearn more for their past, lost personal control — and less for being at the mercy of technological gadgets.
DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE. Populations everywhere are aging. Today, only 47 percent of households are traditional — two parents and two kids. In the 1950s, traditional households amounted to 80 percent. More financial burdens for society will encumber the young.
LOCAL CONTROL. Globalization has been huge, but with globalization has come dependence. There's an emerging desire for independence, and that means local control and local growth will increase as people everywhere desire to be less dependent on others, particularly for resources.
HAPPINESS. Materialism has been rising as commerce developed new "stuff," but materialism will wane. This year's post-Thanksgiving retail sales have been disappointing. Perhaps consumers have reached a saturation point for new technologies and more material goods, instead preferring simpler pleasures.
AUTHENTICITY. Recent surveys confirm that greater numbers of us don't "trust" each other — or anyone. Obamacare troubles are part of the problem, resulting in governments and politicians ranking low on the trust scale. People everywhere want authenticity, in products, politics and government — less Botox and more reality in our lives.
MEMORY. Life moves so fast that we too often lose track of what happened yesterday, because something new quickly replaces it — and it's forgotten. Politicians and public figures implore us to "move on," to overlook their indiscretions or misdeeds, figuring the public will forget by election time or another judgment date. While many want things to speed up and expect instant gratification, the public sees the downside to such "progress." Texting has replaced other, more intimate communications, especially talking — a disappointing trend.
NETWORKED. The world is connected as never before, but instant news has a downside — overload. Government uses information we heretofore assumed was private and protected. Foreign eavesdropping touches many world leaders. Thousands of hacking attempts occur each hour, each day, and most are from foreign lands. Privacy is sacrificed.
US AND THEM. There's a growing trend of East vs. West and us against them. "Occupy Spokane" demonstrations in 2011 pitted the "99 percent" against the "1 percent." Iran's inevitable development of nuclear capability will further divide the Middle East, eventually resulting in nuclear weapons use. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will likely join the nuclear fraternity, posing more danger for the world.
PERSONALIZATION. With technological advances, individualized iPod playlists, personal Christmas cards and professional-looking family photo albums can all be easily customized at home. We'll no longer be dependent on others for many personal services. Traditional industries will therefore venture into other services. Pharmacists will one day provide basic medical needs for their customers. Bright patent lawyers will conduct "forward patenting sessions" with corporate R&D staffs to speed ahead of industry trends.
Trends result from those willing to predict and shape the future. Only God really knows where society and the world are going, but man has the brainpower and ambition to predict where some aspects of culture and society will lead. Mankind has been blessed with imagination and curiosity, two qualities that make predicting the future possible; they also encourage us to dream — and strive.
Until that future is reached, however, mankind needs leaders to remind us of where we've been historically, to be thankful for creative and trend-setting opportunities. We must recognize the future's potential — but also be mindful that life's stability comes from holding onto the past and never forgetting how we reached the present. ♦