Mastering the bubbles and filters in 2021

Traditions. Looking ahead into the new year. It is a fine tradition I think. Not to pretend to be able to make predictions all right, it is not a competition, but set your mind in another mode.
Last year I did more than ever forecasts on developments in mobility and energy, autonomous systems, and mailboxes, all furthermore in the future, like 2030, 2040, or 2050 even. Doing these is always arbitrary too. You try to spot bigger developments and weak signals as the innovations for the next 20 years started today, and the future is a continuum, meaning that a future state is a framing of a moment on a future time.

It is also said before: some of the consequences of turning society into a virus defense mode is like a speeding up of longer predicted changes like e-commerce, homework, video calling replacing normal call, and more. But other developments were frustrated; the mobility hubs with social communicating are setback with everyone working from home.

So what to say about 2021. Let me first set a frame; I am focusing on our relationship with intelligent and autonomous operating technology. The Cities of Things Lab that we have been building and will continue to bring into practice with a field lab is the context of the explorations. Nevertheless, I like to keep a broad spectrum to watch, as everything is connected, and the weak signals can be found in all kinds of changes.

To start with the COVID developments. I am not surprising anyone to say that we are entering a new phase if vaccines start to become part of our lives. And I am also not surprising anyone with the opinion that it will probably take far into the new year to experience real effects. Not everyone needs to be vaccinated to relieve society significantly, but still, it takes time. And how will it play out? Will we leave our home bubbles into vaccinated bubbles? In certain industries (like film crews) the art of bubbling groups is already happening. Will we see more of these concepts; with gated communities that lock their neighborhoods for the external entrance of strangers? Will there be a smart testing kit to prevent quarantine times?
Whatever happens, you can expect 2021 to be a transformational year where we will find ways to move from bubble to bubble. And hopefully, we can pop more and more bubbles!

(illustration by Raf Schoenmaekers)

Let’s also hope we will grow into a new balance end of the year where we have a sort of control on the virus, we know what to expect, and there are not all kinds of new hard-to-master mutations… Like we see now, in the first months of the new year we might expect a worsening in the dangerous mix of people feeling relieved and bored with the virus-life, and new mutations making more infections than before.

Back to the main framing of this blog; tech and intelligent partnering systems and things. As happened before a crisis is intensifying new technology adoption. This might happen with the delivery pods that can support the overflow of delivery services. The hyper-personalization is interesting. And deep fake used to create a together mode in our virtual environments. We might be tired of video-calls, we also will have gained capabilities we never had before in communicating via online tools, as a new toolset for the digital natives…

In more longer developing trends is the translating layer that is entering in our lives; everything real is filtered before it reaches us. It started with the Instagram pictures, but with the speeding up of deepfakes, also all the digital systems we use for operating our life, we will grow into a significant shift. And it is super important to realize this and keep track of who is influencing this filtered reality layer.
It is much more hidden than sketched in the hyper-reality visions of a couple of years ago. As all controls are taken over by digital controls, but also all of our senses become more and more filtered, starting with hearing via transparency earbuds. Apple is a silent frontrunner here, even more than they have been a frontrunner before. Hard to predict if the next step will be a vision-filter (the AR glasses made accessible) already this year, but it is especially interesting to watch the developments of the engines; the OS’s, both with Google and Apple, but also Amazon, and not to forget China-based tech.

The virtual worlds are also part of this filtered reality, as it became more and more the substitute for social contacts last year. Question is if it will go mainstream or stay the go-to-place for the millennial and digital natives. It is another driver for the filtered reality adoption for sure.

Filtered is not the only thing to keep track of, how will it behave in relation to us? Will it be the (ideal) co-performance, or will it be driven by the big tech? In the awareness of the dangers of big tech dominance (antitrust cases), it might be even more likely the control is transformed to governments, especially under the influence of COVID measures; ‘never waste a good crisis to get more grip’.

To close, with this extraordinary year is it valid to check upon last year’s thoughts; have the year been an acceleration or a detour? Last year I took the moment to look into a new decade more than one year, and also mentioned the roaring twenties as a metaphor, not knowing how that would be triggered at large.
Techlash was predicted and happened, we have lost our trust even more in the heroes of the 10s. We see that Microsoft is back in business with Teams, and new players as Zoom will try to find a place, also if we open-up more. People are more aware than ever how these tools invade our personal space though.

The longer trends are still valid: boosted humanity, relations human-nonhumans, living together with pal-tech:

(…) we shift from a decade of empowering products and services with computational capabilities towards empowering humans with boosting human capabilities on all levels. For that, we will see a further shift from new gadget-like devices towards integrated infrastructures in all things we use. To begin in creating tech that we can modify and hack into our own pals. Where we will build a new type of relations, based on hopefully more human-driven economical systems. Let that be our new-decade resolution.

from Look into 2020

This is still the path into the future. Our dependencies on tech for social communications have accelerated embedding tech in our lives, but at the same time makes it sharp what we miss in a fully digital context; we need hybrid tech relations. That is the real boosted humanity we are looking for. Keeping the focus on humanity vs controlled societies will be a balance we need to find in the coming year.

I wish everyone to stay healthy, and I hope we can pop some bubbles this year!

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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