The Overlooked Trends: 2021
There’s lost value by just sticking to The Meta Trends.
In subtlety is insight.
By seeking out and examining the fringe, uncomfortable and unspoken, we can identify bigger opportunities and risks. For the first year, I want to call out the regrettably neglected. What didn’t the 30+ reports touch upon?
It’s not to say these overlooked trends are not obvious, many are, but they’re either less sexy, darker or arguably more complex. These are more important, but it’s unfortunately glaring why they’re not used as marketing collateral or studied deeper.
I’m happy to...
Meta = What everyone is discussing
Overlooked = What too few are discussing
‘Esprit de corps’ ≈ the common spirit and loyalty
During a moment of great unknown, we seek answers. And when we don’t get what we want, we search elsewhere... or just make it up. The rise of QAnon is driven by many things, but most clearly: a desire for belonging and sense making via pattern matching. How else could all this make sense? “Truth is often stranger than conspiracy. And even the most powerful people have little grasp on what is happening,” writes Grafton Tanner. Since the turn of the century, adults declaring no religious affiliation have more than doubled. Symbolic, a global decline in religion opens doors for other explanations of the inexplicable, but accompanying that: new, strong convictions. COVID-19 was jet-fuel. Co-Star, the AI-astrology app, is now downloaded every three seconds. Conspiracies, celestial objects, crystals, politics, spells, stans, tarot, marches, and diets all give us resolution. Peloton and Vegan-ism? That's not just about exercise or animals, that's about morale/morals + identity + community = religion, or ‘esprit de corps.’ There’s hope. Protest is the new prayer.
Devices, apps and screens fill our needs
Tech thrusted itself into the most humanistic experience in existence — sex and love. With COVID-induced isolation, global horniness swells. Coined in 1991, “Teledildonics” — remote sex — finally entered the mainstream vernacular signaling our technosexuality. Let’s not be weird. We’re really good at anthropomorphizing tech, and there’s only a fine line between a sex toy and sex robot. The former is accelerating and the latter is blurring. Since the pandemic, sex toy sales popped +30% YoY, one sex doll company saw sales rocket +51%, online dating grew, porn viewership soared, and OnlyFans registered 85M users and 1M creators. Our crave for “contact” — or skin hunger — revealed how tech became our middle-man... or woman. As vaccines are rolled out and the Roaring 20’s is prepped for, these devices likely won’t get dropped. After all, libido is a constant. A momentary release of sexual frustration will be felt, but if the only thing holding back sextech is stigma, this year’s normalization opened the floodgates.
We’re not okay
According to a summer CDC study: more than 10% of respondents shared they “seriously considered suicide” in the past 30 days... compared to 4% who said the same thing in 2018. But those respondents in 2018 were referring to the entire year. Isolation, unemployment, finances, uncertainty, rage, divorce, distrust, depression and fear boil. Incredibly resilient — or just numb at this point — we’ve gotten great at glossing over that fact we’re still living through a pandemic. We’re not working at home, but living through a pandemic trying to work at home. COVID-induced cognitive turmoil, so expansive and so intense, will leave a scar... we just don’t know how badly as the wound is still gushing. A vaccine doesn’t heal this. Internal tension becomes social tension. Headlines focus on the economy, remote learning and WFH, but how about the longitudinal effects to relationships, risk assessment, already decaying institutional trust, and life choices? Our recovery is more than financial or physical. Addressing collective COVID-trauma will soon be the play.
Diligent Wokeness + Digital Footprints
“This you?” An impressive decade of data, photos and text is eager to haunt us amidst a raging, shaming culture. Social media was once a place to freely share what was on our mind, but our minds have changed. What we felt then is not how we feel now, and time-capsuled jokes have become stale, tasteless. The mob judges in public, offenses tried without leniency. Screenshots, literally and figuratively, are outing politicians and comedians alike, now keeping us on our toes and accountable. These ghosts are burdensome, and as a result, are swinging us towards the private, (pseudo) anonymous, intimate and ephemeral. Talking and walking on eggshells due to weaponized wokeness is unsustainable. Intentions are now “not enough.” We’re at the precipice of cancel culture and something’s gotta give as the agony of self-policing is at tension with the social benefits of virtual signaling. Pessimistically, we’ll all be canceled before we can reset the scoreboard. But optimistically, we come out on the other side yearning for redemption, forgiveness, and second chances. Why are we waiting?
Phones and laptops are our real homes
In 2020, Pinterest witnessed a 30x increase in searches for “laptop wallpaper aesthetic high quality.” In the days following iOS14’s launch, there were 13.7M downloads and $1M spent on customization apps. Then in October, Instagram announced the ability to alter its app icon. As time spent on devices increase and design restrictions loosen, UI’s are renovated and dressed according to our individual tastes and use cases. The twist: this doesn’t just apply to adults and teens, but children who replaced pencils with iPads this school year. “There will be a period of epic withdrawal,” says Keith Humphreys, a professor of psych at Stanford, an addiction expert and former adviser to Obama. Our continued investment in screens only strengthens our relationships to the devices which we’ve been trying to detox from. Pinterest also found a +170% YoY increase in searches for “get off my phone wallpaper.” The beautiful irony.