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10 key predictions from our latest trend report ‘2031: A Future World’

Published by Dazed Studio as part of A Future World, we look at what’s coming next in fashion, beauty, and technology, and see how much you really care about climate change

The year is 2031. You’re part-human, part-cyborg, the groceries you pay for with cryptocurrency are delivered to your kitchen by drones, an artificial womb is growing your firstborn from zygote to full term, and it’s hot. It’s really fucking hot – thanks to the blistering, devastating reality of climate change.

Or at least that’s according to the predictions made in Dazed Studio’s 2031: A Future World report – Dazed Media’s science-meets-pop culture platform. It’s a comprehensive exploration of the factors shaping culture and society and how these will evolve over the next decade. Compiled from the opinions of experts and thought-leaders in the fields of music, art, technology, education, activism, fashion, and more, including Jon Vlassopulos, VP, global head of music at Roblox, Lady PheOnix, founder and chief curator at YESUNIVERSE, Raya Bidshahri, founder and CEO of School of Humanity, and more. Additionally, it has insights gleaned from a survey completed in May this year by 1,600 Gen Zs and Millennials: the future leaders of this rock we call home.

Back in our current year, 2021, we’re in year two of a harrowing global pandemic that has changed our lives in ways we could never have predicted. It’s glaringly obvious that our leaders are unfit for their jobs, yet they treat accountability like a myth. The news cycle moves at an unhealthy hyper-speed: chewing, spitting, and discarding stories as quickly as they were served. Rappers are trying to buy their own planets, and the richest man in the world sent himself to space in a phallic-shaped rocket. People genuinely believe that celebrities are lizards and that 5G caused COVID-19. And amongst the uncertain financial weight of the last year-and-a-half, an artwork – or Non-Fungible Token – that only exists online sold for $69m. Often, it feels like we’re flailing about in our very own Truman Show, with no end credits in sight. But, whether we support them or not, all these surreal moments are propelling us into the future together.

Alas, it’s not all doom, gloom, and dystopia. When the rug gets pulled out from underneath, we uncover new ground. Challenging times push us to see the world – and new worlds – with fresh perspectives. Of those Gen Z surveyed, the biggest hopes for the future are the prevention of climate change, eradicating social inequality, the death of capitalism, and the progression of LGBTQ+ rights globally. At the top of the list of technological interests were lab-grown food, space travel – of which 58 per cent said they’d take a free holiday to the Moon – and cryptocurrency. It’s no secret that we’ve been increasingly digitised, accelerated by a year-and-a-half spent almost exclusively behind screens. As a result, we’ve found new ways to exist, facilitate, and even live better while online – with 44 per cent of people surveyed believing we will spend even more time in cyberspace in the future. Rounding out the top ten interests were robotics, wearable tech, NFTs, new social platforms, AR, digital clothing, driverless vehicles, and 5G networks.

All this is not to say there won’t be a place for us in the real world. In fact, we’re craving physical togetherness more than ever. Technology will instead find ways to merge with our everyday reality and turn the unreal real – blurring the lines between the two, and making it almost impossible to recognise where one starts and the other ends. While technological advancements are a dime a dozen, the possibilities predicted in this report could be more phenomenal than any sci-fi writer could pen.

The tracks are laid, the wheels are in motion, and this train is gathering speed. All you can do is strap in and (try to) enjoy the ride. To help you prepare to step into our future world, here are ten of the more surprising and out-there predictions that could influence our next decade.

WE ARE GRADUALLY BECOMING TRANSHUMAN

One of the most intriguing – equally terrifying – findings of the report is our ascent to transhumanism and the merging of our bodies with technology. In a 2020 report by Kaspersky, 63 per cent of consumers said they’d consider “permanently or temporarily augmenting their bodies with technology”. Biohacking – implanting technology into our bodies to change how we naturally function and perform – is predicted to be worth $52.8bn by 2027, and unsurprisingly Elon Musk is already experimenting with its possibilities. His 2016-founded brain-computer interface company Neuralink debuted its prototype last year: a chip inserted in a pig’s brain. Musk predicts that devices like this could, in the near future, link our brains to our technology. “The post-human body is very real, and it’s happening to all of us,” said visual artist Chris Dorland. While Lauren Bowker, Material Alchemist and founder of THEUNSEEN, reminded us that many of us are already cyborgs, as 524 people in every million have a pacemaker. 

JUST 9 PER CENT OF GEN Z WANT TO STAY ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Many Gen Zs will have never known life without some form of social media. Classified as those born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z inherited a world where MySpace, Facebook, and, later, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat reigned supreme. Instead of a choice, social media is a rite of passage. However, in a somewhat hopeful statement, just nine per cent of the Gen Z surveyed want to stay on social media, with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat named as the three platforms on the proverbial chopping block of those they had considered leaving or had already. A 2019 report by Zak found that 43 per cent of under 30s believe these platforms have “too many people on them”. Instead, we predict a pull towards more closed platforms that facilitate intimate interactions and curated experiences.

WE COULD COMMUNICATE WITH OUR THOUGHTS

If you thought mind-reading was reserved for the aisles of sci-fi and fantasy, think again. “Creativity and idea-sharing will happen through the connection of our brains,” said futurist Tracey Fellows. “Ideas will be originated, discussed, and finessed in a sort of brain-to-brain thought, a brain cloud or hive mind.” Echoing Elon Musk’s Neuralink M.O., a report by Scientific American in 2021 found that researchers are interested in finding ways to develop brain-to-computer technologies that can translate our brain signals into on-screen text. Meaning: how we communicate and collaborate could be more dynamic and creative than ever before.

DIGITAL REAL ESTATE WILL BECOME BIG BUCKS

We’re moving to the metaverse! Or, at the very least, this virtual space will become an unavoidable presence in our lives. Of those Gen Zs surveyed, 17 per cent revealed they prefer their online lives to their physical ones, which boosts to 52 per cent when speaking to gamers who spend more than eight hours a week playing video games. Since it exists entirely online, the metaverse offers infinite possibilities. Travis Scott broke new ground in 2020 when he collaborated with the online game Fortnite to host a virtual concert and release a line of digital merch – or “skins” – that fans globally could dress their avatars in. “As more and more people spend more time online and technical capabilities expand, we’ll increasingly see the metaverse play host to massive, immersive, virtual events, pioneering new forms of live, participatory entertainment,” said Jon Vlassopulos, VP, global head of music at Roblox. This won’t be limited to entertainment, however, and will include fashion, art, culture, and anyone who wants to stake their claim in this digital landscape.

WE’LL ABANDON REALITY AS WE KNOW IT

Alongside the metaverse, there’s a whole swathe of virtual possibilities that could become as real as our everyday realities are now. According to Charli XCX and author Jia Tolentino, reality is passé; it’s boring. We’re over it. And Benoit Pagotto, co-founder of RTFKT, claims that “augmented reality is going to be huge and the next computational revolution”. In less than ten years, we might be shopping in VR and paying for our purchases with cryptocurrency, which are then delivered to our homes by drones. Why go outside when you can go online? Well, it’s all fun and games until someone creates something so freakishly real that we can’t tell the difference anymore. Enter: deepfakes. We’ve already witnessed a deepfake Salvador Dalí and a South Korean news presenter, but how will the sinister side of this technology feed into a culture of misinformation and manipulation?

BEAUTY WILL CONTINUE ITS JOURNEY INTO THE UNREAL

Few would disagree that the current state of beauty and wellness trends has crossed over to the unreal. But hold onto your headbands people, because it’s about to get even more uncanny. Bunny Kinney, creative director of NOWNESS and founder of Dazed Beauty said: “Technology is the most important thing about the future of beauty. It will be crucial to how people discover brands, and buy, test, and review products. Virtual beauty will be just as legitimate. Digital products and the ways you can manipulate and transform yourself will become more important than real life: this is real life.” While ‘physical’ make-up is highly unlikely ever to disappear, virtual beauty will expand the possibilities that it offers us. Allowing consumers to move beyond face filters and experiment with beauty in risk-free, impermanent ways that can be shared via social media and within gaming and virtual worlds. Since we’re set to spend more of our time virtually, it might be worth exploring.

FORGET CLOSET SPACE – HANG YOUR CLOTHES IN THE CLOUD

The clothes industry is one of Earth’s worst pollutants, producing ten per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. Despite attempts to minimise this impact through eco-friendly fabrics and rent-an-outfit initiatives, it often feels like a losing battle: efforts which are more PR than progress. “I’d like to see true innovation”, says Lauren Bowker, Material Alchemist and founder of THEUNSEEN, “brands creating stuff you can’t even think of.” One of the ways that designers are doing this is through digital fashion, AI, and blockchain technologies. Gucci has already entered the space with their Virtual 25 sneakers that can only be worn digitally, and earlier this year sold a bag in Roblox for more than its IRL version costs. Meanwhile, AI provides data-driven insights for manufacturing processes – meaning less waste – and blockchain can track a garment’s life span and its environmental impact.

THE POWER COULD (FINALLY) BE IN OUR HANDS

The interest in the metaverse, cryptocurrency, and NFTs that’s exploded en-masse in the last six months offers the potential for a transfer of power we’ve not yet witnessed. With its infinite space, the internet means anyone can launch their own business, gallery, or build a whole new world that anyone, anywhere can enter. 68 per cent of the Gen Z audience surveyed said they’re interested in these technologies, with eight per cent revealing NFTs, and 12 per cent revealing that cryptocurrency is what intrigues them most. But beyond the $65m that was sunk into Beeple’s “The First 5000 Days” artwork – the most expensive NFT ever sold – the potential for artists and creators who have long been at the mercy of major corporations taking their earnings, could finally see the fruits of their labour pay off, as more people embrace decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) that aren’t governed by a central body or power.

GEN Z WANTS TO FIND MEANINGFUL WORK

One of the more promising findings of the report was how much Gen Z actually cares about the impact of their work on our future world. Undoubtedly, they’ve watched the mistakes made by Millenials and Boomers and learned a few lessons in how *not* to run (see: ruin) the world. In our report, Gen Z noted that it wants to see more BIPOC, working class, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities take positions of power, and even ranked “global citizens” over politicians as their choice of leaders. In their vision for a better world, “educated and diverse activists” are “fighting for a utopian future without monetary benefit”. In a report by EY in 2021, 55 per cent of Gen Z said they hoped to find “meaningful work that contributes to the greater good of society and helps solve global challenges by 2025”, increasing to 82 per cent by 2030.

OUR CITIES WILL NEED TO BECOME ‘SMART’ TO KEEP US ALIVE

Urban cities face some of the biggest threats from climate change, and given it shows no sign of slowing – and some world leaders couldn’t care less – it’s likely we’ll be forced to radically adapt the spaces we inhabit if we want to stay on Earth. There are various doomsday-esque predictions for our future world due to warming of our planet, with one such proposing that by 2300, sea levels could have risen two to five metres higher rendering much of our land useless. Jack Self, writer, architect, and founder of the Real Foundation, adds: “The system has to break, or it will have to evolve in quite a radical way to no longer be based on linear and exhaustive processes, but based on circular and regenerative processes.” ‘Smart cities’ are a potential solution to our inevitable fate, which will utilise AI to “safeguard the needs of the people, animals, and nature simultaneously to meet the demands of the population and preserve biodiversity”.

THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT(ISH)

Perhaps one of the report’s most surprising findings is that, despite our increasing dystopia, 30 per cent of Gen Z are actually optimistic about the future – and are 16 per cent more optimistic about the future than Millennials. Born into a tech-driven world, innovation is second nature to them, and Gen Z knows how to harness the tools and, eventually, the power to change the world for the better. In their hands, we could find ourselves shift from an individualistic mindset to a community and collaborative-driven existence that uplifts not just the few but the many. And that, my friends, is a future world worth looking forward to.

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