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The Future Digital Trends You Must Think About Today (Thinks Out Loud Episode 342)

Robot "chef" prepares meal for boy to illustrate future digital trends

I like to say that "we live in the future." After all, as William Gibson has stated, "The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed." Well, the Pew Research Center has a report that looks at "Visions of the Internet in 2035" that looks further into the future. The thing is, 2035 is a long time from now. We’re not there yet. But, it’s worth asking, are any of these visions relevant to us now? Are there future digital trends that you must think about today?

As it happens, there are (I know… surprised aren’t you?). So, what are those future digital trends? What data or information exists that tells us that they’re important? And why must you pay attention to them today? This episode of Thinks Out Loud takes a look and tries to provide some answers for you.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 342: Future Digital Trends You Must Think About Today Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

Here are this week’s show notes for Thinks Out Loud with links and news related to this week’s episode. Be sure to check out all the links that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 25m 37s

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Transcript: Future Digital Trends You Must Think About Today

Well hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 342 of the Big Show, and thank you so much for tuning in.

Prologue: The Situation in Ukraine and Why I Won’t Be Talking About It

I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had a tough time thinking about what to talk about this week. And the reason, as you’re well aware, everybody’s aware, is that there is this terrible, terrible war going on in Ukraine. And I want to be very clear: I’m not going to talk about the war. Obviously it is a horrible thing. Obviously the world is doing a lot to try to help and probably could do more, but it’s really something that I’m not remotely qualified to comment on. And as I’ve said many times before, the internet would be a much better place if people who didn’t know what they were talking about didn’t talk about the things that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

So I’m not going to add to the noise. What I am going to do is I’m going to link in the show notes. There’s a CNBC article with a list of charities and people who are qualified to help. And if you’re interested in helping, you can go to that link in the show notes and choose whichever charity meets your criteria for being able to help in the best way. And I would encourage you to do that. Obviously anything you can do there is welcome.

Future Digital Trends You Must Think About Today Introduction

Now, what I’d like to do for the rest of the time today is look forward to a better time, look forward to where we might be in the future. I’ve been digesting for several weeks a new report from a Pew Internet Life study that talks about what digital landscape, what the internet might look like in 2035.

And it’s totally understandable if you’re saying, "My gosh, 2035? That’s a really long time from now." And it is. It absolutely is. You know that I’m a big fan of the Bill Gates quote that says, "We always overestimate the change that will have been in the next two years and underestimate the change that will happen in the next 10." So it would be really easy for this panel of luminaries that the Pew Internet Research Foundation talked to underestimate how different things might be. So as I talk about where we’re going, as I talk about what I want to talk about today I want you to keep in mind that some of this may be underestimating the reality of what we’re going to live with.

We’re As Close Today to 2030 As We Are to 2014

And if you want to bring it in a little closer, we are as close today to 2030 as we are to 2014. And to give you a sense of both how near that is and how far away that is, the top songs in 2014 were "Chandelier" by Sia or "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea or "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor. Flappy Bird was the big game everybody was playing. The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS was the big thing that was going around on social media. The top movies were Frozen and Interstellar. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a long, long while ago.

And yet 2030, which is only eight years from now, is every bit as close as 2014 is. Now, the Pew Internet folks were talking about 2035 but some of the things they were talking about were building better spaces. Using things like artificial intelligence and machine learning to better isolate bad actors, to better prevent them from poisoning our public spaces. They talked about constructing effective communities, improved privacy, and again, increased use of AI and machine learning agents to help find the most appropriate content. To bring content in front of you that you actually want to see. They talked about things like empowering individuals so that people who today may not have access to the internet, may not have access to the digital landscape will have access, which of course will change economic life and work. That’s actually where I want to spend a bunch of time today because we see this already. And I’m going to come back to that in just a moment. They foresee us talking about altered reality. Now, they’re really talking about VR and AR and XR, virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality, which I think they got pretty right. And then using digital to do things like what they call tackling wicked problems.

Brilliant Insights From Brilliant People About the Internet in 2035

And I have to tell you first of all, these are very, very, very brilliant people. There’s some true, true legends on there. Vint Cerf, who’s really one of the "fathers of the internet" is one of the panelists. And there’s a bunch of others who are equally skilled and equally worth listening to. And it’s all kinds of hubris for me to be critiquing this so I’m just going to tell you, for the most part I think they got it mostly right. It all tracks with what I think, it all tracks with what I see, it all tracks with what I read about and listen to and try to learn from other people. So I don’t want this to be, "Oh, I think they’re completely perfect." Or, "Oh, I think I’m in the same category." But more, as I read and as I try to learn, they are talking about the same sorts of things that others talk about. Others who I listen to and who I try to learn from and all. And they do seem to have a fairly cohesive and complete vision for this.

The Future is Already Here… It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed

Now, one of the reasons I think they got it right is another quote that you’ve heard me use many times here on the show, that the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed. There was a great Twitter thread the other day from a woman named Steph Smith who is a writer for "The Hustle" that my friend Wendy Mazzucco — big shout out to my friend Wendy Mazzucco, who pointed this out to me — but Steph Smith had this amazing list of big trends, of things that we’re seeing right now. And she not only listed the ones that she has covered, but she asked other people to chime in and say, "Yes, these are the other things that we think are important." And they’re all ones that have to do with tremendous growth. This was all framed from the point of view of the fact that Jeff Bezos saw the internet growing at 2,300% and realized, "There’s a real future here," back before he started Amazon. And that is what led him to leave his day job to start Amazon.

And so everything that Steph Smith pointed out were items that had similar types of growth trajectories and I think are really worth paying attention to now because they’re what’s going to lead us to the sorts of future that we’re talking about out in 2035.

And the ones that resonated for me the most were the ones that both are visible today, that we’re seeing tremendous growth today, and also align with this future vision in the Pew report. So I’m going to touch on a handful of them. I’m not going to go through all of them. You should definitely check out Steph Smith’s list. You should definitely check out the report from Pew. But I do want to talk about a few of them that I think matter today and matter in a way that we need to think about what our businesses will look like and how we will adapt to these, because they’re probably going to come faster than we think.

The Future of Work is Now

I don’t think we’re going to have to wait until 2030 or 2035 for there used to be a reality. One of these of course is the future of work. We live in an era now where people can work from home or work from anywhere. We are almost certainly going to live in a world with, at most, a four day in-office work week, and probably three. And that’s a huge, huge opportunity for the businesses that support those folks, and it’s a huge opportunity for folks who could support those folks, businesses who could support those folks. It doesn’t matter if you’re in retail. It doesn’t matter if you’re the local shops near offices. It doesn’t matter if you’re office services. All of those are going to change. There is about 60 million commute hours saved per day during the pandemic, which again is an enormous challenge for businesses that supported those commuters and an enormous opportunity for people who can support them going forward. That’s an enormous difference that will shape the way the world works for years to come.

How Do We Re-envision Business For the Future of Work

You know I do a lot of work in the travel industry, and I’m working with my clients on, how do we support people in a work from anywhere environment and make their hotels and their restaurants more work from anywhere-favorable or work from anywhere possible to make those businesses more effective at attracting new types of customers?

Is College Doomed?

Another big future of work area that I think we need to be paying attention to that Steph Smith pointed out was that college tuition has outpaced people’s earnings by about 10X, so college tuition has gone up 10 times as fast as people earn income, which is one of the reasons why you’re seeing a lot of folks not so thrilled with the reality of their college education these days, or the cost of college education.

Will We Replace College With Content, Curriculum, Credentials, Community?

Now, I teach for Rutgers Business School, their Exec Ed program, and there are four things that colleges offer. They offer content. They offer curriculum. They offer credentials. And they offer community, your network and the people you meet there.

Content

We’re seeing each of these be replaced in various degrees. Content, first of all, you can get anywhere. Obviously you’ve got the internet itself, but YouTube might be the single biggest and best training resource in history for better or worse, because some of the content’s crap and some of the content is amazing. But content is a huge component of what people get from college that there are now tons and tons and tons of alternatives.

Curriculum

Of course having the right content is great, but knowing the sequence in which you should go through it. The curriculum is even more important. It’s not enough to be able to find content. You have to know what content to find. And again, we’re seeing that being disrupted a bit. We’re seeing that being replaced by people like Coursera or Khan Academy or others who make it easy for you to find the content that you need in the right sequence.

Credentials

Now, obviously another big component and the one that colleges pretty much have a monopoly on today in many ways is the credential, is the thing that says, "Hey, this person actually knows what they know." But we’re seeing that be replaced.

Google now has certifications that they offer that they actually favor in their hiring practices. Several companies I know are no longer using college degrees as a screen for new employees. They’re looking at participation and working projects among programmers, for instance. Open source, things like that. So again, we may see some opportunities there and some challenges for existing businesses.

Community

And then the last, community. Well, geez, there’s a ton of these. You’ve got LinkedIn, you’ve got Twitch, you’ve got Discord, you’ve got, as I mentioned, open source projects or other social networks. I also think that in real life opportunities for community and connection are going to have a big resurgence. We saw during the pandemic and even before, there was information on Everyday Health that 36% of Americans felt serious loneliness or felt lonely frequently or almost all of the time in 2020. And different reports say that number might be as high as 60%. People seek community, and I think you’re going to see lots challenges and lots of opportunities there as well.

The Talent Gap

One of the reasons this is such a big deal of course is that obviously finding talent is a huge problem for many companies. There was just new research from MarketingProfs where chief marketing officers listed talent and labor issues as their number obstacle to growth. Steph Smith’s list that I pulled some of these other data points from cites a New York Times report that says there will be a shortage of almost 300,000 semiconductor workers by 2025. We’re not talking 2030, we’re not talking 2035, we’re talking two years from now. And Smith notes in referencing that report that most emerging tech depends on semiconductors, whether we’re talking electric vehicles, whether we’re talking artificial intelligence, whether we’re talking gaming, which I’m going to come back to in just a second. But this is a huge, huge opportunity for people who can provide alternative ways to supply the content, the curriculum, the credentials, and the community. Now, it isn’t to say that college goes away but what higher education means may be shifting and there may be opportunities there.

Who Might Solve for the Talent Gap? The Whole Wide World

Now, since we’re also talking about empowering individuals as one of these big trends in 2035, I want to talk a little bit about how the population of the world’s exposure to digital is shifting. There is a great growing global middle class. We will see an increase from about 3.6 billion people in what is typically referred to as the middle class in 2018 to around 5.5 billion by 2030. That’s almost 2 billion extra people, and they will all have smartphones and they will all be connected to the internet. Many aren’t today.

One of the ways we may see the labor shortages be addressed, at least for knowledge work, is just as we did with China and just as we did with India 20 years ago. We may see the same thing happen in places like Mali or Uganda where they’re getting better education, where the education system has improved. Their national incomes just haven’t quite caught up yet. But that may shift as we move forward, and it’s something, again, to watch both as a challenge and as an opportunity.

Altering Reality and Constant Connection

Now, the last of these that I want to talk about today is altering reality. We expect we should see, everybody expects we should see smarter cars. Today, electronics are somewhere north of 35% of the cost of a car. That’s up from just 10% in 1980, and it’s expected to be about 50% in 2030.

Your car is a computer today. Forget self-driving cars. Just think about the ways cars now incorporate technology into the overall experience. You have things like lane assist, you have things like adaptive cruise control, you have things like heads up displays and voice activated systems. None of this is sci-fi, this is stuff that exists today. And it’s a great opportunity for businesses that depend upon people wherever they are. Hotels, restaurants, stores, various kinds of convenience shops, things like that to have or navigation, which at the moment is Google or Apple, mostly just about literally drive customers to your door.

The Rise of Gaming as the Primary Entertainment Source

It’s an enormous, enormous opportunity and it exists today and will only get larger over the next 5, 8, 10, 15 years. And for the last of these, we’re moving towards a place where gaming is replacing traditional entertainment. Again, I’m going to use Steph Smith’s numbers. Olympic coverage was down 55% since 2018. Disney Channel is down 88% since 2014. Since 2014, Nickelodeon is down 75%. In just the last year, TV has fallen off four points from 38% of screen-based leisure time to 34 of screen-based leisure time, and movies are down a full point from 15% to 14% in a year. But gaming and e-sports are up. Gaming gained four points in just the last year, from 12% to 16%. Online videos are up a point too. Reading and social media have held flat. By the way, some of these are numbers from Marketing Charts. I will link to this in the show notes.

Is the Pandemic Skewing the Numbers? Probably Not

Now, while some of this shifft could be related to the pandemic, I don’t think so. And I note that reading and social media have held flat while TV watching and movies have gone down. Movies make sense, but TV watching? Why? People are simply trading one form of entertainment for another. And the numbers are especially stark when you look at younger consumers.

13 to 24 year olds spend fully a quarter of their time gaming, which is equal to the amount of time they spend on TV and movies combined. Again, that speaks really well for Twitch and Discord in places like that. And it may be explained somewhat by the loneliness stat also. Gaming is a little more communal than a movie or TV.

What Did Pew Get Wrong?

Now, the only thing I think that the Pew panel may have gotten wrong was that they have forgotten a little bit this idea of when you build the ship, you build the shipwreck.

There may be new challenges that are coming that weren’t fully fleshed out. You should read the whole report for yourself because they touch on it a little, but I think that there’s a lot of optimism there, as there should be.

As you well know, I am not a pessimist. I much prefer the positive vision. I prefer the term possiblist from the book Factfulness. I believe in the possibility of what’s ahead of us. We just also have to think about, what are the potential shipwrecks? Cybersecurity, garbage in garbage out influencing AI algorithms, bad assumptions influencing AI algorithms, each of these provide opportunities for growth as well as challenges too. So we need to think about those just as well because they may actually provide opportunities that we’re still not thinking of.

What Didn’t We Talk About?

There are of course tons of topics here that I’m skipping whether from the Steph Smith list or whether from the Pew list.

Whether it’s related to climate, whether it’s related to lowered birth rates and the declining baby boomer population, whether it’s crypto. These all will affect us. The climate, the rapidly declining cost of solar and the rapidly declining cost of batteries could change the way lots of things work in technology as we go forward. As we talk about an aging lower birth rate population, there’s 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day right now. That’s going to affect us in lots and lots of ways that I need to do a lot more thinking about before I want to talk about it. Crypto, same thing. I’ve got lots of thoughts but I’m going to hold them for now. But there’s definitely something there we need to be thinking about.

Conclusion: Future Digital Trends You Must Think About Today

In all, I’m incredibly positive on this vision. I think there’s tremendous, tremendous opportunity for us there and I don’t think it’s something we’re going to have to wait 13 years or eight years or maybe even five years to be ready for, to take advantage of. But that’s why I want to hear from you. I want to know which of these excites you. Which things did I skip excite you? Which are the things that we need to talk about some more? I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a line in the comments. Drop me on an email at podcast@timpeter.com. I’d love to keep the dialogue going because whether it’s 2025, whether it’s 2030, whether it’s 2035, as I like to say, we live in the future. And the best way to live in the future is to prepare for it today.

Show Outro

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 342.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do each week. I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment provides an amazing suite of search tools to help provide search as a service for large enterprises. Don’t lose customers by making the content they need hard to find. Use SoloSegment to find search results that focus on business results and help customers find the content that matters to them and the content that drives results for your business.

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Show Outro

With all that said, I just want to say once again how much I appreciate you tuning in. We live in a crazy world, we live in crazy times, and the fact that you choose to take a little bit of your valuable time each week to listen to the show means more to me than you can possibly know. I just want to say thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.

With that said, I hope you have a great weekend, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week, and I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as always take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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