With 2010 drawing to a close, I can't help but give pause when thinking about what is in store for 2011 -- and beyond, as 2012 looms on the horizon.
With the ominous 2012 in our sight line (some interpret the Mayan calendar as predicting that the world will end that year), 2011 will be a time of emotional upheaval and fear, as people embrace an "end of days" mentality and become more and more anxious about what the future holds. Regardless of your belief (or disbelief) in the Armageddon theorists, you can't help but feel the tempest-like tension -- France saw a huge amount of striking and rioting in response to the raising of the retirement age, and folks are angry about a bleak and insecure forecast.
With countless online resources at all of our fingertips, it's easy to reach the level of information overload -- sure, knowledge is power, but when does it all become too much, and toxic to our psyches? And now emotions are taking hold of an already unsteady world and we are self-medicating with too much news and a debilitating need to "know." As a counter to this overzealous embrace of bad news, look for people to engage in behaviors to soothe anxiety -- think vacations that have a wellness or spiritual element to them, a deeper need to spend time with family and a craving for balance. You need not look further than fashion, a barometer of what's happening in our mind and mood. The 2011 runway shows featured a great deal of a white, minimalist aesthetic; is this a reaction to the chaos of our times? Look for 2011 to contain a pervasive, Puritan chic as we seek to adorn ourselves in a wardrobe that feels safe, comforting and free of chaos.
And now lack of safety is top of mind when it comes to the alarming amount of cyberbullying, with the most extreme cases resulting in suicide, and with no end in sight. The notion of authority or control when it comes to the Internet is almost nonexistent -- the online world provides a perfect opportunity for people to do, say and post how they please. And what of the upcoming royal nuptials of William and Kate, who is already being compared to Diana in terms of the paparazzi's relentless stalking of her? Will paparazzi lawlessness be rampant as they try to snap every move she makes? Is our need for up-to-the minute, instant-gratification news resulting in a sort of media anarchy and outlaws armed with cameras instead of guns?
Speaking of anarchy, what does it really mean to be a rebel today? The times, they are a changing -- in vast and powerful ways. The student protests of yesteryear feel old-fashioned, since now almost anyone can voice a strong opinion, or be heard or seen by millions, virtually. The steps to organizing a full-blown counterculture movement are only a few clicks away, and even so-called "conservative" groups like the Tea Party are multiplying like cyber bunnies. This revolution will not only be televised, but blogged, tweeted, YouTubed and updated in ways that are unprecedented.
Which brings me to another trend -- that of the antisocial social class. It is now possible to sit alone in your home and talk to as many people as you want -- via Facebook, Twitter, IM or BBM. Face-to-face contact is no longer necessary, and we are constructing personae for ourselves that can positively counter who we really are and what we're thinking. You can be the most socially awkward person of all time but enjoy a healthy social life in cyberspace. I can't help but wonder what that is doing to people's ability to interact in a direct way -- if you don't need to look into somebody's eyes to talk to them, are we losing something truly valuable? Are we becoming desensitized to each other in the living, breathing sense? Smart marketers and brands will find ways to connect people in "real" ways once again; nothing can replace the human touch.
But lack of touch and lawlessness aside, there's always a yin to the yang. Look for life coaches and cheerleaders to make us feel better about the future, as folks emerge from the shadows of gloom and doom to help spread some cheer and positive reinforcement about the future. Perhaps that will take the form of a continued interest in helping the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves. Could all of this discord and antisocial "social" interaction lead to a new altruism and compassion for humankind? I'm banking on that as we all look for the light -- people will crave good news (a la Chilean miner mania) and role models that instill a positive vibe, as an antidote to high-running emotions and a continued anxiety about...well, just about everything.