Last year we made some Generation Z predictions for 2014. How did these hold up?
“1. They will bring at least one household item out of obscurity.”
While nothing is really holding the same momentum as rubberbands and duct tape did, DIY is still a strong trend. A pretty hot trend these days is the decorating mason jars for all sorts of purposes. You can even get Mason Jar slurpees with mustache straws, combining the DIY inspired trend with my prediction #8! The Mason Jar retrotrend is not exactly new, and youtube satirist Bella Belle made a spoof of it. But when teens and tweens come up with ideas like decorating the inside with BFF photos and filling it with candy and little notes about friendship, could it signify a need to restore some of the more tangible elements of friendship in a time when friendships are increasingly experienced in digital networks?
“2. At least three apps will be generated by an under-12 kid”
Meet Dylan Puccetti, the 12-year-old who recently made an app that aims to keep children safe by converting a phone’s on-off button to a panic button. Generation Z is very much driven by social causes and Puccetti’s app is a great example of this. App development is going through a democratizing process where personal app-making could become the layman’s go-to answer for solving life larger or smaller inconveniences. With so much media hype and incentives around coding and app-creation these days, I am actually starting to worry that we are fooling our kids into thinking that app-development equates innovation. Furthermore, with the sudden proliferation of data-collecting schemes and doohickeys materialize new existential questions, such as those raised by net-critic Egveny Morozov who asks if we are becoming victims of the folly of technology-solutionist utopias. Or even willing to sacrifice our privacy at the altar of convenience and self-enhancement. But this is not the topic here. Thankfully, Generation Z’s ingenuity goes far beyond computer codes. They are also breaking ground with brick-and-mortar innovations and are social innovators as well. This year is the first time the venerable Nobel Peace Price has been awarded to someone under the age of 18. Right-to-education-activist Malala Yousafzai is a proud example of Generation Z bravery and intelligence. And her guts is sorely needed. Yesterday during a school exam in Peshawar, Pakistan the Taliban massacred 132 children. We can only hope the troubling rise of extremists like Taliban and ISIS are the death throws of an ideology that does not know how to deal with the transition to a more equitable and tolerant world.
“3. Another school tries to teach 21st century curricula using gamification” I went to several events last year that hint at our common readiness for a major shift in education. But public schools are still hopelessly behind on advancing their core curriculum to more closely meet 21st century skill demands. Last year much attention was brought to the initiation of the Common Core curriculum which might have grabbed the little change energy that was available in public education. Discontent with the current system is growing and more parents are taking their kids out to try alternative education. Studies that cast doubt of the usefulness of homework and excessive achievement testing undermines further families’ trust in the public system. But this does not mean that the alternatives are automatically much better. At least according to Diane Ratwick’s book The Reign of Error.
“4. HIV- positive newborns will be cured” Last year an infant was cured from HIV, which was a breakthrough in medicine. This year a second baby had also recovered – but only seemingly because as it turns out, both children relapsed some time after only showing negative test results for some years. Dr. Deborah Persaud says that HIV attacks the “memory cells” of the immune system, so this insidious disease is still not beat at its core. We are so close, yet so far away!
“5. Sexting, Bullying, TMI , Oh My!” I wish I were wrong in this prediction, but unfortunately it could look like this problem is only getting worse. According to a 2014 McAfee study, 87 percent of teens say they have witnessed cyberbullying, up from 27 percent in 2013. If there is any good news around this topic it must be that we are learning more about the problem. Not only about cyberbullying per se, but teenage cyberculture in general. Expert on digitally networked youth, danah boyd (she uses lower cases deliberately) published a fantastic book this year portraying kids’ internet behavior. Departing from the chasm of naive internet centrism vs. the doomsayers, boyd manages to highlight the nuances that help us understand the motivations behind teen’ online behaviors. And that might be the first step towards ending cyberbullying. boyd reiterates many of the points that Emily Bazelon covered in her Sticks and Stones a few years ago
“6. More female masters of the arrow” With the recent release of Mockingjay, the filmatization of the third book in the young adults series The Hunger Games, sports archery continues its growth in popularity among girls. In general, dystopian themes with female heroines in the lead roles continues. The similar youth novel Divergent quickly adapted the cinema screen, and Shailene Woodsley managed to play another strong female character in the more mellow, but psychologically tougher movie The Fault In Our Stars. The onset of strong female characters attests to growing gender awareness, but the more challenging topics also suggest that parents are slowly loosening up on their tendency to shield their children from disturbing content. Since the recession there has been a growing “honesty trend” which compels us to recon with uncomfortable realities. The plot changes are reflective of that.
“7. Less pretty princess, more cutesy and lovable in children’s entertainment” See point 5 above. The placid princess waiting patiently around for a brave prince to show up and save her is a dead or dying plot. In fact, it is so out now that it might not be long until we might see the traditional plotline resurface as retro-style nostalgia. As for adorable, we haven’t seen another Olaf character yet, but cutsie characters will continue as successful staples in children’s entertainment.
“8. At least 20 pubertal Gen Z guys will rock a mustache” Ok, so the mustache is SO last year. The Hipster trend has moved too far down on the innovation curve that the trend will convince fewer Generation Z boys. Counterbalancing the trend of over-pronouncing your social identity, a new trend called “normcore” is catching on. This is the sort of bland arbitrary look we Gen-Xers sported in the nineties. Kids today are tired of sorting eachother into categories of hipsters or nerds, preppy kids or cheerleaders. So if the “it-kid” of yesterday suddenly shows up with drab looking stonewashed jeans, lumberjack shirt and white tennis shoes, don’t assume they grew out of their previous fashion consciousness. They probably just want to look like they did, while staying ever so conscious under the surface.
To summarize, there were both hits and misses here. Futurists often make distinctions between fad-like trends and shifts that are caused by deeper underlying forces. We may think of trends or fads as scooters, which accelerate relatively fast towards maximum capacity, but don’t offer much in momentum once maximum is reached. Its direction is relatively fickle and can easily veer off. Driving forces on the other hand, are like the steamroller, moving slow in the beginning, but reaching a more powerful velocity once it gets going. The predictions above were of both types. DIY-projects and fashion trends shift quickly and will typically reach superficial changes from the past, whereas changes in innovation, attitudes toward gender and social dynamics playing out in online behaviors are more of the steamroller types. As a foresight professional I am not surprised to see that I did better in the steamroller category than the scooter type. However, I didn’t dig deep enough and I was also too impatient. App-development is quickly becoming a novelty of the past, and innovative Gen-Zers are omnipresent in so many other areas as well. School reform is definitely a steamroller, and a veeeery slowmoving one. And strong female characters go so much beyond Elsa! The Generation Z girl is Malala. And Katniss. And Hazel. Even Maleficent! She is complex. And brave. And she doesn’t really need a bow and arrow to fight injustice. Will the toy- and entertainment industry continue to take note of that? And when will it be OK for boys to show a softer, more “effeminate side? Maybe in 2015?
Every academic discipline holds a set of commandments that seeks to maintain academic integrity. In Foresight the first commandment is: “Though Shall Not Make Predictions!” People unfamiliar with Foresight as an academic field are often surprised and ask, if futurists don’t make predictions what do they do? The answer you are most likely to hear is: futurists make forecasts and scenarios that suggest alternative trajectories. Futurists make distinctions between possible, probable and plausible scenarios. But futurists do not make predictable scenarios.
That being said, After the Millennials tend to skew a little over on the predictive side. Our scope is relatively narrow (generational change) and the timeframe we most often work with is limited to 5-25 years. Furthermore, based on thorough examination of underlying assumptions and theories, predictions can be in useful gauging how we look at social change – even when our predictions are wrong. In fact, everybody makes predictions – or educated guesses – every day. If we didn’t think it would be relatively safe to get out of bed, go to work and hit the grocery store on the way home we wouldn’t survive long.