They say no one can predict the future, but one woman has proved us wrong.
Leading futurologist Marian Salzman has foreseen the top trends for over three decades. She even popularised the term “metrosexual” back in 2003, proving she has her finger firmly on the pulse of all the latest social shifts.
Salzman was talking about climate change back in 2010 and predicted a rise of a “bunker mentality” months before Covid hit. And now the 62-year-old, who has been dubbed “Carrie Bradshaw mixed with Hillary Clinton”, has released her latest predictions for 2022 after another year in limbo.
In her latest report, 22 for 2022: Measuring Up What We Thought We Knew, the New York native discusses new technologies and deep post-Covid divides.
She says the world continues “to battle existential threats” and 2022 could become “2021 in redux”.
Speaking to the Sunday People, Salzman, who now lives in Switzerland, warned: “We went into 2021 thinking things were going to get better but we have to live with the fact that we’re not going back to 2019.
“The world has fundamentally changed. 2022 is going to be a tormented year.”
Here are ten of Salzman’s predictions for the year ahead…
America loses its shine
Rising political and cultural divides, rampant conspiracy theories and lingering financial tensions have left the superpower somewhat tarnished. And Salzman doesn’t think the future will be particularly bright for Uncle Sam.
“Like the boy who cried wolf, I have been talking about America losing its shine since the late 1990s,” she says. “Now more people are ready to listen.”
Post-9/11, almost 14 million immigrants went to the country in search of the American dream – a new record.
But Salzman says the financial crisis of 2007-8 and the election of President Trump in 2016 has only served to create greater apathy and polarisation.
Covid has widened the cracks, with many Americans considering the pandemic to be a hoax. Even the 2020 election of Joe Biden couldn’t allow for too much optimism, considering the subsequent assault on the US Capitol and the widespread belief that the election itself was fixed.
Cities go out of style
The pandemic has sparked a rise in the popularity of country living, but does that really mean we are falling out of love with city lifestyles? As of late 2021, 56.2% of the world’s population were living in cities.
But as millions of workers stopped commuting and people swapped crowds for green spaces, our concrete jungles became deserted.
Initially, there were concerns that living in a heavily populated area meant you were more likely to catch Covid. But city living may not become a thing of the past just yet.
Salzman says some cities, like South Korean capital Seoul, are adapting by creating nature zones and urban farms.
Water becomes a luxury
Climate change could signal the end of life as we know it, with water becoming a luxury item. We may all take it for granted, but the essential resource could become scarce – and sooner than you think.
Some countries are already suffering from extended droughts while others are being hit by more extreme weather, causing intense rain and flooding.
Glaciers are also in retreat, the sea levels are rising and “massive storms” have become the new normal.
Salzman says that while we may be used to getting clean water from a tap or on the table at a restaurant, “now, as with so many other comfortable assumptions, we are having to think a lot more about this precious resource”.
Extreme political opinions dominating social media will create instability worldwide, Salzman says. She believes that carefully chosen words will establish “the battle lines in the current culture wars”, with differences in opinion causing divides.
AFP via Getty Images)
Salzman argues the people who tend to sit on the fence – dubbed the “missing middle” – have got “completely lost”.
She says: “Many, perhaps even most people fall between the extremes and don’t pay much attention to the latest developments of injustice issues, nor are they more than passingly concerned about cancel culture.
“It’s almost schizophrenic in how we are approaching our lives.”
New tech goes mainstream
Salzman says she can see similarities between today’s post-pandemic world and the fallout of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, which killed 50 million people.
History shows the doom and gloom of that pandemic gave way to a period known as ‘The Roaring 20s’, in which technological advances and items such as cars, radios and gramophones went mainstream.
“It is hard not to see parallels to today,” she says.
“The world is shaping up to emerge from the dreary lockdowns and restrictions of Covid-19.”
New technologies, such as Zoom, augmented/virtual reality, AI, gene technology and cryptocurrencies are all going mainstream. And she says the “metaverse” – or virtual-reality space – was one of the most searched for terms in 2021.
But Salzman says that in many ways we have moved on from the 1920s, which were a time for dancing, partying and mating. She says today’s society has “far more incentives to stay in”, rather than go out and socialise.
Robots take our jobs
For many of us, working from home has become a mainstay of post-pandemic life, whether you like it or not.
This has made Salzman wonder whether robots will now be poised to take over traditional “middle-class” jobs, saying robots could easily complete office tasks as well as warehouse work.
Salzman says that many people are finding their skills have become outdated or are not in demand. This leaves them facing the prospect of being replaced by robots or AI.
She says: “We can be certain that the future of work will be fundamentally different. Covid-19 has seen to that. All the talk about ‘when things get back to normal’ has given way to a realisation that not everyone is willing to return to the old normal.”
Over the last couple of years, Salzman says we have seen the “hybridisation” of our lives, where the online world has combined with offline. This has happened most acutely in education.
While online schooling has been around since the 80s, it has now become mainstream – even a necessity.
“That has raised the question, ‘What is a school?’” says Salzman. She believes there is “no doubt” the future of schools will become hybrid, working both online and offline.
While scientists wowed the world by coming up with a Covid vaccine so quickly, our “fear” of science is also on the rise – especially when it comes to the wealthy genetically editing the human race.
So-called “genetic scissors” and other gene-editing techniques could be used in bananas to save them from a killer fungus and help people with rare diseases.
But Salzman says there are fears the science could be used to edit certain conditions or traits, such as height, physical prowess and intelligence.
She says: “This has prompted alarm even among leading scientists such as the late Stephen Hawking, left, who feared that wealthy people would be able to buy more advantages and create a genetically enhanced elite.”
The number of people taking on a new pet went through the roof in lockdown, and Marian thinks the trend for fluffy friends may take on a new spin in 2022.
“We’re going to see robotic pets coming in the near future,” she says.
“You’re seeing people form these very strong ties with their animals because they have been their constant living companions.”
While lifelike robotic pets are already available online, they are mostly used in therapy settings in the UK. Could Furbys be making a comeback?
…and yet more angst
According to Salzman, our angst isn’t going anywhere – and Generation Z are more angry than ever.
She recalls the 25-year-old son of one of her colleagues saying: “The baby boomer generation grew up believing things were free. My generation has grown up knowing nothing is free because everything has a cost.”
She argues that the generation coming of age under the dark skies of climate change, Covid-19 and bleak economic prospects is not looking forward to a future filled with promise and prosperity.
This leaves many people with two options in 2022, she argues: fighting for radical change or a rise in selfishness and support for nationalist politics.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.