The Age of Image
The need for an image is growing, for individuals, companies and products. Every day millions of bloggers and Facebook users try to place themselves in the best light. Often the image is more important than the person behind it. Similarly, companies are increasingly creating elaborate image campaigns. Emotional added value is many times more influential in a consumer's decision to buy a product than the quality of the product itself. As a consequence, we are bombarded with 3.000 advertising message every day. Whether we are dining in restaurant, travelling, on voyage of self-discovery or just taking a car for a test drive: everything is made into an event. As a countertrend to this obsession with superficial images, substance, peace and morality are becoming the fundamental basis for the quality of life.
The Digital Human
Today more than a quarter of the world's population uses the internet. Its technology has become a fundamental infrastructure, which people spend more and more time using in both their private and working lives. This not only changes our lives but also the structure of our brains. We are now able to absorb information, make decisions, solve problems and store data increasingly rapidly, but also in a more superficial way. Instead of supporting our ability to think linearly, the internet fosters our multitasking skills, and creativity and concentration suffer as a result.
The End of Secrets
The internet has made transparency an everyday phenomenon. Consumers can compare product prices across the world in a matter of seconds, politicians' leisure activities are displayed in the public domain and companies report in ever shorter intervals on every details of their activities. This open access to more and more data strengthens democracy. Yet it also involves the risk of pseudo-transparency. False reports and deliberately manipulated stories are spread just as quickly through the internet as facts are. The growing demand for radical transparency also forces the publication of data - even on state secrets - that may be worth safeguarding and increases the risk of a total surveillance society.
Learning is Power
Knowledge is the capital of modern society. Nine out of ten history's most important scientists are our contemporaries. The amount of information available doubles every five years. Yet the growing amount of data that can be easily accessed in the internet makes decision-making more complex, not more simple. The more we know, the greater our insecurity becomes. At the same time, instead of the much lauded democratization of knowledge, there are signs of a democratization of half-truths and myths, which even affects educated sections of society. As knowledge alone is no longer enough, the actual challenge for the future is to develop a new culture of learning.
The next generation of the internet will change not only the manner in which we search for information online but also the way we deal with the real world. Digital maps and augmented reality applications open up new opportunities for navigation and act as a browser of the world: geographical information is linked to restaurant recommendations, data on free parking spaces or personal holiday experiences. Yet since the individual information systems are rarely interlinked and the data is sorted according to different relevance criteria, they often create more confusion than simplification. As a result, the next stage will be a semantic web that can understand content and adapt to the needs of the user. The next-generation internet will provide a smaller, pre-selected amount of higher-quality data, thus also opening up a new source of income.
Health as a Status Symbol
Health is being redefined. Whether people are healthy or sick now depends not only on their physical but also on their mental wellbeing. This makes the individual lifestyle people lead - from their diet to their leisure activities - into a decision for or against being healthy. Medicine no longer only treats the sick but also healthy people. Patients are becoming consumers. Yet this obsession with health also places more pressure on people to meet the growing requirements of our achievement-oriented society. To compensate for human imperfections a new market for health, performance and beauty is growing. Six Viagra pills are swallowed every second, and the wellness industry and organic produce are experiencing disproportionate growth rate - even though there is often no evidence of any actual health benefits.
The Expansion of Tradition
The era of the global dominance of western values and products - especially, American ones - is coming to an end. The modern global village is no longer symbolized by hamburgers but by kimchi, sushi, kebab, and dim sum. With increasing cultural diversity, there are growing fears of a loss of national identities, yet at the same time this mixing of cultures opens up new horizons and creates the foundations for innovation. But this can only happen if traditions continue to develop and contribute to diversity instead of giving way to a uniform global culture.
The Big Buzz
The decline of traditional institutions such as the church and the family goes hand in hand with the rapid growth of virtual communities formed by people with shared interests - regardless of their geographical, religious or family background. This trend is boosted by individual's desire to have better connections and thus rapidly rise in social status, and by business in the hope of gaining potential billions' worth of profits through the commercial use of virtual profiles. Yet it is doubtful in the long term whether social networks will be able to fulfill anything more than the basic need for gossip and structuring private contacts.
In the multi-optional society traditional values and structures have lost importance. Self-fulfillment is seen as a basic human right, and tolerance towards alternative lifestyle has grown considerably. As too much freedom also leads to a lack of orientation, 'hard values' are experiencing a comeback. Religious communities are preaching a return to the morals of 1950s, and political parties are calling for isolation from foreign influences. At the same time the loss of trust in the distant abstract elites of global politics and economics is giving fundamental moral values such as responsibility, sustainability and transparency a new boost and is strengthening the need for regional roots.
The Triumph of Collaboration
In the global economy and in research, cooperation and partnership have taken on an increasingly important role in the strategies of companies and universities. The outsourcing of production leads to cost savings, and cooperation with creative partnership to more innovation. As the complexity of the resulting networks is often difficult to control and the organizations involved are often overwhelmed, the importance of open, autonomous collaboration models is growing. The software market has already been revolutionized by so-called open-source models: independent experts work together on a freely available program and constantly improve it through free licenses. The challenge now lies in transposing this way of working from the internet sector to the real economy and in determining both the opportunities and limitations of the commercial use of open collaboration models.