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We'll All Be Having a Hacking New Year

The watchword is hacking, which used to imply something both geeky and malicious. Now it's the height of cool, and we'll be seeing it done big.
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Even after two decades of successfully forecasting spot-on international trends for consumers and corporations, I didn't see coming what I refer to as the Year of the Everyday Trendspotter (aka 2013). It's so easy to do up-to-the-minute searches and publish in real time online that everybody from daddy bloggers to CEOs is broadcasting pronouncements about what's next in their area of expertise. Which might mean a change in my own "next," but for now, here's what I see coming for 2014.

The übertrend? Tinkering and experimentation to find new solutions. It will be people's response to the experience of being sidelined and powerless -- in everything from the economy to technologies that require them to play only a marginal role -- and the prospect of it happening more and more often.

The watchword is hacking, which used to imply something both geeky and malicious. Now it's the height of cool, and we'll be seeing it done big (like lifestyle hacks for more quality with less cash, and lifelong learning) and small (growing food, using Internet how-to videos). It has democratized the process of creating positive change, giving anyone a chance to move the needle. Companies hold hackathons to encourage innovation, and smart individuals are tinkering quietly or boldly to change the status quo. Next year is going to be about doing to be relevant.

These are some of the other consumer trends I've spotted for next year and beyond:

  • Guilt money does good -- lots of good -- through new and innovative public-private partnerships. In our collaborative society, private donors will give money to local parks, state schools and even our highway system if that's what it takes. The one percent is feeling some guilt about benefiting from an unequal system; donating to an important cause or community is a way to shake that off.
  • Over-60s seek new roles as they rethink the meaning of life beyond middle age. Only recently, 50 was the new 30; now 60 is. What used to be retirement age is now mid-career, so boomers are trying to stay relevant in a digitally driven work world being increasingly run by the millennial mindset (see below). Watch for "senior" to go from embarrassing euphemism to badge of respect.
  • The workplace looking more and more like millennials. Forget annual reviews and constructive criticism. Business culture today is one of constant feedback and networking, freedom from negativity and two steps sideways to take three steps forward. Stanford's D. School has replaced Harvard's B. School as the hot pedigree, and collaborative corporate environments are the new norm.
  • Talking alternatives to capitalism as we know it, to deliver jobs. As we slowly shake off the hangover of the economic meltdown of 2007-08, we're still questioning the capitalist model: Where did the money go? Where did the jobs go? Americans want a more equal society. Hence the rise of lefty Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is going to bat for the middle class, and criticizing big corporations.
  • Getting down and dirty with prebiotics and the microbiome. One of the most promising new medical approaches to all-around health: cultivating bugs rather than zapping them. Scientists are studying effects of the body's microbiome -- our gardens of bacteria, viruses and fungi -- to identify how the right balance plays a crucial role. Look for a new class of prebiotic supplements and superfoods.
  • Cars are getting smarter, but walking will become the ultimate luxury. Soon we'll have Google's self-driving cars, but it's seeming less and less smart to spend all your time in one. Studies have shown that too much sitting is pretty much the worst thing you can do for your health, so constant movement has become the new prescription. Many more communities will be built with walking as the ultimate quality-of-life luxury amenity.
  • mPOS will do to cash and cards what online did to bricks and mortar.The rise of mobile wallets means we'll also give up credit and debit cards. The rise of Square and other mobile point-of-sale systems has led to the ease of receiving payments with the same devices that allow us to read news, play music and navigate cities: our phones.
  • Artisanal everything -- combining savoir faire with entrepreneur to create joie de vivre. We're buying handmade products on Etsy or making them ourselves with the thousands of DIY books now available. Perhaps it's a reaction to some of the other trends listed above, but people value authenticity and terroir over mass-produced blandness. The more things change, the more at least that one thing stays the same.

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