The state we’re in: A quest for middle ground

What’s the brain thinking up now? Picture: Supplied
What’s the brain thinking up now? Picture: Supplied

The annual Flux Trends release - The State We’re In – is an overview of where the world is, and where it is going, using the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S.

Each letter represents a key sector that will affect how we live, work and play in the coming year. It’s an executive summary of global dynamics and winds of change.

The 2020 edition is entitled, The Politics of Rage & Polarisation: A Quest for Middle Ground

By the end of 2019, the rising anger around the globe was palpable, as were the divisions that fuelled the rage. Whether they were political, economic, environmental or cultural, anger and dissatisfaction was omnipresent, and the merest spark ignited the flames of protest.

Globally, differences in political ideology, economic inequality and personal standpoints are growing more extreme, and divisive. Twitter reflects both the rage and toxicity we live with. The hope of finding common ground has receded, so the quest for finding middle ground is what’s needed. Middle ground is compromise; common ground is problem-solving.

Finding middle ground only addresses the symptoms of conflict, not its causes.

It will only mask tensions, not resolve them: but we have to start somewhere.

Middle ground points to an equitable solution. It won’t be perfect and will be temporary, but it should quell the anger.

To paraphrase Taylor Swift: “We need to calm down”.

TECHNOLOGY: Global connectivity and the prospect of 5G


Google. Picture: Supplied

South African Data Network provider Rain launched 5G network in parts of Johannesburg and Tshwane last year. The company plans to extend the network in major metros around the country by end of 2020.

Meanwhile Google, in partnership with ThinkWifi, has launched free WIFI in South Africa. “Google Stations” are WIFI hotspots available in over 100 locations around Philippi, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Langa and other “underserved” areas in Cape Town.

In China, LinkSure has ambitious plans to provide free internet for the whole world.

Dubbed the LinkSure Swarm Constellation System, the company plans to have their first 10 satellites to be in earth’s orbit by the end of 2020.

While high-speed connectivity is a common goal, issues of privacy and the growing sophistication of deep fakes are making people wary of the personal data they trade off with companies.

The middle ground?: In San Francisco a proposal is underway to establish the “Office of Emerging Technology” to help the city monitor the next wave of devices and services spawned in Silicon Valley.

RETAIL & MARKETING: Sustainability – the new USP


Last-minute shopping. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Kudos to the eco warriors and diversity activists. In the last 18 months their influence has mapped a new trajectory for retail brands - it’s more inclusive, as well as sustainable. Not only are there new rules of engagement and communication, but transient ownership – which includes new circular economies and a booming rental market – are rapidly changing business models for many retailers, which in turn will impact landlords, mall owners and property developers. The “shop till you drop” mantra is evolving into a “rent or recycle it” mindset. Transient ownership has arrived.

The middle ground?: Underground in this case. The ripple effect of transient ownership can be found in Paris where underground parking basements have been turned into urban mushroom farms because car ownership has declined, so significantly (due to car and ride-sharing), basement parking lots now stand empty.

ECONOMY: Caught in the Political Crossfire.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong protests. Picture: Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

While many countries, and multi-national companies, find themselves caught in the crossfire of Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the politics of rage are also starting to affect multi-national businesses. Support of the protesters in Hong Kong has had a direct impact on global brands, especially those who do business in China.

Issues of sustainability are also changing the business landscape as the focus shifts from a company’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) policy to its ESG (environmental social governance) rating – ideally accompanied by a B Corporation listing. A blinkered focus on the bottom line and shareholder primacy is fast becoming detrimental to any future business model.

The middle ground?: If data is now considered to be more valuable than oil, then there is a growing argument that companies mining our data should not only be paying us for it, but also that data itself (ie: the content we create) should be classified as labour. A new profession – the personal data broker – is already on the radar.

NATURAL WORLD: Child activists and circular economies

Greta Thunberg

Great Thunberg. Picture: Getty Images

The war on plastic has become, not only the epicenter for other sustainable issues, but also the rallying point for child activists. It’s not just Greta Thunberg and her cohort of global Gen Z climate change activists, but an even younger demographic who are starting to challenge multi-national companies on their continued use of plastic. Trading in plastic, in the form of reverse vending machines that rewards the recycler with vouchers or public transport access, are appearing globally.

Circular economy models are sprouting and spreading rapidly. From looped systems for cleaning products, to items of clothing that are deconstructed down to its fibers and reengineered into new fabrics, to systems eliminating food waste, global consumption patterns are shifting radically.

The middle ground?: In an ironic twist of fate, the milkman (who delivers your daily supply of milk – in glass bottles) has made a comeback in the UK. Customers wanting to reduce their reliance on plastic are opting into this circular economy.

DIPLOMACY: The era of democratic deadlock


Masked. Picture: Chan Long Hei /Bloomberg /Getty Images

Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman, tracked the pattern of impasses that many countries are reaching: “Deadlock is caused by the fracturing of two-party systems, the polarisation of politics, with the re-emergence of the far-right and the far-left making compromise harder to achieve”. This is becoming evident in countries like Spain, Germany, Israel and the UK. Even South Africa’s three main political parties have divisive factions.

And while politicians engage in a political tug of war, civil protests are on the rise.

At the close of 2019, the number of global hotspots where civil protests erupted were growing at an alarming rate. Like the Arab Spring in 2011, almost all the protests were triggered by something small (like the 20-cent tax for using What’s App in Lebanon). The common thread for all of the protests was economic inequality, and non-delivery of services.

Inequality and populist politics can translate into the protectionism of national industries, which in turn, could lead to deglobalisation, altering geo-political dynamics.

The middle ground?: Economists and analysts are already talking about a move towards regionalisation, where the world splits into separate spheres of influence – eg: a US-led bloc and a China-led bloc.

SOCIO-CULTURAL: The Jokers and the Ecosexuals


            There are jokers in the pack. Picture: Supplied

As civil protest spreads across the globe, pop culture is being incorporated into the narrative in the most unusual way. After the release of the movie, The Joker, last year protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, Santiago, Chile, Catalonia and Hong Kong have been spotted wearing a Joker mask or painting their faces like The Joker.

The story of The Joker delves into the failures of neoliberal capitalism, and its unintended consequences: it is a mirror to what is happening in the world.

Aidan McGarry, lecturer in international politics at the University of Loughborough explains the symbolism: “He is a symbol of oppressed, the downtrodden, the ignored, the abused. But the mask also carries a warning – basically, ignore me at your peril. I will strike back.”

The middle ground?: Ecosexuality is now a thing. Sustainability now has a “sexual identity” and the ecosexual community wants to show the Earth some love. Their manifesto? “We shamelessly hug trees, massage the earth with our feet, and talk erotically to plants. We make love with the Earth through our senses. We celebrate our E-spots. We are very dirty.”

The ecosexuals have clearly calmed down and found a middle ground.

  • Chang is the founder of Flux Trends

The full 2020 “State We’re In”, trend briefing will take place in February.

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