This column first appeared in the January 5, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Predictions are an art form. They’re part science, part luck.
Mostly it’s just fun to predict the future.
Because of this, some predictions are easy to make. For example, predicting what will happen in social media and technology over the next year is a fairly simple, entertaining process.
To do this, we research tech trends and pathways, and make assumptions about what might happen next.
Many of my friends predict social media trends the same way experts predict the weather. Meteorologists have fine-tuned the art of weather predicting to a nearly exact science.
Before modern day meteorology, we relied on strategies like, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors warning.” I still recite that line to my kids. See a beautiful sunset? Tomorrow’s weather will be great. See a red sky in the morning? Today’s weather will be bad.
The point is, true or not, we no longer rely solely on old unscientific methods.
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to see the outcome.
This is certainly true of Punxsutawney Phil.
I’ve driven through Punxsutawney (a.k.a Punxy) over the past 20 years to visit my wife’s family. When we pass through Punxy, she regales us with stories of her Groundhog Day jitney service, how she’d shuttle revelers from downtown to Gobblers Knob to hear Phil’s prediction.
In all those trips to Punxy, I never once participated in Goundhog Day. I missed my chance to stand in freezing temperatures at 7:00 A.M. I missed warm cups of hot cocoa and pancake breakfasts that are apparently important parts of a proper Groundhog Day celebration.
I missed all the fun.
Most of us can probably guess Phil’s prediction every year, but that’s not the point. People show up to see Phil because it’s entertaining. Ironically, aside from poor weather conditions, there’s little harm in playing along.
So, like Phil and the great people of Punxy, I’ve had some fun making some less-than-bold predictions over the years about where I think social media and tech is headed.
Thanks, in part, to guidance from great tech journalists and bloggers at publications like Tech Advisor, Wired, and MIT’s Technology Review, I’ve done okay.
Two predictions I continue to believe in: virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and enhanced privacy and security.
First, as fellow tech prognosticators have suggested, VR/AR continue to grow in term of offerings (e.g., applications, games) and users. Prices for some midlevel VR headsets are now more affordable, and the number of free applications on Google Play and Apple has more than doubled over the last year.
This signals a great year ahead for the VR/AR industry.
Second, privacy and regulation will continue to dog social media. As we enter into another election year, most platforms look and feel different than they did in 2016. But most are still not the spaces most of us need to have meaningful debates.
With increased oversight and self-regulation, many platforms will continue to make valiant attempts at creating open, positive, productive environments for voters, candidates and campaigns—and hopefully make us feel a little safer.
Whether your predictions are more luck than science, just remember there’s usually no harm guessing. Just like dowloading apps or using new tech, it’s fun to predict, and most of us need more fun in our lives.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.