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Marian Salzman / PMI

Trendspotter expects science to have bigger role in public health next year

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A global trendspotter who is known for making accurate predictions on emerging fashions, ideas and lifestyles expects 2021 to be a better year for everyone, with science and technology having a bigger role in personal choices and decision-making.

“I’ve never been more enthusiastic about welcoming a new year than this one,” said Marian Salzman, a senior business executive, sociologist and market researcher who has done forecasts on trends over the past 25 years.

“I see a reason to hope for something better in the post-COVID-19 world. The trifective crisis—the pandemic, social unrest in many countries and economic meltdown—has changed us. It altered our expectations and our vision of the world, and our vision for what we want in the future,” Salzman, the senior vice president for global communications at Philip Morris International, said in a media webinar on 2021 Trends Report.

Salzman said that with the chaos of 2020,  “my hope is that this great pause that we’ve experienced will spark a great reset, a chance to change the direction in which society and our communities and countries are headed because let's face it, there’s a whole lot that needs fixing in the world”.

Salzman has been credited in the past for making accurate forecasts based on statistical data and for recognizing patterns in society.

One of the patterns that she said has been emerging in recent years is the concern for public health and the search for better alternatives to harmful products such as tobacco.  “I think there's going to be a lot of emphases placed on the kind of scientific evaluation that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) puts on modified risk products whether it’s an IQOS product or whether it's snus.  You should have high regard for those products that have gotten modified risk authorization,” she said.

She also identified several major trends that are likely to emerge in 2021, led by localism or zooming which is about being more aware of the people around us. “It’s about taking the time to think more carefully about our life choices and patterns, and change things that haven’t been working for us,” she said. 

Second is the new concept of time and space.  “Already we've seen many businesses shifting to remote work in part or in whole, making it less critical where people live and what hours they work,” she said, adding that some companies have in fact adopted four-day work week, while others have customized their workweek.

Another trend is what she called the “return to we” which is less about proximity and convenience but more about intimacy and connection. “Arguably the best and biggest we in society has been democracy. In 2020, the bedrock institutions that support and stabilize democracy, especially in the US, a free press, unfettered voting rights, faith in the electoral process are under assault. And we have to ask ourselves, is democracy, this American version of democracy, doomed?” she said.

Another trend, she said, is that the real gets unreal, and the unreal gets real. “With all of our historical wisdom about economic theory, did we ever imagine that data would be more valuable than oil?” She asked.

“Can video conferencing with colleagues, business clients, teachers, and friends develop the same depth of relationships as face-to-face meetings and social events would. In 2021, we're gonna see a more thoughtful blending of our two worlds as more of us realize the high cost of going totally virtual. And many employees already feel this working from home with work hours and stress creeping up and that goes back to my trend about time. We will see, too, a re-evaluation of the real including the age-old values such as integrity and self-sufficiency,” she said.

Salzman said more people are expected to become alarmists in 2021.  “COVID-19 promises to swell the ranks of preppers. People are preparing for the end of the world. And we're also going to see emergency preparedness become a value at. Don’t be surprised if apartment complexes and housing developments start competing on stockpiles and on medical facilities rather than fancy gyms and clubhouses,” she said. 

People will also redefine what is essential, she said. “With jobs and school moving online, is broadband a luxury or a basic necessity. Do we need to re-calibrate parameters of what constitutes basic sanitation and healthcare?” she asked. 

Salzman also talked about the cost of online habits. “It seems to me that the question isn’t which aspects can move online, but which ones can't. And then there's also the yang, the other side of it. There's a potential cause, is the screen time impairing the development of preschoolers’ brains. Are 3 or 4-year-olds spending too much time on the screen and what's it doing to their heads? Are digital lifestyles reducing attention span and the capacity for empathy,” she said. 

Another important topic, she said, is the role of corporations as change agents. “We've seen shifts from centers of power as mega-corporations have become really economists in their own right.  Think about the role of Amazon, think about the role of Facebook, think about the role of Twitter or Instagram,” she said. 

Salzman noted the results of a 2017 study which found that 69 of the world's top 100 economic entities were companies, not countries.  “Big businesses aren't a new trend but it's been bolstered by the events of 2020,” she said. “There is a sense that companies have our backs in a way that is immediately helpful and relevant. We will see this trying to continue to gather strength.”

She said another trend is the rethinking of place.  “For the first time in a long time, 2020 has put a question mark over urbanization and steady migration of people to more populated locations. For residences in big cities in the most developed countries, the pandemic actually sparked a reevaluation of the relative merits of cities versus less populated locales,” she said.

“As urban centers evolve away from business and finance, we’re gonna see hubs of entrepreneurship, of creativity, and of art emerge. Outside of cities, expect a shift in what people value in second and vacation homes, maybe even in first homes as they put less weight on status and more on physical separation. We’re gonna see an uptick in sales of tiny homes, including mobile ones, on far-off sites for use during future crises,” she said. 

“I believe very strongly that the population of the big cities is going to decrease because people are gonna redistribute themselves to rural and ex-urban areas,” Salzman said.

Salzman said 2021 is also the time to make peace with uncertainty. “Many are scouring the internet for clues in a bid to make sense of it all. But they're unlikely to find definitive answers. It's all too new. It's all too complicated. There's simply too many unknowns at this stage,” she said. 

“So one impact I foresee from here is an effort by people to inoculate themselves against risks. They're gonna seek safer investment vehicles, they're gonna secure their homes with stockpile supplies, power backups and security cameras, they'll be simplifying their lifestyles and getting more serious about making savings, amassing savings. Some will even invest in escape pods—places to which they can retreat in times of panic,” she said. 

Finally, Salzman said a boring new year could be the best thing for 2021.  “I wish you all a very boring new year. I think that's the best thing that could happen to all of us,” she said.


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