September 19, 2020

The future of everything and also TikTok

I am a futurist. Wait… what?

Professor Marvel interrupts Dorothy, continually spitting out predictions until he sees her eyes widen. Predicting her future, he proclaims, “They don’t understand you…They don’t appreciate you… You want to see other lands.” “It’s like you could read what was inside of me,” Dorothy declares.

This is what most of my friends think Futurism is, and to some degree, they’re not wrong.

However, instead of stream of consciousness guesses, futurists use forecasting to create possible and plausible scenarios about what the future might be like. We use tools that help build models and follow intersecting trends to show what is likely to happen in a certain area—based on data. Think, what is the future of X, and what is the data that points us there?

Fortune tellers, on the other hand, in analog and digital form (read: paid social ads that offer a get rich quick guide to tomorrow), have given “the future” a bad name. They have acted as social tools, playing upon our greatest aspirations. “Ability,” Napoleon famously said, “is of little account without opportunity.”

Also, Jesus is coming back.

This could be both a prediction and a forecast. A prediction that has failed many times over, but a forecast that Christian’s don’t have enough data to complete. Yet with no working model, over half of American evangelicals and more than a third of American Catholics think Christ will return in the next thirty years. Many profited from the end of the Mayan calendar, and many will profit from assuring you things will happen with almost no degree of certainty—in this case, the when rather than the if. So we must distinguish what is a prediction about the future, and what futurism is… otherwise, it is no different than Professor Marvel throwing noodles against Dorothy’s proverbial wall.

Forecasts aren't predictions.

But you can start with a prediction to build a working forecasting model. For example, I could make a prediction that the popular mobile app TikTok will continue to be banned in major countries. But to build a proper forecast with plausible scenarios, one needs to research the trends that led India and Hong Kong to ban the popular application, and what has made the U.S. and some European countries affirm they’re looking into doing the exact same thing.

With 625 million monthly active users, TikTok is more than just a dancing app. And while it holds a far smaller market share than that of Facebook, it’s growth is outpacing the competition 10x.

So what’s the big deal? For India, the government stated that TikTok is “prejudicial to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India.” What we see here is a new form of “Techno-Nationalism” that can have major implications for the rest of the world (a signal worth watching). Other concerns in countries like England, the U.S. and Australia, are that TikTok’s user data may be making its way back to China, allowing the Chinese government to access the app’s user profiles following a new trend of surveillance capitalism (also a signal worth watching). In fact, several companies, including Wells Fargo have banned the app on its employee’s phones.

But to understand this issue completely, one must research the intersecting trends of big data, national security and geopolitics—as well as monthly users and app store downloads. Understanding these trends and creating possible scenarios about what may happen is what differentiates a futurist’s forecast from a prediction.

What is Bifocal, and how can it help you?

Bifocal was started to help cast a near and far strategic vision for creatives. We study and understand trends to determine what the implications are for those in the creative community. We help you understand what is the opportunity and what is the risk. Only then can one create structured business models toward a sustainable future—based on data and scenarios that are likely to happen in the future.

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