20 big ideas

1. The well-slept society


Time to wake up to the sleep deprivation our economy is suffering from

In other words...

Dozing, sleeping, when the mind is relaxing - these are times when your brain is at its most inventive. So in theory, the value of sleep should increase in a modern economy such as ours, which is driven by innovation rather than labour. But as James Wilsden, of the think-tank Demos, notes: 'The culture of modern work, especially in large companies, is premised on an attack on sleep, which is stigmatised as little more than wasteful downtime.'

Demos suggests banning breakfast meetings, introducing office hammock bays, sleep days to allow people to replenish their levels, corporate siestas and 'dormitoriums' - sleep drop-in centres (one already exists in Berlin). In fact, George Bush, much criticised for his midday power naps, could be a pioneer - in this area, at least.

2. The end of loneliness


Making new friends by using social networking services, like Friendster

In other words...

Social networking services (SNS) use social network analysis (eg, the 'Six Degrees of Separation' idea) to help people hook up with like-minded others, for business, pleasure and much else. The big SNS 'word of mouse' success is Friendster, a sort of hipster dating network that lets you build social networks from friends, friends of friends and beyond. In theory, such applications allow us to bond with people who aren't quite strangers and aren't quite friends either, therefore multiplying the opportunities to make new pals in a relatively easy way.

Jonathan Abrams, CEO of Friendster, sees his site as a way for users to enrich their offline life. But others have noted how technology has outstripped our physical ability to manage our social lives. Duncan Watts, assistant professor at Columbia University's sociology department, notes that our biology may only be wired to look out for family and close friends. Our online persona may be flogging unwanted books on eBay, but our offline persona can't be bothered to wrap them up and take them to the post office.

3. Neuromarketing


Focus groups are passé. Next, marketing people will be scanning our brains to find out what we 'really think'

In other words...

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), researchers map the brain chemicals of test subjects as they taste a new soft drink or look at new product packaging. The idea is that the resulting brain scans will show how people really feel and so help companies tweak their brand image/ad campaign. Hence 'neuromarketing'.

Experts have cautioned against the simplistic appliance of neuroscience. But with interest in 'neuroeconomics' (scanning people's brains as they make economic choices) and 'neuroethics' (mapping brain changes as people make moral decisions) developing, 'social neuroscience' seems likely to grow in influence.

4. Supermarket nation


Check out that revolt in the aisles

In other words...

Naomi Klein's No Logo didn't just bring the anti-capitalist movement to the world's attention; it alerted publishers to the potential profitability of taking pot shots at corporate culture. So far, though, George Monbiot aside, the post-No Logo genre has been dominated by Americans (eg, Michael Moore and Eric Fast Food Nation Schlosser).

Next year sees the publication of several home-grown anti-corporate books, in particular Joanna Blythman's Shopped - The Shocking Truth About British Supermarkets (Fourth Estate). 'We all moan about supermarkets,' says Blythman.

'I wanted to go beyond that, to ask what the supermarkets really get up to and how that affects real people.' That makes Shopped (the product of a two-year investigation) sound like a British version of Fast Food Nation. 'I would never claim to be as good as Eric Schlosser,' she says. Still, her approach is similarly wide-ranging, covering the way supermarkets have changed not just our diets, but also our cities, countryside and economy.

Are we likely to see the rise of an anti-supermarket movement over the next few years? 'I think there is a deep reservoir of serious discontent with supermarkets among consumers,' says Blythman. 'I liken it to a bad marriage. You're in the relationship for years and then something happens and you suddenly think, "Why did I put up with this for so long?" We're at that stage with supermarkets.'

5. Get back on the couch


2004 will be the year of new evidence that madness should be treated and prevented by talking therapies before drugs

In other words...

After decades of increasingly deterministic geneticism, it is fast becoming apparent that the studies of identical twins on which estimates of heritability are based are not reliable, as demonstrated in American psychologist Jay Joseph's new book The Gene Illusion. This is in accord with Genome Project supremo Craig Venter's claim that the remarkably few number of human genes (25,000) suggests that individual differences in our psychology are unlikely to be very genetic.

At a conference to be held in January at Coventry University, Joseph and clinical psychologists Richard Bentall and Mary Boyle will call on psychiatrists to rethink their treatments, to re-examine the place of the environment in madness and to acknowledge that the categories into which they put their patients are no longer scientifically defensible as discrete categories.

6. The pro-am economy


It's not the letters after your name, it's the skills in your game

In other words...

In 2004, 'amateur' will no longer be a term of derision - you should take it to mean you're dedicated, educated and open to new ideas. Where would society be without magistrates, the TA, lifeboat people and classroom assistants?

Moreover, in some fields amateurs are leading the way, for example self-builders, astronomy, or self-publishing 'bloggers', such as Baghdad's Salam Pax. As Charlie Leadbeater from Demos argues, 'ProAms are set to play a more prominent role in innovation.'

The ProAm movement is spilling into the political sphere. Leadbeater cites amateur politicians such as the Netherlands's Pim Fortuyn and the fuel protesters, 'who have had a destabilising impact on establishment politics'. Not to mention, of course, al-Qaeda, who, seen through the ProAm prism, are 'an example of an amateur organisation challenging better-resourced professionals'.

Which goes to show that, in 2004, you should sit up and take notice of ProAms - we're not talking golf events with Jimmy Tarbuck any more.

7. The kidult


The continuing upward expansion of the youth demographic

In other words...

Longer life expectancy, women having children later in life, the rise in single households, the need for escapism and a culture obsession with youth are all driving the extension of the parameters of youth from the 20s into the 30s.

All the indications are there that consumers in their late 20s, 30s and 40s are taking more fluid attitudes to age-sensitive tastes and behaviours.

Historically, attitudes towards childhood are seen as a sign of the advancement of civilisation. If the 19th century saw the discovery of childhood and the 20th century the discovery of the teenager, then the 21st could mark the age of the 'kidult', or the perpetual youth. 'This is a theory which, if it continued into the future, would lead to the inevitable conclusion of human beings living in a perpetual state of childhood/ infantilism, like the society depicted in Logan's Run,' says Richard Welch, leading-edge analyst at Ogilvy & Mather New York. Today, the average age of Sony PlayStation users in the US is now 29, with something like 17 per cent of users over 50.

8. The two-income trap


Having two incomes is a necessity, but also a liability

In other words...

When only one partner worked, if things got tight the non-working partner could always get a job. Now, if a family loses one income, they're in trouble.

The Two-Income Trap, written by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, reveals that, these days, families need both parents to work just to afford a middle-class lifestyle. As a result, they're dangerously over-extended.

The book grew from research that showed that 'a family with children is nearly three times more likely to file for bankruptcy than a household with no minor children at home'. Warren dismisses the popular explanation for this - 'the over-consumption myth'. Families aren't going broke because of luxury fever and lattes, she says. The problem is increasingly high fixed costs (mortgages, school/ college fees and health insurance) and the rapacious tactics of the credit industry, with sub-prime lending (lending money to families already in financial trouble) particularly to blame.

Families should anticipate the worst financial blows they could receive, says Warren, 'and plot out their emergency escape routes. And the data are unmistakable: families are increasingly likely to face hard times.'

9. No frills cruising


Floating hotels meet camping

In other words...

The transportation choice of dowagers and lounge lizards is about to be sold to backpackers and large families as a cheap, efficient way of island-hopping across the Med and the Caribbean. With berths from £29 per night, easyCruise, the latest Stelios Haji-Ioannou wheeze, is scheduled to set sail this summer.

Forget all-expenses-paid trips for a set length of time, crooners, quoits and dining at the captain's table. Instead, you can stay as many or as few nights as you like and buy food and drink from 'on-board concessionaires'. Bedding and toiletries will be available for purchase if you fail to bring your own and you must clean your orange fibreglass cabin to avoid the £20 'cleaning charge'.

Many passengers are expected to take the opportunity to sleep as they chug from, say, Barcelona to Genoa, or Barbados to St Lucia overnight, then get off and not look back. But isn't that what they call a ferry?

10. Spies 'r' us


Surveillance used to be mainly a 'top-down' thing - the preserve of government and business. But things are changing

In other words...

New technologies are creating a world of distributed, decentralised surveillance. In particular, the spread of camera phones means we're all potentially spies. 'You can't draw a clear distinction between the subjects of surveillance and those who employ surveillance any more. Increasingly, we are all both,' says MIT Media Lab's William J Mitchell (author of Me ++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, a guide to the socio-cultural effects of mobile/wireless networks).

'The powerless can sometimes turn surveillance against the powerful, as with the Rodney King videotape,' says Mitchell. For example, last month, American hip-hop fans at a gig in Portland took camphone snaps of a police car with a large toy gorilla attached to the front. The pictures were made public, sparking investigations into police racism, with the media dubbing the camphone users 'cellphone vigilantes'.

11. Green goo panic


The end is nigh!

In other words...

Prince Charles made headlines in 2003 when he raised concerns about nanotechnology and got in a tizz about 'grey goo' - the result of nanoscale (atom-sized) mechanical robots self-replicating uncontrollably and munching the entire biosphere into a robotic ooze.

ETC, a Canadian watchdog group for socially responsible technology, argues we should be more concerned about goo of a green hue - the result of nanobiotechnology. The commercial logic runs thus: why bother constructing self-replicating mechanical robots when self-replicating biomaterials are readily available all around: ie, the birds, the bees, us. What we need to do is reorganise nature - ie, invent new life forms. Projects are underway to write DNA as easily as computer code (have you seen The Matrix?) and add a fifth letter to DNA, therefore multiplying the diversity of life.

Ron Weiss, an electrical engineer at Princeton, thinks he may be able to turn living cells into robots that could, for example, build houses or repair damaged organs. He has already 'birthed' a couple of beakers of cellular robots that can communicate with each other and light up in sequence. Of course, these cyborg organisms will need to eat and reproduce - and they appear to be capable of exponential self-replication. Experts predict that it would take about two days for the nanobiobots to outweigh the Earth.

12. Sweet heat


The combination of sweet and hot flavours

In other words...

As a sweet-toothed and curry-loving nation, it was only a matter of time until Britain got a taste for Sweet Heat. Peter Gordon, head chef at London's Providores, is the UK's King of Sweet Heat: 'People are sometimes wary of combinations like chilli quince with mascarpone or with sherry and honey,' he says, 'but they are now becoming more accustomed to the flavour.'

Products such as Altu's Peanut, Cashew & Thai Sweet Chilli bar and Walker's Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli flavour have really taken off, while Rococo chocolates recently introduced chilli truffles, which are now one of their top five best-sellers. Nigel Slater, a Rococo's chilli truffle fan, says: 'The chilli chocolate is a revelation, but then chocolate used to be spicy. The Aztecs spiced it up with cinnamon and chilli, and orange peel, too.'

Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, has a slightly cooler reaction to the sweet heat fix (it's big in the US): 'Jacking chocolate with chillies is a delightfully incendiary departure from the concept of chocolate as an indulgence, into the joyously sado-masochistic.'

13. Helicopter parents


They think they know best, but maybe they should back off

In other words...

You probably know a helicopter parent or two. Perhaps you are one yourself. These days, it's hard not to be. It's hard not to hover over your kids constantly, hard to not buzz round them obsessively, hard not to be the overprotective over-parent. After all, it's a cruel, competitive world out there. Your kids need you to look out for them.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and author of Paranoid Parenting, says 'helicopter parents' are now dominating interviews so much that universities design promotional literature more for them than for prospective students. Parents, says Furedi, 'have lost confidence in their instincts. They've been told that things are more complicated than they think, that the first three years of a child's life is make or break and if you screw up it's all downhill. This creates "parental determinism", the idea that everything that happens to your child is the direct consequence of what you do as parents. Over-parenting is an obvious way of handling that pressure.'

14. Notschool


A school for kids who don't fit into the mainstream

In other words...

Children who are bullied, excluded, disaffected, chronically ill, phobic or under police protection all meet the admissions criteria of Notschool, an online learning environment piloted by Ultralab, the IT and education innovators at Anglia Polytechnic University.

Pupils are called 'researchers' because the ways in which they like to learn inform the website's non-hierarchical, signposted design. Teachers are 'mentors' and Notschool-leavers stay online as 'buddies' to the new kids.

'We are providing a safe learning environment for young people who have nowhere else to go,' says Jean Johnson, Notschool's project director. 'And we reawaken their desire to learn.' The initial pilot intake of 100 Notschoolers has recently been upped to 600 in 17 local education authorities and new Notschools are planned for New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands. And after Notschool? Well, there's another Ultralab invention - Ultraversity.

15. The program


Using Harvard Business School techniques to find a husband

In other words...

January sees the publication of the UK edition of Harvard MBA graduate Rachel Greenwald's American bestseller, The Program: How To Find A Husband After Thirty. Greenwald describes a 15-step programme, nine of which include the word 'marketing'. You learn how to 'package' yourself, use 'mass marketing' methods to meet more men, and adopt 'exit interviews' - getting a friend to contact unsuccessful dates for feedback and ring-fencing 10-20 per cent of your income for husband-finding activities.

The Program is the rebound to the coquettish The Rules. As Greenwald says, 'This is not about the fairy tale. It is the realisation of being a single woman and taking matters into your own hands.'

16. Spiritual art


Britart gets religion

In other words...

As ever, it's easiest to blame Damien Hirst. Those who this year flocked to his exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty were treated to quasi-spiritualism of º ª the highest order - the main installation featured the apostles and Christ, while the whole thing was laid out in the formation of a church.

Meanwhile, down at the National Gallery, Bill Viola's The Passions exhibition featured actors in agonised slow-motion religious reveries.

The movement looks well set to continue next year. Hirst, along with fellow ex-young Brit artists Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas, will explore the big themes in the Tate exhibition In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. That the title of the show is the bastardised phrase of the Garden of Eden originally coined by a psychedelic rock group suggests that this is going to be a somewhat skewed take on the spiritual. Meanwhile, Mark Wallinger, maker of the life-like Christ that adorned the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square for a time, is set to open his one-person show at Anthony Reynolds Gallery. Wallinger used to make art about class divisions, but now his mind seems to be on higher things, so expect more revelatory stuff.

BBC4 is screening Mark Kidel's film of Artangel's event at the deserted village of Kimber, the centrepiece of which featured the music of Gregorian composer Giya Kancheli, played in the abandoned church in front of suitably hushed art folk.

17. 'Achilles Heel' HIV vaccine


A universal vaccine for HIV/Aids might be closer than you think

In other words...

The major problem with creating an Aids vaccine is that due to the high mutation rates of the virus there are many strains.

Dr Anne De Groot, director of the TB/HIV Research Laboratory at Brown University in the US, believes she has found the HIV virus's Achilles heel - the parts it cannot mutate, since they are essential to its function. This is known as an epitope-based vaccine - epitopes are the pieces of protein that stimulate the immune system. Her team are testing their vaccine on mice and should begin human trials in 2005.

Groot is not the only one working on epitope-based vaccines, but other people aren't working on a cross-strain variety - they might only work on the strain common in the US, for example. As Groot states, 'The nice thing about these epitopes I've found is that they'll work no matter where you are'.

18. Wellness polarisation


While the healthier get healthier, the sick get sicker

In other words...

There is an increasing divide between those who are health conscious or health obsessed and those who are oblivious to or unconcerned with health risks.

Strathclyde University research confirmed in November that Britons are drinking more and more, while concurrently noting an increase in those abstaining. Polarisation is also ongoing between users of traditional and alternative medicine, between the slimmest and the plumpest and between 'chronic junk-food eaters' and 'health fascists'. Further research will show how many people, hidden within these trends, are 'Trans-Well' or have 'Zig-Zag Wellness' - being undecided which 'healthstyle' to partake of from one year, week or hour to the next.

19. Densification zones


High-rise and densification, discredited mantras of great 20th-century architects, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, are fast becoming the new 'isms' which will impact on our cityscapes in the 21st century

In other words...

As Renzo Piano's Shard of Glass has been given the green light, the tower will be the tallest addition to London's skyline, at 1,000ft, signalling the beginning of a vertically led development strategy for the city, albeit against the wishes of English Heritage.

As housing shortages reach crisis point, a radical shake-up is proposed to fast-track planning procedures and encourage the building of housing stock. Roger Zogolovitch, developer and professor at LSE, has come up with a radical scheme that will remove the need for planning consent in designated urban areas, which has been endorsed by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Dubbed 'densification zones', these sites would permit the building of homes in light industrial areas, freeing up brownfield sites. Imagine a housing development squeezed between, say, a flower market and meat-packing factory. A welcome addition to urban life, or could this result in a backlash of Nimbyism from local residents?

Paul Finch, chairman of Cabe, the government's watchdog for architectural standards on high-rises in London, says, 'The impulse to build tall buildings will continue to strengthen and the good news is that they will be better designed and become to be seen as part and parcel of city regeneration.'

20. Life chances


How to get even with the Scandies

In other words...

The key political concept of the coming year (and Labour's third term) is child poverty, which Tony Blair promised to halve by 2010 and stamp out by 2020. However, attempting to alleviate child poverty might not necessarily improve children's prospects. So it's vitally important to define how poverty decreases a child's 'life chances' in the fields of health, occupation, education and security.

Sunder Katwala, general secretary of left-wing think-tank the Fabian Society, says: 'The Left should always audit its success by how far class and chance determine opportunity in Britain today.' To this end, the Fabians will be conducting a major survey of Britain's poorer families to see which aspects of poverty inhibit a child's 'life chances' the most. They will also look to see what can be borrowed from Scandinavia, where only 3 per cent of children are in poverty (compared to just under 30 per cent here) and will hope to sell this to Middle England by pointing out how it will cut the cost of crime, unemployment and educational failure.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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