THE BLOG
02/07/2013 04:12 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

Six Cultural Trends Being Driven By Technology

Trends come and go. But every now and then a major wave arises that ripples across the culture, and seeps into everything.

This is one such time, and the mega trend is this: the Internet is adapting us, not the other way around. It's our culture's Flux Capacitor, converting outmoded things into something the future can use. The next big thing is unlikely to be hatched from a garage in Palo Alto. Rather, it will be the power of collective technologies to transmute broader social concerns and, in so doing, change the nature of the problems themselves. Issues like job growth, family stability, equality, and citizen action will be set upon by digital dynamics, triggering a wave of change that will open new frontiers for many businesses.

To be sure, the social and business innovations poised to break through in 2013 have been percolating for some time. It's the intervention from people -- mostly younger -- empowered by social technologies that will give rise to changes.

The new year is still in its infancy -- it'll be exciting to watch these social innovations break through:

1. Vocation, vocation, vocation.

A journeyman's card will be a sought-after credential.

Vocational education is losing its stigma. The proliferation of quality online learning makes education available to everyone 24/7. The DIY movement and fear of taking on college debt in a weak job market are forces swaying the pendulum back to practical knowledge. Community colleges will continue to boom. Public schools will revisit part of a system they had once abandoned -- training 21st century plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, and craftspeople who will find jobs, grow businesses, and make money based on practical, everyday needs.

"Suburban moms used to brag, stroller to stroller, that 'Madison has been early accepted at Harvard but of course is waiting for Stanford'. Then the rave was 'special needs': ADD, ADHD, ODD, Aspergers, and so on. But in 2013, the buzz will be all about vocational education--Voc-Ed. 'Lindsey is learning woodworking and will apprentice with a master craftsman,' while 'Schuyler will be in Germany working on computer systems for the newest Mercedes models'." --John Zogby, Founder of the Zogby Poll and Senior Analyst, JZ Analytics

2. Business starts looking like America.

Mono-cultural marketing becomes taboo.

Social diversity in business is an opportunity with 20+ years of study and advocacy. That makes it ripe for breakthrough. Women, blacks, and Latinos play powerful civic roles elsewhere -- some within the highest levels of government. However, corporate America still lags behind. It's common, for example, to attend a professional event or flip through a professional journal and find no women or people of color among the noted experts or keynotes. The Internet is a visual medium that's making us voraciously visual consumers. A quick glance through any corporate website reveals its diversity bias. In 2013, this becomes a marketing liability for branding and recruitment.

"Content marketing will soon be the only marketing that people authentically engage with. Employing a diverse wellspring of professionals who share a common experience with today's audiences is the only way brands will be able to create compelling content for all of America, not just the white part of it." -- Esther Cepeda, writer and columnist, The Washington Post Writers Group

3. Renewable energy scales up.

Renewable energy is America's next trip to the moon -- difficult, but achievable given our technologies.

Wind power, hybrid vehicles, and solar power -- we've heard about clean energy for 15+ years. 2013 is a watershed year and here's why: the Obama administration's tax incentives have helped dozens of communities buy and install wind and solar power. In 2011, natural gas jumped to 49 percent of energy capacity in the U.S. Wind energy was 32 percent of the installed energy capacity, according to Energy.gov's Wind Market Report.

On the consumer level, adoption of electric cars will gain traction. According to Virginia Hudson, an automotive research specialist, electric cars were all the rage at 2011's Detroit Auto Show. At last year's Auto Show, electric vehicles were just part of the mix. That means more electric and hybrid vehicle options and more manufacturers looking to stimulate buyer interest. Expect consumers to be aggressively marketed to by automotive manufacturers using generous rebates and pricing -- thereby speeding adoption.

4. Democracy reboots.

Digital natives will revolutionize civic discourse in ways that speak louder than votes alone.

The Internet belongs to everyone -- not just the marketers and celebrities who dominate it. But it has yet to be harnessed for large-scale social progress. That wave is coming. The 2012 presidential campaign showed Americans the power of social technologies. Grace Rodriguez, a Houston-based brand and social media strategist whose clients include political campaigns, expects that "in 2013, the new wave of digital natives learn from the successes and failures of Occupy and Tea Party movements, move toward a middle ground, and leverage technology to take back democracy."

5. Liberating men.

Collaborative culture calls for new rules of engagement by which men and women take turns leading and following.

The digital age has changed the composition of employment in the America. More male-centric jobs, such as manufacturing and new construction, have been hit hard. In 2012, a barrage of popular media all but declared American males unfit for the future. The social costs are adding up.

"In 2013, seemingly separate issues that have been emerging will get connected: brain-injured football players, tragic victims of PTSD, disturbed boy killers, murdered and murdering teenage boys of color, and octogenarian men who take their lives at a rate more than 1,000% higher than women of their age. These will be seen not as sad, disconnected and unsolvable, but instead as deeply related cries for new thinking and sensitivity." -- Dan Mulhern, co-author of A Governor's Story and former First Gentleman of Michigan

6. Millennial overkill.

Those eager to engage Millennials will stop wondering about them and start winning with them.

For a decade, the world has tracked and translated the minutia of Millennial cyber-habits. It's a textbook in overstimulation. As Millennials, otherwise known as Gen-Y, enter adult life, they are no longer in a constant state of texting or celebration. They are finding work, settling down, and seeking a place for themselves in society.

Today, most insights about Millennials are too broad to be actionable. According to Carol Phillips, Instructor of Marketing, University of Notre Dame--and expert in Millennial buying behaviors, "Millennials are still different. But different in so many different ways, it is starting to defy generalization. The discussion is no longer whether we should target Millennials, but how we will win with Millennials. Winning requires more than generalizations." Expect a focus on targeted projects and smaller-scale campaigns that show promise for building more meaningful bonds as Millenials mature.

(Insights for this forecast were derived from a yearlong social media monitoring effort, interviews with focus group leaders, and interviews with noted experts. The complete study is available here.)