CRYSTAL BALLS

Browsing in my newsagent the other day, I saw an Economist publication called The World In 2006.  If only they’d had a bit of foresight, they would have realised it would be better to delay publication for a year, to make sure the thing was accurate.  (I thought they were supposed to be intelligent – hah!)

The problem with New Year is that it brings out the prophet in everyone.  The same enthusiasm for novelty which leads training course participants to spend the week after putting everything they’ve learned into practice (while their colleagues mutter: “Don’t worry, she’s been on a course – give her a week and everything will be back to normal”) leads the average human to look forward through the year and make wild optimistic predictions for the future (you know the kind of thing: “I will be slim, healthy and popular” - but enough about me).

The joy of forecasting, as I have observed in this column before, is that no one can argue with you, and by the time your prediction fails to come true everyone’s forgotten about it anyway.  Just as with weather forecasting, if you want to predict events in the future you simply take a recent trend and extrapolate it while pretending that no other variables exist beyond the ones you happen to be using.  Remember all the science fiction films and novels of the first half of the 20th century, which overstated the impact of technology while missing the possibility that women might want financial independence? 

I was reading in a colour supplement last weekend some predictions for the consumer world of the future.  One of their forecasts was that cosmetics will be replaced by a computer chip under your skin which could create colour and make-up effects.  (Presumably, from time to time it will also print “This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down” on your forehead before turning your face blue.)  The writer also predicted that within ten years, based on a technology which already exists, laser beams directed at computerised contact lenses in your eyes will allow shops to create virtual reality advertising effects as you walk past – such as a pair of dancing shoes in front of a shoe shop.  From the consumer’s point of view, the experience appears to be indistinguishable from post-traumatic stress disorder or LSD flashbacks, so I was left wondering why any shopper would welcome such an innovation.  However, the article did not predict gangs of vigilante marketing men wrestling shoppers to the ground and forcing contact lenses into their eyes, so we must assume someone thinks it’s a good idea.

Meanwhile, the downside of New Year is that for the first few weeks of January, my local gym is always crowded with people in designer leotards turning over new leaves.  As I fought my way through the horde battling over the last available treadmill, I noticed a poster advertising a ‘Non Surgical Facelift Coffee Morning’.  Only in my particular corridor of South West London, where the two most demographically overrepresented groups are Lib Dem voters and crystal healers, would such a sign arouse little comment among passers by.  I wondered whether it also represents another aspect of the forecaster’s favourite trend, Convergence – the combining of two or more products or services into one handy bundle. 

My suspicion was confirmed by a poster elsewhere in the gym advertising a new year ‘two for one’ deal which gives you a personal trainer plus a life coach. Can you imagine a worse way to start the year than sweating on an exercise while someone stares at you with an intense, caring expression and asks you what your core values are?  Presumably my local tyre centre will soon be offering complimentary life wheel balancing with every top of the range radial. 

I can’t decide whether this convergence business is driven by the fact that people are busier than before (because they spend four hours a day reading hundreds of pointless emails sent them by people who want to look busy) or because they’re lazier than ever before and want to get anything resembling concentrated activity out of the way quickly.  Perhaps I have an opportunity to make a shedload of money by offering my clients some kind of two-in-one service.   Eat Yourself to Leadership?  Assertiveness the Botox Way?

Meanwhile, I shall fall in with the herd.  Here are my predictions for 2006:

- The Dalai Lama will marry a supermodel and unite the worlds of Spirit and Mammon;

- Margaret Thatcher and Abu Hamza will share a Jacuzzi on Celebrity Big Brother

- The practice of giving large payoffs to top managers whose companies underperform will be abolished.  As if by magic, all businesses will become twice as profitable. 

Well, I can dream.  Happy New Year – and may all your resolutions be little ones….

© Phil Lowe, 2006.  All rights reserved.

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