2020 Trends In Review (19 out of 20 Continue)

At the end of 2019, I wrote down the list of societal trends I had been noticing over the years because I wanted to actively observe these trends in 2020. A pandemic happened in 2020 and we are still living in it. Surprisingly, almost all trends (19 out of 20) are still continuing. Following are my Year End of 2020 Updates (YE2020U; all new 2020 text is in blue) to the trends. 

2019 is coming to an end and continuing my quest to better understand human behavior, I wrote down the twenty trends I have been noticing for a few years. It would be interesting to observe these trends in 2020 to see how they evolve and if they achieve wider adoption. There are multiple reasons why these trends have emerged but in this article we will only look at what the trends are. Unless specified, the trends are for the US. 

Source: Wikipedia 

Here they are: 

1. Phone calls on decline: Millennials and post-millenials do not talk on the phone much. They prefer text or image based messages (SMS, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, Instagram, etc.) to phone calls and when they do synchronous communication, they prefer FaceTime or other video calls to phone calls. People use different platforms to communicate with different people. Because of the text heavy communication, verbal language is changing. For example, in English, people say OMG instead of Oh My God and in French people say A+ instead of à plus tard (see you later) when they are talking face to face. In the coming years, it would be interesting to see how language evolves with the use of technology. 


Zoom took off like a rocket in 2020 due to COVID. There were reports in March/April that older people are talking more on the phone but they moved to Zoom, Facetime, Google, Facebook, etc. in a few months. Customer care calls are moving to chats. There might have been more phone calls in 2020 (vs 2019) due to US elections and robo calls but the primary communication method used for people to connect is no longer a traditional phone call. 

In tech, WAP stands for Wireless Access Protocol. After, Cardi B's new song, WAP has acquired a new meaning which I can not write here. The norms for politeness and vulgarity are changing. 

The trend continues. 

2. Convenience over self-reliance: Millenials and post-millenials (younger people) prefer to stay on their parents' family plan for mobile service than to get their own. They live with their parents and stay on the parents' healthcare plans (at least until 26 years of age). It seems very practical. However, when I was younger, most people of my age wanted to be completely independent of our parents even if it was economically worse. How this trend evolves and effects relationships remains to be seen. 


COVID might have accelerated this trend. College students are staying with their parents, unemployment is high and parents/relatives/friends are helping out. 

An interesting dynamic might emerge in the coming years as a result of what is happening in 2020. What happens to relationships when people are stuck at home. Many people are willing to literally risk their lives to have a meal at a restaurant and to see new faces. 

The trend continues. 

3. Rental over ownership: It has become a norm to subscribe to a music service like Spotify than to buy the music. Many young people rely on ride sharing services like Uber and do not own a car. Home ownership is on decline. In general, there is an acceptance in society of not owning things. In the business world, SaaS (Software as a Service) is a norm now. It means that you don't own the software, you rent it. It would be interesting to see how this trend expands into new categories. 


Disney+ that was launched last year has 86M+ subscribers worldwide. All popular subscription services are getting more popular. Rental housing vacancies are at record low levels. Car sales are down (year over year) mainly because of the pandemic. You can't really go anywhere. The business world saw a higher adoption of SaaS due to the pandemic. Just look at the 2020 IPOs. 

The interest rates are at all time low, this might be encouraging house buying. Uber/Lyft rides were down due to the lockdowns. There is going to be increased remote work in the coming years and that might make people move to suburbs and buy houses. Rental prices are already down in the Urban areas. This is an interesting area to watch. 

The trend continues (partially). 

4. Random encounters: When we are out in public places (coffee shops, buses, trains, bars, etc.) random conversations with strangers are declining because people are always looking at their phones and/or listening to music with the headphones. On the other hand, random encounters are on rise online.  When we are avoiding the strangers in the physical world, we might be meeting them in the digital world. Over the next few years we might redefine what a relationship is. 


With strangers or with friends, planned or random, encounters were down to non-existent due to the lockdowns in 2020. There were more online events than ever before so there were more online encounters with strangers. 

The pandemic has made people realize the importance of human contact which we have taken for granted for generations. Dating has slowed down or stopped. We will see how the 2020 experience changes the idea of a relationship.

The trend continues. 

5. Feelings prioritization: Younger people tend to prioritize people's feelings over intellectual honesty and debate. They have a different communication style and are much more sensitive to feelings. Even some college campuses are leaning in that direction. Furthermore, feelings is more of a topic of conversation now than it was ten years ago. People are afraid of hurting other people's feelings so they don't share their opinions. How would a society adopt new ideas if it does not debate and refine them?


There were not many in person gatherings this year. It is even harder to have an intellectually honest debate online than in person. 

The popular Tiktok videos and comments gives you a idea of the importance of feelings. An extreme example is that half the Republicans don't believe in the 2020 US election results. This is prioritization of feelings over facts. 

The trend continues. 

6. Happiness seeking: The pursuit of happiness has been happening for a very long time. The idea used to be ownership of material things like house, car, handbag, etc. would bring happiness but lately the happiness is supposed to come from yoga and meditation. Furthermore, happiness is regular topic of conversation these days. 


Everybody still wants to be happy and some are willing to risk their lives and others' lives during a pandemic for the happiness they get from parties and dining out. 

How does the inability to express happiness to others in-person changes the idea of happiness? Seeing people I love get happy with my happiness makes me happy. That feedback loop is gone during the pandemic. What will be the new source of happiness in the coming years? 

The trend continues. 

7. Space Tech: A lot of exciting things are happening in space. It seems like Space X is reaching a new milestone every few months. China landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon this year. India and Israel almost landed thiers. US has a Space Force now.  Many companies have satellite launch plans for multiple reasons. It is an interesting space to watch. 


SpaceX took Americans to space from American soil after 9 years. China is bringing rocks and dust back to the earth from the moon. New satellites keep on going up. 

How long will it take for space tourism to develop? Without binding international standards, how long would it take before an accident happens in space? Mars has shown the signs of water presence. Can we get a woman on the Mars? 

The trend continues. 

8. China flexing its muscle: China has dominated Africa more than any other country in the last two decades. Recently, it has taken over ports in Kenya and other African countries. In the US-China trade war, China is fighting back. In the Hong Kong protests, all the western companies (Swarovski, Calvin Klein, Versace, etc.) sided with mainland China. Italy has signed on to China's Belt and Road initiative. It used to be that an organization could not criticize China inside China but now an organization that does business with China might lose its Chinese business if it criticizes China outside of China. The world might have to get used to a more assertive China. 


Arguably, the corona virus originated in China and China did not alert the world right away. Maybe they wanted to make sure that the threat was real before causing a panic and there was no ulterior motive. Maybe they wanted to save face? Maybe they screwed up? Does the WHO share the blame? Who knows? China's ability to control the virus is remarkable. Things are almost back to normal there while rest of the world is struggling to lower the COVID19 cases. US cases are all time high this month. China is a key player in the world's largest trade agreement, RCEP, signed last month and the US is not a participant. China is already supplying its COVID19 vaccine abroad. 

There were moves this year by many companies to reduce their reliance on China as their sole manufacturing hub. We will see how that changes things. The new US administration might come up with a new China policy that changes the dynamics. I think the world would be better off with the US and China getting along. 

The trend continues. 

9. Private Equity (PE) rising: More capital is going into PE funds than ever before while the hedge funds are folding because they can not beat the S&P 500 index. New type of investment vehicles are emerging in PE like Softbank vision fund which is a mix of equity and debt. Recent skyhigh valuations of unicorns might be the result of too much deployable capital available to venture capital firms (a type of PE firm). Let's see for how long the run lasts. 


PE deals are up this year despite the pandemic. SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) have raised a record amount of capital to monetize on tech IPO frenzy. Despite the pandemic, Many Venture Capitalists have raised more money this year than any other year. Silver Lake got really good deals on Airbnb and Twitter financing. 

The early success of IPOs this year might bring more capital into the venture firms next year if the newly public companies continue to justify their valuations. Macroeconomic factors and the US monetary policy will also influence how much money keeps going into PE. 

The trend continues. 

10. American soft-power on decline: America pulled out of the Paris Agreement, which is a non-binding but still useful agreement, and from the Iran nuclear deal and did not join Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Europeans are doubting American commitment to NATO. The US policy on Syria is unclear. China, Russia, Turkey, and others are openly violating international norms and human rights. It used to be that the US was able to influence these countries. We shall see what changes if there is a new administration after the 2020 elections. 


The US handling of the coronavirus pandemic has further weakened the US position. The response to US election results by the current administration might weaken American moral leadership perception around the world. US International relations have gotten worse this year with few exceptions like Israel.  US is pulling back from Global trade. It threatened to withdraw from the WTO. RCEP, a trade agreement among the Asian countries, connects 30% of the World GDP and the US is not a part of it. 

The US used to be a top choice for students and workers around the world. It is no longer the case. This reversal will have significant long term consequences unless the new US administration is able to reverse this trend.

The trend continues. 

11. Changing work culture: These days, it is accepted that people in their early career years switch jobs every eighteen months or so. Video conferences are commonplace. Working remotely is also a trend on the rise. Tech companies have to offer a lot of perks to employees to keep them around. The boundary between social life and work life is getting blurred. 


The pandemic has accelerated this trend. Most white collar jobs are being done from home (my gratitude to people in healthcare, retail, logistics who continue to go to work and enable us to stay at home). It is hard to have a boundary between work and home when you are at home in your yoga pants and your family around. Big tech companies have announced that they will let some employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. At least in tech, people continue to switch jobs frequently. 

The shift to remote work might intensify the competition for talent. It remains to be seen if this shift is permanent or a trend that fades away in a few years. 

The trend continues. 

12. Urbanization: People are moving from rural areas to urban areas because economies in the rural areas are declining and the economies in the urban areas are growing. This trend has been on the rise for a few decades. 


The pandemic has reversed this trend, at least for now. A lot of people have moved out of big cities like San Francisco and New York since they are working from home and they can't go out so what's the point of living in a big city. Might as well save money on rent. 

I think that when things get back to normal, the cities will thrive again. Let's see. Rural and suburban areas are not developing their own economies. It is mainly people moving there to work remotely. If remote work goes away then people will have to move back to where their employer is or find a job in their new area of residence. If there aren't enough new jobs that pay a salary people are used to then what would people do?

The trend reverses. 

13. Community feeling on decline: Everyone is busy with work, commute, social media, and with pursuing love and happiness. Life has become very convenient over the last decade. A car comes to you when you want to go somewhere. Amazon delivers almost everything. Food and grocery delivery is on your fingertips. There is unlimited entertainment at home with Netflix and other streaming services. And, there is a dog to offer "unconditional" love and affection. Who needs a neighbor? People feel that they don't have the time or interest in getting to know a stranger. When I grew up the neighbors knew everyone and there was a sense of community and an understanding of interdependence among the neighborhood residents. In the coming years, life will get more convenient and people might feel more lonely. 


The pandemic has accelerated this trend. There is increased sense of loneliness. You can't even see people's faces. However, some people have become aware of the importance of social connections for mental health. 

The dependence of daily life on other people has moved to dependence on apps and tech. I don't see that changing. 

The trend continues. 

14. Role of a corporation in society is questioned: After five decades of corporations operating with Milton Friedman's idea that the sole purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value, in the last few years that idea is being questioned. The rethink comes from increased inequality in society for which corporations are blamed although it is a failure of governance and policy. Thomas Piketty's idea that Capitalism is responsible for inequality in society has gained traction. After the 2008 financial crises there was Occupy Wall Street movement but not much came out of that. Recently there has been a backlash against Google, Facebook, and Twitter for their role in elections, gun violence, etc. Business Roundtable changed its charter this year to expand the purpose of a corporation. I am curious to see what actually changes in the coming years. 

I organized a thinking weekend event earlier this year in partnership with TED on the subject. 


Consumers continue to expect more from businesses. Many companies responded against the killing of George Floyd in police custody and the ones who did not were boycotted by consumers. Consumers are also demanding more ethical treatment of employees, contractors, animals, etc. Prop 22 passed in California. Companies worked directly with consumers to get the law passed. 

Business Roundtable has issued a statement update on its charter. I don't think much has changed practically. 

The trend continues. 

15. Environment consciousness rising: For all the criticism the younger people get for taking selfies and being on social media all the time, they are very conscious about the human impact on the environment. They are demanding products that do not harm the environment and the corporations are complying. There is a broader understanding in the world today that we need to do something about the climate change. 


Environment friendly product sales continue to increase. BlackRock, the biggest asset management company in the world is encouraging the companies it invests in to be environmentally conscious. This year, ESG accounts for one third of assets under management in the US

China made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2060. Countries that signed the Paris Agreement are not living by its standards. It is not surprising because the agreement is non-binding. The use of solar and wind power is on rise. British Petroleum announced a new strategy to pivot away from oil. At some point, it will just make business sense to use non-carbon sources of power. 

The trend continues. 

16. Health awareness increasing: This has been happening for over a decade. The younger people have accelerated the trend by being more aware of how food affects the body. They are switching to plant based diet. Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have sold millions of plant-based burgers. Oat milk is getting more popular. Salad bars are hip. Millenials are drinking less. Furthermore, younger people are concerned about their mental health. They see therapists with no reservations. 

Millions of people are wearing fitness tracking devices like Apple Watch. A decade ago, we noticed this emerging trend at National Semiconductor and created the first cloud connected consumer fitness bracelet


People with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of dying from COVID19. This is raising health awareness for some people. Sales of wearable watches and bands continues to increase. YouTube got full of workout videos. Peloton can not make its ~$2,000 bikes fast enough for people to buy. Lululemon bought Mirror. Telemedicine is up 100x at many institutions. 

I am excited about Apple Fitness+. This is the kind of integrated fitness experience we had envisioned at National Semiconductor ten years ago. 

The trend continues. 

17. Podcasting on the rise: Apple podcast has over 700,000 active podcasts. There are many other podcasting platforms like Google, Stitcher, etc. More than 20% of Americans listen to podcasts at least once a week. You can find a podcast on almost any topic you can imagine. Both the number of podcasts and the number of listeners is expected to continue increasing. Of course, podcast advertising spend will increase as well. 

I have a podcast called Valley Nordic


The number of active podcasts is now over 1.5M. Spotify paid a lot of money to acquire exclusive podcast content. More than half the Americans have listened to a podcast. Ads dollars are following. 

Podcasts will follow the power law distribution. A few big hits and a lot of small players. 

The trend continues. 

18. Streaming continuing momentum: Netflix has 60M subscribers in the US. Disney+ launched a few weeks ago with 10M subscribers (not necessarily active users) and AppleTV+ launched only with exclusive original content a few months ago. HBO and Comcast will launch a new streaming services next year. Google offers YouTube TV which a streaming version of the cable bundle. Of course, there is Hulu. In the history of mankind, there has never been so much choice to be entertained at home. In the coming years, more people will switch to streaming services and/or watch more content on streaming channels and get rid of the cable bundle. The competition might bring yearly contracts and weekly episode releases to the streaming market. 


Disney+ has 86M subscribers (worldwide). This is quite an achievement in one year. Content is the king indeed. Hulu has 38M subscribers. Now, Netflix has over 73M subscribers in the US. Comcast Peacock service is live. HBO Max is live and AT&T (HBO parent company) announced that it will release all 2021 major movies on HBO Max and theatres simultaneously. This is a huge shift in favor of streaming. 

Some shows are already being released on weekly basis. Let's see how long before yearly contracts are pushed to consumers. Apple is trying to create a streaming bundle for Apple TV. 

The trend continues. 

19. Artificial Intelligence (AI) adoption increasing: Already, AI is part of our daily life. All smartphones use it. Personal Assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google are based on AI. China mandates people to activate their phones with their faces. It also tracks uighur muslims all over the country with AI based facial recognition system. Amazon uses AI to make its supply chain more effective and to make you buy more stuff. Self driving cars might be a few years away from being commercially available but the Tesla autopilot and parking assistants in many new cars, all use AI. There are many other applications of AI. Most AI applications today are based on Supervised Learning i.e. a model is built on available data and is backtested. It is continuously refined with new data. This process gives the model an ability to make decisions and predictions with new data. On the other hand, the Unsupervised Learning does not need data to learn. The system learns with trial and error based on the "rules of the game". It is still early days for Unsupervised Learning but it will have profound impact on society in future. I am curious to see new applications of AI next year. 


Google, which probably has the most AI talent, launched its prediction engine for General Availability. Open AI launched GPT3, a big achievement (my brief discussion on the subject here). State of AI is fantastic. 

I still did not see any commercial application of Unsupervised Learning. Let's see how long that takes. 

The trend continues. 

20. Gene editing rising fast: Genome editing (also called gene editing) is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism's DNA. These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.  CRISPR-Cas9 is the most popular one. Last year the first genetically modified babies were delivered in China using CRISPR and it caused a big controversy. There are many startups working on CRISPR applications. Increase in AI capabilities is helping gene editing. In the coming years, gene editing might change our lifespan, health, and looks. 

Gene editing raises many ethical questions. At TED2019 I facilitated a dinner table discussion on the subject.


Genome editing received a nobel prize in 2020. The startups in the space are redefining therapeutics. Andreessen Horowitz continues to invest in bio engineering. CRISPR is helping with COVID detection and cure

I think we don't really understand the mind body connection. How gene editing effects the human mind body system remains to be seen. 

The trend continues. 

The biggest trend of all is the digitization of everything and that is enabled by other underlying trends. I did not notice everything and I do not mention everything I observed. 


The biggest trend got accelerated due to COVID and lockdowns. Everybody is at home using digital technologies for commerce, exercise, relationships, art, education, etc. A lot of new people were introduced to ecommerce and video calls. 

Companies have increased urgency to digitize their processes as employees, vendors, distributors, etc. all are remote. 

The digitization trend will continue. 

Holidays are a good time to ponder these trends. How did they emerge? What is the long term impact on society? How can these trends help with new product development in the short term? 


2021 might be a transition year from lockdowns to some normalancy. What opportunities would that create? 

Since 2020 is a leap year and we get an additional day, I am sharing a few additions to the trend list from a good friend: 


Wishing everyone happy holidays and a very happy new year! May 2021 bring an end to the pandemic and beauty, charm, and joy to you! 


Your list seems millennial (and younger) focused and centered around issues affecting product design, but there are other trends I think are critical to the world as well as to product design in the long term:

1) Population pyramid inversion

Our economic and social systems were developed when there were many more young people per old people.  This is less true now, with implications for everything from Social Security to long-term care to how communities are designed.  Those are still designed based on the old assumption. See https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2016/06/americas-age-profile-told-through-population-pyramids.html and  https://www.ssa.gov/history/ratios.html

This trend is older than 2010, but has continued in this decade.

The rise in the number of old and old-old (85+) people opens up product design opportunities.  Note OXO is very successful in designing "old friendly" kitchen products.

2) "Populism" and fragmentation of globalization

"Populism" is misnamed to me (it used to mean helping poor people but now helps rich people and intentionally tries to hurt poor people), but from Trump to BrExit, there are movements to de-integrate countries from globalization as well as to support stratification of society.  US politics is extremely partisan now, with a win-lose dynamic instead of a view of the US as an integrated whole.

3) Russia is growing in attempted influence

Russia interfered in the US election and is thought to have attempted to influence other elections around the world as well.

4) Mass surveillance is on the rise

Very personal data is on third-party servers (Google, 23AndMe, etc) and you don't control who they allow to see it.  Google tracks cell phone movements, and can be served geofence warrants. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/13/us/google-location-tracking-police.html).  Genetics firms have been served DNA warrants.  Amazon collects Ring video.


1) Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers aren't necessarily healthy for people to eat; they are quite processed.  I have yet to see a well-respected doctor or nutritionist recommend them instead of a whole-grain, vegetable based diet.  You can eat chicken instead of beef, too. No one will make too much money selling healthy, unprocessed food that anyone can make at home, but that is what is very healthy.

2) "Streaming continuing momentum": you might want to mention the fragmentation of the streaming content market...you must now subscribe to many services to see everything.  Amazon is starting to insert ads into "free" content ("Imdb Tv")...it's super annoying and unwatchable to me.

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