Global Trends 2020

Alone in the dark noise

One of the biggest challenges we now face is the ‘loss’ of the future. Across Global Trends 2020, we see most countries expect the next generation to be poorer than they are. The 2017 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report ‘The World in 2035: Paradox of Progress’ underlines that, for the first time, a worse future seems inevitable, “unless…”. This is a massive shift from the last half-century of post-WW2 optimism.

Pessimism is increasingly common. The last Gallup Survey, covering 140 countries in 2019, reported a global feeling of anxiety, sadness and anger shared around the world. Whereas the global child mortality rate is constantly decreasing, in the US life expectancy has been declining for three years in a row, and it has started to decrease in some other western countries, too. Other paradoxes are striking. Urbanisation has brought more people together than ever, but loneliness is more likely to be felt within big cities; 93% of French people think they can more easily feel lonely in a city.55 Digitally connected societies allow incredible access to knowledge and bring new opportunities, but more than one in three people globally feel that the way they live their life has become meaningless, and half (52%) of us often feel overwhelmed by all the choices we have about how to live our lives. The technology that empowers and connects us is double sided; scientists are beginning to link it to depression.56

We see our external environment increasingly as a threat, as well as an opportunity. Some 78% agree that ‘we live in an increasingly dangerous world’, and we think we are becoming more polarised – 77% agree that ‘in my country, there is more and more conflict between people who don’t share the same values’. Mental health is also a growing issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) warn that mental health problems are rising across the world, with one in six dealing with mental health issues. Experts expect depression, addiction and severe stress-related diseases to join the top five health burdens by 2030. The difficulty of adjusting to an accelerated world is part of this; 79% think ‘the world today is changing too fast’.

One in three people globally feel that the way they live their life has become meaningless, and half of us often feel overwhelmed by all the choices we have about how to live our lives

Modern life feels overwhelming. More data has been generated in the last two years than in the whole of human history – and not all of it can be trusted.57 Our information ecosystem can be toxic. ‘Fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and deepfakes are challenging our cognitive capabilities. Are informed decisions possible when 81% think ‘there is so much contradictory information that it is hard to know who or what to trust’? In this context, technology appears as an ambiguous ally. Despite the power of technology to inform and connect us, 75% think that ‘social media companies have too much power’ and 74% feel that ‘global social media and technology companies need to be more closely regulated’.

This growing feeling of physical and mental pressure may require new ways of accessing stability and wellness through autonomy and disconnection. People need to dampen the noise. More than three-quarters (77%) of us say they try ‘to find time to switch off on a regular basis’, and more than half feel the need to retreat into themselves (56% agree that ‘increasingly, I feel the need to spend more time alone’). This desire for solitude is mirrored by a desire for freedom of thought and action; people want to reassess their individual values against the collective. Three-quarters ‘want to get more autonomy in their life’ and depend less and less on external authority – most (79%) feel that ‘it’s up to everybody to work out their own set of principles’. A darker, more pessimistic world is leading us to seek clarity from within.

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The Future of Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people manage their health. It has challenged our medical systems and driven demand for new solutions. However, our data suggests these changes are not new but rather an acceleration of existing trends.