The 2012 predictions are starting and I will likely participate - the end of the year is always a good time to assess and evaluate where you have been and where you are going. However, these predictions can often take on a doom & gloom feeling. Ross Dawson's Themes for 2012 are particularly anxiety inducing: more speed, more people, no privacy, revolt, cyberwars, exposure, and more polarization among other things. While I don't disagree with much of the analysis it does induce a high level of anxiety. This is not because Ross got it wrong, it's because our world has exploded with information, apps, access, people, content, and ideas.
People are assaulted with too much of everything. That makes us all very anxious. The human reaction to this anxiety is to crave clarity and certainty - to grasp for a bouy in a storm. Without some certainty and truth to ground us we feel completely out of control and bewildered. We look for those with clear and simple answers because it cuts through the sea of confusion. However, this is exactly where the biggest risk lies - while the world is increasing in complexity it is pushing more and more people to focus on simplistic truths as a coping mechanism. The more intensely people are driven to simplicity, the harder it is to make effective progress of any kind in an increasingly complex environment.
Complexity drives anxiety. Anxiety drives simplicty & polarization. Polarization blocks progress. Lack of progress creats more complexity. And the cycle intensifies.
Part of the reason that social networking has taken off is that people have dramatically scaled back the people and organizations they trust to those that they know personally, because those relationships are something they can still evaluate in a world of ever shifting information. But ironically, in a world where we have so much access to information it creates increasingly narrow perspectives. This cycle has to be broken to really address some of the vexing global issues that we face.
For me, the biggest challenge of 2012 will be to better understand how to use social technologies to reduce overload and complexity instead of add to it. This is absolutely imperative so individuals have the mental space to feel proactively in charge of their environments so that they can make decisions and move forward - and to open their minds to alternative perspectives.