Yay, welcome to 2022!
When I looked back at 2021 last week, I started with fairly negative emotions — but as I dug into some of 2021’s tech trends, I spotted more good than I first realized. In fact, the glass-half-full part of me thinks we might actually have some things to look forward to in 2022.
Of course, the biggest tech story for 2022 has already pulled into our 2021 driveway. Last year, we saw both traditional automotive companies and a host of startups/nontraditional car companies announce electric vehicle (EV) production plans. In 2021, manufacturing pivoted — and in 2022 these products will hit the market, resulting in an even bigger consumer pivot.
No longer the talk of Tesla alone, 2022 brings EVs out of concept and onto the highways. We’re talking full-electric — not merely a transitional hybrid, but a complete and total switch away from combustion engines to spinning electric motors.
We’ve got Rivian trucks and SUVs and Amazon delivery vans, Fisker SUVs, Lucid and Polestar sedans, Ford’s buzzy F-150 Lightning that President Biden gleefully took out for a spin on the test track — not to mention a full vehicle lineup from Toyota, GM, and Kia.
I could go on and on and on, because in 2022 talking cars means talking EV. I’ve been writing about EV technology for years and I’m so tickled to see 2022 arrive! This is a tech story, an automotive story, a business story and a consumer trend story. In short, when we look back on 2022 a year hence, we might shake our heads in disbelief that the ubiquitous EV seemed so novel a mere 12 months before.
In another ongoing movement, the tech-in-health trendline uptick will continue in 2022. Telemedicine, in one form or another, will stay with us. The research and development capacity in response to COVID-19 will begin to create gains in the battles against other diseases as well. Fast-tracked development of Messenger RNA (mRNA) based applications will ripple into cancer treatments and vaccines for other infectious diseases.
In my dreams, the structure of health care would reshape, improve and become more responsive and accessible, too. Rolling out these changes would have a big tech-driven component, but realistically the politics of it all probably means very little on the industry side of the health story will change in 2022 but don’t blame tech for that.
We’ve spent 2020 and 2021 learning how to work and interact using video and other remote collaboration tools — and they won’t be leaving in 2022 either. Not only have we become accustomed to remote tools, but the seismic generational shift in the workplace now tilts toward millennials and Gen Z groups, people for whom digital communication is just, well, communication. Although the pandemic may have hastened the shift in workplace form and format, the rise of digitally reared generations moving through the working world in increasing numbers each year drives this trend — and 2022 will be no exception.
At the same time that workplace communication continues to rely on digital interaction, we’ll also see a rise in analog interaction on the personal side of the ledger, especially among Gen Z. We saw the start of this in 2021, when paper greeting card sales began soaring as this cohort became fascinated with its version of something new: retro ink-on-paper. These customized forms of an old medium may well surprise us in 2022.
A longing for the retro is also why I think the metaverse (looking at you Facebook/Meta) could be 2022’s big dud. Virtual reality and augmented reality teased us with promise and excitement in many a New Year’s past; the metaverse wants to do the same this year. After many attempts, VR and AR remain faint promises with niche applications; despite all the hype neither have become The Next Big Thing. I doubt the metaverse will either, at least not in 2022.
As we slog through into the third year of enforced remoteness, the idea of connecting in a pretend world lacks playfulness, novelty and attraction. Not only is the emotional timing off, but the intent sends out bad vibes as well. VR and AR had a pretty little luster of hope and shimmer for cool newness on them, while the metaverse just feels a bit icky and creepy from the get-go. I’m betting that the world will do a cumulative vote for real dinner with real friends in a real restaurant over avatars sipping pretend drinks in an alternative digital world. We might be a bit worn and fractured, but I don’t think 2022 will be the year we check out of reality.
Our connection with an expanded reality may continue, though. Through the Mars Perseverance Rover explorations, through Artemis’ push to the next generation of moon travel, through the ongoing normalization of space travel by SpaceX/NASA collaborations, and through the first glimpses of the past from the new James Webb Space Telescope that we’ll be getting later on this year, we have the potential to stretch the boundaries of our world in 2022. In addition, both the technology and infrastructure for deep underwater exploration continues to grow, and we might see our own earth-based horizon expand deeper into the waters beneath us this coming year.
On the dark side, technology — or more precisely, the commercial interests deploying technology — continues its relentless gnawing on our privacy. From new internet activity trackers to expanding home devices that want to create a “smart” home, more and more of our footprint gets recorded and repackaged — the better to sell, of course.
In 2022, it will be up to each of us to individually set the boundaries between functionally useful sharing and invasion of privacy discomfort. We’ll need to intentionally make active decisions to keep our every move from being pulled into the vortex of “convenience.” When those boxes asking about which cookies you want pop up on your screen, take a minute to select what level of tracking you’ll accept; don’t just embrace the default “all.” Make 2022 a year of intentional choices when it comes to your personal data.
Last but not least, the push-pull-shove of cryptocurrency, NFTs and other alternative value arrangements won’t miss a beat. These explorations, along with their booms and busts, have so far been part of a tech fringe, something that happens behind the scenes or off the stage of most people’s lives. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening, and won’t continue to happen. I’d put my (virtual) money on at least one viral story of the excess, crash or gee-whiz moment of cryptocurrency to be reported in the general market space in 2022, but to have the real shifts happening within this seething tech space continue their below-the-radar evolution, with broad public impact at least a decade away still.
So, as we welcome January 2022, I’m feeling a tiny bit optimistic. After several years of settling, adjusting and absorbing a generation of technology changes, I’m thinking that 2022 give hints of being the start of new era. I doubt we see ah-ha moments of giant breakthroughs but when the dust of history settles, I suspect that our new year may well bring us a surprisingly interesting 12 months of tech.
Happy New Year, everyone! May you find exactly the level of tech you want and need in 2022!
Teresa Martin of Eastham lives, breathes and writes about the intersection of technology, business and humanity.
Yay, welcome to 2022!