Looking Forward

Crystal Ball

As 2020 begins its journey from memory into history, I can’t help but wonder how our experiences in this gruesome year will shape the future. We may have experienced 10 years of social innovation in the past 10 months, but how will that accelerated innovation change the way we spend our days? What will come back? What is gone forever? What can 2020 teach us about the future?


For jobs where WFH is an option, the future is clear. The big question is, what percentage of time will previous office workers have to spend at the office? The follow-on effects of even 10 percent of previous daily commuters working from home for some portion of the week are profound. The bigger the number, the bigger the impact on the service economy that supports their commutes and their out-of-home needs. I don’t see this as an either/or scenario. We will continue to see a shift in working environments. We should prepare for the economic impact.

Business Travel

On a related subject, I don’t know anyone who has a full business travel schedule. Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, doesn’t think air travel gets “back to normal” until 2024. That sounds right. But the new normal may include far fewer business travelers. Clients are now fully empowered to have a quick F2F video chat. Let’s say business travel will be reduced by 25 percent going forward. What economic impact will that have?

Media Consumption

Warner Bros. will release its entire 2021 slate of theatrical motion pictures on HBOMax the same day they are released in theaters. Other motion picture distributors have made their movies available online for $19.95 within weeks of their theatrical release (or sooner). Cord-cutting is accelerating. People have had the time to learn new ways to consume media. TikTok and YouTube are experiencing extraordinary growth. People have a wealth of choices. Production values are increasing at a remarkable rate of speed. There is more to watch, and there are more ways to watch than ever before. The media landscape has evolved, and it is not going back.


We shop differently now. Will we go back to brick-and-mortar retail? Yes. Will it be the same? No. Will we continue to shop online at unprecedented levels? Yes. eCommerce, tCommerce, social selling, and all their variants are the clear beneficiaries of our suffering in 2020. The magic of “press a button and it shows up in a day or two” is not going away. Curbside delivery may be temporary, but ordering groceries, staple products, hard goods, CPG, and even soft goods is here to stay. If your business (supply chain, inventory management, and distribution) is not tuned and optimized for data-driven sales, advertising, marketing, and PR, you need to level up.


In January 2020, very few doctors would agree to telehealth visits. Even fewer would correspond via unsecured email. At best, you could call your doctor and, more often than not, the outcome of that call would be a visit to the doctor’s office. Now, almost every doctor offers telehealth visits, they accept co-pays online, they will transmit prescriptions to your pharmacy electronically, and we are seeing the use of medical monitoring apps increase exponentially. Healthcare is getting seriously digitized. And, more importantly, big tech is getting in the game. Amazon Pharmacy is up and running. Apple Fitness and Apple Health are becoming a focus in Cupertino. We are on the cusp of a health and wellness evolution thanks to big tech and big medicine. Hopefully, this will be accompanied by better patient outcomes. Time will tell.


Ask a parent of school-age children about their educational experience in 2020, and you are likely to get schooled. The consensus of the educational-industrial complex is that less than one-third of K-12 students in the United States had the tools, the bandwidth, and the proper environment to be successful online learners in 2020. To make matters worse, most online education this past year was “online teaching,” not “online learning,” the difference being that online teaching is pointing a camera at a teacher and having the teacher do what the teacher does in a video chat, whereas online learning utilizes the power of the technology to customize an educational experience to each student. There was almost no K-12 online learning in 2020. This will not change. The educational-industrial complex is just waiting for things to go back to the way they were. Most parents are looking for institutional day care so they can go back to work. It looks like we will be stuck in the K-12 system of the 19th century for quite a while longer.

Big Tech vs. Big Government

There is a huge fight brewing. Big government fears big tech, and they are coming for them. This inevitable showdown will play out over the next two years. My guess is that big tech (writ large) will win. Big tech is well-positioned to do so. It may face some fines or some forced reorganization or mild regulations, but the data elite will remain the data elite and we will remain subservient to them.


The velocity of data is increasing and will always increase. Those who are best at turning data into action will prosper, and those who do not have access to it or cannot make it actionable will lose. It’s that simple.

What’s Next?

We will dive deeper into these subjects and many more in our annual trend report, which will debut at CES 2021 in a few weeks. Fill in the form below for early access.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.


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