Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Three Additional Trends for 2022: Fighting disinformation, the Importance of batteries + vibe is everywhere

We don't usually add new trends to our list after we publish our annual set of predictions. But 2022 is turning out to be more unusual than we had hoped.

The good news is that -- right now -- Covid infections seem to be declining. The bad news is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Which is likely to get more horrific. 

One of the cliches of war reporting is the phrase "fog of war," meaning it's hard to report with the usual clarity in a war zone. Complicating reporting -- which is necessary and important for people outside Ukraine to understand what's happening inside that country, and to mobilize and frame a response to it is the disinformation, some of it inadvertent, most of it intentioned, around what's happening.

As an example of inadvertent disinfo is a story about a Ukrainian grandmother who took out a drone by throwing a pickle jar from her balcony. Turns out the can of destruction didn't contain pickles. It contained tomatoes. 

Examples of intentioned disinfo are too many, and we don't want to give them attention. That's part of the problem with disinformation or propaganda: repeating them increases the likelihood that the algorithms and search engines pick up the disinformation, making it harder to refute.

So, the first of our additional trends is not the rise of disinformation. We've been dealing with that for the worst part of a decade (if not longer). It's that we're seeing the impact of disinformation, and need to find a way to fight against disinformation.

In Russia, where journalism has been outlawed, the New York Times and others have sent reporters home. CNN and the BBC are keeping bureaus open but are not currently reporting from Russia. That country has also cut access to social media platforms -- to which one late night host complained that he wished we could be cut off social media in the U.S., too. But Russians inside the country have no access to what's happening in Ukraine.

We expect to see more coverage about the impact of disinformation and what the U.S. can do to minimize disinformation. A key suggestion from a guest essay in today's Times: "Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn't," which suggests that we "Teach kids how to assess not only the reliability of the specific information they’ve found online but also who published it and for what purpose." That would be important not just for kids but for all of us.

The second additional trend involves batteries, whether we're talking about batteries to power electric cars or battery life in general. We expect more coverage of the next generation of batteries that need to be cheaper, charge faster, pack more energy, be cleaner, smaller, etc.

The major factor behind this interest is the move to boost production of electric cars while reducing the number of combustion engine cars on the road. China and the U.S. have issued expectations for when all new cars will be electric.

There's also a secondary factor in a heightened interest in electric cars. Rising prices at the gas pump. As everyone now knows, Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to the West, and that means the West is helping to fund an invasion it opposes and also means the West could be vulnerable to not getting enough oil if the invasion continues over the long haul.

So we expect to see more coverage looking at the impact of rising gas prices, alternatives to oil and fossil fuels, renewable energy, especially for cars.

Okay so this has been a rather heavy look at war-related trends.

There's another trend that is easier to take.

We think that "vibe" will be a heavily used word in 2022. We're not sure why. But we've been seeing the word every day in different news outlets and social media. In fact, it's been hard to avoid the word vibe. We did a Google Trends search, and Google does not show an increase in the use of vibe. But we feel it. The Times published 18 stories that included the word over the past week, including music and art reviews and style columns -- which makes sense. But vibe was used in an obituary, a climate article, a business article and several real estate articles. Even the Wall St. Journal published eight articles over the last week that included "vibe," and we wouldn't have thought the Journal would be so open to vibes but the word was included in articles about design, food, and music as well as a sports article, a look at hybrid work, campaigning in India (though this appeared in the Journal's whimsical A-Hed column), and a look at the fallout of war.

So Google isn't confirming this trend. But it feels right to us.

Let us know what you think.

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