Looking Back in 2020: Media & Technology
31 : 12 : 20

In 2020, tech firms and developers made their products more eco-friendly, inclusive and human-centric, writes Foresight editor Kathryn Bishop.

The Trend: Low-impact Interfaces

The WiLD Network by Guy Mills, London, designed to mitigate the negative ecological impact of data storage and transmission
The WiLD Network by Guy Mills, London, designed to mitigate the negative ecological impact of data storage and transmission
The WiLD Network by Guy Mills, London, designed to mitigate the negative ecological impact of data storage and transmission

While technology innovations abound, a growing awareness of the carbon emissions associated with our online browsing habits began to gain traction in 2020. In Low-impact Interfaces, published in August, we examined how designers are working to simplify UX and UI design to be greener and more energy-efficient.

At a time when the average single webpage size is 3.48Mb – more than 24 times the size it was in 2003 (source: Serving Green) – brands are recoding their e-commerce platforms to use less energy. Leading the way, Danish brand Organic Basics’ low-energy version of its online store reduced the amount of data transfer by up to 70% by having a limited number of images and no videos.

Elsewhere, UK design studio Normally has redesign Instagram to be more energy-efficient. The project, Post Abundance, presents a version of Instagram that uses significantly less energy by replacing the platform’s automatic image- and video-loading with text, giving users the option to load only the images they’re genuinely interested in seeing.

The Big Idea: Africa’s mobile technology advancements

Twiga Foods, Kenya Twiga Foods, Kenya

In November, we took a closer look at the evolving African Mobile Technology Market, where phones are empowering people across the continent to forge a new future for healthcare, commerce and rural connectivity.

After only four months of development, Engo Holdings, a Chinese mobile phone company that assembles devices in Uganda, this year integrated a temperature reader into smartphones to assist with local Covid-19 diagnosis and management. Elsewhere, mobile technology is becoming more inclusive. Mobile hardware company Transsion is creating phone cameras better calibrated to black and brown skin tones. It was also the first major phone brand to add an Amharic keyboard for users in Ethiopia, alongside Hausa and Swahili keyboards.

Focusing on remote regions, Loon, a sister company of Google, is using balloons suspended in the stratosphere to provide communities with internet connectivity. After a trial to expand existing 4G networks in Kenya to 35,000 rural citizens, it will now extend South Africa’s Vodacom network to Cabo Delgado and Niassa in Mozambique – two provinces that have proved hard to cover previously due to their size, topography and low population density, bringing many more Africans online.

The Campaign: Three imagines a vibrant future powered by 5G

Three, Hey UK, The Real 5G Future is Here

Foretelling some of the near-future advancements seen this last year, in March 2020 mobile network Three unveiled a vibrant, multi-layered vision of future living in the UK – powered by 5G connectivity.

Created by Wieden + Kennedy London, the fast-paced, three-minute campaign posits a bright, post-Brexit future for the UK, and the ways in which 5G could transform everything from corner shop interactions to air travel and immersive music experiences.

The sci-fi style ad features many familiar British references, including the red buses, Greggs’ vegan sausage rolls and a London skyline brimming with digital advertising. In one scene, a boy orders an 'emoji water’ from behind the counter of a shop, using an AR face filter to make him look older.

In this way, the campaign echoes the themes of our 2019 macrotrend Programmable Realities, with new technologies and connectivity allowing brands to become increasingly integrated into every element of consumer life.

The Interview: Tackling racism in brands’ audio content

The Six Dimensions of Sound by Studio Resonate The Six Dimensions of Sound by Studio Resonate

After a year in which the Black Lives Matter movement stimulated brands to take action on systemic racism, we spoke to Steve Keller, sonic strategy director at Studio Resonate, about addressing racism and stereotyping in brands’ audio marketing and content.

Keller describes how audio content is all about creating emotional engagement with listeners, but history has racialised our ears to often create whitewashed radio and advertising where voiceovers are concerned. ‘There remains an issue when we think about the sound of the American voice. For example, I looked at health-focused commercials during the pandemic and found that over 90% of the voices featured were white, even though a larger percentage of the black population were being affected by the virus,’ he says. ‘I don't expect voice diversity was something [these] advertisers were even thinking about, but why are we choosing the voices that we choose?

As we move into 2021, Keller says brands should listen again to their content, evaluate their output and address arising problems. ‘Listen, bring in diversity where you can, and have clear goals so you can check the outcomes and see how you're doing.’

The Space: The rise of multifaceted virtual realms

Reporters Without Boarders, France
Reporters Without Boarders, France

Without a doubt, 2020 was the year of the virtual realm, as people in lockdown shifted their socialising, activism, gameplay and entertainment into digital spaces.

Though many virtual and gaming platforms innovated this year, leading the charge were Minecraft, Fortnight and Animal Crossing. The latter became a hotbed of activity for everything from luxury brands to political campaigns. In September, the Animal Crossing community was able to support the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris political campaign with a series of virtual flags that could be placed in their avatars yards.

Politics and activism also filtered into Minecraft. The platform became a safe space for censored journalists in March 2020, with design studio BlockWorks and Reporters without Borders building a virtual library filled with books containing articles censored in their country of origin but available for anyone to read inside Minecraft.

Musicians also made their mark within these virtual realms. In April, rapper Travis Scott opened the floodgates to virtual concerts with a two-day Fortnite ‘world tour,’ which achieved a then record-breaking 12.3m participants.

Download the Future Forecast 2021 report

Now that you know what shaped 2020, discover what’s on the horizon. Download our Future Forecast 2021 report comprising 50 new behavioural patterns across 10 key consumer sectors, expert opinion pieces and interviews with global innovators.

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