log on, stay in, cash out: are you ready for the 21st century?

Forget the thatched cottage with the roses round the door. Social forecasts for the new millennium predict that tower blocks will be chic, families will be unlikely, holidays will be short, and The Gap will start to take over the world
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Indy Lifestyle Online
if, in ten years time, you find yourself living and working in a well designed, high security, utilitarian space, along with a mix of friends and relatives you've discovered fulfil all your emotional, sexual and economic needs, don't feel that it's necessary to call your lawyer.

Wearing a polarfleece lined, microfibre leisure suit from M&S, working from the kitchen on your Samsung home media-hub and eating an organic lunch that was just delivered from The Gap, you are not an inmate at one of the swish private prisons Nick Leeson opened up following his recent release - rather, you're a proud member of the 21st century's most important social unit: the unlikely family.

Having already cashed out, downshifted and withdrawn into your armoured cocoon years ago, you and your unlikely family of five adults were leaders in the rural revolt and now run three micro-businesses, raise two children, take turns cooking the dinner, race through town on a '96 Vespa and love watching old re-runs of Friends on C4-od (Channel Four on-demand) in the comfort controlled surroundings of your home on the 25th floor of what was once the Natwest Tower.

When you find time to take a break, you opt for a short hit holiday and travel on a HST (high speed train) jointly owned by BA and KLM to Antwerp. Checking into one of CenterParc's urban spa hotels, you guarantee your room with a thumbprint and request a suite that has tan-while-you-sleep lighting.

Before retiring for the night you catch the day's headlines on the NBC- Microsoft News Network and are quickly bored by the news that Singapore has signed a contract to launch yet another new satellite state, this time in the Caribbean. Unplugging yourself from the electronic shackles, you read a few pages from the latest Neal Stephenson novel, take your daily hit of melatonin and drift off under the glow of the tanning lamps.

If we're to believe the trend forecasters who identify shifting socio- economic currents, create buzzwords like anchoring and charge multi- national corporations millions for their soothsaying services, then citizens of Europe circa 2005 might well be lounging around in jumpsuits, creating cyber cottage industries from the safety of their fortified communes and leaving their thumbprints all over the world.

Forecasters have already created a self styled cottage industry of their own. Marketing and advertising departments hang on to their every word. Below, three of the leaders in the field, from the US, Britain and Germany, give their differing perspectives on how we will be living during the coming decade.

Faith Popcorn, Founder and CEO of Brainreserve, New York:

In America we're going to see the whole corporate structure completely overturned as more and more people start to cash out. Employees are starting to ask themselves: "Why should I spend 10 or 20 years of my life working with people I don't like, respect or trust?"

So when they cash out they're going to be looking to work from home or perhaps from a small office in their neighbourhood with friends or members of their family. What these people want is more control over their lives, more agreeable working conditions and a general sense of happiness in what they're doing.

As a symptom of cashing out, you'll see more women taking charge of corporations and running them in a more practical, level headed manner. Women as CEOs and presidents are going to radically alter the face of corporate America but share-holders are going to get results and you're going to see a lot written about women's management styles in the years ahead.

Something else we're following here at Brainreserve is anchoring, which means that people are looking for anything to hold onto. This can come in the form of established religion mixed with yoga, it can be something with Asian roots tempered by Christian values, it really doesn't matter what it is so long as it gives people an anchor in their stressed-out lives.

And finally, I started talking about cocooning way back in the early Eighties, when I predicted that people didn't want to go out to clubs and restaurants anymore but were more interested in staying home. What we're seeing now is something called the armoured cocoon, where people are just too scared to go out into their neighbourhoods or to the mall, so they invest in expensive security and the outside world comes to them. All services are based around home delivery, the Internet plays a huge part in the armoured cocoon and with the rise of cybertechnology, fewer people are going to want to leave their homes when they can have more fun in cyberspace -I'm sure that some people will live "out there" all the time.

Ian Christie, Senior Consultant, Henley Centre for Forecasting, London:

There is no question that the deliberate downshift is going to be a big trend in the coming decade. Consumers are still living as if they're in the midst of a recession, so what we're noticing here at the Henley Centre is extreme cautiousness on the part of most people. Consumers want to reduce their exposure to things like mortgages and debt, so what we're seeing as a result of this is an investment in insurance, which can be anything from staying-put and not opting to buy a new house, which is called improve-don't-move, or realizing that two cars are unnecessary and that a married couple can get by with one or none in some cases.

We're seeing considerable redefinition in the way people live at the moment, many are disillusioned with rural life so they're starting to move back into the city. It's what we call the rural revolt and as a result of this, you're about to witness whole new pockets of urban Britain being revitalized. We have learned our lesson from the out-of-town centres, so what will eventually happen is that central high streets will start to look more like out-of-town centres, with covered sidewalks and more themed conveniences in a central location.

Consumers will continue to become more demanding and as a result services in the UK are going to improve. With more people working from home, the scope for new niche services is enormous and this is where I see significant employment and business potential in the coming years - everything from advanced grocery delivery systems to specialized house-cleaning services will be required by new legions of home-office workers.

Mathias Horx, Founder, TrendBuro, Hamburg:

One movement that we think is going to have a significant effect in Germany and obviously other European countries is the Heimlich or home-sickness trend. People have forgotten about their homes, basic food, their gardens and even their own country, so what we've said is that they've become homesick for the basic things in life that give them comfort. Because of this, we think that anything that is home related has huge potential whether it's well constructed furniture, simple, fresh food products or farm holidays for families.

Another trend we're noticing is that consumers in the Eighties wanted 'more and better' and now in the Nineties the consumer is looking for less and even better. A lot of this has to do with downshifting but it also has to do with more sophisticated consumers who know the value of a brand and the value of a given product and armed with that knowledge they don't want to burden themselves with lots of products, they're looking to streamline their consumption habits and this is something that has considerable mileage in the coming years.

Also, we think that the pace of technology is turning consumers toward brands that have a sense of nostalgia and authenticity attached to them. People like to feel that they're buying into something that has a history and that they feel will always be there, not gone the next day like some designer beer or fashion label.

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