And the Most Important Trends to Watch in 2012 Are…

The shoppy ones? Check, please.

As if to match the excess of cakes and cookies and champagne of the holidays, the run up to the new year has been a media glut of roundups, predictions, trend pieces, and years-in-review – and not just at EcoSalon. Today is the first day of 2012, and while our managing editor has reminded me it’s better late than never for my own take on all the things, I’m not sure it’s better on the whole, on account of what I’ve learned in the process of writing this article.

I’ve learned that if you Google “culture trends 2012” to research ideas for this article, you will turn up all sorts of trend forecasts, pages and pages of them, only they will not have anything at all to do with culture: not the kind of culture you wrote thirty pages about in graduate school that in hindsight seems so much less annoying than Powerpoint, not the hipster-meets-highbrow culture of McSweeney’s and Harper’s and the New Yorker of which you are so publicly fond, not even the pop culture slizzurp of “Last Friday Night” and dubstep of which you are merely privately fond in your car at extremely loud volumes until you pull up to a stop sign.

No, if you search for anything about cultural trends to attempt to pull together a thoughtful few paragraphs, you will instead be directed to all things consumer. Specifically, what consumers are going to want. And how to sell it to them more. You don’t even need to search “consumer trends” to learn about consumer trends. “Cultural trends 2012” gets you the same ample linkbelly of commercial conflation:

Business News Daily ranks second in the first page of Google search results returned for my search on “cultural trends” despite having nothing at all to do with culture and everything to do with, I see what you did there, consumption. And this goes on and on for pages, for any number of culture trend related searches, on multiple engines. It would appear the most important cultural trends to watch in 2012 are the ones that make people shop, or help us understand how and why and where and when they shop or what they’re going to expect from their shop experience as they shop. And, shopping.

Has my Latin grown so rusty I’ve forgotten “culture” and “consumption” are one in the same? No, just my American.

The trouble with digging up meaningful ideas as societal guideposts for the coming year is that the sort of people and publications discussing these things aren’t about to do it in an easy-to-glean listicle for our ADHD-in-an-app convenience. The listicle, then, is the baby of the Marketing Firm PDF and FaceHuffBeastTwit.

There are the tech topics: screens, apps, mobile, are-we-or-are-we-not-doing-QR, all of which kind of makes me want to hurl my iPad at the next kid with a beard and a flannel shirt that is supported (crucially) by an arm band. The internet is the greatest thing, and the most important thing, of our lives. Think Wikileaks and the Arab Spring; think mass reorganization of production and the coming end of The Job; think information at your fingertips and GPS when you get lost. That doesn’t make me want to hurl my magical, revolutionary device. What does? That if they censor the internet, we will simply build a new one. That we shouldn’t just make more internet, but better internet.

There are the color trends of Pantone, where mugs help remind you that orange is for so much more than just annual squash slaughter. It’s for your stuff in your house, too! There are the 10 consumer trends of JWT, key among them: food as the defining eco issue to watch, the engineering of randomness for delight and discovery, and marriage? Optional. (Which would seem rather more like culture and less like consumer.)

Style, you’re going to need a cocktail (ring). There are Coolhunter, Coolhunting, Polyvore, PSFK. There are the glossy fashion predictions and Tumblr trendhunters and street style bloggers ad infinitum.

There are the inevitable, but inevitably useful, portmanteaus. Flawsome: Grow up, angry customer, and adore ye slightly imperfect but authentic brands, you’ll feel more human. Aw. Recommerce: One woman’s remorse purchase is another woman’s Craigslist score. Maturialism: Because we’re grownups and we can talk about sex without referring to it as “riding the ride.”

There are the gems.

The excellent curation of Paola DeLuca for IED Firenze, whose Trend Book is filled with exceptional insights into four distinctive cultural personality types: the Alter-Eco (nature, localized, junk to funk), the Lessential (transparency, cutting edge, all in one), the Youniverse (androgyny, moi, je joue), the Showstopper (electrofied, geomatrix, stating your status). They speak to the continuing importance of design in our lives, the electric vitality in indulging a superficial yet essential joy that is playful and exuberant over narcissistic and…Kardashian.

A pop lyric I caught on the radio months ago still pings in my skull: “La, la, la, whatever!” is the chorus from “Tonight, Tonight.” Song writing of this kind should be grounds for a visit to the shrink, yet it isn’t. We can all, for the love of god, lighten up now: A burst of innocence is hardly exclusive to an inner life. We’re going to want, and need, both.

Gaping Void: Hugh MacLeod’s prescient insights into mediocrity (including Kathy Sierra!) and millionaires.

There are the rising cultural trends. Some poised to burst, some nascent, some redux, some radical, some required, some holistic: cities, mobile, populism, intuition, connection that allows for silence, integrity in every sense. (We’ll explore all of these in 2012.)

There are the new definitions. It’s going to be good to be gay, and not just for our voyeuristic decorating pleasure on a cable television show. How about them genders? Men are far from over (really, really, really), but women are hot, hot, hot (so nevermind the TechCrunch games, which will soon be an embarrassment). What is an American, anyway? Rick Perry and his ilk are on the wrong side of history.

There are new roles for us all, and we’ll be talking about it a lot.

A word about green. There will be the arguments in environmentalism, from consumption and media to marketing and energy policy. We must learn that “borrowing a page” – modeling – is no recipe for innovation but is simply doing the same old thing with a green sticker slapped on it; we must understand that no end justifies any means, for the means are ends themselves. We must learn that myopic sacrifice is asking people to participate in cult, not culture. We must accept that luxury can be our word. Luxury is simplicity and sustainability, it is living well and doing well, it is intent and heart over letter and law.

There are the messy bits to get through first. I fear reality television will only get worse before we all get better. Teen moms? Toddler beauty pageants? There will be so many apps, we will have apps just to organize our apps, and “There’s an app for that” will become the new “That’s what she said,” if it hasn’t already. And let’s not forget the Election. Obama will win, but not before the politicians and pundits execute their special mission to exhaust us by March with the exact same black/white, red/blue “thinking” they’ve traded in for the last twenty years. This time, we won’t just change the channel – we’ll create different ones. ( 2008? Only the beginning.)

Messy. But we’ll begin to appreciate this, gradually finding confidence and inspiration – even laughter – in the emergence of real argument. I suspect that in place of Maturialism in the trend forecasts for 2013, we may just see Maturity.

And on the other side, men and women will begin to breathe – or at least text – a little easier around each other. We’ll learn that people do give a damn about the planet (nearly every major American city will work to ban the plastic bag, we’ll finally catch on to the fish problem, and everyone will want companies to recycle their used products).

And most important, Grandpa will finally learn to Google it himself.

Image: Patrick Hoesly