Decoding Next: Five trends you need to know including the sound of knowledge, finding funny and the art of the hack

By Alison Bracegirdle | Sparks & Honey

August 10, 2015 | 9 min read

Sparks & honey tracks trends by drawing on dozens of data sources, hundreds of scouts and cultural strategists in our London, New York and Los Angeles offices. In July, we covered 995 signals. Here are the top five trends we observed.

1. The sound of knowledge

Sound is similar to scent because what it lacks in visual stimulus, it makes up for with invisible narratives, bathing your mind with powerful emotional memories. This month, we have seen a number of fascinating advances in the world of ears and how we will use them for much more than listening. We have entered the era of biometric and sonic sophistication with the ear looking set to be one of the new ways in which we interface with technology – with interesting and potentially life-saving applications.

When you touch the two swirly appendages on your head, can you imagine them unlocking your phone? Amazon has filed a patent to measure your unique combination of ear curves and points that will determine your identity and eliminate the need for fingerprint identification.

Your ears are also a great place to measure a woman’s basal body temperature (BBT), which is essential if you’re trying to get pregnant. The best part of this wearable? You won’t even know it’s there.

Speaking of invisible sound, Gemma Roper, a Royal College of Art graduate created headphones that play music not into your ears, but through your cheekbones using bone-conduction transducers so you can still hear traffic as you cycle.

2. That’s not funny, says the algorithm

Jerry Seinfeld warned us months ago that comedy, as we know it, is under threat due to political correctness. Now a combination of man and machine are keeping an eye on what is funny so that they can either protect your copyright or fight terrorism. Both evolutions mean that our jokes and communication are being censored and regulated by platforms and people to identify on origin of joke and the content itself. The phenomena raise a number of interesting questions about the future of both censorship and copyright in the digital age.

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In a victory for writers, Twitter started the @PlagiarismBad project where joke creators can report joke thieves, and in their place, the message “withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder” appears. Although anonymous thieves and bullies think they can get away with such online abuse, James Woods is suing an anonymous Twitter user for $10m big ones.

Meanwhile in Israel, Eden Saig, a computer scientist, is working on an algorithm that can detect sarcasm and arrogance compared with “sensible comments”. He thinks this technology, although only tested so far with Hebrew, could help police detect when people are seriously uttering terrorist plans or being sarcastic. He also thinks this could prove very valuable in helping people with depression and other negative moods. Who’s laughing now, robot?

3. The art of the hack

sliced light in color from ekaggrat singh kalsi on Vimeo.

When you hear the word hack, you probably imagine your private information being compromised, but this month we’ve seen a number of cases where hacking was used to make the intangible, tangible in new creative ways. As we see more and more DIY art and technology, it’s important to ask what we can learn from these experiments and why.

4. Define appropriate, please

The internet will always have a dark, lawless realm, but on public platforms, censorship is becoming an obsession. Country to country, laws differ, but the internet is raising a generation of people who expect equal access to sex and free speech creating a cultural tension between those defining their own Moral Imperative for us all. People are increasingly questioning who is making the rules on what we can and can’t access.

Instagram is becoming a bit prude lately. This summer alone, they have banned #Curvy, #Goddess and #EDM not because of the words themselves, but how they are being used. The American social media image site says all three are being “used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity”. These restrictions make you question the site’s ability to simply police images one by one that violate its policies, or how brands need to be careful how they choose hashtags, bearing both use and meaning in mind.

Flipping to the Instagram community, we seem to have disturbing double standards of nude or semi-nude images on the site. We welcome Justin Bieber’s bare ass, whilst writing abusive comments to women flashing flesh (often by women).

For image site Imgur, (which is stuffed full of porn, if you dig around a bit), started deleting sexually explicit or hateful comments on NSFW threads in June, which started a revolt. But this week, Imgur site started accepting branded posts; so clearly some sites are cool with skin, sponsors and “civil expression.”

5. Hit the road

Whether it’s summer or the undying American fantasy of hitting the road in a convertible and sunglasses on a sunny day – road trips, or quests, are on the rise. In the travel category it’s no longer about the destination, it’s about the journey of course, and there’s never been more ways to feed people’s spirit of adventure than today, bringing those Tangible Intangible fantasies to life.

HitchBot, a robot trying to hitchhike across the world made it through Germany and Canada with ease, but was abruptly dismantled after only two weeks in the US.

If you still want to roadtrip across the US after the above, poor thing, there’s a new interactive map charting routes taken by characters from famous books like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and more.

If you fancy a tour by van, maybe you’d like to join the #vanlife community on Instagram, growing strong and inspiring a documentary on camper culture by the Atlantic.

How can you enable better roadtrips? Maybe just enriching the experience with something helpful and considerate, like offering summer body care products as Boston and Miami have launched free sunscreen dispensers.

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