Since moving to the woods last year, I’ve picked up a mild obsession: Looking up words I can re-purpose to describe 21st-century situations. This has become an important part of my work as a hunter of social phenomena. I want to associate new trends with an existing word — awesomize, retronym, under-welped, snap happy. You get the idea. It helps people see what I’m seeing. It’s also a good way to forage for inspiration when I simply can’t name what I uncover.
Most days, a word’s meaning either confirms or refutes a finding. Sometimes, I get a fresh whiff of insight that busts open a new understanding. On a recent word hunt, I looked up the word “research.” Suddenly, everything I learned about my work, my relationships, my world and myself — all came together.
A researcher, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a person “devoted to the diligent and protracted search for facts and experiments that yield information aimed at the discovery and revision of accepted theories.” Feels right.
To my endless joy, analyzing the culture has been part of my professional life since 2006, when I embarked on a study of the social conditions that give rise to renaissance. Much of what’s happening today was foreshadowed by that research and the book that followed, The RenGen.
Beginning in 2010, I started tracking the digital culture in earnest. I wanted to know how it’s changing us at a very human level.
To be sure, it’s been a diligent, protracted investigation. (Book to follow in 2019.)
But the woods help. This oasis is a hothouse for hatching seeds of new ideas. Every morning from my basement studio, I gaze out at the forest floor. When I’m stuck for a word, I watch and learn.
The towering beech trees with their deep taproots stay sturdy despite the most turbulent storms. They urge me to trust my inner teacher. Squirrels gather food from everywhere, teaching me that insights can come from lots of places — healers, 16-year-olds and neuroscientists. The dance of the wild turkeys in the meadow spark a study how performance expresses identity.
Over the course of the year, I grew more and more interested in finding new words for “the self” — identity, the consciousness that makes you, YOU! And I fell in love with making metaphors for my findings. The title of the 2019 trend report is a metaphor for that journey. I hope it captures my commitment to helping unravel changes in the culture to point the way forward.
This year, the trend report arrives in your in-box a little late. But hey, it’s still January. Like Thoreau, who took to the woods intending to spend a year, but stretched it into two, I found I had to “transact some private business” here. I’m guessing he was spellbound by the solitude; attuned himself to the smells and whispers of the woods and the sensorial surround sound did its work. It drew his gaze inward.
When Irish poet Seamus Heaney decamped to the Wicklow Mountains, he began writing work that would earn him a Nobel Prize. There, he discovered the most sacred secret of a life lived in nature:
“The soul exceeds its circumstances.” I feel like that some days.
The complexity of what I’m discovering now demands a combination of solitude and community. It’s an alchemy I’m still mastering—balancing alone time with a public life. I’m not talking about time management. I mean the need to process what I’m learning through my own psychic mesh. Then I hunt for ways to say it.
Everything in the woods is growing or dying. Language is the same. It evolves or stagnates.
I hope this year’s report brings you insights to help navigate what’s dying off and what’s sprouting fresh in your world so that you can see ahead and make plans.
Thanks for joining me on this journey. Let’s keep growing together.
Join us for the video series The Inner Life of Trends: Meaning, Motivations and What’s Morphing in 2019. You can sign up here.
P.S. What’s new for the report? Creating it as a video series. Totally nerve wracking experience. Welp, if a picture is worth a 1,000 words, video is worth at least 10,000 in the digital culture, right?
P.P.S. I hope you like it.