The Big Trends Driving Tech Forward

From a growing diversity of content consumption to a push toward subscription models in the for-profit space, Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report has a little bit of everything—and a few of those trends are particularly important for your association to consider.

The world of technology is a weird place, where expectations you might have get thrown on their heads in quick succession.

Case in point? As I write this, rumors are swirling that Microsoft is about to buy GitHub, perhaps the most visible icon of the open source movement due to the fact that many repositories for freely licensed apps can be found there. (They’ve since been confirmed.) Even if you’re not a programmer, you’ve used something that relies on GitHub.

Likewise, perhaps the most important technology-related keynote of the year, the opening of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday introduced a fresh supply of technical updates to iOS, MacOS, and Siri—including a multi-user version of FaceTime in which you and 31 of your closest friends could dress up as Animoji if you so desired. (Well, the webinar just got a bit more complicated.)

The trends that come out of moves just like these play out in the world at large and can have a significant impact both culturally and in the business world.

So, it’s fitting that someone takes the time each year to properly contextualize the big trends. And that person is venture capitalist Mary Meeker, a former stockbroker analyst who puts together an annual report on the major digital trends of the next year.

At 294 slides and a dense 33-minute presentation at Recode’s Code 2018 conference, it’s a lot to dive through—and plenty of it, like a whole section on China, is probably not as relevant to a lot of associations—but the Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers partner has a lot of important gems that are worth considering if you’re trying to get a grasp on this whole tech thing. Among them:

Device use is growing, even if sales aren’t. With slightly less than half of the world on the internet—around 3.6 billion people—internet use is maturing to the point where we’re seeing the growth of first-time users, as well as first-time smartphone owners, slow down. But the people already online are using digital devices a lot—per Meeker’s analysis, 5.9 hours per day in 2017, more than double what it was in 2008. More than half of that use is on mobile platforms—and daily PC use has been slowly declining for a number of years.

We’re consuming content and interacting in increasingly diverse ways. Watch a Twitch stream lately? Or maybe have a conversation with Alexa or Siri? Or maybe you just watched a video on your phone. These media consumption dynamics highlight something important about the way that interactivity and content consumption have evolved over the past 15 years or so. As the nature of content changes, so do our consumption habits.

People are looking for alternatives to traditional higher education. The current era of technology is the era of the lifelong learner, whether that learner wants to consume content through a TED or Khan Academy video, participate in a web education platform, or take a virtual university course. Freelancers in particular are very much into training sessions, with 55 percent taking part in one over the past six months. (Meeker spent time focusing on freelancers and the gig economy in her report, suggesting it was an important trend.)

Subscriptions are becoming the defining model for tech. In 2017, Netflix saw its subscriber growth jump by 25 percent, and Spotify by 48 percent. These services were already massive before the start of 2017, with tens of millions of users each, but their continued growth highlights the increasing influence of subscription models on the broader business world. That, of course, creates complications for organizations that already rely on membership, as the potential of fatigue sets in—because there are only so many creators on Patreon one can support.

Negative side effects drive tech issues. Whether the problem is the addictive nature of technology, privacy concerns, regulatory interests, or advertiser nervousness, the shifting waves of technology often create complications that ripple out through our culture. “Technology-driven trends are changing so rapidly that it’s rare when one side fully understands the other … setting the stage for reactions that can have unintended consequences,” Meeker explains.

Outside of two very brief data references footnoted in her slides (which are aggressively footnoted, by the way), Meeker doesn’t specifically mention associations in her trends report. But really, she doesn’t have to. The points translate just fine.

Technology is the defining differentiator of our times, making it possible to theoretically communicate with anyone around the world in a fraction of a second, to understand them in depth, and then adapt to those needs in real time. And it’s always changing.

From the perspective of your association, it’s your job to evolve and adapt to those many bumps in the road.

(gremlin/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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