What’s coming — and what does it take to be ready for the future?


May 2024. Scammers in the Election Mix

In this year’s U.S. elections, scammers a playing a larger part than ever before. . . . (read more)

April 2024. Imitative AI

The latest AI tools are tools of imitation at heart. . . . (read more)

March 2024. Population Stability — Nothing to Be Alarmed About

Official statistics showing hints of population stability in China and elsewhere . . . (read more)

February 2024. Self-Driving Experiments Wind Down

The era of the self-driving car is over for the moment. . . . (read more)

January 2024. Pharmacy Decline Shows Power of Lifestyle

It’s no secret that the U.S. pharmacy sector has been struggling for years . . . (read more)

December 2023. Convergence in Social Media

There is a big convergence going on among social media platforms. . . . (read more)

November 2023. How Messaging Is Replacing Phone

The decline in traffic on cellular phone networks is only the latest indication of the decline in phone usage. Messaging in all its forms is slowly replacing phone calls for moment-to-moment person-to-person communication. . . . (read more)

October 2023. NFT Market Collapses

The NFT bubble has burst. . . . (read more)

September 2023. Manufacturing Under Stress in Flight to Quality

The new signs of stress in the manufacturing world are indications of the scale of the consumer trend toward higher quality in manufactured goods. . . . (read more)

August 2023. Self-Awareness for Weight Loss

Self-awareness is the big new weight loss trend . . . (read more)

July 2023. Experiments in Controlling Users

The results of experiments conducted by online platforms in recent weeks suggest that it is still human nature to resist being controlled. . . . (read more)

June 2023. Fewer Parts: Simplifying Computer Manufacture

Apple’s new “system on a chip” Mac architecture shows how computer manufacturing can get simpler. . . . (read more)

May 2023. A Bathroom Scale and a Retail Failure

The question of whether former retail juggernaut Bed Bath & Beyond can survive . . . (read more)

April 2023. Behind the Bank Failures: Greed Meets Pessimism

On the surface, the recent large bank failures are the same excessive risk-taking that has been sinking banks for as long as banks existed. Look deeper, though, and you see something darker . . . (read more)

March 2023. Is This Post Really Necessary?

The declining fortunes of social media might be the direct result of the pandemic and lockdown. . . . (read more)

February 2023. Tech Layoffs

Technology companies are scaling back and laying off workers in what almost looks like a repeat of 1998–1999. . . . (read more)

January 2023. Used Electric Cars

The trade in used electric cars is obvious now that it’s here, but it does not seem that anyone in the auto business saw it coming. . . . (read more)

December 2022. A Decline in Goods

A sharp drop in manufactured goods shipped from China to the United States could be a sign that consumers are becoming more conscious about their purchases. . . . (read more)

November 2022. The Reduced Reach of News

The current state of the world has reduced the reach of news. . . . (read more)

October 2022. Problems of Literalism in Machines

If people who have a strong tendency to take things literally are alarmingly easy to exploit in the current world, the same flaw is also affecting machines. . . . (read more)

September 2022. Literalism as a Hazard

People who are quick to conclude that things are what they say they are are being exploited . . . (read more)

August 2022. The Dark Side of Creating Memories

The rush to buy “experiences” did not last long. . . . (read more)

July 2022. Propaganda Fatigue

People are becoming more aware of the presence of propaganda online, and there are indications that, collectively, we are getting sick of seeing it. . . . (read more)

June 2022. When Sexy Is Out of Fashion

Economists and demographers know what the consequences of the new abortion bans will be on marriage and birth rates. Based on that, it is easy enough to guess what the effect on fashion will be. . . . (read more)

May 2022. No Longer Found Here

“I can no longer be found here” has become one of the common messages found in online bios. . . . (read more)

April 2022. Geographical Sources

Economic disruptions have made people more aware of the sources of products and materials. . . . (read more)

March 2022. Open to the Idea of Change

Recent news items may be making people more open to the idea of change . . . (read more)

February 2022. The Problem With Commercial Software

For me, the commercial software era ended this month. . . . (read more)

January 2022. Workers Out Sick

More workers have been out sick this month than ever before in U.S. history. . . . (read more)

December 2021. Instant Nostalgia

Complex challenges in the world are seeing people wishing they could go back to the past. It is a familiar kind of nostalgic pattern, except that an emotion that previously was reserved for a time two or three decades back is now being applied to more recent times . . . (read more)

November 2021. Redefining Black Friday

Black Friday has become a retail holiday without a purpose, so this year there are several efforts to connect a new purpose or meaning to Black Friday. . . . (read more)

October 2021. Spam Calls Defeat Phone Network

Spam calls have become so frequent that the future of the telephone network is in doubt. . . . (read more)

September 2021. Noticing That the World Is Changing

More people are noticing that the world is changing. . . . (read more)

August 2021. Working Through a Disaster

As disasters become more frequent, people are more likely to take them in stride. . . . (read more)

July 2021. A Warning Shot on Data Privacy

The large corporations taking a wait-and-see approach about the privacy of consumer data may now be rethinking that approach . . . (read more)

June 2021. Has the Olympics Run Out of Host Cities?

Along with its many other challenges, the Olympics may be running out of host cities. . . . (read more)

May 2021. Scotland’s Secession Timetable

Scotland is again on its way to seceding from the United Kingdom and becoming a separate country . . . (read more)

April 2021. Vaccine Rollout

The COVID-19 vaccines are proving more effective in general use than they were in early tests. The next challenge is to make them available to the public . . . (read more)

March 2021. Selling in a World That Lacks Urgency

The pandemic lockdown has given shoppers a newfound patience. This threatens to undo two centuries of selling strategies that are based on urgency. . . . (read more)

February 2021. The Gap Narrows Between Live Sound and Recording Studio

For a lifetime, there was not much to connect the worlds of live sound and the recording studio. In recent years, that gap has started to disappear. . . . (read more)

January 2021. Crowdfunding Mercenaries

Most of us never would have imagined anyone using a crowdfunding site to hire fighters for an insurrection — until it happened. . . . (read more)

December 2020. Getting Food in Proportion

I am still throwing food away. . . . (read more)

November 2020. Breaking the Pattern of Hurricane Relief

It has been a record-setting hurricane season . . . (read more)

October 2020. Impulse and Convenience

The drop-off in retail spending is far greater than the decline in consumer income during the current crisis. Consumers are spending less because they have been forced to spend more thoughtfully. . . . (read more)

September 2020. Stores Closing

It is hard enough to operate a retail store in the best of times. This year and next, when most potential customers want to stay home as much as possible, we may see the largest wave of store closings ever. . . . (read more)

August 2020. Redesigning the Corporate Office

The trend in corporate office design since World War II, in which workers are packed closer and closer together regardless of the cost in productivity, looks like a disaster in an era when a viral contagion has forced many such offices to close. . . . (read more)

July 2020. Throwing Food Away As Measured in Economic Aggregates

Economic aggregates, the measures of combined economic activity, make arbitrary distinctions that can provide a misleading picture of the health of an economy. We are seeing an unusually large example of this as the places where food is thrown away are changing . . . (read more)

June 2020. Burning Less Oil

Statistics had long shown that the U.S. commuter category was burning the largest share of the global oil market. . . . (read more)

May 2020. Stuck in the Wrong Place

Not everyone who is unexpectedly spending a few months at home is happy about it. There are plenty of people who look around and realize that, in one sense or another, they are in the wrong place. . . . (read more)

April 2020. Clothing Loses Most of Its Meaning

In a world of people spending most days at home, clothing is losing most of its meaning. Partly as a result, clothing sales have fallen off by half. . . . (read more)

March 2020. Isolation Amnesia

One of the surest ways to change a habit is to forget you ever had that habit. That’s something happening to millions of people this month . . . (read more)

February 2020. Public Health at Private Expense

The new coronavirus pandemic has highlighted one of the most baffling incongruities in U.S. health policy: the central government plays only an advisory role in matters of public health. . . . (read more)

January 2020. The Era of Voice Synthesizers Is Here

On many, if not most, recent pop records, the instrumental sounds are produced by digital programs with no acoustic instruments in sight. Now we can start getting used to the idea of vocals that are synthesized in the same way. . . . (read more)

December 2019. Last-Minute Shoppers

If online suppliers can deliver what you want exactly when you are ready for it, then why order anything in advance? . . . (read more)

November 2019. Touch Screen Typing Catches Up

Many writers now find that they type on touch screens nearly as fast as they type on a traditional computer keyboard. . . . (read more)

October 2019. Video Games Disappear From Popular Culture

There are still millions of avid video gamers, but the numbers have now dropped enough that video games have disappeared from popular culture. . . . (read more)

September 2019. Outsourcing Corporateness

Corporations have decided that being corporate is no longer a core competency. . . . (read more)

August 2019. Fake Meat Takes Over

Plant-based meat alternatives, or fake meat as I like to call them, have been around for forty years, but now they are poised to take over. . . . (read more)

July 2019. Labeling for Reuse

When recycling capacity is limited, part of the answer is a greater emphasis on reuse. . . . (read more)

June 2019. Redesigning Cars After They Are Out on the Road

Modern, more modular design approaches make it easier for the design of a car to change even after the car has left the factory. . . . (read more)

May 2019. The “Not Recyclable” Label

Recycling would be easier if municipal recycling programs collected more materials that can be recycled and fewer that cannot be. . . . (read more)

April 2019. Looking for Alternatives to Recycling

In 2018, recycling got a lot harder. . . . (read more)

March 2019. PledgeMusic Insolvent, Music Crowdfunding in Turmoil

For two years PledgeMusic looked like the one reliable corner of crowdfunding for music artists, but it was all an illusion. . . . (read more)

February 2019. The Bots

The bots are already an important part of our political discussion. . . . (read more)

January 2019. Thrift Shop Sizes Increase

There was a time when skinny people found the best clothing selection in thrift shops. That has changed . . . (read more)

December 2018. Retail Strain During Peak Shopping Season

We look at the peak shopping periods, especially November and December, to see where capacity problems might be happening in retail. This season, it is clear that most of the retail sector has far more capacity than it needs. . . . (read more)

November 2018. Video Lectures

Video lectures are more productive than live lectures . . . (read more)

October 2018. Fans, Rogues, and Bots

As long as there have been public forums for discussing music, it has been clear that a small fraction of “fans” were not fans at all. . . . (read more)

September 2018. Against the Trend

As team sports lose their place in American popular culture, companies aligned with team sports have a decision to make. . . . (read more)

August 2018. Tracking Down Music CDs

Music CDs can be hard to find, even for important new albums. . . . (read more)

July 2018. Ten Years Newer

Technology products are lasting longer than ever. Consumers save money by replacing phones, cars, computers, and other products less often, but when the upgrades finally come, the changes can be jarring. . . . (read more)

June 2018. Ford Retreats From Cars

Ford startled the world when it said it would get out of cars . . . (read more)

May 2018. An Empty Shell

If you happen to see a chain saw with the chain, bar, and battery removed . . . (read more)

April 2018. Brands So Tricky They Cancel Out and Are Forgotten

When businesses create consumer brands, they sometimes forget the primary purpose of a brand. The idea is that consumers should remember the brand and what it stands for. . . . (read more)

March 2018. Resisting Change, Automated

Users fear Facebook because it knows them so well — too well . . . (read more)

February 2018. HTTPS Nears Tipping Point

HTTPS adoption is approaching a tipping point. . . . (read more)

January 2018. Location Data Is Not Anonymous

They know where you live. . . . (read more)

December 2017. Robocall Blocking Fails

Last year, there was some hope of a technological solution to robocalls. . . . (read more)

November 2017. Video Invaders

“Oh, no! Not another video!” . . . (read more)

October 2017. Auto Service as a Customer Connection Point

With cars lasting longer, auto dealers are putting a greater emphasis on auto service. . . . (read more)

September 2017. My Other Car Is an SUV

As electric cars take over the commuter-car niche, we are likely to see lots of households that have both a small electric car and a fuel-burning SUV. . . . (read more)

August 2017. Problems of Scale in E-Commerce

We are starting to see indications that e-commerce may not scale much farther. . . . (read more)

July 2017. In Search of the New Hot Dog

If what I am seeing in advertising is any indication, hot dogs have completed the transition to a one-day-a-year food for most of the people who eat them. . . . (read more)

June 2017. Using a Laser to Label Produce

Labeling fruit and root vegetables has for many years been a problem with no perfect solution. . . . (read more)

May 2017. Back to Paper

The trend away from paper documents has gone farther than we really want, so that we are due for a countertrend — going back to paper in the same way that the record industry is going back to vinyl. . . . (read more)

April 2017. Software Is Getting More Stable

Ten years ago it seemed that computer software would always be unreliable. . . . (read more)

March 2017. Travel Is Getting Harder to Do

The story of travel over the last three centuries was a series of improvements. With canals, railroads, paved highways, and airports, travel was easier, faster, and more frequent. Suddenly in this century, that trend has reversed. . . . (read more)

February 2017. USB as a Power Standard

The new IKEA power strip has two USB charging ports. . . . (read more)

January 2017. You Are Being Watched

It is an instinct to know when you are being watched and especially when you are being tracked. . . . (read more)

December 2016. All I Want for Christmas Is a Stable Internet

Since Cyber Monday was invented, it has been a day when you could watch the Internet break. . . . (read more)

November 2016. An Era for Wizardry

It is a good time to be a wizard. What would Harry Potter do, faced with the problems of the world today? . . . (read more)

October 2016. Shining a Light on Wage Theft

In a worldwide cultural shift, crimes that used to slip by unnoticed are suddenly being seen . . . (read more)

September 2016. TV on Twitter

Starting this month, the Thursday night NFL football game is on Twitter. . . . (read more)

August 2016. The Last Fax

The book business doesn’t run on fax machines anymore. . . . (read more)

July 2016. How Flat Is the World?

With the Internet, the world is “flat.” Huge international corporations compete with high schoolers who don’t even necessarily care about turning a profit. But how flat is the world? . . . (read more)

June 2016. Infrared Solar Cells

When you think of solar power, you probably think of the conventional solar cells that use photons of visible light to move electrons across a gap, generating an electric current. But only half of the energy in sunlight is visible light. . . . (read more)

May 2016. Electronic Documents Are Shrinking Too

The use of paper is declining for the first time in history as paper documents become fewer and smaller. The common understanding of this trend is that paper documents are being replaced by electronic documents. In many cases, that’s accurate, but in some ways, electronic documents are also part of the trend away from documents. Electronic documents too are getting smaller and less numerous . . . (read more)

April 2016. Local Bookstores

One of the last major bookstores in Chester County, Pennsylvania is preparing to close. If the fortunes of the other bookstores in the county do not improve, Chester County could shortly find itself without a bookstore. . . . (read more)

March 2016. Treading Lightly

It’s a trend: more people are approaching their dealings with the larger world and especially the Internet with a strategy I would describe as a calculated minimalism. . . . (read more)

February 2016. Targeted by an Advertising Experiment

Twitter has been experimenting on me . . . (read more)

January 2016. Solar Boom Adds to Pressure on Energy Prices

The solar business is booming. In the United States solar is now larger than natural gas by some measures. The solar boom defies conventional thinking that predicted that low prices for fossil fuels would hurt demand for sustainable energy. . . . (read more)

December 2015. Oil Production Rises As Prices Fall

Just eight years ago, it was starting to look like oil production had reached its peak. . . . (read more)

November 2015. Music Sales Decline As Listeners Switch to Streaming

Streaming is the talk of the music industry this year, with the number of song streams nearly double last year’s pace. It is not necessarily good news for the music industry . . . (read more)

October 2015. Finding Science in TV Weather

TV weather is becoming more scientific in style. Ten years ago, the banter that accompanied by small talk and banter so light it might make you forget that weather is a subject of scientific inquiry. This year you are more likely to hear a nuanced discussion of the relative likelihood of competing forecast scenarios than a mention of folk wisdom or superstition about weather events. . . . (read more)

September 2015. Singing “Happy Birthday”

“Happy Birthday” has long held a unique place in U.S. culture, a ritual song sung on birthdays that you couldn’t legally perform without a license. . . . (read more)

August 2015. The Electric Car Sound

What should an electric car sound like? . . . (read more)

July 2015. A Global Record Release Day: Friday

The world’s record companies got together and agreed that Friday would be a nice day to release new records. . . . (read more)

June 2015. Mining the Oceans for Plastics

A small fraction of all the world’s plastics end up in the ocean, where they break into small pieces that take centuries to decay. This abandoned plastic poses a substantial ecological threat, but it could also be a source of a valuable raw material if an efficient way to collect it could be found. . . . (read more)

May 2015. Part of the Picture: Energy Strategies That Blend In

If you are looking for the new energy efficiency and electrical generation strategies, you might have to look carefully. They are more popular than it appears . . . (read more)

April 2015. The New Food Awareness

Over the 20th century people became less aware of the food they were eating as there was a mass migration from farms to urban centers. A countertrend started around 1960, though, and accelerated with the Internet. Now people are becoming aware of food in a way that they never were before. . . . (read more)

March 2015. Office on a Bus

The rise of the mini-tablet computer should be a boost for urban mass transit. . . . (read more)

February 2015. Shrinking Paper Documents

Printed paper documents are not only fewer in number. They are getting smaller too. . . . (read more)

January 2015. Where Did the $5 Albums Go?

For a few years, record companies and digital music retailers routinely ran promotions in which hundreds of albums would be offered at a low price, often $5, for a limited time. That angle seems to have lost its pull. . . . (read more)

December 2014. Dropping Voice Mail

It’s a trend: corporate offices are dropping voice mail in favor of newer messaging media that are more user-friendly. . . . (read more)

November 2014. Batteries That Recharge Faster

Progress in making batteries smaller and lighter has been slow to come, so now some engineers are focusing on ways to make batteries recharge faster . . . (read more)

October 2014. Plasma Video Display Gives Way to LCD

A few years ago, plasma looked like the ultimate TV display . . . (read more)

September 2014. Revel Closes Quietly as Atlantic City Gambling Declines

The latest Atlantic City casino closing, a few hours ago, went quietly. . . . (read more)

August 2014. A Failed State, Then the Spread of War

We avoid war at all costs in part because the best way to minimize the chances of war in the future is for everyone to avoid the experience of war now. . . . (read more)

July 2014. Politics as a TV Show (With No One Watching)

Politics and television form one of the current great ironies of U.S. culture. . . . (read more)

June 2014. The Irrationality of Corporate Decision-Making

Corporate decision-making is hard to explain. It is not rational, not even approximately rational. Many people make the mistake of thinking that corporations are rational in financial matters, but fail to balance financial priorities with other priorities. But it is easy to find examples to show that even when only financial consequences are considered, decisions are still not rational. . . . (read more)

May 2014. Solar Arrays on Building Sites

Here is a new trend: commercial building sites being used for solar arrays. . . . (read more)

April 2014. A Place for Papers

The office is a fantastically complex institution, so it is surprising to discover the extent to which it is ultimately just a place for papers to sit. The “paperless office” we started to imagine a quarter century ago . . . (read more)

March 2014. E-Waste Laws That Aren’t Quite Working

E-waste laws in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states make it illegal to place various electronic devices in the trash. . . . (read more)

February 2014. Cast Iron Cookware in Comeback

Cast iron cookware fell out of favor in the 1970s. . . . Now cast iron seems to be making a comeback. . . . (read more)

January 2014. Digital Currency Can Be Virtually Canceled

Digital currency was originally meant to resemble cash in the way it could be exchanged. In one respect, though, digital currency is not so much like cash, but more like a bank account. . . . (read more)

December 2013. A Frozen Continent

As I write this, almost the entire North American continent is freezing . . . (read more)

November 2013. Cost of Cooking

Cooking takes time and skill, but it costs less than most people realize. When you cook food at home, you essentially pay just for the ingredients, and these cost a fraction of what you pay for prepared food. . . . (read more)

October 2013. Sincerity as a Style

Somehow, sincerity has become a style rather than a state of mind. . . . (read more)

September 2013. The Sports Clique

For half a century, professional team sports were part of the routine office chatter that anyone in the office might participate in . . . Over the past decade, the conversation has changed. . . . (read more)

August 2013. Hi-Fi Downloads

Better-sounding music downloads are on the way in the near future. . . . (read more)

July 2013. Less Printing

Computer printers are becoming less important as people print less. . . . (read more)

June 2013. The Used Cell Phone

You may never have to buy a new cell phone again . . . (read more)

May 2013. Polypropylene

Polypropylene has quietly become the new favorite plastic . . . (read more)

April 2013. With Higher Transaction Fees, Fewer Purchases?

As banking transactions become more expensive, will people respond by buying fewer things? . . . (read more)

March 2013. Authoring Without Tools

Authoring tools are no longer a meaningful part of the authoring process. . . . (read more)

February 2013. Better Incandescent Light Bulbs

The improvements promised by new lighting technology are leading to improvements in incandescent and fluorescent lights, as those older technologies try to keep up . . . (read more)

January 2013. More Change, Less Discussion

We are adapting to a more rapid pace of change, and one way we are adapting is by not discussing every change that we observe. . . . (read more)

December 2012. Synthesized Voices Join the Dialect Mix

Voice designers have to choose a dialect for each voice they synthesize, though they likely wish they didn’t have to. (read more)

November 2012. Designing Water-Safe Buildings

A frightfully high proportion of buildings are likely to be in the water at some point, the result of storms, climate trends, tsunamis, and broken pipes. It is something of a mistake, then, that buildings are designed on the assumption that they will remain above water. (read more)

October 2012. Losing Summer Rain With Climate Change

One of the early effects of warming climates, first identified in the 1960s, is the loss of precipitation in the middle of continents, particularly at mid-latitudes and around midsummer. We may be seeing that this year . . . (read more)

September 2012. More Accurate Pitch Correction

Pitch correction is widely used to make singers sound like they are more in tune than they really are. . . . (read more)

August 2012. Chrome Is Top Web Browser

Chrome has quietly become the most popular web browser . . . (read more)

July 2012. Rework

Def Leppard is recording “forgeries” of some of its biggest hits. The note-for-note reconstruction of a song such as “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is an example of rework: redoing work that has already been done. . . . (read more)

June 2012. The Tradeoff Between Size and Repairability

A new model of the Apple MacBook Pro has drawn criticism for the difficulty of repairing it. Most components are permanently fastened in place . . . (read more)

May 2012. Context-Free Music and Disposable Light Bulbs

Change often sneaks up on us, and attitudes and expectations may change before there is an obvious change in behavior. . . . (read more)

April 2012. Flash vs. Hard Disk

Hard disk drives still have the edge over flash memory — but for how long? . . . (read more)

March 2012. Time to Scan

If you have been waiting for the right time to convert paper files to digital data, now is the time. . . . (read more)

February 2012. Laser Beats Ink

At a Presidents’ Day sale I saw an office laser printer selling, quietly, for $50. It is the best indication yet that laser printers are beating out ink-jet printers . . . (read more)

January 2012. 2012

Well, here it is. A year in which we can expect sweeping change, according to a panoply of prophets and experts. . . . (read more)

December 2011. Models Meet Avatars

It is getting harder and harder to tell models and avatars apart. . . . (read more)

November 2011. Pianos Get Personal

It costs less than ever to own a piano. . . . (read more)

October 2011. HTML 5 Simplifies Online Video

HTML 5 might be two years away from official approval, but it is already simplifying Internet video. . . . (read more)

September 2011. Slim Business Cards

The trend toward minimalism in paper documents has now reached business cards. . . . (read more)

August 2011. Cardboard Shoes

I am old enough to remember when cardboard was the core of almost all shoes. . . . (read more)

July 2011. Lighter Products

Two vignettes from my work this month point to a current trend in product design: designers and engineers are looking hard for ways to reduce the weight of the products they design. . . . (read more)

June 2011. Cell Phone Video

Lately, I have been watching hours of weather videos, with the recent floods, tornados, and volcanic eruptions. The videos come from every kind of camera. There are broadcast news cameras, security cameras, and webcams. Most of the videos, though, come from cell phones. . . . (read more)

May 2011. When You Feel Ready

As I write this, people are talking about a prediction of the end of the world . . . (read more)

April 2011. Firefox 4 Streamlined Like Mobile Version

I wrote a month ago about web sites that have been streamlined after developers gained insight into simpler design approaches while working on mobile versions of the sites. I hadn’t imagined the same process would also happen with a web browser, but that is exactly what has happened with Firefox 4 . . . (read more)

March 2011. Faster Web Sites

Designers are learning from the challenge of rebuilding web sites to work on mobile devices. The redesigned sites are, quite simply, faster and better . . . (read more)


Rick Aster’s Notebook | Fish Nation Information Station