The world is constantly changing and so is society. Culture, cultural norms, and institutions need to change over time in order to stay dynamic. A static society would be considered a dead one. The description “socio-cultural” refers to anything related to social and cultural factors such as social standards, common traditions, habits, patterns, beliefs, the well-being of a society, and the arts. The change within these social and cultural factors is known as socio-cultural change. What happens is that, over decades, new ideas and traditions are added to different cultures. At the same time, society needs to adapt to new inventions and a new environment, leading to more socio-cultural change. In this chapter, some changes that are characteristic of this day and age are discussed.

To start off, this chapter will focus on the impact the future will have on society’s and individuals’ well-being. Questions such as “Will everyone in the future converse through Internet communities?” and “Will everyone be joined by a robot to alleviate loneliness?” will be answered by diving into the topics of social cohesion, the influence of future developments on society, and how change will influence an individual’s satisfaction, and desirable condition.

Following that, the chapter will dive into the future of media and entertainment. Will we be living in the metaverse? And how can we combat the challenge of “fake information?” In this section, the power shift to digital and how society will adapt will be discussed. Trends such as a decline of trust in media and the creator economy are touched upon.

After showing how digital our future will be, the importance of purpose and the change in spirituality and religion are mentioned in the third subtopic. Purpose and spirituality have always been important aspects of society, but what will these look like in the future?

Lastly, we discuss social standards. Individuals and organizations, as well as society as a whole, have absorbed societal norms about what people are expected to do. This topic focuses on the current urgent societal norms that are developed under ever-changing manmade social systems that can obstruct one’s ability to fully express one’s potential in society.
2.1 Societal & Individual Well-being: Living happily ever after
Will everyone converse through Internet communities in the future? Or be joined by a robot to alleviate loneliness? This section attempts to answer these questions. The future of human well-being is crucial, and it will alter dramatically over the next few years. Imagine instead of going to a real-life party, you meet online in the Metaverse. This will affect the well-being of not only groups but also individuals. As a result, this section focuses on both societal and individual well-being. The primary focus of societal well-being will be social cohesion and how future developments will influence society as a whole. The discussion of individual well-being, on the other hand, will concentrate on how changes influence an individual’s satisfactory, and desirable condition.
2.1.1 A Healthy Community: Societal Well-being
Online communities—Social cohesiveness, defined as the strength of links and a sense of solidarity among members of a community, is a significant indicator of societal well-being.  With the current and upcoming developments in the world, the cohesiveness of societies is changing. One of these developments is the rise of online communities. Globally, 76% of Internet users are participants in an online community.  Online communities are seen as one of the most successful methods for businesses, consumers, workers, and individuals in certain sectors to interact with each other.

As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, online communities became even more significant. An example of an online community is a Facebook group. Nowadays, there exist more than 10 million Facebook groups with 1.8 billion users who engage in them. In 2020, the world’s population was estimated to be 7.7 billion people, which implies that over a quarter of the world’s population is a member of a Facebook group.  This number will grow in the upcoming years.

Why are these groups so important? People feel a sense of belonging and togetherness when they are part of a community. With the arrival of the Internet, face-to-face communities were replaced and supplemented with online communities. People may meet others online who have similar interests, at their own speed, regardless of where they are or the physical limitations they face. Relationships are built directly or indirectly with known or unknown individuals. Online communities have social purposes but also serve as important tools for economic purposes. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) are examples of this. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, decentralized finance was pushed further into the mainstream as individuals sought alternative methods of earning money. DAOs are online communities that regulate capital to achieve shared goals. They have been reimagined with sophisticated tooling and collaborative approaches, enabling hyper-cooperation among groups, although they are still in the early phases of development. 
As numerous opportunities arise through the use of online communities, challenges arise as well. Individuals might have tunnel vision. Algorithms and grouping with people who share the same interests may lead to people focusing on a single point of view on particular issues. This has a detrimental impact on social cohesiveness because as more individuals exclusively associate with those who share the same beliefs, less mixing occurs and more people become antagonistic to one another, which affects social cohesion.

Another expected change for online communities is the launch of virtual reality worlds like the Metaverse.  The Metaverse is a combination of apps and technology that will assist individuals in connecting, finding communities, and growing enterprises in a visual way. Instead of connecting through Google Meet, for example, people will see each other in a virtual world that is similar to the physical world. What if everyone ends up living in these virtual worlds and limits their face-to-face interactions? There is a possibility that limiting face-to-face contact and the rise of online communities could have implications for societies. Imagine going to a party in the Metaverse instead of going there in real life. This is way different than meeting new people in real life. For some, it will lead to more opportunities, but others might suffer.

So, on the one hand, the rise of the Internet and online communities allows individuals to become more connected to the world. On the other hand, researchers argue that offline communities are necessary for engagement in online communities. Members’ online social bonds cannot be maintained without robust offline contacts. Both online and physical contacts should help community members feel more connected and encourage them to share information.  So, even though the Internet creates opportunities for many people, there is a risk that it will push people further away from those who they are already in close contact with. 

Marriage, family structure, and the rise of the individual—Another development that will affect societal well-being involves changes to family structures. Relationships are important for physical health and well-being, and individuals often seek support in their close communities. However, the typical family unit of parents with children is becoming less common. For instance, the stereotype of being single is changing in multiple countries mostly around the Western World, which can also be described as the rise of the individual. More and more people are voluntarily choosing to live alone. Priorities are changing, which influences individuals’ decisions about being in relationships. People are willing to follow a more independent lifestyle than in the past, and this will probably grow in the future. Socioeconomic progress is a major predictor of a country’s rising individualistic habits and ideals through time. Increasing individualism leads to outcomes such as a high number of divorce rates globally. 
divorces per 1000 people 
Marriages are becoming less common nowadays, on a global level. Access to education correlates with higher divorce rates and lower marriage rates. Historically, women have had fewer opportunities to access education; nowadays, female education is increasing and empowering women.  One result of higher divorce rates is the emergence of single-person households. This form of household is expected to grow faster than any other type, with approximately 120 million new single-person households added globally by 2030.  These changes have an impact on social connectivity, and, thus, also on well-being. When individuals live alone, new issues emerge in connecting people and providing help to those who live alone, particularly in poorer nations where communication technologies are less developed and welfare governments are weaker.  Furthermore, according to researchers, single-person households have the lowest levels of life satisfaction of any household form. They are more likely to rent, have greater housing expenditures, and have fewer savings, resulting in worse financial stability. 
one-person households 
Many of the aforementioned changes have been linked to greater rates of poverty and social exclusion. Primarily, poverty is more likely in smaller households, households led by women and the elderly, and immigrant families.  Poverty has been shown to have a deleterious influence on children’s lives, with childhood poverty affecting a range of adult outcomes. Because social cohesiveness is linked to social inclusion, which emphasizes equitable chances for all, this is a development that will have a big impact on social cohesion in the future. Poverty may cause young people to stay in school longer and make transitions into the labor market riskier, which might lead to falling out of society and losing a sense of belonging. 
the rise of one-person households 
2.1.2 A Healthy Self: Individual Well-being
What about people’s own well-being? This section will investigate changes that have an impact on a person’s well-being. Promoting a population’s mental well-being should have an additional economic advantage from a governmental perspective. According to research from Denmark, each increase in a population’s mental well-being is linked to decreased health and social care expenses the following year.  Furthermore, for a country’s long-term economic growth and ability to endure future crises, a social protection system is essential. According to an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group, countries with higher levels of well-being are less affected by crises. When an unexpected incident occurs, well-being may act as a “stabilizer,” allowing a country to absorb and recover more swiftly from shocks. 

Mental health—One of the indicators of well-being is mental health. Mental health conditions and substance use problems have increased by 13% in the past decade worldwide and are expected to increase even more in the future. In fact, currently, suicide is the greatest cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old. Additionally, depression is one of the top causes of disability. 
With the inclusion of mental health conditions and drug use problems in the Sustainable Development Goals, the relevance of mental health is becoming more widely recognized. As more people become aware of mental health conditions, more remedies and interventions will be developed that aim to prevent them. With the rise of technology, mental health care has entered a new phase. Technologies such as smartphones and smartwatches are providing the general public, doctors, and researchers with new means to get aid, track progress, and gain better knowledge of mental health. In times of difficulty, some people might be able to contact a crisis center more easily to get appropriate help. Apps also provide new ways of collecting data about people’s behaviors. In the future, apps could offer huge potential for people who suffer from mental health problems.

+ Daphne Prieckaerts
I'm happy to learn that there is more focus on mental health in recent times. I'm hoping that new technology will also lead to more consciousness and awareness about the relationship between mental, emotional, and physical health. We cannot see these as separate things.

The World Health Organization (WHO) already shows how technology can help and even try to prevent mental health problems in individuals. As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO established the #HealthyAtHome initiative. Their goal with this challenge is to inspire millions of online gamers to live an active lifestyle and take care of their mental health. The WHO invited game developers to ask their users to participate in the challenge. According to the WHO, games can assist people in taking care of their mental health by decreasing stress, supporting loved ones, and creating and maintaining social ties.  This is just one example of a technological intervention that consciously deals with mental health issues. As mental health is seen as increasingly important, probably more companies and organizations will use online interventions in the future to prevent mental health issues or help people who suffer from mental health issues.

+ Kim Tan
Such an interesting read! There are also websites (also non-profit) that provide virtual telemedicine services for mental health (most of which are very affordable, others even offer subscriptions such as, which I think is very helpful in terms of accessibility and mobility! This also helps many people from countries where mental health is considered taboo; getting help for themselves would be much easier.

Some people argue that certain Western countries are suffering from a “loneliness pandemic,” which fits in with what was previously discussed regarding the trend toward more single-person families.  Although there is no real evidence to support this claim, loneliness is an important problem. The increase in life expectancy is, namely, another cause of the rise of single-person households mentioned in the Societal Well-being section. A large proportion of single-person households consist of the elderly. There are already multiple developments to combat loneliness in the elderly. One is the advancement of technology, which offers great potential in overcoming loneliness. Social robots have the ability to alleviate loneliness among the elderly, but also among other age-groups.  Social robots are devices that can provide companionship in order to improve psychological well-being. They can communicate in a human-like manner and they may be employed for a variety of functions, such as providing information or serving as a guide. In terms relevant to social loneliness, robots might foster attachment and social integration. Direct contact with social robots might open up new avenues for dialog and meaningful pastimes, which could benefit individuals with cognitive disabilities in particular. Although there are some ethical concerns about these social robots, the possibility exists for every (older) individual to have such a robot at home in the future.

Thinking about the future of well-being raises another question: which country can be seen as an example for living happily and improving well-being? The World Happiness Report from 2021 rated Finland as the happiest country in the world.  There are several theories as to what makes Finland the happiest country.  Forest therapy is something that is used in Finland, so everyone has the freedom to travel to nature. Forest therapy can be used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure and depression. Additionally, Finland provides an equitable and healthy start in life for all children. They try to combat a decreasing birth rate and increasing infant mortality by providing baby boxes. These boxes are filled with clothes and other necessities. Lastly, Finns have a comparatively substantial safety net, which includes low-cost daycare and almost free elementary, secondary, and university education.  So, is the well-being economy the future for every country?
2.2 Media & Entertainment
Over the past couple of years, a power shift has taken place in the media and entertainment industry, which is expected to continue into the future. Most media and entertainment products have significantly changed over the Covid-19 pandemic to fit into the digital era. Social media has become one of the most prominent products in this industry, leading to new trends such as a decline of trust in the media and the creator economy. Will these trends continue into the future?
2.2.1 The Future of the Digital Era
This section will discuss the changes in different media industries and what we can expect the future to look like for these industries.

Looking at the movie industry, online entertainment has already stolen the limelight from physical entertainment (DVD, Blu-ray, rentals) which now only accounts for 9% of the total global theatrical and home-entertainment market.  However, the question today is whether online entertainment can also diminish the theatrical entertainment industry. The shift from theatrical to digital entertainment started years ago. The pandemic, though, has significantly sped up this power shift. Movie theaters had to close temporarily during the pandemic, affecting their revenues significantly.  A number of streaming services from prominent studios emerged and changed the movie industry significantly.  Now that movie theaters are open again, it is expected that the consumption patterns are actually here to stay, but normal cinemas are not dead yet. A new normal is expected where the online streaming movie industry can coexist with the traditional theatrical industry. A recent example of the new normal is the movie Godzilla vs. Kong, a production of Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures. The movie was simultaneously released in movie theaters and on HBO Max, earning $350 million globally.  Warner Brothers also announced in January 2021 that all their upcoming movies that year would be available on HBO Max at the same time as the premieres in U.S. cinemas.  According to Forbes, this will be the new model of the movie industry.  However, the industry is afraid that consumers will avoid theaters if they can enjoy movies in the convenience of their own homes.  A recent study showed that most people who go to the cinema stay loyal to the theatrical experience even when they have the option to watch the movie at home.  As a consequence, opening up new digital channels can be seen as an opportunity to reach a new audience instead of a zero-sum market. 

New digital channels were also introduced in other media industries, like the book industry. E-books have already been around for quite a while now but have not taken over from print. However, according to research, there is regional variation in preferences.  The PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2021–2025 states: “Regional variation in consumption preferences is significant, with the U.S. seeing strong growth in print, whereas in the U.K., print sales fell and audiobook sales rose by 47% in the first half of 2020. Over the same period, eBook sales grew 18% due to the government’s decision to do away with VAT on digital books.”  Thus, the dominance of print books is dependent on the region examined. Overall, the dominance of print is still expected to continue over the next few years. The same cannot be said about the newspaper and magazine industry, however. With most people reading their news online  and sales taking a steep decline over the past years, newsstands have been forced to reinvent their businesses.  Research expects a breaking point in 2024 where digital advertising of magazines will overtake print magazines. 
Another changing industry is that of music, radio, and podcasts. The consulting firm PWC expects to see a rise in revenue of 8.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in this industry in 2025.  Even though they expect Spotify to expand to more than eighty new markets, live music will rebound after the Covid-19 disruption.  However, it is expected that live music will take on new forms. Cyril Bahsief, founder and promoter of Octopus (France) said, “It’s probably the future: focusing on really tiny events (less than 5,000 people) and work on local artists, local public, local audience, local subsidiaries too. It was a trend that was actually starting before Covid, but we will have an acceleration after this crisis.”  Physical recorded music sales and digital music downloading are expected to continue their decline with music streaming services like Spotify thriving.  Thus, it is expected that Spotify will continue its dominance, making the at-home-music industry fully digital. The digital music, radio, and podcast industry is expected to coexist with the live performance industry.

Lastly, gaming might be the most transformed digital industry of all media and entertainment industries. Research expects PC gaming to be 99.8% digital by 2025.  With most games being bought online, the console market will remain the only physically sold piece in the global video games market. Taking examples from the video and music industries, subscription models might be an appealing opportunity for the gaming industry. Technology and gaming companies have already shown their interest, but the manufacturers of the hardware have a greater interest in keeping their closed platforms.  However, some companies, such as Microsoft, now provide access across console, PC, and mobile device generations, indicating a more open approach. 

Overall, the media industry will significantly change in the future. The biggest changes in this industry are the adaptation to platforms and streaming-based media. There is expected to be a big difference between the different media forms in how big the changes will be.

+ Kim Tan
I also heard about virtual concerts becoming more prominent, especially during the pandemic. Who knew we all could watch Maroon 5 perform all at the same time for $20? Source: link

2.2.2 Social Media: Every Company Online
In the section about the future of the digital era, some media and entertainment industries of the digital age were mentioned. However, one of the most characteristic forms of digital media has not yet been discussed; namely, social media. Currently, 4.66 billion people on the planet have access to the Internet, and 80% of them are using social networks.  This number is rapidly growing, and social media has become part of our day-to-day lives. Nonetheless, social media in itself is also changing, and people might not be able to keep up. What will the future of social media look like?

We have seen social media grow over the past couple of years from a platform where we share random thoughts with friends and family to a network of influencers, brands, and personalized advertising. Companies have started using social platforms to generate more profit and communicate effectively with their customers. As mentioned in the Consumer Behavior section, consumers are increasingly influenced by the digital marketing tools on social media. These platforms are now not just for brand coverage, engagement, and visibility, but are becoming their own online shops.  Some brands have even stopped using their websites and are 100% social-platform-based. Another impact social media has had on companies can be seen in their advertising campaigns. According to research, 73% of marketeers say their social media marketing activities have been “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for their business.  In the future, more companies will start using social media in their business plans and will even develop specialized advertising campaigns for mobile social media apps.

While society is still trying to figure out how to deal with the growth of social media, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already introduced the next big thing, the Metaverse. His company has built a network of connected social apps; however, Zuckerberg wants to take this further. In June 2021, he announced that Facebook would strive to build a world called the metaverse with a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences.  His idea is inspired by the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash and refers to a shared online space where physical, augmented, and virtual reality combine.  According to Zuckerberg, this new reality will come with a lot of opportunities for individuals, especially for people who live in isolated parts of the world. The metaverse will make it possible for more people to access good education and to work from anywhere. 

The future of social media will be even more intertwined with our physical world than it is right now. Everyone will be expected to be online, and it might get even harder to distinguish real from virtual with the risk of losing physical interactions and real identity.
2.2.3 The Decline of Trust in Media
Trust in media varies greatly between the different forms of media and between countries. For example, research from Ipsos in twenty-seven countries has shown that in India, 77% of consumers trust newspapers and magazines, while only 11% of consumers in Serbia have this trust in media.  Trust in television and radio is slightly higher than in online news websites and platforms. Overall, it shows a low trust in traditional media and even lower trust in online media sources. This is no surprise to most people because fake news and disinformation have been a hot topic the past few years. Since 2015, trust in the media has declined for about 34% of people worldwide.  Will this trend of declining trust continue? And what is the impact of this on the future of media?

+ Chia-Erh Kuo
What caused the declining trust in media? I think the discussions about the rise and fall of the newspaper industry are highly relevant to this topic. Nowadays, traditional media outlets are struggling to find a new business model. Many of them largely rely on revenues from advertising, which has affected people's perception of journalism - If the content of a newspaper page can be 'bought' through native advertising, can we still trust news media?

Regarding the topic, I recommend reading "Native advertising may jeopardize the legitimacy of newsrooms" by Ava Sirrah. She argues that the trust newsrooms work hard to secure may be jeopardized by creating and disseminating native advertisements. Source: link

The decrease in trust in the media is worrying. Social media and online news are important news sources for young people but also for an increasing part of the older generation. Online news sites are one of the most important media channels, after public television. However, they are also seen as an industry with the greatest reputational challenges. Independent media is a crucial good in most countries, and social media is used as a way for individuals to add to news coverage. This is a great possibility but also comes with some negative effects, one of those being fake news. A large number of consumers expects that there is regularly fake news in newspapers and magazines and even more often on online news websites and platforms. This might explain why “fake news” was the U.S. word of the year in 2017. Many people think spreading fake news should be seen as a criminal offense.  However, detecting fake news has been a major issue.

+ Chia-Erh Kuo
Apart from independent media, I think the rise of citizen journalism and collaborative media could also describe how citizens play an active role in the process of collecting and reporting information, especially when traditional journalism is losing its legitimacy for readers.

Online platforms are having a hard time detecting what is fake and what is real. To make this even more challenging, different technologies are quickly emerging that bring “fake” to a whole new level. Deepfake uses AI technology to implement your facial features onto a video of another person. Most of the deepfake videos circulating in today’s media landscape are fun and entertaining. However, this technology has no limit and can be used anywhere. Last year, Korean television channel MBN used a deepfake of their own news presenter to show what the future of deepfakes might look like.  MBN warned their viewers that they would be doing this so that there would be no confusion. In order to make the deepfakes as real as possible, a lot of material is needed for AI to learn from.  This is why mostly high-profile figures like politicians and celebrities are used. These videos look incredibly real and can cause disturbance in the future. 
So what will the future of media look like if real is nearly impossible to distinguish from fake? Many platforms have tried to trace down fake content with their algorithms but haven’t been successful yet. Searching for what is fake and what is not, might not be the optimal decision. However, regulating the impact of fake content might be the right path. In order to combat this threat, many researchers have emphasized the importance of policies to decrease fake media and increase consumer trust.  For example, data protection and e-privacy laws will lead to a future of transparency and data minimization where the harm of fake news can be mitigated. 

+ Stefanie Sewotaroeno
I have spent a fair amount of time on social media and have personally witnessed several issues such as transparency and censorship. So how can we improve digital equity? Essentially, users use their anonymity online for both good and bad. Nowadays, users can limit/censor unwanted responses in their comment section. This can happen for many reasons, from bullying to escaping fair criticism. Let us take Taylor Swift as an example. Swift limited her comments on Instagram due to an onslaught of hateful comments a few years ago that affected her mental health.

Should all of us maybe receive an official online identity card? I realize that this can also result in the decline of fair criticism. After all, anonymity benefits both parties. This is new for us, but many things we have now were new to us at one point. Let us at least try.

+ Stefanie Sewotaroeno
An initiative on digital equity I have read about not too long ago is one from Archewell (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle): link

2.2.4 The Creator Economy: 100 billion dollars, 50 million creators, and growing
Together with the digitalization of the media and entertainment industry, a creator economy has emerged over the past few years. The creator economy refers to an economy built out of 50 million independent content creators, curators, and community builders.  Today, the creator economy is worth 100 billion dollars and has 50 million creators, of which 2 million are professional creators who create content full-time.  To facilitate this new economy, hundreds of tools emerge every day to create new content. Nowadays, 6 in 10 people have access to the necessary tools to produce movies, radio, and even music on a small scale for their own audience. 

Even though in the creator economy, everybody could create content, only a small percentage can actually make a living from it. Currently, wealth in the creator economy is concentrated at the top 1–2% who are hugely successful.  The rest of the creators struggle financially and there is no middle class. According to the Harvard Business Review, the creator economy needs a middle class to continue into the future and not collapse.  In the near future, we will start seeing current platforms focus more on this middle class of creators and cater to them to grow their audiences. New platforms will also emerge dedicated to this newly developed middle class. These creators will be able to earn enough money to live off their content and continue being creative. It is expected that in the next years, we will start seeing a strong and growing middle class of creators who will make it possible for the entire creator economy to keep running while new creators emerge. 

The lacking middle class is not the only crack in the creator economy. The growing power imbalance between platforms and creators is becoming more and more of a problem. Creators are adding value to platforms every day by uploading content.  However, their entire careers are dependent on the platforms’ algorithms. Because of this dependence, there is an imbalance between platforms and creators in terms of power, benefits, and protection. In the creator economy, all creators are their own companies without workers’ rights and little impact on change. Platforms focus on their own success and do not credit the creators for the value they add. In the past, some creators have tried to change some of the platform’s policies, but they are in a weak position.

“So what is the next step?” you might ask. Well, in the future, creators will start building, operating, and owning their own platforms to have more power over the content and value they create. A great example of what this future might look like is Stocksy.  This artist-owned cooperative is empowered by artists who are also the shareholders of the platform. According to Stocksy, this sense of community and ownership contributes to the level of passion that artists put into their work, resulting in the highest quality of content.

A challenge that comes with these cooperative ownership platforms is related to the decision-making and governance processes when the platforms are scaling up; Who is responsible? What process is used to make which legitimate decision? New technologies promise to help with this challenge. One of those new technologies is decentralized networks, built on the foundation of blockchain and where ownership is in the hands of the users. This concept of the decentralized Internet is further discussed in the Technology chapter. 

In 2022, we will start seeing more of these decentralized networks. New platforms will emerge that will use these token-based distributions of power in order to compete with the existing centralized platforms. These new platforms will stop the conflict between creators and platforms and ensure fair benefits for all stakeholders. 

In conclusion, the digital transformation of media and entertainment will continue into the future. This will result in a future where online is intertwined with virtual, with new developments such as the metaverse, deepfakes, and decentralized networks.
2.3 Purpose & Spirituality
Purpose and spirituality have always been important aspects of humanity. Through the ages, the forms of purpose and spirituality have been adjusted to the then-current society. The oldest trait of spirituality can be found in hunter-gatherers and was called animism. Here, a belief in the afterlife and ancestor worship emerged.  It is thought that spirituality and purpose are an inevitable part of humanity and will stay in the future. However, the form in which these elements are present in society might change.

+ Anne Clerx
An interesting addition to this is the work done by the European Academy on Religion and Society (, showing how religion continues to play an important role in society. Religious topics are surprisingly present in European media and our day-to-day lives. link

2.3.1 Change in Religion
Through human history, many different religions have been born, have grown, and some have already disappeared. Many religions have in common that there is a sense of social cohesion. Religions can bring people together; hunters and gatherers used religion to create a hunting party, Romans to build temples, and in current times, people might join a political party based on religion. Thus, religion has been a social glue for humankind throughout its history. However, for some people, religion has also been a reason for war and conflict; for others, religion has been a vehicle used to incite troops, divide societies, and pillage countries. In an age where secularism is on the rise, and many people in Western countries call themselves atheists, it is possible to get the impression that religions will disappear. What changes in religion can we expect over the next decades?

Nowadays, scientists provide the tools that are necessary to understand and shape the world.  However, through the decades, this has been an important aspect of religion. Sociologists used to believe that science’s progress was leading to society’s “disenchantment,” in which supernatural answers to fundamental problems were no longer considered necessary.  Nonetheless, research from the Pew Research Center sees a pattern where religion will rise in economically and socially unstable areas, such as much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and shrink in stable areas. 

With an estimated 2.2 billion believers in 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, accounting for roughly a third of the world’s population.  Islam comes in second with 1.6 billion adherents.  If current trends continue, the number of Muslims on the globe will nearly equal the number of Christians by 2050. Atheists, agnostics, and other non-religious persons will make up a smaller percentage of the global population in the future.  The Buddhist population is expected to remain relatively steady due to low fertility rates. All of the world’s major religious groups, with the exception of Buddhists, are expected to increase in absolute numbers in the coming decades.

The previously mentioned developments differ widely per continent and country. Looking at fertility rates and aging partly explains these differences. For example, the steady population of Buddhists can partly be explained by low fertility rates and aging in the countries where this religion is most present, such as China. Other areas, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, are expected to have a rapidly growing population and are predicted to account for a large portion of the global growth of Islam and Christianity. In contrast, today’s religiously unaffiliated population is primarily concentrated in regions like Europe, North America, China, and Japan, where fertility is low and populations are aging.  However, there are also shifts in religion within countries. In the United States, Christianity is expected to drop from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the most popular non-Christian faith.

Other than the difference in population growth between different religious groups, there are also other aspects that will change the future of religion. The Understanding Unbelief project at the University of Kent conducted research among those who say they don’t believe in God’s existence—atheists—compared to those who think it is not possible to know if God exists—agnostics.  They found that there are many different ways to be an unbeliever. Other research found that many people are turning away from organized religion but are starting to focus on practices that look at the sense of who they are and how to develop as an individual.  Another alternative is where new religions base their beliefs on old religions. One example of this is the Sunday Assembly. Without mentioning God, the Sunday Assembly seeks to reproduce the ambiance of a dynamic church session. However, without the deep roots of established religions, these new religions can struggle. The Sunday Assembly, which grew rapidly at first, is now battling to maintain its momentum. As a result, the community of non-believers may evolve into a mix of “apatheists,” people who simply don’t care about religion, and practitioners of what you would call disorganized religion, rather than atheists or even secularists.

In conclusion, the size and ratio of different religions are going to change. Where some are rapidly growing due to population growth, others will stay the same or even shrink in size due to an older population. Within the group of non-believers, a big shift is happening too.
2.3.2 The Power of Conspiracy Theories & Cults
Conspiracy theories and cults are an increasing part of today’s conversations. In a world of uncertainty, due to a pandemic and the impact of online algorithms, more and more conspiracy theories are seen as reality. Since conspiracy theories are so adaptable, they are extremely powerful. They never have to make sense; all they have to do is explain what is otherwise incomprehensible and, most importantly, provide the believer with a sense of direction in a confusing world.  One of the biggest conspiracy theories is QAnon, which is an American far-right political conspiracy theory and a movement based on claims made by an anonymous individual or individuals known as Q. QAnon followers believe that a group of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles run a global child sex-trafficking ring, and they conspired against former U.S. President Donald Trump, during his term in office. QAnon can be seen as a cult; however, some argue it is a religion.  Many new religions have been seen as conspiracy theories and even cults, but the difference here is not clear. So what is the future prospect for new religions, conspiracy theories, and cults?

Before looking at the future, it is important to understand the difference between a cult and a religion. Followers of a certain belief or theory usually see themselves as believers and not as cult members; while others like family, media, and law enforcement might see them as a cult.  The term cult refers to a social movement, however, some cults might meet the requirements of a religion. Movements like Scientology and Mormonism have publicly published their beliefs as scripture. Those who are part of the movement consider it a religion. Ori Tavor, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania who teaches a class on new religious movements, sees the question of cults versus new religions as a matter of perspective.  A good reason for people to call new religious movements cults is that they distrust them because of their growing popularity. 
So what does the future look like for new religious movements? Due to the Internet and many people being on social media, new movements spread easily. It is expected that new religions will become more visible through social media. Social media makes it possible for people to express their religious beliefs online and reach a broad audience. At the same time, both unorganized and organized religions will grow. The opposition to religion from people at the government, particularly from minority religions and cults, will disappear, though popular and media rejection will persist. 

+ Chadia Mouhdi
Another interesting aspect regarding cults and conspiracies is the power of AI.

When someone shows interest in a certain conspiracy through different types of media, they are more likely to receive similar content. This results in your online experience being completely different from that of someone else. While some may think conspiracy believers are gullible, it is mind-blowing to think that they have a different perception of reality due to the information they consume.

The fact that the underlying algorithms that can shape our view of reality lie are a corporate secret only known to a few is worrying. What is even more worrisome is that these inner workings are no one knows the exact inner workings because the underlying mechanisms are so complex.
Source: link

2.3.3 What Does ‘Purpose in Work’ Entail?
Other than religion, purpose is also an important aspect of humanity. Imagine the following; it is a Wednesday morning in the year 2050. The traditional smell of coffee has filled the office space while you commute from the kitchen to your office. Well, “office” might be a bit of an exaggeration; it is actually your dining table. Today is your second but also last workday of the week. New technologies and automation have made it possible to work for just two days a week. The other days you spend on learning, creativity, family, and friends while relying on AI to complete your work. Work has completely digitalized and the working environment has significantly changed. Back to today, a world in which many fear what technological changes will mean for our work and purpose in life. This idea of being replaced by robots is daunting to us. At the same time, we learn that the more digitized our world is, the more human we need to be. “It’s essential that we strengthen what makes us human at our core, and master what we already know instinctively. No machine can ever rob us of connection, empathy, imagination, storytelling, negotiating, ethics, and creativity, and that is our power.” 

+ Chia-Erh Kuo
This reminds me of the Great Resignation/ Great Reshuffle - millions of Americans quit their jobs in the summer of 2021, and resignations in the U.S. have remained abnormally high for several months. Although the reasons behind the numbers remain difficult to interpret, many have attributed the phenomenon to long-lasting job dissatisfaction.

I think this real-life example reflects a fundamental change in how people perceive their careers: When getting a job is not simply about money, what do people really want at work? Sources: link, link

+ Kim Tan
It reminds me of the quote, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” -Lori Greiner!

Purpose is something that can benefit people working in a highly digitalized workforce. Having a sense of purpose in both your personal life and your professional life has a significant impact on your productivity, happiness, and even your health.  Young people want this purpose in their careers, which might explain the number of startups emerging. Entrepreneurs work the longest hours, yet they are also among the happiest and healthiest workers. Pay is not a problem, and stress can be controlled if the entrepreneur is doing something they enjoy.  A recent study that followed thousands of Americans as part of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project  illustrated the importance of purpose in our lives. People who have a sense of purpose earn approximately $5,000 more per year than their aimless counterparts, and they also live longer and healthier lives, according to the study. So, what’s keeping us from achieving this sense of purpose? A new report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) may be able to help us achieve purposeful work in the future.  It looked at the phenomena of “purposeful leadership,” which is when your executives are just as invested in the mission of their company as the rest of their workforce. Working under purposeful leaders boosts our own performance significantly, which, naturally, makes us less likely to want to leave. 
It is apparent that having a sense of purpose benefits us as individuals and as companies, so we should strive to live a purposeful work life as much as possible. As mentioned before, purpose will become even more important in our work lives in the future. In order to keep humanity in a digitalized world, a sense of purpose is critical.

+ Jonna Klijnsma
Besides benefiting individuals and companies, cultivating purpose has the potential to restructure our economies at large.

Globally, there are growing ecosystems of purpose-driven entrepreneurs, investors, organizations, researchers, and business leaders rethinking our economy's fundamentals. From "regenerative" to "Doughnut" to "Purpose" economics, these schools of thought propose viable alternatives to the shareholder-first paradigm.

Further readings:
Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics
Kees Klomp & Shinta Oosterwaal, Thrive - Fundamentals for a New Economy
Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economy - How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth & Community is Changing the World

In conclusion, purpose and spirituality will be persistent in our lives. However, much is changing in religion and purpose. The size and ratio of religions are quickly changing due to population growth. New movements and religions can also spread more easily in the future due to the use of social media to share their messages. Both organized and unorganized religions are going to grow. At the same time, more people will look for a sense of purpose at home and at work, which will benefit us as individuals and as companies. Purpose is also essential for keeping humanity in a world that is becoming more and more digital.

+ Kim Tan
Studies in some developing countries, such as the Philippines, have shown that 70% of Filipinos are dreamless because they are in survival mode. Having dreams/goals is highly significant in the foundation of seeking one's sense of purpose, but what happens when the majority of a country is dreamless? Source: link

2.4 Social Standards: Navigating Future Expectations
Individuals and organizations, as well as society as a whole, have absorbed societal norms about what people are expected to do. It is a socio-cultural atmosphere in which people’s actions are impacted by imagined reference groups or communities.

This topic focuses on the current pressing societal standards formed under ever-changing manmade social structures, which can hinder expressing one’s full potential in society.
2.4.1 Beauty Standards: Towards Diversity and Body Positivity?
Botox procedures alone have increased by 759% since the 2000s.  Although beauty standards and expectations have changed over time, the pressure of keeping up with these constant changes has had an impact on many individuals and on how they perceive their own body images. We live in a world where beauty standards are affected by how our society—depending on different cultures and trends—defines and displays unrealistic expectations of what we should look like.
Most of society’s current standards are based on stereotypical Western beauty and have been increasingly adopted in other parts of the world. These include a man needing to be six foot tall, have wide shoulders, a prominent jawline, and a perfect body, while women are told to have slim waists, effortless figures of runway models, and picture-perfect skin to be considered attractive. These expectations are destructive to a person’s self-esteem and might lead to problematic judgments on one’s self. 

+ Cato Hemels - Hoff
Next to the harmful consequences for individuals, it can be argued that some beauty norms are harming the planet. The #SustainabilityAgainstShame campaign addresses this. In their own words: "The movement that stops shaming for-profit and saves the world." Source: link

What we see in the media has a huge impact on society. The growing variety of series, television shows, and films today feature attractive, fit individuals who appear to be flawless to young teens and adults. According to a study by, 40–60% of elementary school girls are anxious about their weight or afraid of being “too fat,” and 46% of 9–11-year-olds claim that they are often on “diets.” A study by Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found that 70% of university-age women say that reading women’s magazines makes them feel worse about their appearance. 
Not only does the impact on body image affect the perspective of oneself, but it can be detrimental to one’s mental and physical health. According to the same study, over half of teenage girls skip meals, fast, smoke cigarettes, vomit, and take laxatives to lose weight.  These behaviors become habits, which might lead to serious psychological problems, and these developed issues can cause severe trauma, damaged organs, and even death.

+ Cato Hemels - Hoff
There are extremely shocking studies on this topic. ANAD (a U.S. nonprofit that provides free support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder) reports, for example, that a study in 2020 found that every 52 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. Source: link

Lack of diversity is also one of the biggest causes of unrealistic beauty standards. A study from the University of California sampled 167 films and found that only 19% of the leads were people of color. The absence of representation of all colors, skin textures, and sizes greatly contributes to the unfeasible social construct of beauty. 
In this day and age, body positivity and diversity are also on the rise. Although the struggle about body image has lasted for decades, brands have now changed their ways of advertising their products by celebrating and promoting inclusivity outside the unrealistic norm. In addition, the increasing numbers of body-positive social-media influencers and full-time models today have been found to boost women’s mental health in comparison to when slimmer models were made up more of the advertising. 

+ Romy Grim
Maybe this is an interesting source to read: link

It is important to realize that these beauty standards are never constant. What was attractive ten to twenty years ago might not even be considered attractive today—this shows that there is no concrete definition of beauty, and that beauty can be defined in many ways, starting with oneself. Experts emphasize body neutrality, wherein individuals are appreciative of what their own bodies are capable of, and place less emphasis on what society today thinks beauty is.  Body positivity and acceptance are the new norms, and old, misconfigured standards are out.
2.4.2 Female Emancipation: Women’s Role in Society
For decades, women have been expected to conform to the norm of what is defined as their only accepted contribution and role to society—cleaning, cooking, and doing all the necessary work for the household.  But why is this only normally expected from women?

The way gender roles are defined in society affects the way women think about themselves and others based on how they were taught to act in relation to their gender. The social construct that gets formed impacts the way women behave, speak, and even the way they set their goals in life. From the color indication of gender (blue and pink) to the words and norms that are absorbed in homes, children’s shows, and schools, there is pressure on women to only behave in a way that is considered permissible in society.

Gender roles are vital components in each culture since they shape the way women live their daily lives.  Because of the cultural implications attached to being male or female, gender serves as an organizing basis for society. This is shown widely by the gendered division of labor; there are distinct patterns of women’s labor and men’s labor in most cultures, both in the household and in wider society, including cultural reasons for why there are distinct patterns and why they occur.  Girls are expected to be responsible for things that men are not, and there are also greater expectations placed on girls and women to appear and act a specific way.

While gender relations vary in each society, the tendency is for women to have less personal freedom, fewer resources, and little control over the decision-making processes that form their societies and lives. One Filipino-American student shared her experience on the differing standards in their household; while it was demanded of her that she prioritize her schoolwork over going out with friends on a regular basis or starting a romantic relationship, her brother got away with disobeying these rules because her parents explained that this behavior was “normal” for a boy to do.  She explained that these cultural norms have harmed her communication abilities, and she now finds it difficult to speak out for herself, particularly in situations where there is conflict or disagreement. This pattern of gender imbalance is both a problem about human rights and development.
The standards set for women can hinder their confidence as regard speaking up for themselves and fighting for what they believe in. Women’s rights are human rights—and if women’s rights had already been achieved decades ago, the popularity of the feminist movement would not have reached an all-time high in 2020 in the United States alone. 

+ Romy Grim
If you are interested in more feministic topics, I recommend the (Dutch) podcast "Damn Honey". It is a feministic platform that discusses all things women have to deal with these days. The topics differ from women in politics to not being a mom and catcalling.

Patterns and explanations about gender roles differ from society to society and change over time. Not only is it useful to recognize these patterns of unbalanced expectations but it is never too late to change this way of thinking either. Both men and women have the same power and ability to learn life’s essential skills and set the same goals—all without having to standardize which gender is fit to perform it.

+ Emma Datema
With issues such as gender inequality, racism, and class inequality, I think it is important to stress that many of these issues do not stand isolated. This intersectionality creates different modes of discrimination and privilege. One interesting take on it is the White Woman's Burden idea. The White Man's Burden is an 1899 poem by Rudyard Kipling, which proposes that the white race is obliged (morally) to civilize non-white people and encourage their progress through colonialism. The White Woman's Burden can be understood as the imperialist-feminist equivalent, with non-white women suffering in far-off countries and needing to be saved. However, Western vocabulary with words like 'oppression' and 'freedom' often misses out on important cultural nuances and ignores the actorhood of non-white women. An incredibly book that touches upon similar issues is "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?" by Lila Abu-Lughod.

+ Jonna Klijnsma
In "Invisible Women", Caroline Criado Perez exposes how women (and the female experience) are structurally underrepresented in the world's data. From medical research to smartphone design, this gender data gap creates and perpetuates structural inequality. A powerful and important read in a world that's designed for men and increasingly reliant on Big Data!

+ Chadia Mouhdi
This was a super interesting section! An extra consideration is that not only women fall prey to gender stereotypes. Society may also have some expectations on how men should conform.

For example, men might feel like they cannot show their emotions. They may also be hesitant to take parental leave for fear of stigma or being penalized at work. This 2019 Forbes article gives some more insight into this. Source: link

2.4.3 Anti Black Racism and Black Lives Matter: A Voice for Racial Injustice
Social norms establish what is acceptable and unacceptable, and altering the applicable norms about them can possibly shift stereotypes and bias. Racism is defined as “an ideology of racial dominance” in which one or more racial groups’ claimed biological or cultural superiority is used to justify or dictate the inferior treatment or social position(s) of other racial groups. 

The Black community has faced racial discrimination and inequality that has impacted them on their everyday lives in areas including work, salaries, financial prospects, housing, educational opportunities, and basic healthcare.  The prejudice against Black people and the misrepresentation of the majority of them as offenders have been pressing issues for many years and have recently sparked even more controversy when public assault, police brutality, and justice systems have treated people of color negatively. Black citizens in the United States are substantially more likely to be convicted of felonies that carry heavier and lengthier terms, and this causes them to be disproportionately overrepresented in the prison population. In the United States alone, more than five times as many Black people than white people are imprisoned.  During the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, groundless accusations toward Africans residing in Guangzhou, China have emerged after five Nigerians tested positive for Covid-19, causing most of them to get evicted from their apartments, and banned from entering restaurants.  These events and their adjacency to the subjective accusations are mere evidence of how part of society reacts in bias when seeking an unidentified wrongdoer.
People around the world have united under the Black Lives Matter or BLM movement to fight racism and address police violence. Started only as an online protest in 2013 by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, the BLM movement began after George Zimmerman was freed of charges related to the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012.  Zimmerman, a volunteer member of Sandford’s neighborhood watch, shot and killed Martin after he saw him walking around the neighborhood and thought that he looked “suspicious” despite being completely unarmed. After police got to the crime scene, Zimmerman claimed that he fired shots as a self-defense response, and not long after, was acquitted of all charges. However, this case opened the conversation to highlight the injustice hidden under the root of racism and sparked national controversy all around the globe. Although this movement was online, it sparked a national protest in the United States, demanding proper prosecution for the murder of Martin. Zimmerman was then arrested in April 2012 on charges of second-degree murder—but was easily discharged in 2013. This event is one of the many cases that showed the biases of the justice system of the United States, which are still present even today.

Many people are afraid to speak up regarding issues of racial discrimination based on the fear of saying something wrong, or because they and no one they know are affected by discrimination against race.  Despite the clear evidence of assault in broad daylight or the clear lack of reasoning by offenders, the majority of trials that go to court against Black people are longer than trials for non-Black people and most of the verdicts are inequitable.

Many cases have been left aside and offenders are set free and live their lives unaccountable for the crime(s) they have committed while the families and friends of the victims are pleading for help with voices that remain unheard. Racial discrimination has been a long-going societal issue globally. Most of the wrongfully convicted crimes are only given a chance for justice when it sparks a national or global controversy. Ending racism is possible, even with the current injustice and apathy from others; when an issue comes to light because of a united movement and a collective voice for justice, it is truly possible to spark the needed change in the current misconfigured legal and social system.

+ Elias Sohnle Moreno
An interesting contrast is the George Floyd case because it shows how social movements can play a role in change by fighting the complacence of the justice system towards police brutality.

2.5 Socio-Cultural Change: What’s heading our way?
Maintaining societal and individual well-being is crucial in keeping society on track. Digitalization is having an impact on this by providing new options, but it is also causing other issues, such as a lack of face-to-face social interactions. One of the options that have developed, however, is in relation to the media. With new advancements such as the metaverse, deep fakes, and decentralized networks, this will result in a future where online and virtual are linked. In general, the media sector will alter dramatically in the future. Making distinctions between fake and real information will be affected and probably become even harder in the future. In addition to this, religion will alter as well, particularly in terms of the number and proportion of different religions. Others will remain the same or even decline in size due to an aging population, while some will swiftly rise due to population growth. Another trend is seen in changes in social standards. For instance, both men’s and women’s beauty standards have evolved considerably over time, and beauty trends from ten years ago may no longer be deemed attractive now. Additionally, racial discrimination has been a long-running issue, with prejudiced legal systems continuing to discriminate against people of color.

+ Stefanie Sewotaroeno
I would like to offer one other perspective here: identity. I would like to use myself as an example. On social media (especially TikTok), there are many people (around my age) who are doing DNA testing to know where they might be from. My great grandparents came to Suriname to work on the plantations after slavery. The how and why of their decision (if it was their decision at all!) to come to Suriname will probably forever remain unknown. Identity remains a big question for me. I feel that I deserve to know my lineage, as does everyone else. I might do DNA testing (too expensive now!) to have this question answered one day. I also wonder if it is fair to expect that the countries that benefitted from slavery and indentured laborers should be responsible for these costs, such as DNA testing.

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