Immunity passports and sexbots: What our post-pandemic world will look like

Trend guru Faith Popcorn tells Craig Jacobs what she envisions for the future

05 July 2020 - 00:00
By Craig Jacobs
Sexbots could solve the pesky problem of communicable diseases, explains futurist Faith Popcorn.
Image: Supplied Sexbots could solve the pesky problem of communicable diseases, explains futurist Faith Popcorn.

With the lockdown in SA now lasting longer than it took Sputnik to orbit 70-million kilometres before falling back to Earth, you could be forgiven for wondering if there is a photon of hope for a post Covid-19 world.

Sadly, there's grim news from Faith Popcorn, the seer who the New York Times calls "the Trend Oracle" and who's been dubbed "the Nostradamus of Marketing" by Fortune magazine.

Pointing out that there are an estimated 5,000 undiscovered coronavirus strains in bats, the US's leading futurist says: "Hopefully we'll have a more holistic way of dealing with the next one, because there'll be a next one. For sure..."

Popcorn, who was born Faith Plotkin, prides herself on a 95% rate of getting predictions bang-on.

The story goes that the founder of New York-based marketing consulting firm BrainReserve warned Kodak back in 1987 to prepare for a "filmless future". The photographic company ignored the suggestion to its detriment.

Two years later, Coca-Cola also enlisted her services, but this time it listened, investing in the bottled water industry — now worth $130bn (R2.2-trillion).

But it was cocooning — the concept she coined back in 1981 to describe the craving for sanctuary in an increasingly uncertain world — that catapulted Popcorn.

The idea took off, with VCRs, CD players and home security systems all nascent signs of what would become a powerful trend that disrupted the way we looked at our homes.

Fast-forward to 2020 and battening down the hatches is no longer a choice but a necessity to shield us from an invisible foe. "Today [cocooning] is more severe, especially now. Much more protective, defensive, frightening. And yet artistic and elevating," says the bestselling author of The Popcorn Report, Clicking and EVEolution as she sits, appropriately, in front of an interstellar Zoom backdrop for this interview.

For Popcorn, cocooning is only one of 17 sustaining trends BrainReserve has codified and which she tracks, along with the 10,000 future thinkers across the world who form the companies' talent bank. The firm recently opened a South African chapter, headed by Mark Lachman.

Popcorn might quip that her predictions are the result of "a big pitcher vodka martinis and a crystal ball", but her methodology is exacting, pooling data from science with deep research into societal shifts and emerging tensions.

Faith Popcorn.
Image: Supplied Faith Popcorn.

Many of us might be absorbed with navigating the new normal, longing for the cappuccino we once savoured in the salon chair as we worry if the mask we're cradling provides sufficient protection, but Popcorn is already lensing tomorrow.

Take the shift towards remote working, which, according to her most recent report, Corona Cocooning: The Future of Pandemics, marks the disruption of the office as we know it.

"All the office and co-working space we have now will morph — some will become residential, some will become wellness clinics, and some will become a new kind of 'fifth space' where IRL and digital interactions occur over food, entertainment and commerce," says the report.

Similarly, the home structure will physically shift.

"Who needs a dining room? You need an office. And not one, but two office pods because how many people are working in a household?"

Unsurprisingly, the pervasiveness of technology looms large in many of the trends she sees.

Take the rise of "Doctors in Walls". An extension of telemedicine, Popcorn foretells the advent of "little medical miracle modules" that are activated to monitor vital signs, feeding back the data to your medical practitioner — all from the comfort of your home.

Back in 1993, Popcorn advised consumer goods behemoth Procter & Gamble that online shopping and home delivery would supplant supermarkets. The futurist predicts that the rise of pandemics will only speed up home convenience.

"Food will be stocked through the back of your refrigerator. When the sensors notice you're running out of something it, it doesn't need to ask you — it orders for you."

In future pandemics, you'll be able to avoid the run on toilet paper by taking out a monthly membership of a food bank for the affluent. We'll be able to socialise at members-only clubs that require immunity passports.

And when it comes to social connections of the more intimate kind, Popcorn believes that sexbots will solve the pesky problem of communicable diseases and virus spread when you need to get off.

[Sexbots] don’t fight with you, they know everything that you want, they are able to have the most magnificent sex with you
Faith Popcorn, futurist

"We're going to find that our robotic companion is a lot better, a lot of the time," she says. "They don't fight with you, they know everything that you want, they are able to have the most magnificent sex with you. They can make you the perfect martini, read to you, chat to you, look something up for you. It's Alexa on speed."

Back to cocooning in the time of Corona. I point out that I've found this period particularly cathartic, honing my self-development skills. Popcorn has spruced up her home bar, adopted a new pup and is in the midst of fulfilling one of her lifelong ambitions.

"When I get off this phone, I am working with somebody to write a song," she says.

But don't expect Popcorn to be dabbling in anything as corny as pop for her musical foray. "It's either going to be rap or rock," says the 73-year-old futurist.

Cardi B, methinks your Coronavirus (Sh*t Is Real) hit just might have some competition ... in the future.

• To find out about Popcorn's top tips for surviving a pandemic, visit Jacobs's new blog.