Part 1: The year in review

I can’t believe that it is that time of year again where we look back on what has passed and contemplate what lies ahead. 2016 has certainly proved to be a memorable one.

In this two-part blog series, I want to take a look at some of the key trends that influenced the world of communications and technology this year, and think about some of the issues which will likely dominate the headlines in the year ahead.


Political upheaval

2016 will forever be known as the year of Donald Trump, who began the year as a very unlikely Republican nominee, an even less likely candidate for president, and to the surprise of many at home and abroad, became the eventual winner. The tenor of his campaign, his Twitter feed, the role of fake news, the failure of the polls to gauge what was happening, and his apparent lack of interest in facts – all contribute to the general sense that everything we ever knew about politics, campaigns and the power of the media has been turned upside down. In many ways, Brexit was a red flag, albeit one that didn’t quite get the attention it required in the run-up to the election. As in the US, experienced UK politicians, pollsters and the media completely misread the mood of the country ahead of the Brexit referendum. These changes signal not just a political turning point, but a sea change in the way future campaigns will be run, a diminishing role for traditional media and a growing role for social media as an influencer.


Silicon Valley execs took a hit

Theranos – the one-time darling of Silicon Valley, investors and media –  suffered a spectacular fall from grace. A Wall Street Journal-led investigation was the thread that unraveled the company’s entire premise, exposing it and founder Elizabeth Holmes as little more than snake oil salespeople. What makes this episode so interesting is not the fact that a bright college dropout let her ambition override her smarts. It’s much more about how the company was able to secure so much investment, the support of famous people like Henry Kissinger and fawning media profiles – all with almost no demonstrable proof of the company’s claims. The warning signs were everywhere; they were just ignored. Theranos became a byword for the hasty investments the Valley is known for and the “next big thing” culture than can obscure reality.


Artificial Intelligence moved into the mainstream

This year we saw artificial intelligence (AI) move out of the realm of futuristic technology to become a frequent topic of mainstream news stories. Even popular culture cashed in on the buzz with Westworld becoming the television show of the moment. At this year’s Code Conference, AI was one of the dominant themes, and companies like IBM, Facebook, Google, Ford, Tesla and Amazon all competed to position themselves as leading the charge. While hype abounds and much of AI’s potential remains speculative, the transformative power of the technology in domains ranging from our vehicles to our healthcare became a common topic of conversation. We can anticipate this will only increase in the year ahead.

Reordering of the ranks of of tech titans

After what seemed like a shaky decade and declining fortunes, Microsoft emerged from 2016 stronger and more innovative than ever. The stock price has continued to climb. And in a remarkable reversal of fortune, Apple has taken a PR hit. A bruising battle with the EU, compounded by three successive quarters of declining revenues has left its mark. To be clear, I still think the company is extremely solid, with a great brand, balance sheet and leadership. It’s just that it’s no longer impervious to criticism. Facebook, Amazon and Google also continue to go from strength to strength with Facebook in particular buoyed by the success of its core product, along with Instagram and WhatsApp. And in the year when many predicted its acquisition, Twitter survived – in part because the 140-character frivolity of our president-elect played a huge role in renewing its cultural relevance.  

That’s it for my snapshot of the key trends that influenced the economy, the technology industry, the media and communications as a whole in 2016. Next week, I will outline my predictions for 2017.