What’s NEXT? The 5 Questions We Want Answered at NEXT 2021
After skipping a year due to the pandemic, NEXT Conference is back this Friday, September 24th. And as we collectively formulate a blueprint for a post-pandemic future, it’s hard to imagine a more opportune moment for an event which places its focus so squarely on, well, what’s coming next.
This year - perhaps in a move symbolic of our times - the conference has adopted a hybrid model. A physical event will be held at the iconic Schmidts Tivoli theatre in Hamburg, which will be supplemented by digital access to all the talks via live streaming. On the topic of those talks, the event this year is making no sacrifices in the ambition and scope of its themes.
Will the post-pandemic events space ever be the same?
As this year’s NEXT Conference organisers can attest, there’s much to be said for the surging popularity of a ‘hybrid’ events industry model. Splitting an event over both physical and digital formats has provided much-needed flexibility - both to attendees and organisers. However, is this a coping mechanism for the pandemic or part of a new culture with real staying power?
“Digital and physical events are now competing with each other. For both, the experience is crucial - people will invariably go for a better experience”, says Matthias Schrader. “Hybrid events will be either physical events with digital components or digital events with physical components. For the event industry, this should lead to different, personalised combinations of physical and digital gatherings, and to membership-based business models”.
What exactly is the metaverse, and what does it mean to be a part of it?
For all the conversation around the industry’s post-pandemic future, the metaverse has perhaps been the hot topic of 2021 so far. Despite the media attention, however, the concept remains slippery with competing definitions. Is, for example, Fortnite or Minecraft a ‘metaverse’? Or does ‘the metaverse’ refer to something else, something which is shared and accessible to everyone as a sort of ‘internet 2.0’?
“That’s precisely the question that’s currently under debate”, says Schrader. “What we know is that there are powerful players who’d love to own the concept of the metaverse. Over the next decade, we’ll see how this epic fight for the future will proceed - and attendees to NEXT will gain an understanding of the territory on which that battle will be fought”.
How has the pandemic shifted our approach to sustainability?
It feels a long time ago now, but there was initially a wave of environmental optimism at the start of the pandemic. We saw reports of wildlife returning to cities, and hopeful proclamations regarding drastically reduced air travel. Since then, however, we’ve seen a litany of disastrous ‘once in a generation’ climate events as well as an eye-opening report published by the IPCC. One question set to be explored at NEXT is how we should approach sustainability within a post-pandemic context.
That’s if ‘post-pandemic’ is even the right context. As Schrader notes, NEXT’s “looking glass will still be the digital revolution, and how we can put it to optimal use for our posterity and the future of humanity”. Attendees to this year’s conference, then, can expect plenty of diverse thinking and ideas when it comes to tackling sustainability.
Which tech trends did the pandemic change, and which did it simply accelerate?
Did the Covid pandemic spark new trends which changed the world, or simply speed up the innovations which were already changing it? In some ways, the answer is academic - in others, however, figuring out the truth behind that question is a vital step in calibrating a strategic response to the events of 2020 and beyond.
“A key focus for us is the ways in which our behaviour has changed”, says Schrader. We’re talking about an entirely new era from which there isn’t going to be any turning back. Those of us working in digital and experience design are the architects of this era - there’s a clear responsibility for us to get this right”.
And… What's the next phase of human civilization?
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambition, and the above question adorning NEXT’s website certainly doesn’t lack in that department. And yet there’s logic behind asking it here, too. Few now can deny that we’re living in a digitally-first world and, as Schrader has already alluded, there’s a responsibility for those working in digital design to be asking these fundamental questions.
So, what might the shape of an answer look like? “Sustainable development is the major challenge of the 21st century, and at the conference we’ll hear what enterprises can and should do about it”, says Schrader. “Closely related to that is the topic of migration as evidence suggests we’re entering a new age of mass migration. What’s the role that digital technology can play here, and how can companies use it? We’ll hear some answers”.
So, there you have it. Five questions to which we’ll be searching for answers at the NEXT conference this Friday. That kind of curiosity, Schrader says, will be crucial to a successful event.
“My biggest piece of advice for attendees this year is to be curious”, he explains. “Physical attendees should make use of the networking opportunities, whereas online audiences may want to be quite picky - it’s not easy to listen to six hours of live streamed events! I’d recommend singling out some favourites before the conference begins”.
Registration for the NEXT Conference livestream is free, and you can get your ticket here. The event will be held on Friday 24th September 2021.