Trendwatching: Trends for Events in 2023

It's becoming a tradition. Every year Kevin discusses with trendwatcher Tom Palmaerts the future for events. This year they are talking about lab grown meat, flying cars and free speech.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Tom, welcome back in the studio.

Thanks Kevin.

One of my favourite topics of the year: we're going to trendwatch, or isn't that a verb?

I don't know.

To trendwatch. I trendwatch. You trendwatch.

But you are a trendwatcher and you brought us, again, four very interesting trends you see on the horizon.

The first one we're going to start with is alt-tech.


But I think you first need to explain: what the hell is that?

Alt-tech are new social media platforms where there is space for communication. Where there is no cancelling. So it's really the freedom to speech.

No moderation at all.

No moderation at all.

The reason why this is starting to happen is that social media platforms, like Twitter, like Facebook, YouTube, even Pinterest, need to, start to need to ban some accounts. Because there are some people that...

Of course you all know Trump.

Yes, he got kicked out.

And I think that was one of the...

I know that at that time, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, a really wonderful guy, he had a vision that the freedom of speech is really important. And that was really into the DNA of Twitter. And I think that's also one of the reasons that he's very active in Bitcoin and Blockchain. But then there was Trump. And so, suddenly, he had to quit someone. And I think most of us kind of understand why he did this. But of course they didn't abandon him just for an hour or a day. But just for life. And that's kind of weird because then there is a social network, a social platform, that can decide who has a voice and who hasn't.

Yes, in the case of Trump maybe that's clear. Or you're against it, that's also possible. But when it comes to normal people, it can be a very thin line.

Yes, it can be a very thin line. And I like the idea that the CEO of Spotify once said. That cancelling voices is a very slippery slope. Because where do you begin and where do you end? And I think that not all people but a lot of us understand why you do this with Trump. But, for instance, in Pinterest, if you upload a picture that might have another vision about sustainability and climate change, than Pinterest uses, then you can be cancelled. Now, the question is: what kind of pictures are that? And when are you misinforming? When are you putting wrong information? To create something, to change something, to create chaos? Or when are you just the clown? The person who is like: you know what? But maybe this is an opportunity. Or: you know, I think differently. So I think it's indeed a very slippery slope. I have...

My son, this summer, had some problems with TikTok. Because the AI system detected, in his little movies, a nipple. And it was a few times that it detected a nipple. And apparently it's not legal. So he came to me like: damn, when it detects one more time, I will be cancelled. So me, as a parent, I can't say what he can do or can't do, but a platform, in this case TikTok, based in Beijing, with Chinese DNA culture, is deciding what my son can do or not. Wear or not wear. Say or not say. And it's the same thing with Twitter or Pinterest and so on.

Yes and is it a human deciding or is it just an algorithm? Which makes it even more challenging.

But the reason we are talking about this: this is a trend which is happening. And especially also, now Elon Musk is taking over Twitter and so on, it's a very hot topic.

But where do you see the link with the event industry?

Well, first for the Elon Musk. Elon Musk wants to buy this because he's an absolute free speech evangelist. So he really wants to have this free speech. Kanye West is now banned from Twitter.

Oh, him as well?

Yes, him as well. And he, also...

He's not going to buy Twitter but he's going to buy Parler. And Parler is an example of an Alt-Tech movement. You have Rumble, you have Parler. All those new social media networks that are free to use. Where there are no cancellations happening. And that's not okay. Because if you go to those types of networks, having the freedom to speak out is just a bunch of phrases and a bunch of sexism. And so on. It's not okay. Then you see that you kind of need some type of moderation to give a safe space. So people can open up and speak freely. So you need this type of moderation and I think today this is for social media networks.

But also the event is a space where people can think and can speak out. You have keynote speakers. And you have companies that want to give a certain statement.

So what will you do as an event organizer? Will you choose freedom of speech without moderation? Then you have the Parler and all those new types of social networks that are popping up as a reaction to the way Twitter and so are evolving. Or do you want to be Twitter and Facebook that are really moderating and really fighting misinformation. Or just wicked ideas that are out there. Or do you try to moderate it? Like: please understand what's happening. Create safe spaces for everyone. So people can speak up. Speak freely.

Yes, it's a very difficult balance. Because on the one side freedom of speech is very important. On the other side, spreading misinformation and so on is also very dangerous. So, it's very hard.

You are a popular speaker at events. Did you ever get a question from an organizer to avoid certain topics or...

Yes, ten years ago 'till five years ago, it was, most of the time, sustainability. Please don't talk about sustainability.

The past two-three years, it's, most of the time: don't talk about Muslims and don't talk about blockchain. Those are now the two key topics that, sometimes, event organizers...

And most of the times it's not because they have problems with those topics. It's because they're afraid of what the audience will say, about feelings and...

How do you feel, as a speaker, when an organizer asks you not to talk about that?

I try to convince them to do it. So, for instance, when you talk about diversity. If you look at the city of Antwerp, 75% of our children under the age of ten, they have another origin. If you don't understand this, you're going to have big problems within ten years. Not only finding people for your colleagues, your workforce, but also your consumers, your B2B relationships. If you operate on a worldwide scale, by 2030...

What is the number? One out of the three people will be Muslim. If you work on an international platform or company, you need to understand and be prepared for this. So I try to convince them. Again with blockchain: the same thing. I know it has a possibility to disrupt a lot of industries. And I know that some people think they can earn a lot of money very fast. And that they're going to fail really badly in that. I know that but just shutting the voices, is not going to help us. So I think it is...

Because it's starting to become really sensitive in our society. As an event organizer you need to be prepared. You need to think about: what is our role? And what will you choose? And we go from, on the one hand, scanning more and more, and on the other hand: everything free. And I think both are not okay. And we need some type of moderation. Because if people are able to yell at you and to say: I'm going to kill you, and: I see you, and so on and so on, then you don't create a safe space. So people can speak up and free their mind.

I don't think we're going to find the answer here. Unfortunately. But it is really interesting to start thinking about this. Because it will become more and more important in the next few years, I think.

Yes, I think so. It is normal that people start questioning. Like: how is it possible that a company from the United States can decide what we will do and what we will think? And that there is some kind of counter-effect to that. And the event industry is also a space where people speak up. So, they're going to be part of that discussion.

Yes, up to the next trend. Lab-grown food.

Yes, it's something that started to fascinate me two years ago.

First time I got introduced to the idea of meat, at that time, being created in labs was a few years back. And that was really expensive. And, like, the meat was really, really small. But now, today, if you just take a little bit of cow. Just a little bit, just like a little peppercorn. Very small. And the cow will not feel anything. Maybe the cows say: Mooo. That's about it.

She will live.

Yes, she will live. You take a little bit of the cow and you put it into the bioreactor. And at this moment, within six weeks, we have eighty-thousand burgers. And that's insane. And it's delicious. And it is just a natural element, like...

It is wonderful. It has possibilities Not now but give it some time. When it's legalized. Because it's very illegal. But when it's starting to get legalized and when there are more and more companies that are going to focus on this. That we could eat meat. But also we could eat fish. Because they're not only creating meat out of it, but also fish. Tuna. Salmon. Like fish that maybe are...

Well, you shouldn't eat anymore. Tuna. But here we can create fish in labs. Where we live. In our cities. So the distribution is not coming from the other side of the world. It's just where we are actually living. Even maybe underground. And recreate our meat and our fish. But also our cheese and our milk. Because we can now already...

Just from that same element of the cow, we can create milk out of it. So it has a lot of opportunities there. We see there's an enormous amount of start-ups. Rising in California. Focussed on fish.

In Singapore, it's already legalized. And that's normal because almost 90% of food in Singapore is imported.

They need it there.

They really need it.

From a European perspective I don't know when it will be on top of our agenda. On a political level. Because it's illegal. And of course we are not importing 90% of our food. But it has a lot of opportunities. The cow doesn't feel a thing. So if you're a vegetarian today and you don't eat meat because you don't like the idea that cows are being murdered. Well, in this case, you can eat meat and maybe there's a QR-code. So you can scan the QR-code and you can see where your cow is still walking around.

With a webcam on it.

Or are you doing this from a more sustainable perspective. We won't need so many cows anymore. And we can work more and more, just with this little piece of meat. So it has an enormous possibility. Worldwide. Also for Europe. Also for Belgium.

And it will not be the only solution for our food problem. Because we have a food problem. If you think about it: by 2050 we need to double our food production. That's impossible. We don't have the amount of space to do this. And it's also not positive for our climate. So we really need to find solutions. And plant-based food is a solution. And more food coming from the sea is a solution. But this is also part of the solutions. Lab-grown meat, fish, cheese, milk.

Yes and the event industry is very aware of the fact that something needs to be done about food, also for ecological reasons. And this can be one of the pieces coming up.

Yes, it's definitely not the answer, but it's one of the pieces. And, for instance, if you look at meat, you can take elements out of it that might be bad for you. And we can add elements that are way better to use. So, do you need to be scared?

Because, I'm a meat lover. So, I really love meat. I don't eat meat that much, but I really love meat. But I think: I'm also a wine lover and I enjoy my wine. But I don't drink wine every day. I taste wine. And I think for meat it's the same. We will...

Most meat, it will be plant-based or will be, maybe, lab-created. But if you are an event and you want to create an extreme experience, you can use meat, but then it will be tasting. Like we taste different types of wine, we will taste different type of high-quality meat. And then your chicken nuggets and your currywurst will be just plant...

Now some of the chicken nuggets already look like they're lab-grown, but that's another discussion, I think.

The next topic we had on the agenda is audio-healing. What is that about?

Yes, audio-healing. Music is very important for the event industry. And I think that most of your audience knows that. If you want to get people in a happy mood, play ABBA. Like, everybody loves ABBA. Or power up the beats when your heart needs to stop. You can influence the way people feel, thanks to music. But now, there's been more and more scientific research that you can help people, with stress-relief or pain-relief, through music. Or through sounds.

And a very good example is Neurofen. Neurofen is a medical medicine. If you have pain, you can use...

If you have a headache you can take a Neurofen.

If you have a headache, you can Neurofen. And Neurofen has now created a playlist, together with scientists and musicians. They say: well now, before you take your medicine, first listen to our playlist. Because the playlist was created, designed, to help you relieve the pain. And if that's not working, well, then take our medicine.

But that's really fascinating. We already knew music indeed has a big impact on emotions and how people feel. And that you can play with that to build an experience, at an event. But if music can have such an impact, that it could relieve a headache...

If we think more about the music we play, what impact could we have on people at a conference or whatever?

Yes, it is a beginning of a new industry, I think. It's very interesting to follow.

For instance: spatial, immersive sound. They now experimented during Covid. In hospitals they created special spaces. For nursery people. So, if they wanted to have just five minutes, or ten minutes, cooldown, they could listen to their sounds. And their sounds were so designed that it takes your stress and pain away.

So, I think it has a lot of opportunities. Not only for beats and pumping up the heartbeat.

Also has an effect.

Definitely has an effect. But also just to calm down. And to un-stress. Or give people time to focus. Or to deal with the information overload. And I think it's, maybe...

Well, this is one part of the story. But also the idea of sound and that maybe, after Covid, that there is more attention to sound. Because we've been at home so much. Most of us are still, a lot of the days, at home. And at home, it's way more silent. If you go to an event space, where there is bad acoustics...

People get annoyed. And it's not only in event spaces. We see that in offices and in restaurants. And we see, more and more, that people are more aware of sound and the noise of a city or the noise of an event. So I think that we need to be more careful with the kind of sound that you use. And do not only use the pumping pop-hits of the moment. But also start exploring a sona-app or all those new types of companies that really, from a scientific perspective, try to combine sound with well-being.

Very interesting trend. The last one.

People might be wondering why there is a flying car on the screen all the time. It is for a reason. It is our last topic.

Yes. It's not easy today to be a futurist trendwatcher. Because most of us are in, like in...

Yes, just surviving.  And we have all those creepy visions about possibilities. Of our financial systems. And war. And the future doesn't look that bright. But I think there are ways to start dreaming again. And flying cars is one of it. When you think about futurism. Like in the beginning: in the 1930's, 40's, 50's and definitely also in the 60's. People were dreaming of technology that was, like, really going to change everything. And flying cars has always been part of it.

As a child, I looked at Back to the Future. That was the image of the future. A flying car.

And I think that the future looked better in the past than today. Like: hmm...

But I think flying cars will arrive soon. So maybe in the past the future looked better. Maybe today or in the next month or years, it's going to change. And then we can maybe slightly embrace, I know it's difficult today, some more positive dreams towards the future. And flying cars, well it's kind of...

Well, the technology is here.

Technology, it's here already. It's being used. It's being tested. Probably by 2024, that's within two years, when you're in Rome, when you arrive in Rome, you can take a flying car from the airport to the city centre. It only has space for two people. And no luggage. So, you can't take your luggage with you. But those are first steps. I know Slovenia wants to already launch a flying taxi now, later this year. I know Slovakia, it will launch by 2026, a four person taxi. So, there are companies..

Of course Dubai and the heli-spaces on top. So I think, if you have a future event space in mind...

Not tomorrow.

Think about a helo pad.

But start thinking about mobility that's...

We've been stuck for decades. In our car. And the solution might be going faster than we think.

Yes, because right now, what we are already seeing is that some event spaces start using autonomous driving shuttles. To and from the parking for example. That's a first step.

Yes, I know in Belgium, for instance, you have Ush. The little autonomous bus.

I think my first experience with autonomous cars was already six or seven years ago, with Audi. Raced 304 km/h and nobody was driving.


That was scary. But that was a really great, mind-blowing experience. Because at that time, seven years ago, I was like: okay, wow, technology is here.

But I think the past six-seven years the innovation stopped a bit. Because the rest of us were not ready. And, well, as consumers, we're not ready there. We're not yet ready to jump into autonomous cars or autonomous buses. And definitely not autonomous flying cars. We did research with Group M, I think it was beginning of last year. And we asked for people who, in their cars, have elements of autonomous cars. So, the car's not autonomous but, for instance, the car can park itself. The car has lane-assisted adaptive cruise control. And we just asked: who of you is using it? And apparently those people are just not using it. And there are several reasons why they are not using it. They love to park by themselves. That's really...

And the automatic transmission. For decades, some countries already shifted to automatic transmission. But we still really wanted to...

Manual gear.

We like to drive. Yes! And it's the same thing that you see...

Like: we don't like that the robot will park our car, no. We want to do it on our own. And the autonomous lane assistance, adaptive cruise control, a lot of people shut it down. Because they have the feeling that they drive backwards in the end. The car is always giving space to the other car and then other cars just start jumping in, in between.

Sounds so familiar.

And then suddenly, you have the feeling that you're driving backwards. So, people don't like it. And then they assume that they, as a person, know better how to drive. So they can just drive bumper to bumper. On the road. Like: drive 120 - 130 km/h. Just right behind another car. And then the question is: who knows better? You, as an individual? Or the technology that understands you need some time and space. To brake. To not have an accident. And I know a lot of people think they are better. But I doubt that.

But even, like you are saying, and that's totally true, that we're still not there yet. As humans. Technology is there, it is coming. And if you're building, as you say, an event venue today, you better start thinking about these things. Or you will need to revamp everything in a few years.

Yes, I also hope so. Because I'm, almost on a daily basis, going to events. And you're, all of the time, stuck in traffic. And we really need to come up with good solutions for mobility. And some people discuss that autonomous cars will not have that good influence on our road. I don't know. I don't know.

I think it will because you will have less accidents. Most of the time they are smarter than us. But the most important thing here is an...

Go a little bit further than just autonomous cars or flying cars. It's the idea that, maybe, we can start dreaming again. And for me this is also very nostalgic. And then I also think about ABBA. Because ABBA is pure nostalgia. But now, nostalgia, ABBA, is playing three times a day. In London. Three times. They're not there.

The holograms in...

Avatars, ABBA: Abbatars. And it's a wonderful experience, truly futuristic, for every generation. And I think that if you asked most people there, a year ago: would you like to go to an avatar who's going to sing? Then they would say: no way. That's too futuristic. That's too cold.

That's not a real thing.

That's not a real thing. And now, three times a day, in London. People go to something that's pure nostalgia but can laugh, have fun, dream and dance. And maybe that's more important than only the vision of a flying car. It's just the idea that the future might look better. And maybe that keeps us going forward.

But I think that's an interesting or a beautiful quote to stop the episode with, is: to start dreaming again.

Yes, it's not easy today. But we need to do this. And if you want to have, like, a pointer, a trick to do this: most of the time, when we talk about the future, we talk in terms of less. We're going to eat less meat. We're going to travel less.

Sounds boring.

Yes, sounds...

Your next cola is less sugar.


That's a good thing, maybe.

No, but what is in it? Like, it's all the time: less. And stop talking about the future as being less. The future is just going to be different.

We're not going to eat less meat. We're going to eat lab-created meat. And maybe plant-based meat. And it's going to be delicious. We're not...

Yes, less cars. Who cares? We're going to have one app. We're going to have access to hundreds of different types of cars. And every day, we could choose another type of car.

So, it's not about less. It's about different. And maybe, when you approach this way of thinking, and you combine this with a bit of ABBA, maybe you'll a have more positive view on the future.

All right Tom, thank you very much for coming over and sharing with us.

You're welcome. You're welcome.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.