After the pandemic prompted us to spend more time online than ever before, 2022 will be focused on the consequences of our increasingly digitised lives.
The past 12 months have demonstrated how Big Tech can’t be trusted to protect its young and vulnerable users after a series of damning reports from the Wall St Journal laid bare the extent of research Facebook had conducted into the negative effects its photo-sharing app Instagram had on teenage mental health and body image – particularly on teenage girls.
While the global backlash caused Instagram to “pause” work on a new version of its platform specifically designed for children under 13 back in September, it’s possible the company will attempt to resurrect the project within the next year following consultation with parents and child safety experts.
Safeguarding children underpins the Online Safety Bill – the Government’s attempt to hold internet companies responsible for what’s happening on their platforms in the form of the world’s first online safety laws.
The bill is due to appear before Parliament for approval in 2022 following much scrutiny and political squabbling over what it should and shouldn’t cover and how effectively regulator Ofcom will be able to bring some of the world’s most powerful companies to heel.
This is particularly pertinent following the outpouring of vile racism aimed at English footballers following their Euros final defeat in July and the ongoing rows between MPs and privacy campaigners over online anonymity.
Increased amounts of time spent online over the past few years have also accelerated and helped to normalise outlandish tech concepts. After artist Beeple entered the history books by selling digital artwork Everydays — The First 5000 Days for a record-breaking $69m in March, NFT (non-fungible token) mania looks set to continue its inexorable rise into 2022 after auction house Sotheby’s celebrated a record-breaking year of sales – though a bitcoin-style hype crash also appears imminent.
Similarly, Facebook’s rebranding as Meta in a bid to drag the theoretical metaverse (a network of digital spaces) into the mainstream will have us all spending even more time online over the next year if Mark Zuckerberg gets his way. But it’ll be gaming giants and musicians that will persuade us to slip on virtual reality headsets for entertainment and socialising, rather than Zuckerberg’s promise that it will revolutionise the future of work. Because despite the tech industry’s best efforts, there will be just as many reasons in 2022 to log off as there are to stay plugged in.