At some point in most of our lives, either because of frustration or exhaustion, or more hopefully because of the contentment that grows from resolution or commitment, we stop trying to conform our lives to trends. New fashions, new habits may be interesting or amusing to observe, they may even offer some initial or temporary appeal, but giving one’s self over to trends is just a bit too demanding. This, I think, explains the seemingly ceaseless tension that underlies most of our lives now, because we are being tempted and encouraged, and even hectored, at a nearly constant rate to see or adopt something that we’re told is popular or stylish, to embrace a new idea because it represents some new knowledge, or to reject an old idea we should be ashamed to uphold. Even more common, we told to accept an alternative version of some product or service, or to give in to some changed method for doing things, because that’s now the acceptable standard.

Letting trends pass by becomes a passive form of self-expression. Done properly, it can be style in its own way. But, when enough people simply reject a prevailing trend or message that becomes a trend too. This is what we’re living through now, I believe, as millions of individuals are implored to react to a steady, endless stream of messages and arguments.

What constitutes a “trend” is something that has puzzled social researchers for decades, and the emergence of short-trends — something that has millions of individuals commenting or investigating just for a few hours or minutes — must be a challenge to anyone trying to develop an investment of development plan, or to define a message for an audience. The obvious (however premature) conclusion of this is that there is (or will be) no audience, no market to be understood, because the majority of individuals cannot make up their mind about anything. They’re just waiting for something to react to, before moving on to the next message, and the next.

This does not mean there are no trends shaping our society – merely that the factors shaping trends are beyond our reasoning and mostly beyond our understanding. It was on this point that I became interested in a white paper issued late last month by IHS Markit, a research and analytics agency: “Top Seven Manufacturing Technology Predictions for 2017.”

I cannot endorse or reject the report, but what strikes me about it is the sense that high-tech systems are developing and initiating trends autonomously, regardless of human guidance.

Trend 1:  The industrial automation equipment (IAE) market will expand by 1.5% in 2017, after two straight years of contraction.

Trend 2:  Remote cloud-based analytics will shift to “local and edge computing,” meaning that process control decisions and responses will become automated outside an operating network.

Trend 3:  Industrial automation will become more influential in decisions to outsource or relocate manufacturing. That is, even as domestic manufacturing appears to be regaining some advantages, the prospect of investors ‘wheeling’ manufacturing begins to take shape.

Trend 4: Software and automation will grow more interactive in concept and in function, and the developers of both seek to expand and coordinate their technologies in order to realize their “smart” manufacturing concepts.

Trend 5: Capital equipment makers will consolidate, especially in the core equipment sectors (e.g., motors, generators, turbines), which rely on high market share in order to remain competitive. 

Trend 6: Standards like OPC-UA and TSN will continue to expand the scope of connectivity for systems and devices, giving users a wider field for communication and interactive manufacturing.

Trend 7: With better connectivity and machine sensing technologies, artificial Intelligence will thrive on factory floors, for robotics as well as manufacturing systems.

Trends may be social phenomena or technical inevitabilities, but they are distinct from individual will. They only affect that much of us that we surrender: to preserve your individuality and maintain equanimity, accept (or reject) them, carefully.