Which subcultures will be mainstream in 2030?

Which subcultures will be mainstream in 2030?

In a recent episode of the SYDLIS podcast, hosts Steph Smith and Calvin Rosser posed an intriguing question that has us looking at our crystal balls—what’s the "digital nomadism" of today that will be the mainstream of tomorrow?

OK — wait. What exactly does the phrase "the 'digital nomadism' of today" mean?

Well, by Steph and Calvin's reckoning, there was a time, not too long ago, when the idea of a digital nomad lifestyle was almost clandestine—a subculture largely unknown to the broader public. Steph and Calvin lived as digital nomads during 2016-2020 — a time when it was not widely understood.

The people practicing it felt like they were in on a generational 'secret'.

Come 2023, this lifestyle has not only broken into the mainstream but has also transformed the way we perceive work, travel, and life itself.

One can't help but wonder (like Steph and Calvin did in their latest episode):

What's the next niche that remains at the periphery of societal acceptance today, yet holds the promise of becoming commonplace by 2030?

The intrigue lies in identifying a subculture that currently exists in the margins, shunned or misunderstood by mainstream culture, but one that isn't a mere fad—something with the substance and resilience to shape the zeitgeist of the coming decade.

To recap, here are the criteria.

  • A trend, movement, habit, social organization principle, technological trend, or societal shift that is indeed happening today,
  • that is NOT widely accepted by the mainstream,
  • but WILL grow in popularity by 2030

Obvious candidates — let's get some easy targets out of the way first

"Pay by Bitcoin"

Once an obscure and cryptic currency relegated to the forums of tech enthusiasts, Bitcoin has increasingly made strides into the mainstream, especially with businesses now advertising "Bitcoin Accepted Here."

Financial institutions have started integrating Bitcoin into their systems, and governments are debating the currency's legal standing. While some sectors remain skeptical, the sheer market capitalization and institutional adoption of Bitcoin indicate that it has moved past its days as an underground sensation.

Therefore, although it remains a topic of debate, its evolution suggests that it's already a bit too mainstream to be considered the "next big thing" for 2030.

❌ Verdict: A little too mainstream already, even though paying via a cryptocurrency vs. paying by fiat is still an extremely niche behavior. While the majority of people are likely still skeptical of Bitcoin, it is not a "secret" in the same way that digital nomadism was in 2016.

NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens)

NFTs took the world by storm, creating a frenzy among artists, collectors, and speculators. However, the initial hype has subsided, leading some to declare the phenomenon dead or in a "crypto winter." While it's tempting to dismiss NFTs as a fad, this could be a bit premature. The underlying technology has the potential to revolutionize not just art and collectibles, but also real estate, identity verification, and more.

The current lull could be analogous to the "dot-com bubble" of the late 1990s, where the internet saw a sudden surge in interest, followed by a period of skepticism before ultimately changing the world in ways we could hardly have imagined. Therefore, NFTs might be in a temporary winter, gearing up for a resurgence that could see them integrated more profoundly into various aspects of our lives by 2030.

🤔 Verdict: It looks pretty bleak now in 2023, but this could be an outside candidate. Still, NFTs are not a counter-cultural secret, the way digital nomadism was in 2016. Most major news media outlets were not breathlessly covering digital nomadism in the mainstream press in 2016 the way they did cover the NFT craze. We may indeed use more blockchain-based ownership solutions in 2030, but this doesn't quite fit the criteria.

Longevity Hacking

People who genuinely believe they can live to 200 and beyond might be the first subculture as crazy and 'in on a secret' as the digital nomads were in 2016.

The pursuit of longevity is as old as human history and ancient mythmaking, but a subculture of "longevity hackers" is taking this age-old quest into the realm of scientific experimentation and data-driven outcomes.

Leveraging advancements in biotechnology, genomics, and AI, these individuals are employing cutting-edge research, often self-experimenting with various treatments and lifestyle changes in the hopes of extending human lifespan significantly, if not indefinitely.

Unlike other wellness trends that are based on existing science and quickly gain mainstream traction, longevity hacking is met with a unique blend of skepticism and awe.

For the vast majority, the idea of substantially extending human life—perhaps even to the point of immortality—is either a pipe dream or a concept straight out of science fiction. Thus, it fits our criteria perfectly: it's a subculture that's currently not at all accepted by mainstream culture and is often dismissed as impossible or incomprehensible.

The rapid advances in technology and medicine mean that what seems like fiction today could become reality tomorrow. With ongoing research in areas like telomere extension, CRISPR gene editing, and anti-aging drugs, there is potential for breakthroughs that could shift public perception dramatically. As more scientific backing accumulates and as early adopters possibly begin to show verifiable results, longevity hacking could gain more widespread acceptance.

Moreover, the societal implications are enormous—from rethinking retirement and careers to transforming healthcare systems and even questioning the very nature of human existence. If the longevity hackers are even partially correct in their hypotheses, their impact will be profound and far-reaching.

Verdict: Longevity hacking currently resides on the fringes, and it embodies the essence of a subculture that could evolve to become the digital nomadism of the 2030s—disruptive, transformative, and eventually, mainstream.

Further candidates — thinking outside the box

There are literally hundreds of startup and technology trends that are likely to shape the rest of the decade.

But what we're looking for in this thought exercise are not technological breakthroughs we predict will happen in 2026, but instead, areas where the future is already here today — but unevenly distributed.

Here are some candidates I propose:

Sovereign individual movement

This movement has so much overlap with the digital nomad movement, that it's almost a cheat to use it. Some might argue this is just the next phase of digital nomadism. But I would argue this trend has begotten an entirely new sociological species of subculture from the nomad crowd and not just a new breed.

The Sovereign Individual movement is a socio-political and philosophical ideology that emphasizes individual autonomy, self-ownership, and self-governance. Advocates of this movement prioritize personal freedom, often rejecting or minimizing the role of centralized authorities and institutions, such as government and corporations, in their lives.

They often leverage technology, like cryptocurrencies and encrypted communication, to attain greater financial independence and privacy.

The movement is rooted in libertarian principles, and it aims to empower people to become more self-reliant, often through digital means.

The idea is that in a hyper-connected, increasingly decentralized world, individuals can take more control over their own lives, from how they earn and spend money to how they protect their own privacy and freedom.

OK — so what does this mean?

Well, for one thing, there are people who are actively looking to have multiple passports, multiple tax residencies, and international bank accounts.

In the past, people might move for a job or to be with their spouse — from Croatia to Canada, or from the UK to Australia. And they would do that as a response to attaining a new job or career in a different country. They may become dual citizens as a result of the path their life took them, but the second passport, the multiple tax returns, the changing of driver's licenses — it was reactionary.

Sovereign individuals are seeking out other nations and jurisdictions to attain passports, in a way that is almost entirely proactive. They may or may not have any traditional ties to the country or reasons to emigrate. They seek out residencies and citizenships simply to provide options on which country's laws, taxes, business environment, and political environment suits them.

Verdict: I believe that accepting one's nation of birth as the card you were dealt will be less common in 2030. People will proactively move to countries that attract them, far more than in the past.

Countries with dysfunctional government services or societal problems will no longer be able to rely on the inherent friction of losing talented people to other countries. The pre-existing concept of "brain drain" could speed up by one hundred-fold as people vote with their location and choice of citizenship far more easily than in the past.

Families opting out of traditional schooling

As technology and societal norms evolve, an increasing number of people are opting out of traditional educational systems, questioning the efficacy of a model that hasn't kept pace with the rapidly changing world. While foundational skills like literacy, numeracy, and basic science remain constant, the accelerating rate of technological advancements—especially the rise of AI—renders it nearly impossible to predict the job landscape a child entering kindergarten today will face as an adult.

Conventional schools, particularly in the Western world, often lack the agility to adapt their curricula swiftly to these sea changes.

Moreover, just as remote work has disrupted the conventional office, education could undergo a similar transformation, with schools becoming massively global and online entities.

Government-funded schools have long been structured to produce good taxpayers and good employees, often teaching a localized and patriotic version of history, music, literature, and social sciences.

However, globally-minded, remote high schools could offer a more nuanced understanding of history and the humanities, encourage entrepreneurship, and avoid making default assumptions about where students will live and work as adults.

As we look to the future, these shifts could represent not just an evolution, but a revolution in education.

Verdict: Homeschooling has always been there. Before 1700, almost everyone just learned the farming or trade skills they needed to survive from their parents. So there is nothing new under the sun here in terms of "homeschooling".

However, I believe a new genre of completely rethought, reimagined private schools that are already forming as a subculture now — for rich people's kids — will be far more mainstream within the global middle class in 2030. Some governments may even reinvent their public school systems, but I am less confident that public institutions within cities and districts will be able to innovate as quickly as the private sector.

DIY AI assistants and scripts

The AI explosion isn't much of a secret. But hear me out. There is a lot more weird stuff bubbling under the surface than what the mainstream media is reporting on.

Everyone knows that technologies like ChatGPT have ushered in a new era, surpassing earlier consumer products like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana with smarter, more interactive assistants. But within this wave, people like McKay Wrigley have shown that we've only just scratched the surface.

While the use of OpenAI's ChatGPT isn't precisely a hidden subculture, there are many more technically challenging, open-source tools and "frameworks" that are opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Tools that can automate every single task you can think of are now within everyone's reach.

Imagine automating exactly how many groceries to buy, then sending a script to order them on Amazon, all while using computer vision to monitor your fridge's inventory.

Or consider planning an elaborate event that requires personalized invitations and gifts, writing a research paper for a master's degree, planning a two-month-long vacation, or even creating the optimal route for a fleet of delivery drivers for a furniture company.

All these tasks and thousands more could soon be automated in magical ways—not necessarily by general-purpose software like those offered by Microsoft, Shopify, SAP, or Atlassian, but by DIY concoctions. We're talking about random computer scripts housed in a Python file on someone's personal computer—a sort of DIY recipe that anyone can grab from GitHub.

In some respects, the software landscape by 2030 might hark back to the days of the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, computers were more malleable tools, and homebrew programmers (a misunderstood subculture at the time) wrote personalized software on DOS and Apple II machines as almost the default behavior.

That was before major corporations standardized a multitude of products and turned general-purpose, mass-market software into the world's leading industry.

The movement that is still quite niche now but might be mainstream now is that you don't purchase most of your software from a commercial company. You'll bake and cook it at home — just like you make most of your food.

Verdict: In 2030, it may be normal to simply custom-build (through a helpful AI assistant) the software you need for your personal and professional life rather than seek out a perpetual subscription to license software from a commercial seller.

Fractional homeownership or living-as-a-subscription

Armed with the realization that the sharing economy has already transformed many aspects of our lives—transport, entertainment, or work—it's clear that "living as a subscription" isn't merely a futuristic idea but an evolving reality. Amidst challenges like housing affordability, rising interest rates, and the evolving nature of work, the subscription model for living has gained traction.

Rentals are no longer a temporary solution on the path to homeownership; for a growing number, particularly among financially constrained younger generations, they are becoming the preferred choice.

Far from simply being long-term tenants or settling into a "forever home," people may opt for a more flexible lifestyle.

Imagine having a membership pass that allows you to spend a quarter of your year in Phoenix, Arizona; another quarter in London, England; and the remaining time split between Bali, Indonesia, and Lisbon, Portugal.

Some innovative companies are already exploring this kind of model as either a form of fractional ownership or a "rental club" system.

🤔 Verdict: By 2030, we could witness a significant shift in societal expectations around housing.

The traditional notion that securing a mortgage for a permanent residence in a single location is the only pathway to adult success and a stable upbringing for children may be increasingly questioned, making way for more flexible, subscription-based living options.

However, there may be some things far more deeply ingrained in our biology about nesting, homesteading, safety, and security — that make this one a toss-up.

What do you think are the top subcultures in 2024 that will be mainstream in 2030? Let me know.