What are the perceived big issues, challenges, and stories of 2014?

Everybody loves to predict what could happen in the next year — and how those trends will shape both the short and long-term future. We do this every year. A year from now, we’ll be doing it for 2015, along with recapping 2014. It’s an undeniable rite of December.

Pew Research Center just did a study on what people perceive as the greatest global challenges for 2014 and the “winners” were Iran, China, Syria, drone warfare, privacy, and inequality. All are major issues, and all came to the fore in 2013 perhaps more than ever. One interesting tidbit: all these Pew surveys are multi-nation (usually about 39-40 countries, although it varies), and on the drone topic, only four countries have more in favor of drones than against: Israel, the United States, Kenya, and South Africa. On inequality, which is no doubt a major problem of our time (perhaps the defining problem of our time): the only two industrialized nations where close to half (or way more than half) of the citizens don’t think inequality is an issue are Australia and Japan. Even in the U.S., where the top portion benefits from inequality perhaps more than anyplace in the world, about 50 percent of people still see it as an issue.

You can break this all down into different sub-sections too: trends in fashion, in tech, in food, in markets, etc. No one really knows. I can say this with some assurance, I think: the two major events that will capture global attention are the Olympics and the World Cup (both have significant issues ahead of launch). In the U.S., the political storylines will revolve around what happens in 2014 with Congress/gubernatorial elections, how ObamaCare is played, whether Hilary declares for the Presidency (and how quickly Benghazi becomes an issue once she does), and issues with privacy. The economy is going to be a huge thing — that video embedded directly above suggests that while 2013 ended on a high note for investors, 2014 could be a mess if played incorrectly. A return to the 2008 depression levels would not be ideal on the U.S. side. Foreign policy issues, especially in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, will remain an issue. “Big data” is a thing you’ll continue to hear. On the food side, waste reduction will emerge even more. Preserving antibiotics is a health industry trend.

The point is, we don’t know — and in a way, that’s the beauty. It could be a good year. It could be a bad year. It could be an awful year. But it could be a great year. There are macro functions that we, as individuals, can’t control — but on a day-to-day basis, we can take control of our own lives and ideas and things we want to do. I’m not necessarily saying make resolutions — the success rate on those isn’t ideal — but think about where you were last December and where you are now, and think about what you’d like to be able to say to yourself next December. That’s year-to-year progress. And that’s really all we can ask for, right?

Ted Bauer