5 ways the world will change in 2022: CNET's predictions for the year ahead

Let's talk about space travel, mRNA, crypto, inflation, the Great Resignation, EVs and the metaverse.

Jason Hiner VP of Content, CNET Labs; Editor in Chief, ZDNET
Jason is Vice President of Content for CNET Labs and the Editor in Chief of ZDNET. From CNET's world-class testing facilities, the CNET Labs team designs tests to quantify the best products worth buying.
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Jason Hiner
6 min read

Even before the momentous events of 2020 and 2021 shook up the planet, the tectonic plates of culture, society and technology were already shifting and reshaping the world. The pandemic took those changes and accelerated them, exacerbated them, and in some cases, threw them into chaos. 

As we speed into 2022, one question remains: Where are we headed next?

In tech, health, money, transportation, home and family life, we can be confident of one fact: Things are changing, fast. As in years past, CNET has its finger on the pulse of the ever evolving world and we're confident our CNET: The Year Ahead stories will help you navigate these choppy waters.

During this three-week series -- which will include CES -- we'll especially tackle five themes that will shape 2022.

1. The pandemic and the future of health

COVID-19 largely caught the world by surprise. When the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020, few of us suspected that it would lead to two years of shutdowns, social distancing and disruptions. Things appeared to be normalizing in mid-2021, but then the Delta variant -- and later the Omicron variant -- touched off renewed shutdowns.

Will 2022 be the year that COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic? That's what we're all hoping, of course, but there's no going back to 2019. For example, expect more of the world to follow Asia's lead, where people have been wearing masks in public for years if they were sick (out of courtesy to the people around them) or immunocompromised. 

And, healthcare will never be the same post-pandemic. Expect telehealth to become commonplace now that a lot more people have been exposed to using video calls for health visits. And the COVID-19 vaccine will forever change the way vaccines (and potentially other therapies) are created. It's not unusual for vaccines to take a decade to develop, but these were created in 10 months using genetics and mRNA technology. This could prove to be one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the century.

2. Hybrid work and the 'Great Resignation'

Work and school were perhaps the most disrupted aspects of life during the pandemic. While schools largely returned in-person, work has been a far slower process. Many employees have decided that they prefer the work/life balance of remote work and many have migrated to be closer to family or moved farther away from city centers to have more space and fresh air.

Meanwhile, many employers have become infatuated with the productivity gains of remote work and the ability to scale down their commercial real estate holdings for significant cost savings. 

The most surprising trend that's likely to continue to gain steam in 2022 is the Great Resignation. More people are quitting their jobs and reprioritizing their lives than ever -- CNET's Farnoosh Torabi even has advice. In December, the US Labor Department reported that the number of people quitting their jobs remains at record high levels. How could we go through something as jarring as the pandemic for the past two years and not be changed by it? The Great Resignation is just one example of how those changes are manifesting themselves. 

3. Crypto, inflation and what's next for your finances 

Money and personal finance also remain in the midst of tectonic shifts. In November, inflation hit its highest level since 1982 at 6.8%. The inflation of real estate and cars will be closely watched in 2022, after eye-watering numbers in 2021. The stock market's bull run looks likely to continue with interest rates at such low levels, but its volatile swings are getting more pronounced. There's a big question about whether tech and other growth stocks have run out of steam or are getting ready for another run. 

Speaking of growth, cryptocurrencies have been breaking new highs and attracting more interest. The crypto exchange app Coinbase passed TikTok and YouTube to become the most downloaded app in Apple's App Store a couple times during 2021. Some view the world's most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as a hedge against inflation. Politicians, athletes and others started taking their paychecks in Bitcoin in 2021. We'll see if your employer will offer you that option in 2022.

4. Space, travel and the next internet

One of 2022's most dramatic developments is the new space race. China and Russia are collaborating on a future moon base (in 2030) as well as landing a robot on an asteroid (in 2024). Not to be outdone, NASA announced its next 10 future astronauts in December with ambitions for a future Moon mission.

Private space companies SpaceX , Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic all sent civilians into space in 2021, and they are all teasing the promise of a future of space tourism. Their ambitions will get bigger in 2022. This will be the year that SpaceX plans to put its Starship reusable rocket and space vehicle into flight for its first missions. Speaking about Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, "This is a profound revolution in access to orbit. There has never been a fully reusable, orbital launch vehicle. This is the holy grail of space technology. It is the fundamental breakthrough that is necessary for humanity to become a space-faring civilization." 

Meanwhile, SpaceX's StarLink and Blue Origin and Amazon's Project Kuiper will launch thousands of low orbit satellites into the atmosphere in 2022. Their mission to bring fast, reliable broadband internet at a reasonable price to every corner of the planet is a welcome advance. But, the side effect is tons of space debris that could disrupt astronomers' telescopes, collide with spacecraft and create massive amounts of space junk. Apparently, they've never watched the movie Wall-E.

5. The EV has arrived -- and it means business

Electric vehicles , or EVs, are poised for a huge year in 2022 after a number of breakthroughs in 2021, including the Tesla Model 3 becoming the bestselling vehicle in Europe in September. The writing is on the wall for fossil fuel-burning vehicles. The US will discontinue purchases of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the UK will do so by 2030 and a broader coalition of countries have set 2040 as a global date for ending fossil fuel vehicles.

Musk, also the CEO of Tesla, predicted that the Tesla Model Y compact SUV will become the bestselling vehicle worldwide in terms of revenue in 2022 -- beating out the pickup and the compact. But the biggest EV story of 2022 is likely to be the transition in trucks , with the Chevy Silverado EV, Ford F-150 Lightning, Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian R1T dominating the headlines. 

Consumers should also keep in mind that a gas-powered vehicle you buy today could have its resale value drop steeply in the years ahead as demand plummets because of people transitioning away from old combustion engine technology to EVs.

The future

The changes sweeping across the planet will not slow down in 2022, even if the COVID-19 pandemic finally recedes to become endemic. Beyond the five big themes mentioned above, CNET: The Year Ahead will cover a wide range of topics to help you get your head around what's coming.

We'll leave you with one last topic you should expect to hear a lot about in 2022: the metaverse. Plenty of us would love to step into a version of the holodeck from Star Trek, and it's hard not to notice the explosion of online gaming during the pandemic. But let's keep our metaverse expectations low for 2022. A lot of work needs to be done to build better virtual reality headsets and an ecosystem of truly immersive virtual worlds. If we get a few encouraging glimpses of the metaverse in 2022, we should count ourselves pretty happy.