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The University of Alabama

Educated Guesses for 2014


For the 33rd consecutive year, The University of Alabama’s Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year. While these “educated guesses” don’t always come true, our track record over the years has been good.

Social Media

MySpace Returns, AR Social Media Spikes

“Believe it or not, MySpace is back,” says advertising and public relations instructor Randall Huffaker. “Love or hate it, it will grow; Instagram and Snapchat will only get bigger.”

But the biggest social media movement in 2014 will be in “augmented reality,” from apps like Junaio and Aurasma, which put the power of AR in individuals’ hands; to medical AR apps, which enable surgeons to see inside the body before/during surgery; to military apps, which manipulate AR for enhanced views/terrain details, and so forth; to Playstation 4, which has integrated AR as plain old fun activities for kids. BMW and Audi are both testing ARs that work with car windshields to assist the driver with traffic and weather reports.

“Ultimately Google Glass is bringing augmented reality to a personal level, bringing our experience up and away from the smartphone to the world around us.”


Fashion and Design

Slip Dresses Among Fashion Resurgences

Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor

If spring 2014 fashion month designs are any indicator, logo mania and slip dresses will have a resurgence, says Brian Taylor, an instructor in the department of clothing, textiles and interior design.

Next year will see longer skirt and dress lengths, fringe, sheer fabrics and floral appliqués. Influences from sports and the gym will continue to be popular, as well as crop tops, metallics, pants worn under dresses, mixing florals with plaids and words/slogans splashed across sweatshirts, tees, jackets and dresses. Popular prints may include ginghams, bandana prints, artistic paintings, polka dots and Hawaiian florals, with neutrals, black-and-white combinations, yellows, blues and lavenders being the colors of choice, Taylor adds.

Look for brands to mix pastels with bright saturated colors, a fresh approach to spring color combinations. As for shoes, expect a highly decorated flat sport sandal – an update to the 1990s version – to become fashionable.

Open Kitchen-Shelving, Walk-In Showers

Stephanie Sickler

Stephanie Sickler

Bold, artistic colors in the fashion world will also make their way to the interior design realm in the coming year, says Stephanie Sickler, assistant professor of clothing, textiles and interior design.

“I would expect to see bold colors with unexpected and new color combinations, with cobalt blue making a significant impact this year,” she says. “It would also not be a surprise to see these rich colors paired with raw and natural materials in the home.”

In addition to color trends, Neil Kelly, an award-winning design-build remodeling firm, predicts a continued shift toward downsizing, eco-friendly materials and multigenerational living, Sickler says.

“We could see more open shelving in kitchens, walk-in showers rather than deep stand-alone tubs and relaxed living spaces as a result.”



Luxury Plug-in Hybrid Cars Take Off

Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian

Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian

Makers of premium luxury cars will introduce plug-in hybrid vehicles with the performance consumers expect from top-of-the-line autos coupled with better fuel economy than the most-heralded green compact cars in 2014, says Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, a professor with joint appointments in mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering.

On average, a car could achieve 60-80 mpg on a 2.5-ton car with a top speed of 150 mph, he says. “They will have acceleration better than a Ferrari with the fuel consumption better than a Toyota Prius,” he says. “Is this having your cake and eating it too? You bet! Only the cake is a bit more expensive.”

3-D Printing More Available, Still Not Widespread

Additive manufacturing, commonly called 3-D printing, will be more available to those outside of research and industrial applications as prices on printers drop, but 3-D printers will not be a must-have product for consumers in 2014, predicts Dr. Andrew Graettinger, director of the University’s 3-D Printing Lab and associate professor in the department of civil, construction and environmental engineering.

“We’re seeing really nice printers come down in price, but it’s not quite there yet for the general consumer,” Graettinger says. Stores are carrying 3-D printers for as low as $2,000, and tech-savvy people who need them for projects will continue to be early adopters.

“Household printing is going to take more time to take off, but we may see some stores offering 3-D printing services in the coming year.”

Mobile Phone Encryption to Increase

As technology expands, so do the efforts of those hacking into databases, bank accounts and files. And after the federal government’s domestic spying program was made public by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, expect more people to encrypt their mobile phones in 2014, says Dr. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, assistant professor of criminal justice.

“Due to concerns with privacy, we will see an increase in mobile phones being password protected or encrypted by the general public. This increase will cause a legal battle between our Fifth Amendment rights (right against self-incrimination) and the ability of law enforcement to compel a suspect to provide passwords or encryption keys.”

Seigfried-Spellar says we haven’t heard the last from Snowden. “There will be more secret files leaked, and because of his notoriety and success, insider threat is even more inauspicious in the coming year.”



Pressure to Change ‘Redskins’ Name Grows

Dr. Andrew Billings

Dr. Andrew Billings

One of the hottest topics in professional sports in 2013 has been the name of Washington’s National Football League team. With many sources pressuring team owners, could 2014 see a name change?

“My guess would be that the Redskins do not change their name in the next year, but that pressure will build as some other entities will choose to change their Native American-oriented names,” says Dr. Andrew Billings, professor of telecommunication and film and director of the Alabama Program in Sports Communication.

“Debate over the Redskins name will be higher than ever a year from now, but I don’t see change coming until economic interests are threatened, which will happen, but will take some additional time.”

Sports Concussions to Prompt Federal Legislation

Concerns over children suffering concussions while playing sports, particularly football, will prompt federal legislation in 2014, predicts Dr. James Robinson, endowed chair of sports medicine in the College of Community Health Sciences.

Laws to prevent children from returning to a game or practice after showing signs of concussion already exist in 49 of 50 states, and the federal government soon will try to unify those rules.

“If children show signs of a concussion, they should not go back into practice or a game until they’re cleared by a medical professional,” Robinson says. Robinson notes that most experts recommend limiting hitting in football practice for young athletes to two days a week, out of concern for children’s maturing brains, particularly among those younger than 13 or 14.


Diet and Health

Plant-Based Diet Trends to Strengthen

Sheena Quizon Gregg

Sheena Quizon Gregg

Next year will prove to be another year of trendy eating that avoids certain food groups in aims of better health, says one University of Alabama registered dietitian. The Paleo diet will continue to be popular, but a large focus of 2014 will center on plant-based diets that are gluten-free and non-GMO, says Sheena Quizon Gregg, assistant director of health education and prevention for Health Promotion and Wellness.

Food manufacturers will pick up on this trend and provide anything from almond-based yogurts to meat-free barbecue options. This “natural” focus will also include food products made with natural, low-calorie sweeteners versus their artificial counterparts, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose.

“But don’t worry,” Gregg says. “These new plant-based diet trends will not affect the bacon industry.”

Physician Shortages Milder in Alabama

Dr. Lea Yerby

Dr. Lea Yerby

Rural Alabamians may not be as affected by primary care physician shortages in 2014 as other medically underserved states dealing with the impact of health reform, says Dr. Lea Yerby, rural medicine expert.

Yerby, an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine, says the population of people newly insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will exacerbate the state’s primary care physician shortage; however, this stress may not be as dramatic in Alabama as in other areas.

Since the state is not expanding Medicaid Enrollment, a large portion of uninsured Alabamians will not have options for insurance coverage and, therefore, will not be seeking a new primary care home. Economically, more residents in rural Alabama will qualify for tax subsidies to purchase insurance in the state marketplace, given their lower median income.

Nationally, using midlevel or nonphysician providers will address the workforce shortage, but legislative changes would be required to facilitate this in Alabama, and that will not happen for a few more years, she says.


Law and Politics

‘Common Core’ Political Battle to Continue

Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski

Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski

The Alabama College and Career Ready Standards – love them or hate them – have been the most divisive topics in K-12 education over the last year.

Misinformation and misperceptions about the federal government’s involvement made the adoption of the new Alabama standards, which were derived from the Common Core Standards, a politicized tug-of-war. Don’t expect that aspect to change, at least not completely, in 2014.

Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski, professor of math education, says the narrative has started to shift with the help of groups like Alabama GRIT (Graduate Ready. Impact Tomorrow), which, through K-12 teachers and higher-ed professors, has worked to clear mistruths about the standards. While a total repeal of the standards is highly unlikely, expect other efforts to halt progress, Zelkowski says.

Pot Legalization Details to Delay Additional Movement

Don’t expect marijuana-legalization floodgates to open in 2014. Despite citizens in Washington and Colorado voting to legalize small amounts of the drug for recreational use in their respective states in 2012, numerous hurdles remain for both states to effectively regulate the drug.

“These two states now have to decide how much you can legally possess, what the concentration level will be of THC you can have in marijuana that’s purchased, and the amount of THC that can be in your system and still operate a vehicle,” says Dr. Diana Dolliver, assistant professor of criminal justice, who previously worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “These issues have to be reasonably hashed out before other states try to legalize it.”

Additionally, legalization in Colorado and Washington violates international treaties, she says, and other countries have been critical of the lack of response from the U.S. federal government.



Alabama Economy to Grow, but Slowly

Overall, Alabama’s economic growth should be relatively better in 2014 compared to 2013, according to Ahmad Ijaz, an economic analyst for the Culverhouse College of Commerce. Ijaz says the state’s inflation-adjusted GDP, a key indicator of the state’s standard of living, is expected to grow by 2.0 to 2.5 percent in 2014. Transportation equipment manufacturing is predicted to be the fastest-growing industry. Other sectors of the economy expected to see relatively strong growth include professional and business services (mainly administrative services, waste management, etc.), healthcare-related services (primarily elderly care, social assistance, etc.) and leisure and hospitality (food services, restaurants, etc.).

Ijaz says the U.S. economy is forecasted to grow by around 2.5 percent in 2014, compared to 1.7 percent growth seen in 2013, while spending on durable goods will rise by 2.3 percent, just slightly above the 2.0 percent rate of growth in 2013.

Unemployment Rate to Remain High

Ijaz also weighs in on the state’s unemployment prospects. Despite gains in payrolls in recent months, the unemployment rate is expected to remain relatively high in 2014 as more workers enter the labor force with a gradually improving economy. With consumer and business spending still remaining sluggish, most employers are expected to remain cautious about hiring new workers and making new investments.

“The U.S. unemployment rate, currently at 7.3 percent, will remain around 7.0 percent in 2014, maybe 6.9 percent,” says Ijaz. “Alabama’s unemployment rate is already below 7.0 percent (6.3 percent), but if the economy begins to improve significantly, the unemployment rate will go up as more and more people who have given up on looking for a job enter the labor force.”


Media and Entertainment

News to Grow More Customized

Dr. Wilson Lowrey

Dr. Wilson Lowrey

The changes in the newspaper business in recent years have been fast and furious, particularly in 2013 with multiple large newspapers changing owners. Dr. Wilson Lowrey, chair of the journalism department, expects those new owners to be trendsetters in 2014, which will be a positive for the industry as a whole but will present challenges for journalists.

“The news industry will follow the lead of Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and new owner of the Washington Post, by marketing news as a customized product,” Lowrey says.

“More than ever before, news outlets will connect readers to information and services that are personally relevant, and the news you see will be less about the world and more about you and your own private circle. Technology that makes it easier to drill down to the details of peoples’ personal lives will drive this, as will the desires of advertisers to target individuals based on where they go, the things they buy, the media they use, and the people they interact with online. This trend will be good news for the news business, but it will further challenge journalists’ professional ethics and journalism’s public service mission. It will also encourage our growing tendencies to seek fragmented, ‘nichified’ and ideological camps.”

Targeted Advertising Made Easier

Dr. Joseph Phelps

Dr. Joseph Phelps

In the past year, the popularity of targeted advertising through platforms like Facebook and Google has grown exponentially. Social media users often consent to having their personal information used in such a way when they sign up for an account, and it’s likely this will only increase in 2014, according to Dr. Joseph Phelps, chair of the department of advertising and public relations.

“As the ability to gather, store and manipulate huge amounts of data on individuals continues to increase, so too will the use of that data for developing persuasive messages and for efficiently delivering those messages. The only deterrent strong enough to inhibit this action lies in the voices and behavior of citizens and consumers, and, barring some trigger event, it is unlikely we will see such a mass movement in the coming year,” says Phelps.

Film Industry Has Georgia on Its Mind

With big-name movies and television shows now choosing to shoot outside of California, the decentralization of the film industry almost seems inevitable. But Dr. Glenda Cantrell Williams, chair of the telecommunication and film department, says to expect a big swing in 2014.

“Next year, I foresee 80 percent of television dramas being shot outside of Los Angeles,” Williams says. “Production will also migrate toward the sunny South, away from Vancouver and New York. I believe Georgia will become the most production-heavy state outside of California. Louisiana is still slightly ahead of Georgia right now, North Carolina is doing great, and Mississippi just passed new incentives and is starting to recruit. The state of Alabama has a good incentives program, and could also reap the benefits of the decentralization.”