What's in store for the new year?
Some predictions: gas prices will hit $5 a gallon, Republican governors will set their sights on the 2012 presidential campaign and the "share-everything" social media trend will plateau.
Fear Pushing Gas Prices Up?
Prepare to fork over $5 for a gallon of gasoline by 2012, former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister says. That's nearly $2 more than the current average price of $3.05 per gallon, according to the Department of Energy.
American demand for gasoline has returned to pre-recession levels, while demand from Asian countries has increased beyond levels in 2007 and 2008, says Hofmeister, author of Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk From an Energy Insider.
"There's a psychology of oil pricing based on fear -- fear of shortage, fear of lack of supply," he tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. The Obama administration sent a shock to the world trading marketplace when it said the U.S. is not going to pursue more off-shore drilling at a time when the world needs more crude oil.
"That's pushing prices up," he says.
Drivers' sticker shock will be only one of the consequences of a gas price jump driven by higher crude oil prices. "The higher cost of fuel touches everything in our lives," Hofmeister says. "We have all kinds of crude oil applications in everyday life, from the Chapstick to the lipstick, to the fuel in our gas tanks."
Hofmeister advocates for a more pragmatic approach to meeting U.S. energy needs. "I'm not proposing we drill 20 million barrels a day [domestically]," he says. "I'm proposing we produce 10 million barrels a day -- 3 million more than today, equal to what we used to produce 35 years ago. The oil is there. There's plenty of it if we would give ourselves permission as a people to go make it happen."
Alternative energy sources are the future, he says, but in the short-term, "we really have no choice -- with the 250 million cars on the road today -- but to put gasoline and diesel into those cars."
Republican Vs. Republican?
In 2010, the Republicans and Democrats fought for control of Congress. This year, it might be the Republicans and, well, the Republicans who duke it out on Capitol Hill, Reid Wilson, editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline, tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.
"I think we're going to see an immediate role with the Tea Party movement … highlighting the schisms with the establishment Republican side," he says.
The Tea Party-backed candidates of 2010 campaigned on a pledge to cut spending -- and it worked. But now they're in office, and the first thing the Republican leadership is going to ask them to do is to vote to allow the government to spend more.
"I think you're going to see a lot of these Tea Party members really sort of understanding the ways of Washington quickly, getting their feet in the fire and having to realize, 'Yeah, we have to vote to raise the debt ceiling, even though we've promised to cut spending,' " Wilson says.
Jan. 1 doesn't just mean the start of the New Year; it also marks the beginning of the 2012 presidential election campaign.
And even though everyone is talking about Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, Wilson has his eye on a few other Republicans, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour, Indiana's Mitch Daniels and Indiana's Tim Pawlenty.
Even if these Republican governors don't drop their names in the hat for 2012, Wilson says, they will still be the stars of the new year.
"Republican governors are the people who have in the past been able to sort of bring a new policy frontier for the Republican Party," he says. "The states can be incubators for ideas at the federal level ... Some of the things that new governors are going to try now, we may be talking about them in a couple of years on the national level."
Among the new crop of Republican governors whom Wilson expects to dominate the headlines this year are governors-elect Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Nikki Haley of South Carolina.
$50 E-Book Readers?
Last year the price of e-books readers began a nosedive that won't end in 2011.
"I think by the end of  you’ll see [e-book readers] getting blown out in clearance for like 50 bucks," tech writer Clive Thompson says. "When [an e-book reader] becomes almost as disposable as a pocket calculator, you'll see the vast majority of people switching over."
And, he says, that may not mean the death of publishing as we know it.
"It's going to be great for independent publishers because it's going to reduce the number of middlemen that get a cut," he says. "And it's going to make it possible to do a book with a run of [1,000 or 2,000] copies that's profitable for everyone involved, which it currently isn't."
Social Media Slowdown?
In the last few years, online users have swarmed social networking sites, revealing everything from their first kiss to their least favorite co-worker.
But Thompson, contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Wired, says that the "share-everything" tide is beginning to turn.
"A lot of people are becoming uncomfortable with how much they're putting out there," he says. "This is the year we're going to see them scale back a little bit and become a little more guarded."
As unlikely as it sounds, Thompson's prediction is based on a technology trend from the past.
"It reminds me of what we did with the mobile phone," he says. "When [the mobile phone] first came along, everyone got over-excited, used it way too much. They were answering the phone at the dinner table, in church [and other] completely inappropriate places. And it took about five years for people to figure out, 'No, I don't have to answer my phone when it rings.'"
Thompson says that same social consensus is going to start to build around online social networking this year.
Location, Location Application
One of the most popular location-based applications of 2010 was Foursquare, a service that makes hanging out easier by letting you see in real-time exactly where your friends are.
Now that location-based tools are common in smart phones, Thompson says we're going to see a lot of apps break into the mainstream that use geography in a new and fun way.
One such application that Thompson has his eye on is called Broadcastr. He predicts people will use the app to leave behind recorded messages for friends, and even to review restaurants. Users will be able to walk by the front door of a new lunch place and actually hear customers talking about the food. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.