observations on cultural change, its impact on human behaviour and implications for brands

  1. Sherry Turkle “Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other”

  2. The difference between risk and uncertainty

    "Risk, as first articulated by the economist Frank H. Knight in 1921, is something that you can put a price on. Say that you’ll win a poker hand unless your opponent draws to an inside straight: the chances of that happening are exactly 1 chance in 11. This is risk. It is not pleasant when you take a ‘bad bet’ in poker, but at least you know the odds of it and can account for it ahead of time. In the long run, you’ll make a profit from your opponents making desperate draws with insufficient odds.

    Uncertainty, on the other hand, is risk that is hard to measure. You might have some vague awareness of the demons lurking out there. You might even be acutely concerned about them. But you have no real idea how many of them there are or when they might strike. Your back-of-the-envelope estimate might be off by a factor of 100 or by a factor of 1,000; there is no good way to know. This is uncertainty. Risk greases the wheels of a free-market economy; uncertainty grinds them to halt.”

    - Nate Silver “The signal and the noise”

  3. This is an excerpt from a presentation I prepared for an internal learning session at my agency a couple of months ago. It’s about trends as a strategic tool. The focus is not on detecting new trends but on identifying relevant ones and interpreting them for a category or a business.

  4. Progress and nostalgia

    In economics as in trend forecasting there is a simple rule: scarcity determines value. The more complex and fast-paced our lives become, the more we long for simplicity and deceleration. The more our dependence on technology grows, the stronger our nostalgia for lower-tech times unfolds. Technological advancement happens at the expense of the status quo. We adapt to change by replacing old habits with new ones. Because our memory is malleable, we can’t fully know what we have lost as we become more technological. And as new technologies create new problems, “we find ourselves psychologically victimized by technologies that we’ve chosen to adopt.” In this context, our (analogue) past appears golden in retrospect. 

    Progress inevitably produces backlashes. Nostalgia for lower-tech times and idealisation of nature are our responses to growing digitalisation and urbanisation. As countertrends they don’t supersede but coexist with major societal transformations from which they derive. Their manifestations are manifold: from “made from nature” claims in consumerism to New Nature Writing in literature. Tumblr sees an emergence of blogs dedicated to escapism into nature. Urban species’ nostalgie de la boue (nostalgia for mud) has contributed to the rise of farmer’s markets in London and elsewhere. 

    These are all expressions of elevated human needs. Feeling connected to nature and understanding it through a harmonious coexistence is emotionally appealing. We believe that a close connection with nature is mentally and morally healthy; it enables the encounter with the Ego from which we can re-emerge as a better human being. It is a response to our quest for transcendence and meaning.

    As much as we embrace more control and convenience in our lives, we also feel constrained by these merits of technology. We trade spontaneity for security and by doing so we eliminate mystery and adventure from our lives. Yet we bemoan our inability to “get lost”:

    We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.

    Our preoccupation with nature as a response to overwhelming progress is not an entirely new phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution fuelled the importance of and interest in nature - one of the central themes of the Romantics. The movement sought to escape modern realities by placing an emphasis on emotion (e.g. being in awe). While the Romantics doomed technology as a means to spiritual malaise, we opt to find balance and look for new ways to manage our hyper-connectivity. Lowe Counsel has coined the trend 'New Esc', which explores emerging strategies to pull of our digitally connected lifestyles.

    While the radical approach of the Romantics appears outdated today, the sentiment behind it remains the same. The need to “occasionally imagine and celebrate a kind of comfort, authenticity, and sacredness rooted in a past that never existed” is as relevant as ever.