What if the next era will be better than expected?
Human beings are fascinated by the idea of predicting the future. We have always tried to know what lay ahead, by looking at events that were about to determine our destiny, for good or for bad, in order to be ready to face them.
The desire to have the power to foresee the future goes back to ancient times. In Eastern and Western cultures alike, fortune tellers, wizards, astrologists, ministers, oracles, shamans and prophets have interpreted comets and stars, atmospheric events, animal behaviors, bones, entrails, rings of smoke, crystal balls, the fire, their dreams, books and so forth.
That ancient yearning is alive even nowadays, where practices such as reading coffee dregs, drops of oil or tarot cards are still popular across cultures and social classes. Along the same lines, it is interesting to see how horoscopes are readily permitted even among people of impeccable intellectual rigor and rooted skepticism. This desire for accurate anticipation will probably last as long as humanity does. While it is true that we cannot predict roughly anything about our individual lives, it may be possible to outline the next era in broad strokes.
We cannot predict, but we can foresee the next future
We are not deities but homo sapiens, capable of making use of past knowledge to build hypotheses and conjectures for the times to come. The future is in fact ruled by the consequences of past actions and events, as well as by humans and their presumed behaviors. Looking at economic fluctuations and the consequent human reactions to them, we can then imagine what lies ahead. Drawing a picture of what societies are going through can help our work as marketers to understand people better and to anticipate and offer answers to the challenges we all face. Envisioning the era to come will help us navigate the changes we are living through, rather than succumbing to them.
If we examine the past, we can imagine the future
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All that could be lost, was lost. All that represented an anchor, a guidance and a source of trust in our societies, vacillated. Our faith in politics, so surefire in the ‘60s and ‘70s, wavered. Across the world, anti-political and anti-establishment movements are gaining momentum, regardless of the moral authority or preparedness of their representatives. Our trust in big institutions and structures (banks, funds, governments) has eroded by the scandals of the last years; everything “big” (institutions, governments and “the man”) is now regarded as bad. Globalization reared its ugly head, after being ignored or denied at the start. An unprecedented financial crisis slapped us into unprecedented vulnerability and insecurity. Short-sighted international politics have created one of the worst periods of cultural and political instability the world has ever seen.
All of the above has thrown us into uncertainty and fragility that will impact the counter-reactive choices we make. The era to come will be surprisingly smart and active, marked by positive traits and habits that are now just emerging. We foresee a major cultural shift occurring. Moving from a general distrust of major forces such as politics and economics, people are learning a precious lesson: not to fully rely on or delegate their destinies to an economy based on shaky principles and to the guidance of inept leaders. It will be a new positive individualism: In this new era, institutions and leaders will become weak and mistrusted while belief will grow in individual power. Having had enough of never-ending and never-useful political talks, people will fight smaller revolutions of which they can see the consequences, with the belief that a better reality is possible. Individual initiative, self-responsibility, living more consciously and sustainably will be the words of the revolutions of the next decades. If we look out there, we see the warning signs of the shift to this more conscious era.
There are interesting movements that are all growing stronger, and that are all made real by people, not politics:
- The Re-economy – an independent economy powered by the acts/choices that people make every day by reducing consumption, reusing, repairing and recycling.
- Conscious consumption – a new mindset that has made ethical production and consumption become a viral topic, hitting all categories.
- Downsizing – a concept that has become a new lens for us to view ourselves, ruled by generated needs and consequent obligations.
A great, though tiny, example as testimony of the latter trend can be found in the housing market. The ownership of a house, in our collective imagination, has always represented shelter from outside adversities, as well as a lifetime achievement. In modern society, this latter aspect of the possession of a house was a result of people’s generic rush to possess and spend more than possible, especially in the US. In terms of housing, this mindset drove people to take on unaffordable mortgages, forced the housing market into an unfortunate bubble and plunged a nation into the deepest financial crisis since The Great Depression.
While we look at the past actions that have shaped our times, we can also spot the movements that are working as counter-reactions and will determine our future. In the US and all around the world, as a response to the insanity of ‘living to own’ and over-spending, many individuals are surfing the wave of minimalistic downsizing, spontaneously creating a social movement where people are choosing to reduce their l space they live in. The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet (despite a decrease in the size of the average family), whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. Tiny houses come in all shapes and sizes, but they all enable simpler living in a smaller, more efficient space. People are joining this movement for many reasons, but the most popular ones include environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for more time and freedom over more time at work (making money to maintain high living standards). For most Americans, 1/3 to 2/3 of their income is dedicated to housing; this translates to 15 years of working over your lifetime just to pay for it, meaning 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. While tiny houses might not be for everyone, there are lessons out of this movement to be learned and applied to escape the cycle of debt in which almost 70 percent of Americans are trapped.
The “tiny house movement” is made of people who advocate living more simply, while having more time and more money to spend with those they love. It is not just about de-cluttering, but about decreasing living standards to be freer. Engaging with each other, instead of losing each other in a large space, builds community. Spending more time together as a family and more time outdoors brings us closer together. The tiny house movement doesn’t seem to be about living a tiny life, but rather living life to the fullest.
Trends such as those mentioned above clearly indicate a growing desire for a more balanced and aware style of living, a style that encompasses more humanity and responsibility in the choices we make. As brand crafters, we should embrace and foster this new sense and sensibility, to shape a profound human message for present and future generations. Brands that do so have seen growing brand love and loyalty among customers. Brand love always pays, in ways that we can’t even imagine today.