The extent to which the world has changed in the past couple of decades is astounding. The infusion of digital technology, new channels of communication, changes in household composition, the faster pace of living, and the radical transformation of social mores have left many of us feeling unbalanced and unsure of what’s coming next. For all the good it has brought, this dizzying maelstrom of change has also pushed aside a number of things we value, including a meaningful connection to the natural world and a deep-seated sense of community.
Communications company Euro RSCG Worldwide recently undertook a major global study in order to better understand the new realities of modern-day life and how people are reacting to them. Working with research partner Market Probe International, we surveyed 7,213 adults in 19 countries around the world, representing a combined population of 3.6 billion.
“Our study has uncovered a strong sense of ambivalence toward the future,” says Marianne Hurstel, Vice President, BETC Euro RSCG and Global Chief Strategy Officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide. “While consumers are embracing all the new technologies and conveniences that are so much a part of the modern lifestyle, they are also wistful about those aspects of life—including simplicity, intellectuality, and strong ties to nature’s rhythms—that are slipping away. There is a growing sense that we need to take some time, individually and as a society, to think about the direction in which we’re moving and whether we’re going to be happy with where we end up. It’s too late to change course entirely, but we may be able to tinker with those aspects of the future that are most unsettling to us.”
Highlights of the study include:
Modernity has long been synonymous with progress, but the idea of the future doesn’t make us dream anymore. Sixty percent of the global respondents believe society is moving in the wrong direction. More troubling, 4 in 10 sometimes feel they’re actually wasting their lives. Seventy-two percent worry about society’s moral decline.
While just 10 percent believe digital technology will have a negative effect overall on the world, 42 percent believe it’s too soon to tell—suggesting a relatively strong level of distrust and unease about what is to come.
Are people getting dumber? Half the sample worry that digital technology and multitasking are impairing humans’ ability to think deeply and to concentrate on one task at a time. Around two-thirds believe society has become too shallow, focusing too much on things that don’t really matter.
Fifty-eight percent worry we’re losing the ability to engage in civil debate. Seven in 10 worry about the rise in political extremism, and 64 percent are concerned about the rise of paranoia and conspiracy theories.
More than a quarter of the sample (and one-third of millennials) say social networking is making them less satisfied with their own lives.
Our Culture of More has proved unsatisfying: A majority say they are tired of overconsuming and are looking to scale back and live more simply. Four in 10 say they would happier if they owned less stuff.
Attention, 1%: Nearly three-quarters of respondents around the world are moderately to extremely worried about the growing gap between rich and poor.
“Our probe into technology use revealed a number of emerging concerns,” says Tom Morton, Chief Strategy Officer, Euro RSCG New York and Co-Chief Strategy Officer, Euro RSCG North America. “First is the fear that social media and online data collection are chiseling away at our right to privacy. A majority worry that technology is robbing us of our privacy, and 6 in 10 think that people are wrong to share so much of their personal thoughts and experiences online. This isn’t an outsider’s or laggard’s concern: Two-thirds of millennials believe that their generation has no sense of personal privacy.”
“At the same time,” says Morton, “people worry that hyperconnectivity is actually making us feel less connected. More than half the sample worry that digital communication is weakening human-to-human bonds. As marketers, we have a dual role to play—to assuage people’s concerns about privacy and to create more meaningful connections.”
Marianne Hurstel adds, “We have so many tools at our disposal today to shape our individual existences. Now people are seeking to apply that same level of control to society and the ways in which it is evolving. We’re going to see more of a push for a sort of ‘hybrid’ way of living that combines the best of the old and new—keeping current conveniences while holding fast to those traditions and values that are in danger of disappearing. Whether one is spending time digging in the dirt in the garden, immersing oneself in literary classics, or purchasing artisan-made products, people will seek to temper the new with the old, the artificial with the natural, the digital with the analog. And in this way, we’ll create a way of living that offers more meaning, comfort, and, ultimately, satisfaction.”
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