Democracy in its current state isn’t working. Throughout the Turbulent Teens and Transformative Twenties, citizen uprisings have spread like wildfire across continents, from the political clashes of The Dislocated World to demands for a socially just Post-growth Society, and most recently an urgent climate reckoning from citizens who have yet to reach voting age.
What links these movements is the role that togetherness plays in the fight to dethrone institutions. To rebuild collapsing systems, citizens are wasting no time in forming unions and alliances, recognising that, ultimately, individual action is ineffective when compared to the capabilities of collective bodies, skills and imaginations.
Working together is vital when we could be moments away from future pandemics, climate disasters or an imminent recession. As David Ehrlichman, author of the 2021 book Impact Networks, puts it: ‘Given the increasing complexity of our society and the issues we face, our ability to form, grow and work through networks has never been more essential.’
Given the increasing complexity of our society and the issues we face, our ability to form, grow and work through networks has never been more essential
Consequently, community is a more valuable resource than ever. The Edelman Trust Barometer recently found that ‘people in my community’ (62%) are more trusted than CEOs (49%). But while citizens make progress in assuming collective behaviours – think back to the mass displays of solidarity during lockdowns – businesses lag behind. The commercialisation of the sharing economy, for example, has ‘strayed a long way from its original ideals of community, cooperation and collaboration’, Simon Lovick, content manager at Founders Factory, reminds us.
Luckily, a new model has the potential to reroute power from organisations: Web3. In this digital laboratory, decentralisation reigns: citizens become squads, profits are dispersed and community is king. It represents a fresh start, an Alternet Economy that allows us to imagine how systems rooted in consensus, equity and care can be reproduced in offline societies too. How, for example, could cities, wealth and even entire organisations be shaped by solidarity?
‘The new normal will include a greater awareness of systemic dependencies and the need for social goods,’ predicts Greg Sherwin, vice-president of engineering at Singularity University. ‘Linear thinking and highly individualistic, reductionist approaches to society and the planet will shift towards communitarianism.’
This means that brands, who are nothing without their communities, will make the radical move from being sellers to coordinators. To genuinely place collectivism at the heart of their products, campaigns and workforces, brands should prepare for a future in which they invite customers to run their businesses, design infrastructure as a service, and blur the boundaries between a company, a community and a collective.
As our collective priorities move from Covid-19 concerns to larger social, planetary and technological inequalities, people are exchanging individual desires and demands for group consensus.
We may associate future populations with a strong sense of self, thanks to the hyper-individualist narrative pushed by social media. But young members of the Zalpha generation – where Generations Z and Alpha intersect – are dispelling this myth, recognising that collaborative thinking is essential to a better future. Two-thirds (67%) of young people in Britain would like to live under an explicitly socialist economic system, according to the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Online, alliances built around shared interests, ranging from gardening to sneaker resale, have become powerful armies in places like Discord and Bilibili, transforming the way we connect, collaborate and develop community ties with strangers. Konnect recently found that members of Gen Z have an average of six friends they’ve never met face to face.
Community has also been a lifeline for groups historically excluded from mainstream society, such as LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous groups and people of the global majority. With the Zalpha generation set to be the most diverse yet – the number of white Americans has declined for the first time on record, and one in six young people in the US now identify as LGBTQ+ – we can expect to see community values play a central role in our future society (sources: US Census Bureau, Gallup)
Global Driver: Evolving Demographics
Experimenting with new forms of affiliation, the community-curious next generation identify as group members as well as individuals
As concerns about coronavirus recede, the mental, eco- and economic dread that it caused have shown no signs of abating. Now, the collective energy we used to withstand the pandemic is being refocused on issues such as wealth inequality and climate justice.
According to Ipsos, Covid-19 has fallen to third place in a global ranking of the world’s top worries, with poverty, social inequality and unemployment now the top concerns for global citizens. These issues, however, are still wrapped up in pandemic discourse. Those who were already struggling financially pre-pandemic, including lower-income workers and people of colour, face even more economic instability, reports McKinsey & Co.
Some experts believe this widespread fear and anxiety we have experienced together will have positive results on how we move forward in addressing these problems, pushing us to a more consensual, integrated mindset. ‘People will be more environmentally conscious than ever before and will engage en masse in efforts to regulate corporate resource extraction and pollution,’ says Abigail de Kosnik, an associate professor at the University of California, who goes on to explain:
[People] will show a collective willingness to adopt less environmentally harmful lifestyles
Global Driver: Climate Change and Resource Scarcity
The conversation has moved on from individual micro-actions such as recycling to larger, more collaborative ways of lessening climate change
Individuals once extracted a great deal of their purpose from their jobs, resulting in a cult of ‘workism’ and a burnout epidemic. But a new movement dubbed The Great Resignation, in which millions have quit their job without a new path in mind, offers a chance for change.
This major shift in priorities is the manifestation of the Pleasure Revolution, a trend predicting the rise of positive idleness. Now, 1.7m of such ‘idlers’ have assembled on Reddit’s antiwork forum, backing up Oracle’s finding that 88% of people say their meaning of success has changed since the pandemic started.
But as millions of people privileged enough to do so rethink their career paths, many are re-engaging with larger interconnected systems – whether these are environmental or socially driven – to find fulfilment. For 42% of young people in India, it’s family that has become an important source of happiness since the pandemic (source: MTV India). Taking a global view, a major study by HSE University of young people in countries including China and Russia found a positive association between collectivism – particularly with regard to family ties – and life satisfaction.
In Italy, China, Russia and the US, young people found a positive association between collectivism and life satisfaction
Global Driver: Dislocated World
The pandemic helped people recognise the personal limitations of aligning career with purpose, motivating people to find life satisfaction closer to home, and within more localised communities and collectivist opportunities
The Decentralised Web
In the same way that collectives have fought to gain autonomy in real-world systems, the battle for control of virtual spaces rages on between Big Tech and Alternet rebels.
Decentralisation is one of the driving forces behind Web3. This re-imagined internet is intended to be governed by its users, and its collectives are flourishing in gaming platforms like Roblox and decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) like Friends with Benefits.
But this sense of ‘freedom’ that Web3 promises is already being disputed. Ed Zitron, CEO of media relations company EZPR, argues that Web3’s veneer of equity is being rubbed away to resemble the hierarchies of Silicon Valley – an idea exemplified by Facebook’s acceleration into the metaverse. He writes:
These systems are not ‘free’ or ‘owned by the people’, but owned by the people who created the systems
It’s important to remember that it’s still the early days of Web3, and such spaces are currently populated by exclusive groups of early adopters. For every expert like Zitron highlighting its limitations, there are many future thinkers adapting the formula to build better eco-systems of community.
Global Driver: Accelerating Technologies
The technology needed to make products, services and communities fairer and more equitable is finally here, and will eventually decentralise power in the real-world too
Neo-collectivism is not only motivating consumers to create their own systems of commerce, care and community, but leading brands and organisations to reconfigure their own anatomies too.
The pandemic may have reinstated the act of popping to a neighbour’s house for provisions, dog walks or friendly check-ins, but these casual transactions – which are typically based on kindness as opposed to financial gain – are now being formalised to reach the masses.
Hyper-local platforms such as Nextdoor are booming as our everyday environments morph into Equilibrium Cities. The app, which is used by nearly one in five households in the UK and more than 66m worldwide, recently found that 73% of US respondents believe neighbours are their most important community (source: Nextdoor).
New initiatives are applying this sense of localism to the retail market, using communal sharing models in order to decouple consumption from capitalism. The reciprocal nature of Buy Nothing, for example, has turned heads in the retail industry with the launch of its own app in November 2021. The community began as a series of Facebook groups encouraging people to request and collectively share objects for free with the goal of reducing consumption.
Neighbourhood commerce can be based on economic transactions too, meaning retailers without physical spaces could use their customers’ own homes as stores. Launched at Dutch Design Week, VRIENDEN is a furniture brand that operates as a social design network, positioning strangers’ living rooms as showrooms where they can buy furniture.
73% of US respondents believe neighbours are their most important community
As the platforms that promised to disrupt the hospitality sector begin to resemble corporate monoliths in their own right, family-style services are emerging that nurture local communities as well as guests.
Data shows that short-term letting platforms can have detrimental effects on a social level. Simon Lovick, content manager at Founders Factory, recently commented on Airbnb driving up rent prices in certain neighbourhoods and cities:
Not only does this become counter-intuitive for tenants looking to reduce rent costs... it creates dependence on the platform for income
Dubbed a ‘non-corporate Airbnb’, the Climate Homestay Network is positioned as an antidote to this, returning to the original values of home-sharing. Launched by Human Hotel in response to the skyrocketing cost of accommodation during COP26, it gave generous locals the chance to freely open their homes to those attending – or protesting at – the event, and is now partnering with charities such as Extinction Rebellion to globalise its services.
Taking a more speculative approach is social organiser Amahra Spence, who is using a hotel as a moniker to represent civic infrastructure. The design for her concept hotel, Abuelos, replicates the experience of her grandparents’ living room, creating a vibrant, chaotic space for marginalised communities and artists to assemble: ‘Hotels should be these sites of imagination, this amazing amalgamation of people who would never ordinarily share the same space together.’
Where citizens once relied on Silicon Valley powerhouses to spearhead better technologies, they are now taking control; forming human networks that rely on groups working in tandem.
Trust is vital to the effectiveness of these self-governed collectives. Take Solar Protocol as an example. It’s creating a ‘naturally intelligent network’ of people who have access to solar panels and are willing to use them to collectively host a low-impact internet. With servers across time zones, seasons and weather systems, the project can only work if enough people commit to the cause.
Helium is also on a mission to make the internet lighter – and faster. Its next generation LongFi wireless network depends on a community of people buying a hotspot router for an investment of £366 ($495, €438). Those who do so will earn a cryptocurrency token that Helium promises will be valuable in the future, as well as knowing they’re powering a greener internet that offers 200 times greater wifi range at a fraction of the cost of cellular data.
What makes this movement unique is that acts of cooperation are no longer considered anarchist but everyday behaviour. ‘The pandemic strengthened our model of collaboration between people, government and the private sector, deepening what I call ‘people-public-private’ partnerships,’ writes Audrey Tang, the digital minister of Taiwan, who has been the driving force behind g0v, a collective of thousands of ‘civic hackers’ that allow citizens to participate in public affairs.
About 100,000 Dutch citizens participated in collective energy projects in 2021
As the micro-societies of Decentralised Care come to the fore, the virtual realm is becoming a testbed for new structures of kinship that undercut toxic social media platforms.
Let down by healthcare systems, young people are pegged to be the benefactors of peer-to-peer care. According to McKinsey & Co, 58% of Gen Z in the US report two or more unmet social needs, compared with 16% of people from older generations. It’s ironic that this generation are also the biggest users of ‘social’ media.
Already, social networks are beginning to move away from individualism. BagiKata, an Indonesian app for venting and confiding, hires therapists and young experts to foster a confessional atmosphere, and, as its founder Baskara Putra explains, 'give a human touch, to be just like that one friend you can rely on.'
Reciprocal forms of kinship have been observed globally for centuries. But in the West, a self-care endemic means we must find ways to incentivise people to look out for others, such as positioning community care as a form of wellness. Lenéa Sims, energy coach and founder of Inner Play, tells Well+Good:
I wish I saw people making an effort of practising mutual aid like they practise yoga – on a regular basis and with the desire to make a change
Similarly fed up with social media’s optimisation rhetoric, Sara Weinreb launched IMBY, an anti-capitalist community centre that allows people to nourish one another online.
It’s not just cryptocurrency that will upend the way we earn and spend money. Web3 innovators are also experimenting with the shared mechanisms of DAOs to disrupt the banking sector.
In future, research organisation Other Internet believes we won’t necessarily interact with money as individuals but as collective ‘squads’. Whether between housemates or Discord friends, the article demonstrates how such squads ‘allow social currency and financial capital to inter-convert, creating opportunities and group resilience that would have been impossible to achieve alone’.
In practice, this means groups of people can club together to buy something they normally could not afford. This is the concept behind PartyBid, an app enabling squads to combine their capital and purchase NFTs together. It not only normalises fractionalised ownership but hints at a future in which we roam the wider web in teams, much like we do in games.
The concept of co-building wealth can also aid societal problems such as the housing crisis. Using blockchain technology to empower the working classes and turn one million families into first-time home-owners, Commonlands is building the world’s first autonomous housing cooperative: ‘If we applied the best aspects of DAOs to co-ops, we could create a scalable solution to meet community housing needs and massively transform home-ownership for low-income families who face economic barriers to home-ownership.’
As leaders wake up to the vital role communities play in their businesses’ success, the most forward-thinking will unravel their brands entirely and be run by their consumers as opposed to a central presence.
While this movement began in the youth and media industries, decentralisation is becoming a less intimidating proposition. After all, as media professor Nathan Schenider argues, brands have been, perhaps superficially, presenting as community-centric for years. ‘Let's match community focused behaviour with community focused ownership, so that it's all the more powerful,’ he tells LS:N Global.
This model, shifting ownership away from a CEO and towards peripheries, is a major change in how we run organisations. But co-operatives such as freelancer network Braintrust are demonstrating how tokens can be a straightforward way of incentivising participation while benefiting the brand. Members equally make key business decisions, including the amount of commission fees taken by Braintrust, and negotiate benefits for freelancers, such as insurance.
In Schneider’s larger Exit to Community mission, he proposes that the end goal for start-ups should not be acquisition but a self-functioning community, like the one built by Braintrust. To achieve this, user-friendly voting tools are essential for empowering people to make decisions. That’s the idea behind Modpol, a voting tool that mimics metaverse spaces. ‘Participating is exhausting,’ he explains. ‘How do we design tools that create that avenue of participation, but don't overwhelm us with it?’
Let’s match community focused behaviour with community focused ownership
As collectivism becomes a fundamental principle of the 2030s, citizens will co-exist with brands, families and Web3 communities in new ways.
As individualism becomes less prominent among consumers, brands will follow suit and retire their larger-than-life egos. Many will choose to opt out of insincere self-marketing altogether – encouraged by the culture of post-purpose set to infiltrate the 2030s – and become amplifiers of social justice movements instead.
Today, 53% of people around the world say they are willing to pay more for a brand that takes a stand, according to Havas’ 2021 Meaningful Brands study. Going forward, consumers will increasingly expect brands to act as blank canvasses for more important causes and communities.
Demonstrating how this can be taken literally is Casa Lumbre, a Mexican American spirits company using blank labelling as a space to uplift community initiatives. With a vodka dubbed The Community Spirit, Wieden+Kennedy was tasked with utilising the typically forgotten marketing channel that is packaging to ‘redirect marketing dollars’ to other causes. ‘Designing something intended to highlight causes and communities is a tightrope to walk because it’s so easy to come off as feeling exploitative and disingenuous,’ says design director Julian Flood: ‘At the end of the day we’re selling vodka, and we wanted to be honest about that.’
What if a brand took its own marketing, and used it to improve communities?
Since the 20th century, market researchers, designers and advertising agencies have been using the binaries of consumer demographics – and the hyper-specific behaviours and habits associated with them – to market products and services.
But as collectivism begins to take hold, and citizens sharpen their understanding of themselves as members of wider, more complex groups as opposed to consumer types, such false dichotomies will no longer be relevant.
This could mean entire generational labels are phased out. In 2021, hundreds of science researchers signed an open letter urging Pew Research Center to dissolve its use of generational terms, such as Baby Boomers and Gen Z, arguing that these create stereotypes ultimately shape people’s behaviours. The movement is helmed sociologist Philip Cohen, who writes: ‘People experience history differently based on their backgrounds… So throwing everyone together by year of birth often misses all the glorious conflict and complexity in social change.’ Pew is now in a period of reflection.
Creative research lab IAM predicts the design world adapting too. In a recent manifesto, co-founder Andres Colmenares calls for ‘design for plurality’ which he describes as ‘designing against the polarisation of societies, by dissolving the binarism of us vs. them.’ In practice, we could use design to ease reliance on lazy segregations, from gender to political leaning.
One of the problems with Web3, and the plethora of terms it encompasses, is how steeped in jargon it is. If these spaces remain opaque and unwelcoming to outsiders, it will take longer to make the shift to decentralised forms of community.
Tina He, one of the co-founders of Web3 onboarding platform Station, likens this transitional period to the 1990s, when people entered the workforce with little understanding of how to use a computer: ‘Similar things will happen with Web3; if you are not as fluent in using these economic opportunities that are enabled by crypto, you may feel disadvantaged.’
To help brands make the plunge into the world of DAOs, NFTs and the metaverse, Web3 consultancies like Parachute will multiply. What’s more, changes in the language surrounding this space are necessary to achieving wider adoption.
Syndicate is a DAO services start-up that has launched a new product called Web3 Investment Clubs, which essentially uses Wealth Squads to allow up to 99 people to pool their funds. Alongside its step-by-step guides, the club’s branding and use of traditional terms like ‘investments’ represents its mission to demystify DAOs for a larger group of users.
Two in five (38%) Americans are familiar with the metaverse, but just 16% can correctly define the term
As we become better neighbours, community members and even strangers, the family could lose its position as the dominant emotional structure. Drawing from LGBTQ+ and Indigenous cultures, the concept of the chosen family will reduce our reliance on ancestry.
Already, we’re seeing the nuclear family – and the natural care systems it produces – being ruptured. Children and spouses were traditionally leant on to support ageing relatives, but with YouGov finding that 23% of India’s Gen Z are not interested in marriage or having children, and the New York Times revealing that older couples are opting for living apart together (LAT) relationships to avoid full-time caregiving, the need for non-familial care will become ever-more pressing.
Such alternatives could be based on currency systems, providing a source of income for those impacted by the recession. In Japan, a country where over-65s make up a record 29.1% of the population, Fureai Kippu, or ‘caring relationship tickets’ act as a credit currency to encourage intergenerational care work (source: Internal Affairs Ministry).
If we do indeed become rewarded for actions of empathy, this could invoke a broader definition of care to include everything from erotic needs to raising children. This is something ME O’Brien, a Trans communist writer, is calling for:
In place of the coercive system of atomised family units, the abolition of the family would generalise what we now call care
The shift from individualism to collectivism is challenging brands, particularly in the West, to prioritise community facilitation over corporate innovation.
Facilitate stakeholder collectivism
People are seeking an active stake in the brands they engage with, and expect businesses to prioritise the needs and growth of the community over financial growth aimed at the C-suite. Re-examine the hierarchy of your business and instead of paying lip service to your community through marketing initiatives, shift tangible power and control to the collective to share in ownership and brand direction.
Offer fractionalised goods and services
Groups of consumers are self-assembling around shared financial and cultural values, and rejecting individualist systems. Create opportunities within your business for collectives of people to access high-value goods and services that would typically be impossible to achieve alone through fractionalised shares and cooperative finance models.
Align with niche consumer values
Rather than binary consumer demographics that perpetuate irrelevant stereotypes, people are defining themselves by their collective attitudes and values, and are uniting through these across borderless networks. Ensure that your own brand values are aligned with the collective and determine the direction in which your business is going. Don’t be afraid to be niche, authentic and real to resonate with a community.
Consumer: Coordinate collaboration over consumption
With the rise of people-powered networks and wealth squads, people are motivated by the benefits of collaborating and being part of a self-sufficient community. How do the ways in which you show up as a brand – whether that’s your store, marketing strategy, product or service – actively benefit and bring value to the broader community and culture?
Culture: Advocate for community agendas
Collectivism has historically been integral to many global societies such as Indonesia and China, but the emergence of Web3 and new technology is changing the way in which it is assembled. How can your brand’s marketing and messaging account for the cultural nuances of collectivism, and amplify an individual community’s agenda rather than appropriating or pushing your own motives?
Business: Promote civic collectivism
In this emerging future, the brands to which consumers collectively direct their spending will be expected to participate in positive societal progress. As a business, what role do you play in driving collective progress and leaving society in a better state than you found it?
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