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At The Future Laboratory, we believe that the future is a project to participate in. Far from being a black box that we have to accept without question, it is something to take a point of view on. You can have good future scenarios and bad ones, but through careful research and planning you can help to bring about the future that you want to see, and make potential negative futures that little bit less likely.
In order to track consumer trends as they develop, we use a methodology called the Diffusion of Innovation Curve, which describes how consumer trends tend to flow from Innovators (around 2.5% of a given population) through to Early Adopters (13.5%) onto the Early Majority (34%) and Late Majority (34%), and end with the Laggards (16%). This sociological theory dates back to the 1940s, and although it can only be used as a rough guide, when backed up with rigorous qualitative and quantitative analysis it is generally quite revealing.
The problem comes when groups within a population become radically disconnected from one another. What if your Late Majority no longer feel any affinity with Early Adopters or the Laggards are fighting with the Innovators? This is when you’ll start to see friction between consumer trends at different points on the curve, and might begin to explain the current sense of disconnection that has caused such upheaval in the British political, economic and cultural systems. The voting patterns reflected this, highlighting dramatic divides within the UK, such as young versus old, urban versus rural, London versus the wider UK, affluent versus working class.
Two trends that we’re currently tracking help to illustrate this point. New Bricolage Living examines the third wave of globalisation built around urbane individuals. It’s a mindset that is based on ubiquitous access to digital media and mobile connection, resulting in a bricolage identity that draws on multiple cultural contexts simultaneously. It explores identity as a psychographic rather than a demographic; as something that constantly shifts depending on the changing context of the individual. It leads to a kind of globalised neutrality in gender, nationality and race.
Compare this to confrontational consumer mindset we examined in Backlash Brands. Here, we find a breakdown in trust between consumers and the institutions that represent and serve them – politically, commercially or culturally. A crisis of confidence has developed as trust has eroded, with consumers expecting the worst and all too frequently being proved right. Whether that is the British MPs expenses scandal or the Volkswagen emissions debacle, many of those in positions of power have proven themselves unworthy, and contaminated the system in the process.
New Bricolage Living is an Innovator and Early Adopter mentality. It’s a borderless mindset that demands freedom of movement, both online and offline. But in a society coiled for Backlash and looking for offence, New Bricolage Living can appear elitist and disconnected from mainstream concerns. The third wave of globalisation serves an urban elite, but has failed to create a social structure that can bring the rest of the population along for the ride. Without concrete mechanisms through which all strata of a society can benefit from a particular fiscal and cultural outlook, the social contract breaks down and the majority no longer aspires to adopt the cultural traits of the elite. Instead, they look to radically disrupt a system that has failed them, hoping that what comes next will be better.
The result that we woke up to on 24 June 2016 might have come as a shock to those of us who buy into New Bricolage Living, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a protest vote from those who don’t know any better (as many of the UK’s liberal elite have framed it). Instead, it can be seen in terms of Backlash Culture as a very deliberate dismantling of a system that the majority has lost faith in – often for good reasons. If we are going to repair the damage done by Brexit, we need to unite a divided nation and understand the root cause of the disconnect.
Jonathan Openshaw is the editor of LS:N Global.