Human beings are fascinated by the idea of predicting the future. They have always tried to know what lay ahead of them, by looking at the events that were about to determine their 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. Both in the Eastern and Western cultures alike, fortune tellers, wizards, astrologists and ministers have been trying to answer this thirst for the unknown. Throughout the centuries they have questioned oracles, shamans and prophets; they have interpreted comets and stars, atmospheric events, animal behaviors, bones, entrails, rings of smoke, crystal balls, the fire, their dreams, the books and so forth.
That ancient yearning is alive even nowadays, where wizards and practices like reading coffee dregs, drops of oil or tarot cards are surprisingly still very 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. What we know today is that this desire for accurate anticipation will probably last as long as humanity does. If it is true that we cannot predict roughly anything about our individual lives; on the contrary, it may be possible to outline in broad strokes the next era that we will experience as a society.
We cannot predict, but we can foresee the next future. We are not deities but homo sapiens, capable of making use and treasuring 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 men 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 look at what happened in past decades, we can imagine what the future will be like.
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-politics and anti-establishment movements are gaining momentum, regardless of the moral authority or preparedness of their representatives. Our trust in the big institutions and structures (banks, funds, governments) went eroded by the minor and major scandals of the last years. Everything “big” (institutions, Governments and “the man”) is now regarded as bad. Globalization reared it’s ugly head, after being ignored or denied at the start. An unprecedented financial crisis slapped us into unprecedented vulnerability and insecurity. Short-sighted and ignorant international politics created one of the worst periods of cultural and political instability the world has ever seen. The attacks of the latter we suffer because of skins having no solutions at all despite what politicians of all colors proclaim.
All the above has thrown us in a feeling of uncertainty and fragility that will impact the counter-reactive choices we make. The era to come will be surprisingly smart and active, carrying positive traits and habits that are now just emerging. We foresee a major cultural shift occurring. Moving from a general distrust of two major forces like politics and economics, people are learning a precious lesson: not to fully rely and delegate their destinies to an economy based on shaky principles and to the guidance of inept leaders. In this new era, institutions and leaders will become weak and mistrusted while we will believe once again in individual power. It will be a new positive individualism. Having had enough of never ending and never useful political talks, people will fight smaller revolutions of which they can see the consequences. They will do so 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:
- 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 which has made ethically correct 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.
We found a great, though tiny, example as testimony of the latter trend.
A form of downsizing our needs can be found in the housing market. The ownership of a house, in our collective imagination has always represented shelter from outside adversities, the place where to find warmth and protection, 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 has driven 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. The bursting of the housing bubble was the primary cause of the credit default swap bubble of the 2007–2009 recession in the United States.
While we look at the past actions that determined our times, we can also spot the movements that are working as counter reactions and will determine the future we will live in. In the US and all around the world, as a response to the insanity of ‘living to own’, over spending, many single individuals are surfing the wave of minimalistic downsizing. One of the ways people are doing so is by leaving the rush for the iconic American home, spontaneously creating a social movement where people are choosing to reduce the 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, sizes, and forms, but they 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 the roof over their heads; this translates to 15 years of working over your lifetime just to pay for it, meaning 76% 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% of Americans are trapped.
The “small house movement” is made of people who advocate living simpler, 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. Small houses have received increasing media coverage, including serial television shows Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters. Although this movement interests people outside the US (in Canada, UK, Spain, Japan, Australia for example), and while YouTube videos are uploaded and articles are written the occupants confirm the positives of this choice: super convenience is not necessarily a good thing, for kids or adults.
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 – shocking fact! Tiny housing doesn’t seem to be about living a tiny life, but rather living the life we have to the fullest.
Social expressions like those mentioned above clearly show us the path people are tending towards a more balanced and aware style of living. A style which 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, are proven to be growing their brand love among people. Brand love always pays, in equations that we can’t even imagine today.