This was the GDI’s 16th European Trend Day!
In our modern world, does food come first and then morality? And what does this mean for society? How does the flood of information influence our consumer behaviour? How is this related to the growing number of global protests? Last week, ten international speakers discussed these and other questions at the GDI. Here are the most important insights at a glance.
David Bosshart: ‘Politics has become more consumerist, and consumption more political’
Loyalties between people and companies are becoming increasingly unstable and dissolving ever faster. Consumer expectations have increased in an era where everything is just a click away. Feelings, rather than reason, dominate the markets. 2019 was the year of protests. Types of protests vary from location to location, but they are increasing across the world and usually come in waves. People’s motivations for protest have also changed: it's no longer about better working conditions, but about the right to consume. Worker democracy has become consumer democracy. The new protest movements are media-based, digital and flexible. But they are not able to implement strategies. It is often unclear what exactly they are trying to achieve or what concrete goals are being pursued. In the end, we as a society have to ask ourselves whether we need clever escapism or whether we shouldn’t focus on solving the real problems after all.
Jacquelien van Stekelenburg: ‘The logic of collective action vs the logic of connective action’
Since 2008, the beginning of the financial crisis, the number of protests has increased worldwide. In 2019, this number exploded. On the one hand, there are democratisation movements (e.g. Lebanon, Hong Kong, Chile); on the other, there are those that define themselves around a theme (e.g. climate protests). The increase in protests is mainly due to the use of social media, which allows the incitement to protest to be efficiently communicated to many people. However, in order to survive and make a difference over a longer period of time, movements require social institutions such as schools, universities or other organisations, where people can meet face to face, where individual complaints can be translated into collective ones, where a collective identity and trust can be built, and where loyalty to a movement can be consolidated. Because even though the number of protest movements has increased, their effectiveness is decreasing. There is a lack of structure and leadership figures with whom politicians, for example, could enter into a dialogue. Declining political effectiveness and increasing repression threaten the basic idea of protest: the enforcement of democratic law.
Priscillia Ludosky in conversation with Luke Robert Mason: ‘Joining around ideas and values, not around political parties’
The composition of the Yellow Vest Movement is very heterogeneous. It unites people with very different political views through their common values and distrust of the government. The Yellow Vest Movement differs from other movements in its consistency. It is flexible and is able to merge with other movements, all of which have the common objective of reducing discrimination and social differences. The movement gives people the opportunity to express themselves. They come together through ideas and values, not through a political party. The Yellow Vest Movement has no clear goal, but takes four main approaches: fundamentally changing the political system, strengthening public services, lowering taxes, and ensuring greater environmental protection. The Yellow Vest Movement wants to create the necessary democratic tools for this.
Adam Harvey: ‘Privacy is communication: it regulates what can be known, like camouflage’
Resistance to permanent surveillance, for example on the internet or through cameras, is growing, because more and more people understand the mechanisms and the system behind it. In contrast to today, data protection was not yet a major issue in 2010. On the contrary: in the post-Snowden era, those who demanded privacy were suspected of wanting to hide something. Privacy in the 21st century is what camouflage was in the 20th century. Camouflage, too, was initially not understood as a strategic means of war. Only with the development of new weapons of war and the realization that it is better to hide from artillery fire than to run into it did it find broad acceptance. The acceptance of camouflage shows the progress of human intelligence. The same applies to the growing resistance to surveillance.
Kaiser Kuo: ‘The narrative of innovation: we believed innovation was only possible in a free and democratic society. Not anymore’
Until 2016, the United States massively underestimated China's technological development. Today, however, it massively overestimates it. The two states are involved in a technological Cold War. An overreaction on the part of the USA due to fears of Chinese superiority could lead to a new McCarthyism. China and the West are at different stages in terms of their attitude towards technology: China is in a ‘Star Trek’ phase where technology is seen as something good. The USA, on the other hand, is in a ‘Black Mirror’ phase, and is increasingly critical and fearful of technological possibilities.
Helen Job: ‘Brands have a role to play and a moral obligation’
In times of uncertainty, more and more people trust brands instead of states. Increasingly, it is no longer politics that can bring about change, but companies. With power comes responsibility and a moral obligation. To remain successful, real commitment is needed, not just a marketing campaign to improve a company’s image. Brand activism is the keyword here. It requires action, not just good intentions. Brand activism means working for an overriding goal that goes beyond profit – for example, opposing climate change. Ideally, this goal builds on the purpose of a brand, such as producing clothes. For example, a manufacturer might decide to focus more on fair production of fabrics. Such implementable measures are needed to bring about a real change in behaviour.
Glenn Manoff: ‘Trustworthiness is the thing that builds brands today’
Trust and distrust dominate today’s discourse. In an era of fake news, it is more important than ever for companies to maintain customers’ trust. If they succeed, they gain customer loyalty, customers recommend the company to others, and this in turn increases sales. The golden rule is that if you want trust, you have to behave in a trustworthy manner. Companies appear trustworthy when they radiate competence, reliability, integrity and goodwill. Imperfect is the new perfect: people appreciate it more when brands are authentic than when they’re flawless. The majority would rather buy a product with a lot of average ratings than one with a few excellent ones. Future consumers will care as much about whether companies share their opinions as they do about their data.
Isaac Thomas: ‘Veganism is not a trend. It’s the fastest growing lifestyle in the world’
The number of vegans is growing rapidly. But the infrastructure is lagging behind. More opportunities are needed to connect with other vegans. Vegan Nation provides the technological infrastructure to unite the global vegan community into one global nation. As a state, you need a strong economy. This is supported by Vegan Coin, a digital, blockchain-based currency. Every transaction with Vegan Coin supports activities that bring the community together. So the impact of a transaction goes far beyond the monetary value itself.
Bas van Abel: ‘In a world that does not care, caring is the most radical thing you can do’
The relationship between people and smartphones is very close. But where such a device comes from and how it was manufactured is usually unclear. It is not an issue in product marketing. A smartphone is made up of over 1000 parts and contains over 80 different minerals. To make a fair smartphone possible, the whole production process has to be rethought, from fair mines in Africa to production in China under fair working conditions. The impact of a fairly produced smartphone goes beyond the manufacturing process. It is a statement. It demonstrates that there is a market for fairly produced smartphones. And production could also be worthwhile for other providers.
Douglas Rushkoff: ‘Being human is a team sport – that’s what technology and capitalism both want to undo’
Science has taken on the status of a religion. As a concept, it is closely linked to control. Francis Bacon, one of the first empirical scientists, shaped this understanding through the image of nature being conquered by science and subordinated to our will. This understanding has become established, so that everything that claims to be real must be able to be quantified. If it is not quantifiable, it does not exist. In the digital age, this also means a reduction of possibilities, a quantification: either 1 or 0. There is nothing in between. Technology is therefore never neutral. People adapt to quantification and quantization, and try to imitate machines. They adapt to technology. And that is definitely the intention, because if people can be increasingly better interpreted by algorithms, their actions can be better predicted and influenced. They can be influenced in a targeted manner, for example through advertising. Technology should once again become the people’s tool, not its enemy. For example, by helping people to work together and move forward.