Digital Anthropology & Sociocultural Trends



Recently, my friend Doreen asked me to present something about digital at her ad agency’s cultural event titled #UrbanPharming. I chose to pull together a few trends that intersect with digital and social culture.

It was super fun and I was amongst some very cool speakers!

By definition, anthropology is the study of human behavior. Over the past eight years we’ve had an influx of technological advances that have blown up the trajectory of Moore’s Law. We are amidst a storm of change—sometimes it’s hard to even notice what’s occurring because it’s happening at such a rapid pace. It is an enormous conceptual change, a social and psychological shift in our mindset.

It is a tornado of activity reimagining who we are and how our world lives at mass scale across environmental, economic and societal landscapes. I put a digital lens on my daily observations and synthesize them to create opportunities for businesses and brands.

I call it living in a digital world–it’s my mindset.

You can flip through the slides or read below for additional commentary.

Access vs. Ownership

Back in the day, our parents all owned homes and two cars by age 26.  #Lifegoals. Fast-forward to today and urban dwellers make up 81 percent of the population— most of them noncommittal younger generations—that care more about leading an easier, less-contracted life with more on-demand convenience.

We don’t want to buy anything because we don’t need to. We can rent our music (Spotify, Apple Music). We pay monthly fees for access to content (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon + OTT services from HBO + Showtime). We share bikes, cars and apartments instead of buying them (Citibike, Airbnb + ZipCar, Get, Uber—Stonehenge in NYC created a program called “Let’s Drive” — stocking their garage with cars accessible by their tenants). A testament to a new generation growing up in a world where access is more important than ownership—these businesses have caused shifts in traditional operational, service and revenue models for many industries.

Mirror Mirror

Social brings out the alter ego in GenZ. MTV, an early sponsor of GenZ research, had some unique findings, which showed that social media allows GenZ to flex multiple personas. This means they have access and exposure to multiple lifestyles, personalities and passions.
Through various fake Instagram accounts (finstas), GenZ is reimagining our social world as fragments of the true self (and the imagination)…. anonymous, semiprivate, hard-to-find, hard-to-identify ambiverts; a blend of their desire to be in the know (FOMO- fear of missing out) and those who relish in reflection through introspection (JOMO- joy of missing out).  YOLO!
Remember what it was like as a 13-16-year-old? Who the hell were you? Imagine growing up with Insta and Snapchat to help influence this. Godspeed, parents!  Think you’re following your 16-year-old on IG? You probably know about one of her seven accounts. #SorryNotSorry. Some social networks are more important than others—but kids divide their time among each one.
This raises another issue yet to be addressed by marketers or any social advertising networks: What do we do about ambiverts (i.e., people who are both introverts and extroverts)? Most of GenZ have a push- pull mentality, which makes them difficult to target. They are indecisive and because their mood changes so often, it is hard to interpret their attitudes and behaviors. This ambivalence completely cancels out traditional digital marketing funnels and customer journeys. Behavioral scientists and marketers certainly have some work ahead of them.

The Freelance Economy

Since 1983, the number of highly skilled cognitive jobs that require flexibility, creativity and problem-solving has doubled. Thirty-four percent of the total workforce thrives both mentally and financially as freelancers—a job that offers flexible schedules and a favorable work-life balance. This “free agent” behavior is driven by Silicon Valley and influences the mass workforce—meaning mostly GenY/millennials, which were the largest workforce segment in 2015. Digitally native generations like GenY/Z want to contribute something meaningful to the world. They are currently developing a variety of professional-grade skills, creating high-quality products and services and are making their own businesses out of their passions—an attitudinal trait Fast Company coined “GenFlux” in 2012.

Technology enables greater accessibility to digital learning (online education like Code Academy, Lynda.com, 3-D printers, arduino boards) and people leverage social-first platforms like Etsy, GitHub and Pinterest to broadcast and capitalize on newly acquired skills and DIY products.

In order to recruit younger talent, companies need to shift their general operations to accommodate GenY/GenZ and what they expect at work for the lifecycle of the employee.

1) Recruiting: LinkedIn won’t work—talent directors have to get more creative today.
2) BYOT: bring your own tech to work.
– Cloud based services (Google Drive, Dropbox)
– Slack, gchat and other messaging services to communicate; email is obsolete

3) Flex work hours: They are looking for flexible work hours and doing away with butts in seats mentality—in this world of 24/7 connectivity, they are looking for trust that employees will get their work done whenever and wherever they choose.
4) Continuing education: multiple interests and one skill are not enough—offer classes at General Assembly in coding, graphic design, and other 21st century business skills.

Hacktivists Are the New Activists

The growth of the Internet offered activists and protesters a universal platform to spread their message and mobilize action. Tech innovation gave protesters the ability to create tools (code) to hack software and disrupt normal operations—a digital parallel to traditional street protests and sit-ins. “Hacktivism” challenges international affairs, not only because it transcends borders, but also because it serves as an instrument of global power (and sometimes threat). Despite its prevalence for more than two decades, hacktivism is often associated with actions of “The Anonymous”, a collective of activists and hackers who act as “digital Robin Hoods” and correct social injustices through Denial of Services software (DoS) eg: ISIS, Wikileaks & Occupy.
In addition to launching DoS attacks and hijacking websites, hacktivists take over Twitter and Facebook accounts, stealing and disclosing sensitive information from these systems. An example of this is what the Impact Team did with the Ashley Madison data breach and Anonymous did with ISIS.

There are several reasons why hacktivism has become so popular:

  1. Relatively easy to conduct, low-cost operation
  2. Hacktivism poses little risk to protesters. Most are illegal under domestic crime statute
  3. BUT most cases are never even investigated by law enforcement agencies
  4. Internet activism supports remote actions and can take on distant causes without traveling
  5. It enables both individual actions and large-scale distributed efforts
  6. The effects of hacktivism are often visible, such as when websites are defaced to display protesters’ messages or shut down from DoS attacks

The marketing implications here are the easiest message of all: you can ensure all the privacy you want via firewalls and whatnot, but honestly if you, your company, organization or operation sucks, these people will break you down! Ethics! Be a humanitarian! #SaidTheAquarian

What’s got your attention? I’d love to know what interesting trends you’ve been observing as of late.



Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Plantronicsgermany

About the author: Jess Seilheimer

Jess Seilheimer is the Chief Strategy Officer at MWW. She has 14+ years experience in advertising/marketing across brand strategy, product marketing; both in traditional & digital media.

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