When the bubonic plague ravaged the world, it caused a large majority of the population to rebel against their rulers and demand power be distributed amongst the “common people”. These large shifts in population, politics, and class structure inevitably brought about the Renaissance. An age of scientific and technological advancement that rapidly expanded cities across Europe and raised the standard of living for millions.
After living through years of death, uncertainty, and rising mistrust in “the system” I believe that our ancestors had an awakening of sorts and became more conscious of the amount of control they had in determining their own destiny. Our consciousness evolved, and we began asking more questions than ever. People moved into cities and communication of ideas scaled exponentially.
Fast forward a couple of thousand years, we now find ourselves in a period of time immediately post our version of the plague (COVID-19) where the world seems to be going through an awakening of sorts. Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to speak to well over 200+ independent consultants from dozens of specialties located across the globe.
In those conversations, I heard people referring to a feeling of “emergence.” It’s almost as if for the past three years, they had been in a cocoon and now are exiting that cocoon having been turned into a new version of themselves. I know I personally experience this feeling on a daily basis and constantly find myself questioning things I didn’t before, as well as becoming heavily involved in communities.
In this article, I’ve mapped out several behavior trends that are emerging in 2023 that are reshaping the way we interact with technology, social media, and brands. Like our ancestors, I believe that we are on the precipice of entering a modern renaissance.
Only this time, we have the internet.
Rise in Awareness of the “Attention Economy”:
The concept of the “Attention Economy,” as defined by Davenport and Beck (2001), is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity. In layman’s terms, this means that a bunch of economists got together and decided to create a model where the human attention span is essentially treated as a revenue driver. If you could capture human attention, you could monetize it.
Thanks to a documentary released in 2020 called “The Social Dilemma” the idea of an attention economy entered the minds of the masses and has been gaining traction among individuals who are becoming increasingly aware of the way big tech companies have been exploiting their attention for profit.
Take platforms like YouTube for example, where content creators compete for user attention to earn advertising revenue. There are hundreds of thousands of amazing marketers, content creators, and designers whose full-time job is to make both the platform and the content on the platform so enticing that you spend hours of your valuable time and energy driving ad revenue by consuming it.
More and more people are realizing that their attention is a valuable and limited resource. This growing awareness is leading individuals to become more protective of their attention and seek ways to minimize distractions and regain control over their digital experiences. In a recent report from Accenture, they dubbed this phenomenon the “Great Cancellation,” which is causing people across the globe to cut back on spending time online and spending money on non-essential media and subscription services, prioritizing their most valuable resource.
Let’s Be Real
As everyone continues to become more aware of how the digital world affects them, both positively and negatively, they are becoming more conscious of what types of content they post online. If you logged into Instagram in 2017, you would have been bombarded with carefully curated pictures of people living seemingly perfect lives. This led to massive increases in mental health issues like depression. As people have become more aware of the fact that this “perfect world” doesn’t exist, they have started craving authenticity and connection.
We’re seeing proof of this “need for authenticity” reflected in the types of social apps gaining traction today. Take the app BeReal as an example. With over 10 million daily active users, this app has gained immense popularity by providing a space where people can connect with genuine individuals, complete with their vulnerabilities and imperfections. Rather than incentivizing carefully curated and highly edited content, this app is structured to incentivize authenticity.
As people realize they continue rejecting the hyper-edited versions of life often portrayed on most platforms, they are naturally choosing to reduce their digital footprints. Often seeking more genuine connections IRL (in real life) or joining virtual communities that are more intimate and foster deep relationships between their members.
I believe that five years from now, we will be looking back at this inflection point as the start of a revolution in human behavior that will shake the “big tech” world to its core. Especially those platforms that continue to incentivize highly edited and inauthentic content.
People are tired of feeling used
As people continue to engage in “the great cancellation,” paid advertising and digital marketing are going to continue to take a hit. Paid Digital Marketing efforts (think Facebook Ads or ads you see on Hulu) rely heavily on users spending time on the platform. If people are canceling subscriptions left and right, along with spending less time on social media for mental health reasons, you can see how this creates a pretty steep downhill slope for the digital marketing world if trends continue in this direction.
The startup world is already starting to adjust its focus to anticipate these changes. Apps like Groove are being built in collaboration with tight-knit communities, and actually incentivizing community members to engage in life outside of the application. Investors and founders alike are beginning to recognize that creating a money-making model based on exchanging human attention for ad revenue is no longer a safe investment.
Founders are now prioritizing establishing and nurturing communities before defining the brand. By actively involving the community in shaping the brand, founders create a sense of ownership and foster deep loyalty. I believe that this approach allows brands to leverage the proactive participation of their community members, resulting in organic growth and strong brand advocacy from day one.
In short, if your audience doesn’t trust you and feels like they are a “product” rather than a “community member” they will choose to heavily limit their time on your platform or abandon the use of it entirely in favor of platforms that offer them a true sense of belonging and appreciation.
What does this mean for brands going forward?
With the rise in awareness of the “Attention Economy,” individuals are becoming more protective of their attention and seeking ways to minimize distractions. The “cat is out of the bag” so to speak, and many people are furious that social media platforms have been meticulously engineered to become addictive, polarizing, and drive ad revenue.
The shift towards authenticity and connection on social media platforms is reshaping the digital landscape, with users craving genuine interactions and rejecting the idealized portrayal of life. Additionally, the emphasis on community building over paid advertising is revolutionizing the way brands are established and marketed.
As we navigate this evolving age in human behavior, we have a lot on our plates. Much like our ancestors as they entered the Renaissance, we will be faced with the restructuring of life across a lot of domains. Unlike them, we have instantaneous communications and limitless information – so this should be an interesting ride. Stay open to the possibilities, form deep relationships, and focus on providing value.