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Comfort and Connection in the Digital Age

February 2012

By Claire Brooks, President

I just returned from an ethnographic research project in Russia and was struck by consumers’ yearning for stability and the deeper human connections of the past, even as new economic opportunities open up for many.

The desire for stability in a world still dogged by economic recession is evidenced in several of our City Reports. Londoners are hot on Scandinavian style, regarding its economic independence and generous welfare provisions as a thing of the pre-austerity past, while Parisians – believe it or not – are yielding to the optimism of the American dream.

Milanese philosopher, Franco Bolelli, in our video, describes innovation as “the very simple manifestation of the inner life of human beings, societies…and cultures.” Technology dissolves human beings’ geographical boundaries, enabling us to discover cultural inspiration where we may, which we anticipate will lead to a new emphasis both on the cultural authenticity of brands and on their ability to blend inspiration from many cultures to connect with global consumers.

Human connection might seem to be under threat from digital communication. Yet, around the world, mobile connectivity has transformed the way people engage with one another, especially in traffic-clogged mega cities. In Shanghai, a virtual dimension to guanxi is emerging as long commutes are relieved by mobile multi-tasking: chatting with friends on Weibo or shopping for clothes on Taobao. New Yorkers are impressed with the Evos' cloud-connected concept car which enables drivers to stay in touch with friends on the go. In image-driven LA, Pinterest, a more sophisticated social network than Facebook, which allows users to curate and share themed pin-boards, is popular.

It might be argued that digital human connections are frequent rather than deep! The in-person human connection is embodied in food and drink, as ever. Paulistas look for restaurants boasting “home-made” cuisine, while Milan’s new Eataly restaurant complex will offer "Made in Italy" products with a seal of approval from the Slow Food movement. The Russian consumers who shared tea and cakes with my research team, would surely approve.




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