The power of (counter) trends

Technological innovations and access to the digital world have encouraged people’s multitasking skills. People are connected 24/7 on multiple devices and have access to a world of information through the Internet. Simultaneously, the amount of silence retreats, mindfulness books and yoga stores is growing with remarkable speed in Western countries. Slowing down and self-awareness seem to be today’s answer to digitalisation and the overwhelming online world. In other words, digitalisation can be seen as a mega trend with endless possibilities to change the way we live, work and communicate. Mindfulness, then, is a long-term resistance or counter trend to the new digital age. But, how do trends and countertrends actually work?

Union and segregation

The thoughts of sociologist George Simmel might provide useful insights in order to understand the dualism of trends and countertrends. As far as back in 1904, Simmel wrote about this duality in fashion by using the terms ‘union’ and ‘segregation’. (1) Although people are bounded to a lower degree by social class in our society, the mechanism of union and segregation is still powerful. On the one hand, there is a strong tendency towards equalisation and generalisation with on the other hand, the desire for differentiation and the single, special element. In other words, innovators and creators do seek for new opportunities and fresh perspectives, but there is also a strong desire within social groups to mirror others, to express commonality and to appear simply as a creature of the group. For example, the slowing down counter trend gradually started a few years ago, but nowadays, even office yoga classes and company meditation programs are all on the rise.

From early adopter to late majority

But, how does change spread through society? Sociologist Everett M. Rogers developed a diffusion framework to explain how and at what rate innovations spread and innovations are adopted. He divided five categories of adopters in his model: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

Early in the diffusion process relatively few individuals adopt an innovation. Lately, innovations are adopted by the mainstream and the rate of adoption speeds up. For example, Whatsapp boasted 700 million monthly active users in 2015: that’s nearly ten percent of the world population. (2) Not only people can be plotted on the curve, but also organisations and brands can be divided into these adopter categories. (3)

Zeitgeist of today

Of course, the models and theories elaborated by Simmel and Everett do not perfectly match our current zeitgeist as they are devised before the digital revolution and the more fluid social structures of today’s society. Nowadays, adoption patterns of new products and services have become more fluid and unpredictable due to our instant access to information in the digital world. Adoption by the majority can happen almost instantly after the launch of a new product, as in the case of fads and hypes.

However, dualism and diffusion are still important sociological concepts in order to get a better understanding of the rise of new trends and counter movements. To spot emerging changes and innovations, it is important to focus on people who embrace change: the creators, innovators and early adopters. Keep your eyes open and search for seeds of change, because small movements or counter trends do have the power to become macro trends in the future!

 

(1) Malcolm Barnard, Fashion Theory | A Reader, 2007
(2) Henry Mason and David Mattin, Trend-driven Innovation, 2015
(3) Els Dragt, How to Research Trends, 2017