Thursday, November 8, 2018

New Prediction: Age of Anxiety to Continue into 2019

We generally wait until all predictions are ready (we predict the list will be ready by early December) but we want to discuss a trend we identified for 2018 that we feel will be a key trend in 2019 and beyond.

Until about mid-2016, we didn't truly understand the apparent (because there's no proven source for it) ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

Now, of course, we live in extremely interesting times. 

We've said it before: the news cycle is broken. Once, a major news stories would break and that would be the top story for the next few days, as the country would come to terms with whatever the event/incident was.

Today, major news breaks hourly. We learn about it by notifications on our phones. By what's trending on social media. And then that story is replaced by another story. With no time to process or assess the implications.

Yesterday, for instance, we had five major news stories:
  1. The follow-up from the midterms and sorting out winners, losers, races-to-close-to-be-called and lessons.
  2. Sessions resignation/firing as AG in an undated memo and the naming of an unconfirmed-by-the-Senate acting AG and the implications for the Mueller investigation.
  3. Trump's combative press conference, including the White House's withdrawing of CNN's Jim Acosta press pass and access, along with implications for free speech and the freedom of the press.
  4. The tragic shooting last night in Thousands Oakes that left 12 dead including the shooter and a sheriff's deputy, and trying to ascertain the shooter's motives.
Today, there's more news about the latest shooting and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's fall -- and that was before 11am.

The chaos of our current politics and the impact on our society of a constant stream of news is having an affect on Americans. 

We're seeing news fatigue because we're all overwhelmed by trying to stay on top of the news. (There was a front-page New York Times article,"The Man Who Knew Too Little, The most ignorant man in America knows that Donald Trump is president — but that’s about it. Living a liberal fantasy is complicated," about an Ohio man with a self-imposed news blackout since Trump won the 2016 election; and he seems happier than the rest of us. 

We think the age of anxiety will continue into 2019 and throughout Trump's administration because of his governing style. And that this is not a Democrat or Republican thing. 

The age of anxiety is bipartisan (and we think it will continue past his time in office, unfortunately).

Technology definitely abets our anxiety levels because many of us are now trained to click on the latest notifications. Some of which isn't really news, like the latest celebrity insult or feud, which is designed to make one side or another get upset. 

Social media plays a key role because -- while politics was once something people were told not to discuss (along with salary/wealth/money and religion) -- that's no longer true. People feel the need to express themselves (as we are doing now, so we're part of the problem, too) on social media or in blogs about their perspectives.

And there's great commonality, actually, across political believes, and that is this: we all believe the other side is stupid, short sighted, biased, closed minded, etc. Take your pick (and there's more, we realize). Social media fuels the spread of anger. We read something that we don't like, and then feel compelled to not give the other person the benefit of the doubt -- like their post was intemperate, poorly worded, doesn't really reflect their thinking -- and then post something in opposition; then the other person sees our response, and feels that it is stupid, hateful, condescending, out of touch -- pick your choice -- and posts a snide comment to our snarky post. And so it continues.

We've seen angry, bitter comments to tweets from @RealDonaldTrump and @PressSec as well as to @JakeTapper, @PeterBakerNYT and @Acosta and many others in between. Many are truly nasty and unpleasant, no matter which side you're on. What's worse: you can't always tell what's being posted by real people and what's coming from trolls. (And we're trying to not to provide false equivalencies here.)

The point is this: after the midterms, with a divided congress, the likelihood of continuous dysfunction and internecine battles across the aisles in the Senate and the House, threats of investigations into White House activities and counterthreats of a "warlike posture" against Democrats and retaliations -- we expect that the age of anxiety will continue well past 2019.

The news cycle will continue to hit many times a day; the stories will be supplanted by the next breaking news to grab our attention, and so on. And that social media will continue to fuel anger and incivility so that neither side can talk to the other. The fact that few are able to talk or listen to people with opposing views -- whether in real life or, especially, on social media -- is a real problem that adds to the distrust and fuels anxiety for this other reason: we can't even agree on the same set facts. Was a video that the press secretary posted doctored or not is a question that fuels what the tech industry used to call FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt. And this is true whether you believe she did just as much as it does for those who believe she did not.

Knowing that we're living in interesting times -- aka, the age of anxiety -- is important for marketing and PR functions because we are dealing with a polarized society, where withdrawing advertising from controversial media may spark a counter boycott/protest. (We saw that happen in starting 2017 and continuing in 2018 and beyond, which was another prediction we made.) Consumers are looking for less stress, and we expect articles about unplugging and de-stressing. We also expect that companies that can position their products or services as helping to reduce stress, will see those messages resonate with consumers (even if that approach is not necessarily newsworthy on its own, i.e., it might not generate media coverage even as that approach could be effective). 

At the same time, we think consumers will look to purchase from corporations that share their values -- so it will be important to figure out what your values are and how to navigate an increasingly polarized consumer base. We do expect a growing chorus of people asking for more civility in public and online communications.

In the next several weeks, we will post other predictions, hopefully some of those will be more upbeat.

In the meantime, let us know what you think about this. (We just as that you be civil, whether you agree or disagree.)

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