The 2020s: From the Lonely Chaos of Digital to an Era of Humanity

The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications at a time people are hungry for true personal connection.

David Meerman Scott and friends at Dead & Company June 22, 2019

The Internet brings promise of tremendous easy engagement with audiences around the world. Social networks such as Facebook and content distribution services like YouTube are free, simple to use, and reach every human on the planet with an internet connection, so it’s no wonder that billions of people around the world have gravitated to them.

In the earliest days of social media, participating in these networks was like a virtual cocktail party. We could meet with our friends and ask what they were up to. We could stay in touch after school or after work. We’ve posted, shared, liked and upvoted and it was enjoyable and an effective way to stay in touch or reconnect with people we haven’t seen in a long while.

The growing frustration of digital gimmickry

But today, it’s another story altogether. The algorithms deployed by the social networks like Facebook don’t show us what we want to see because the technology favors profit for shareholders, rather than the original promise of allowing people to interact with their friends, family, and colleagues. We get tidal waves of spam email and social networks that display advertisements instead of messages from our friends and fake news instead of what we as humans really need to know to lead fulfilling productive lives.

Worse, scammers have figured out how to game the networks to lure people into partisan content loops to prey on our worst fears and create new ones. While most people understand that a free social network means some loss of privacy, we didn’t sign up to have our innermost thoughts, secrets, notes to ourselves and loved ones stolen and sold to the highest bidder.

The Lonely Chaos of the 2010s Digital World

The result is the final years of the 2010s has been for many a polarizing and cold digital world. Many people now feel that the promise of online social connection just isn’t for them anymore — the romance is over. We’ve even heard from people who have cancelled out their on-line presence and opted for privacy they can control themselves.

We found it interesting to find out the following: In yearly surveys of over one million 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States, those who use more electronic communications are less happy, according to a 2018 report by Jean M. Twenge, Gabrielle N. Martin, and W. Keith Campbell. Their research shows that psychological well-being (measured by self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness) suddenly decreased after 2012 when smartphone usage shot up. And it’s not just adolescent users of electronic communications who are unhappy. We all feel the increasing stress related to keeping up appearances online.

We are at the cusp of an important cultural shift

There’s something broken and we all feel it. The 2020s will bring change. We’ve seen similar important cultural shifts in the past.

For example, starting in the 1950s, Americans became excited about the promise of processed foods. Swanson’s TV dinners, Pringles newfangled potato chips, and Stove Top Stuffing became the rage. Fast food restaurants such as McDonalds exploded in popularity. The media gushed about how increased shelf life and ease of preparation would make everyone’s life easier.

But America has swung back in a big way in recent years, as people have begun to realize that processed food isn’t good for our health. And, doesn’t taste so great either! Many Americans now think differently about food. We shop and cook in ways that would be more familiar to our great-grandparents. We crave fresh vegetables, happily go out of our way to shop at farmers markets and pay extra for free range chicken.

We see the same shift playing out in the world of human communications. We’ve gone too far into manufactured friendship through social media and something different is coming next. The pendulum is swinging back to genuine, authentic human connections.

Too many organizations react to digital chaos by doubling down, trying to shout ever louder, outdoing each other, about their products and services in social media and other online channels. Uninvited, they send us their email blasts hyping their offerings with increasing frequency. They try to get through to us, past all of the noise by creating and sending more videos, more tweets, and request more LinkedIn connections. It’s become too easy to spray content out via social media without a long-term strategy. After all, it takes just a minute or two to write and send a tweet.

Building connections to like-minded people leads to success in our business and joy in our heart

The solution isn’t to do more of the same. It takes more heart to start a movement.

In a digital world where our lives are increasingly cluttered and superficial, we’re missing something tremendously powerful: genuine human connection. People are going to be most invested in that which creates a sense of intimacy, warmth, and shared meaning in a world that would otherwise relegate them to a statistic.

The solution to any frustration about the lack of human connection in our lives is easy. It’s a true human connection with like-minded people. It’s fandom.

It’s up to us is to develop and nurture what we are most passionate about. For me it’s going to live music concerts with friends or surfing. For others, it might be running, golf, needlepoint, going to plays, collecting fine wine, Saturday afternoons at art galleries and museums, taking writing classes, going to conferences, yoga, gym, gardening, fishing.

A fan?

The stereotype often portrayed of a sports super fan isn’t usually an attractive one: a guy in his mid-forties, with a growing beer-belly, spilling chips on his sofa, cursing at the TV with a voice so loud it deafens the neighbors.

Or, another type of stereotyped fan we’ve become familiar with: the socially awkward nerd, 30-something, living in his parent’s basement, playing video games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. If he’s feeling old school, he’ll whip out some dice for Dungeons and Dragons. What are his chances of finding a significant other?

Or, how about another popular version: a teenage girl so goo-goo-eyed over a celebrity that she’s covered her walls with his face, changed her usernames on every social media site to something like HotBoyLovr05. She runs a blog devoted to stalking the whereabouts of the celebrity and reads vampire romance novels. Her squeals of excitement startle everyone in a ten-foot vicinity. Can we count on her to contribute meaningfully to society?

We can be conditioned to view some people as stereotypes of fandom, such as the socially awkward characters depicted on television shows like The Big Bang Theory or Revenge of the Nerds. Many assume fandom is only for those holed in their basements or starry-eyed teenaged girls or the otaku.

Are these extremes the only ways to be a fan? Is it true that those who commit their time and effort to what others might consider frivolous hobbies are living a lesser life than people who single-mindedly pursue their education and careers?

We have come to the conclusion that too many people limit their own enjoyment of the things they love. Do they worry that pouring their hearts into the activities they enjoy might affect how others see them? Are they afraid of being reduced to a mere stereotype?

We all have interests that engage us, and we use these to reach out to others, whether it be a short, “Did you watch the game last night?” during your lunch break or an invitation to watch the new Marvel movie release in theaters next weekend. Interests connect us. Fandoms connect us. That’s the kind of human connection we crave.

Fandom is everywhere. It’s the key for any organization, artist, solopreneur, or other entity to be successful is bringing people together. Fandom spans generations and subject matter to bind individuals together in excitement, purpose, and buying power. No matter who you’re dealing with, understanding fandom is the cornerstone to your success.

How to Create a Fanocracy

We call this act of consciously bringing people together through a shared endeavor a fanocracy: an organization or person that honors fans and consciously fosters meaningful connection among them.

The suffix “-ocracy,” from the Greek “kratos” for rule, is used in popular culture as well as by academics, to mean government by a particular sort of people or according to a particular principle. A fanocracy is a culture where fans rule, and that’s what we see emerging in today’s world. We are moving into an era that prizes people over products.

The fundamental ingredient for true fandom — meaningful and active human connection — demonstrates a shift in the way a company relates with their customers. They are more forthright, helpful and transparent. They create new experiences by turning customers into like-minded, enthusiastic fans.

A true Fanocracy mobilizes people to think, feel and act together with a helpful, positive force during difficult times. Fanocracy empowers people in a way that no single individual would ever be able to accomplish by himself or herself.

Mastering life happens when the joy we have in our work and play feels the same.

NOTE: This post is partly an excerpt from my book Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans, which releases January 7, 2020 from the Portfolio division of Penguin Random House. I wrote Fanocracy with my 26-year-old daughter Reiko and Tony Robbins wrote the foreword. The book is about Fandom culture and how any business can grow by cultivating fans.

David Meerman Scott

Written by

Marketing & Sales Strategist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of 10 books including The New Rules of Marketing & PR and Newsjacking.

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