GOING WITH YOUR GUT

Tomorrow today is yesterday. And the future is just a forecast away,
 at least for a trends researcher. Anja Kirig has made the future her profession, and knows exactly what will be in vogue in the weeks and months to come. But what will our emotions look like in the future? SEEK takes a closer look. 

Text by Verena Schwarz

 

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Why do emojis only shoot water? What’s a “feel-good manager” doing at a DAX-listed company? Are we even feeling anymore? Some questions just aren’t that easy to answer. As a trends researcher, Anja Kirig at least has a theory for most things. In her profession, she examines how people communicate with one another, looking at consumer
 behaviours and new media formats, providing companies all over the world with a map of the future. Chatting to Anja, we learn that high-speed trends aren’t the only things getting her attention.

 

Anja, what are your thoughts on the current state of emotion? Have humans lost the ability to feel? 

I’m not sure if we have forgotten to feel — I think that as a society we may have never learned it in the first place. If you look at societal developments in the last 70, 80 years, when was there ever a movement that put feelings first? Sure, there were the hippies who put love first, but I question the movement’s endurance. In the past year, however, I have seen people becoming more open about their feelings. I have watched people cry in public — on the underground and on the street. I think that this emotional honesty is a positive development.

 Being bold about feelings — let’s stick with this topic. Since emojis first made an appearance in the 80s, they have become a globally-used visual palette of emotions. Instead of searching for the right words, we send an illustration. Why are emojis such an effective form of communication?

The visual factor is more important than ever. Its value has risen to new heights, especially for social media. Blogs, that five to ten years ago were void of colour, are now filled with images and videos. We can snap pictures just like that with our smartphones, and instantly react to messages with an emoji. But an image needs to be universally interpreted the same way. While everyone can decode an image differently, it is nonetheless the easiest form of communication to learn and to use.   

Just like the dictionary, the palette of available emojis is constantly being updated… 

That’s true. Images are always a good reflection of our time. Most recently emoji characters of different skin colours, of alternative family structures, and same-sex parents were added. LGBT rights are being considered, too, and the gun emoji was substituted for a water pistol. The use of images — emoticons as well as GIFs — comes with great responsibility. 

 

You’ve already touched on the aspect of speeding up. Friendships take place on mobile interfaces: intimate problems are being brought up on WhatsApp without restraint. Digitalisation is bringing a whole new dynamic to relationships. But we are also seeing the trend of slowing down. What does this mean, and how do the two get along?

In my opinion we are living in a culture of parallels. But these parallels are complimentary. We consume daily news, but at the same time crave a well-balanced, deeply-researched story. Studies show that young people favour reading an article over watching a fifteen-minute clip. What we want is the option to speed up when we need to react to something that effects us, whether that is linked to community, identity, leisure, or emotion. To suit our needs, a diverse range of entertainment formats are being offered, including so-called “slow media.” In Norway, Minutt for Minutt is a real showstopper. The channel is made up of extremely slow documentaries, which, in real time, last between 12 to 134 hours, such as a boat journey. And it’s breaking all the records. With an immense amount of information at our fingertips, we feel inclined to go for pre-selected options. 

Can you name a good example of this?

The new app Resi allows users to consume news in a chat-format. It’s like talking to a good friend. A set of pre-formulated responses are available, such as “Tell me more,” “How did this happen?” and “What else do you know?” as well as emojis. The yearning to simplify isn’t new, and more and more apps are supporting this trend. 

 

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Other apps are ticking our tasks right off the list. Tracking apps automatically acknowledge our emotional and mental states. iMessage allows users to monitor their heart rate and send it to friends.

That’s true. Although this app group generally disqualifies people over the age of 30. An interesting side-effect of these apps, especially in sports, is that they help grow communities. They help us stay in touch and motivate one another. By finding likeminded individuals, apps are helping us find greater meaning in ourselves.

 

In what ways do these apps influence consumer behaviours?

In the future, it will become increasingly important for apps to provide individualised assistance. This will become a lot more essential than communicating to a target group and offering a selection of services. For online shopping, suggestions are already personalised based on our search history, thanks to big data. I can also imagine that wearables, which are basically smartphones worn on the wrist,
interlinked tattoos, or sensors built into clothing, will strongly affect the consumer experience. Consumers need solutions to many things still untapped. 

 

Can you give us another example here?

A new app developed by scientists at Oxford University recommends a meal by way of our emotional state. The app uses your phone’s camera to scan your
expression, picking up on feelings we might be holding in. The app then suggests foods depending on your mood, such as avocado and dark chocolate if you are angry, and whole grains to lower blood sugar levels when excited. I could definitely see this app embedded in the retail experience: the customer who has been tracked upon entering the store could then, for example, be guided to the shelf holding the products that cater to his or her particular mood. 

 

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One of your theories is that people are becoming increasingly wary of consumerism as a means of pushing back emotions. A new-found pragmatism seems to be spreading. 

 

Absolutely. A movement is forming around mindfulness, of taking the wants and feelings of others into account. Just have a look at bookstore shelves and magazines: the literature dedicated to emotions is growing, complete with tips on how to cope with our feelings. This change is happening in public as well as private domains. According to the Harvard Business School, and the business school INSEAD, meditation and intuition are the most valuable tools for professional success. After mounting societal pressure to perform at an exceptional standard and maximise profits, we now crave meaningful work over all else. 

 

In what ways are businesses responding to this shift?

 

Many businesses are bringing in “feel good managers” — basically a person that looks out for employee wellbeing. There is a growing desire to feel more and do the company good at the same time. Quality of life is increasingly important. My theory is that individual self-awareness is on the rise. In the States, there are countless “How-To” books coming out on “not giving a f*ck.” In short, they are teaching us to keep cool. It’s about being content and finding one’s way.