The consumer of the future lies at the point where consumption and creation meet, according to futurologist Magnus Lindkvist.
Pretty much anyone can make anything, and this will only accelerate with the advance of robots, Lindkvist told the Omnishopper International conference in Barcelona last week. But it’s worth remembering that robots and humans are good at opposing tasks. If things are easy for us, they tend to be difficult for robots and vice versa
So what are we left with? Dentists, he says, will continue to drill and continue to terrify – their competitive advantage being the fact that they are slightly less terrifying than robots wielding sharp objects. Elsewhere, there will be plenty of jobs for those who answer the unanswerable questions. Priests, therefore, will be incredibly difficult to automate, as will advisory positions that require sensitivity.
The products we consume will also change, as services come to the fore. Indeed, the idea of consumption is changing hugely. Why bother with the nasty parts of ownership – maintenance, insurance, a fixed choice – when subscription models will allow people to dip into the utility of a product, without needing to look after it.
Film, for instance, is represented on the Apple TV device as a celluloid reel. For older consumers this makes sense, fitting with the Apple style of intuitive symbols. But for children today, physical film has never entered their lives. Lindkvist recalled a question from his son: “why does it look like a bunk bed?” As such, film, which continues to carry the name of its original medium, has been roundly disintermediated to the point that Lindkvist calls it a “dead idea.”
Some other dead ideas – for better or for worse:
- Pensions. These are a hangover from a time when labour was primarily manual, with our ability to perform our tasks depleting every year. Once we were physically spent, we needed looking after. Now, however, we will probably die at our desks.
- Marriage. Romantic love – a relatively recent variation on a very old theme – was easy when life expectancy was around 55, but now romantic situations are more complex. Some Tinder users now deploy a subversion of the MBA acronym: ‘Married but Available’.
- Loyalty. By virtue of the total repeatability of everything, loyalty to a brand is dead. If Tidal suddenly came out with a larger catalogue and/or a better price, people aren’t going to stick with Spotify after seven years of service. The same goes for the artists themselves. When Tidal’s offer to pay artists more was dangled in front of our collective eyes, not a lot of us shifted, he noted.
Even the term ‘consumer’ is outdated for this post-industrial era, Lindkvist suggested. There is the possibility that capitalism, with its emphasis on consuming in order to garner happiness may also be dead. This is where the new consumer lies, at the point where consumption and creation meet, nudging consumers toward ways of spending their time and money – two commodities converging – on meaning, or “cresuming”. This, he imagines, is likely behind the rise in marathon runners, an otherwise pointless task.
So as we seek meaning in a lack of property – an ironic inversion of the Leninist dream, as brought to you by capitalism – the future is taking shape. But Lindkvist is not one of those wait-and-see futurologists, he’s a doer. “The future, I believe, is an activity, something we can do.” And so, we begin to hear the word ‘future’ as a verb. He suggests three ways “to future”.
- Find a secret world. If everybody sees the opportunity for competitive advantage in a trend, then how can it be an opportunity?
- Experiment. The future is a total break with the past, and more information about the present will not always facilitate predictions of the future. While it is all about failure, it is also about learning by doing. The price of doing, he says, is coming down, while the cost of waiting is rising quickly.
- Patience. “If you want to innovate, you have to be willing to be misunderstood for a long time,” said Jeff Bezos; the next big thing is probably not going to be as we expect. When Red Bull first came to Austria, based on a drink popular with Thai truckers, people hated it. Then, bartenders in the Alps began to mix it with vodka; after reports surfaced of the first deaths, Lindkvist says, everybody wanted to try it.
So how do we digest this? It is very easy to be pessimistic – to see the search for problems and chinks a fantastic replacement for actual intelligence. Much more difficult is to be optimistic, and to think about how one wants to “future”. But moving forward involves overcoming barriers, countenancing disagreements, and living in a chaotic world of which we make sense through compromise.
After all, change doesn’t come along in one go, it begins as a droplet – like a bottle of ketchup, he says – then another droplet, before a slap releases the rest, and the world is utterly transformed.