Mira Kopolovic identified five major digital media trends from We Are Social’s latest report, Think Forward 2023.

It’s not a particularly calm time to be on the internet. The word ‘permacrisis’ is being bandied around – either to express compounded disasters, or so many onioned layers of doom that panic is the norm. 

But even as Twitter implodes, crypto winter sets on, pensions turn to dust, and prime ministers wilt quicker than heads of lettuce, there’s an odd aura of calm online. Someone is visualising herself in the lo-fi dreamscape of a cartoon screensaver. Someone else is cozying up in the natural calm of a ‘digital resting point’. Another, who feels cleansed by the absurd, is actively training his algorithms to serve up only the most disarmingly surreal content, while on the depths of Tumblr, fervent fan communities are busily debating the character nuance of a ‘Scorsese’ movie that never actually existed

All this points to one takeaway: 2023 has taught us that users don’t need a metaverse to create their own realities. The social landscape today has become masterful at compartmentalism. Users couldn’t change the whole internet with blunt force – but with a bit of slyness, they’ve made social a palatable place to be. 

It’s why Think Forward 2023 is exploring ‘Fragmented Futures’, to dig deeper into the many-tentacled thing social has become.

We’ve always had our own pastures, our own corners of the internet, just off stage left from the shared reality. But that communal space is getting smaller as people spend less time there. Now, more of this shared reality is being annexed, with our time, effort, and bandwidth directed towards cultivating our own digital gardens – which for brands means infinite different worlds to either understand, or be flummoxed by. 

Our report looks at how users are taking new pathways to discovery, how narrative arcs are collapsing, how behaviour is becoming more extreme, how anonymous communities are dominating social connection, and how our identities are becoming more shape-shifting than ever in virtual worlds. 

Read on for an overview or, for more detail, download a free copy of the full Think Forward 2023: Fragmented Futures report.

Trend 1: Textured discovery

The way people explore the internet and discover new content is evolving. Users are questioning the old modes of search and leaning more on the rich data social offers, supplementing traditional modes of search with ones that are visual, collaborative, serendipitous, and steeped in personal experience. Discovery journeys are beginning within the depths of Reddit, the sensory minefield of TikTok, or the far corners of Roblox – and these new launchpads are influencing what kind of information people are seeking out. 

Trend 2: Collapsing narratives

Storytelling is no longer linear or contained. Instead, to survive the modern attention economy, storytelling on social is mutating. Once a formulaic art – beginning, middle, end – stories are no longer progressing through a full narrative arc, nor do they play out start-to-finish in one place. Instead, they’re collapsing and starting mid-narrative, or expanding and becoming scattered across platforms. 

Trend 3: Margin-chasers

On social, what signifies realness is always in flux. As rising cynicism makes it increasingly difficult to come off as genuine, authenticity has become a game of chicken – pushing people to behave more and more unusually in order to be seen as true believers, rather than mere poseurs. This explains why self-expression is moving to extremes: in the post-genuineness internet, extreme now equates to believable. 

Trend 4: New cooperatives

Vibrant Discords, supportive subreddits, sisterhood fostered in the comments section of TikToks – in 2022, the social life of the web is thriving. Conspicuously absent in all this? The individual profile page. With less self-branding and more open community, the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’ is changing.

Individuality is out – at least in its earlier form. Identity curation, self-presentation, hierarchy and status-seeking are being gently set aside to make more space for effective community-building, and forms of connection that are open, dynamic, and far less focused on the individual. 

Trend 5: Expanding Identities

As we enter an even more VR- and AR-inflected realm of social, it’s opening up new avenues for identity expression. It’s part of why the ability to self-represent in virtual worlds – whether with accuracy, playfulness, or nuance – is a major cultural touchpoint. Against this backdrop, legacy brands and creators alike are furiously building the infrastructure to support more open self-expression in online worlds.