All Generations are Adapting to New Ways of Socializing in the Age of Covid19

By: Richard Neal, CSO (Cybergen stance first published by Lelex Prime, Feb 2019)

Born after 1995, the iGeneration is the first to grow up with smartphones. It’s no surprise that they’re more comfortable behind a screen and cultivating relationships with people they haven’t met IRL (in real life).

Computational Social Science (CSS), an area of behavioral science, is extremely useful in understanding this phenomenon. A subset of Opinion Dynamics and Collective Decisions, CSS provides a methodology for understanding the complexities inherent with holding, sharing and changing individual preferences and judgements within the context of the social system from which individuals hold membership.1 For all other generations – Gen X, Boomers and older Millennials – our social “places” (the places where we interact socially with others) are defined by the following:

Place 1: Home – where we interact with our loved ones or housemates.

Place 2: Work – our colleagues

Place 3: “Out there” – a physical place where we choose to interact with certain types of people. This could be a gym, church, restaurant, bar, park, sporting event, concert, etc.

It’s the definition of the third place that sets iGen apart. Members of iGen comfortably interact with and form relationships online with complete strangers. For the rest of us, when we grew up, our third place was most likely the street corner where all the neighborhood kids gathered. For iGen, it’s just as normal for them to meet up virtually over a game of Mindcraft.

I’ve been intrigued for many years with the idea of a vibrant digital life – long before we all became acquainted with the new norm of social distancing and home quarantine. In 2012, I wrote a book, Expanding Sentience, exploring the landscape of digital “life” as a system as it relates to business development. My goal was to challenge the notions that online activity consists solely of buzz, tweets and “Like” buttons. In what I called digital sociology, I defined a codex of taxonomic, ideological, and behavioral specifics of mindshare in the digital space (or place).

The potential for digital sociology, with its devoted lens towards Industry, allows us, as business leaders, to rationally question the ROI of spending large sums of money on traditional focus groups, public opinion surveys, customer service support apps, mainstream marketing channels and any number of other marketing and sales efforts.

Until now – and by now, I mean the age of Covid19 – commercial endeavors have been slow to embrace that online socialization is socialization; rich in unique, as well as typical, variables and dynamics. And linear to this, industry is only now coming to understand that the traditional, even current, measures don’t add up when attempting to comprehend the new normal in social experiences. While wrestling with the complexities involved with identifying this reality as a system – one evolving with the increasingly rapid changes taking place in society, I soon came to understand its raw power in redefining how we understand the array of physical and digital networks that affect our lives every day.

Fast forward to now when everyone is forced in to the digital world. People of all generations are logging on and learning new ways of doing business and socializing. As many of us didn’t grow up video chatting with our friends – let alone with people we have never met in person – we’re grappling with these redefined social norms. All of a sudden, we’re faced with allowing our colleagues and prospects (and customers) into our homes. The curtain was pulled back without notice and our lives are more on display than ever before. With all of these drastic, and immediate, changes, there’s bound to be lasting impact. Once people adjust to using new technology and video conferencing – not to mention buying things online and conducting business digitally in ways they never thought they would – consumer behavior is forever changed.

Time will tell what this means for marketers. One thing I do know is that all previous behavioral consumer research is missing two key components – how consumers behave in times of crisis and how they will behave going forward in this new age of digital enlightenment. I believe that CSS will prove beneficial in understanding the effects of the near-term advancement and broad global adoption of digital socialization. I also believe there is untapped opportunity in this “third place” that we’re now all a part of. While we ride out the storm safely behind closed doors, we’ll be hard at work identifying those opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more, I’m just a video chat away.

References

1 Advances in Complex Systems Vol. 21, No. 06n07, 1802002 (2018) Opinion Dynamics and Collective Decisions; Lorenz, J. & Neumann, M.

2 Computational Social Science https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_social_science

3 Meme https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

4 Susan Blackmore – Memes and “Temes” https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_blackmore_on_memes_and_temes/transcript

5 Digital Sociology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_sociology

6 Expanding Sentience: Introducing Digital Sociology for moving beyond Buzz Metrics in a World of Growing Online Socialization; Mass Media Press, 2010; Neal, R. https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B01FGMA93E/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

7 A New Philosophy of Society Gone Digital: Introducing the Building Blocks of Organizing Inference and Implicature in our Online World [Working Title]; Projected Release Date: Summer 2019

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