As a young person in Britain today, you can expect to earn 10% less than you would have done five years ago, and that’s if you’ve managed to find a job. But you feel the pressure to succeed, your generation sets up a start-up on a shoestring and v-logs all about the journey. When you’re not investing in your future, you compare prices religiously and make big decisions by scouring product reviews and forums.
However, as a citizen of Connected Nation, you can take solace in the digital world. You don’t need an LA lifestyle to become an internet celebrity. If you only have time to do one thing this week, you can tweet all about it and broadcast a perfect vision of yourself. Yes, it’s easy to forget how much wealth the digital revolution has given us, in lieu of economic prosperity. Thanks to group messaging such as WhatsApp, we now start planning social events earlier and finish planning them later. We walk out the door without really knowing where we are going, confident that Google Maps will nudge us in the right direction. Soon we’ll even be speaking to our tech as well, indeed, half of US teens already use voice search every day.
But what connects these two narratives? What links the Britain of stagnating wages and discount retailers with the Britain of near-ubiquitous internet access and hyper-connectivity? Well, it’s control. At Future Foundation, we have identified the desire for control as the key force operating on today’s consumer and as we continue to accelerate into the digital age, our capacity to control our connected lives becomes ever more acute.
Let me unpack Control. Some three quarters agree that they find out everything they can when they plan a trip abroad. A fifth of us regularly check our work emails in bed (then 40% agree that they are under time pressure in their everyday lives). 40%, again, feel the need to have more control over their stress levels. The need to be always-on, in communiqué, a click-away from the perfect decisions is potent and sold to us from all quarters. Those of us who use banking apps (40%), travel apps (19%), or health tracking apps (10%) have instant access to information that we use to optimise our lives for personal fulfilment and social capital. No-one brags about splurging anymore, a reduced salmon from Lidl is the new magnum of Moet. CES 2015 demonstrated a range of tech that will soon connect your car to your home to your baby. Our sphere of personal control gets ever greater.
But what does this do to our mindset? 50% agree that they are concerned about who can access their personal information when they download an app. Nearly half receive too many notifications and as many check their phone more often than they’d like to. Control is stressful. Hyper-connectivity is demanding. Appearing measured is restricting. Two thirds – in all age groups – now agree that the stresses of modern life mean people are simply less happy than they used to be.
Which is why – as we look to the future – Control is becoming Cruise Control. The ability to manage your health, finances, contacts, and so on, easily and effortlessly. Smart agents operating on your behalf turn the paradox of choice into the promise of the best choice, with over half interested in a service that automatically moves your savings into the best account.
Future tech, and future connectivity, must play to the desire for Cruise Control. Looking to the next generation of devices, around a third of Brits are interested in wearable tech (a proportion that’s rising rapidly). But what’s most interesting is how wearable tech plays to the desire for Control. In our research, we’ve found that each thing you feel the need to control (finances, health, weight, social media profile, etc.) makes you 5% more likely to be interested in wearables.
Greater connectivity affords greater control: but the challenge is clear. Control over life that is effortless, stressless, that doesn’t interrupt your life in the long term, this is the only kind of control that Connected Britain needs.