Howard Saunders   May 11, 2023   Uncategorized   0 Comment

In my last blog I introduced you to the Insufferables, the hyper-narcissists that will very soon be your customers, clients, teachers, nurses, builders and policemen. It’s all a matter of degree of course, but the underlying neediness that manifests itself in cults like the Bronies (grown men who identify as My Little Pony) is clearly going nowhere fast. Cross your fingers for peak narcissism by all means, but short of all-out global nuclear war there’s nothing to suggest our burgeoning braggadocio will recede any time soon.

The reality is, it’s only just begun. And in a few years when our personal, AI digital assistants constantly whisper reassurances into our earpieces (like Scarlett Johannsen to Joachim Phoenix in Her, 2013) our self image and our sense of entitlement will surely inflate to match our outward displays of narcissism. Like two naughty school kids, our ids will egg on our egos in a frenzied feedback loop, and we can only imagine how ugly things are likely to get.

When we talk of the future we tend to picture the changing world around us: gravity defying modes of transport gliding effortlessly between high rise homes swathed in ribbons of random woodland, for example. But the truth is that the two biggest changes we face will both be invisible: technology that knows everything about us, and our inner worlds freshly bloated with expectation. In a hundred years time the overwhelming majority of our housing stock will look exactly as it does now. The roads that carry our autonomous cabs will still be peppered with potholes and puddles, and our descendants will still mutter old english expletives when they crunch across one. In London, St Pauls will still shimmer majestically beneath its lumbering neighbours, while the lions in Trafalgar Square will still be caked in pigeon shit. (Although of course, Nelson’s Column will have long been replaced by the breathtaking monument to Dame Dylan Mulvaney.)

But on the inside, our attitudes, hopes, fears and expectations will have shifted dramatically. This is the biggest challenge we face in the West. Our view of ourselves and our place on planet Earth will have been forged for a new era of entitlement. The oarsmen that were cruelly lashed as they battled through sixteenth century storms did not dream of one day becoming poets or mandolin players. Nor did they believe that if they rowed a little harder than their fellow lashees they would eventually be promoted to captain. Fairness and meritocracy, like outboard motors, were yet to be invented. No, their roles on planet Earth were carved into their headstones from birth.

By contrast, fast forward five hundred years and the TikTok generation is an entirely different species. Without any hyperbole, TikTok is by far the most powerful influencer mankind has ever encountered. Those that dismiss it as social media nonsense have completely missed the point. TikTok is a genuine echo chamber, feeding us precisely what we want. If you happen to be interested in dancing kittens, then dancing kittens you shall have my friend, along with a slew of dancing dogs, donkeys and dormice, no doubt. You only have yourself to blame.

Personally, being an old git, I’m bombarded with comedy clips from the sixties and seventies, rare footage of Dick Cavette or Larry King chatting with Lennon, Joplin, Capote and Groucho Marx. This isn’t vacuous guff, this is education! Beautiful, polished gems from a rich cultural archive that reveal precisely how attitudes have evolved in but a handful of decades. And that’s my point: it’s us that’s changed and it’s us we need to worry about.

By way of full disclosure, these educational nuggets are, I confess, punctuated with an endless parade of extraordinarily proportioned women using a variety of excuses to jump up and down for absolutely no reason whatsoever. These are the ‘tap to watch live’ rooms. But I’m happy. It’s better than ads for dog food and stairlifts. My libido may have dulled a little with age but I’m still firmly up one end of this exciting new spectrum we’re all getting used to.

TikTok also feeds me daily doses of advice on diet, mental health, cholesterol, blood pressure and a thousand other worries that plague twenty first century man. By contrast, I can count on one hand the amount of advice the NHS has given me in half a century. And most of that was wrong. Similarly, a thirty second animation of the solar system reveals more about the scale of our tiny rock alongside the sun than anything I ever learnt at school, or from pouting Professor Cox for that matter. If you’re still skeptical I suggest you pop out to the library in your lunch break and swot up on the planets like a proper pupil.

Truth is, sneering at TikTok is like being let loose on your own in The British Library, getting waylaid in the ornithology section and then complaining that there’s nothing in there but wild birds. 

Put simply, TikTok is the entire universe plopped into the blender to make it easily digestible. So when you next hear someone tut loudly that ‘they’ve been on TikTok’ and it’s nothing but salacious, vacuous, dopamine dependent drivel, smile smugly in the knowledge that they’ve just described themselves. 

Happy swiping.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for profound insights and daily nonsense

About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

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