BY BRIAN BYRNE
WE’RE living in an age where truth has become blurred, says the Ford Motor Company. No, they’re not talking about how a salesman describes their own products, but a wider trend which has developed over the last five years.
The 2017 ‘Looking Further with Ford’ trend report, five years on from the first one of its kind, looks at how life is developing on a global basis under a number of headings, which include changing attitudes to how we spend our time, how we make decisions in a world of much-increased choice, where the ongoing spiral of technological development is taking us, parenting, and community ties.
Under the direction of Ford’s resident ‘futurologist’ Sheryl Connelly, the report also revisits some of the broader headings from the first publication, on public trust, the changing role of women, sustainability, and the pursuit of the ‘good life’.
On the section ‘Trust is the New Black’, the report looks the ‘rampant’ rise of ‘fake news’ sites. It’s disputable just what proportion of media consumers are taken in by such sites, but there’s still a large appetite for truth, evidenced by the five-fold increase in accessing the Washington Post’s fact-checking blog during the recent US Presidential Election compared to the previous one.
On gender and opportunity issues, nearly eight in ten people surveyed feel there are more opportunities for women today, but a similar proportion say women and men are still not viewed as equals. On the same topic, though, seven out of ten believe the roles of men and women ‘are becoming blurred’.
The matter of sustainability in the latest report shows that a world ‘water crisis’ continues to grow as presenting the most devastating risk to society. Individual response to the situation shows that 81pc of people in India have ‘changed my behaviour’ as a direct response to concerns about water, while in the UK it was just 35pc. This is against the background of 1.8bn people — a quarter of the world’s population — who don’t have access to safe water.
A shift in attitude to wealth shows an increasing percentage of people — 78pc in Germany, for instance — responding that ‘prosperity today is more about happiness than wealth’. And eight out of ten people across the demographic spectrum are ‘annoyed by people who are showy with their money’. Attitudes to time have shifted too. For instance, punctuality ‘is a dying art’, and procrastination is increasing. However, that last is now looked on as a strength rather than a failing, providing time for reflecting on a problem or task rather than trying to get it done in the shortest time.
A few quirky things came out of the survey. For instance, in a list of six things to be considered a ‘productive use of time’, sleeping came out on top with 57pc of global respondents picking it. Next was surfing the internet (54pc), from reading fiction (43pc), watching TV (36pc), with social media garnering a mere 24pc and daydreaming getting a 19pc score. And, if you thought everybody was glued to Facebook and its ilk, it actually seems just 50 minutes of every 16-hour waking day is spent by users of social media.
The explosion in choice of goods and services to buy enabled by the internet is ‘more than I need or want’ by almost every respondent in China, while at the other end of the buyer spectrum, just 57pc of US respondents feel that way. But when they have made their choices, six out of ten buyers between 18-29 feel they should have looked further for a better deal.
Technology has resulted in the ‘quest to find something better being never ending’ by 74pc of respondents in Germany and 95pc in China, each representing two ends of the responses. And two-thirds of all respondents said they knew somebody who had ended a relationship by a curt text message. Nearly half of adults surveyed said they believed technology is ‘making us dumber’ and more than six out of ten said it is ‘making us less polite.’
In China, more than eight in ten parents think that ‘the influence of technology on children’s development is more positive than negative,’ while in the US that falls to a gloomy 46pc.
There’s a lot more in the report. But why should an automobile manufacturing company like Ford bother to spend a significant amount of money each year on analysing and forecasting wider trends? Partly because, as they found with the infamous Edsel car back in the 1950s, if they don’t know what’s going on in the consumer’s mind, they’re in danger of making very expensive mistakes. But there’s a wider agenda too.
‘With greater choice comes greater accountability, as we call on our fellow citizens and institutions to choose actions and behaviours that benefit not just themselves, but also society at large,’ says Sheryl Connelly.
‘This is prompting a renewed focus on community — where common good creates a common bond. We invite you to rethink life as you know it — and reflect on how these changes will impact the world at your fingertips and beyond.’
Basically, this is Ford food for thought … for all of us.