FEATURE29 June 2017

Zoom in to zoom out

Brexit Data analytics Features Mobile UK

Looking at the big picture of big data doesn't always tell the whole story. Nathalie Gil of BAMM describes research that shows how the complexity of the micro can tell us about the shifts of the macro.

/img/Bruno2 crop.jpeg

In our complex reality, data averages and brushstroke numbers give us structure and certainty. However, focusing on numbers doesn’t show the full picture. It is a risk to ignore the richness outside the mainstream; the complexities and emerging influences from the edges of society?

Looking at groups outside the mainstream has the power to expose trends and the direction of travel of our whole society, and provide the greatest source of inspiration for brands and marketeers.

 BAMM conducted a study of Britain in a time of turbulence; a society struggling to house its citizens, coping with an automation revolution and Brexit. We turned away from experts, the media, hard data and arrived on the doorstep at the edges of a country going through changes.

Home is where the Wi-Fi is

Jo has been planning her wedding since she was a little girl. We met her the day before her wedding, in an isolated cottage in Sheffield she had rented. She posted a shot of the cottage on Instagram with a caption explaining her intention to get away from all the noise and anxiety so she could really concentrate on the big day. However, the reality of her situation was different; with so many last-minute details to sort out and people to keep in touch with, she felt completely dislocated and stressed because there was no Wi-Fi in the cottage.

We met Bruno after only his third week living in the UK. He’s a Brazilian who moved to London in search of more political and financial stability than he’d find in turbulent Brazil. He already felt at home and you’d easily believe he’d been in London for years not weeks. Bruno quickly attributes this to his longstanding passion for the British music and cultural scene – but also to his phone. It provides a connection to the comforts of home whilst also helping him navigate through London. His phone makes him feel at home.

In a country of sky high rents and people priced buying a property, we are changing our perception of what ‘home’ is. Nowadays, good Wi-Fi is enough to make us feel at home pretty much anywhere and everywhere. Our comfort zone has shifted from physical places to the cloud; blood relations, to like-minded people; objects to experiences. It is what makes the transient life of not having a home more bearable.

Wiring up for a future unknown

Mukhan installed a stock market app on his phone, yet has no investments of his own to manage. He is the oldest son of the Singhs, a working-class family who live in Cardiff. Mukhan is aiming high: Inspired by his recent read of Warren Buffett’s book The Art of Investment, he wants to become a stockbroker. He checks the stock market movements daily from his phone to understand how it works.

At the other end of town, in a suburban middle class area of Cardiff, we visited Thomas. He spends his time writing code for his own video games and sharing his knowledge. He has attracted a large online audience. His YouTube channel has 3,000 subscribers, with any of his videos receiving up to 12k likes. He’s only twelve.

The role of parenting used to be about teaching by example, stimulating the right set of skills and building your children’s path to a tangible, safe and happy future. Millennial parents, however, need to wire up and prepare their offspring for careers that don't exist yet, jobs which will yet be shaped by the post-automation period.

In a world without blueprints, parents are letting their offspring explore their abilities through trial and error from a very young age, having a go on the infinite paths of a future unknown. Though they are often not able to comprehend what their children are doing, are providing them with the tools to shape their own futures.

Your phone is what you make of it

Zack is a Singaporean expat and mentions London is not the easiest place to be a single gay man. He has been perfecting his image on dating apps online. For him, such apps allow him to carefully craft the perfect persona. During the evening of our visit, we followed him on a date. His efforts have paid off; Joao, his match for the evening, went past first impressions after being attracted by their common interests via their Instagram accounts.

Azeezat is a busy mum on the morning of Eid-Al-Fitr. Whilst the family is watching the celebration live from Mecca, she organised all the dishes for the family. From time to time she stopped to check her phone: it was flooded with messages of good wishes for the end of Ramadan throughout our visit. She noted how amazing it is to keep in touch with family and friends from all over the world via WhatsApp.

Technology, when seen in isolation, has been tainted with images of negativity and detachment. However what we saw suggested technology allows us to connect with one another beyond stereotypes, to experience important moments with the people we love.

When we observe behaviours from the other side of the screen, we see belonging, caring, as well as frustrations, anger and envy. The same emotions we see in the reality of our lives. We can't deny the immense shifts technology causes in our interactions with the world. Though on an individual level, we are injecting meaning, drama humanity into it, enhancing our innermost desires and behaviours – yet never uncontrollably changing them.

We need to talk about Brexit

Saba has moved to Britain from Pakistan. If she listens to the media, she would be very aware of the unwelcoming feel that the country is giving to her and her family by being an immigrant, and a Muslim.

However, she doesn't shrug over the news headlines. To be aware of the movements against immigration presented a silver lining, as it had made her more aware of the importance to be open, acceptant, to embrace her new culture. Saba makes sure she checks all the events in her community calendar. She tells us how important it is for her family to merge into the culture of this country to really feel at home in it.

When you look at how populist movements across Europe and the US are reported in the media the expectation is that this will lead to aggression, isolation and homogenisation of our surroundings – and newsfeeds.

However stepping out of the ivory tower of academia; the very reporting of these movements encourages debate and discussion and forces people to look at their behaviour and how they treat others.

Through the looking glass

Large corporations hold a sea of objective information about how people behave. It is true that the power of the average gives a robust view of our society as a whole, though it offers a blindspot; it fails to cover the cultural forces at play and the richness from the emerging fringes, it misses a better understanding of how great shifts are being taken, transformed and adapted to the reality of our own lives.

Nathalie Gil is global research and insights director at BAMM