In its first global study, Ipsos Mori reveals how technology, economics and data are causing unprecedented change on a global scale. Matt Warman reports
The global scale of the contradictions people feel about technology, the economy, big corporations and population change are revealed for the first time in an in-depth study of 20 countries. Conducted by Ipsos Mori, the poll asked 16,000 people more than 200 questions covering a host of major topics, and discovered that the ever-hastening pace of change was among those that unsettled most.
But while globally 82 per cent said they felt the world was changing too fast ad 45 per cent said they felt overwhelmed by choice, 42 per cent of those in the developed world do not want their country to be “the way it used to be”. The figure rises to 47 per cent in the developing world.
Identifying six ‘megatrends’, with technology explicitly just one of them, on closer analysis it’s clear that economic growth, globalisation, political and individual change could not take place on their current scale without technology. Population and climate change too are not without a technological component. As Ben Page, the researcher’s chief executive put it, “creating and fostering collaborative communities of citizens and customers is a global trend”. That means the ever-growing influence of the web.
Indeed, it’s no doubt technology, and in part the sense of greater independence it can give individuals, that means the British and Americans are most in favour of decisions about public services being made locally rather than nationally. Centralisation is, on balance, favoured only by Argentinians, Swedes and South Koreans. And such technological advancements surely also provide the self-awareness that means the Chinese are most likely to agree “we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly”. But then the Americans are least likely to agree with that sentiment. In all, across the 20 countries more agree than disagree.
Specifically, however, the report identitfies “The Culture of Now” as its leading individual trend, followed by the big data debate that centres around individual privacy. Tradition, health and the growing desire for simplicity are all also key trends heavily influenced by technology. Almost four out five Chinese (78 per cent) say they are “always looking at screens”, with Britons not far behind on 71 per cent. Most surprising, perhaps is the global average of 60 per cent. Only the Spanish, at 39 per cent, say they don’t spend most of their time staring at screens.
According to Tom Cross, Ipsos Mori’s research manager for media and consumer technology, the net effect of this could be to crush our attention spans, even though more fascinating information than ever is available. “If patience is a virtue, then nobody has told today’s consumer. The smartphone has encouraged more immediacy and spontaneity in communication and consumption of news, music, films and other media than ever before. People now expect to be able to access almost any information with a swipe of a smartphone screen. Households have multiple devices that all connect to the internet. Using several screens simultaneously is normal.”
It is in the emerging markets where technology is viewed most positively, however: “We need modern technology because only this can solve our future problems” was a sentiment for four in five Chinese, 62 per cent of Britons – and fewer than half of the French. “There is a growing middle class,” says Cross, “who have far more options than their parents did, and they are more excited about technology than their counterparts in more established economies who have spent the last few years growing used to life in a recession.”
What does that all mean in practice, however? Cross says “For governments around the world, there is an ongoing revolution in transparency online, self-service and DIY solutions for citizens (appealing to the many governments with big deficits) and in theory at least, empowered citizens, with a re-cast state. However progress is slow. The challenge for middle-aged civil servants is to fully embrace digital channels like Twitter – to be where more and more citizens are.”
All of this, however, is not going to be simple As Cross’s Ipsos colleage Bobby Duffy observes: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves that openness will automatically lead to trust. Technological capabilities have raced so far ahead of public knowledge that the implications of greater transparency are unpredictable – many consumers get more worried as they find out more.”