Reasons to be cheeerful 1 2 3

Ian Dury 1

Image courtesy of Max Ferguson

Gripped as we are by the bloody teeth of recession and now with conclusive proof from ICM that Britain, of all leading nations is the most miserable and pessimistic about its economic future, it is perhaps peculiar that the most potent buzz word in advertising is optimism. We see it in our consumer’s actions if not attitudes, we see in in contemporary culture and increasingly we see it in the work from the T-mobile Dance event to Coke’s Happiness campaign.

Indeed some recent research we have undertaken at Saatchi & Saatchi suggests that the dominant themes in British culture at the moment are Love, Pride, Optimism and Generosity. How’s that for counter intuitive?
Now it is entirely possible that our new-found predilection for optimistic thoughts and deeds is a short term response to the doom and gloom around us. What was called the Blitz spirit but is best summed up these days in the mugs, T-towels and doormats so beloved of the Boden wearing classes that bear the phrase ‘keep calm and carry on’. Deep down we Brits obviously believe that it was our resolve, stiff upper lips, even stiffer tea and the ability to laugh in the very face of adversity that won the Second World War and not the Americans arriving on the scene. And clearly we believe that this sort of attitude that is just the ticket to face down our current economic difficulties. How else can you explain the wall of coloured denim that greets you as you walk down any high street?
This is all entirely possible. It is also possible that we are witnessing a longer term shift in the national psyche, that we are actually becoming a nation that is less cynical, less pessimistic and less selfish. Of course the proof of this pudding will be in our developing attitudes towards the Games of the XXXth Olympiad in 2012 which may yet be the first national project since the Festival of Britain to be greeted with a spirit of optimism and pride rather than a wall of defeatism and abject cynicism. And it is also possible, if you might indulge me for a moment, that this fundamental shift has had something to do with the internet.
For the healthier part of a decade we Brits have been doing something entirely unprecedented in our Island story, we have actually been sharing things with each other and most of the time with complete strangers. But in one specific location, online, where we have handed over our family photos, our movies, our comings and goings and our innermost thoughts to pretty much anyone who is interested. And that surely is the very definition of optimism, doing something in the belief that good rather than harm will come to you as a result of your actions.
I want to suggest that the current spirit of optimism has more than a little bit to do with a Nation that rather likes the generosity and culture of sharing that is shown to them and they in turn show to others in their online lives and now want to practice this in their offline lives. That a population now comfortable with the likes of flickr, twitter, facebook and youtube are now ready to take the next step and start to talk to people on public transport. And if that happened maybe we could finally conceed that the internet is not another channel as so many people in the advertising industry once hoped it would be, but a way of living that is now influencing the larger part of our lives.

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10 Replies to “Reasons to be cheeerful 1 2 3”

  1. Hi Richard, totally agree that the internet is bigger than a channel and that could impact on people’s behavior in a deep way like you say here.
    Just to reinforce the transformational potential of internet, I would like to leave here a post I wrote in my blog about the power of internet for the social inclusion of low income classes in Brazil –
    It’s a different situation, but relies on the same power.

  2. Don’t want to make a simple point well made any more complex but, [you knew it was coming:)] due to changing ethnic landscape we’re no longer a land of Boden wearing classes we are a bright and vibrant multicultural country with people that have wide, diverse and different cultural behaviours from that stiff upper heritage.

  3. As someone living outside the UK, I find this awesome phenomenon – shift towards a more positive and inclusive Britain – very interesting.
    But I came across another interesting, but rather conflicting, site documenting the drop in optimism and sharing throughout Britain.
    Moodier Britain:
    It purports, with stats:
    “As the bigger picture looks more uncertain, consumers retreat further into their personal spheres, battening down the hatches, closing the blinds and looking after ‘me and mine’. Perturbed by an outside world of turmoil, they are withdrawing to the sanctuary of their own personal havens.”

  4. To be absolutely frank, any signs that the country is again rebooting its psyche after the last such occasion (Blair election followed by Diana car crash) would be welcome. Even if the new mood were to be, say, callous indifference or sadism.
    I should also add that the stiff-upper-lip approach is often misread as being unfeeling and cold: this is often misleading. It never prohibited sympathy or kindness, but merely self-pity. The distinction is important.

  5. Hi Richard, a great post and very interesting to read…
    However it is my argument that Web 2.0 is not making people more outgoing and that it is creating a reliancy on social networks for communication. Peoples lives (no matter what age) have been revolving around computers for some years now. The teenager playing on computer games through to the 30 something year old typing away day and night to earn his bread. Web 2.0 has made communication more convenient around lifestyles. It is perhaps alienating us from the baser platforms of communications. The idea of having a chat with a friend in a coffee shop on the other side of town is no where near as easy as pinging them a facebook msg. When we do find ourselves in these civic areas and communicating, for example with the chap next to us on the train, are we going to feel more awkward and insecure without our wap mobile phone or laptop to help us communicate.
    Yes social networks help us to multi task, but does a reliancy on them make us ill equiped for face to face? And if so, will this make us a less friendly naiton and influence pessimism?
    This is ofcourse quite a common issue of discussion but thought i would bring it up again.
    I honestly dont know if it is my opinion or not, but will hopefully guide further comments.

  6. I think there is a clear link between people coming together and sharing things on the internet and the boom in live events.
    This is true on a number of levels, firstly the organising power of the internet has brought different groups together and they naturally want to extend their relationship in the real world. Secondly, there is a sense that people look to face-to-face experiences as an antidote to the screen.
    So, not only are digital experiences themselves making us more generous and sharing, they are directly driving real world experiences that engender a sense of optimism and community. Simon Jenkins uses the lovely term ‘the magnetism of human congregation’.

  7. Interesting. I have often felt that the net is a disinhibitor and I couldn’t agree more about it’s influence.
    The trends your talking about may well be long term, but may well have dipped recently in response to our circumstances (I’m assuming you don’t have a benchmark for them say last year when the world was a more optimistic place?) specifically I wonder what your research would say now, given the shenanigans going on in parliament.

  8. This is a topic that has strained my brain for some time…
    There is truth in that a segment of people have substituted their corporeal existence for a virtual one.
    In the end though I think we net out as better off. The internet facilitates more day to day sharing, but then it has the potential to elevate the impact of other shared experiences. Consider the pleasure email provides, but the renewed joy a hand written letter provides nowadays

  9. Wish I shared your faith in the intentions behind people’s actions but in my experience the desire to ‘share’ stuff online usually has little to do with generosity and much more to do with projecting an image and trying to gain kudos within one’s peer group. In which case the whole thing is more about a reinforcement of individuality than a new spirit of generous collectivism.
    Don’t you think this whole ‘generosity’ thing is being seriously overplayed? We all know that Google isn’t really free, it’s just advertising funded, in much the same way as ITV always has been. And (in most cases, but maybe I’m being a bit ungenerous here!) people don’t put their stuff online out of sheer altruism, they do it because they hope to benefit in some way. This is their foremost motivation.
    Does this negate the idea that we’re becoming more optimistic as a nation? Maybe not, maybe the Internet has opened up new possibilities for us to express and cultivate our individuality, even at the same time as we become increasingly connected to others, known and unknown. Maybe that makes us all feel a bit happier, a bit less cynical and a bit more optimistic about our futures (then again maybe it makes others feel a bit more insecure that they’re not ‘with it’ enough or don’t know enough people)
    Whether the elevation of the cult of the individual is going to lead to a society that is less selfish I feel less optimistic about personally.
    The Internet is undoubtedly having an effect on people’s lives – but scratch below the surface and the whole idea of generosity starts to fall apart. In fact almost the opposite is happening – people are used to getting stuff for ‘free’ now – from videos on YouTube to movies and music downloaded from BitTorrent. This feeling of entitlement is probably more of a cause for optimism than the sense that they’re actually sharing anything themselves! How long this might all last if (some of) the media owners get their way is up for debate… could be a big bag of pessimism round the corner if they do decide they can’t afford to continue (or allow other people to continue) ‘giving stuff away’
    That said, in the spirit of sharing would love to hear any responses! The views in the above are off the hip and I would love to have them changed by others with differing points of view =)
    PS I noticed that at the T-Mobile karaoke event the usher’s signs has had a last minute alteration to remove a line saying ‘We don’t have to let you into the arena and please do not take any films of the event itself’ (which was still just about visible underneath the (translucent) marker tape used to cover it up)
    For so many reasons – generosity related or not – was very glad to see that this has been removed and that people were free to film and ‘share’ clips of the event but I have been left wondering why it was ever on there in the first place? Events management company getting a bit gung-ho maybe? Would love to hear what was going on here?

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