Future Report: Insight story 2016
Technology is changing our habits and lives faster than ever. We took a look at Sweden, as a digitally mature market, to see what’s really going on and where we’re heading. Anders Lithner and Karin Nelsson, from the research company Inizio, guide us through the trends that are shaping the future shown in a survey made exclusively for Future Report
When analyzing yesterday and today to draw conclusions about tomorrow, there are of course a million possible angles. If something has been increasing to this point there is every chance that it will in the future too. We call it a trend. The list of trending phenomena is endless. Anything from a food ingredient or a travel destination to a gadget or a way to say hello can be caught trending.
Behind the myriad of small trends are the megatrends. The megatrends are to the social scientist what the trade winds are to a weather forecaster. Three of the most commonly referred long-term megatrends are digitalization, individualization and post materialism. Studies about the trends themselves are rare. The megatrends are taken for granted and arguments around them are mostly theoretical.
To better understand some of the trends blowing through Sweden right now a unique study has been carried out, using the insight infrastructure set up around the Schibsted/Inizio opinion panel. Sweden, with its advanced digitalization and smartphone penetration, has proven a great place to create a high quality opinion panel, sourced in the Schibsted audience. It is also a great place to study the evolvement of the megatrends, since Sweden in many respects is characterized by the tendencies summarized in them. Sweden is however not alone.
Wheels are spinning faster
As phenomena start trending two things normally happen: The trend accelerates as more and more people jump on the wagon, and counter-trends begin to sprout. This is as true forthe megatrends. The wheels are spinning faster and some actively choose not to be part of the movement. We find evidence of both in the data
When we let people declare their interest in abstract topics and ask whether they think this interest is going to grow or decline in five years’ time, it turns out a large and growing number of Swedes are very interested in “services that free up time”. An important reason for this is that people feel that the wheels are spinning faster. Therefor they are interested in services that save a second or two in each curve along the road.
Segments are drifting apart
We also find polarization. A lot of data in our surveys suggests that different segments of the population are gradually drifting apart. Either people work out a lot or not at all. Either they vote for the established political parties or they are passionate in their sympathies for anti-establishment parties. Either they consume a lot of news produced by journalists, or barely any at all. These distances between groups pose challenges, to politics and democratic institutions of course, but also to anybody involved in media and communication.
How about mobile? Isn’t the explosion in anything related to mobile a megatrend of its own? In fact, mobile is the burning glass where the rays of the other trends come together. Needless to say mobile is tightly connected with the force of digitalization. It is also the most individualized media. People tend to use their phones almost like extensions of themselves.
Mobile is also closely related to post-materialism. Postmaterialism is the transformation of individual values from physical and economic to new individual values of autonomy and self-expression. The phone itself is physical of course, but its content is not. The selfie taken with the phone, the social media post containing the selfie and all the likes that it gathers, are great examples of non-material entities that are considered important by a lot of people. We shall begin with looking at some trends related to mobile usage.
40 per cent paying with their mobile
It is said that people are more likely to return home if they forget their mobile in the morning, than if they forget their wallet. Wouldn’t it be great if the mobile in fact was the wallet? As it turns out, that is becoming reality. As recently as 2012 less than 10 per cent of Swedes had used their mobile to pay for something. Now 40 per cent has, and the growth exceeds all previous curves for mobile functionality.
When asking people to estimate when they started to use their mobile phone for different things asides talking in it, we identify three developmental waves. Most functions – like surfing, using maps, streaming music – took off in the second wave beginning in 2007. Using the phone as alarm clock and phone book makes up the first wave that started long before phones were equipped with touchscreens. And using the phone to pay for things instead of cash or cards is taking off in a third wave beginning only in the last two or three years.
Interestingly the third wave is growing steeper than any of the earlier waves. It took many years for the mobile to replace the pocket camera or the paper calendar. It will take years for the mobile to replace cash and cards too. But fewer years. The speed of change is increasing. This is one of the fundamental laws of digitalization.
Still old infrastructure
When digging into how mobile phones are used in payment situation, it is apparent that the old infrastructure with bank payments and credit cards is still lurking in the background. A lot of people are accessing sites online with their phone to buy things. But the actual payment method is often still of the same kind as it has always been on the Internet.
The one explosive exception is Swish that has claimed a strong position in short time. Swish is different in the sense that it sits more closely integrated with the phone itself and that it actually replaces the credit card. Swish has three million registered users in Sweden with its 10 million inhabitants. Swish is owned by the Swedish banks and has only been around for two and a half year.
This study clearly identifies mobile payments as an area about to explode. The majority of Swedes also think cash will eventually disappear altogether. Two out of five Swedes think this will happen within the next ten years. Ten years is a long time, but considering that cash has been around for more than 2,500 years, we are talking about truly disruptive development.
In The Swedish Time Use Survey, conducted by Statistics Sweden, one of the areas that is increasing most dramatically, taking up more and more of our time, is workout. This is another field where many of the megatrends come together. Caring about one’s own body is a typical post-materialist value that also trends hand in hand with the concept of individualization.
Generally a majority of Swedes work out regularly. The difference between young and old also indicates that this is an area where something is happening. Most young Swedes work out between monthly and weekly. Older segments tend to either work out even more often, or not at all. Consequently this too is an area of gradual polarization.
The world of workout and exercise also touches digitalization. Almost a third of Swedes use a mobile app to help them manage their training. These days we talk a lot about big data, but there is a parallel explosion in tiny data. People engaged in sports such as running often turn themselves into statistics, keeping track of their heartbeat, pace and steps per distance. A lot of people that haven’t yet started also express interest in using technical equipment like fitness trackers, workout bracelets, pulse watches etc.
We believe, acknowledging that fitness and workout are close to the center of trend development, is important for the understanding of where we are heading. It drives technology towards the next generation of connected devices; it goes hand in hand with general health trends. And as anything really trendy it creates gaps between those that are in and those that are out.
Women are texting more
Technological evolution also changes how we communicate with each other. Wearables and the Internet of Things will surely only broaden the palette. In Sweden, according to our survey, mobile phone is by far the most used technology for interpersonal communication. But other channels are used as well and here too the differences between groups are big and growing. For women texting on the mobile is considered a more important means of communication than talking on it. For men it’s the other way around. For young people social media and messenger apps are more used than landline phones. This is not the case for people over 50. People over 50 also place greater importance on email and less on texting.
One megatrend – often attributed to the young generations – is the idea of post-materialism. We hear anecdotes of tenyear-olds that when asked what they wish for their birthday cannot come up with anything if they already have a mobile phone. All they really need is inside that phone anyway. In this study, even on the total population level, we note that only one in five claim they want something material for their next birthday. It is far more common to wish for some kind of experience or event, like a concert or a night on the town.
Post-materialism should not be confused with asceticism. Not having to worry too much about economy is considered a basic condition for caring less about the material aspects of life. A kid that doesn’t have shoes, clothes, a bicycle, or a mobile phone for that matter, probably wouldn’t find it so hard to come up with something to put on the wish list for the next birthday.
Overconsumption a threat
But there is also an environmental side to the post-materialist trend. Our surveys show many Swedes identify over-consumption as a threat to the Earth and its future. As part of that we see, for example, that second-hand shopping is a very popular phenomenon. This today is a highly digitalized activity with Schibsted media at the very core of the market. The study also identifies a growing tendency to use digital services where the company behind doesn’t have a warehouse full of things to sell. It is often noted that Spotify doesn’t own records, Uber doesn’t own cars and Airbnb doesn’t own houses.
This study clearly identifies this propensity towards indulging in consumption without really contributing to manufacturing. We note that this attitude – and the sharing economy that goes with it – belongs primarily among the young and welleducated in the urban areas. This is the target group where early adopters of new trends are commonly found.
The research findings presented in this text are just a few examples from the surveys regularly carried out by Schibsted. There are of course numerous findings in this data, high and low. We note that, on average Swedes think that self-driving cars will be on Swedish roads in eight and a half years, that 27 per cent shop for groceries online but that only six per cent does it on a regular basis, that certain demographic segments show a rapidly growing interest in security for themselves and their loved ones, and much more.
About the study
The survey was conducted within Schibsted/Inizio Opinion panel that mirrors the Swedish population of 16 years and older. Surveys are carried out every day in this context. During the period 10-29 July, in total 4,096 respondents participated in surveys specifically around trends and the future.
Read the full report