The internet is far more than a global shopping cart. It is the dominant force shaping contemporary culture and accelerating international cultural exchange. Where is this digitization of global culture taking us? And what does it mean for business?
In this episode of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Digital Economy, the impact of digital culture on business is discussed by Kathy Sheehan, senior vice president at Cassandra, a market insights company; Ravi Govada, head of market research at coworking and hotel startup Selina; and Peter Chonka, a lecturer in global digital cultures at King’s College London.
As Kathy Sheehan sees it, paying attention to culture is important to businesses because, as trust in social and government institutions is eroding, consumers see brands as a way to fill the void. “People are looking to brands and expecting brands to help them in various aspects of their lives,” Sheehan says. “Brands are inherently linked into our culture, and the consumer expectation is getting higher and higher in terms of the role that brands want to play.” Paying attention to culture is also critical, she says, because youth trends and culture drive markets. “[The internet] is one of those things that is bringing young people together … ideas spread so much faster than they ever have because of technology.”
Two prominent elements of contemporary culture enabled by the internet are the desire for flexibility in work and living arrangements and an emphasis on experiences over possessions. Ravi Govada says these trends are fueling the growth of a remote-friendly work culture that is swelling the ranks of digital nomads. “This allows people to explore and choose other ways to live. If you think about the United States, you have Latin America nearby [where] a lot of countries share similar time zones to the U.S. This allows you to have a much lower cost of living when it comes to rent and anything else.”
People are now able to take the opportunity to travel and see the world as they work. Younger workers, especially, are able to put a greater emphasis on travel and cultural experiences. “Millennials and younger generations are choosing experiences more than consumer items,” Govada says. “One survey by Eventbrite [found that] 78 percent of millennials surveyed would rather have a desirable experience than an item purchased with that same money.”
Contrary to assumptions, digital culture reaches far beyond developed countries and economies. It is a truly global phenomenon. Peter Chonka says that in Africa, online access through internet cafes started the spread of digital culture, and affordable smartphones have continued that trend. “Facebook, for example, is pretty much ubiquitous,” Chonka says. “A large proportion of people have access to this technology in cities, in Somalia or Somaliland, and the wider Horn of Africa. And so, these produce and facilitate all kinds of connections in this part of the world. There’s an increasing capacity of people all over the world to speak back very directly and sometimes in very great numbers to tell people what is being done wrong.”
The rise of digital culture is also expanding the sources from which trends may arise. “A generation ago, for a young person in the United States to hear about [the Korean singing group] BTS, they probably would’ve had a friend or a family member who traveled to Korea,” Sheehan says. “Maybe by chance that person had heard of [the group]. And then, maybe, they smuggled back a tape to share it with their friends. That would have pretty much been the extent of that cultural exchange. Today, obviously, it’s an entirely different story. We are really open, increasingly open to new ideas and new thinking and new products.”
To learn what else the experts have to say about internet culture and its impact on business, listen to the full podcast, available here.
Read the transcript of The Digital Economy (episode 10) – Global Digital Culture podcast