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Digital Anthropology & Sociocultural Trends

Posted on Friday, 18th March, 2016

Last week my friend Doreen asked me to present something about digital at her ad agency’s cultural event titled #UrbanPharming. I chose to pull together a few trends that intersect with digital and social culture.

It was super fun and I was amongst some very cool speakers!

Anthropology, by definition, is the study of human behavior.

Over the past 8 years we’ve had an influx of technological advances which has blown up the trajectory of Moore’s Law. We are amidst a storm of change– sometimes it’s hard to even notice what’s occurring because it’s happening at such a rapid pace. Its an enormous conceptual change, a social and psychological shift in our mindset.

It’s a tornado of activity reimagining who we are, how our world lives at mass scale across environmental, economic and societal landscapes. I put a digital lens on my daily observations, synthesize and and create opportunities for businesses and brands.

I call it living in a digital world– it’s my mindset.


Flip through the slides, or read below for full copy on 4 trends.


Digital Anthropology + Sociocultural trends from Jess Seilheimer


Access vs Ownership

Back in the day our parents all owned homes and ~2 cars by the age of 26.  #Lifegoals. Fast forward to today– urban dwellers make up 81% of the population— most of them noncommittal younger generations– who care more about leading a life less difficult and less contracted with more on-demand convenience.

We don’t want to buy anything– we don’t need to. We can rent our music (Spotify, Apple Music). We pay monthly fees for access to content (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon + OTT services from HBO + Showtime). We share bikes, cars and apartments over buying them (Citibike, Airbnb + ZipCar, Get, Uber— Stonehenge in NYC created a program called “Let’s Drive” — stocking their garage with cars accessible by their tenants).  A testament to a new generation growing up in a world where access is more important than ownership– causing shifts in traditional operational, service and revenue models for many industries.


Mirror Mirror

Social brings out the alter ego in GenZ. MTV, an early sponsor of research on GenZ had some very unique findings which led me to the insight that social media allows GenZ to flex multiple personas– gives them access and exposure to multiple lifestyles, personalities and passions.

Through multiple fake Instagram accounts (finstas), GenZ are re-imagining our social world as fragments of their real selves (and imaginations)…. anonymous, semi-private, hard to find, hard to identify ambiverts; a blend of their desire to be in the know (FOMO- fear of missing out) and those who relish in reflection through introspection (JOMO- joy of missing out).  YOLO!

Remember what it was like as a 13-16 year old? Who the hell was I? Imagine growing up with Insta and Snapchat to help influence that. Godspeed, parents!  Think you’re following your 16 yr old on IG– you probably know about 1 of her 7 accounts. #SorryNotSorry Some social networks are more important than others– but they split their time up across them all.

Which raises another issue yet to be addressed by marketers or any social advertising networks– what do we do about the ambiverts? Most GenZ have a push pull mentality and therefore make them hard to target. They don’t always know what they want and because how they feel shifts, it proves difficult to interpret their attitudes and behaviors– this ambivalence completely cancels out traditional digital marketing funnels and customer journeys. Behavioral scientists and marketers certainly have some work ahead of them.


The Freelance Economy

Highly skilled cognitive jobs that require more flexibility, creativity and problem solving have doubled since 1983.  34% of the total workforce are mentally and financially thriving in these roles as freelancers–offering more flexible schedules and a favorable work-life balance. This “free agent” behavior is being driven via silicon valley and influencing the mass workforce–mostly GenY/millennials, the largest workforce segment of 2015. Digitally native generations GenY/Z value contributing something meaningful to the world, and are developing a broad range of professional-grade skills, creating high-quality products/services and making their own businesses out of their passions, an attitudinal trait Fast Company coined “GenFlux” in 2012.

Technology enables greater accessibility to digital learning (online education like Code Academy,, 3-D printers, arduino boards) and they leverage social-first platforms like Etsy, GitHub and Pinterest to broadcast and show off and monetize newly acquired skills and DIY products.

In order to recruit and retain younger talent, brands/companies need to shift their general operations to accommodate GenY/GenZ and what they expect at work for the lifecycle of the employee.

1) Recruiting: LinkedIn won’t work- talent directors have to get more creative

2) BYOT: bring your own tech to work
– Cloud based services (Google Drive, Dropbox)
– Slack, gchat and other messaging services to communicate, they don’t use email anymore

3) Flex work hours: The are looking for flexible work hours and doing away with butts in seats mentality- in this world of 24/7 connectivity when no one is ever truly offline, they are looking for trust that they will get their work done whenever and wherever they choose.

4) Continuing education: multiple interests and one skill is not enough- offer classes at General Assembly in coding, graphic design, and other 21st century business skills.


Hacktivists are the New Activists

The growth of the Internet offered activists and protesters a universal platform to spread their message and mobilize action. Tech innovation gave protesters the ability to create tools (code) to hack software and disrupt normal operations, a digital parallel to traditional street protests and sit-ins. “Hacktivism” challenges international affairs, not only because it transcends borders, but also because it serves as an instrument of global power (and sometimes threat). Despite its prevalence for over 2 decades, hacktivism is often associated with actions of The Anonymous, a collective of activists and hackers who act as “Digital Robin Hoods” & correct social injustices through Denial of Services software (DoS) eg: ISIS, Wikileaks & Occupy.

In addition to launching DoS attacks and hijacking websites, hacktivists take over Twitter & Facebook accounts, and steal and disclose sensitive and personal information from the systems that they penetrate– hence what The Impact Team did with the Ashley Madison data breach and Anonymous did with ISIS.

There are several reasons why hacktivism has become so popular:

  1. Relatively easy to conduct, low-cost operation
  2. Hacktivism poses little risk to protesters. Most are illegal under domestic crime statute
  3. BUT most cases are never even investigated by law enforcement agencies
  4. Internet activism supports remote actions and can take on distant causes without traveling
  5. It enables both individual actions and large-scale distributed efforts
  6. The effects of hacktivism are often visible, such as when websites are defaced to display protesters’ messages or shut down from DoS attacks

The marketing implications here are the easiest message of all: you can ensure all the privacy you want via firewalls and whatnot- but honestly if you, your company, organization or operation sucks, these people will break you down! Ethics! Be a humanitarian! #SaidTheAquarian

What’s got your attention? I’d love to know what interesting trends you’ve been observing as of late.





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