Global Economics

Trend: Overloaded Kids Turning Low-Tech


The older generation is rediscovering clouds and craft fairs and kids are turning to activities that involve actual human interactions

Britons might be the "social networking" champions of Europe but new research being used by some of the world's largest firms shows a backlash against Facebook and mobile phones in favour of what's being called "analogue living".

Young people, under pressure to communicate through so many media channels, still crave their gadgets, but also want some low-tech time out and one-dimensional products.

Pub chains have started re-installing black and white televisions; mobile telephone manufacturers are making handsets that just make phone calls; stressed-out executives are heading to craft fairs, and adult spelling-bee events have become big business in America.

Firms such as Procter & Gamble, Virgin, Nike and Diageo are being told the future is in back-to-basics designs, simplified packaging and linking up with events that used to be totally "uncool".

The findings come in D-Code, an annual study produced by Henley Centre Headlight Vision (HCHV), a strategic consultancy owned by the advertising giant WPP, which tracks youth culture. Due out at the end of November, the study is considered the manual for future trends. It forms the basis for brand campaigns and new product launches at leading multinationals.

HCHV's chairman, Crawford Hollingworth, says this year's findings were unexpected: "Young people's circuits are overloaded. They can't keep on top of their email, surf their Facebook, handle their Second Life avatar and upload their Flickr. They find all this technology that is designed to connect them is in fact disconnecting them. They are actually in multimedia meltdown."

The result is a knee-jerk reaction towards the less sophisticated, as young people seek temporary salvation from the cutting edge. They are being driven to activities reminiscent of their childhood and more familiar with their parents' generation. Out goes MySpace, PS2s and iPhones, and in comes knitting clubs, craft fairs and cloud appreciation societies.

London's Notting Hill Arts Club hosts a weekly craft night where young people congregate to drink tea, listen to music and knit together. They find creating something tangible and the sense of nostalgia relaxing.

Others are shunning eBay for some low-tech trading in second-hand garments, swapping unwanted clothes on the dance floor of a London nightclub. At the sound of a klaxon, party-goers at the monthly Swap-A-Rama Razzmatazz night at Favela Chic in London's Shoreditch place something they are wearing on a washing line strung across the dance floor.

They then put on an item left by someone else, and end the evening leaving in an entirely different outfit. The trick is not to start the night wearing your finest from Prada.

"This is a backlash to auction sites on the web," explains Liz Chernett, co-editor of D-Code. "It is a playful way to get rid of unwanted clothes -- everyone has clothes in perfect condition they never wear. People live in such fast-paced, stressed lifestyles, with fixed definitions of success and an expectation to succeed.

"There is this need to have a counterbalance to stress and anxiety, and this is an antidote to new tech and new media. Young people are looking at the pastimes from their youth when they didn't live with the same pressures and responsibility."

And they are not the only ones benefiting from the trend -- big business is cashing in with analogue products and campaigns aimed at connecting with the back-to-basics consumer.

Absolut Vodka recently launched a television commercial featuring hundreds of protesters in a stand-off with heavily armoured police. When one of the rioters hurled a cushion over the police line, the crowd erupted into a pillow fight on a scale of children's dreams all to promote the drinks company's "In an Absolut World" campaign.

There has also been a rash of print advertisements that involve Blue Peter-style do-it-yourself activities. Sports giant Puma promoted its new Train Away clothing and trainers kit with an advertisement comprising perforations that when separated made hundreds of tiny numbered cards. Put together in order, these formed a flip book that gave the illusion of a runner in Puma gear. This marketing approach was aimed at engaging with the consumer.

But it is not just commercials -- the theme has even migrated to do-it-yourself products. Trendy footwear maker F-Troupe created a limited-edition assemble-your-own moccasin.

"Some of the world's biggest brands are tapping into this," says Ms Chernett. "Others are bringing out products with retro design and packaging with a low-tech look. But this is not a fight against technology -- youths want to be at the leading edge, but they also need a time for back to basics, where analogue living provides some respite."

The trend is not limited to Britain. Americans have taken the shift to another extreme. In New York there is a cloud appreciation society where groups of adults get together and lie in a park looking at clouds and discussing the different shapes.

In Canada, the Retro Brewing Company has differentiated itself by adopting 1950s styling. Beer is delivered in an old school milk truck and the in-house bar is fitted with a black and white television.

In previous D-Codes, companies were told to associate their products with crime or criminals. This was because public attitudes towards immoral behaviour had softened so much that poster campaigns based around figures such as the Krays gave a product "criminal kudos".

This year's report is more about times gone past, and the only criminality firms will need to embrace is to steal some ideas from yesteryear.

Provided by The Independent—from London, for Independent minds worldwide

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