business news in context, analysis with attitude

A guest column by Harvey Hartman & Jack Whelan

Yesterday in this space, the authors wrote that "if you want to understand the future, try to understand better what modern societies left behind. What the culture has lost to 'modern progress,' it wants now to retrieve."

In this column, the second of a two-part series, they look at cultural connections and disconnections…

What late moderns long for is what societies strongly influenced by pre-modern values still have. All healthy pre-modern cultures have a deep sense of connectedness to nature, to family and its elders, to tribe or community, and to the spiritual world; and many late moderns long for those things because they are missing them in their lives. Traditional cultures produce things by hand, not machines. The art is beautiful but not slick; simple and accessible, not esoteric and impossible to understand. Time is not measured by clocks. Space is not something where things are experienced as separated from one another but rather as interrelated as in a medieval tapestry.

"Connection" is the characteristic experience for the pre-modern; "disconnection," fragmentation and alienation are more characteristic of the late modern experience. The emphasis on individuals and their rights to do as they please with little regard for the common good is a central element of modernity. And this in turn has led to the social fragmentation in which hardly any social bond is valued more highly than one's individuality and freedom. And yet, premoderns aspire that "individual space" within a community.

Immigrants or visitors to America who come from cultures where the old traditional, communal values still have some influence are shocked when they discover how the elderly are treated here - and at the crime, alienation, violence and loneliness that they find as well. In commercial/technological societies there is comparatively little sense of belonging to a larger group. Moderns are on their own in a way that would be inconceivable in a traditional culture. So connection, warmth, immediacy, humor, authenticity, intensity are all elements that shape the world of soul values, and they are what late modern Americans find missing and long to retrieve.

What exactly that means and how that plays out is the burning question. People will take what's soulful wherever they find it, whether it's from Asian spiritualities or African music and graphic arts, Shaker furniture or Mediterranean cuisine. The new Soul Culture will be a Fusion Culture driven by a longing to retrieve what's soulful from pre-modern cultural traditions integrated with and mediated by a postmodern information tech style.

Multi-acculturation leads to inevitable fusion. And understanding the social dynamics that are driving American (and eventually global) society toward fusion is at the heart of what we mean by understanding "trends" in the Soul Age.

We believe that much of the thrust into the Soul Age is driven by a longing to recover this lost sense of soulful connection. And it's the charm of their lingering pre-modern traditions that makes, for instance, a visit to "tradition-centered" cultures in Europe, Asia or Africa interesting to Americans for whom such traditions never really existed, except for a few years among its newly arrived immigrants and their children. But ethnic traditions, while they might stay alive in pockets here and there, eventually shrivel as third and fourth generations assimilate into the commercial/technological/media-centered culture that has played the principal role in shaping American society during the 20th Century. Even though a tradition-centered lifestyle is one few moderns would want to live themselves, many moderns want these traditional cultures preserved so they can take interesting travel vacations to places where they can experience their soulful charm.

Now how does all this relate to markets for products and services? If the culture is shifting, the markets have to adapt. And if we're right about the shift to soul values, then the marketers have to adjust to the changing needs and values of an increasing number of consumers who are looking for products, services, experiences and communications that reflect their need for a more soulfulness in their lives. Our world model is a useful tool because it can help marketers to predict where things are going within the larger culture, but also within any of a number of niche cultures that compose contemporary American society. If marketers keep their eyes on what is interesting to the trendsetters in the core of any given world, they will be given significant clues about what will become more widely accepted in the future, even if for now it interests only an esoteric few. That is why we constantly study the "core group," even if it doesn't lend itself to a scalable market; it gives us an understanding of what will be mainstream in the years to come.

So while that's true for any specific lifestyle world, we are also saying that all these worlds are caught up in a larger movement in which commercial/technological values are becoming increasingly balanced by soul values. So the people who are the innovators at the core of these new soul-centered lifestyle worlds are bellwethers for the rest of the culture.

"Fusion Culture" is a product of The Hartman Group, one of the nation's preeminent research firms focusing on the health and wellness markets.

For more information about Hartman Group publications, go to:
KC's View: