The first step ever taken by Homo sapiens was probably in the general direction of a congregation of sorts. Humans have always gathered around things that matter to them: religion, ideology, food, family, technology, recreation etc. As civilisations grew, however, it became more complicated.
Today, humans mostly live and gather around cities, the most densely populated spaces in the world. People move from far and wide to live in urban areas—the big lights draw them like moths to a flame. But beneath the surface it’s more than that. It’s ambition, it’s the furthering of self, it’s survival.
For centuries, travellers and globetrotters have been drawn to the magical cities of the world. When we see that a fashion brand is from New York or Paris, there’s a sense of brand gravitas. Cities also validate religions: Nashville is the city of American gospel music; Mecca is the holy city of Islam; Jerusalem is the holy city of Judaism and Christianity alike. Cities carry identities: Rio is for parties, Rome is for history and art, Amsterdam is for flowers. Wherever we’re from or whatever our story, cities have influence over us.
Today we have figurative cities as well, concepts around which humans gather. They could be trends and fads, or they could be long-standing. The ‘big lights’ of the fidget spinner have inspired humans to congregate around the idea that spinning an oblique object will somehow balance their chi. How long will this city last?
Some cities last forever, like Jerusalem; others, like Troy, get destroyed. Is Jerusalem still standing because it’s founded on deeply religious grounds? Did Troy fall because it was nothing more than a fidget spinner? I’d like to coin these fads and trends around which people gather the “fast cities”, because they come and go. On the other hand, the ideas, products and concepts that last are the “slow cities”, because they endure over time.
In the last decade, technology has developed exponentially. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently stated that we now create as much information in two days as we did from the dawn of man through 2003. That’s remarkable! That means humans are congregating online more than ever before.
Here are some of these ‘fast cities’ to look out for as we enter the second half of 2017:
The older folk always disagree with pop culture’s bastardisation of their precious language. In 2016, we saw the use of words like woke (aware), lit (really nifty) and bae (love interest). Somehow these words caught on and pop culture used them. Look out for the new words, the new ‘lit’ lingo, that’ll start emerging on social media and even in brand advertising.
We’re noticing more and more how smart devices are becoming integrated into our daily lives. The Internet of Things is speeding up, and we’re realistically looking at owning self-driving cars in the next five years. Our homes, our devices, our cars are very soon going to be speaking to one another and feeding data to the interwebs. The rate of change is exponential—today’s technology is outdated tomorrow.
There’s a lot of disposable content on social media, with everyone having something to share through Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp stories. But what we’re seeing more and more of, especially in 2017, is the rise of the personal video: individuals broadcasting ideas, thoughts and opinions to the world. When blogging became a thing, everyone started blogging—but only the ‘true bloggers’ have kept at it. It’ll be interesting to see whether the personal video lasts and whether the broadcasters will keep it up.
Last year Snapchat released its crazy sunglasses with a built-in camera to make taking photos easier. I’m sure we can expect similar products from similar social networks. With the skyrocketing popularity of fads like fidget spinners and popsockets, don’t be surprised when a street vendor soon flags you down at the intersection with
a completely new gadget.
It’s obvious these ‘fast cities’ are still growing, and the number of people congregating is picking up pace. If you’re familiar with the innovation adoption curve, you’ll know it’s divided into five levels of adopters: the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards. The innovators will congregate first, as they’re most drawn to the lights of the ‘fast city’. They’re charismatic and will, as author of Ideavirus Seth Godin says, sneeze the idea of why they’re congregating onto others, which in turn creates a snowball effect. They’re the influencers.
What, then, is the anatomy of a ‘fast city’? What makes something a fad? The Oxford Dictionary defines a fad as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities.” Humans congregate around a fad because they’re defining themselves within relation to their peers. Defining a ‘fast city’ is somewhat grey, because no one really knows how a fad starts. But here’s what I think makes up the anatomy of why people congregate and why the sneezers will join in: It’s about relatability; humans want to date and they want to relate. Humans want to be where other humans are, because that’s how we survive both physically and emotionally. Congregating around a fad or an idea happens because we have a need to relate.
If that guy is doing it, then it must be right. We validate our choices through others. It’s about FOMO—we have a severe fear of missing out. We’re curious, and we want to know what it’s like. Therefore we congregate. We try it out. We want respect, we want to be liked. We therefore congregate so that we are seen to be in the ‘zone’ where everything is happening.
This could all be true for a literal city as well. Why does the world want to experience New York or Rio? They don’t want to miss out on what people are sharing about these cities on social media (again, FOMO). They want to be seen as being in the places that matter. The psychology between the role that physical cities play in the history of humans and their movements, and the figurative ‘fast cities’ that attract us, is actually very similar.
If this psychology is true, the concept, idea or product that’s labelled a ‘fast city’ has to be unique. This plays directly into the human nature of wanting to try something new. If we’ve tried something before, heard of it before or felt it before, there’s no way we’re going to get excited about it. It’ll only survive the first week if it’s unique.
The ‘fast city’ also needs to show some kind of credibility from the outset. No one’s going to turn their head and give it a try otherwise. But this doesn’t mean it has to be credible at the core to become a fad. Take, for instance, the balance bracelets that came out three or so years ago. Every store was selling them, and athletes honestly believed they improved performance. But no one uses these balance bracelets anymore, simply because they actually don’t work.
Lastly, the concept of the ‘fast city’ needs to be simple: easy to understand, explain and talk about; it needs to be easy to share.
Why does all this matter?
The psychology of attraction is important. But the psychology of prosperity is imperative. Some cities we merely visit; others we live and grow in. Businesses can take note here, because money can be made from ‘fast cities’, almost like tourism. But lasting prosperity comes from offering a product or solution that creates long-term value as well— a ‘slow city’.
Use the principles of ‘fast city’ attraction: concrete, credible and simple. But when you have people’s attention, show them that the product’s roots can be sunk into the soil, and that there’s a future for it.