Think Forward 2023: Fragmented Futures
Today, we launched Think Forward 2023, our annual trends report. Here, our Director of Cultural Insights, Mira Kopolovic, explains the five key trends that we expect to shape social over the next 12 months.
Last year, we stepped out of the pandemic into a new online landscape – one in which digital worlds were much more intimately entangled with offline life, and the internet reeked of utopian promise (Web3, anyone?)
Even then, social was a composite of many worlds – from the anti-establishment anarchy of a Wall Street subreddit to the peaceful, pastoral gameplay of Animal Crossing. But there was still a sense of shared reality: a communal space at the intersection of these worlds.
This year, that sense of segmented realities has moved from the margins to the mainstream. An accurate vision of the future is now less like looking through a telescope, more like looking through a kaleidoscope: it’s coming through as several diverse fragments, not one single perspective.
In this fragmented space, online factions are carving out their own customs, niches, and territories – marginal worlds that have the power to become the mainstream.
We know best practice for a world that’s polarised, but what about a world that’s atomised?
This question is the backdrop to this year’s Think Forward report, which looks at how we’re approaching Fragmented Futures.
Below is a brief glimpse of each trend – the full report is here.
Textured Discovery: The way people explore the internet and discover new content is evolving. Users are questioning the old modes of search and leaning more on the rich data social offers, supplementing traditional modes of search with ones that are visual, collaborative, serendipitous, and steeped in personal experience. Discovery journeys are beginning within the depths of Reddit, the sensory minefield of TikTok, or the far corners of Roblox – and these new launchpads are influencing what kind of information people are seeking out.
Collapsing Narratives: Storytelling is no longer linear or contained. Instead, to survive the modern attention economy, storytelling on social is mutating. Once a formulaic art – beginning, middle, end – stories are no longer progressing through a full narrative arc, nor do they play out start-to-finish in one place. Instead, they’re collapsing and starting mid-narrative, or expanding and becoming scattered across platforms.
Margin-chasers: On social, what signifies realness is always in flux. As rising cynicism makes it increasingly difficult to come off as genuine, authenticity has become a game of chicken – pushing people to behave more and more unusually in order to be seen as true believers, rather than mere poseurs. This explains why self-expression is moving to extremes: in the post-genuineness internet, extreme now equates to believable.
New Cooperatives: Vibrant Discords, supportive subreddits, sisterhood fostered in the comments section of TikToks – in 2022, the social life of the web is thriving. Conspicuously absent in all this? The individual profile page. With less self-branding and more open community, the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’ is changing. Individuality is out – at least in its earlier form. Identity curation, self-presentation, hierarchy and status-seeking are being gently set aside to make more space for effective community-building, and forms of connection that are open, dynamic, and far less focused on the individual.
Expanding Identities: As we enter an even more VR- and AR-inflected realm of social, it’s opening up new avenues for identity expression. It’s part of why the ability to self-represent in virtual worlds – whether with accuracy, playfulness, or nuance – is a major cultural touchpoint. Against this backdrop, legacy brands and creators alike are furiously building the infrastructure to support more open self-expression in online worlds.