The Feed at one: Ten key moments that are shaping the future of digital culture
We’re marking one year since the launch of The Feed, our cultural insights publication sourced from the hive mind of We Are Social’s global network. The Feed covers artefacts of digital culture from around the world, enabling us to track culture on a global scale.
Packed full of memes, brand campaigns, creator trends, platform updates, and more, the brains behind the daily digital culture download have collated the ten key moments from the past year that are shaping the future of digital culture now.
We’re looking back on what happened (🔎), what it told us about culture at the time (🧠), and how that learning is translating into the future of digital culture (🔮).
1 – When McDonald’s scrapped its iconic golden arches logo for a shoddy redesign by a TikTok creator
Analysis by: Rosie Pond
Date: October 2021
🔎 Last October, McDonald’s changed all their social avatars to an intentionally bad redesign of their iconic logo. The Golden Arches made way for a new identity (which misspelled McDonald’s), with the ‘O’ resembling an onion ring. Their updated brand identity wasn’t a mistake, though. It was created by @emilyzugay, a TikToker who has generated over 50 million views on the platform for her ironic redesigns of famous brand logos in Windows 2000-style graphics. It earned a rapturous response– an explainer video raked in 10.3m views on TikTok and the logo itself received 104,000 likes and 25,000 shares on Facebook – all seeing McDonald’s commended for its willingness to be playful with its iconic brand.
🧠 Gen Z aren’t satisfied simply consuming brands: they want to be able to be creative with them. Brands are increasingly expected to encourage participation, ultimately giving their community a stake in them.
🔮 As we see creative chaos gain more prominence on social, more control is falling within the laps of creators. Creative influence is no longer just from the brains behind the brand but is dictated by the communities engaging with them.
2 – When Kendall Jenner’s awkward cucumber slicing went viral
Analysis by: Anna Fitzpatrick
Date: May 2022
🔎 Back in May, a clip from the latest Kardashian series went viral. It showed Kendall Jenner attempting to cut a cucumber, waving away her personal chef and pretzeling her arms into an awkward pantomime of vegetable slicing. The internet marvelled at the model ‘nearly dislocating her shoulder’ in an attempt to seem natural, with an onslaught of TikToks parodying and roasting her.
🧠 The Kardashians fit an ‘aspirational’ influencer persona, not the ‘relatable’ one that’s getting more airtime. But navigating the space between those two personas was a win-win for Kendall – because even if it wasn’t convincing, the internet loves gawking at glamorous and out of touch figureheads failing to reframe themselves as relatable.
🔮 As digital culture continues to evolve, so do conceptions of ‘relatability’ and how it translates into social clout. Since the cucumber incident, we’ve seen luxury brands like Valentino straddle the in-between space between ‘aspirational’ and ‘relatable’ – like when they featured the ‘random potato girl from TikTok’ in opulent imagery.
3 – When this football designer’s TikTok let people see behind-the-scenes craftsmanship
Analysis by: Gabriel Noble
Date: May 2022
🔎 @jonpaulsballs is a British product designer making entrancing watchalong videos of himself hand-making artisan footballs. In March 2022, Jon-Paul moved from niche to mainstream with a 12.5 million-view TikTok wherein he stitched an entirely spherical football, taking his viewers through the process through sharp edits and an ASMR-esque voiceover. Since that breakout moment, he’s raked in millions of views, going on to create content with adidas Football, who invited him to their HQ where they tested out his hand-made ball with German international Thomas Muller.
🧠 TikTok has a reputation for pioneering fast-moving internet culture, but the artisanal watchalongs of @jonpaulsballs – like the upcycling tutorials of ZeroWasteDaniel or Helen Kirkum’s bespoke sneakers made out of old waste – showed the platform finding ways to bring in the satisfaction of slow culture.
🔮 The artisanal continues to find prominence on TikTok by bringing an ASMR-like satisfaction to viewers, as creators realise the potential of multisensory content on the platform.
4 – When r/place became a digital community arena
Analysis by: Dania Shafei
Date: April 2022
🔎 r/place was a collaborative canvas with 4.8m followers, where Redditors could add a single-pixel every 5 minutes over four days. Given this time limitation, the only way for full images to be formed (and to last) required large communities to coordinate and mobilise en masse. As a result, it became a space for friendly competition, as digital communities vied against each other to make their mark on the canvas. When the mural returned in 2022, influencers across the internet like TikTok darling Emily Zugay and streamer Mizkif mobilised their communities.
🧠 Whether sports supporters or K-Pop fans, the camaraderie and belonging that communities provide plays as much of a role in public spaces as it is in private. r/place provided digital communities with the opportunity to flex their togetherness in a public arena, ultimately strengthening the bond between community members.
🔮 r/place presaged a wider move we’re seeing on social platforms: the decentring of the individual, and the foregrounding of collective, anonymous communities.
5 – When a Ukrainian woman used TikTok to document her experience of the war in real-time
Analysis by: Alexis Perikleous
Date: April 2022
🔎 Valeria Shashenok – AKA @valerisssh – is a 20-year-old Ukrainian photographer who’s gained over 1.1 million TikTok followers for her on-the-ground footage of the war in Ukraine. Shashenok’s videos have documented the destruction in her city, what life is like living in a bunker, and her refugee journey to Italy. Having had to leave her family behind, and processing the passing of her brother, Shashenok uses TikTok as an outlet to help her cope during such difficult times while raising awareness of the realities of war on the global stage. She has satirically participated a number of viral trends, making videos like ‘humanitarian clothing haul’ and ‘day in the life, living in a bomb shelter’, using humour to deal with an otherwise devastating situation.
🧠 Shashenok’s videos are a reflection of Gen Z’s use of humour to cope with heavy subject matter, while also demonstrating how this extremely online generation is taking control of the narratives that dictate their experiences, rather than leaving it to mass media reporting.
🔮 The Ukraine-Russia conflict has been widely framed as the ‘first social media war’. This is far from true – much war and suffering has gone on during the social media era – but it gestures to how this one is changing norms around how social is used to share first hand experiences of volatile situations.
6 – When the 0.5 selfie forced people into genuine self-representation
Analysis by: Shivani Kulshrestha
Date: July 2022
🔎 This year, Gen Z reinvented social’s most used format: the selfie. On the back of the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S10, where product designers saw a 0.5x ultra-wide lens, Gen Z saw a new camera for documenting the self, only distorted. The result was the 0.5 selfie – photos that look like they’ve been shot through a funhouse mirror, with noodle-y legs, buggy eyes, and dangling, elastic-looking arms. The lens’ width also allows people to snap a whole outfit from head-to-toe, but that’s not its main cultural use. Instead, it’s used to separate selfies from curation, representing a version of oneself that’s both somehow both distorted and genuine.
🧠 The 0.5 selfie brought serendipity back to self-presentation – not through waxing lyrical on the value of candour or authenticity, but by constraining people in their ability to curate. Because the 0.5 selfie can only be taken through a phone’s back lens, it means you can’t watch yourself take it – forcing people out of the muscle memory of overly posed, premeditated photos.
🔮 The 0.5 selfie is part of a wave of other tech innovations – most notably, rising star platform BeReal – that are carving out a new approach to ‘authenticity’. In this emergent approach, authentic self-presentation isn’t entrusted to the user; it’s enforced by format constraints.
7 – When The Sims’ Melanin Packs made character creation more inclusive
Analysis by: Sofia Sarcina
Date: April 2022
🔎 Amira Virgil, known as @xmiramira on Twitch, is a streamer and gamer whose content often features her gameplay of The Sims 4. She’s long been pointing out that the game’s character creation tools often leave Black characters looking ‘ashy’: a term used to describe when black skin appears washed out or grey. To allow people to create characters that more authentically reflect Blackness, Virgil spent recent years creating a number of downloadable mods named Melanin Packs, which feature over 50 different skin tones players can use to create characters that authentically represent them.
🧠 As we move further into the metaverse, people have been wanting to be able to show their most authentic selves, regardless of who they are or where they’re from. With gaming platforms failing to facilitate self-expression, users have been stepping in, making the change that they want to see.
🔮 The Sims’ Melanin Packs set the tone for some of the ongoing focus points that are cropping up as the metaverse unfolds: expressing identity and asserting autonomy in these new digital worlds.
8 – When a random English chip shop became the IRL embodiment of a viral meme
Analysis by: Rosie Pond
Date: June 2022
🔎 There’s approximately nothing special about Coventry-based chip shop #BinleyMegaChippy. But since TikTok fan account welovebinleymegachippy immortalised the restaurant in a self-consciously basic (but catchy) jingle, the chippy won the hearts and minds of the nation. People from all over the UK flocked to the restaurant, brands jumped into the discourse, and cultural commentators like Amelia from Chicken Shop Dates and Gen Z comedian Jacobchuckorscranit fuelled the viral fire.
🧠 Trending or viral moments give a sense of community that are often limited to digital spaces. Binley Mega Chippy flipped this narrative, creating an offline meeting point where people could participate in a shared digital moment IRL. This has since been replicated by the Gentleminions trend, demonstrating the power of digital to form communities in offline spaces.
🔮 The Binley pilgrimages were an early iteration of an ongoing theme: online communities are no longer restricted to digital spaces. Viral moments are bleeding from digital to physical worlds, as evidenced by the hoards of besuited teenagers flooding cinemas during the #gentleminions craze of July 2022.
9 – When Selfridges started selling NFTs over the counter
Analysis by: Anna Bernadini
Date: January 2022
🔎 In January, UK Department store Selfridges partnered with art museum Fondation Vasarely and fashion house Paco Robanne for the launch of its first foray into Web 3.0, with the sale of over 1,800 NFTs. While the IRL exhibition was hosted in Selfridges’ London store, NFTs based on the showing were sold in the ‘Corner Shop’ concession, allowing people to purchase them as physical items.
🧠 NFTs have seen an incredible growth over the last year, but many still don’t result understand what makes these tokens unique. In fact, 85% of social media users globally don’t understand what an NFT is. The Selfridges exhibition and sale brought NFTs to the mainstream at a time when cynicism was high, working to combat doubts over their value.
🔮 With more and more brands delving into the world of Web 3.0, NFT purchases are becoming far more common and easily accessible. Brands like adidas and Prada have jumped onboard, indicating a wider appeal for Web 3.0 based products beyond the crypto community.
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10 – When a Somali artist broke the internet with a song from 2017
Analysis by: Gabriel Noble
Date: November 2021
🔎 ‘Isii Nafta (Love You More Than My Life)’ was a song by Somali artist @nimcoshappy which blew up across social platforms last year. Originally spread through a dance trend on TikTok, it went from being performed by British Somali creators like @akafiali to global superstars like @iamcardib. Since her explosion into wider consciousness, Nimco Happy signed a distribution deal with @polydorrecords.
🧠- The success of the song highlighted how emergent global culture is no longer geofenced to specific markets or cities. Influence is being decentralised and redistributed. This is powered by TikTok’s powerful discovery engine, helping underrepresented communities be seen.
🔮- Although there’s far more work to be done, Nimco Happy’s virality demonstrates the ongoing potential for African creators to benefit from the creator economy. As feeds become less guided by the social graph (meaning: friends and family), it’s accelerating this movement into perspectives beyond the stereotypical Eurocentric or American influencer.
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