As Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company's in-house futurist, and her team started conducting the research in early 2016 that would yield the just-released Looking Further with Ford 2017 global trends report, the U.S. presidential race had yet to be decided, and Brexit hadn't happened. "But we had this sense of a growing restlessness," reflects Connelly, who was named one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in 2013.
And now—in the wake of the election, Britain's vote to leave the European Union, and other world events—we are indeed entering 2017 facing change and uncertainty. "Everyone is reassessing their priorities, rethinking what they thought they once knew," Connelly says.
Trust in government, corporations, and media, which was on the decline back in 2013 when Ford first began sharing its trends research with the public, has gone off a cliff. We now live in a world where people—85%, according to Ford—are concerned about their personal data being obtained without their consent, and 80% believe media outlets offer more opinion than they do objective news coverage.
Eighty percent of respondents tell Ford they find social media is more about optics than substance, and 65% agree that people in general are less likely to even consider opposing viewpoints these days. "We tend to only seek out information that already reinforces what we already believe," Connelly says. "There is less room for discourse, for compromise, and people seem to be increasingly wedded to their point of view and unwilling to entertain any divergent perspective."
Meanwhile, fake news is hard to avoid these days. "Even when you want to do your due diligence, it's really difficult to figure out whether you’re reading something that's authentic," Connelly says, noting, "This is an unexpected by-product of having information at our fingertips all the time."
There is no denying that technology has improved our lives, but we have entered what the Ford trends report describes as a "tech spiral" in which people are also starting to see the downsides of always being connected to devices and a nonstop stream of information and entertainment. Technology is making us obese, according to 77% of those surveyed, while a majority of respondents—78% of women and 69% of men—say technology causes sleep deprivation.
Ford's latest trends report also reveals that people are redefining what it means to live "the good life," becoming less materialistic and pursuing experiences that make life worth living and staying true to their values. The majority of people agree prosperity is more about happiness than wealth, though the percentages vary depending on what country those surveyed live in. To wit: 82% of respondents in India agreed with this statement, while the percentages fell to 70% of those in the U.S. and 64% of those in the U.K. (Ford studied consumers in nine countries.)
The need to belong to a community is also strong all around the globe, and people expect businesses to play a role in that community and give back. In fact, 88% f women and 83% of men are more likely to support companies that prioritize purpose over profit. "What a company stands for will actually have increasing importance in the viability of their brand," Connelly says, noting that the days of corporate social responsibility being an ancillary effort as opposed to a core component in the operation of any business are long over.
Those looking for a deeper dive into all of the trends Ford sees influencing consumer behavior can read the entire Looking Further with Ford 2017 global trends report online.