Seeking Simplification (In Theory, At Least)

In each of the last 36 years, we have begun the analysis of our survey data with a search for trends. What’s up? What’s down? What has changed in Affluent lives, spending patterns, and media habits? 

I’ve detailed several trends in other Engage:Affluent articles, but this month, I’ll focus on one in particular: signs of Affluents increasingly seeking to simplify their lives. Consider these changes in two attitudinal items: 

  • 71% now agree, “I am almost always doing more than one thing at a time,” up from 66% in 2011

  • 55% now agree, “I am trying very hard to simplify my life,” up from 48% in 2011

Our bi-monthly barometer allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of Affluent Americans throughout the year, and also reveals signs of a growing simplification trend. For example, the one conducted during the last two weeks of August 2012 found that 82% agreed, “This summer seemed to go by very quickly,” and a similar number (78%) agreed, “I can’t believe the summer of 2012 is already over.” Nearly half (46%) agree, “The summer of 2012 was exhausting.”



There’s no question that the pace of life has quickened for many. And that’s not entirely bad. Despite the general disbelief about how quick summer came and went, 66% -- including many who described their summer as exhausting -- agreed “I had a very good summer.”

Certainly there are many contributing factors. Economic anxiety is still pervasive, and the “recovery” that began two-and-a-half years ago still fails to provide comfort and security. Opportunities to disconnect and unplug seem increasingly rare. Technology continues to proliferate: for example, tablet ownership tripled among Affluents from 2011 to 2012, and smartphone ownership rose 20%. And while digital media use has grown dramatically, many metrics of traditional media use remain largely unchanged. Put another way, digital media is largely being used is a supplement to traditional media, not a replacement, meaning that more “media hours” are being squeezed into the same 24-hour days. 

Although many factors contribute to today’s desire for simplification, it is important to remember that it remains very much a desire. An ideal. An aspiration. The data show few signs of simplification-related behaviors. Technology adoption, media use, the hunger for content and connectivity -- all continue to grow. 

Perhaps Affluents simply don’t know how to simplify. Or they may be unwilling to make the associated trade-offs. Perhaps today’s always-on lifestyles simply seem mandatory -- opting out may not seem an option. Probably it’s a combination of all-of-the-above. But the bottom line is clear: there are growing opportunities for products, services and media brands that can help Affluents manage the trade-offs, and achieve the simplification they desire.

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