It’s Monday morning, and for some reason, those electric banana yellow slippers have caught your eye online. You haven’t gone so far as to buy them yet, but all day the Internet keeps serving up neon, fluffy pantofles in your face like an overeager shoe salesperson who won’t leave you alone. (And furthermore, Google ads seem to think not only you, but your pet labrador deserves to have her name emblazoned on a pair. But based on the amount you spent on quality dog food online this year, the algorithmic odds are that you will cave and buy those matching canine booties).
If we didn’t know any better, we would say someone has been studying us. The digital world is an analytical animal that relies upon sophisticated algorithms to engulf and interpret data, which is then spat out as a wave of direct personalised messages that seem to “just understand you”. Often without knowing it, we are building our profiles, one bag of dog food, one slipper fetish at a time.
From these ‘résumés’ we unconsciously craft, digital interconnections are made and consumers are segmented into tribes. Whether it be acid jazz or sushi as the common passion, we find ourselves apportioned to communities that draw lines around shared personal preferences and lifestyle choices. These ‘digital tribes’ are connecting and personal, and in some ways contrary to the common lament that technology has a dehumanising effect. And they have literally changed the way business does business.
But what if they could be used to change the way cities do cities as well? Could digital tribalism feed into our design practices, so that we build with particular people groups ‒ their habits and lifestyle leanings ‒ in mind? Could we determine the communities we want to attract, and then build accordingly? From where we’re standing, it could mean the difference between crafting our cities and simply responding to the sprawl.
From sense of place to sense of purpose
Likeminded behaviours have always been of interest to psychologists and marketers. In the days when television, print and radio ruled the media roost, working out the target market for your product or service was less complicated, less scientific and therefore, less targeted. Marketing was thrown out over broad-scaled consumer bases like a net, in hopes that the message would be alluring enough to ensnare the buying power of its audience. Websites were thought to be proverbial flytraps; just get your viewers to stay long enough that they would ‘stick’.