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William Higham
Next Big Thing

Despite positive changes across a range of industries, consumer anxiety is growing. Home-impactive world events, rapid technological change and high debt levels among the young are all adding to everyday pressures. The problems themselves are hard for individual Britons to solve, but many are finding comfort in an alteration of their individual responses to such problems. For some, this means shutting the door on the world and cocooning, in newly-redecorated homes amongst a growing range of entertainment products or objects that represent family, friends and travel. For others, it means a renewed interest in heritage and tradition as an active reaction to uncertainty about the future.
This latter trend is cutting across industries and demographics. Five years ago, fashions shifted from new designer labels to vintage products: and we are now seeing the formality of Aristo Chic replace Boho Chic. Three years ago, marriages started to increase, for the first time in decades. Crafts such as knitting are proving popular again. Concerns over antibiotics and MRSA are encouraging a re-exploration of traditional forms of medicine. In music, vinyl sales are growing and folk music is proving a hit with twenty-something early adopters. Shows like The OC and Desperate Housewives, though set in the present, hark back fondly to the attitudes of 1950s Suburbia. Some of the most successful car launches in recent years have been re-launches of classic models. We are also seeing an echo of yesterday’s ‘nuclear family’ as debt levels force children and grandparents back to the family home.
The trend is even beginning to impact on morality. and, despite alarmist tabloid headlines, we are actually starting to see it in the one demographic previously guaranteed to be in thrall to the possibilities of the future: teenagers. The erosion of influence of the traditional establishment, and a shift away from authoritarian parents or teachers, has seen many young people grow up in a form of moral vacuum. Being able to think or do ‘anything you like’ can be hugely liberating, but it can also be disorientating. In response, we are starting to see some young people actively seeking rules and a traditional moral framework. Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous pointed the way; and as researchers, we are meeting more and more young Britons who are taking a more ‘adult’ or ‘moral’ approach to life. Their day to day technologies may be ultramodern, but the young’s attitudes are increasingly traditional. In the US, the same trend has led to a rebirth of youth religion. Whether or not that happens here, we are certainly seeing a more moralistic generation emerge.
To those that value modernism, exploration and libertarianism, the trend might appear a step backwards; but perhaps it is not possible to sustain the amount of change we have seen in recent years without some sort of backlash. Certainly there is no escaping the trend’s growing impact: after years of volatility, Britons look set to follow their US counterparts into a more traditionalist (dare we say more conservative) future.

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