We are currently grappling with a technology cum democracy-led phenomena that is sweeping India at the present time. It emanates from greed, hunger or plain curiosity and I wish to call it Information Obsession.
At the age when information was truly restricted, the licence to be informed was only granted to the powerful. That is why we had diminishing tools like censorship, which ensured that the flow and content of facts or conjecture were controlled totally by the state. If India had its problems, do imagine the plight of the erstwhile Soviet Bloc, Red China and all other totalitarian regimes, where information was as privileged as Coca Cola and McDonald’s. Over the last decades, two things occurred in rapid tandem — the rising influence of the internet and social channels, and the organic breakdown of police states, barring a scattered few. Thus, suddenly information was relieved of its traditional barriers and everybody seemed to know what everybody else was up to.
Quite naturally, aided by an enhanced e-life, this access to information moved effortlessly from being a much-appreciated privilege to a taken-for-granted right, in tune with basic traits of human nature. Equally inevitably, this soon extended to the world of branded products and services — healthcare, durables, foods, holidays, cars and so much more and information, self-hunted and solicited, became a key tool of our desired identities. A BCG report from 2019 October in India clearly identified information-centred shopping to be a compelling unifier across urban stratas, vigilante efforts to understand nutrition content of foods extending to fashion and luxury as well. In a matter of half a generation, our relationship with information had moved from a difficult marriage to a breezy romance, obsession being the stock in trade.
We are desperate to know at which exact traffic junction the Uber driver or Swiggy delivery boy is currently located and the estimated time of arrival is insufficient to quench our curiosity. A recent public document by KFC confirmed that in the pandemic period, customers across income stratas have become increasingly concerned about the source and nutritional values of the foods they consume. Every medicine or treatment regime prescribed by our much-trusted doctors now compulsorily need web verification, as we seek peer-to-peer approvals as well as nuggets from global efficacy studies. We all know how technology products almost invariably thrive on influencer information searches and the automobile trade, leisure and F&B and fashion are no exceptions. Our choice of political candidate is also increasingly a function of candidate level knowledge and not just a guttural manifesto level emotion.
This Information Obsession is already leading to significant changes in the way we behave or act, at times positive and occasionally disturbing. For starters, trust equations have changed as the venerable doctor or professor is now up for public scrutiny and mammoth corporations too no longer enjoy the last word. The customer is now an evaluator in what can often resemble a kangaroo court, but the final decision is now an equitable combination of promise and judgement. Brands, most certainly, have to work much harder to influence both private proposition and public perception, as navigating conversations on social media become a strategic imperative. The role of paid communication changes from making promises to demonstrating empathy — the credibility of a brand offering increasingly less reliant on the newspaper full page or 60-second TVC campaign. Entire communication mixes must be rejigged to recognise the role of Information Obsession and thus the role of each medium be suitably amended, with interactivity to be exercised at all times.
From a societal perspective, this cultural shift is actually going to put more pressure on our already stretched existences — as for reasons good or bad, we have taken on the noble mantle to know a lot more than earlier. This is perhaps an opportunity for modern Artificial Intelligence tools to deliver substantially, by pre-empting queries as per consumer segments and making our obsession both rewarding and painless.
Equally, at some point, I predict a rationalisation in the depth of information provided by brands, for example the delivery services sticking to an ETA clock and not a detailed route map. Children, most certainly must be suitably protected as we know statistically how Unboxing on YouTube has already become a pervasive passion. I am certain that this Information Obsession will achieve its natural equilibrium over time but till then, this space must be observed with due interest.
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