A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

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