Cultural Critic Adam Hanft Signals Start of the Great Distression

Dec 29, 2010, 11:36 ET from Adam Hanft

NEW YORK, Dec. 29, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- According to Adam Hanft, founder and CEO of the marketing and branding firm, Hanft Projects, and co-author of Dictionary of the Future, while the Great Recession has technically become a part of history, 2011 is likely to mark the beginning of what he refers to as the Great Distression.  

According to Hanft, the Great Distression captures the moodset of a country that's battered by uncertainty and, as Dylan once put it, has no direction home. Unemployment's not budging, we're vulnerable to a sickly recovery and to Europe's maladies, and there are no bright and beckoning path to new industries and new jobs.  Does anyone think that "green jobs" will have a meaningful impact any time soon?  Most Americans think China has a shinier future than we do.

So 2011 will be a year that's scarred by the profound cultural, political and psychological implications of ongoing, serious economic distress.

Like the difference between an acute and a chronic disease, living with the Great Distression will provoke sharp reactions and coping mechanisms, beyond anything we have seen so far.  Especially as recovery continues to disproportionately benefit those at the top of the pyramid.  

KidDoom - Move over childhood obesity, the shocking stats about youth unemployment will catalyze the tragedy as a national issue in 2011.   The youth unemployment rate is 19.2%, accounting for 26.4% of total employment.  And that points to a grim Distressionary future, considering that the unemployment rate for those without a high-school education is 15.7%. And there's one drop-out every 26 seconds, or 7,000 every school day.  

ATM Attacks - Emboldened by the success of hactivist supporters of Wikileaks – and their take-downs of the Visa and Mastercard websites – 2011 will witness an expansion of these cyber-attacks.  Expect cyber-criminals to penetrate and close down ATM networks across the country, and globally, creating economic chaos.

Scrutiny Wars - Crushing debt and budget deficits will compel municipalities to intensely track employee and departmental performance, and post the results on the Internet. Who's working, who's schmoozing, who's dozing – and what are the results? Angry consumers will do their part via crowd-sharing.  In New York City, a move to post teacher ratings online has sparked a fierce controversy; just the first skirmish in the Scrutiny Wars.

Crimes of Envy - Back in the 70s and 80s we'd hear a lot about cars being "keyed" – and other examples of elitist vandalism, particularly in urban areas where the rich/poor divide was excruciatingly apparent.  It's been quiescent, but expect that the emotional dam will break in 2011.  Call it a Distressionary release; we'll be seeing an outpouring of assaults on affluence, now that the poor are frozen in space and the rich are giddy again.

Charity Charity Cases - This economy is a non-starter for non-profits.  As donations wither, expect at least one high-profile bankruptcy of a local cultural institution, disease-related charity other worthy institution.  Which in turn will provoke the usual commentary about declining generosity and the inability of government to fill the void.

"Go Generic" - As a political strategy for dealing with the deficit, and in an effort to offset health-care inflation by stabilizing the cost of drugs, the federal government will launch a national "Go Generic" marketing campaign.  Like anti-smoking advertising and other public health messages, "Go Generic" will attempt to convince consumers and physicians to opt for the generic prescription alternative.  Big Pharma will be furious, but it's doubtful they will relieve their stress with generic hypertensives.

Distression Regression - Anxiety drives us backward, to childhood signifiers of security, our grown-up "blankies."  It used to be a role served by cigarettes; today it's the mobile phones that we always keep clenched in our hot little hands. The ubiquity of these digital pacifiers will mean that their use will continue to explode.  Pay particular attention to phones as transaction devices. In 2011 this will explode, made possible by near-field communication and new platforms like the one from Bling Nation.

National Foreclosure Marketplaces - With millions of homes in foreclosure, it's astonishing that there is no clean and efficient marketplace for purchasing them.  Even a cursory search reveals a bunch of dodgy, gutter-ball players with no real buyer transparency into condition, pricing or how much the bank is stuck for.  This is the tragic exhaust system of our Distressionary times, and you can expect a crop of innovative new national foreclosure start-ups to transform the market.  

Penny Grinching - It's the slow death of the single price. The Great Distression will turn service providers and municipalities into economic grinches who'll up-charge whenever and wherever they can.  Already, airlines charge for extra legroom and bag checking.  New York City just announced they'll slap you with a fee if your car breaks down and it has to be towed.  These laser-targeted price increases – which are creating price-continuums for more and more purchases – will expand dramatically in 2011.  More hair, more expensive haircuts?  

Family Fission - The psychological impact of the Great Distression hasn't been fully studied and quantified; 2011 will be the year it gets analyzed, as academics finally wake up to its toxic wash.  With more than 2.3 million homes re-possessed since 2007, and with the vast majority of job losses hitting men, millions of shell-shocked kids will form the Distression Generation, paralleling the Depression Generation, and carrying its own scars forward.

Community Car Sharing - The fast-growing business of car-sharing – with Zipcar leading the pack - will extend to communities. Spurning the expense of individual ownership, neighborhood residents will band together and begin the practice of joint ownership, enabled by Internet scheduling and insurance companies willing to innovate.

Greenlashing - A backlash against paying premium prices for "green" goods of varying and often contradictory environmental claims will be unleashed in 2011.  Some studies show that up to 90% of all claims are misleading or inaccurate.  The result will be a dramatic tightening of claims, and regulatory intervention to create uniformity; the FTC has already made some moves.   There's not doubt that Distressionary spending will proceed with great caution at the green.

About Adam Hanft

Adam Hanft is a regular blogger for CNN, AOL News, The Huffington Post, FastCompany.com and The Daily Beast. He is also the co-author of Dictionary of the Future and is founder and CEO of the marketing and branding firm, Hanft Projects, working with such brands as AT&T Wireless, Scotts, Reuters, Viacom, AOL Time Warner and Hertz.

SOURCE Adam Hanft