The antecedents of one of the Future Foundation’s favourite new trends, the Power of Quiet, are various and heavily intertwined, like the roots of a well-established plant that has just bloomed spectacularly after several years without flowers. It counters the growing technology-fanned tensions with a soothing rebalancing of values and perspective. It is a trend that is both new and familiar at the same time, building on deeper human needs with a raft of imaginative commercial developments.
As with many of the trends identified by our nVitro team, we find that there are parallel streams of developing scholarship that further explain its newfound prominence, in this case Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which uses established psychological concepts to argue the case that popular culture has become too focused on extrovert behaviours at the expense of the quieter and more thoughtful contribution of the introvert. This is very much in tune with the Power of Quiet, which recognises that in response to the flood of communications and demands on our time, maybe we all have an ‘inner introvert’ seeking greater space to reflect and contemplate and that brands can play an important role in helping achieve this.
There is a lesson in trend evolution here: in our report, Murdered by Modernity, we highlighted consumer concerns rising in tandem with heightened levels of personal connectivity and round-the-clock digital exposure, particularly via smartphones (which some people now access up to 150 times a day). These focused on the perceived negative aspects of digital living in general and the sense that the cacophony of constant communication is taking us away from our true selves and reducing quality of life, rather than enhancing it.
By building on this, the Power of Quiet demonstrates an emerging phenomenon in the genesis of trends: how quickly brands that are tuned to a changing environment can respond to a potentially negative sensibility and turn it around for commercial advantage.
It’s a global trend too, which means that it resonates powerfully across a wide range of cultures, from Japan to France. A Japanese mobile carrier, DoCoMo, launched The Shelf in 2012 in Tokyo – a space designed for young women, where they can relax in a café and lounge area and try new devices and fashion items away from the hurly-burly of the high street. For a fee, sleep-starved Tokyoites can also access a private ‘sleeping room’ in the Qusca Sleeping Café, as well as relaxation areas stocked with cosmetics supplies and (perhaps ironically) wifi access.
Ikea installed a temporary lounge area in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, designed as a comfortable place for travellers to rest. Passengers travelling on France’s iDTGV trains are invited to select a zone that bests suits their mood, including a Zen zone for those who want a peaceful and relaxing trip.
Closer to home, Selfridges has launched its No Noise initiative – a retail concept developed to 'celebrate the power of quiet' at a time when,in the retailer’s words, 'the world is becoming a noisier place' in which we are 'increasingly bombarded with information and stimulation'. In response, the retailer has opened a Silence Room, installed meditation pods 'to help calm busy heads' and curated a collection of minimalist fashion and beauty products for the Quiet Shop, which also includes ‘de-branded’ design – a selection of well-known products (including Levi’s, Beats by Dre and Marmite) that 'have taken the symbolic step of removing their logos'.
Demand for quiet
Extending beyond such smart commercial moves, the need for quiet extends more widely in society. The Quiet Mark is operated by the UK Noise Abatement Society, which hopes to encourage 'worldwide companies in the development of noise reduction within the design of everyday machines and appliances'. Spring 2013 saw the society showcase 'the world’s first Quiet House' at London’s Ideal Home Show, complete with the 'quietest technology and solutions to unwanted noise'. Partners included Lexus (in the garage), Rockwool (home insulation), Yamaha Musical Instruments (the ‘silent piano’), Dyson, Mitsubishi (quiet electric home heating), Samsung and Sennheiser. In these manifestations we can see commercial and consumer interests coalescing nicely, although definitions of quiet will clearly vary according to whose interests are being served.
For now, the Power of Quiet seems benign and beneficial to both sides of the broader modernity/nostalgia divide, but it raises some serious questions about how investments in the future, such as more runways for international airports, can be squared with the strengthening demand for quiet. MIT and NASA have already been involved in initiatives to design a truly quiet aircraft, but there is no commercial prototype on the drawing board yet.