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Generation Z: never eating or sleeping alone anymore

Getting to know Generation Z, Who is this post-millennial generation and how can organizations prepare...

[This article is written for our research @SogetiLabs into Generation Z (those born between 1995–2015). Within a few years, this generation will constitute the largest part of the lucrative 18–29 year-old market. Who is this post-millennial generation and how can organizations prepare for their new employees and customers?]

The Broadcasting Jockey (BJ) puts some fries in her mouth. The sound is crisply sharp, the crackling of the first bite is pervasive. She smacks. Only her chewing mouth, grasping hand, and the Burger King menu displayed on the table can be seen. She grabs more fries and by her floating hand it becomes clear that she can’t make up her mind: will she dip the fries in the red or yellow sauce? She goes for red and what follows is a din of chewing, sipping, and swallowing sounds.

The video lasts 15 minutes and nothing is said. A Burger King menu, crystal-clear sound, and a BJ who enjoys her meal visibly and loudly. You may think “How often has this been viewed?” The answer is 11,615,254 times. (Please watch it below) to get a feel for what this blog is about. How long can you stand it?

On July 2, 2018 the clip in which vlogger Suell eats a Burger King menu was watched 11,615,254 times. Suell introduces herself on her channel: “I have meticulously created food-related ASMR for your viewing pleasure. These sounds are meant for relaxation, satisfying cravings, or inducing sleep. Please enjoy! 🤗

 

ASMR and Mukbang

In this popular video, the BJ combines two trends: ASMR and Mukbang. ASMR focuses on sound that triggers someone in a pleasant way and Mukbang is sharing a meal via live streaming or a vlog.

ASMR is an abbreviation for the term autonomous sensory meridian response. It is about the pleasant shiver, the tingling sensation that starts with the scalp and goes down the spine. This is the same tingling feeling some people get with certain sounds or touches. ASMR movies on YouTube focus on sound and strive to create peace and relaxation. This happens, for example, by rubbing a brush over a microphone, whispering in stereo, or tapping on glass. The largest ASMR channel at the moment is Gentle Whispering ASMR, with more than 1,375,000 subscribers. The most popular videos have over ten million views. Watching these videos is typical behavior for Generation Z, with 34% watching YouTube movies to fall asleep and 43% for stress reduction. (The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2017)

Mukbang videos also regularly get more than ten million views. The trend originated in South Korea in 2010 and is spreading rapidly around the world. Mukbang means “social eating.” Often, during livestreams, social influencers eat a huge meal and share all kinds of personal stories with their viewers.

Intimacy without interaction

Craig Richard, professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Shenandoah, has been researching on ASMR since 2013. In an interview with the New York Times, he recounts how he became fascinated by the phenomenon and set up the ASMR University website to investigate it. He compares the behavior in ASMR to the way a parent cares for a child: with a calm and soft voice, caring expression, and full attention.

ASMR
In ASMR videos, relaxing sounds are created in stereo, e.g. by brushing over a microphone. The effect of watching ASMR is compared to meditation: full attention and relaxation of the mind.

Professor Richard developed an online ASMR survey, and it shows that many people prefer touch over sound. There are initiatives in real life in which participants are touched by performers with a hairbrush or a makeup brush, for example, to induce the desired tingling. According to Richard, the feeling is best compared to the warmth and safety one might experience, for example, when sitting on the couch with a best friend, family member, or partner. “You feel relaxed, carefree, and safe.”

According to Dr. Stephen Smith, the psychologist at the University of Winnipeg who conducted research into ASMR via fMRI scans, the phenomenon is still new and requires further research. His first impressions are that certain aspects of ASMR correspond to meditation in terms of the focus, attention or awareness on a particular sound, thought, or feeling. Smith tells the New York Times: “If I can better understand how these people experience positive emotions and relaxation, it gives us the opportunity to develop programs that can increase their well-being.” But Smith also sees a lesser side to the feigned intimacy in the videos: “There’s so much online that allows you to not actually interact with other human beings yet still feel close – artificially close – to other people. ASMR does that.”

The same explanation applies to Mukbang: eating together while you are alone. However, the phenomenon is still new and the motivations to watch it differ. For example, in South Korea the social aspect is especially important, while in Europe and the US, the enjoyment of watching somebody eat predominates. Some people use Mukbang videos to induce their appetite, others just to enjoy a greasy bite as they diet. This latter need is completely fulfilled in a variant of  Mukbang in which the BJ becomes the viewer’s avatar and does exactly what the viewer wants. Professor of social and health psychology Traci Mann from the health and eating laboratory at the University of Minnesota, underscores enjoyment and sinning through someone else and adds “It makes your own virtues clear, because you are not the one who does it. The people in the videos do something worse than you would ever do and that makes you feel better about yourself than you do in comparison with them. Maybe you think ‘I ate too much today, but I didn’t eat that much. Maybe it’s ‘I wish I could binge that much, but I can’t, so I’m going to watch this guy binge instead.” (eater.com)

From product placement to fulfilling needs

BJs earn their money through donations, product placement, or sometimes just working for an entertainment agency. And sure, the social influencer industry is growing – the Instagram market alone is predicted to reach $2.38 billion in 2019. But for many companies, it is not the trend, but the needs behind the trend that are interesting. In Mukbang and ASMR, the needs seem to be:

  • to receive care and attention
  • to be noticed
  • to be together, even when you are alone.

From this point on it gets complicated, so let’s focus on the need “to be together, even when you’re alone.” It turns out that even though this generation is more “connected” than previous generations, it is also much lonelier. Some even call Generation Z the loneliest generation. Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, Sherry Turkle, focuses her research on psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction. She argues that the ability to be alone without feeling lonely is an important step to becoming familiar and comfortable with yourself. Only then can you see others as independent individuals, make real contact with them, and listen to them with empathy. Her findings are confirmed by developmental psychologists and neuroscientists who for years have been stressing the importance of being alone. The ability to be alone is thus a crucial childhood skill; one that is threatened by technology, since screen time is not the same as being alone with your thoughts.

Clearly there is value in learning to be comfortable alone, but at the same time there is a market to provide an ersatz; an inferior substitute or imitation of a relation. An important question companies should ask themselves is whether to just jump into this market of “not wanting to be alone” or actually build a sustainable vision and strategy that either helps people feel comfortable while being alone or actually helps them build qualitative relations.

Become a guardian for digital happiness

Seemingly simple trends such as Mukbang and ASMR suddenly lead to a business, and thus moral, question. This may come as surprise in this blog, but this path will soon become familiar to many companies as the impact of IT on the happiness and lives of clients continues to grow. In 2017, our research institute at SogetiLabs coined this bigger trend “Digital Happiness.” One year later, Google named a similar initiative “Digital Wellbeing.” Still others call it “Positive Computing.” The name isn’t important, but the ramifications behind it are: digital happiness is rapidly becoming the new frontier of competition. The IT-trend report “The Happiness Advantage”, written by SogetiLabs’ Director Menno van Doorn, Senior Trend Analyst Sander Duivestein and yours truly, provides guidelines on how digital happiness gives a competitive edge and how to become a guardian of your client’s happiness.

Download the report here. To learn more and for speaker requests, contact me thijs.pepping@sogeti.com.

thijs pepping
Thijs Pepping
Trend Analyst
+31 6 2709 0203
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