Information society? Social cocooning in the digital Biedermeier era

Today's information society shows: The saying "No news is good news" is outdated. Instead, we are experiencing a time of overwhelming information overload. The way we consume news has changed drastically and is having a profound impact on our society. In the era of mass media, news was regularly consumed, discussed and formed the collective consciousness. Today, as the internet has destroyed traditional media structures, attention to important news has diminished. Many who complain about "the media" actually hardly consume any news at all.

Media convergence, filter bubbles, information saturation and media fragmentation

The Digital transformation has changed companies and the media landscape. It has also changed the way people process and react to information. Instead of in-depth political discussions, we casually learn about celebrities' latest pet purchases. The fragmentation of the media means that most citizens are barely informed about major social and political events. In an era where "news is no news", we face the challenge of maintaining an informed public. The following nine theses shed light on the consequences of this development for our information culture.

People used to sit in front of the news in the evening and discuss the most pressing events of the day at the lunch table. Today, we learn that a rapper has bought a new dog and share delighted comments. This drastic shift in the way news is consumed and discussed poses immense challenges for companies and the media. Politics used to be a central topic at the family dinner table. Today, people discuss at length whether the latest avocado toast creation is really worth the price and which supermarket has the best organic products.

An apt comparison to today's information society is the Biedermeier period (ca. 1815-1848). After the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the middle classes retreated into the private sphere and cultivated domesticity. This return to the private sphere is reflected today. Many people take refuge in digital "cocoon worlds" to escape the overwhelming flood of information and the news world, which is often perceived as oppressive.

In today's information society, the saying "No news is good news" seems to be completely outdated, cf. No news is bad news. (undated). Financial Times. Instead, we are experiencing a time in which an overwhelming flood of information and a completely changed way of consuming news are having a profound impact on our society. During the mass media era, news was regularly consumed, discussed and shaped the collective consciousness. But now that the internet has disrupted traditional media structures, attention to important news has dropped dramatically. Many people who complain about "the media" actually hardly consume news anymore.

Glossary

Social cocooning

Cocooning describes the behavior of people to retreat into their own four walls or familiar, safe environments to protect themselves from the outside world and its potential threats. The term was coined in the 1980s by trend researcher Faith Popcorn and refers to the tendency to use the home as a place of retreat and protection. In the context of today's digital era, this retreat also extends to digital spaces:

  • Traditional cocooningRetreat into the private sphere to protect oneself from the uncertainties and stress factors of public life.
  • Digital cocooningPeople are retreating into their digital comfort zones, for example by using social media, personalized news feeds and online communities to shield themselves from the excessive flood of information and often negative news.

Digital Biedermeier

Digital Biedermeier is a contemporary analogy to the Biedermeier period (ca. 1815-1848), which was characterized by a retreat into the private sphere and a focus on domestic cosiness and personal contemplation. In the digital age, this retreat is reflected in the way people consume information and behave in digital spaces:

  • Retreat into the private sphereSimilar to the historical Biedermeier period, people are retreating into the safety and comfort zones of their digital worlds. This can mean that they focus on less demanding, often trivial content that is emotionally pleasant and easy to consume.
  • Avoidance of public discoursePolitical and social discussions are avoided, and instead of engaging critically with the world, many turn to the superficialities of digital life.
  • Filter bubbles and opinion bubblesPeople tend to move in digital spaces that reinforce their existing beliefs and opinions, creating a "digital domesticity" that resembles the traditional domestic tranquillity of the Biedermeier era.

Parallels to the Biedermeier period

Retreat into the private sphere

During the Biedermeier period, the middle classes sought refuge in the private sphere after the social and political turmoil of the early 19th century. Domestic coziness and family tranquillity were a priority. In the modern information society, we observe a similar phenomenon: many people withdraw into digital "cocoon worlds" to escape the flood of information and the pressure of constant networking. Social cocooning leads to information being selectively absorbed and shared in closed digital communities.

Escape from the public sphere

The Biedermeier period was characterized by political resignation and a deep pessimism towards social change. This led to a focus on personal happiness and individual values. Today, we see a similar flight from the public sphere. Political discussions are avoided and many people retreat to the safety of their "filter bubbles" on social media, where they only consume information that confirms and reinforces their existing beliefs.

Culture of the petty bourgeoisie

In the Biedermeier era, the petty bourgeoisie shaped cultural forms of expression by emphasizing order, modesty and moral values. Today's digital culture shows astonishing parallels: instead of in-depth analysis, the media landscape is dominated by simple, easily digestible content that offers a sense of comfort and security. Entertainment and superficial sensationalism have replaced deep critical thinking.

These contrasts illustrate how information today is mainly placed for the purpose of consumption. Content is designed to generate maximum attention and engagement, but often only a fraction of the content sticks. The information society has shifted from in-depth analysis and critical thinking to superficial and quickly consumable headlines.

As a page maker, you are faced with the challenge of finding your way in a landscape in which the Quality of information is often sacrificed for quick consumption. The new reality calls for strategic adaptation in order to maintain relevance and influence in a fragmented media world dominated by opinion makers. The following nine theses shed light on these developments and offer approaches on how traditional media houses can survive in today's information society.

10 Observations in the information society

News consumption and information digitization

Modern news consumption has led to a superficiality of information intake that displaces deeper political and social analysis in favor of quickly consumable headlines. At a time when short, concise updates dominate, people's ability to engage intensively with complex issues is impaired.

Data individualization after the mass media era

The end of the Mass media era marks a significant change in public communication that has accelerated the fragmentation and polarization of society. In the past, public opinion was shaped by a few large media houses; today there is a multitude of smaller channels that are often polarized and address specific target groups.

Information convergence through opinion leaders

The power of Opinion maker has been reinforced by the decentralization of the media landscape, as specialized platforms and influencers increasingly dominate public opinion. This development means that individual opinions and perspectives are becoming more prominent, while traditional media are losing influence.

Digital information change in the attention economy

In the age ofr Attention economy politics is forced to follow the mechanisms of the entertainment industry. This leads to a flattening and sensationalization of political discourse, as politicians have to fight for the public's attention just like celebrities and brands.

Pensioner niches and media fragmentation

The development from traditional media to Pensioner niches reflects the demographic ageing of society and the targeted addressing of specific age groups through customized content. These channels serve the needs and interests of older viewers, while younger target groups increasingly prefer alternative media formats.

Spectacle videos instead of data economy

Spectacle videos have revolutionized traditional reporting by using visual drama and emotionally charged content to reach a broader and less politically engaged audience. This type of reporting manages to interest even apolitical people in current events, albeit often only superficially.

Interest magazines survive thanks to information ecology

Interest magazines will survive in a fragmented media landscape as niche publications that offer specialized knowledge and in-depth analysis for specific target groups. These publications appeal to an audience that wants to engage intensively with specific topics and seeks deeper insights.

News abandonment age instead of digital knowledge culture

At The age of news abandonment political apathy will increase as the population is less informed about important social developments due to selective information consumption. This trend jeopardizes democratic participation and collective awareness of important social issues.

Opinion bubbles instead of information disruption

Opinion bubblesThe use of algorithmically curated content is leading to increasing isolation and radicalization within certain population groups, as opposing opinions are systematically suppressed. This development contributes to the further polarization of society and makes open dialogue on controversial topics more difficult.

The illusion of networking - a digital prison of like-minded people

Despite the apparent interconnectedness and limitless possibilities of the internet, modern young people live in a self-imposed digital prison. In their bubble of like-minded opinions and customized content, which the Algorithms incessantly, it does not shape the world in terms of content. It is there, constantly online and accessible, but its influence remains limited to the digital echo chamber, in which critical debate and real discourse are stifled. The result: a generation that is networked without really being connected and whose supposed presence in the digital world is little more than a shadow.

Four contrasting theses on the further development of the information society

Deeper fragmentation

ThesisThe information society could split further into specialized niches and closed groups, with each group preferring its own truths and information. This could lead to even greater polarization and isolation, similar to the fragmentation of the Biedermeier era, but on a global scale.

Renaissance of public discourse

ThesisAlternatively, a counter-movement could emerge that rediscovers the value of in-depth, fact-based discussions and the open exchange of ideas. Like the political upheavals after the Biedermeier era, this could lead to a new era of engagement and civic participation.

Technological mediation

ThesisProgressive technological development could produce tools that help to manage information overload and filter high-quality, relevant information. This could steer the information society back towards informed decision-making and critical reflection.

Consumer-based information

ThesisThe trend towards consumer-oriented information could intensify, with news and content increasingly geared towards commercial interests. This could further distract the public from essential social and political issues and consolidate a culture of superficiality, similar to the focus on comfort and domesticity in the Biedermeier era.

Consequences for companies

Businesses and media face the challenge of navigating a changing media landscape where in-depth analysis often fails to resonate and educational elites operate in niches, despite ubiquitous information. The following strategies are critical to maintaining relevance and reaching target audiences effectively:

Companies and media must adapt their communication strategies to changing consumer habits. Short, concise and visually appealing content is crucial to attract and retain the attention of the target group. Traditional, long and in-depth analysis is often ignored, so content needs to be quick to understand and attractive.

By working with influencers and opinion leaders, companies and media can significantly increase their reach. These modern opinion leaders often have an authentic connection to their target groups and can help to portray brands in a positive light. Such partnerships are particularly valuable in gaining consumer trust and strengthening brand loyalty.

Identifying and addressing niche publications enables companies to reach specific target groups in a targeted manner. These specialized publications provide a platform for in-depth and relevant content and help companies to position themselves as experts in their respective industries. Educational elites and specialist publications remain important target groups, even if they have a smaller reach.

Companies and media must be aware that they are competing for the attention of consumers. It is therefore essential to deliver content that is both informative and entertaining. This requires creativity and innovation in content creation. The key is to package information in a way that grabs and holds consumers' attention.

Conclusion

In an era of information saturation, companies and media need to focus on the quality and relevance of content in order to stand out from the crowd. Despite their niche role, educated elites will continue to be at the forefront of in-depth analysis and discussion and should be targeted. The use of advanced algorithms to personalize content will be crucial to effectively reach target audiences and provide relevant information. Companies and media need to focus more on ethical standards and transparency to gain and maintain consumer trust in the long term. In order to remain relevant in the age of news abandonment, new communication channels need to be explored. For anyone who would like to delve deeper into the AI discourse, the Deutschlandfunk archive offers an article by Maximilian Schönherr from 2019 that is still of great interest today: Information society - artificial intelligence or artificial stupidity?

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