Old World, New World

This is not about market research. When I woke up last night I had a vivid memory of standing outside a door in an apartment building in Germany. There was the door, thickly painted wood, and the doorbell that I was about to ring. The stone floor cold under my feet, grayish-white speckled, sort of like marble, but definitely much harder than marble. Quiet, cool air in the house, and faint noises from playing children in the courtyard. A few steps down, a landing with an old double window. The window sill about 50 centimetres wide, it had some potted plants of the durable, all-season nature.

So many times I have been to places like this, stood outside of apartment doors, slightly apprehensive. The setting evokes a range of associations. The building as a microcosm. People have lived together for many years. Someone lovingly waters those plants, and dusts them off every once in a while. The floor is kept spotless, and I am sure there is a schedule posted somewhere, that tells which party is responsible for cleaning which week.

Corridor German House

A place of comfort. A place of confinement. Long-standing relationships, set ways, ancient enemies. There probably is a lady on the third floor who bangs a broomstick against her ceiling every time the family above her is audible. The couple on the ground floor always gripes about people not cleaning off their shoes properly and trudging dirt through the house. When kids talk loudly on the steps, someone will stick their head out their door with a disapproving look.

 

Fast forward to Toronto, Canada. First of all, a lot of people here own their own home. And not just rich people. Many single-family dwellings are not more than ten, twenty years old. My house was built in the 1940ies and is considered ‘old’. Having your own house means a lot of things. It means making as much noise (inside) as you want. Children jumping down the stairs, jelling, turning your music up. There are no rules to follow (well, very few), no customs to adhere to. Wear what you want, talk however you want, cook whatever you want. You are free to strike new relationships, don’t have to follow ‘what is proper’. What is proper and acceptable is negotiated every single day as people of different cultural backgrounds mingle and co-exist. Make no assumptions about others – speak to them and see what they are all about.

Townhouse Canada

This place is new, feels new. The depth is lacking, the ties woven through centuries (unless you go into small towns and more traditional parts of the country). It is a country full of opportunities. You have a good idea, you can get things done, we can benefit from it, you’re in. Don’t worry if your email contains grammatical errors, if you speak with an accent. Here in Toronto, most people are from somewhere else.

Your house is a blank slate. Make of it what you want.

Disclaimer:

I realize that I am writing this from a particular vantage point (as one usually does!). In Canada, there are many people who do not have the same opportunities as they have been open to me. If you arrive without language skills (English / French), without family connections and without financial backing, getting a foothold and making use of opportunities can be tough. However, I argue that the opportunities here are still greater than if you were to arrive in Germany with the same skill set and resources.

Conclusion:

Germany and Canada, both sets of circumstances can breed great things. Born out of the freedom to dream large or out of the necessity to come up with creative solutions in confined circumstances. Good luck to you all!

Our online and offline worlds

I am a student of human behaviour. When the Internet first became a thing, we used to compare online and offline behaviour. As if we were one person while we sit at our computer and another person in real life. Maybe it was like that in those days. I am talking ten, fifteen years ago.

The world of communication was segmented into different channels: television, radio, print etc. Talking like that does not even make sense any more. Today a typical user experience includes interacting with content and with people across a number of platforms, in a more or less fluid fashion.

Vinu George, Market Intelligence and Customer Insight Manager at Microsoft, recently described this in an article in VUE magazine as follows: We are now moving to a five- screen world…large-screen TVs, gaming consoles, laptops/PCs, tablets and smartphones. Content is now consumed and created across these screens. We are moving from one screen to the next to the next, reading, watching, posting, commenting, sharing online, sharing online offline (Look, mom, have you seen this video?).

Up until recently, I have not been a technology junky at all. But with four out of the five interfaces at my disposal, and discovering the infinite possibilities of social media, I find it more and more difficult to differentiate between online and real life, it is all just life.

Having school-aged children also gives me a privileged view into the future of online immersion. Many parenting experts advise parents on limiting screen time for their kids. Which I agree with. The trouble is, there is not just brain-dead consumption of junk going on, there are lives lived, and they are lived in part through electronic platforms.

As a market researcher, I wonder if our methodologies really address this level of immersion in the online world and the fluidity with which online and offline experiences are intertwined. Rather than focusing on one interviewing medium and throwing in a bit of social media analysis or a few ethnographic observations for good measure, how much richer and more insightful could a truly integrated multi-media exploration of behaviours and attitudes be?

Mom and baby