By Laura Fry
This week, BBC Lab UK released new research that redefines our class structure. Class has historically been defined by occupation, wealth and education but this study has identified seven new classes based on a person’s economic, social and cultural ‘capital’.
During the same week in 1973, a Motorola employee made the very first call using mobile technology, on a Motorola DynaTAC, aka the ‘brick’. This call 40 years ago marked the start of huge shifts in society, how we communicate, connect and create our identities – who we are in relation to others and how we choose to represent ourselves.
What fascinates us is not just the new and the next, but also the forces behind consumer change. In this case, it’s the digital revolution and subsequent connectivity, as we grapple with our online and offline identities to leverage greater social currency.
The BBC research was released at a time when commentators are reflecting on changes in Britain, such as the demise of the welfare state and changes in the experience of the middle classes. Ken Loach’s new documentary The Spirit of ’45 explores the community spirit that emerged after the Second World War, and the vision of a better society (listen to this interestingBBC discussion with Ken here). Meanwhile David Boyle’s new book Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?, examines how the middle classes no longer enjoy the privileges of security and comfort their parents and grandparents did.
What strikes us is how identity is increasingly elastic and subject to continuous change according to our digital activity. What we do online is driven largely by who we are and who we want to be offline: professional, creative, informed, sociable, fun, attractive, witty etc. And we can use digital tools to build portfolio identities that enable us to present multiple personas, according to what we want in return in our offline worlds. We first talked about this in 2011 – as consumers realise the value of their data and how it is used, they will increasingly measure, monitor and monetise it in the Personal Information Economy.
More recently, 87% of UK consumers agree that the way they portray themselves on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is not an accurate reflection of their lives (according to our S/S 2013 Consumer Attitude Audit). So creative licence is already affecting perception. And as we become more adept at profile and data manipulation, these behaviours are likely to lead to even more revising of class boundaries. Already we’ve moved from three classes to seven classes, where ‘capital’ is not only based on the size of a person’s mortgage, or the degrees on their CV. In the future we expect to see the emergence of further evolved structures within society, which are measured and defined by the continuous creation and curation of digital identities.
Take The Great British Class Survey here