In 2010 the world was still trying to come to terms with the global financial crisis that flooded the economy of nations and the pensions, mortgages and savings of every adult in the capitalist societies. The ripple effect had spiralled unemployment, suicidal rates, migration of populations, divorces, and a rude awakening to a crude reality: that banks, rating agencies, business schools and soul-less bankers had conned their clients, the media and governments for profit. The human rate was at fault: we had been led blindly by a false sense of economic progress, a progress that had been fueled by credit ratings, bank notes and currencies that were now worthless. To top this and take the disenchantment to a higher level, unavoidable natural disasters hit the planet on every continent: namely the eruption of the Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland in April 2010 and a year after, the Minamisanriku tsunami in East Japan.
What made these two natural disasters different from the Katrina hurricane in 2005 and the BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico was that human negligence had not caused the catastrophe. In the case of Katrina, the city officials neglected the levees for decades and the BP spill was a blatant human error. Both catastrophes could have been avoided. Grímsvötn and Minamisanriku escaped any human control. In 2012, the North American jet stream has strangely changed course and wiped the southern part of Great Britain instead of following its Easterly course by-passing Scotland. Floods and rainfall have hit the country in the wettest and most weather-shambolic summer in ages. Forest fires have claimed lives in Spain and Portugal and Italy has suffered earthquakes of devastating magnitude in central locations, not just Sicily. The power of nature is making itself be felt.
When these images are globally broadcasted on television, they unleashed further forms of humbling lessons: mankind unable to cope. The temples that we had built to capitalism – banks, planes, nuclear power, vacationing sites – collapse when natural forces take over.
From an anthropological sense, the reaction that most people feel when catastrophes hit populations in far away lands is one of solidarity: aid is sent, money is wired. But the knock-on effect in the present times is taking a profound u-turn: these far-away catastrophes are bringing to us a new reality: that all things closer to us are the ones that truly matter and that we should prioritise them better. All of a sudden, the importance of our loved ones, of our neighbourhoods, villages, the local schools, high street shops, common interests takes precedence. Hyper-local, in 2011-12 has finally materialised as a formal trend, not just as a societal anomaly.
The effect of the hyper-local trend has been felt very strongly in the digital sector:
- increase of sales of local newspapers;
- local mobile applications – the bus routes in Amsterdam overtaking Angry Birds as the most downloaded app in the city area is a good example that I monitored when we launched it on LG’s App Advisor store in 2010;
- location-based applications and services are picking this trend up and showing profound focus on delivering hyper-local value to their users;
- grassroots conferences;
- digital services to small communities like fruit-and-veg box schemes that allow farmers to sell directly to households are increasing in very suggestive numbers;