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Vault > Cultural Trends

In 'The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading', I mention a cold reading technique called 'The Cultural Trend' and provide a few examples that an experienced cold reader might make use of.

Here are ten up-to-date examples of relatively new or emerging cultural trends that I thought it would be fun to share. Please bear in mind that I live in London in the UK. Depending on where you are in the world, these examples may or may not also be part of your own cultural landscape. If you want to suggest other examples for this page, you are welcome to email me and maybe I'll add them!

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1. SSRI Medication. I don't have precise medical statistics, but a remarkably high percentage of people aged 18-45 take some form of SSRI medication. I've heard it suggested that it could be up to 40% -- perhaps even higher among women. 'SSRI' stands for 'selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor', which basically means some form of anti-depressant. There are many different types and brand names involved.

2. Social Media And The Corresponding Backlash. The inexorable rise of social media is an obvious trend that has affected cold reading. When referring to a particular idea or notion that might be of interest to the client, readers used to say things like, "...this could be based on something a friend said or that you saw in the papers or on the news." Today, we have to add a reference to Facebook and other social media networks, since they have become such a significant factor in the way ideas propagate and 'ripple' through society.

So far, so obvious. What is perhaps slightly less obvious, and more interesting, is the backlash against social media. I know quite a few people who have just closed down their accounts and departed all social media platforms, having decided they just don't like them. Plus, of course, there's all the concern over leakage of personal data, electoral manipulation and other issues.

3. Technical Nostalgia. Trends in media and technology don't always just swing in one direction. Each great leap forward brings in its wake some affection for older formats and ways of doing things. For a while, the rise of e-books, Kindle devices and similar seemed to suggest we would all happily move on from 'dead tree technology' and that bookshops would go extinct. But then printed books enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Some people started expressing their preference for printed books. Some book shops -- though still having to fight hard for survival -- reported an increase in sales.

It's the same in most other cases. Most people share and enjoy music in digital form these days -- but traditional vinyl records are enjoying a revival in popularity. We all enjoy the ease of instant digital photography, but many hobbyists and enthusiasts are going back to SLR cameras and 35mm film, arguing that these formats have some characteristics that digital just can't capture.

This occasional resurgence of enthusiasm for older formats is not always just a case of inertia and nostalgia. The rise of any new format brings with it a finer appreciation for the pros and cons of whatever went before. If vinyl records are all you have, you don't need to think about the format's merits and demerits when compared to anything else. When another option comes along, there's more opportunity to appraise what was good about the old way and, perhaps, a wish not to lose it forever.

4. Increasing Impatience. A significantly younger friend of mine is very knowledgeable about all aspects of modern technology. He works in retail, selling electrical goods such as phones, TVs, laptops, tablets and so on. He told me that it's great to live in a world where almost everything can be done almost instantly -- but there's a downside: it makes people far more impatient. These days, whenever something can't be done the same day, or doesn't have a 'quick fix' solution, many people get very frustrated and impatient very quickly. In a world of magical technology and 'on demand' everything, the notion of 'deferred gratification' tends to get stifled and suffocated.

5. Obesity. You can't follow the news for long without being aware that there is an obesity crisis, at least in 'first world' industrialised countries. This has implications for anyone who gives readings. It's safe to guess that every client either has this problem, or has dealt with it in the past, or is affected by it one way or another and can think of obese people in their social or professional circle.

6. The Death/Transformation Of Retail. Once upon a time, 'shopping' meant going to your  town or city centre, or nearest high street, where you would find a rich assortment of shops and stores, large and small, providing all of life's essentials. However, the rise of online shopping has rendered many retail business unsustainable. Shops close, retail staff get laid off and the only shops left are the ones that don't yet have an adequate online equivalent. Even some of the biggest and once almighty retail brands have been forced to close their doors, simply unable to compete with the online shopping experience. This, in turn, leads to changes in social habits and language. It's less common for people to go shopping together, more common for them to agree to meet up in a coffee shop or go to a nail bar. You hear fewer mentions of 'window shopping' because there aren't so many shop windows left (apart from the ones covered in 'To Let' signs).

7. A Warmer Climate. This isn't the place to get into a debate about global warming. In the UK, where I live, everyone knows the climate seems warmer than it did one or two generations ago.

When I was a child, people used to speculate about whether we would have a white Christmas, with a picture-postcard blanket of snow everywhere. Some people even used to place bets on it. Today, many people can't even remember the last white Christmas and I don't know many people who ever expect to see it happen again.

Meanwhile, most summers tend to feature at least one or two scorching hot days of the kind that feel as if the world is melting. This shift leads to changes in people's expectations, language and behavior. At one time, many Brits booked their summer holidays abroad, particularly to places like Spain, in search of a little summer sun. Today, there's less incentive do so because we can enjoy glorious summer sunshine at home. Travel agents aren't happy about this. Speaking of which...

8. Old And New Professions. In every generation, some professions fade away as new ones rise to take their place. You can even find lists online of jobs and trades that are either facing rapid decline or have already become extinct. It's true that we still have some travel agents, for example, but their numbers are diminishing all the time because most people find it easy to  book what they want online. Switchboard Operators still existed when I was a child but have now gone the way of lamplighters and blacksmiths. Meanwhile, some people now earn a living as a Social Media Influencer, Digital Marketing Consultant or 3D Print Designer. Another aspect of all this is, of course, the rise of the gig economy, which seems to be a highly contentious trend provoking a very broad range of views.

9. Less Trust, Enfeebled Authority. Everyone's aware of 'fake news' these days. Sometimes, it's a fair and genuine assessment of biased and slovenly reporting. Other times, it's just a way to dismiss a news story you don't want to be true. Similarly, we're all aware of astonishing 'deep fake' videos and the impressive developments in digital imagery, merged with sophisticated AI, that can produce photo and video fakery utterly indistinguishable from 'natural' shots.

These developments have given rise to at least a couple of trends. One is that people simply don't know which sources they can trust any more, if any. I grew up in a world where some sources were widely accepted as authoritative. If the BBC News said X happened, we all felt pretty sure this was true. Today, most people don't have that sense of reliabiity and certainty anymore.

Some would argue that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. 'Blind' respect for authority that might not deserve it is unwise. Healthy scepticism is good cultural innoculation against bias and innacuracy.

It has also led to an enfeebling of the very concept of 'authority'. The big debate that took place in this country about Brexit famously featured a moment when one poltician, in an interview, said he felt that most people 'had had enough of experts'. Many people these days seem to take the view that any opinion is as good as any other. The notion that there might be a way to usefully distinguish reality from imagination seems to be slipping away, perhaps irretrievably.

10. Techno Junk. It has always been the case that people tend to keep gadgets and devices around the house that they don't use anymore. However, this trend was hugely accelerated when personal computers became commonplace and got another boost with the advent of the smart phone and the annual parade of new models, styles and features spawed by the 'must have' school of marketing. It's quite common for shelves, cupboards and garages to be full of out-of-date white goods and accumulated technical junk of many kinds -- from old, broken printers to phones that have been discarded by teenage hands for being unforgivably more than two years old.


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