One of America’s most influential pollsters carves the present into bite-sized pieces in an attempt to reveal future trends.
Penn gained fame as an advisor to Bill Clinton during his 1996 campaign by identifying blocks of constituents like “Soccer Moms” as potential voters. Here, he and co-author Zalesne expand their trend-spotting to identify 75 burgeoning patterns that they argue are both reflecting and changing our modern world. Each chapter examines a discrete subdivision with themes ranging among politics, lifestyle, religion, money, education, etc. These easily digestible nuggets of scrutiny are fairly straightforward and primarily serve as a kind of pie chart of the human race, dividing Earth’s citizens (primarily Americans, although a single chapter is devoted to international issues) into the cliques and tribes to which they subscribe. Among the emerging classes, the authors find “Cougars” (women who pursue younger men), “New Luddites” (technophobes) and “Car-Buying Soccer Moms,” among dozens of other sub-surface dwellers. The book’s generalizations are sound and cleverly written, despite their brevity, and will undoubtedly appeal to marketing analysts and armchair sociologists, as well as fans of Megatrends and Malcolm Gladwell. Yet the book stands on an unbalanced argument. “Microtrends reflects the human drive toward individuality, while conventional wisdom often seeks to drive society towards the lowest common denominator,” Penn writes in a conclusion, explaining why such movements are important. But by dividing and isolating people into popcorn-sized kernels of experience, their innate individuality is lost in many little crowds instead of one big one. Another troubling factor is that few of the book’s observations feel new. How often have superficial features about stay-at-home workers, caffeine addicts or shy millionaires been recycled on the evening news, let alone the Internet and other mediums? Penn tries to spin the gravity of these ripples. “Movements get started by small groups of dedicated, intensely interested people,” he says. But his observation could apply to anything from the Third Reich to MySpace. More cynical readers may feel like a number.
A think piece about personal choices that unearths more round holes for square pegs.