Case Study 1: Alcohol’s falling trend

The Griff is following alcohol
Data points collected for alcohol

The Griff is tracking alcohol. Actually it’s following beer, aperitif, spirits, wine, and mixology because alcohol is a bundle of things.

But if we take alcohol as a category, we see decline. In an interesting metric, Pinterest says that searches for “sober” are up 746%. The WSJ says that Americans drank less wine for the first time in 25 years. Young consumers are generally drinking less. There are a couple of counter trends. Aperitif, spirits and White Claw are rising, with the last assuming a cult status on Twitter and Instagram.

America was once obsessed with drinking. Movies and musicals literally sang the praises of mixed drinks. Hollywood darlings “Nick and Nora” were endearing precisely because Nick was smashed most of the time. Being drunk or at least “tipsy” was thought to be attractive. That’s a culture that loves alcohol.

This is interesting to track because it shows a big piece of our culture in play. And for futurists, this is important in and of itself. But it will show us the directionality of still larger changes plus the smaller ones that serve as cultural cause and effect.

I won’t explore this change here. But let me just this. Some younger consumers are disinclined to drink because, as one of them told me, “I just can’t afford a photo that shows me drunk and drooling.” This is a cluster of trends at work, including the rise of Instagram, the rise of a “performance, aka celebrity” culture.

A fine irony. In the 20th century, alcohol gave people permission to behave in unconstrained ways. What it did to and for our social performances was thought charming. Now, alcohol is a threat to the social performance and our public presentation of self.

Alcohol is, to this extent, a window on how we think about ourselves, present ourselves, and construct ourselves for public purposes. What will mean for the way we interact privately and publicly?

Many methodological challenges confront us here. What are the best metrics with which to spot and track this trend? Where can we get these numbers? How do we measure speed and deceleration? What are the competing intoxicants or states? What are the scenarios that suggest how this trend might reverse itself?

Published by Grant McCracken

I am an anthropologist who studies American culture. Some of my books: Dark Value, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer and Transformations: identity construction in contemporary culture. I've taught at Harvard Business School and MIT. I am a self funding anthropologist. I spent half the year writing and half the year consulting.

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