On Culture and Change

Those who live along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California are jolted periodically by the movement of the Pacific tectonic plate and the North American plate as the two outer shell pieces strain to slide over the Earth’s mantle into new positions. Their strain against resistance and release of pressure result in earthquake shock waves. This change is paradoxically both inexorable and predictable and yet inevitably unexpected and surprising to the individuals and communities that experience it.

Societal shock waves from change can alter individuals and communities as well. Identities change. Neighborhoods change. Meanings and ideologies change. Communities and individuals struggle with this tension of change. Yet change is inevitable. Sometimes it is a small magnitude change. Sometimes it is “The Big One.” A large level shockwave—The Big One as it were—in geological terms results in a radical change to the landscape. The Big One in societal or individual change results in changes that have intertwining effects on individuals, neighborhoods, institutions, and markets.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on cultural change, large and small–how this changes consumers, and how consumers change society.

Parent Experience in the NICU

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy…It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go….The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?
 I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. 
(From “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley–given to many new NICU parents)

Listening to parents talk about the time of acclimation after their baby is admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit is much like watching Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” as he navigates Tokyo without knowing Japanese, staring at flashing billboards and listening to conversations and sounds that have no meaning to him. Parents describe a sound track that falls like the noises of a foreign country’s streets on uncomprehending ears: medical acronyms, beeping, chiming, flashing cacophony of alarms, overhead pages, the hiss of ventilators. How do parents create a new script to form their family collectivity? (DuFault, Schau, and Schouten 2015)

Stay tuned for thoughts on these quotes and the parent journey through the NICU, as we research improving the family experience.

The Transition to Consumerism in Health Care

The world of medical care is increasingly one of customer-centered service delivery focus, as the patient/consumer has more choices in the marketplace. However, hospitals may lag in this transition to a better patient experience. This lag is due in part to the lack of choice patient/customers have over where they are admitted for care due to third-party payers. Also, the intensely high-stakes, immediate, highly-trained medical care required of service providers for good outcomes takes precedence in many cases over a customer-centric focus. The foreign high-tech servicescape contributes to increasingly stressed patient/customer, due not only to the emotional state of being hospitalized (or having a hospitalized loved one), but also due to such things as loss of control and often mysterious service delivery practices that have been described as a service delivery “black box” (Berry 2015). Medical service providers, due to their constant immersion in the service environment, may experience what we term “black box service blindness”—an unintentional state of being oblivious to sources of fear and stress in their customers because of being highly acclimated to their surroundings, procedures, and service delivery traditions.

Stay tuned for thoughts on the tensions inherent in this transition.

The Quantified Consumer

There’s a refrain we hear often when consumers talk about dealing with bureaucracies, or with businesses with less-than-stellar service cultures: “I’m just a number to them.” It generally refers not so much to an actual number, but to a feeling of anonymity. In the age of Big Data, “I’m a number” can take on a very different meaning–communicating not anonymity, but the fact that an entity knows one down to granular detail. And it’s very much about the number itself.

We live in a world that is increasingly datafied. Third parties collect all the bytes of info we leave behind in our massive data exhaust clouds as we traverse the online landscape. These entities quantify us with our own data. Things not previously quantified are translated into scores as companies try to make sense of the data.

Sometimes the scores that are generated from the collection of our data are shared with us by companies or institutions. Our dataist paradigm leads us to trust in numbers as objective and true measurements. So when companies or entities quantify us in some manner, we tend to accept it.

In recent research analyzing consumers of credit score products, my co-author and I find that consumers who are quantified may take on the resultant score as part of their identity, translating the score to a narrative arc of self. What’s really interesting is that these consumers show similar ideological characteristics to those in the quantified-self movement. To a greater or lesser extent, they are the number. The number is them.

This opens up all sorts of questions about consumer identity in the age of company datafication and consumer quantification.

What’s in a number? We are, apparently.

DuFault, Beth Leavenworth and John W. Schouten (In press) “Self Quantification and the Datapreneurial Consumer Identity.” in Consumption Markets & Culture https://doi.org/10.1080/10253866.2018.1519489