Decoding Next: Five trends you need to know including image overload, living room speakeasy & emojification

sparks & honey tracks cultural trends by drawing on a plethora of data sources, scouts and cultural strategists in our New York and Los Angeles offices.

In February, we covered hundreds of signals and featured the best in our daily app N2 (now, next). Here are the hottest trends we curated from N2 exclusively for The Drum.

1. Image overload

Are we at peak visual?

Experts say that our image-saturated world is resulting in what Microsoft exec Linda Stone calls “continual partial attention.” We're scatterbrains who can't focus, in other words. And psychologist Maryanne Garry says this image glut is messing with our memories, because they're often random and disconnected, and we need narrative and context to remember things.

One way we're compensating for the oversaturation of images is through more extreme aesthetics to shock us into attention, evidenced by what one writer called Maximalism at New York Fashion Week, where models sported bedazzled, sequined and tassled designs and graphic, theatrical makeup. We’re also seeing a rise in what we call the "horror comedy" genre, in which surreal humor that borders on the horrific is the norm.

We're also shifting our attention to other senses, like taste, smell and sound, as evidenced by the popularity of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos, a genre of video in which sounds like whispering and crinkling paper are highlighted and said to produce tingling physical sensations of pleasure in the body.

2. Living room speakeasy

We're hearing a lot in the news about the new sobriety, as millennials eschew drinking for exercise, or people spend more money on coffee instead of going out to bars.

But a niche trend in Los Angeles is providing counter evidence to this idea that imbibing alcohol is on its way out among young people. Some people just don't want to go to loud and expensive clubs, and would rather be in a more intimate setting.

Enter: the living room speakeasy, examples of which have popped up in London, New York, and San Francisco, the drinks version of the pop up, underground restaurant from a few years ago.

Smoke and Honey in Los Angeles is a living room club “run” by a woman who used to be an alcohol brand ambassador. Now, she is a bartender for small gatherings at her home where drinks are free and conversation flows freely.

El Tigre Magnifico operates, if you can even call it that, out of the apartment of two male roommates who use social media and an element of serendipity to get people to come over and drink. On their Instagram account, they'll tell anyone who wants an invitation to send them a poem. Seven people get chosen to come over that evening. Although they don't charge for drinks, a tip jar overfloweth by the end of the night.

3. High-end

As marijuana legalization continues apace in the United States, so does its rebranding. Once seen solely as the province of stoner slackers, cannabis has inspired entrepreneurs and even parenting strategies.

Graphic designer Nathan Sharp designed Kiva Confections, cannabis-laced gourmet chocolates, to look more like expensive teas and confections and less like something from the psychedelic 60s.

Kiva's colorful textured wrapping paper includes THC content (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is required by law, but in ways that are similar to the cocoa content on other high-end chocolate bars. And segments of the bar are clearly marked as doses. There are marijuana leaves as design on Kiva Confection chocolates, but they blend into its haute artisanal chocolate bar look.

Ophelia Chong — no relation to Tommy — thought pot stock photography needed a similar image overhaul, and so Stock Pot Photography was born. In less than a year, she had over 100 photographers working with her and over 7,000 photos of pot and pot-related contexts and people, featuring a diverse array of cannabis users, from children, elderly and sick people who need it for medicinal purposes, to the variety of cannabis strains, for the connoisseur.

One image that usually doesn’t benefit from an association with weed is parenting, but in an op-ed piece on Jezebel.com, one parent confessed that she's just not good at playing with her kids. But she noticed a lot of her friends were, and she found out their secret was that they were either eating or vaping marijuana beforehand.

One dad said marijuana loosened him up and allowed them to enter a "flow" where his imagination was free. A mom said it helped her stop writing lists in her head and just be present for her child. And still others said marijuana made them less distractible and more patient. Marijuana: it does a parent good!

4. Emojification

Emojis have migrated from their place in your texting space bar, and now grace Facebook, branded content, and even Easter candies.

You can now express yourself on Facebook with "angry," "sad," "wow," "haha" or ‘"love’" emoticons by holding your thumb on the "Like" button to select the mood that suits you. Facebook came up with these final emoticons through working sociologists and scouring the most common reactions on the social network. They’re just another sign that our language is expanding online. We're not only communicating verbally, but also with visual cues that provide emotional nuance to our messages.

And brands know that millennials love emojis and love to share them on Snapchat and Instagram and they’re a universal language, translation unnecessary.

5. On the inside looking in

In the 20th century “breaking the fourth wall” between performers and audiences was considered avant-garde. But we're in an era of sensory overload. Cosplay, LARPing (or Live Action Role Playing) and virtual reality are all signs that many people need to literally be inside the story to get into a story.

In LA, a popular horror experience called Blackout combines immersive theater with horror film scenarios with you as the star, experiencing the kind of scenarios you can’t have PTSD if you want to experience. As one participant of the Josh Randall and Kristjan Thorgeirsson cult show described it: "It’s an intricate production where participants are not given the gift of an alternate identity...You’re not stepping into the shoes of a tourist trying to outrun the snare of a serial killer. You are yourself. You are the sum of your vulnerabilities."

Based on horror master H.P. Lovecraft's novella "At the Mountains of Madness," new VR game "Edge of Nowhere" lets players become Victor Howard, a man who is looking for friends in frozen and lonely Antarctica. But Howard begins to go insane, and the question of what is real versus not real — within a virtual reality game — would have made postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard's head spin.

We've seen signs that virtual reality is translating the idea of "immersiveness" to mean more than merely thinking you're in another world. It can also mean psychically inhabiting the mind of someone with mental illness and hence gaining something not usually associated with video games: empathy.

Barbara Herman is senior writer at Sparks & Honey

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