people interviewed across UK, US and Japan
In March 2023, we partnered with strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory to investigate the digital landscape, today and in the future.
We believe that tech should give more than it takes, that even in the digital world, we want to leave it lusher than we found it.
With this optimism, Digital Engagement: A Social Future, was created.
With leading experts in the tech sector contributing, and over 12,000 consumers across the UK, US and Japan surveyed, the aim was to investigate the rapidly shifting digital landscape, its impact on consumers, and existing barriers to digital transformation.
The result was a revolutionary manifesto for all brands, businesses and individuals to access free of charge, in the hope of enabling a positive-focused future of social.
The SOCIAL Framework manifesto
The report set out six principles, for digital spaces, platforms and engagement, designed to enable a techno-optimist future to flourish.
The framework considers aspects such as:
Sustainability and the impact on the environment;
Open-source and how competition needs to be replaced by cooperation;
Community-controlled and decentralised data ownership;
Iterative and agility in an ever-evolving landscape;
Accessible and inclusive; and
Once a signifier of hope and innovation, the tech industry has, in many cases, revealed itself as a more nefarious force. With a world-changing technological revolution coming into focus – fueled by AI – it’s arguably never been more important to recalibrate our moral compass and embed both integrity and collective ethical codes of conduct into new technologies.
And that is the aim of this manifesto. To set a North Star to guide ethical tech development and use, for those wanting to do so.
“Consumers expect brands to help in the fight, with our research showing that 62% believe it’s up to all businesses to ensure digital spaces are ethical,” says Lush chief digital officer Jack Constantine.
Time to create an Oasis of Kindness, online
Despite growing concern about the impact of existing digital culture, the report also showed how techno-optimism continues to shine through. Digital platforms still offer numerous benefits that consumers hold close, including connecting with others (33%) and finding like-minded individuals (29%). A majority (57%), meanwhile, say tech boosts their productivity, with 39% saying social media helps them express their identity.
Before building any digital platform, service or product, its environmental impact must first be considered. No matter how positively impactful a digital space is, any experience will be undermined if hardware, waste or data storage has a detrimental impact on the environment. Get this right, and technology can become a tool to combat the climate crisis, rather than exacerbate it.
Across the digital and wider business landscape, competition needs to be replaced by cooperation, with new collectivist attitudes ending an era of one-upmanship. A transparent flow of information can help create solutions and innovations that benefit everyone in the value chain.
At present, consumers in most digital spaces are not in control of their data or communities. But as consumer-centered models play out beyond e-commerce, decentralised data ownership will create new value exchanges. Myriad platforms are emerging with community ownership in mind, transforming the relationship between brands and consumers. With an eco-system powered by tokens, Voice is a blockchain-based platform that rewards users for posting quality content.
Iterative approaches to digital innovation should also be embraced, with a recognition that digital spaces – unlike the physical world – evolve rapidly and in ways we may not yet even comprehend. Embedding an iterative mindset can enable necessary changes to be made, with the continual tweaking of platforms utilized by companies like OpenAI, for example.
Digital spaces must be accessible and inclusive, realizing the original vision of the internet. Increased inclusivity represents an inherent benefit of digital or virtual environments, ensuring that a person’s work, worth and value are judged based on who they are, rather than despite it. This push toward inclusivity is driving brands to offer more diverse representation in virtual realms, and help people with diverse needs, wants and desires to move through digital spaces seamlessly.
Finally, as IRL and URL become indistinguishable, the experiential nature of digital interaction should be harnessed to provide playful, fun and life-affirming moments. Doing so can promote a mindset shift toward positivity, encourage conduct more akin to that displayed in the physical world, and ensure that digital culture enhances wellbeing.
But just how do we get there?
What’s important to remember is that many of these digital platforms weren’t designed with society in mind. If they had been, these online spaces would be very different. They’ve only been able to survive for so long because most people weren’t aware of how their data was being used, or their engagement monetised.
Now that people have become more aware, and more concerned about Big Tech algorithms, surveillance and autonomy, we’re on the precipice of a technological revolution
By raising up our voices alongside grassroots campaigners we have the opportunity to ensure that the rules that govern these spaces align with our values.
Importantly, the research shows that we all have a role to play in building this future, with 62% of consumers agreeing that everybody has the ability to contribute to a safer, more inclusive digital world.
In this report, we’ve set the wheels in motion, says Jack Constantine, chief digital officer at Lush. ‘The phrase ‘tech for good’ doesn’t have to be meaningless. The people behind the building of our technologies are ultimately responsible for the ethical standards ingrained in those technologies. Big Tech CEOs know what they are doing when designing new features, and have every opportunity to act ethically. While they continue to please their shareholders regardless of the ethical standards of their services, we will move toward a more socially responsible digital future with like-minded communities focused on building a bright future for all.’