The illusion
of control

Our growing reliance on technology to manage information is helping keep consumers at ease with the risk of overload, but could mask a hidden complexity for those attempting to break through the bubbles

We’re in an era of abundant information. This we know. The fragmentation of channels, platforms and outlets for news, media and information has exploded over recent years, and continues apace. More information and content is produced in 60 seconds than we can consume in a lifetime. We’re in a near-constant state of connectivity, with devices playing a central role in our daily routines, and a growing prevalence of voice- and AI-powered assistants in our homes.

We’re becoming smarter about the world around us, and smarter in how we use technology to help us manage the dizzying array of things competing for our time and attention. But what of the consequences?

In this year’s global survey, we found a generally high level of comfort with this new status quo. Some 76 percent of consumers told us they like having access to lots of information, compared with an average of 36 percent feeling overwhelmed by the incalculable volumes of information and media available. Chinese and Indian consumers were the exception, both expressing enthusiasm as well as feeling overwhelmed in high levels.

Worldwide, 62 percent of consumers told us they proactively filter information, 46 percent rely on those they follow to do so, and more than half said they were favorable to apps and technology doing this for them. Some 55 percent of consumers believe “the more, the better”, expressing a desire for even more access to information, while 67 percent believe they can determine if the information they’re seeing is trustworthy, although this raises questions about the remaining 33 percent of consumers who can’t.

On face value, then, a largely positive response. Consumers love information, want more of it, can recognize its currency and integrity, and rely on their networks, technology and personal efforts to filter out what’s most important or relevant to them.

But is this sense of enthusiasm, and ease with technology and filtering, a boon for organizations seeking to deepen customer relationships and engagement or is it masking a more complex, nuanced scenario?


ignore and close their device when

they feel information overload

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What are the implications of us each curating, filtering and leveraging technology to keep on top of the information overload? The filter bubbles work until they don’t. In the Western world, many people have experienced having their filter bubbles popped, with events like Brexit, and both local and national elections. Are we indeed becoming smarter about the world around us or only smarter about the version of the world we’ve created for ourselves?

Alternatively, are we truly more informed, when platforms are curating and filtering for us? Do the algorithms really know what is most important for us to see and know?

Risk of illusion

Kes Sampanthar, Managing Director of KPMG Innovation Labs, KPMG in the US, noted: “News highlights, filtering and curation all bring benefits to the busy lives of the modern consumer, but they also risk creating the illusion that we’re on top of the information we need and value in our lives. For organizations, it’s no longer sufficient to understand what we value and how we access information; we have to start considering what our customers have edited out of their lives, who they’re really relying on to filter and channel information and messages, and the political, social and demographic bubbles being formed around our target audiences.”

Targeting and personalization have been growing in importance, and potential, since the advent of the modern digital era, but consumers’ ability to harness technology to manage information access and avoid information overload isn’t just an opportunity for organizations; it brings an added layer of complexity to how we reach, capture and sustain the attention of consumers who are increasingly living in an edited version of reality.

“Consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for technology doesn’t just make their lives easier, it enables companies to help them to make their lives easier, and in doing so to build stronger connected and longer-lasting relationships,” said Willy Kruh, Global Chair, Consumer & Retail, KPMG International. “But with this opportunity comes the need for companies to dramatically step up their data and analytics capabilities to much better understand and address consumers’ emerging realities. The opportunity is indeed present and compelling, but it brings with it new levels of complexity and nuance that must be understood before brands can benefit.”

Curating and arbitraging information and content for customers offers powerful potential, and in so doing, understanding our customers’ Five Mys helps to anticipate what they truly want. But we also need to navigate disparate realities, paying close attention to events that transcend groups, whether it be World Cups, elections or other global phenomena. We need to be hyper-local, targeted and personalized, all the while ensuring we don’t create jarring wake-up calls that risk damaging brand trustworthiness.

I would worry at the pace technology is going it will benefit capitalism, rather than benefit the people using it. It benefits the people who finance it rather than the people using it, I guess. If it keeps doing that, then I do think it will have a big effect on individuals, like mental health …

Paul, 32, Belfast, UK