The perspective of this book is that thirty years later, V. O. Key, Jr.'s observation is not only sound, but should be the guiding principle of understanding the trends we see in America and around the world. People have never been more sophisticated, more individualistic, or more knowledgeable about the choices they make in their daily lives. Yet, as Key observed, it takes intensive, scientific study to find the logical patterns that underlie those choices. When faced with people's seemingly contradictory choices, it can be a lot easier to chalk them up to brown suits and Botox.
And indeed, the contradictions today are striking. While people are eating more healthy foods than ever, Big Mac sales have never been higher. While Fox News is number one in the ratings, the antiwar movement dominates most news coverage. While America is growing older, most of what we see in advertising and entertainment has been created with youth in mind. While people are dating as never before, they have never been more interested in deeper, longer-lasting relationships. While more people than ever before are drinking clear, natural water, more people are also drinking "monster" energy drinks loaded with chemicals and caffeine.
In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends which determine how America and the world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in "microtrends" – small, under-the-radar forces that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population, but which are powerfully shaping our society. It's not just that small is the new big. It's that in order to truly know what's going on, we need better tools than just the naked eye and an eloquent tongue. We need the equivalent of magnifying glasses and microscopes, which in sociological terms are polls, surveys, and statistics. They take a slice of the matter being studied and lay it open -- bigger and clearer -- for examination. And inside, you will find yourself, your friends, your clients, your customers, and your competition clearer than you ever thought you might.
Working for President Bill Clinton in 1996, I identified the under-the-radar group that became known as the Soccer Moms. (I like to think I did something for the youth soccer movement, although I really didn't mean to. The phrase was just meant to get at busy suburban women devoted to their jobs and their kids, who had real concerns about real presidential policies.) Until that campaign, it was generally thought that politics was dominated by men, who decided how their households would vote. But the truth was, in 1996, most male voters had already made up their minds by the campaign. The people left to influence were the new group of independent Moms, devoted to both work and their kids, who had not yet firmly decided which party would be good for their families. They, not their husbands, were the critical swing voters. To win them over, President Clinton initiated a campaign to give them a helping hand in raising their kids – drug-testing in schools, measures against teen-smoking, limits on violence in the media, and school uniforms. These Moms did not want more government in their lives, but they were quite happy to have a little more government in their kids' lives to keep them on the straight and narrow.