The Opinion Age #2 #cong20


Society 3.0 is The Opinion Age. In it, tribes are coalescing around ideas. Their thinking is binary and their judgements are increasingly powerful. They are making and breaking people, often free from any recourse to the law. This is happening with the full support of corporations, universities and mainstream media.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Individuality and freedom of expression are on the wane.
  2. Feelings are more important than facts.
  3. Discourse is giving way in the face of binary ‘good’ v ‘evil’ judgements.

About Alastair Herbert

I’m the founder of Linguabrand, an insights and strategy consultancy. Our deep-listening robot, Bob, measures brand differentiation and consumer psychology. This helps our clients position their brand to difference while connecting their comms to customers’ deeper needs. We’re based in the UK but work around the world.

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By Alastair Herbert

The 1.0 agrarian world was highly localised. Most people lived in villages. These were periodically upset from the outside by tribal conflicts or marauders. Essentially the biggest force was the weather. And most effort went into the work of surviving on meagre resources. Belief systems rested on the metaphysical, both religious and superstitious. And established religious institutions were the home of intellectual pursuit.

2.0 Industrialisation made nation states. The bicycle widened localities (improving the gene pool as a result), railways connected villages to towns and towns to fast growing cities. New countries came into existence. Italy in 1861. Germany in 1871. Even older countries, like Scotland and England, only really emerged in this period by cementing their myths. And they went to war on an industrial scale. Increasing wealth, based on Empires and trade, saw an expansion in the middle classes, urban infrastructure and public health. Intellectual pursuit broadened, shifting towards science, as the educated took to explaining the world around them. The industrial age created the political and social philosophies we take as given (in the West, at least). Self-determination. The rule of law. Respect for individual rights. Freedom of speech.

Society 3.0 is global. It’s built on huge investment in digitisation, which is about dematerialisation. You can’t touch a digital transaction, music track or image, for example. Warfare and crime have moved into the digital space. China has recently cyber-attacked Australia. Russian espionage has been attempting to steal Covid vaccination details and to influence elections in other countries.

The driving force in Society 3.0 is opinions. Now people have a public presence previously impossible for all but an elite of entertainers and leaders. We can access and share opinions with remarkable speed. In 1815 it took three days for Wellington’s victory at Waterloo to reach London. Now, over 3000 miles from London, it took less than three seconds to hear that Kanye West was thinking of running for US President. Intellectual pursuit is now subject to mass opinions, with facts (such as biological gender) retreating in the face of feelings.

We’re seeing increasing tribalisation with people coalescing around issues. These issues are presented in binary terms. What’s important is to be seen to be on the ‘right’ side. Corporations and mainstream media are backing this binary approach, anxious to be seen as ‘good’. People are ‘de-platformed’ (censored) and morally-censured, even sacked, for holding ‘wrong opinions’, often with no legal recourse. Opinions are also becoming dematerialised. Industrial age movements, from the suffragettes to gay rights to racial equality, had clear leaders. But digitally-driven movements, such as Extinction Rebellion, Trans Rights and Black Lives Matter are largely faceless.

It’s often said that this world feels more vulnerable. Compared against the mass industrial slaughter of the 20th century this may be an over-statement. But what is vulnerable are the broad principles that emerged from the industrial age. The individuality and freedom that came out of the industrial age is on the wane. In a society driven by emotional judgements of the tribe, self-censorship is essential to social survival. And there’s no opt out. Why? Because ‘silence is violence’.

Did CongRegation Change Our Thinking on Community

 Congregation 2019 on “Community” 

Did it change our thinking? 

(The answer is yes. Read more to find out how…) 


Hello I’m Alastair from Linguabrand. 

During Congregation 2019 Eoin and I came up with the idea of testing whether people gathering to talk makes any difference to our collective thinking. That was brave of Eoin don’t you think? Imagine if he’s had people turning up each year and everyone goes back thinking the same as when they arrived… 

At Linguabrand we specialise in deep listening. We’re interested in what language says about the way people are thinking and feeling more than just the things they’re talking about. The problem is that people aren’t very good listeners at the best of times. And even trained discourse analysts, working very slowly, miss most of the deeper psychological content. That’s why we invented Bob. 

Bob is our own deep-listening robot. He reads 120x faster than humans and he surfaces key psychological indicators. He’s totally consistent and he benchmarks it all, too. So, you know his metrics are statistically significant. But, of course, his work only makes sense when it’s interpreted by humans. He does things we can’t; leaving us to focus on what we do best – using our imaginations and creativity. 


Eoin asked people to write their thoughts on community after the event. We’ve combined those responses into a single dataset. Then we took the pre-event blogs of the same people, and put them into a single dataset. 

So, we have a BEFORE blog-based measure of 21,241 words (that’s the same as The Merchant of Venice). And an AFTER response-based measure of 8,197 words (that’s an hour-long documentary). 

Let’s listen to what Bob discovered… 

We changed what we were talking about 

There were only three ideas that remained at the forefront of our thinking. ‘Needs’ (including what needs to happen), sharing and groups. ‘Sharing’ rose in importance.

‘People’ and ‘ideas’. ‘Differences’ and ‘place’… these became more important than ‘technology’, ‘time’ and ‘work’. I’m taking a stab that Congregation got us more human-focused. What’s your take on these two lists? 

Interestingly, although we started to talk more about ‘others’ our focus remained very largely egotistical. Both sets of writing are centred around ourselves – ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is nearly 3x higher than we’d expect to hear both BEFORE and AFTER. And empathy – reference to others like ‘her’, ‘him’, ‘they’ or ‘their’– are both 30% lower than we’d expect to hear. But in both cases we were asked to provide our opinions, and many wrote of their own experiences, so perhaps it’s not surprising. 

Our levels of confidence and humility didn’t change significantly. So, it’s unlikely we experienced big redefining moments, as a group at least. 

We became 77% more emotionally engaged 

Sensory language levels are a really good proxy for emotional engagement. The more sensory-based language we use the more emotionally engaged we are. Bob picks this up in social media and company culture analysis all the time. 

The primary sense used in these two sets of writing is auditory. We wrote about ‘talking’ and ‘listening’ and ‘saying’ and so on. 

BEFORE Congregation our sensory level was only 96% the level we’d expect to hear. 

But AFTER the event it zipped up to 170%. That’s a leap of 77%. 

We did a lot of thinking. Most of it trying to be logical and rational. 

Bob measures three thinking styles: reasoning, quant and action. We were mostly offering knowledge, pointing out discrepancies and drawing conclusions. These are the elements of logical reasoning. Logic was 2.5x the benchmark BEFORE and 2.7x AFTER. 

But we also did some good quant thinking (‘more’, ‘less’ etc). And AFTER we also became more action-orientated – by 18.4%, to be precise 

Our approach to time remained focused on the present 

Although many people shared stories of the past, use of the past tense was underweight. And maybe we should have been focusing on the future? But we weren’t. The future was not significantly weighted and actually fell away slightly AFTER the event. 

The present tense was upweighted by 69% BEFORE and 70% AFTER. So, our approach towards time was absolutely consistently on the here and now. 

What does that mean? I’m not sure. Do you have any thoughts on this? 

Our attitudes towards change became less radical 

Now here’s an interesting thing. We didn’t leave filled with a revolutionary fervour for radical change. 

Bear in mind that Evolutionary change (that’s where things get better incrementally) is the preferred form of change for everyone, including us writing about community. 

But BEFORE, our attitudes were about average on Tradition and +80% on Revolution. Revolutionary change is advocating the radical, the reinvention or transformation. Our blogs had a significant element of advocating radical change. 

AFTER there was a shift. We became +31% on Tradition. That’s things like heritage, history and roots. And Revolution fell to just +17% over the benchmark. 

Talking together made our opinions more traditional and less radical than as individuals before the event. 

That doesn’t mean we’re not advocating change. But the nature of that change? Well, it changed. 

Our deeper framing of communities is consistent…with some important twists 

Our deeper framing is revealed by the picture language we use. For the linguistically minded, these are metaphorical persuasion frames. The human mind developed beyond other animals by its ability to describe one thing in terms of another. 

Here’s our deeper psychological approach to communities: 

1. Communities are containers. With an inside, boundary and outside. 

2. Communities are connections. Connected as a collective or with direct links or lacking links (separation – the inverse of connection). 

3. Communities are structures. They have foundations, offer support and need building. 

4. Communities are a valuable resource. 

Communities as a valuable resource levels stayed exactly the same. (Interestingly, ‘lacking resource’ didn’t really enter our deeper thinking). 

But we made a significant mind-shift away from outside the community container to inside. BEFORE outside was +215% and inside was -20%. But AFTER outside fell to +141% and inside shot up to +140%. 

In other words, our psychological framing shifted towards inside over outside. It’s possible that this reflects the fact that prior to Congregation we were actually outside. We were writing as individuals from multiple places. Then we came together in a very small village with water defining unusually tight boundaries. 

We also rewired our brains more towards connection (+29%). We also upped our thinking around ‘building’ and communities as ‘structures’ by +20%. 


Some things were constant. 

We still talked about groups of people. And our focus was consistently on present day needs. We kept our levels of confidence and humility either side of the event. And we remained pretty ego-centric. Logical reasoning remained our predominant form of thinking. 

But there’s no doubt that Congregation changed us in many ways. 

Our agenda on ideas around community altered significantly. ‘People’, ‘ideas’, ‘others’, ‘differences’, ‘place’…all became more important. 

The event really got us emotionally engaged. It also made us, as a group, measurably less radical in our attitudes towards change. But our action thinking notched up. 

Building connections became more important to our deeper thinking. And there was a shift in our framing towards ‘insideness’, or belonging. 

On a personal note, I’d like to thank everyone who responded to Eoin’s call for post-event thoughts. Without you this analysis wouldn’t have been possible. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments or questions. Or just saying hello. 

Warm regards 

Alastair Mobile: 00447980222914