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Decoding a Social Phase Change

WallStreetBets isn’t a mob, hack, or saga. It’s an indicator of renewal and reinvention.

“In well-established democracies like the United States, democratic governance will continue its inexorable decline and will eventually fail.” This warning didn’t come from a populist-inspired Reddit message board. It’s a prediction from one of America’s leading social scientists, Shawn Rosenberg.

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There’s not much more to contribute to the analysis of the GameStop arc — other than it’s more evidence to suggest we’re on the verge of an empowerment moment — maybe a renaissance moment — fueled by public dissatisfaction, anxiety, and available technology.

The Shift from One Thing to Another

An idea borrowed from physics explains what’s happening. “Phase change” is a physical transition between states of matter like solids, liquid, and gas. It has since been used to describe transformations in other fields, particularly the effects of artificial intelligence and social networks.

Decoding the Next Cultural Turn

Since 2000, patterns we track at Weber Shandwick suggest that structural communications change occurs roughly every five years. Each turn, influenced by technological innovation, creates culture shocks that ripple across politics, media, and commerce — and requires a new way to think about public engagement.

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For now, we’ll see more of the “screw-it-I’ll-go-my-own-way” ethos that sears the edges of institutional standing even further.

In the gap of unresolved issues in politics, media, or markets, super-empowered communities will exert power to fill the voids. Think of GameStop as last week’s episode of the We-Should-Have-Seen-It-Coming Show. Insurgent thinkers will continue to build momentum outside current institutions and seek even greater autonomy from existing systems.

Chief Innovation Officer, Weber Shandwick

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