This is the text version of part 1 of The Answer's introduction to the Post-Binary World video, which can be found here.
What is the Post-Binary World?
The first question you probably have is: what on earth is is the Post-Binary World?
It is a surprisingly big, sweeping cultural trend that we picked up on a few years ago and
is what we call a meta-trend – that is it’s a trend that encompasses lots of smaller trends in different areas of culture and in different sectors and categories of products and services.
One of the great things about meta-trends is that in a media fragmented world they are relevant across numerous audiences – and this is very true for the Post-Binary trend also.
The short definition of Post-Binary is that the world is becoming less defined by traditional binary oppositions and is therefore becoming more Post-Binary!
Let’s get into the detail of what this looks like…
I’m guessing that when I say post-binary the first thing that probably comes to mind is gender – which is a great place to start.
We’re all familiar with the term non-binary used in this context to describe people who don’t identify as just male or female – there are numerous new ways to define and talk about gender and sexuality going on in this space – non-binary, gender fluidity, asexual, pansexual and numerous other terms.
Male and female, by contrast, are the conventional binary concepts of gender.
But gender has become a more fluid concept – there is a lot more going on than just female or male.
This is a great example of the post-binary in culture.
But gender is just one of the more, if not the most visible example of the Post-Binary.
Basically, what we see in a Post-Binary World is that lots of things that used to be defined in a binary way – that is in terms of EITHER/OR - are now being redefined in terms of AND ALSO.
In other words things that we previously believed were entirely oppositional can now actually be credibly combined, mixed together, or united in some way to create something new, more relevant and more meaningful.
An example of something that’s pretty mainstream without us realising that it’s actually Post-Binary is flexitarianism.
According to a recent Euromonitor report, a remarkable 42% of global consumers are flexitarian and a recent article in The Times suggested that 1 in 3 adults in the UK has ‘gone flexitarian’.
In the Binary world it used to be that you were EITHER a Vegetarian OR a Meat-eater.
But in the post-binary world, with flexitarianism an individual can be Vegetarian AND ALSO a Meat-eater.
Another example of a growing trend that is Post-Binary without us realising it is No/Lo Alcohol beverages - like Seedlip, Jukes, Nonsuch, as well as all the alcohol-free variants of existing brands.
So it used to be that you EITHER Drank OR you were Sober, but with No/Lo alcohol brands you can now Drink AND ALSO be Sober.
These two examples show how in Post-Binary culture two things that would conventionally be in tension with each other can be combined to create something innovative.
It shows that opposites don’t just attract but are a driving force in creating new trends in culture.
With Post-Binary culture what is happening is a broad challenge to how things have been categorised in culture in the western world for the last 300 years or so that were founded on distinct concepts, like male vs female, public vs private, home vs work, human vs technology.
Now, like virtually all significant cultural trends, of course, it’s not an entirely new concept.
The foundations of Post-Binary culture have been around a long time.It’s particularly visible in the area of technology, where breaking down binaries was, and continues to be, a key source of innovation.
Think about inventions like the telegram, the telephone, the television and the internet.
They were all defined in some sense by the idea of breaking down distance between people - so that EITHER Near OR Far Away was transformed into Near AND ALSO Far Away.
And brands that use technology as a platform today continue to differentiate themselves this way:
Air BnB is about being Home AND ALSO Away
Uber provides a service that is Public AND ALSO Private
Deliveroo is about Eating Out AND ALSO Eating In
NFTs are Unique AND ALSO Infinitely Reproducible
The pandemic has also acted as a catalyst for many of these trends.
For example the closure of workplaces means that for many life used to be spent EITHER at Work OR at Home and now it’s spent at Work AND ALSO at Home.
This kind of post-binary thinking is therefore at the vanguard of cultural and social change – think of the concept of sustainable consumption, for example.
In the old binary world this would be a contradiction in terms – consumption is by definition the process of ‘using something up’.
But in the post-binary world we are able to conceive how we can Use Something Up AND ALSO Sustain it for Future Generations.
The old Binary Opposition culture created all sorts of tensions because binaries create boundaries, and boundaries can easily become conflicts.
Many of the problems we face today are consequences of society adhering to binary oppositions even when they no longer make sense anymore.
A timely example of how thinking in a binary way can have negative outcomes comes from the pandemic itself.
In this case the guilty party here was the World Health Organisation.
The initial public health guidance supplied by the WHO focussed on handwashing and social distancing to reduce transmission of the virus.
The reason for this was that the WHO believed that the main cause of transmission was via droplets.
Droplet transmission occurs in close quarters (within 1m) and can also be picked up from surfaces – which was why handwashing was such an important part of the initial advice given to the public.
While this advice was not wrong it turned out not to be insufficient.
As we now know, covid-19 is transmitted by both droplet transmission AND ALSO airborne transmission.
Airborne transmission by contrast can occur over longer distances and the droplets themselves can remain suspended in the air for longer periods of time because they are much smaller in size.
Wearing a mask or face-covering in indoor public spaces therefore greatly reduces the risk of transmission.
It took the WHO several months before they added this to their public health guidance, putting millions of lives at greater risk.
And this was because they were thinking in a binary way.
The WHO were locked into an either/or way of thinking.
The basic error they made was that what counted as an aerosol for the purpose of transmission was limited to a certain a size of globule – 5 microns or bigger for droplets and smaller than 5 microns for aerosols.
So for the WHO a globule was EITHER a droplet OR an aerosol – but could not be both.
It took the efforts of numerous scientists to correct the WHO’s error and one of the key figures was Linsey Marr, whose scientific expertise itself was Post-Binary.
Linsey’s post-binary expertise itself was largely marginalised by the mainstream scientific community because it didn’t fit into simple binary categories. She was an expert in aerosols and pathogens, but the scientific community tended to see aerosols as the domain of engineers and physicists not of scientists who study infectious diseases.
It required post-binary thinking and the recognition of the post-binary quality of the way the world works to solve an issue that threatened every human being on the planet.
But it took the WHO over a year to accept this was the case, because they were so locked into binary thinking.
This is an unfortunate, but perfect example of why we’re at a stage where the traditional binaries we’ve inherited no longer feel fit for purpose.
And this is especially the case following on from the Pandemic which has revealed that many binaries are rooted in overly simplistic myths about the way the world works or human nature.
This is the end of the first post from our introduction to the Post-Binary world.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it and feel better informed about what the Post-Binary is.
In the next video/post we’ll look at WHY Post-Binary Culture is so important for brands
Thanks for reading!