Have our basic needs really changed that much in 100 years?

Boardwalk Empire brought us into the world of early 20th century lifestyle, culture, music, innovation and commerce. (not to mention the under belly of criminal life). Suffice to say the times depicted by this series, and from a historical perspective, illustrate the human need to seek improvement to the status quo, to create, innovate and to understand human nature…and to have a bit of fun all in one.  It may seem odd, but there was always at the inner core – a development of relationships, human connections at the personal level.

It was that need for connectivity at the human level, that drove society. Coming out of World War I, and the depressing times during the first part of the 1900’s, the “roaring 1920’s” held out promise, hope and change. People were looking to connect, grow, enrich their lives.

So here we are 100 years later and what can we decipher from those 20’s, to the present?

The early 20’s saw massive advancements in technology. The post WWI  industrial boom led to huge investments in technology companies, the automobile, telephone communication systems and infrastructure in the urban core of cities as people flocked to the city seeking work, housing, and lifestyle – to be part of the excitement and advancements that big city life offered. (I am not here to counter that with the poverty and financial crisis that occurred during the depression). Suffice to say the roaring 1920’s look quite similar to these 2020’s when it comes to infrastructure  development in cities (and the mass movement and growth of the urban core), sustainability (the elimination of single use plastics in our shopping as an example versus no plastics or very little), public mass transit, (bus, light rails versus street cars or subways) the growth of retail experiences, and the expansion of entrepreneurship, especially in the retail and hospitality space. It was indeed a time to celebrate, a time that was roaring!

These 20’s look similar in many ways. Our ever growing advancements in technology, the (re?) advent of the automobile into using electricity as opposed to fossil fuel, the mass investments in urban smart city applications, sustainable light rail and public transit systems, and the over arching planning of smart cities to accommodate the mass influx we are seeing and expected to see by 2050 in our major urban areas (U.N. estimates that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities) draw back to a time where urban growth and innovation created the basis for today’s community and city development.  What we are witnessing in the retail consumer space for example, amid all the advancements in technology, is a gradual return and move back to the ‘customer experience’.

The 1920’s was the real birth of retail as we know it. Departments stores mushroomed in cities as the place to purchase – practically anything the modern consumer wished for. It was a one stop shop. Very innovative for the time to say the least. Today, we are reading more and more about department stores closures, big box bankruptcies and often cite e-commerce as the main culprit. Not to say that online purchasing has affected these bricks and mortar establishments- they obviously have. But if we look back to the 1920’s, the are many similarities yet they are pieces that we have missed today. Left out. Tossed to the curb, when it comes to customers.


Specifically, customer experiences. Relationships. Belonging. Elements of the decade of the 1920’s that we should be implementing.

The building blocks of any strong business and its path as a commercial entity is built on relationships. Customer-centric experiences, personalization, relationships, memories. The 1920’s had that.

Think of how an entrepreneur in the 1920’s built up their business. One on one relationships with customers. Going the extra mile to provide service, experiences, memories in the hopes of building loyalty, retention and have that essential commodity for growth – word of mouth.

This is where the business of today can beat the online competitor. True engagement, one on one relationships, face to face contact, uniqueness. Hard to achieve that from your couch.

Buy local is not a mantra – it is where things are happening. Every community, neighbourhood, and businesses within are unique. They offer distinct products or services you cannot find online or at your bland big box chain. The local scene, events, sounds, tastes, flavours, and personalities. Walk around – do you know what is going on around the corner? You may be surprised how engaging local businesses can be. They offer exciting, unique products that cannot be found elsewhere. Plus, the added benefit of service (often from the owner) who can only enrich the experience.

Smart cities, sustainable communities, and local commerce. We are entering the new Roaring 20’s, and there is an eerie sense of Deja vu beginning to occur- and that is a positive direction for our businesses, cities, local communities, and …. ourselves.

Micheal Burnatowski is Co-founder of Airbrowz Mobile Technologies Inc. an intelligent location based software platform that delivers customer engagement and loyalty through personalized messaging. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

From Your Local to You