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Is offline the new luxury?
In the direct line from digital detox camps to wellness festivals to mindfulness apps and meditation retreats we have developed an impressive taste for experiences that have nothing to do with our internet-driven lives. In fact, they are the opposite of the internet.
Our craving for the pre-electricity lifestyle of silence and privacy, unplugging and disconnecting can be seen as a side effect of lives that are too fast, too connected, too distracted and too global, forcing us to seek basic joys that are the opposite of all that. It can also be seen as part of our resistance to the digitalisation of our lives to the point that it doesn’t make sense to use the term ‘digital’ any more. This wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be missing a much bigger point.
Disconnecting is the new luxury. We once took it for granted, but today it comes at a hefty price, or is occasionally mandated by law. Pew Research Center’s report on the future of internet privacy cites experts who predict that an increasing number of people will pay for services that provide privacy. This is with good reason: smart homes, smart cars and smart cities all claim our attention and collect high-value data that we leave behind as we move about.
Internet-first brands such as Amazon, Uber and Yoox Net-A-Porter built their entire businesses around consumer data. They led us to believe that seamless and personalised experiences intrinsically involve us relinquishing our privacy and attention. Or, as the old internet dictum says: ‘If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.’
In this always-connected, zero-privacy context, being able to ‘go Amish’ is reserved only for those who can afford to use technology at will, and not as a necessity.
The modern luxury era introduced the inverse relationship between conspicuous consumption and wealth.
The lifestyle of the simplest of pleasures, rest and contentment, thus became a status symbol. Modern affluents try to have it with the same fervour they once strived to accumulate material possessions or professional achievements. The experience of getting lost on purpose, or getting lost in order to find yourself, is today a part of tailor-made holidays and luxury honeymoons. Further Future Festival, a wellness-focused version of Burning Man founded by its veterans, aims to gather diverse and intellectually curious people keen on exploration and discovery. The DeBruce hotel in New York’s Catskill Park promises ‘an explorative experience’ when it comes to food, offering not just meals but connecting them into a cumulative story over an entire stay.
The modern luxury era introduced the inverse relationship between conspicuous consumption and wealth. Less affluent individuals aim to acquire products that make them more socially visible and devote a higher share of their total spending to conspicuous consumption than the rich, who prefer to spend more stealthily.
This change in spending among the affluent forces luxury brands to reconsider their own articulation of value and the way they communicate it. For generations who grew up before Instagram, fashion was a reflection of social standing. Wearing the right brand made one cool. For the post-Instagram generation, social currency is built on experiences. The more unique and customised experiences are, the better. Ice marathons in the Antarctic, hikes in Yosemite National Park and SoulCycle classes with celebrity instructors place modern affluence in the domain of identity. Things we do shape who we are and reflect our taste and cultural capital. These things are today felt more often than owned.
In a world oversaturated with visual and verbal communication — no matter how high-end — the real luxury is conveyed through bespoke visceral experiences. The tangibility of touch, smell, taste or motion places the future of luxury in the internet era firmly in a previous time.
This article was originally published on LS:N Global.