The New Nondigital Divide

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Instagram posts with the popular hashtag #slowmade.
Instagram posts with the popular hashtag #slowmade. Credit: Instagram
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In the direct line that goes from knitting to taking cooking classes, to puzzle assembling, to pottery-making, to board games, to flower arranging, to coloring for adults, we amassed an impressive number of hobbies that have nothing to do with our internet-driven lives.

In fact, they are the exact opposite of the internet.

Our craving for the pre-electricity lifestyle of simple pleasures, farm-to-table food, homemade meals, hand-woven items, comfort and contentment is a side effect of lives that are too fast, too busy, too connected and too global.

Handmade life

We don't have to go Amish to have this lifestyle. As a reaction to pervasiveness of technology, brands figured out they should invest in slow making, wabi-sabi (the Japanese aesthetic of imperfection) and hygge (ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures). In the resolute anti-tech and anti-mass move, consumers started investing in the all-natural, organic, simple and humble creations dedicated to the lifestyle of being, not doing or having.

Seemingly overnight, wabi-sabi emerged from the depths of the Far East's 15th century straight into our living rooms. The most modern designs today, across home d├ęcor, fashion or art, are wabi-sabi: raw, desolate and pared down. Forget about the showiness and opulence of the bygone era: humble spirituality is where the things are at.

One can hear silent the panic spreading among mass brands, from CPG to apparel, hospitality and automotive. They built their entire businesses around efficiency of making perfectly identical products at a profitable scale.

Blame the internet. The endless reproducibility of the internet culture made us want something that's tangible, authentic and hard to replicate.

Enter slow making, a trend that doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Even a precursory research into the term reveals no less than 14,000 Instagram posts labeled with the hashtag #slowmade, with all sorts of handmade objects, food and clothing on display. Etsy is in overdrive. Not to mention New Craftsmen, Lusitano1143, 1stDibs, Soane Britan and other companies that have been launched in the past couple of years to feed our obsession with wood-carved items, hand-woven blankets and glass canisters blown in a trunk of a tree. We'd take anything imperfect, handmade, authentic, and hopefully hard to find. If it's made just for us, that's even better.

These upstarts' marketing reflects their handmade philosophy: rather than running big advertising campaigns, these companies prefer meticulously curated, carefully thought-through content, taste-making influencers and state-of-art CRM programs.

Anti-velocity

Our drive to slow down is now cherished as a lifestyle. It seems like a week can't pass by without another mention of hygge, which literally means cosiness in Danish. In addition to morose child-rape-and-murder dramas, Danes are not known for much else. That all changed with the onset of hygge, the invite-only activity of cuddling up at home with a selected group of friends, farm-to-table food, homemade mulled wine and as many candles as one can fit in without starting A fire alarm. Hygge took Northern Europe by storm, generating endless how-to manuals and even making it among the top three most-used terms of 2016 (the other two being "Brexit" and "Trumpism"), according to The New York Times. If the internet is too accessible, our hygge nights are not.

Herein lies the new nondigital divide.

We may think that slow making, hygge and wabi-sabi are our resistance to digitalization of our lives to the point that it doesn't make sense to use the term "digital" anymore. They may indeed be reflections of our emotional repertoire developed as a reaction to the speed, vastness and hyper-connectivity of zeros and ones of the internet. But they are also aspirations to be acquired.

Today we strive to have the simplest of pleasures, like comfort, rest and contentment, with the same fervor we once strived to accumulate material possessions or professional achievements. Our success in life is measured by the quality of our being versus doing or having.

A lifestyle of simplicity, modesty and humility is the new status symbol. Most of us hardly can or want to do things without technology, but being inaccessible, disconnected and able to unplug is reserved only to those who can afford to use technology at will and not as a necessity.

It's ironic, that. The role of technology has become to provide us with life with no obvious technological presence. That's the ultimate hidden beauty of a deliberate, wabi-sabi, fireplace-lit lifestyle.

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