THE BLOG

Let's Get Physical

01/12/2016 16:44 | Updated 4 hours ago
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Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are on the rise, we can turn on the heating, lights and household appliances with our phones and pay for everything without any cash.

The 'internet of everything' is showing us the real power of digital - and not just because there's now the potential of having your bank account hacked into through your kettle.

There was a point where we imagined the future to exist of nothing but bare walls and automated functionality (I blame the 1997 movie Gattaca), as the digital world around us took over. We expected technology to provide all the stimuli we would ever need, even falling in love with our OS, like in the film Her.

Some still fear the growth of VR technology - that we'll all be sitting isolated in barren rooms while we explore a world we're immersed in but don't really exist in.

But instead, what we're seeing increasingly is less about getting lost in the connected world, and more about counterbalancing our connectivity - that we actually need physical objects to touch more than we envisaged when we dreamt of our future digitised lives.

Sales of print books are rising, with some of the increase thanks to the popularity of adult colouring books. And despite the prominence of streaming and downloading, UK vinyl sales rose 50% last year to two million, while turntable revenues in John Lewis were up 240%.

Digital may still be the biggest seller with CDs still hanging in there, but sales of cassette tapes were up more than 30% last year. Metallica, The Flaming Lips and Nelly Furtado for example have all recently put out limited edition cassette releases.

Elsewhere, pubs in East London are holding VHS nights showing '80s and '90s film classics on old video recorders. Board games are becoming more popular, as are small-run print magazines, and millennials are proudly collecting vintage analogue watches.

It's not just hipster 'nostalgic revivalism' or people indulging in a romantic recreation of things past. I believe it's much more about a connection with the physical.

As well as the tactile pleasure of holding a book or slipping a record out of its sleeve to read the lyrics, look at the artwork and listen to the warm analogue sound, we like putting them up on our shelves to display something of who we are.

We've already had the knitting comeback and the rise of home crafts. Mankind need physicality more than ever, not as a nostalgic reaction against technology, but as a counterbalance to it. To feed our physical senses, to balance out everything we do all the time online. LEGO has benefited cleverly from that basic truth. Not by going backwards and fight gaming, but by celebrating the creativity in their plastic bricks.

The entire luxury sector thrives on our need for physicality. We need objects. Sometimes it's to signpost who we are. Sometimes it's to help simplify our choices or just to add a bit of physical comfort when we're feeling digitally overwhelmed.

Trends forecaster and futurologist William Higham, founder of the Next Big Thing, reckons it's all part of what he calls the Slow Leisure movement, where we are valuing more things that we can physically touch.

In a piece for Director magazine, he said: "More and more of us will want to balance our tech use with romance, relaxation, creativity, tradition, sensuality, rawness and honesty ('human touch'). More and more of us will lose our FOMO (fear of missing out) and gain some LOMO (love of missing out). We'll find time to switch off gadgets and seek out older, quieter, less urban environments in which to enjoy some 'me time'."

Isn't that great? I'd say it's time to get physical and feed all of our senses more than ever in 2017.

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