The 8.19 from Lewisham to Charing Cross. A normal Monday morning – I haven’t got a seat, so I’m in observation mode – people-gawping.
After five minutes of looking people up and down, spotting a nice woolly hat here, a cheeky grin there – I notice an overall trend for the carriage.
Most of the commuters are deeply ensconced in newspapers and books. But here’ s the twist – the majority are reading the inky, paper variety rather than the screen version. So lots of rustling and page turning rather than furious swiping and tapping.
Interestingly my commuter focus group accords with the wider data – sales of e-books fell substantially during the summer compared with 2 years ago, whilst sales of print books have been rising.
So, what’s going on here? Wasn’t technology meant to sweep all before it – penetrating and changing every aspect of our lives? On the classic 1960s sci-fi TV series ‘Star Trek’ Captain Kirk used to press a button and his evening meal appeared out of nowhere. But the results always looked as plastic and edible as Spock’s ears. No wonder we welcomed Nigella into our hearts. And in the 70s we were encouraged to think that fish suppers boiled in a bag with mashed potato made from freeze dried granules were the future. But this petered out pretty quickly too. Thank goodness.
It seems that as technology – and a new virtual, instant world – pushes ever more into our lives – we are actually turning to more authentic products and experiences.
Yes, we could easily whisk up an instant coffee before rushing out the door in the morning, but many of us would rather wait in line for a barista to work their roasted magic, delivering a perfectly smooth flat white. The heat, smell, hissing and spluttering of the coffee house is just as much part of the experience as the eventual product.
In essence, many of us are striving for authenticity in our lives and in society. We want politicians to stop answering their own questions and tell the truth about the things that matter; we want big corporates to do the right thing, and we want more rewarding, enriching experiences that put us back in touch with what it is to be a human being.
Of course we’re not about to ditch our i-phones anytime soon (ordering a book on the bus is still pretty cool), but we can cling onto great and grounding human experiences that appeal to all our senses. Back to life – back to reality.