If someone asked me to define luxury today, I wouldn’t waste a second in rattling off a fairly solid objective definition. But, if someone asked me to sum up the idea of luxury as it has evolved in the past few decades, I would surely struggle. Just the past two decades, in fact, have changed a lot about our lives and lifestyles than the past two hundred years! Sure, we may have graduated from riding on horseback to revving horse power, but the biggest game changer of the millennium, the one that has brought a sense of democracy to luxury is this—technology.
If you think technology is not a threat to luxury or at least is significantly powerful enough to compel it to stand redefined, then you are clearly a child of the times. Old-warts like me are the kind who rue the days gone and how nothing is what it used to be. Ironically, we do this online on our social media accounts!
So, how has technology changed lives? Well, take watches for example. For nearly 300 years, the handmade watch industry remained an unchallenged skill. The craft required to create a timepiece that will not only tell time accurately year on year, but was built to withstand the wear and tear of centuries is simply mind-boggling. Today, it is losing out to tawdry smart watches, the machine-made kind with all the gadgetry of a cyborg and the life cycle of a caterpillar! People want more from their wrist wear than just time telling. And what use is a tourbillon when your watch can update time to whichever time zone you happen to fly into, not to mention monitor your heart rate and sleep cycles to ensure you are functioning at optimum levels of efficiency?
The reason is simple—earlier, luxury meant something that stood the test of time. Today, luxury is all about dispensability i.e. who can keep changing with the times. To be classic today is to be outdated, it’s hip to be contemporary.
The same has happened with mobiles, a phenomenon which spelled the death knell for high-end Vertu phones. Few people wanted a phone with no camera, and less so when it didn’t run the latest Android version or didn’t pack the uniqueness of an iPhone. The result, today, is that the rich may spend a fortune on a phone case, but the phone they use is essentially no different from what an average college-goer sports. Technology, thus, levels the playing field.
Another place this evolution can be seen is in the case of cars. While a fast car or a regal car will maintain its status, a lot would rather be seen in a Tesla, the poster child of the technology revolution, one which isn’t even in the same price league and yet has all the right (loaded) bunch clamouring for it.
Admittedly, true quality will never die; a Patek Philippe will always bring memories and a vintage Jaguar will always get the eyeballs. But, in a world running on speed, where everything is in fast-forward mode, people just don’t have the time to stand and stare. They want productivity and results, and are willing to pay for them. This simple demand-supply relationship thus elevates even the most basic of technologies to a form of luxury. But, unlike old-school luxury, which thrived on exclusivity and limited numbers, technology works best when it spreads viral. And, this is why when technology starts to replace luxury as the coveted item on everybody’s list, the very definition of luxury needs to be reexamined.
As for the old-school in me, I still cherish my fountain pens and my watches; I love things that take time—cufflinks, collar stays and tie pins. We are all racing to our graves, might as well slow down a bit and take in the sights.