Romantics, Our Moment Is Now!
These days, sci-fi movies can hardly catch up with reality. We are woken up by our Pebble smartwatch, set our Fitbit, order an Uber to get to work (where we use Kloutto gauge our influence, Meeting Mediator to manage social dynamics in meetings, and mood sensors that tell us when we’re happiest). We outsource our personal relationships to apps such as Delightfulor HowAboutWe (romantic concierges), BroApp (automated intimate texting) and BreakUpText or Wevorce (uncoupling). We rate and are rated. At night,Shadow tracks and analyses our dreams. Soon we will fall in love with our operating systems and drones will instantly deliver all that we desire to our doorstep.
Technology has made life smoother and easier to scrutinise. But with everything outsourced and automated, familiar and convenient, where will we find those unexpected and profound experiences that punctuate our routine? Where is the unknown, where are the strangers? Where is the magic?
A century after the industrial age we are facing another “great disenchantment”, this time caused by datafication, “filter bubbles” and (self-)surveillance. Smart algorithms and Quantified Self apps give us more control and more transparency but when everything is standardised, measured and explicitly stated, when everyone is completely predictable, we leave no room for the unreasonable and immeasurable aspects of our elusive selves. When we operate solely under the principles of efficiency and comfort, we ignore how important excess and discomfort are for creating meaning. We are indeed in the process of engineering the romance out of our lives — the last luxury in a world of utilitarian products and happiness maximisers.
There are early signs, however, that we are witnessing a backlash against the quantification of everything — and the beginning of a new romantic movement. Like the one two centuries ago — Keats, Wordsworth, Byron — that revolted against the regime of reason and rationality, the new romantics are poised to stretch our souls, defending humanity against the “second machine age”. Life is not an algorithm; not a minimum viable product; not a problem seeking a solution. In fact, this time it is business and technology leading the subversive charge by creating workplace and customer experiences that encourage devotion over data, serendipity over control, delight over satisfaction and love over like.
Take the startup Surprise Industries, which offers surprises-as-a-service, or Enchanted Objects and the School of Poetic Computation, both of which instil a sense of wonder into the internet of things. Or consider apps that play with the notion of vulnerability and strangeness: Somebody lets you verbally deliver text messages through strangers, and 20 Days Stranger allows two people to share their experience of the world — anonymously — over the course of 20 days. Anonymous sharing platforms such as Whisper, Secret and Yik-Yak trade in the currency of doubt, enabling all kinds of identity trickery and guessing games. Secret Cinema, a series of “mystery screening” gatherings, does not reveal the films it will show. In a world of always-on access and radical transparency, the things we lock away, the things that don’t last, are the only remaining refuges for meaning. No wonder we turn to Burning Man, summer camps with co-workers, pop-up magazines (“just for one night”), dining-in-the-dark and intimate dinner formats such as 15Toasts, Death Over Dinner or the private-chefs-meet-diners platform Kitchensurfing, for a feeling of raw authenticity.
Knowledge is power, but not knowing might be the more powerful experience. All these formats create a new type of scarcity in the post-knowledge economy — romantic spaces that make us crave what we can’t see and can’t manage. They restore doubt and friction in a world of total knowledge and seamlessness. They make our lives romantic again and our workplace and customer experiences meaningful.
This is important because we are all romantics at heart. We’re secretly longing for the inexplicable, the little distortions of reality, the cracks of imperfection, the detours and digressions, our exuberant passions that vie for nothing but passion itself, the moments we lose control — in other words, the moments we begin to love.
This article was first published by Wired UK.
Photo credit: imgarcade.com