In economics as in trend forecasting there is a simple rule: scarcity determines value. The more complex and fast-paced our lives become, the more we long for simplicity and deceleration. The more our dependence on technology grows, the stronger our nostalgia for lower-tech times unfolds. Technological advancement happens at the expense of the status quo. We adapt to change by replacing old habits with new ones. Because our memory is malleable, we can’t fully know what we have lost as we become more technological. And as new technologies create new problems, “we find ourselves psychologically victimized by technologies that we’ve chosen to adopt.” In this context, our (analogue) past appears golden in retrospect.
Progress inevitably produces backlashes. Nostalgia for lower-tech times and idealisation of nature are our responses to growing digitalisation and urbanisation. As countertrends they don’t supersede but coexist with major societal transformations from which they derive. Their manifestations are manifold: from “made from nature” claims in consumerism to New Nature Writing in literature. Tumblr sees an emergence of blogs dedicated to escapism into nature. Urban species’ nostalgie de la boue (nostalgia for mud) has contributed to the rise of farmer’s markets in London and elsewhere.
These are all expressions of elevated human needs. Feeling connected to nature and understanding it through a harmonious coexistence is emotionally appealing. We believe that a close connection with nature is mentally and morally healthy; it enables the encounter with the Ego from which we can re-emerge as a better human being. It is a response to our quest for transcendence and meaning.
As much as we embrace more control and convenience in our lives, we also feel constrained by these merits of technology. We trade spontaneity for security and by doing so we eliminate mystery and adventure from our lives. Yet we bemoan our inability to “get lost”:
We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.
Our preoccupation with nature as a response to overwhelming progress is not an entirely new phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution fuelled the importance of and interest in nature - one of the central themes of the Romantics. The movement sought to escape modern realities by placing an emphasis on emotion (e.g. being in awe). While the Romantics doomed technology as a means to spiritual malaise, we opt to find balance and look for new ways to manage our hyper-connectivity. Lowe Counsel has coined the trend 'New Esc', which explores emerging strategies to pull of our digitally connected lifestyles.
While the radical approach of the Romantics appears outdated today, the sentiment behind it remains the same. The need to “occasionally imagine and celebrate a kind of comfort, authenticity, and sacredness rooted in a past that never existed” is as relevant as ever.