I went to Hong Kong and Australia a few months ago and relished at the idea of bringing back “things”. When going to a foreign land, your wallet gets a little out of control and I looked forward to bringing back treasures from the east, like some Marco Polo in a dress with a credit card. I never thought it would turn out to be such a challenge.
As I walked through the markets of Hong Kong, staring at jade jewellery and Angry Birds paraphonalia, it occured to me that I could order everything on eBay or Amazon. The foreign land’s treasures have been globalised to a point of total consumer disinterest. The only thing that was left to consume was food and architecture.
Despite empires worth millions, it’s very hard to export a restaurant experience well. The coffee is still better in Italy, croissants more buttery yet flaky in Paris and in Hong Kong, the chinese buns fresh off of a tiny stall are more delicious than in any “Chinatown” I’ve ever visited. Maybe that’s the end of a global marketplace, when there’s nothing left to buy, when you go to a place just for the scenery and the food. No wonder the First World is obsessed with restaurant experiences, chefs and cookbooks, it might be all we have left to define ourselves.
The consumption of architecture is different but has a lasting impact on how we remember a place. I went up the Empire State Building one night with a friend and looked down onto the city, the landscape from above being as important to life there as life on the streets. I took pictures.
That’s why we keep taking pictures of places that have been photographed for a hundred years. Our picture is our way of saying “I was here too”. The picture has stopped having real meaning, it’s the act of pressing the button that acts as a reminder to remember.
In Apartamento, a wonderful magazine about people and their interiors, a antique store dealer was talking about the fact that American taste has become a bit “vanilla”. He said people didn’t want exotic things anymore, they didn’t want to be unique. They wanted to be like everyone else. Could it be that When you are drowning in a digital culture that says that social is everything then you might forget what makes you special? When Amazon and every ad banner online knows what you like, what happens if you forget what you like. Anti-consumption. A broken looking glass.
Kevin Slavin occasionally posts pictures of himself with a local newspaper and I think that’s exactly right. When you can be anywhere, you have to celebrate where you are right then and there. That’s luxury.
True affirmation of identity and uniqueness has become tricky when you are constantly forced into relationships with “friends”, Groupon deals and “other people also bought this” prompts. Perhaps travel and food, as sensorial experiences that one cannot share, will become even more prized than they are now.