Stuff in the Virtual World

Studio of the residence Lauréades of Montpellier Kaelis

Another article crossed my screen about the size of apartments people are living in. I’d heard this about San Francisco and knew it about New York, but this article was in the Dallas Morning News. This is middle America! There are thousands of new apartments around Downtown Dallas, and looking in the window of a recently completed building I couldn’t believe just how small it was inside: bed, sofa, kitchen, that’s about it.

North by Northwest QuoteThere are lots of reasons for this, just as there are many factors weighing on the antiques, vintage and retail industries in general. More single-person households is one. As is an increasing demand for mobility in today’s economy. But one I’ve thought for some time about, but haven’t expressed in long-form is the idea that we are becoming virtual.

No, we’re not going to live in virtualness literally, but greater portions of our lives are becoming virtual. I see it inside houses of young people. There’s often less inclination to decorate. And less space is less to think about. It’s not that our lives are becoming virtual exactly, but the things we spend time on, the things we think about more and more are not things around us, but in this virtual world. We’re looking in a lot more often than out and sometimes it seems we’re only noticing the world when say the air conditioning is on the fritz.

You may have read some of the recent articles about young people delaying getting a drivers license or foregoing driving all together. I have little doubt the reason for this is nothing other than its really hard to be connected while driving. You have to leave the virtual world and enter the real world when you get in a car; that or risk your not very virtual life.

Eva Marie Saint North by Northwest
Eva Marie Saint talking in the theatrical trailer of the 1959 film North by Northwest directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Wikimedia Commons

My company recently took on the Grand Rapids Antiques Market and so I picked up (ordered virtually) a real paper book about the furniture industry in Grand Rapids. A lot of the furniture in Grand Rapids was made in the Victorian era when interiors were pretty dense. Add radio, television and then computers and maybe its all just a style preference, but with each design trend change there’s less and less stuff in the house. I personally think it may be more than a coincidence.

Today people may discuss the latest new gadget or app, but then they discussed furniture styles and what should be in the living room. People really sat around and talked about this. If in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest Eva Marie Saint were asked by inspectors today what she had talked about with Cary Grant, the answer wouldn’t be train travel vs. plane travel, it would be “android vs. iphone, that sort of thing.”

And now today I read an article about how it’s increasingly hard to sell stuff based on the traditional advertising model used to sling products since the height of the industrial revolution. The desire to have a thing- mostly virtual things- has to be built in. And this graph seems to sum up this generational shift:

“Boomers want stuff, Millennials want experiences and relationships. Boomers care about owning; Millennials prefer sharing and access, not ownership. Boomers derive status and identity from their job titles and school affiliations; Millennials derive their status and identity from doing meaningful things that help other people, or sharing creations that bring enjoyment to their friends.”

But maybe 500 square foot apartments are coming out of financial necessity, or a desire to be in the most convenient area so one can forego owning a car. Even so, it’s all tied together. But the changing world will continue to impact a desire for stuff. Granted, the number of people in the Millennial age category is huge, and there will still be demand for some stuff, even if its a lot less stuff per person than we saw with the Baby Boomers.

If you think these Millennials will get older and want a big suburban home, I’m not so sure. Unless you think the virtual world is going away and people will begin spending less time in their virtual lives, I’d venture the trend will continue.

Stuff is just not what it used to be. If you want to sell stuff to young people, its going to have to more often than not replace something already there (no more basements and attics to set things aside), add real value to their lives, seem very nice and necessary and fit perfectly into a small space.

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