Is the worm turning? Are we tiring of fiddling with symbols on displays, watching the pixels flow? Are we beginning to yearn for stuff again? Are things the new thing? Genevieve Bell, a top Intel researcher, tells The Atlantic that she senses the answer is yes:
We’ve been in a decade of dematerialization, all the markers of identity. You and I, when we were younger, knew how to talk about ourselves, to ourselves and others, through physical stuff–music, the books on our shelves, photos. We’ve gone through a period where a lot of that content is dematerialized. It became virtual. You could send people playlists, but it’s not the same as having someone go through your record collection. It had a different sort of intimacy.
And it doesn’t surprise me that after 10 years of early-adoptive dematerialization, all the identity work and now the seduction of physical objects has come back in full force. Now it’s kind of a pendulum: we move between the virtual and the real a great deal. And we have historically–that’s hardly a new thing. I suspect that part of what we’re seeing with the Etsy maker and that whole spectrum is a kind of need for physical things because so much has become digital, and in fact, what’s being manifested in some of these places is really a reprise of physical stuff. Physicality has kind of come back.
How strong is the rematerialization countertrend? I don’t think we know yet. Probably less strong than Bell suggests, I’d guess. Still, it’s interesting to consider that, when it comes to the way we behave today, we don’t really know for sure what’s mere faddishness and what’s enduring. Sleep lightly, avatars.