Vivek Haldar

The new luxury

Imagine, if, in today’s world, you saw someone jotting down notes in a meeting with a fine fountain pen. You know, the kind that has a cartridge filled with liquid ink, that flows through a metallic nib, sometimes covered with a fine coat of a precious metal. The kind that seems strikingly, anachronistically out of place in a conference room with laptops and white boards and dry erase markers and cheap plastic ball point pens. The kind that would be more fitting in a dark room overhung with cigar smoke, with padded leather recliners and heavy wood paneling.

What would you think of such a person? What kind of a statement are they making?

It is a renunciation of the digital in favor of the analog. They’re giving up on making their notes searchable and linkable and shareable. This is the sort of voluntary shift away from digital and towards the material analog that Bruce Sterling has characterized as the mark of the rich in today’s world. Or conversely, too much connection is a sign of poverty.

They’re saying that they’re not writing it down to remember it later, they’re writing it down to remember it now. Maybe they’re important enough or smart enough to not have to grub through their notes from the last meeting (like you were doing on your laptop, trying to get some context).

It is a status symbol. Just like watches became jewelry in the 21st century. Because why even go to the trouble of having a fountain pen if it isn’t an exquisite, expensive one?

It is a sensuous oasis in a homogenous environment. If you’ve used one, do you remember the sensuous joy of writing with a fountain pen? The smooth slide of the nib on the paper, tempered just a little by the friction against it. The trail of wet ink, gleaming, drying a few seconds later. You could even smell it. You didn’t want to run out of words, because then you’d have to stop writing. It was a calming, almost meditative experience.

The same line of thought holds true for many analog things. Things for which we must leave behind the ethereal digital and embrace durable atoms. Typewriters that are keyboards. Face-to-face gatherings of humans. Large, heavy wooden desks. A thick hardbound book, with marginalia and bookmarks and its very own smell.

What is the mark of luxury? Rarity. Price. Being understated and not ostentatious while still making a bold statement and attracting attention. The analog physical will possess all of them. As we dive further into the digital, and as most of it becomes commonplace and cheap, coming across something from the old analog world will seem all the more striking.

Analog objects will be the new luxury.