Back to the Future

Will the next game changer be something we already know — and love?

Industrial machines. Flight. The internet. These were all big, impactful game changers with a lot of moving parts and a complexity that only the most expert of us could
 fully understand. But what if the next game changer isn’t nearly as complex?

While Baby Boomers have long shown
 a love of excess – big houses, big cars, 
big closets – Millennials and Gen Z-ers are demonstrating an increased interest in minimalism and frugalness, returning to simpler times. Forbes recently stated in “Millennials: Double Trouble for Retail” that “36% [of millennials] say they are only
 buying things they feel are necessary (for which only one-third say they will pay full price).”

Suburban homes are giving way to 300-square foot micro condos; biking is replacing cars; closets are smaller. In November 2015, New York City’s first micro-apartment rentals at Carmel Place started taking reservations for suites ranging from a meager 260 to 360 square feet. Quality, however, is not being skimped on; this demographic wants slick, well-crafted, and energy efficient homes.

Looking at these trends points at an apparent case of consumption fatigue centered around one concern: Why have so much stuff weighing you down? If we’re heading towards paring down our lives, the next big game changer could very well come from simpler times, where the emphasis is on the quality of the experience – especially when it comes to our entertainment.

01/ Real Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is often touted as the next big thing that’s just itching to blow up. For anyone that ever donned an Oculus Rift headset, this is understandable. The experience is, admittedly, very cool, and it will no doubt seep its way into our homes much like Nintendo did in the 80s. But a more novel idea of in-person experiences can already be seen with the popularity of escape games. Instead of entering into a fake virtual reality, it is a tangibly constructed creation – brick-and-mortar style.

Or take bombastic blockbusters into consideration. The industry went so effects-crazy, that many films in 2015 (such as 
Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) made a concerted effort to use practical effects wherever possible, and to great success. Audiences are making
 their point: they want to see real things.

This could greatly impact the way we consume entertainment. Could telling tales around a fire become important again? That may be a stretch, but a lot of inspiration can be taken from live theater. Imagine Mad Max meets Hamlet, or being in the center of a controlled car chase, surrounded by impressive practical effects, as the next iteration of escape games. Eventually, Virgin Galactic will launch just about anyone into space, but if
 this were made into an interactive story you can live through (complete with a “Houston, we have a problem” narrative), how much more exciting would that be?

02/ Pen and Paper

Let’s not discount print just yet either; it might go the way of vinyl eventually. Although we have the power to carry thousands of songs in the palm of our hand, the popularity of typically hipster fads like old record players and quote-covered journals harken back to our love of something retro and
 our nostalgia sensibilities. And it won’t just be the hipsters partaking.

As the ill effects of tablet use on sleep patterns and melatonin levels become more apparent, e-readers could face taking the backseat to books again (and who can beat that smell?) However, buying books for a single read may not be very popular as we become increasingly environmentally-conscious. Enter the library, which could very well enjoy a second renaissance. The drawback? Getting your hands on that latest best-seller could mean a months-long waiting list. But imagine Barnes & Noble offering a flat-rate borrowing service, guaranteeing the hottest title’s availability within a week?
 Apps like Texture already offer this type of service for magazines on tablets, giving access to hundreds of the most popular titles for a flat rate of $9.99 a month, and Amazon Prime members can borrow an ebook for free every month. But if we really want to save
our eyesight and melatonin levels, good old fashioned paper will be the preferred alternative to technology-fatigue – and a way to increase foot fall in bookstores.

03/ Big Fashion Goes Local

A few decades ago, shopping in Paris would have been a dream and a chance to bring back something unique. Now, every major shopping district is lined with the same handful of brands, offering the same products, and – depending on the exchange rate – not always at the best deals. This could lead to increased interest in seeking out small businesses to get more genuine experiences. That’s great news for local shops, but there’s an even bigger opportunity here for big and small alike.

Imagine a Zara with capsule collections unique to the culture of their geographical locations; Gap stores that don’t look so cookie-cutter, but instead incorporate local aesthetics of their prospective country. Global food chains have long since included locally-influenced items on their menus – McArabia, anyone? – but the same practice is hardly commonplace for fashion.

Collaborating with local brands and designers could alleviate concerns about misrepresenting a culture, and the support for homegrown talent would be lauded. Throw ethical production into the mix – perhaps using techniques local to the region – and Big Fashion doesn’t seem quite so callous and predictable anymore. Shopping in Paris is unique
 once again.

Sure, we were pretty impressed with the 
first effects-heavy 3D movies. We loved storing hundreds of books on a simple device we could carry around anywhere. We even eagerly awaited the opening of the 40,000 square foot Topshop flagship store in New York City in 2014. But the honeymoon phase is showing signs of waning, and our flashy new products just don’t hold the same magic they once did. But it’s still easy to catch someone – eyes closed and smiling softly – as they flip through an old book, smelling the pages.

the author

Esther Rogers