Luxury for Everyone with No One

May 7th, 2016

  Pamela Pavliscak

Zero human interaction is somehow getting associated with luxury. What gives?

Empty Luxury

Every show on the Disney channel seems to feature a new kind of family with quipster (not yet hipster) kids, including much-too-skinny girls with the same long wavy hairstyle and a geeky boy wearing colorful pants and an assortment of sidekicks for diversity's sake. Like most of the Disney genre, there are no mothers and usually no fathers. Instead, the children have a supporting cast of sassy servants—butlers, nannies, and the occasional high-tech entrepreneur.

If you don't have kids of the age to watch these shows, then I'm sorry you had to hear about it this way. If you struggle with your kids and these shows too, let's talk. If you are making these shows, please stop.

Lately, I'm struck by the Disneyfication (or is that Disneyf*ckation?) of tech. Not the magic kingdom Disney, but the mundane Disney of the TV franchise. A world focused on servants rather than relationships. Neat and tidy, with no boring chores. Without the mess of decisions. But also without the mess of relationships. Luxury but infinitely less rich.

The idea is ultra-convenience, where we can achieve peak modern luxury even in a tiny midwestern town and "swipe into the store and pay for purchases without speaking to another human being." Sassy chatbots can act like personal assistants, with not need to talk to a human, even when there is are humans hiding behind the chatbots. We can order by tablet, so why should we tip the server. We can slip in and out of our Uber ride, no need to tip or to talk to the driver. That's what many people like about the experience, after all.

You might argue, some certainly have, that we don't need to have conversations with drivers or cashiers or waiters. Maybe so. Although there is certainly research that shows strangers are of consequence. Just as much as we need deep relationships with friends and family, we also need the loose ties—neighbors down the block, familiar faces at the local store, even photos of real people with online reviews.

A strain of tech innovation is focused on making luxury available to everyone. It sounds egalitarian. Streamlining tasks may be a good thing. Giving people a moment to feel special is certainly gratifying. But there are downsides too. When luxury means is de-humanizing actual humans, luxury is not a worthwhile pursuit.

Explore More: Connection, Frictionless Experience