The great hygge divide

In the direct line that goes from knitting (circa 2006) to taking cooking classes to puzzle assembling to pottery-making to board games to flower arranging to coloring for adults, we amassed an impressive number of hobbies that have nothing to do with our Internet-driven lives.

In fact, they are the exact opposite of the Internet.

Our craving for the pre-electricity lifestyle of simple pleasures, farm-to-table food, homemade meals, hand-woven items, comfort and contentment is a side-effect of our lives that are too fast, too busy, too connected and too global.

We don’t have to go Amish to have it. As a reaction to pervasiveness of technology, companies figured out they should invest in slow making, wabi-sabi and hygge — among other all-natural, organic, simple and humble creations dedicated to the lifestyle of being and not doing or having.

Seemingly overnight, wabi-sabi — the Japanese art of imperfection — emerged from the depths of Far East’s fifteenth century straight into our living rooms. The most modern designs today, across home décor, fashion or art, are wabi-sabi: raw, desolate and pared down. Forget about the showiness and opulence of the bygone era: humble spirituality is where the things are at.

Blame the Internet. The endless reproducibility of the Internet culture made us want something that’s tangible, authentic and hard to replicate.

Enter slow making, a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Even a precursory research into the term reveals no less than 14K Instagram posts labeled with #slowmade, with all sorts of handmade objects, food and clothing on display. Etsy is in overdrive. Not to mention the New Craftsmen, Lusitano1143, 1stDibs, Soane Britan and other companies that have been launched in the past couple of years to feed our obsession with wood-carved items, hand-woven blankets and glass canisters blown in a trunk of a tree. We’d take anything imperfect, handmade, authentic, and hopefully hard to find. If it’s made just for us, that’s even better.

Our drive to slow down is now cherished as a lifestyle. It seems like a week can’t pass by without another mention of hygge, literally meaning the art of cozyness in Danish. In addition to morose child-rape-and-murder dramas, Danes are not known for much else. That all changed with the onset of hygge, the invite-only activity of cuddling up at home with a selected group of friends, farm-to-table food, homemade mulled wine and as many candles as one can fit in without starting fire alarm. Hygge took Northern Europe by storm, generating endless how-to manuals and even making it among the top 3 most used terms of 2016 (other two being Brexit and Trumpism), according to New York Times. If the Internet is too accessible, our hygge nights are not.

Herein lies the new non-digital divide.

We may think that cozying up is our response to speed, uncertainty and the sheer vastness of the hyper-connected world around us. We may think that wanting to recognize the hidden, the unconventional, the humble and the simple is a reaction to mass commodification of everything from culture, fashion and art to political protest and social unrest to our own wellness and spirituality. We also may think that it is our resistance to digitalization of our lives to the point that it doesn’t make sense to use the term “digital” anymore. We wouldn’t be wrong, but we would miss a much bigger point.

Slow making, hygge and wabi-sabi are indeed reflections of our emotional repertoire developed as a reaction to zeros and ones of the Internet. But they are also aspirations to be acquired.

Today we strive to have the simplest of pleasures, like comfort, rest and contentment with the same fervor we strived to accumulate material possessions or professional achievements. Our success in life is measured by the quality of our being versus doing or having.

Lifestyle of simplicity, modesty and humility is the new status symbol. Most of us hardly can or want to do things without technology, but being inaccessible, disconnected and able to unplug is reserved only to those who can afford to use technology at will and not as a necessity.

It’s ironic, that. The role of technology has become to provide us with life with no obvious technological presence. That’s the ultimate hidden beauty of a deliberate, wabi-sabi, fireplace-lit lifestyle.

Technology transformed how we work, love and play. It made everything accessible, transparent and easily available. It compressed space and time, and allowed someone in Dubai, Tashkent or Minnesota to buy the same things, read the same content and enjoy the same entertainment.

It turns out, we don’t actually want that. We want things that no one else has. We want them to be imperfect just so. And we don’t want to share them with anybody. We may call it cozying up, but please.