Walpole Editorial

Time to Switch Off by Lysanne Currie

First published in the 2020 Walpole Book of Luxury - and written before Covid-19 changed our world as we know it - writer Lysanne Currie takes a look at the 'analogue elite': those individuals who can are using their wealth and freedom to put away their smartphones and reconnect with humanity.
12th Jan 2021
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Walpole Editorial  Time to Switch Off by Lysanne Currie

These days, the most precious commodity on earth can’t be dug from the ground. It’s not gold or oil, but time. And amid our time-poor lifestyles, taking back control of it is the height of luxury. Hence, the ‘analogue elite’, who are putting down their smartphones, hiring others to do their emailing and networking face to face in glamorous locations.

“Putting greater value on your time has been an important trend [for ultra-high-net-worth clients] for the past five to seven years,” says Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole. “People have been creating boundaries so they can recharge – their health, their brains, their time. It’s about scheduling your email time. Or choosing just one social channel. Or just not being available when you’re on holiday.”

“I’ve certainly noted that fewer ultra-high-net-worth clients are absorbed by what’s on their mobile devices,” says Oliver Corkhill, CEO of alpine travel specialist Leo Trippi.

James Dyson, for example, reads “no more than six emails a day” and encourages his staff to talk to one another instead. And according to author Yuval Noah Harari, “Not having a smartphone is the new symbol of power because it provides the ability to have some peace and quiet from all the misinformation.”

Social networks embody the very toxicity that the Center for Humane Technology founder Tristan Harris says is making humanity more divisive, rewiring our brains and “tearing apart our social fabric”, as he told The Times. Technology, he says, is resulting in “shortening of attention spans, addiction, disinformation, narcissism, outrage, polarisation”. Dubbed “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”, he’s one of the “new tech avengers”, according to The Wall Street Journal, and is currently lobbying tech CEOs, giving workshops to tech companies and mounting awareness-raising public campaigns about the dangers of digital addiction.

The backlash goes hand in hand with the embrace of old-fashioned ‘analogue’ media by millennials and Gen Z for items including vinyl records, physical books and even tape cassettes, which are selling at their highest rate in the UK for more than a decade; The Official Charts Company estimates 75,000 were sold by the end of last year. Explaining the resurgence of analogue over streaming and Kindle, The Guardian’s Emmanuel Tsekleves argues: “It’s all about the experience… the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from buying and handling a physical object, something that you cannot simply discover from intangible digital music and game files.” Putting a vinyl LP on a turntable, or clicking a beautifully crafted Leica brings “character, essence and ambience to the table”.

Simplicity. Authenticity. Warmth. It’s the kind of philosophy promoted by luxury hotel and spa Chewton Glen, whose New Forest-located treehouse studio suites focus on tranquillity, escapism and an opportunity to connect with nature.

Here, beds and seating areas are orientated to the completely unspoilt and serene views across the valley, “and although we didn’t quite have the courage to omit TVs altogether, these are intentionally positioned out of the way,” says executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels, Andrew Stembridge. Also on offer is an additional tailored programme called the Treetox, for those who really want a reset. If requested, all technology can be kept out of reach for the duration of the guest’s stay, avoiding any temptation to check in with the outside world. This style of detoxing (both digital and physical) has become something of a status symbol, as evinced by the rise of boutique fitness classes, luxury yoga retreats and wellness festivals. Indeed, Gwyneth Paltrow’s 2019 Goop Summit saw millennials shelling out $5,700 on tickets.

The analogue elite are also more likely to spend their money on experiences; the sort offered by travel companies such as Black Tomato (tagline: “We are Human”), whose high-end, bespoke packages transport clients to unspoiled natural locations. Experiences that might include lunch in a restaurant carved out of a glacier in Iceland, or witnessing a private Inca ceremony in Sacred Valley. “Travel is a good vehicle for [personal fulfilment],” says co-founder Tom Marchant, whose mission is to inspire travellers to reconnect with others and with themselves. “There needs to be depth and understanding of the psychology of travel. When I go somewhere new, the first thing I do is ask a cab driver where he goes for a drink when he finishes work. By asking questions, you open up things you’re never going to find in the guidebooks, and you have that human interaction as well.”

Similarly, executives are favouring face-to-face meetings in luxurious spaces over Skype, and heading to grand old luxury resorts and historic hotels, or ultra-exclusive billionaires’ resorts such as St Moritz “where the one per cent go to ski”, as Business Insider puts it. “We’ve definitely seen a rise in ski resorts becoming a popular meeting place for the global elite to do business,” says Corkhill.

As Stanford behavioural psychologist BJ Fogg tweeted last year, “A movement to be ‘post-digital’ will emerge in 2020… We will start to realise that being chained to your mobile phone is a low-status behaviour, similar to smoking.” And the super-rich are leading the way.
By Lysanne Currie www.meettheleader.com

Walpole Book of British Luxury 2021

We are now taking bookings for the 2021 Walpole Book of British Luxury, which will be published in May. If you are a Walpole member and would like your brand featured in our flagship coffee table publication, please contact Rosie Mason on [email protected] for more info. Please click here to read a digital copy of the 2020 book.