What Lavender Lemonade Tells Us about the Future of Tech

Millennials in the Age of Rural Escapism

  • Text: Rebecca Storm
  • Photography: Rebecca Storm

The first pre-teens on the internet could only dial-up when the line was free. Unsurveilled youths downloading R. Kelly on Napster, surfing the web on Yahoo!, or changing their Myspace songs. Subconsciously weaving the effects of their relationship to tech through their bodies, minds and experiences. Unwittingly streamlining their grey matter to function as prodigal navigators of cyberspace. These children, who now constitute a large percentage of the demographic presently regarded as millennials, have been rained on by technological advances near daily, and they are now soaked to the skin. So drenched that it’s incited an odd sort of backlash — a desire for a simpler life. A return to the rural.

“Growing up with tech, people begin to crave simplicity, even if it is only manifested in a beverage choice.”

For some, all it takes is a handled, unbranded mason jar from which to sip artisanal lavender lemonade — for others, a handsome bespoke leather apron ensures that that espresso is a fusion of the noblest bean and the purest glacial spring water, forged with an expertise, up until now, exclusive to a blacksmith. Slower, sure, but simple. A small and nearly insignificant return to the bucolic roots we never really enjoyed. Somehow, this seems like a natural evolution — marinating in too much of a good thing inevitably runs the risk of spoilage. While chronological facts are the most accessible way to track a phenomenon, namely one that transformed nearly every aspect of modern life, often the most invaluable data is in the experience of those at its crux. Growing up with tech, people begin to crave simplicity, even if it is only manifested in a beverage choice. And because we’re pummelling toward a sterile, uncertain, though certainly post-industrial future, and at such high velocity, the only suitable direction in which to look for an alternative is backward. Through rosy lenses, the halcyon pre-internet days seem quaint and provincial.

The surplus of human contact is appealing, almost novel — a warmth that has faded and been replaced by our cold steel devices. It is these devices that inhibit us from ever really returning to a figurative time before they could have existed. We can’t leave them behind. If we did, how would we know how to tell which mushrooms to forage for, or the difference between Amanita phalloides and Agaricus? (Google it — the difference is literally a matter of life and death.) Rural ideas have been swallowed by technology. Getting off the grid is much more difficult than simply wandering into a wooded area. The line between rural and urban has blurred as tech has gotten so big that the only place it can live is somewhere as sprawling as the countryside, in server farms and mass manufacturers. It’s almost no longer a matter of going off the grid — it’s a matter of going to where the grid is big enough. Succeed in doing that, and Google still knows you’re at your grandfather’s “secret beach” along with its precise coordinates in the Pacific Northwest.

Methow Valley Herbs

While 78% of millennials choose an experience over material goods, a brash return to nature often isn’t sustainable for urbanites. In these instances, scrutiny is directed toward our habits of consumption. Having less has become more profound. With KonMari on the rise, there’s a shift in how much we’re getting rid of, a hysteria that correlates to the number of objects in one’s direct vicinity. While simplicity is usually interpreted as having less, often the end result is a near-empty room adorned with some scant, choice valuables. It might just be a mattress on the floor, but that Dyptique candle cost more than your sheet set. A single, thriving monstera deliciosa alludes to a possible narrative involving you and your rustic penchant for cultivation, despite the reality of having been purchased full size and at full price. The demand may be high for simple authenticity, but a curated version also gets a pass.

“It’s almost no longer a matter of going off the grid—it’s a matter of going to where the grid is big enough.”

This appetite for the authentic lends itself quite naturally to the increasing demand for real food. Frozen meals are tasteless, McDonald’s is going out of business and everybody hates microwaves. Rurality affords the opportunity to forage and cultivate the land in a sustainable way, a nearly impossible endeavour in a rural setting. But it doesn’t have to be. There are forces at work attempting to solve the food problems that urban centers create. Kimbal Musk believes that food is the new internet, founding urban farming platforms such as Square Roots. With the right technology, every roof in every urban center could function as farmland—why go off the grid in search of simplicity when you can grow real food on the grid?

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear, Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

“Until we are able to remedy our proclivity for looking anywhere but the mirror, tech-exhausted ‘pioneers’ will continue to flock to the hillsides and forests.”

The trajectory of the real food industry runs opposite the fashion industry. Brands often start off as irrelevant and slowly become coveted or achieve luxury status, whereas innovations in food tech start off as unattainable and then through scalability and sustainability, grow their market to expand and profit. No brand would trade high-end clout for fast fashion. At the crux of luxury and nourishment, one must ascertain where their allegiances lie.

Chanel Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear, Photo: Olivier Saillant

Libertarianism motivates the need to absolve our current channels of consumption. While a return to simplicity is intriguing, can rural ideals still thrive, and function as pastorale refuge despite the inevitable expansion of an urban future? The tendency to stretch outward and backward vindicates us from avoiding the immediate urban issues around us. That barista in the leather apron might make an okay coffee, but he can’t solve the problems that pushed you toward him in the first place. Until we are able to remedy our proclivity for looking anywhere but the mirror, tech-exhausted "pioneers" will continue to flock to the hillsides and forests. And in doing so, continue to shoehorn the cutting edge of technology into a space that up until now, has been traditionally behind the curve. An iPhone in hand is worth two in the bush.

  • Text: Rebecca Storm
  • Photography: Rebecca Storm