Experiences in the Digital Age.

For years, a popular theory that advocated spending money on experiences, not things has been doing the rounds. To this day, the theory seems to hold weight, though there seems to be a shift in what constitutes an experience. The way people define or categorise experiences themselves, is evolving. We live in an increasingly digital age where technology is weaving itself deeper into the fabric of our lives with each passing day.

In a relatively short period of time, activities that were once associated with novelty and grandeur are becoming increasingly commonplace. Often we hear about how social media is hampering our ability to interact in person. The malady only seems to be gaining momentum. It is however, not an isolated trend. Technology seems to be creating an even larger impact on the way we live our lives.

Less than a decade ago, going out to watch a movie was a social event. It involved people coming together, going out to enjoy a day at the cinema. It had its own little routines built into it. A tub of popcorn to share, a few comments whispered to the person sitting next to you and even the slurping of the last bit of cola from the bottom of plastic cups.

With the tremendous global success OTT platforms such as Netflix are experiencing across the world, the experience of going to the movies may very well be on the decline. Replacing it is not a more exciting technology that people can go out and enjoy together. It is being replaced by the mundane act of staying in bed, often without company, and watching a show before drifting off to sleep. Yes, there is more comfort, but it barely qualifies as an experience anymore.

The cinema is not the only experience that is finding itself marginalized. This example of a site that lists hundreds of online casinos is an indicator for just one of the many industries experiencing a similar phenomenon. Physical casinos were built to create a world of fantasy that the guests can lose themselves in. Online gambling sites are quickly replacing that fantasy with a more functional alternative. While they keep their users engaged, they can never provide memorable experiences.

Virtual Reality technology is gaining momentum with each passing day. As it evolves, it will become cheaper and more accessible. There is a good chance it will, one day, become a norm in every household, much like a television or personal computer today. With time, it will make it possible for people to experience a version of almost any experience known to man, without leaving their homes. The gap between this version and the real thing will only shrink. The virtual version of standing on top of the mountain will certainly appeal to a large number of people, especially when it comes without the discomfort of climbing to the top or the expense of booking a trip.

This leaves us with a more basic question, what constitutes a fulfilling experience? Conventionally, a meal at a nice restaurant or a vacation to an exotic destination would be textbook examples. So far, the industries that provide these experiences have not seen a large shift in consumption patterns where a digital alternative has replaced the physical experience.

There has however been a distinct change in behavior when it comes to the way these experiences are consumed. The need to share pictures of a meal on Instagram or take a selfie at an exotic location seem like inconspicuous habits but their increasing urgency is a telling sign of where priorities lie. Documenting the event seems to have taken precedence over actually enjoying the food or taking in the view even if it detracts from the experience itself.

Another widespread case of such behavior is seen at live music venues. All the excitement of watching one’s favorite band live in concert has not diminished. What has changed however is the fact that fans, standing a few feet from their heroes, would choose to watch them on the screen of their cell phones as they record the performance. To purists all this might seem disturbing, but slowly, it is becoming the widely accepted norm. Even voices of protest from fellow concert goers, who’s view is blocked by these devices do little to change such behavior.

The merits and demerits of technology in our lives is a debate that will rage on forever. What cannot be denied however, is the fact it will play an increasingly integral part in our lives for the foreseeable future. It’s impact on molding human behavior has been immense given the relatively short period of time it has taken. Whether this is the death of experiences as we know them or just a shift in our perception of them and the value they bring to our lives, only time will tell. What we can keep in mind however is that experiences will always be what we choose to make of them.

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