About fifteen years ago, I put a two group espresso machine in my 1967 Kombi to take to Volkswagen meets. Back then, it was a bit of a curiosity as the coffee-boom had not yet happened. Last week, the family went down to 21 Grams Coffee in Dee Why to learn from their baristas. the Coffeewagen has been down there since February having a high end fit out for a weekend business which the family will run. Over the years, the van has been many things — a storage container, dog-beach hauler, surf and camping van. While #vanlife has become somewhat of a lifestyle movement — mostly featuring the beautiful young people who get to escape the daily grind. The movement itself has become a huge industry — from fitting out vans, making documentaries, giving talks and of course arranging meet-ups and events.
It seems that many people, old and young are interested in low-technology life, or at least weekend escapes. Social media is a human-history of people looking for and finding vintage escapes as well as documenting their lunch or outdoor adventures. This makes it very hard to argue that technology is creating a shut-in society or that everyone is addicted/distracted to post iPhone devices. Media is documenting a revival in vintage things. For us, owning a vintage coffee van is a ticket to having weekend fun – and perhaps giving our kids an insight into running your own business. For me, a love of coffee and vans made a perfect fit fifteen years ago, but back then – people didn’t spend as much time in so many diverse places as they do now. Artesian markets and a parade of car shows are on offer every weekend. People use social media to find ‘real world’ leisure time and love to document their enjoyment.
Social media creates tribes. It also makes it possible to place your telepresence in multiple tribes. My wife’s Facebook feed is full of Springer Spaniels as that’s her ‘thing’ whereas mine is predictably full of old cars. For me, it’s an endless swap-meet of Italian, British and German cars.
Buying a real-world thing leads you to new people, experiences and cultures. For example, I recently bought a TVR. It’s been on my list of ‘want’s for years — and finally, via social media – I got the tip-off to negotiate the purchase from the seller – but as it’s a rather rare beast, the car had a digital history and story, curated by other TVR enthusiasts. I had the car inspected by someone I’ve never met, but he was recommended by a guy who had previously helped me out (but also never met) and flew down to Melbourne to drive it home, some 1200kms. Along the way, I had a few questions that were almost immediately answered by TVR owners from Australia, the Netherlands and the USA. All people I’ve never met.
Unlike my Volkswagen tribe, the TVR is embedded in historic racing and old British car fanatics. Simply buying the car opened up new car culture portals. At the casual level, I’m viewing part of an ever-flowing visual stream of images people are capturing as they move about their lives. Vintage cars are deeply embedded in this idea of freedom and nostalgia for a time before digital – but is documented because of digital. It is a complex soup of fandom and nostalgia – a visual treat of looking back at designs which emerged from a sense of passion and artistry rather than consumer focus groups which seem to produce technologically brilliant cars which all look the same. Some people are collectors, most are sick of losing money of cars with planned obsolescence and expensive repairs once the warranty runs out. There are people who buy cars for purely practical reasons – the increasing phenomenon of commuting to work and driving to the mega-mall etc – but there is also a massive culture which rejects it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like new cars – our Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV is 240hp super-hero car thanks to its Tony Stark levels of technology. It’s a perfect car for every day as the technology is sufficient to be both practical, reliable and fun – and there are plenty of social-media tribes who post endless images and superlative comments about how great they are to drive – or make go even faster.
What has become very apparent is the number of people who want to also own a classic car — and the rising prices that come with demand. Finding a classic that might appreciate is also powered by digital. Whether you want to spend five grand or fifty — technology powers the search. Not many of us have the time to go on ‘barn find’ trips, but those who do – also use social media to post where they are going to be and what they are after. One tip-off leads to real-world connections where a guy knows a guy who knows a guy. All of this is of course captured on YouTube via an array of drones, go-pros and phones. This has also become a business – one which necessarily includes ‘experts’ who offer insights into heritage and history.
So while I’m reading about what young people ‘need’ – personalised learning, keeping up with the skills needed for future work, there is an equally strong movement which is interested in pre-digital, escape, old mechanical things – and uses technology to find, experience and enjoy it.