Coronavirus is perhaps a fitting crisis for the modern aspiration economy. With uncanny precision, it targets all its tenets: travel, tourism, dining, experiences, leisure, art and culture, and the luxury industry. In less than a fortnight, it exposed the vulnerabilities of trading in social, cultural, and environmental capital. “Access over ownership” and “experiences over possessions” make great sense if there is access and experiences to be had. Once the NYC galleries, theater, restaurants and fitness and nightclubs closed, and all the rich fled to the Hamptons, the city’s social, cultural, and environmental capital went to zero. Having a spacious apartment and a nice furniture counts in the days of Zoom more.
Along with intangibles like access, experiences, and knowledge, the modern aspiration economy also created a cultural class unto its own. Oriented towards wellness and self-perfecting, this class of self-proclaimed “creatives” (regardless of what they actually do) defies the hierarchy that socially bound previous generations to their economic standing, and lives the lifestyle of the affluent without actually owning the assets to underpin it (home, a savings account). This consumer class also created a signature aesthetic genre, a number of taste regimes, and an entire DTC economy of lifestyle add-ons.
They now realize two things: the chances of perfecting oneself are much better when a person is not shut in 700 square feet; sharing lifestyle add-ons of the rich does not make one rich. Buying a coronavirus test, booking a COVID-19 service in a Switzerland, and having 3M N95 mask does.