Long Reads

Why 2018 will be the year we discover the luxury of waiting

One writer turns to a smartphone app to discover why the power of patience is the hottest new trend going.

Patience is a virtue. It’s also one that’s in increasingly short supply in a world where it’s possible to summon a stranger on a bike to deliver a pint of ice cream to your house at any given moment. Who needs to possess something as staid as ‘patience’ when instant gratification exists at the touch of a button?

Well, seasons change and so do trends. Last year David Sax penned a New York Times column titled Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over. Sax argued that there exists a growing ‘mistrust’ of the technology that was once heralded as the answer to all our prayers. Our handheld computers were meant to help us; instead they’ve spawned a mass behavioural addiction that has been found to actively increase depression and anxiety. And so, Sax said, we’ve kick-started an analogue revolution to try and restore equilibrium between the digital worlds we haunt like virtual ghosts, and the physical world that we abandoned for the alluring blue light of our screens.

Smartphone addiction has been found to actively increase depression and anxiety.

The evidence certainly points to an upswing in demand for pursuits more tangible than Candy Crush. Vinyl sales are climbing by 26.8% year-on-year; they’re currently at the same level last seen upon the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991. Books are also enjoying a boom; sales in 2017 broke records for publishers and passed the £5.7 billion mark. Board games are back with a vengeance as well, alongside traditional film cameras and a rise in people opting for travel experiences that offer a ‘digital detox’.

This love for analogue has seen the digital world scrambling to lure users back, leading to the creation of immensely popular smartphone photography apps like Huji – the app of choice for Instagram influencers - and Gudak, which enforces a three day wait time for photos to be processed. Both programmes have been built to mimic the disposable cameras of our childhoods. 

The smartphone app Gudak simulates a Kodak disposable camera

It seems the ‘convenience generation’ are beginning to find having everything they’ve ever wanted at their fingertips just a little… boring. A more mainstream understanding of ‘mindfulness’ has caused people to pause and consider what they really require. And the answer is often not just what’s the most readily available.

“In the last couple of years, over-convenience has made people rush decisions about purchasing,” Sarah Johnson, co-founder of insight agency The Akin, explains to Stylist.

“A lot of the time people are buying things they don’t really want, or they’re getting bored by the time they’ve [had the item] for a few weeks. Now we’re seeing people slow down, review their tastes and consciously decide whether they want something.

“And that waiting is like when you were a kid and you knew you were getting something on your Christmas list – waiting for that day made the product more enjoyable by the time you got it. It’s delayed gratification.”

Waiting – the act of savouring what is to come, and of having time to really think about the reward ahead – is starting to seem like more of a luxury. Hence the current burgeoning concept of ‘slow communication’ that is beginning to take root – a return to the more personal ways of getting in touch, such as writing a letter or sending a postcard. A recent study found that millennials actually appreciate handwritten notes more than any other age group – and value them so much that nine out of 10 said they meant more to them than any other type of communication (hello, Peter Kavinsky).

In addition, Johnson says that they’ve noted a new trend at the agency: that being forced to wait is now desirable in itself.

“We’re seeing people build positive friction into the process [of consuming],” she says.

“That’s a backlash against convenience. You could go online right now and order a product that will get to you the same day. Which is good for sales but brands are realising consumers aren’t spending time with the brands or getting into the narrative. That means making things more difficult – building in friction that heightens enjoyment. Consumers are looking to go in store more than they have ever before – they want real-life moments.”  

Learning to live in the moment

As the least patient person in the Stylist office – and the biggest phone addict – I was selected to take on the challenge of learning to enjoy delayed gratification through the photography app, Gudak.

The brainchild of Korean developers, Screw Bar, Gudak is a perfect simulation of the rear view of a Kodak disposable, right down to the ticker that displays the number of photos you have left. Because not only do the pictures you take using Gudak have a three day processing period, you also have to finish the entire roll of 24 before you can start snapping with a new film. It works the same as your normal smartphone camera in that you press a button to take the picture, but that’s where the similarities end. There’s only a small viewfinder to view the scene you’re trying to capture, and you don’t get a preview of the finished image. You have to wait and see if you got what you wanted.

Not only does Gudak have a three-day processing period for pictures; you also have to finish the roll of 24 before you start snapping again.

I took my assignment seriously and immediately booked a day off. There was method to the madness though.

“Are you free this Monday?” I texted my friend Victoria. “We’re going to go full London tourist.”

She was; hours later I found myself rolling up to the Natural History Museum, phone in hand and ready to snap my way across London. We’d jointly decided on a loose route that took us past several famed tourist spots we’d never found the time to visit, despite spending a combined total of eight years in the capital between us. We were starting at the re-vamped NHM before strolling through Hyde Park and the Wellington Arch towards Buckingham Palace and St James’ Park. Then we would hit the tat shops of Oxford Street, the British Museum and our final destination: Shake Shack.  

Shake Shack was our final destination.

Taking photos with Gudak was hugely refreshing. Before the patience element even came into play, I noticed that using the app immediately removed a huge pressure I usually felt when snapping. Don’t get me wrong – taking pictures brings me great joy, but when you have the most cutting-edge smartphone technology at your disposal, there is a burden to produce the best image possible. Which often means multiple takes and changes of angle. 

That wasn’t possible with Gudak; the finite number of pictures mean you only get one chance. Using the app is far more about preserving a moment. There’s me, stretching my mouth wide to cram in a burger, and there’s Victoria, grinning as she recreates the now-iconic shot of a 15-year-old Meghan Markle perched outside Buckingham Palace. When I look at these photos I think of the laughter and chatter that surrounded them. In contrast, the memories I have of a shot I took with my actual smartphone camera in the NHM (Victoria pretending to hug a glowing moon) are of me fretting over how far I should turn up the contrast. 

Victoria recreates Meghan Markle’s pre-princess pose.

Strangely, the ‘luxury of waiting’ for the pictures to develop paled in comparison to the thrill of actually using the app. Perhaps the problem was that true waiting would mean I had little else to distract me from the squirmy, excited feeling – and disturbed sleep pattern – that precedes an anticipated event (Christmas, my birthday, a date with a man who texts in full sentences…). But I had work, a life and my phone to keep me occupied. I was keen to see the photos, sure, but I felt no discomfort at the extra time it took for them to be revealed.

My experience is not unusual, says Johnson.

“Something that Gudak is an example of is a digital product that doesn’t disrupt the social moment,” she explains.

“There’s a growing backlash to that scenario when your friend asks you to take a picture and 10 minutes later you’re there, taking more [because they weren’t satisfied with the first]. You can’t do that with Gudak. You take the snap and carry on with the social moment. I think Gudak is an amazing way to get people talking about social conviviality.”

I’m definitely going to be firing up Gudak again. In fact, Victoria and I have decided to make our day of sightseeing a regular fixture; taking time out to really see the world around us, even if it’s through a tiny, simulated viewfinder. 

Images: Emmanuel Bior