What She Wants

The Truly Rich Lady on the Luxury of Being Offline

Is human interaction the new status symbol?

I could not help but giggle when my Just Rich Friend sent me a link to a New York Times story proclaiming human touch as a form of luxury ("The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction—living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email— has become a status symbol," it reads), because it reminded me very much of a Truly Rich Lady.

When asked which apps she uses on her mobile phone, the Old Money Gal replied, with a straight face and a slight sneer, “What are apps? I do not need apps because I have assistants.”

Of course. Her assistants are her apps. One assistant handles her expenses (no need for a banking app), another assistant counts her steps and calories (just like fitness and diet apps), and still another manages the annoyances of life, such as commanding her driver to pick her up right now (ah, similar to a digital assistant and a ride-sharing app—but without the sharing part).

And just like an app, they are all at her fingertips, because they're paid very well to respectfully hover nearby and anticipate her needs before she gets uncomfortable. So, you see, it is true. The TRL will always prefer the human person over invisible digital things, because who will she berate when the mashed potatoes touch the rare steak on her lunch plate. An app can't cry!


Don't Touch Me

Now, I am going to be contrarian and say that I do not prefer human contact.

When I was dragged by my nephews to see another superhero movie, I was intrigued by the one called Tin Man, the “[g]enius billionaire playboy philanthropist” played with utmost charisma by Robert Downey, Jr.

In the flick, Tin Man frequently spoke into thin air, but he was not crazy. He was speaking to his always present and highly advanced digital assistant, who helped him save the day by launching rockets and doing whatnot on command.

I would like that. If I had my way, I would live in a well-appointed bubble equipped with a digital assistant who spoke with a thick Australian accent. I would call him Hoshi (he is multi-racial), and tell him to screen intruders—the humans like my Truly Rich Mother.

I would use him as a shield from the messiness of human interactions and even messier human emotions. I would ask him, “Annyeonghaseyo, Hoshi. Am I fat?” And he would reply, “Yes, you are. Here are the scientific ways you can lose the last five pounds...” And I would get angry because he said “scientific.”

Why deal with humans—who will not tell you that you are chubby to your face, but will instead tell everyone else behind your back—when you have the smooth, cold efficiency of a robot? But that’s just me being a weirdo. 

Please Touch Me

Okay, yes, I do recognize the point of view of our American counterparts (always the trendsetters they are!), of how technology has become so ubiquitous that it now feels un-special. Everyone has an iPhone and a Macbook. My assistants even have the newer versions, so in that regard, they are like me and also better. I don't mind this, by the way.

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Unlike, say, a Breguet Secret de la Reine or the ability to sweep past the long lines of the airport, technology is not exclusive to the very few anymore. Everyone has it or, more accurately, is on it (a screen), and it connects all.

Do you know that, when it comes to social media usage, the Philippines is number one in the world? This idea that we are all connected can be unnerving to many TRLs, including me. If the county was one big party, I would send my regrets because everyone will be there. Sorry, I really don't want to party with the noisy receptionist from the beauty clinic.

Today, not having a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account has become the best signifier of social status. The more offline (and unreachable!) you are, the better it is. That just makes you mysterious.

That must mean you are doing something real in real life. Maybe you are squishing grapes with your feet, jumping into the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean, or just reading a first-edition book in your custom library.

Maybe, instead of liking a photo of a vacation, you are on an actual vacation. Maybe, instead of exchanging quips on a messenger app, you are having a long chat with a dear friend over lunch at a place where there is proper silverware. All these, I should note, are more expensive than fiddling with your phone.

Everyone Touch Everything

But it's not only in the realm of the rich that we see this movement away from technology. I observe my young assistants preferring the thrill of analog experiences like, say, hiking up a mountain to get a tattoo from an old woman who uses the thorn of tree to mark you, rather than getting the newest upgrade of a phone.


And yet, here they are, hunched over as always. Their heads are bowed down to their master, the screen. They're ordering our lunch from the good steak restaurant via an app, they say. Separate the potatoes from the meat, I remind.

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C.C. Coo
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